Monday, June 6, 2016

Alaina Kwan | Overcoming Adversity and Chasing Her Dreams

At the World Championships last year, Alaina Kwan was the face of one of the biggest controversies in the gymnastics world of the entire year. Gymnastics fans were outraged when Kwan and her California teammate, Kylie Dickson were allowed to compete for Belarus despite having no ties to the country or having even visited there. This sparked a lot of debate and criticism on social media. Kwan, who will turn 18 next month found herself battling the hate while trying to chase her dreams.

All gymnasts dream of someday becoming an elite gymnast and competing on a world class stage--that was no exception for Alaina Kwan. After watching Nastia Liukin tumble her way to gold at the Beijing Olympics, Alaina knew she wanted to become an elite gymnast too. Kwan's father was an Olympic diver in 1984, so reaching the highest level of the sport only seemed like a natural progression. She began gymnastics at PDA USA Gymnastics doing mommy and me classes, then moved to Gym Max in 2011 as her skill level progressed. In 2013, she moved to All Olympia to train under Artur Akopyan and his wife Galina. "My family and I just felt like it was a better fit for me," Alaina said of the gym switch. "After being with them these last few years, my gymnastics has improved and they were able to help me reach my goal of becoming an elite gymnast. Overall it's been great and I'm happy I made the switch."

After trying for two years, Alaina finally obtained the elite qualifying score in 2015 and competed at the US Classic where she finished 9th all-around and 7th on floor. It was after that competition that the idea of competing for Belarus was first proposed. "I knew I was already late in the game when it came to elite gymnastics and we figured I had a slim chance of making the USA national team." she admitted. After her coaches received information on the opportunity, Kwan and Dickson jumped on board. "We just decided that it would be a great chance to travel the world before going to college."

When the news that Alaina and Kylie would be competing for Belarus emerged, the Gymternet went crazy and not too many people were happy with the decision.  "I was really surprised by how much talk there was about it, but I understand that people have their opinions and they are entitled to them." Kwan said. In order to remain focused, Alaina avoided social media and tried to block out any criticism that she and Kylie were receiving. "I just tried to remind myself that this is a great opportunity for me and to try and enjoy it as much as possible."

In only the second elite meet of her career, Alaina found herself on one of the biggest stages in gymnastics-- the World Championships. After a sub-par performance, she finished 73rd all-around but still qualified an individual spot for the nation of Belarus to the Olympic Test Event. On the biggest stage of her life, Alaina says she is most proud of hitting her beam routine. "I was already so nervous and was still trying to get use to the Gymnova equipment," she said. "I felt like I was shaking the whole time but I was able to push through and come out strong." Looking back on her Worlds experience, Alaina has no regrets, stating that she was glad to be given the opportunity to visit a new country and meet new people. Most importantly, she was glad she could share the moment with Kylie, who she says is her best friend.

The following months were spent training to claim the one spot secured to the Test Event. "The selection for the spot was based on our performances throughout the year, how our training was going, and how we were health-wise." Alaina told us. Ultimately it was decided that Kylie would be the representative for Belarus, ending Kwan's Olympic quest, however, she is fully supportive of Kylie and excited to cheer her on this summer in Rio as well as supporting team USA in the team final.

For now, Alaina's elite days are done as she shifts her focus to competing in college gymnastics. She is set to compete for the University of Kentucky this upcoming season. "Everything about the school just felt like the right fit for me, plus I love the team and coaches!" she said. Alaina's talents will likely make a big impact to the Wildcats lineups immediately.

If there is one thing Alaina has learned throughout her small but memorable elite career, it's to chase your dreams no matter what. "I would tell young girls to reach for their goals, whether it's making elite or competing internationally, always believe in yourself and don't focus on what other people think," she said. "You know what you're capable of and if you believe it and are willing to work hard for it then you're dreams can come true."

Alaina's did.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Interview | Kamerin Moore

Many gymnastics fans may remember Kamerin Moore as the tiny, adorable, blonde gymnast who competed with glasses and tumbled and danced to the beat of 'Itty Bitty Pretty One,' at least that's how I always remember her. But now, she's matured into an intelligent young women who's moved on from the sport she loves and is ready to open up about the trials and triumphs of her career in the new book that she is writing, as well as through her YouTube channel. Kamerin was a member of the 2008-2009 US junior national team and trained alongside 2012 Olympic champion Jordyn Wieber throughout her career. After competing for the University of Nebraska on a full ride scholarship during her freshman year, Kamerin was forced to retire due to nagging injuries. We recently caught up with Kamerin to talk about some of her favorite gymnastics memories, her sudden retirement from the sport, and what the future holds.

How did you get started in gymnastics? 
I started gymnastics when I was one. My mom took me to a “mom-and-tot” class and the rest is history!

What are some of your earliest gymnastics memories? 
I remember my first day at Twistars when I was six. The first thing that happened when I got there was John Geddert had me do a series of “tests.” The tests involved doing kips and aerials, etc. After that, he brought me over to the group of girls that I was going to be training with. He introduced me to them while they did oversplits on a panel-mat and told Jordyn Wieber that she was in charge of showing me how things worked around there.  

Speaking of Jordyn, you two basically grew up in the gym together. Considering you were the only elites in the gym, did you ever feel any competitiveness between you two? 
I don’t remember ever feeling like we were competing against each other. If we were competing at a club meet then we were competing for Twistars, and if we were competing at an international meet then we were competing for the USA. We were just a team competing against other teams. People liked to talk and compare us, but in the gym we were never against each other.

As a member of the junior national team you got to travel around the world and represent the USA, what was that experience like? Do you have any funny stories to share? 
Making the junior national team was a huge blessing for me. Traveling internationally for competitions was interesting to say the least. Being able to visit different countries and experience the culture is something most 12/13 year olds don’t usually get to do, so I’m extremely grateful to have those amazing memories. A funny memory I have from when Jordyn and I were in Belgium was on our last day there. Belgium is famous for their waffles so our coach got Jo and I a chocolate covered waffle to share. John is very strict about food, as most coaches are, and Jo thought it was a trick so she was scared to eat it. She took one small bite out of the corner and I ate the rest because I wasn’t about to decline a chocolate covered Belgian waffle no matter what the circumstances were! 

In 2008 you and Jordyn had the opportunity to perform at the post Olympic tour and sign autographs afterwards, what was that experience like? 
The tour came to Michigan for two shows so Jo and I got to be involved for those shows. I don't know how exactly it came about, but I imagine someone contacted our coach, John Geddert. It was so much fun! We got to meet Jordan Pruitt and create a fun floor routine that had a "MSU vs. U of M" theme. I got to "represent" MSU since that's where my mom went to college. It was a great experience

You've dealt with injuries throughout your entire career, can you talk about some of the ups and downs you've faced? 
 I had a serious injury every year from 11 to 17 years old. It seemed like it was never ending and my injuries ultimately ended up being the reason I had to give up elite gymnastics and then collegiate gymnastics as well. I had surgery on both of my shoulders, my right hip, and my left foot. Both my shoulder surgeries took 6 months in recovery and my hip took 8 months. I can’t even remember a time I wasn’t doing physical therapy since my first surgery took place to the end of my gymnastics career. If there was one positive from that experience though, it was learning how to deal with life when it doesn’t go the way you planned.

Was there ever a time where you just wanted to give up? What kept you motivated to keep pushing through? 
 I felt like giving up a lot and a few times I did. I must’ve “quit gymnastics” two or three times for various reasons, but I was always back in the gym within a week. My mom always motivated me to stick with it. She knew how much I had sacrificed for gymnastics and giving up on anything isn’t in her nature, so she always helped me push through the hard times.

Your hard work and determination paid off after receiving a full ride scholarship to Nebraska. Why did you pick Nebraska and is it true that you didn't go on any other visits? 
I chose UNL because it had a small town feel and I was very close with one of the assistant coaches. I had known Dan Miller basically my whole life so I was comfortable around him. I didn’t go on any other official visits, but that’s only because I had verbally committed to UNL my sophomore year of high school. I visited a few other colleges before deciding on Nebraska. 

After competing a few times during your freshman year, you medically retired during your sophomore year. Can you talk about how hard it was to make that decision? 
That decision was really hard and what made it even more difficult was that I only had a short time to make it. There are no words to describe how it feels to give up the one thing that made you feel special throughout your life. Gymnastics was my whole world for as long as I can remember, but in the end I had to do what I thought was right. Putting my body through any more just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Are you still involved with the team in any way? 
I would have liked to stay involved with the team and I tried to, but in the end it didn’t work out. 

Looking back now, what would you consider to be the highlight of your career? 
I think the highlight of my career was when my team won the US vs Japan competition. The girls I competed with made that trip so much fun, and that was the competition I remember feeling the most accomplished after.

How has life after gymnastics been? Was the transition any easier than you expected? 
 Life after gymnastics was really hard at first. I felt like I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t a gymnast and I spent a lot of time crying and not knowing why. Things eventually got better though and now I’ve realized that this is just an opportunity for me to explore all the things I never had the time to do before.

What does the future hold for you? Do you plan to continue making YouTube videos?  
I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I know I’m heading in the right direction! I’m graduating college in a year and a half and I just started writing a book about my life. So if anyone has any questions for me I’d love to hear them so I can answer them in the book! I do plan to continue making Youtube videos as well. I’ve actually put up at least one new video every day since I put the first one up. I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much, but I’m glad I did because it’s become a fun hobby of mine now! (You can subscribe to Kamerin on YouTube by clicking here.)  

Any questions or comments regarding Kamerin's book, please email them to her at She would love to hear from you! 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Interview | Eythora Thorsdottir

With a little over two months to go until the Rio Olympics, seventeen year old Eythora Thorsdottir is one of the fan favorites and considered by many to be a lock for the Dutch Olympic team. Thorsdottir brings a unique performance quality to the sport that is refreshing to watch. Her gymnastics is not only clean and precise, but she has a natural elegance and charisma that the crowd just dies for. After dealing with a serious back injury, Thorsdottir emerged onto the scene winning gold on floor at the Ljubljana World Cup. She was also a member of the team that helped the Netherlands qualify a full team to the Olympics for the first time in 40 years. So far this year, Eythora has been off to a solid start- winning bronze on beam at the International Gymnix and winning every event except for beam at the IAG Sport Event. At that competition she debuted several upgrades which means she'll be a great asset to the Netherlands team in Rio! Check out our interview with Eythora below. 

How did you get started in gymnastics? 
My school teacher saw that I had some talent for gymnastics in the school gym classes, so she recommended that my parents put me in gymnastics.

Did you have a role model when you were younger? 
I guess Nastia Liukin. I really loved her lines and her style!

When did you realize you had the potential to become a world class athlete? 
Well that's a difficult question. [Laughs] Umm...I think that was after the YEC in Brussels or after the EYOF in Utrecht. Those were my first international competitions as a junior. But I knew that if I wanted to get on the top I would have to keep working very hard for it.

How would you sum up the experience of your first World Championships? 
Overall it was a good experience. I went out there with no expectations because it was my first Worlds and I didn't really know how good I was compared to the other gymnasts. So I just wanted to do the best I could and see where I would end up. I was really happy that I made it into beam finals. I was hoping for the all-around final too, but I became first reserve. Of course my beam finals didn't go as planned but I learned a lot from it and was happy to know that I belonged to the top eight beam workers in the world!

Can you describe the moment you found out Netherlands had qualified a full team to the Olympics? 
Wow, well that was the best feeling ever. Throughout the whole competition I didn't even notice that we could make it into the top eight. After our last gymnast landed her vault we all stared at the scoreboard and realized we were in the top eight. We all started jumping, crying, and hugging each other. That night we all felt as if it was a dream come true. The next morning we had a little celebration!

Can you talk about your new floor routine and what character you are trying to portray? 
This new routine is choreographed by my coach Patrick Kiens. [The character] is kind of about a creature, lets say a vampire or zombie, that has risen from her grave. This is because she has died way too young and in a disturbing way. She is restless and starts bugging people, in the way of scaring them, etc. At the end she finds satisfaction and goes back to her grave. It's a totally different story, but it's fun to do something new. I like it a lot!

How much time do you spend working on the artistic component of the sport? 
Very much time! I work on it everyday with actually everything I do. With every routine I try to get it as clean as possible. Some days I work on my beam or floor choreography specifically.

The Olympics are right around the corner, does that make you nervous or excited? 
Both I guess. Of course you get more nervous than usual but it also gives you more motivation and energy.

Do you plan on adding anymore upgrades between now and then? 
I don't know yet, we'll see. I'm already very happy with the upgrades that I showed earlier this year.

Eythora competing her yurchenko double for the first time

What are your goals for the rest of this year? 
Honestly, I haven't thought of that one. I'm just really focused on [making it to] the Olympics for now.

There has been some talk of you potentially doing college gymnastics someday, is that true? If so, what schools might you be considering? 
Yes that is true. Both UCLA and Stanford have reached out to me. Honestly, I really don't know yet. Right now I'm only focusing on getting onto the Dutch Olympic Team. After that I'll start thinking about it.

Where would you like to see yourself 10 years from now? 
I hope somewhere in the musical business.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in gymnastics so far? 
I think being apart of the team that qualified for the Olympics.

Thank you Eythora! We wish you all the best in the coming months! 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Watch List | New Elites in 2016

The year of an Olympic Games always brings some fresh new faces in the junior elite scene. With all eyes on the seniors contending for spots on the 2016 Olympic team, it can be easy to overlook the talented emerging in the junior field. We bring you a list some of the new names you'll see this season. Could some of these first year elites be the stars of the next quad?

Riley McCuster | MG Elite 

Riley moved to MG elite last year and already shows a lot of potential and promise. She qualified to elite in March and just recently secured her spot at the P&G Championships after a strong showing at the American Classic. Despite falling on bars, she finished 5th all-around and had a very solid beam set that got her the bronze medal. Earlier this year she won the all-around title at the Parkettes Invite and KPAC Cup. In February she was offered a full ride scholarship to the powerhouse Florida Gators gymnastics team and it was no surprise when she committed-- following in the footsteps of her teammates Laurie Hernandez and Jazmyn Foberg. Riley is a beautiful gymnast to watch thanks to her nice lines, great flexibility, and gorgeous toe point. Coach Maggie Haney has a way of turning her girls into stars regardless of how rough their first year of elite may go, so that gives me some piece of mind as Riley heads into Classics and Nationals-- not that we doubt her abilities to perform well this season, it's just nice to know that she's in the hands of someone who has lots of experience helping gymnasts reach their full potential. With a little more experience over the next few years and some upgrades, Riley is going to be one to keep our eyes on!

Irina Alexeeva | WOGA

Irina Alexeeva might be a name you're already familiar with. The gymnastics world first fell in love with her when she was about nine years old and she's been on the watch list ever since. When we interviewed Irina in 2012, she told us that she has dual citizenship and would like to compete for her native Russia someday, but ultimately it appears she has decided to stick with competing elite in the United States. She has competed at the elite level several times in the last few years at competitions such as the WOGA Classic, HNI, Gymnix and Elite Gym Massilia, but this will be her first year competing at the major US elite meets. At the American Classic this past weekend, Irina placed third all-around despite falling on bars, which is one of her strongest events. We don't see a laid-out jaeger too often, especially not from a junior! In addition to bars, Irina also shows a lot of potential on beam where she has a whopping 16.2 start value. Her style reminds me a lot of her WOGA teammate, Alyssa Baumann. Not only do they have similar lines, but they are both strong all-around gymnasts who specialize on bars and beam. Irina has posted some solid numbers under the elite scoring system so far, so I can't wait to see how she does this summer.

Jaymes Marshall | TIGAR

Jaymes Marshall turned heads when she competed an amanar vault at JO Nationals-- a vault that is almost unheard of from somebody her age and at a level 10 competition. At just twelve years of age, she has a floor routine that is equally as impressive. She opens with a double layout, does a whip to triple as her second pass (that is slightly under rotated in the video above, but she nailed it at the American Classic) her third pass is a sky high double pike and she finishes with an impressive tucked full-in. (That gives her a very solid 16.0 start value!) At the American Classic she placed 2nd all-around and first on vault with a 15.5, locking in her spot at the P&G Championships! As a level 10 earlier this year, Jaymes won the Regional title and placed 2nd all-around at States. Notably she has scored two perfect 10's on vault this year- one at the Pikes Peak Cup and one at the Colorado State Championships. With her big skills and high scoring potential, Jaymes could really make the junior field interesting this season.

Kiya Johnson | Texas Dreams 

As a level 10, Kiya has showed she is a strong and well balanced all-around gymnast. She is a two-time Nastia Liukin Cup qualifier and won the all-around, vault, and beam title in 2015!  At her first elite meet, the American Classic, she didn't have the best all-around performance but she debuted several new skills including a yurchenko double on vault which gave her the bronze. Kiya is great on floor as well, competing both a double layout and an arabian double front to stag jump. With 1991 World Champion Kim Zmeskal as her coach, Kiya is in very good hands as she heads down the elite route. I think with a little more experience, she will have an impressive elite career!

Sunisa Lee | Midwest

If you follow Sunisa on Instagram (@sunisalee_) then chances are you're probably already in love with this little one. Sunisa is very talented and shows great flexibility and potential. Last year she competed as a pre-elite where she won the all-around and bar title at the US Challenge. Sunisa has the skills, she just needs to work on cleaning it all up. She posts a lot of impressive training videos on her Instagram (even when she injures her arm and is in a cast.) We like this little one a lot and if she continues to work hard...we have no doubts she will become a star someday.

Cameron Machado | First State 

Cameron is another young one who shows a lot of potential. She doesn't have the most difficulty or as much polish as some of the other girls, but I could see that developing naturally over time. Like Sunisa, Cameron also posts a lot of training videos on her Instagram ( @cam.machado13) so we know the potential for big skills is there. At the recent JO Nationals, Cameron's best finish came on bars where she placed 3rd. At the American Classic she placed 7th on bars, 13th all-around, and qualified for the P&G Championships.

Which new elites are you excited to see this season? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Interview with Alexis Beucler

Alexis "Poof" Beucler is a former elite gymnast who just wrapped up her club career and will be competing for NC State next season. The road has been anything but easy for her, between injuries and leaving her family behind to continue pursing her dreams with a new coach, but ultimately she never gave up and that's what we love about her!

We recently chatted with Alexis to reflect back on her career and find out what the future holds.

How did you get started in gymnastics? 
I started gymnastics because I saw what my sister could do and I wanted to be able to do it too.

What was it like training side by side with her?
I loved training with my sister! We had a healthy competition. We pushed each other to do our best. We always tried to see who would get what skills the quickest and things like that. We are always there for each other and very close!

Alexis with her sister Marissa, who just completed her career at the University of Kentucky

For most of your career you trained at CGA under Mary Lee Tracy. What was that experience like? 
It definitely made me a tougher athlete mentally and physically, but I would prefer to not go deeper into this.

You've seemed to mature a lot both mentally and in your gymnastics since that time. What advice would you give to young athletes when it comes to the mental aspect of the sport? 
You can never stop believing in yourself and never let anyone tell you that you can't do something. I always went by 'fake it till you make it,' because I wasn't always confident and that helped me become it. With me having to make the decision to move from Ohio made me mature pretty quick being without my family.

How has Brandy Johnson's gym been different and perhaps better for you? 
It is a more positive atmosphere where I could continue to grow as a gymnast. The coaches have helped me get back on track mentally. I immediately felt like I was apart of a family as soon as I stepped in the doors. I enjoy this gym so much that I've given up living with my parents and siblings for over three years.

Through all your ups and downs, what pushed you to keep going? 
I had a fire in me to prove people wrong and do the best that I could and improve myself. I watched meet videos to remind myself what I could do and keep myself motivated.

In the gymnastics world you are known as "Poof," how did that nickname come about? 
The nickname came about because I have super curly hair!

What has been some of the highlights of your career so far? 
The highlights of my career so far have been hitting 8 for 8 at Visa Championships, tying with Simone Biles on floor in 2nd place at the American Classic, and at this years JO Nationals it was great being able to hit 4 for 4.

Do you have any pre meet rituals? 
My mom couldn't always make it to my meets so she would always send me bible verses and a quote the day of the meet. If I have a late session, I take a nap before it. I have my teammate, Payton, braid my hair and I always have to be chewing gum!

What is something that most people might not know about you? 
I love watching Criminal Minds!

You were originally committed to the University of Georgia but signed with NC State last November. What went into making that decision? 
I didn't have a choice with that decision but I do feel that God does everything for a reason and he's putting me exactly in the place that I'm supposed to be. I'm very excited to be apart of the pack! Go Pack!

Are you working on any upgrades or new skills for college? 
On bars I'm working on tkatchevs and toe fulls. On beam I'm working on back handspring-back handspring-layout, side aerials, switch halfs, and front aerials. On floor I'm working piked full-ins, double arabians, and double layouts.

What are some of your goals for the future? 
I hit my goal for this season by hitting 4 for 4. My goal for next season will be to compete all-around for NC State. I can't wait to be in the team atmosphere and help the team make it to Nationals!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Interview: Jay Clark

Only six teams have won an NCAA Championships in the history of collegiate gymnastics. Since Jay Clark's arrival in 2012, the LSU Tigers have been inching closer and closer to adding their name to that list. Prior to LSU, Clark served as the assistant coach/associate head coach at the University of Georgia for 20 seasons. After their legendary coach Suzanne Yoculan announced her retirement following the 2009 season, Clark stepped in as the head coach and remained there for four seasons. Now in his fourth season at LSU, Clark is helping the Tigers do big things, including breaking numerous school records. In 2011, Clark was voted as the #9 recruiter in all of women's college sports. This season LSU brought in the top ranked freshman class in the country with big names such as Lexie Priessman, Sarah Finnegan, and McKenna Kelley.

In our interview, Jay talks about how his coaching career began, his thoughts on this season so far and he shares his opinion on the trend of early recruiting.

PC: Emily Brauner

How did your coaching career begin?
My coaching career started in an unconventional way. With the exception of having taken gymnastics classes when I was younger, my background was in every other sport and not extensive in Gymnastics. I had always wanted to be involved in UGA athletics since I was a youngster. My parents and entire family are UGA Grads, as am I, so while I was an undergrad I became good friends with several of the gymnasts: Heather Stepp, Sandy Rowlette, Jen Carbone and others. Through that friendship and sort of hanging around the gym, I began to help with equipment, camps, etc... 
Doug McAvinn tore his bicep tendon, and Suzanne needed a guy to help with spotting duties and such in the gym. Thus began my unlikely career, and in the fall of 1990 I was officially on the payroll at UGA as a greenhorn coach.

Doug took me under his wing and taught me a great deal about techniques and spotting in the gym. We watched hours upon hours of VHS tape where he would break skills down for me. I was eager to learn as much as possible, so I also began to work other people’s camps. I worked at Alabama’s camp as well as coaching at a local gym. Then I met Stormy Eaton who had a camp in Arizona called Super Camp. Suzanne had let me recruit by this time, and I thought a great way to go get Kim Arnold would be to have Stormy let me work his camp for free! He told me that "If I could find it, then I could work it". Well, I found it on my own dime, and that started another mentoring relationship that was hugely influential on me. In the process we also were able to sign Kim, which is one of my most memorable and exciting recruiting moments ever. Kids from that gym had always gone to Utah, so it was big to be able to go get her.

Suzanne began to give me more and more autonomy and responsibility even though my experience didn't really warrant it. For those many opportunities to grow, I will always be grateful to her. She saw my enthusiasm and allowed me to mature and make mistakes.

So from there it just continued to grow and grow. At one point I owned a private gym. We had kids make JO National Teams and go into college and continue their careers. That gym was successful primarily because of my wife Julie and my business partner Grant Coulter. They made that place go and we had about 9 awesome years together in that.

All the while I was continuing my career at UGA and loving every minute of coaching at my alma mater. Of course, we went on to win so many championships both Nationally and at the conference level, and it was an amazing time full of memories that I will never forget.

As they say, all good things come to an end and my career there was no different. That is a subject we could go on for hours about, but suffice to say it was one of the most painful periods of my life in many ways…which led me to LSU, and the absolute joy that I have found in being here with D-D and Bob and everyone here. This place is incredible, the people are incredible, and we are doing fantastic things here in Baton Rouge. Attendance has been as high at 13,000-plus and is averaging around 10,000. New facilities, great recruits and relationships here have rehabbed my confidence and enthusiasm for what it's all about.

PC: LSU Gymnastics

You are known for being a top recruiter in college sports. (Voted #9 in ESPN Magazine in 2011) What do you look for when recruiting athletes?
Well obviously in recruiting you are looking for the best talent available, but that doesn't always mean they are a fit. I also want to try and ascertain personality traits, work ethic, values from a standpoint of how they relate to their parents, coaches and teammates. Also, does their gymnastics complement areas where we are already strong and improve us where we may be weak? I like a team that has variety of skills, experience level and personality. Culture matters immensely, and we try to make that clear to recruits up front.

How would you describe your coaching style?
My coaching style is fun loving, consistency and efficiency oriented, easy going so long as the production is high. I like to tell the girls I am a mirror reflection of what you give. I like to know each gymnast on a personal level so that I can extend to them exactly what they need. I also believe in what one of my mentors taught me. "You can't respect someone you don't know." You can respect the position, but not the person. For that reason I think they also need to know us as human beings and not just coaches barking out orders. If they, as 18-22 year old young women, are to respect us, then we need to take the time to know each other and the how’s and why’s of each other. That’s very important to me. 

What are your thoughts on the trend of early recruiting and commitments? 
On the early recruiting, I despise it! It is no good for all parties concerned, and I have written and proposed legislation on it for 4 years now only to have it tabled. Our coaches association is in agreement that all unofficial visits (i.e. on or off campus contact) should not begin until September of the 11th grade year. However, until the NCAA changes it, the genie is out of the bottle, and we all have to play the game we are presented with. This is a subject you could do an entire blog on, and I could provide you a litany of reasons that it needs to change.

What are your thoughts on the yurchenko full being devalued? 
I agree with the changes on vault. I think what we saw from Bugs last week is a great example of why. That DTY would have never been seen if not for the rule change. Our sport is progressive by nature, and we had become stagnant on that event to a compulsory level. I think it was the right decision and hopefully will encourage variety as well as difficulty.

What are some of the highlights of your coaching career so far? 
I have had so many highlights in my career and am thankful for each one of them and the people involved. If I had to pick one, I would pick two! The 2005 National Championship was amazing because of the way it happened. It was a freshman-dependent team that went through real growing pains with four losses in a row and barely making nationals as the 12 seed. But those kids were special and were invested in one another. They actually are very similar to this team here at LSU this year!

The second would be last year, and we sold out the PMAC here at LSU. 13,179 people attended our meet versus Minnesota a week after 12,000+ had attended our home meet victory against Florida. It is so fun to see this happen here at LSU after seeing it happen at UGA 20 years ago. It's an exciting time to be at LSU!!

LSU had an amazing new training facility built, do you think that makes a difference in training?
We actually just got into the facility last month. We are just now making the adjustments to the new equipment, but the facility is fantastic. Facilities don't win championships by themselves, but they don't hurt! This is beyond a doubt the most spectacular facility in the nation. We are very fortunate and grateful, and every recruit in the world should come check it out just to see if LSU might be a possibility. It’s unbelievable!

PC: LSU Gymnastics

What are your thoughts on how the team is doing so far this season?
This season has been exactly as we thought it might: Amazing performance coupled with a few hiccups. We have 5 freshmen, upperclassmen in new roles, and have had some untimely injuries to start the season. However, I have rarely been more excited about a team over the last 26 years. If culture and love for one another won championships alone...we are already there, but we also have an enormous amount of talent and variety on this team that is rivaled by few. I think we are on the cusp of breaking out over the next few weeks and seeing things explode in a positive way. We love coaching this team!

LSU has improved tremendously over the last few years, do you think this year will finally be LSU's year to win a National Championship?

You are correct when you describe the growth here at LSU over the last several years. We have seen growth in our performance, our media exposure, our crowds, our overall footprint, and buzz about this program has increased exponentially! A lot of people have worked hard and gotten on board with our vision for this program. D-D is an iconic figure here in Baton Rouge, and I am enjoying seeing all her years of work come to fruition! She deserves it, and this program deserves it. As for winning a championship this year…I can tell you this: There are so many things that must fall into place for that to happen. It is something that we work for but cannot force, so I don't make predictions. I believe we have more than enough talent to do it. I believe in the culture of this team immensely. I believe in their heart and their desire, and I believe we are doing the right things so far. Will we win this year? Who knows? Why not us? But I know this! We are going to win one here at LSU at some point. That is what we are about, and that is what we want our recruits to desire when they come here. It's a special place full of special people all pulling in the same direction! When you have that great things are going to happen!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview: Greg Marsden

When it comes to college gymnastics, Greg Marsden is royalty. From its inception in the mid 70's until his retirement after the 2015 season, Greg coached the University of Utah Gymnastics team to a long list of accomplishments. For 40 years he lead the Red Rocks to success on the competition floor and in the stands. The Utes won 10 National Championships under his leadership and have the highest attendance record in all of women's collegiate sports. In 2009 they set a new average attendance record of 13,861 fans per meet. Their meet against Michigan last season had a record breaking 16,019 fans in the stands! They are also the only team to qualify to every single National Championships that has been held and they've never placed lower than 10th. After his 40th season of coaching, Greg announced his retirement, passing the torch to Tom Farden and his wife, Megan. Although he has retired from coaching, Greg is still very much involved with the sport. A few months after retiring he was hired as an analyst for Pac-12 Networks and can be heard commentating at several meets this season. Greg is also on Twitter sharing all his ideas and plenty of knowledge. (You can follow him by clicking here.We recently caught up with Greg to reflect back on his coaching career, hear his thoughts on this season so far and hear his opinions on early recruiting and team success.

How did your coaching career begin? 
I was a diver at a small college in Arkansas and took a gymnastics class, because I thought it would help my diving. I wound up competing a little bit of low-level AAU gymnastics. After teaching high school for a year, I came to Utah to work on a graduate degree in Psychology of Sport, with the intention of teaching. As part of my graduate assistantship, I was teaching winter camping, lifesaving, handball and a gymnastics class. Title IX was requiring Universities to start varsity women's sports teams. I was asked if I would help start a gymnastics team. I was paid $1,500 and my budget included 5 in-state tuition waivers and $4,500. We put a notice in the student newspaper and held tryouts. Somehow, that first year, we qualified to Championships and finished 10th. I fell in love with coaching and the rest, as they say, is history.

Note in The Daily Utah Chronicle, fall of 1975
What would you consider to be some of the highlights of your coaching career? 
This is going to sound cornball but my entire career seems like a highlight reel. I've had too many great memories to single any out. 

Can you talk about making the decision to retire? Was it a difficult decision to make? 
No. I knew it was time to pass the torch on to a new generation of talented young coaches. I loved coaching, from day one, to the very last day of my career but somehow I just knew it was time for me to move on to new challenges. 

How are you enjoying life on the other side as a commentator and fan? I know the gymnastics world really loves reading your opinions on Twitter! 
I really had no ambition to be on TV but when the Pac-12 Networks called and said they thought I could bring a unique perspective, I agreed to give it a try. I'm not convinced I'll be any good at it but if not, I'll be happy to step away. The Pac-12 Networks actually encouraged me to get a Twitter account. I'm glad to hear that someone enjoys my thoughts. I'm excited about the number of programs that are working to improve their attendance and the number of live television broadcasts. I strongly believe that the future of NCAA Gymnastics is tied to attendance and television viewership. 

Utah has always been known for having a huge crowd at home meets. What can other teams do to get people interested and fill up those stands? 
First, create a fast moving, informative and entertaining meet format. If you get people to come and the format is not good, they will never be back. Then, it's hard work and more hard work. Get out into the community with your team to meet people, tell your story and get them to your meets. If they have a good experience, they will spread the word. Utah has been going to Elementary schools and professional organizations for more than 30 years and it continues to be the most important thing they do in order to develop new fans. Building an audience has to be a priority of the head coach. You cannot leave that to others, because they will never have the same passion for gymnastics or for your program that you do. If you look at the programs that are successful with their attendance, it's ALWAYS a priority of the head coach.

Having been the coach of a very successful team, what do you think are the key components for success? 
Well, that depends on your definition of success. I always thought of success as doing the best we could with the personnel we had, while developing strong, confident, independent young women. If we could do that, I considered the year to be a success. Sometimes that also translated in to success on the score sheet. For what it's worth, to me, it's always been about the process, rather than the outcome. If you have talent and the process is well thought out, implemented consistently, with discipline and enthusiasm, the outcome will take care of itself. With that approach, many teams have a chance for success and many young women will go to have successful lives, in part, as a result of their experience with gymnastics. 

What are some changes you would like to see made in NCAA gymnastics? 
  • Add the directional and out of bounds lines to the vault landing area.
  • Count all scores, with no exhibition routines.
  • Whenever possible compete with two teams, but NEVER with more than four, including at NCAA Regional meets and NCAA Championships.
  • Either do away with individual awards and become a "team sport" or bring back event finals.
What are your thoughts on the trend of early recruiting and commitments? 
One of the reasons I felt it was time to retire is that I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with where recruiting is going. To be a 65 year-old man talking to 12 or 13 year-old girls about recruiting, just seemed creepy. And the math just wasn't working out anymore, when it's going to be three or four years before they are even on campus and then have four years on the team...unless I was going to coach to 100! It's ridiculous that girls that young are making that type of commitment before they're really old enough to make an informed decision. It's forcing coaches to be disingenuous when they make commitments that they may or may not be able to keep. There are simply too many variables for this to be good for either side. But now that the genie is out of the bottle, it's hard to put it back, as both sides feel pressure to get this done. 

The only thing that I can see that MAY work, would be to allow NO INTERACTION between college coaches and recruits and their families until a certain time, such as their junior year of high school. That means, no correspondence, no phone calls, no unofficial visits, no incidental contact at clubs or meets and no working through the club coach to recruit somebody prior to their junior year. Whenever recruiting begins, the NCAA should allow universities to pay for official visits, so that families are no longer asked to pay for the gymnasts to visit campuses. In fact, they should also allow universities to pay for a parent to accompany the gymnast in order to cut down on some of the shenanigans that goes on during official visits.   

Who do you think will be the dark horses this season? 
I think LSU or Michigan have a chance to become the seventh school to win a NCAA Championship and I think Boise State may have a chance to make it to NCAA Championships. 

What are your overall thoughts on the NCAA season so far? What teams are you most impressed with? 
I am impressed that more teams are becoming competitive. How about George Washington! On a given night, many teams have a chance to upset higher ranked teams and we are already seeing that happen. Florida and Oklahoma seem to be the teams to beat but the season is young and there are a number of teams that may be capable of doing that. It's going to be a fun season of NCAA gymnastics and I look forward to watching it develop.