Ah the Olympics! The pinnacle of every sport! Every athlete trains their “whole entire life” as McKayla Maroney would say to get there and yes, it means a lot to everyone.
However, it is Gymnastics in general and Women’s Artistic Gymnastics in particular that is the showpiece of the Olympics every quadrennium, it’s the most watched sport, perhaps because of the glitz and glam that goes along with Gymnastics, *cough* *cough*, the Russian team’s ode to Ke$ha at the 2012 Olympics, or perhaps it’s simply because spectators develop such an admiration for these seemingly feeble young girls performing tricks and flips that defy gravity, or perhaps it’s because, aside from the 2 weeks of Olympic Gymnastics that takes place every quadrennium, the Gymnastics world is dead in the eyes of the vast majority of the world and so it’s a treat to see these flexible, muscular, leotard wearing little nuggets tumble across our television screens in a flash of glitter, crystals and spandex.
Whatever the case, as we watch these little nuggets tumble across the 4 inch beam, yes Tim Daggett, we get it, IT’S SMALL AND GYMNASTS TOES ARE STRONG, we notice that they’re not the same faces we saw 4 years ago, or 8 years ago, or even 2 years ago if we happened to catch the mid-quadrennium World Championships being broadcast on television. What happened to my favourite from the last Olympics? Did she die? Did she give up training? The answer is more than likely a no to both of these questions and this is why Gymnastics is the special sport of the Olympics. Most Gymnasts, especially American Gymnasts only get to experience 1 Olympics in their career.
Why is this? you may ask….various factors is the answer. In the United States, often the lure of going professional after the Olympics and accepting prize money and sponsorship deals sidetrack gymnasts and keeping up with training commitments and the commitments of being a professional athlete becomes too much. Additionally College Scholarships prove to be more alluring than going back to training in the same Gym you’ve spent your last 14 years in. This, of course is fair. Gymnasts are entitled to enjoy an Olympic experience and reap the rewards of hard work afterwards. However the simple answer to why Gymnasts only get to experience 1 Olympics is that Gymnastic careers are short, and remaining at the top in Elite Gymnastics only lasts a short amount of time and Gymnast’s peak period often comes at just 16. So what happens when a Gymnast happens to turn 16 and become Olympic eligible in 2009, 2013 or 2017!?
How can you prolong a Gymnasts career who just happens to have a “bad birthday”, the 1989,1993,1997 and 2001 babies. The girls who become elite at 12 and have to keep up at the Elite level for 7 years….A LONG TIME IN GYMNASTICS!
It is possible. This is proven…..Nastia Liukin is proof, Simone Biles is probably going to be proof come 2016. Every other team outside the United States is proof. However stories like Rebecca Bross, Katelyn Ohashi and Lexie Priessman prove it is not so easy. All injury plagued and no longer holders of Olympic destiny, their birthdays were all “bad birthdays” and they simply were “burnt out”.
So, as 2015 has been rung in and it just over a year until the 2016 Olympics get underway in Rio, the 2016 US Olympic Gymnastics team is old news in my books, it is the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the 2001 babies who I am now focusing on. Who will be able to prolong their career? WHO WILL MAKE IT?
D.O.B: 31st January 2001
Hometown: Bayville, NJ, USA
Coach(es): Maggie Haney & Victoria Levine
Club: MG Elite
The youngest of the MG Elite trio, Ariana Agrapides made a splash onto the Elite scene in 2013, at 12 years old, becoming Junior National Vault Champion and winning the All-Around at the qualifying meet, The American Classic. As I watched this spunky little spitfire shake her butt in classic MG Elite style my eyes filled with wonder and my body with excitement. An excitement that was short lived, when a quick Google search revealed the bad news….she was a 2001 baby!!! Similar to Lexie Priessman in that a few weeks could’ve changed her life forever, if her birthday read 31st December, like Gabby Douglas’, instead of 31st January, Ariana would’ve been Olympic eligible in 2016. Frustrating, I KNOW. However, one must not panic. While Ariana had a great 2013, her 2014 season was not so successful. Plagued with minor injuries, Ariana sat out of Secret Classic, only competed on two events at P&G Championships and even took out a tumbling pass from her floor routine. A wise decision on behalf of Maggie, Ariana and parents, as it was revealed in Beyond the Routine that these decisions were jointly made. Also revealed in the Gymnastike documentary: Beyond the Routine: The Rise of MG Elite, is Maggie Haney’s amount of awareness that Ariana has a long time left, she has a lot of Gymnastics ahead of her and it is clear that Maggie is not pushing Ariana and Ariana has certainly not reached her peak yet, I HOPE! If Ariana continues this way, I believe she will make it, it could be a Simone Biles case whereby she is on the Elite scene, unnoticed for a few years until, BAM! SHE WINS IT ALL! Lets hope that NBC, in 2020 will be able to broadcast a beautiful, heartwarming piece of fluff on MG Elite and how Jazmyn and Lauren’s successes in 2016 inspired Ariana, who is set to become 2020 Olympic Vault Champion. (MG Elite fan? yes I am.)
D.O.B: 15th April 2001
Hometown: Vancouver, WA, USA
Coach(es): Erika Bakacs and Dimitri Taskov
Club: Naydenov Gymnastics Inc.
Frankly, I worry about Jordan Chiles. While there exists a YouTube video and a news report of Jordan that claims she is the next Gabby Douglas (lets be real though Gabby Douglas is gonna be the next Gabby Douglas, and second to her is gonna be her Buckeye pal Nia Dennis). Maybe Jordan could be the Gabby Douglas of 2020 (the next next Gabby Douglas?) This can only happen however if she stops following in the footsteps of Rebecca Bross. Yes, Rebecca was an outstanding person and gymnast and had an outstanding career that most Gymnasts would have envied and achieved things some could only dream of. However Bross’ career ended in heartbreak and sadness at the Olympic Trials in 2012, when after serious injury and an Olympic Trials filled with failed balance beam dismounts (I still question why this dismount wasn’t changed? Scary Valeri perhaps?) Rebecca Bross did not make the 2012 Olympic Team. While Jordan and Rebecca are as different as two people could be and thankfully Jordan is not cursed with THOSE KNEES. Jordan is showing signs of peaking now…in 2014 or in the very near future. EEEK…similar to Rebecca…to prove their small similarities I delved into the USA Gymnastics archives (i.e I Googled the Gymnasts) and I shrieked. Rebecca Bross placed 4th in the All-Around at 2006 Visa Championships, the Nationals that were held 6 years before the Olympics she was eligible for. Guess who else placed 4th at Nationals 6 years before the Olympics she is eligible for? Yep, you guessed it! Ms.Jordan Chiles placed 4th at the 2014 P&G Championships…coincidence? I don’t think so. Frankly, i’m worried,however only time will tell whether Jordan will make the 2020 Olympics. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed, she has to live up to that news report!
D.O.B: 21st January 2001
Hometown: Palacios, TX USA
Coach(es): Liang Qiao and Liwen Zhuang
Club: Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute
The newest recruit to the ever expanding and extremely successful Chow family. Why she moved to Iowa when she is from Texas…the mecca of USA Gymnastics, i’ll never know, I suppose it’s the Gabby effect? However, I love Chow. That man can do not wrong. So her decision, or rather her mom’s decision to move away from the holyland of Gymnastics to Iowa is ok with me. Victoria, like Ariana made a splash onto the elite scene and immediately showed that her move to Iowa was paying off. In 2014 Victoria placed 3rd on Floor Exercise and 8th All-Around at the P&G Championships, oh and she made the National Team!! This does scare me slightly. I have to admit. However, Chow is a master. That’s all there is to it. He has produced two Olympic Champions and is set to produce another in 2016, if not 3 if Rachel Gowey and Alexis Vasquez catch up with their Chow’s teammate Norah Flately. I think this is a good arrangement. To me, its similar of the MG Elite trio with an added Senior member. Norah and Alexis and possibly Rachel will shine in 2016..and in 2020, maybe Victoria can be part of that MG Elite fluff, of course extra emphasis will be placed on the fact that Victoria is 100% Vietnamese, trains at the Gym that produced the 2008 and 2016 Olympic Balance Beam Champions (Yes, Norah Flatley will win) and the 2012 Olympic All Around Champion and the fact that she moved away from home and made countless sacrifices…..the usual NBC spiel, but the future is bright for this little nugget, VERY little nugget. I believe Chow will deal with whatever injuries come Victoria’s way and her body will hold up, she is in the hands of a master after all!