Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Gymternet- Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #13 June 2015)

Dear Gymternet, 

I didn't have any competitions this month, but I went to a couple of college camps and have been training for the Secret Classic!  AND Nastia Liukin came to our gym for her Shine Tour!!!

The first camp I went to was at Auburn University.  It was an overnight camp, so we got to stay in one of the dorms. I got to go with a bunch of my teammates and I roomed with one of my developmental camp friends, Sunisa Lee. We all roomed right next door to each other, so we spent a lot of time together. We played a bunch of cards, I learned some new games and taught them some games. We all had so much fun together!  The camp went really well and I enjoyed working with all the coaches there.

Elena with her teammates at the Auburn camp

The other camp I went to was at LSU, but before I went to LSU camp I went to our Region 8 banquet that was held in Louisiana.  My gym won Region 8 Gym Club of the Year, so I went with my dad to accept the award along with a couple of my teammates who received awards.  Kyla Bryant made the JO National Team and Savannah Schoennher was the JO National Bar Champion ... I was so proud of them!  At LSU camp I had to train routines most of the time since I am getting ready to compete, but I had a great time with all the other gymnasts and coaches!  One of the coaches was on the Russian National Team and he reminded me so much of Valeri. :)

Elena with some of the LSU gymnastics team!

The coolest thing this month was having Nastia Liukin come to our gym!  It was so great to listen to her experiences and get her advice on a lot of things.  She shared some ways to set goals and how to stay motivated to reach your goals.  It was really inspirational and she was so nice and friendly to all of us.  We got to get a bunch of pictures with her and get autographs.  After she left our gym she started to follow me on Instagram and even liked some of my pictures and videos.  I was freaking 
Elena with Nastia!

My training for the Secret Classic has been going really well.  I am doing lots of routines and feeling prepared and ready to compete in a few weeks.  I have already qualified for P& Gs, but the Secret Classic will help get me experience competing on podium.  I can't wait!!!

~ Elena

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Artistry Redefined

At the conclusion of the first ever European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, much focus was on the lack of "artistry"and entertainment in floor performances from gymnasts around the world. While the artistry debate is by no means a new issue, it appears to be a seemingly never ending cycle of disappointment and arguments amongst gym fans and coaches. All the talk really got me thinking. The American gymnasts are always being ripped on for having "boring" choreography and not fitting the protocol of a true "artistic" gymnast. Meanwhile, certain European countries- mainly the Russians, have always been referred to as some of the most artistic gymnasts on the scene due to their long beautiful lines and elegance on the floor. After the European Games, the countries that have always been praised for putting on quality performances and producing technically pleasing gymnasts are now being criticized for being emotionally detached from their performance. I say it's about time! Some of my favorite routines currently are not ones where the gymnast is just beautiful to watch. They have to showcase something special besides their natural beauty! My favorite routines are the ones in which the gymnast is able to sell the choreography and keep my attention for the whole minute and thirty seconds she's on the floor. If you can't sell your routine then it will turn into a snooze fest. One US coach even admitted that the routines in Baku were putting her to sleep, but because some of these gymnasts are flexible, graceful, and from a country that historically produces beautiful gymnasts, they typically get a free pass into the exclusive club of "artistic" gymnasts in today's world of elite gymnastics. It's a small club where apparently no powerful gymnasts are allowed! Now I'm not trying to say that all of the gymnasts from these countries aren't artistic, because some certainly are, however I don't think it's fair that they all automatically get grouped together as some of "the most artistic gymnasts currently competing" (that's a direct quote I read from a gym fan) simply for their body type or because they are from a country that is known for it's artistry. 

I think that's wrong and unfair. In the dictionary artistry is defined as "having or showing the skill of an artist." When you google the word artistry it gives you related words such as creative, imaginative, and expressive. So when you watch a routine ask yourself this: Is this routine creative or unique and is the gymnast truly expressing herself in the choreography? Those are the things that truly matter. Just because you can wave your arms around like a ballerina doesn't mean you can entertain a crowd. A routine that plays to the likes of flexibility and grace is no more worthy than a routine that showcases power and athleticism. Each can be entertaining, unique to the athlete, and you guessed it- artistic! As long as it suits the athlete and she can perform it... then it's golden!  I've found that most of the routines that I truly enjoy watching are ones where the athlete connects with the crowd. They smile, they make eye contact, and they tell a story. Considering the current state of elite gymnastics, I feel you have to do more than just wave your arms around and have pretty lines in order stand out. The definition of "artistry" in this sport needs to go beyond that. Here are a few routines that I truly enjoy and I feel bring a new definition to artistry.

Catherine Lyons | Great Britain 
Most gym fans are already familiar with British junior stand out Catherine Lyons because of her unique floor choreography and mature style of dance. Catherine uses more than just her beautiful lines to draw the crowd in-- she tells a story with her eyes and her body. Some of the choreography from her most recent floor routine is actually recycled from a routine she performed at the age of nine. The routine was such a hit that Catherine's coach Rochelle Douglas wanted to recreate it. "Rochelle wanted the routine to remind me of my growth and journey through gymnastics, so the first section of dance is exactly the same as when I was 9." Catherine told International Gymnast Magazine (June 2015) "Throughout the routine we try to revisit through dance all the success and struggles I've had on the journey so far, finishing the routine knowing that my dreams are just within my reach, but that I am not quite there yet." she said. Catherine's style naturally fits the "artistic gymnast" stereotype, but she is unique in the fact that she can draw the crowd in with more than just her grace; it's her expression and performance quality that really set her apart. I also love how she utilizes every beat with dramatic movements. Few gymnasts nowadays are able to achieve that.

Marta Pihan- Kuleza | Poland 
This Pink Panther inspired routine is very fun and playful! Marta does an excellent job of entertaining the crowd with her calm and collected style. I honestly loved this routine from the moment I saw it. This is the type of floor routine that should break the mold on what we consider artistic. Marta is a powerful gymnast who isn't necessarily the best dancer and doesn't have the most graceful lines. I think we could all agree that she would awkward attempting a ballet-style routine, so she plays to her strengths by showcasing her powerful tumbling and fun-loving personality through a more jazzy routine. A routine like this will leave the judges smiling and the audience entertained. What more could you ask for? The choreography goes well with the music and everything flows together nicely!

Laurie Hernandez | USA
Laurie Hernandez is known across the globe for her spunky, sassy, and entertaining floor performances. At the 2015 Jesolo meet she debuted her newest floor routine and as expected- it's nothing short of spectacular! Laurie's coach Maggie Haney told us that the inspiration for this routine came from Mary Lee Tracy. "We were talking at camp one night and she told me that she looks at Laurie as a happy and energetic gymnast; someone who truly loves the sport of gymnastics and always has fun with it," Maggie said "So I went back home and found the most fun and sassy music I could find. I took it to the gym the next day and we just blasted it as loud as we could! We started dancing around and we got some crazy ideas!" Maggie says the routine was made 100% for the audience and that she hopes everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for her to perform. When it's Laurie's turn to go, she hopes everyone has a smile on their face from start to finish. "I tried to make it fun, playful and of course sassy. We all know Laurie is the queen of sassy!" Maggie said. Fun faces are actually choreographed into Laurie's routine including her "Instagram face" which Maggie says is her personal favorite. Laurie is the perfect example of what exactly a floor routine is all about. You can always count on her for a crowd-pleasing performance. I think it's great that so much emphasis is put on the small little details such as hand placements and even facial expressions, because it really does bring the entire performance together. The choreography is big and the energy is so high throughout the whole routine! Love it or hate it, you can't look away and that's exactly what each gymnast should strive to accomplish!

Claire Martin | France
Another routine that recently caught my attention was Claire Martin- who connects with the crowd through her playful, but polished presentation. Claire's choreographer Adriana Pop told International Gymnast Magazine that the inspiration for this routine was Claire herself and that her character is a fairy who must escape from evil power. "Once Claire understood what I wanted, she made the expression." Pop explained. "The story is simple. You can see the slow part, and at the end when the music gets faster and faster, she escapes at last, little by little." Adriana said Claire's floor performance captures moments of struggle and triumph. The character she embodies posses many of her own traits, which made it so easy for her to connect with. It's an interesting but beautiful routine that was very well thought out. Similar to Catherine Lyons, any gymnast who can convey a story in just a minute and thirty seconds is a true artist.

Victoria Moors | Canada 
I've always been a big fan of Victoria's floor routines because she makes that connection with the audience. It's the look in her eyes and the intensity in her expression that always made her routines memorable. It's amazing that she is able to execute such powerful tumbling elements while also having such intricate dance, because that combination is rare. Victoria places focus on both which is extremely difficult nowadays, but super important. Throughout her entire career, Victoria always did a wonderful job of finding that balance. With the announcement of her retirement from gymnastics just a few weeks ago, the sport will definitely miss the beautiful Victoria Moors and her performances.

These are the types of performances that I wish to see more of. As you can see, they come from gymnasts all over the world who have different strengths and weaknesses, but in the end they all achieve the same goal-- to entertain the audience and tell a story that they each can personally connect with. Kudos to all the athletes who put the time and effort into making their floor routines a true performance- which is what artistry is all about. What are some of your favorite floor routines and why? What kind of routine leaves a lasting impression on you? Leave a comment below!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jay Santos On Quick Success at Eastern Michigan

Jay Santos knew success was possible when he accepted the head coaching job at Eastern Michigan University, but he didn’t imagine it would come so quickly, especially since other collegiate coaches told him the first year as head coach wouldn’t be easy.

The Eastern Michigan Eagles had one of their best seasons in 2015. They placed fourth at the MAC Championships -- their highest finish since 2010 -- and scored a 195.075 to achieve the highest team score at conference championships since 2004. In addition, the Eagles broke the program record on February 20 with a 195.575 at Western Michigan.

“It was amazing to see the transformation of this team from when I interviewed and talked with a couple of the girls on the search committee to where we finished the season,” Santos said. “I thought many of the things that we accomplished last year would take a little longer. The team really embraced what we were trying to do from the start, and so much of our success simply came from the fact that the group accepted that we needed to change what was done in the past to be more successful as a program.”

Photo Credit: Greg Long

Despite setting a program record, Santos said there was no single highlight to the season. Instead, it was something that occurred throughout the entire season. But it wasn’t a specific meet or routine; it was the kind words he continued to receive from others.

“Every time we competed last year, we would have multiple people coming up to [my wife and assistant coach] Jess and I telling us how much better the team looks,” he said. “It came from so many different sources -- coaches, administrators, parents of athletes at other universities, etc.  It just kept happening everywhere we went last year, and it wasn't just about our gymnastics.”

It was also about “the intangible things with a team that make it successful.” It was about their positivity and increased energy, their togetherness and how they supported each other more.

“It was so amazing to hear, and it really felt great (and even a little humbling) to have so many people go out of their way to tell us things like that,” Santos said.

Santos continued to receive recognition for his efforts and quick influence on the Eastern Michigan program at the end of the year by being named Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year. To receive such an accolade as a first-year head coach gave him “an amazing feeling,” especially since it was voted on by the conference’s coaches.

“It feels great to have the respect of your peers and to know that they noticed the positive change in the program,” he said. “

Even though he may be head coach of the Eagles and the award has his name on it, he is selfless in accepting and receiving it and wants the entire Eastern Michigan gymnastics staff to be recognized. He “relied heavily” on assistant coaches Jess Santos and Shea Anderson, in addition to the trainers, strength coaches and remainder of the support staff, so he believes it should be a coaching staff award.

Photo Credit: The Eastern Echo

As a former assistant and associate head coach, he has first-hand experience and realizes the significance of the entire coaching staff. His collegiate coaching career began at Ohio State University as an assistant. After two seasons, he coached bars and was recruiting coordinator at Iowa State University. Though he feels like each of his previous coaching experiences helped him prepare to be a head coach, his time at the University of Illinois as visiting assistant and associate head coach had a big role in his preparation for his current position.

“My time at Illinois was pretty successful; qualifying for NCAA's three out of four years, it was an amazing experience,” he said. “I think one of the major things that helped me was that (Illinois head coach Kim Landrus) and I worked very well together, and there was a lot of trust between us."

"At my previous positions, my job responsibilities were pretty focused to a couple items. I feel that trust Kim and I had allowed her to give me a lot of responsibility and touch many different areas of the program.  Being able to branch out and take on new responsibilities at Illinois gave me experience and confidence in new areas and really helped prepare me for the transition from assistant to head coach.” Santos said.

He was even prepared to experience setting a new record. While Santos was still at Illinois, the Fighting Illini women’s gymnasts broke the then-program record with a 197.100 against Lindenwood. About a year later, he coached the Eagles to break their program record.

“It is great for the athletes, and you always have to feel proud in those moments when a team accomplishes something that no other team in your program's history has done before,” Santos said. “The athletes put in so much hard work during the course of the year, and it's always great to be a part of moments like that and reap the rewards for the dedication and hard work that the athletes put in.”

While breaking records is something Santos enjoys, that’s never the focus.

“We really try to talk to the girls about the ‘process’ more than the results,” he said. “Our focus needs to be simply on striving to improve every day and continue to raise our expectations for what it means to be an Eastern Eagle in and out of the gym. I firmly believe that if you are committed to working on improvement in yourself every day that you will then see the positive results such as winning meets, breaking records, etc.  But if your focus is solely on the results then you are going to be disappointed because you are looking to the end and not the journey that will get you there.”

Overall, his goal for the Eastern Michigan gymnastics program is to lead the Eagles to a conference championship and build a top 25 program. This past season has provided motivation for that ― the Eagles ended 2015 at No. 37, missing out on a trip to Regionals, despite being ranked in the top 36 all season.

 “It was the highest end of year ranking in school history, which was fantastic, but it was also a bittersweet. Eastern has never qualified a team to NCAA Regionals, so to be so close and miss out in the last week was pretty disappointing.  I want to build this program so that qualifying to Regionals is the norm so that we can continue to set our goals higher and higher.”

2015 Eastern Michigan Eagles

Santos may have big goals for the program, but he strives for more than just that.

“I really look forward to working with the athletes and helping them grow as gymnasts and people,” Santos said. “The focus gets put on the athletic side of things so often, but as coaches we can effect these young women in so many other ways and help them grow and prepare to move on to the next step in their lives.

“I'm really looking forward to building a program that is set up to have a positive impact on the lives of our athletes and help them achieve their goals in and out of the gym. I'm really excited for the future of the program and I think we have some great things in front of us.”

Written by: Amanda

Friday, June 12, 2015

Melissa Doucette | Leaving The Sport With No Regrets

This past year Melissa Doucette, the 24 year old from New Hampshire embarked on a journey that not many women her age do. After graduating from the University of Bridgeport following the 2014 season, Doucette didn't hang up her grips like one would expect. For most gymnasts, college gymnastics is the end of their career, but for Melissa Doucette it was the start of something new. She went back to the gym; coaching full-time while continuing to train for the 2015 JO season. As a level 10, Melissa placed 2nd at the Texas Prime Meet and won two smaller invitationals, then she began training for elite for the first time in her career. In February, Melissa passed her elite compulsories on vault and floor and was proving to everyone that age was nothing more than a number. She moved to New Jersey to train at ENA Paramus- also home to junior elite Olivia Dunne, and was learning lots of new skills. Unfortunately, as the 2015 elite qualifying season came to a close, Melissa fell short of passing her elite optionals, but looks back on her career with a positive outlook and no regrets. After all, she attempted something that not many people her age can say they've done. We are excited to share our interview with Melissa as she reflects back on her gymnastics career and what lies ahead. 

How did you get started in gymnastics?
I got started in gymnastics at the age of four at Kelly's Gymnastics in Rochester, New Hampshire. I started gymnastics so that my parents could channel my energy in a positive atmosphere.

Growing up who was your idol in gymnastics? What about an idol later in your career? 
This has changed quite a bit throughout my journey as a gymnast. When I was younger I always liked Nastia's style because I struggled with the artistic side of gymnastics. I always wanted to be as graceful as she is! Now that I'm older, my role models tend to be the coaches and mentors I have. Being twenty four, I aspire to be a coach that will impact an athlete's journey just like my coaches did for me. The coaches I had the opportunity to work with taught me so much over the years that I can take with me for a lifetime and they are my true role models.

As a college gymnast, you started your career at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and then switched to the University of Bridgeport after your Sophomore year. Can you talk about competing for both of those schools and what inspired you to make that switch? 
Looking back, I am so grateful to have both those opportunities. I learned so much about myself during that time in my career. Signing the letter of intent with Alaska was the highlight of my life at that point. It was a lifetime goal I had as a gymnast to earn a Division 1 scholarship. Moving so far away from home taught me a lot of life lessons that I wouldn't have learned had I not gone so far away. After I completed my Sophomore year of college, I decided it was not the fit for me. I had surgery on my shoulder and decided that it was going to be a turning point for me. I wanted a program that my gymnastics could grow in and that was more competitive. Although the University of Bridgeport is Division 2, it is competitive with Division 1 schools and I loved that. The year I transferred, we made Division 1 regionals and we competed at the University of Florida. Having Byron Knox as my college coach was a huge influence on why I decided to continue the sport after I graduated college. I had a new passion for the sport and I knew I wasn't ready to be done even though my college eligibility ended.

When did the idea of elite cross your mind? 
Elite gymnastics was always in the back of my mind as a kid growing up in the sport. As I got older I had some injuries and decided that level 10 was a great avenue for my gymnastics and my goal of getting a college scholarship. I grew up at Atlantic Gymnastics in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the coaches were great at helping me see the bigger picture within the sport. As I went to Alaska and I learned how to be independent, then went to Bridgeport and noticed I still wanted to continue, I knew I had all the ingredients I needed to be successful in the JO program again. It wasn't until Tammy Biggs came into my gym- Gymnastics at Brentwood Commons in Brentwood, New Hampshire, that I decided to train elite. On that day I was coaching. The numbers were down for the clinic and my boss said I could train. I was trying to make a video for Cirque at the time and was going to do level 10 to stay in shape. Tammy Biggs had asked my coach if we wanted to try elite, After about a month of basics and getting into elite shape, I decided to give it a go with no expectations. I knew that everything that I was about to embark on would be icing on the cake! I believe that you can have goals for yourself and work insanely hard without having any expectations, It was so liberating to go into gymnastics everyday knowing that I'm doing it for my love of the sport and nothing more. This mindset is what led me to become so successful.

Melissa and her teammates at Brentwood Commons

Can you talk about getting the opportunity to train with Kim Zmeskal at Texas Dreams? 
Yes! I was at the Texas Prime Meet with my club team, GBC. We happened to be in the same rotation and I mentioned I was going to be at the WOGA Classic later that season. I mentioned I was twenty four and my story is a bit unique- I was doing elite gymnastics for the first time. Kim told me that if I ever wanted her help or needed input to contact her. After the WOGA Classic, I had the privilege of staying in Texas to train with her! The experience was amazing! Not many people get such opportunities like I did along the way and this was one of the best times of my life. At the Texas Prime Meet I also qualified to the Legendz Classic. I was on Betty Okino's team. I loved being on her team and by the end of the meet we got to talking and we still keep in touch today! She is an Herbalife coach and helped me out every step of the way this past year with my nutrition, motivation and anything else I needed!

Melissa with the Texas Dream team! 

To help pursue your elite dream you moved to New Jersey to train at ENA Paramus alongside junior elite Olivia Dunne. How would you say the gym switch benefited you? 
As I started elite, I trained at the gym I had a full time job at. GBC was my family and a great support system! My coach Kristin Paradis always helped keep things fun in the gym, A big part of my training was also Ed Datti from the University of New Hampshire and Alli Brisson from Atlantic Gymnastics. I had a full time job, so I needed to fit training in when I could. These coaches were so important for shaping me into the athlete and person I am today. It was very difficult to make the switch to New Jersey, but I knew that it was what I needed to do in order to have more consistent training schedule. Right away I learned so many new skills! Working out with Olivia was amazing. We trained from about 11am-4pm on most days and she always pushed me to do my best! At this gym I learned how to become resilient when things got tough. I know I can handle anything that comes my way and that is a huge life skill to have! I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to train at ENA.

What are some of the new skills you learned while on this elite journey? 
I was able to learn so many new skills! On vault I learned a yurchenko double. On bars I learned a pak, maloney, blind change full, toe handstand full, and many new combinations. On beam we played around with just about every skill but I ended up competing a front tuck, switch leap-switch half-back pike, and a double back dismount. On floor I learned a double arabian, front through to 2 1/2, full in, full twisting double layout, and a double double. I will always look back and remember the the exhilarating times in the sport when I learned a new skill for the first time. In gymnastics we always get caught up in the physical skills that a gymnast learns, but I learned so much mentally as well. Being resilient and having the courage to do something that not many people get to do is an amazing feeling and it is just as good as learning a new skill on an apparatus.

Melissa on top of the podium after placing first in elite optionals. 

You recently attended an elite qualifier at the National Team Training Center. How cool was that? 
As a little kid I always wanted to meet Martha and go to the Ranch. Now at twenty four years old I can check that off the bucket list! Being next to all the top level coaches and athletes was amazing. I couldn't believe that I was on the same competition floor as them. It was so intense and I loved that feeling! All in all I ended up getting second on floor with my new floor routine and that was a huge accomplishment for me. Leaving the ranch I felt so successful with everything that I did the past season. I starting out thinking that I would do level 10 to stay in shape and involved with the sport and I ended up qualifying out of elite compulsories and competing elite optionals at the national team training center- placing second on floor. nonetheless. Not only that, I met some amazing coaches that I learned a lot from and I can transfer that over to when I'm coaching.

Melissa at the Ranch!

Now that you've done it, how difficult would you say it is to go from college, back to level 10, and then to try elite? 
Going into this journey, I had the mindset that I everything I had the opportunity to do would be just that- an opportunity. I made sure to see everything as a privilege and it will shape the person I want to become. As I said, I didn't have any expectations because this helped me enjoy the sport and that was my ultimate goal this time around. It was very difficult, but every time the journey got hard I knew it was what I wanted.

How were things different this time around versus when you competed as a level 10 before you went to college? 
This time around it was very different. The first time around I believe I took what I had for granted. At Atlantic Gymnastics, I had the best coaches that always wanted the best for me and they still help me today. In the past it was hard for me to see this and it got in the way of becoming the best athlete I could be. Now that I'm older, I'm mentally stronger and I see the bigger picture like they helped me see when I was younger. I understand that the sport is only a part of my life, not my whole life, and being balanced is the best way to be successful.

Are you officially retired from the sport of gymnastics?
As for the JO program and elite gymnastics I am officially retired, although I never know what the future holds! I would love to get back on track with Cirque, and in the meantime be the best coach I can be for the athletes that walk into my life. I will never be completely done with the sport. I have too much love for the sport that gave me so many amazing things in my life.

Looking back what are you most proud of? 
At each point in my life gymnastics gave me something that I needed during that time. There is not one thing I'm most proud of. Every stepping stone on the journey has shaped me into the person I am at this moment and I can say that I have no regrets and I wouldn't even change the hardest of times.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given? 
"Let go of who you're suppose to be and embrace who you are one step at a time."

Somebody had mentioned this quote to me and I live by it! When I take the time to be patient and let things flow into place, things usually work out! This is also the best piece of advice I could give somebody. Work your butt off to be the best person you can be and you will never have any regrets!

What's next for you? 
Next for me is taking the time to find what I truly love, something that will take up the many hours of my life that used to be in the gym training. This can be relaxing or finding a new hobby that can fill the void that makes me the happiest each and every day!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dear Gymternet- Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #12 May 2015)

Dear Gymternet, 

This month I had developmental camp and competed at the American Classic!

A couple of nights before developmental camp I got sick. I was so worried I wasn't going to be able to go to camp because I couldn't eat or drink anything for almost two days. I ended up being able to go, but couldn't do full training on the first day. By the second day I was starting to feel a little stronger. We mostly trained routines at camp because the American Classic was the day after camp was over. 

There were a bunch of chickens at camp this time. When I would walk to my room chickens were all over the place! I was kind of scared they would attack me, but when I got closer they eventually went away. Also, one of my friends found a small turtle outside and brought it into her room. She fed it tomatoes, lettuce, and water. It was so cute! She ended up letting it go though. 

At the American Classic I qualified to P&G Championships! I started on bars and hit a good bar routine. Beam was next and I expected to hit but unfortunately fell twice. I finished strong though on my last two events! Going into floor and vault I needed a 13.45 average and I did it! I got a 13.55 on floor and a 13.9 on vault. I am so excited that I will be competing again at Championships in August!!! 

We left Houston really early this morning (I had to get up at 4:30 a.m.) in order to make it back for our gym's team banquet. It was so much fun to be with all of my friends and teammates at my gym and celebrate the great year we all had! :)

Now it's back to the gym in the morning! Hopefully I'll be training a couple new skills but not too many because I have the US Secret Classic in Chicago in 7 weeks. I definitely want to add an inside stalder to my bar routine for that meet.

~ Elena

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review | It's Not About Perfect

At the age of 38, Shannon Miller seems to have already done it all. She's America's first back to back World Champion, a two time Olympic gold medalist, America's most decorated gymnast to date, a cancer survivor, mother of two and now the author of a book-- It's Not About Perfect.  In her memoir, Shannon goes in depth; sharing stories from her early childhood, her elite gymnastics career, and of course life after gymnastics. Miller doesn't hold back when sharing the ups and downs of not only her gymnastics career, but her life.

We all know the story of Shannon Miller's gymnastics success- to this day she is considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time. She was the teen from Oklahoma who was best known for her frizzy hair, trademark scrunchy, and beautiful gymnastics. She trained at Dynamo under the watchful eye of Steve Nunno and Peggy Liddick-- together they would become legends of the sport. After competing in two Olympic games, Shannon now owns seven Olympic medals; two gold, two silver, and three bronze. In her book, Shannon talks a lot about the training process for both of those games and the key to her success. For all you die hard Shannon Miller fans out there, she does a great job of sharing all the details of every aspect of her career- even her method to sticking all those landings! She also candidly shares tidbits of information such as what she was thinking during the most important competitions of her life and the training plans crafted by Steve Nunno to get her through injuries or difficult times. Reading about Shannon's career in her own words really helps you understand her mindset and how she stays so positive and optimistic. Even in the darkest of times, Shannon would look for the light in every situation.

In the book, Shannon says that winning the 1996 US National Championships was not only one of the greatest moments of her gymnastics career- but of her life. While pushing through a pain in her wrist and a pulled hamstring, Shannon came back from a fall on beam in the first rotation to claim her second National title, something that she describes as a turning point in her life, "Since then, every time I've come up against an obstacle- including when I went toe-to-toe with cancer- my comeback at Nationals and my decision to resume training despite a broken elbow and making the 1992 Olympic team have been my main sources of inspiration," Miller wrote.

At the age of 19 Shannon retired from gymnastics and was left trying to find her identity outside of the sport. For the remainder of the book, she talks about the ups and downs in her life. She shares her struggle with her weight, the college life and her lack of desire to socialize. She talks about jumping into marriage too soon- but also finding her soul-mate later in life. She also talks about the birth of her children and launching her own business- Shannon Miller Lifestyle. The last few chapters focus mainly on her battle with cancer. She applied the lessons she learned through gymnastics to help get her through one of the most difficult obstacles in her life.

It's Not About Perfect is a great read for anybody- not just gymnastics fans! Miller's story is inspirational and her words are motivational, making this a great read for everyone.

Friday, May 15, 2015

2020 Olympic Team Size Reduction: Our Thoughts

The FIG recently announced that starting in 2020, the Olympic team size will be reduced from five members to four in an effort to include more individual athletes. Countries with more depth can try and qualify two additional gymnasts through World Cups, Challenge Cups, and Continental Championships. These athletes can compete for the all-around and event titles however, they can not be apart of the team competition.

Having only four members on an Olympic team would mean that the team final format is four athletes up and three scores count. So every member on the team must be an all-arounder. For the United States, coming up with four all-around competitors is an easy task. They are capable of putting up four athletes who can contribute mid-high scores on every event. Granted, an athlete that they are putting up in the team competition might not be the best in the US on that particular event (those athletes would likely be competing as one of two individuals- so they wouldn't be left at home.) but she can more than likely put up a decent score for the team. I'm more concerned for the countries that really rely on using event specialists in a team competition. A country like Great Britain for example may have one or two girls who are considered "true" all-arounders and the rest of the team would normally be comprised of event specialists. The same goes for many of the countries outside of the "big four". You don't see them producing four or more strong all-around athletes. They rely on specialists to boost the team score and this new rule is going to change that.

However, I think having the opportunity to qualify two individuals to the Olympics is awesome because it still allows up to six girls to compete for a given nation. If a gymnast is truly one of the best vaulters in the world and can contend for a medal- she should be able to earn herself an individual spot no problem. I don't agree that reducing the team size to four members is hurting an event specialists chances. This new rule is promoting all-around athletes without eliminating event specialists. I see it as more opportunities for everyone!

If you want to make the four member team, you have to really focus in on being more consistent and clean on every event. I think that's one of the positive outcomes of this new rule. I don't think you have to be the best in the world on each event (unless you're Simone Biles!) to make the team, but you should have at least two or three strong events and be working to make the weaker events more strong and more consistent. Let's look at Kyla Ross for example. Granted, she doesn't have the most difficulty in the world on any event, but she is clean and consistent and you know you can rely on her on any event if need be. Vault, bars, beam or floor; you know you can put her up and get a good score for the team. If you have a few events that are strong but one really weak event (think Alicia Sacramone) then you would have the opportunity to qualify as a specialist and just compete the events you're medal-worthy on.

In the end I think reducing the team size will force athletes to work closely on the events where their consistency/execution suffers. Any athlete who doesn't make the four member team could potentially still have a chance at an Olympic medal for her individual performances. After all, most gymnasts don't train their entire life to just be a team champion, they want to be an all-around champion or an event champion. I think this new rule is giving more gymnasts the opportunity to do just that.

What are your thoughts on the team size reduction? Feel free to tweet us or leave a comment below!