TIM DAGGETT: GymCastic is fantastic!
ANNA LI: GymCastic is fantastic!
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ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts. Train smarter with the holidays best stocking stuffer, Elite Sportz Band. This new gym bag must have has the approval of Dr. Larry Nassar and is now being worn by Olympic gymnasts. For bands or holiday bundles go to elitesportzband.com
JESSICA: Welcome to GymCastic episode 12. This is of course the best gymnastics podcast in the universe and I am Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com and I’m joined by:
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
SPANNY: Spanny Tampson from Spanny’s Big Fake Smile
UNCLE TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
DVORA: Dvora Meyers from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: As you can see we’re already thoroughly enjoying today! [laughs] I’ll give you guys a preview. So today we’re gonna bring you the second part of our interview with Miss Val. She talks about how she was the inspiration for… what was that show called?
DVORA: Will and Grace
JESSICA: Will and Grace, thank you, and gives us the details behind that whole story. It’s a great interview, like even more juicy than the first half so it’s gonna be great, we’re excited to bring that to you. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about what’s going on in the news, we’re gonna talk about the history of gymnastics in the United States and the YMCA and how they played a role. We’re gonna talk more about our fantasy combinations, we have listener feedback. I want to remind you guys that you can support the show by telling your friends about it, tweet about it when you’re listening we love reading your tweets, you can rate us on iTunes we love getting those reviews on iTunes it really helps us, we got some great feedback this week which we’ll discuss later in the show, it always helps increase our rankings so we love having those rating and reviews on iTunes. You can subscribe on Stitcher and of course on iTunes and support our sponsors on the website and on the audio portion, and remember that you can always find any related links to anything we’re discussing on our website so routines, photos, interviews, we’ll put those links up on the website if you want to check them out. So lets get into this week and find out what’s been happening in the news.
BLYTHE: Alright so last week we discussed a little bit about the Stuttgart World Cup and on the second day the Japanese men and the Russian women won the team titles. The other big news of that meet was Philipp Boy retiring, I think we already discussed that a little bit last week as well. Big news, a couple of pieces, Kohei Uchimura is going to be a father. It was big news in Japan when he applied for a marriage license in mid November and now it appears that his wife is expecting a baby in the spring, so forget the Royal pregnancy, it’s all about Kohei Uchimura’s impending progeny. Gabby Douglas has released her book Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith, I’ve already read it, Dvora’s already read it and we had an interesting conversation off the air about it earlier and so Dvora, do you want to talk a little bit about that?
DVORA: Well, I was pleased to see a lot of the things that became controversy in terms of the Olympics, in terms of the discussion of Gabby’s hair and discussions of race since they already kind of occupy the headlines they were actually kept pretty much to the minimum. No new information was given, all of the soundbites you have heard about that are in the book, but nothing more and no lengthy explanation of it. What I did find interesting, or just kind of got me thinking, was the beginning of the book begins with her wanting to quit which is something that she’s talked about, and her mother’s reaction to it which was “No, you can’t”, or very, very angry. What I was thinking about when I was reading it is that, you know a lot of times gymnastics is talked about as like young girls forced to do something and if they want to quit they should just be allowed to quit, and what Gabby’s situation kind of highlighted for is that at some point when your parents go all in and your family goes all in on your Olympic dream, it’s not so simple just to step away from it you maybe aren’t as entitled to step away without an explanation and without repercussions and that’s what her Mom was making very clear to her. That like yeah obviously no one was gonna force Gabby Douglas to train six hours a day or however long she was training, I think she was training a little less at Chow’s but at what point does the gymnast have an obligation to the rest of the family? At some point the investment becomes very large and you can’t just walk away from it, it’s not just about whether or not you’re having fun any more and you kind of mentioned something interesting about the Kupets sisters.
BLYTHE: Yeah, it’s a story that goes around that when they were kind of younger teenagers, Ashley maybe about 16 and Courtney about 14, their parents did sit them down and say, “Look we have poured your college tuition, or what we were saving for your college tuition, into your gymnastics training, because it’s never been cheap” and they just kind of said you know, “If you girls want to go to college you really need to get scholarships and you should use your gymnastics to do that” and they did. Of course there are other ways for paying for University, but if you have a talent and you have trained this long and hard you would think that you could get a scholarship and that’s eventually what they did and they were both incredible athletes for Georgia. We could have the discussion that is Courtney Kupets the best NCAA athlete that there ever was in gymnastics, and you could really make a case for that but anyway, I digress.
DVORA: I just think that especially because I feel like a lot of the negative media that gymnastics gets is that these girls are forced into it and at some point I feel like early on they’re not, we’re not talking about cases like Dominique Moceanu whose family was an extreme example of fame crazy parents and having an Olympic dream basically when your kid was born, but you know Gabby Douglas’ family didn’t have Olympic aspirations for her initially, but at some point when she voiced them and convinced her parents and got everyone to make sacrifices all around her, does she have a right to quit? Whatever the case is, obviously she didn’t quit and she was just having a teenage moment but I just thought it was interesting because some parenting experts or more mainstream people would say, “No thats so wrong! How could you make her feel guilty she’s just a child?”. Sixteen is still, you know you’re still young but you’re not just a child and your choices at some point have repercussions and when Blythe told me the story about the Kupets sisters I had, I was not good at gymnastics as anyone who’s read anything that I wrote knows, but my Mom sat the down and just from the financial situation in my family and said, “If you want to go to anything but a city university you need to get a scholarship because there’s no money” so is it really that different to what the Kupets parents did in explaining, “Listen we have no money we have poured our resources into something, this is now your way to go to college or college you want to go to” you know maybe they were excellent students and could get academic scholarships, but you know not everyone can afford all things.
JESSICA: This is the thing I think, Gabby didn’t go to her host family or her Mom and say, “I want to quit because my coach is abusing me/because I am injured/because I feel like I’m…” you know whatever, none of that was an issue. Those are the stereotypical things that people hear about kids being forced to do gymnastics. She was like burnt out, and she was just like, “I don’t want to do it.” Well she might give more details in the book, but I think its also that lesson of you finish what you’ve started. When you’re a kid-you have to teach your kids to finish what they start, and maybe it was, “you have to finished the next year/the next four years” whatever it is. So I think it’s a different case.
BLYTHE: And for those who haven’t read the book, we should clarify that this moment when her family came to visit her and she was living in Iowa took place in December and early January of 2011 and 2012, so she had already been to World Championships and she had already had a great amount of success, and as you guys said, it wasn’t like she was 10 and this was being driven by her parents like, “You have to go to the Olympics,” the Olympics were six months out. Speaking of Gabby, there is going to be a second gymnastics tour called Teen Choice Live that will be touring the eastern half of the country and some of the Midwest, and with some pop duo that I’ve never heard of, but I don’t keep up with that. Maybe thats for the younger crowd. And it will be Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber who will be partaking in this tour, and so if you didn’t see the Tour of Gymnastics Champions that was sponsored by Kellogg’s, and it comes to your city, you might get the chance to see them on the Teen Choice Live tour. Elsewhere, in Arques, France the Tournois Pas De Calais took place and it was won by Elena Eremina of Russia who scored a 51.967 and the Pas De Calais usually attracts some of the younger competitors that we might see in the junior ranks over the next few years, Tatiana Nabieva went to it for something like eight years straight and always did really, really well. Also in France, they had their national cups and they were won by Jim Zona, who is a former Junior European Championships Competition, now 20 years old and probably somebody we will be seeing in the next few years and 2012 olympian Mira Boumejmajen, I always have trouble with her last name, sorry Mira! Over in the blogosphere there is a fantastic Jenny Pinches interview done by Bridgid the Couch Gymnast, it’s a two parter and I would suggest everybody take a look at that. She talks about her motivations for doing gymnastics and the reason she kind of retired on top, she retired directly after the London Olympic Games. On Rewriting Russian Gymnastics there is a terrific interview as well with Nelli Kim thats translated. Nelli is of course the International Gymnastics Federation’s Women’s Technical Committee President and fabulous gymnast in her own right back in the 70s. Anybody else?
JESSICA: Yeah, that Nelli Kim interview was really interesting, and like we never hear from her so its really exciting to read something from her. So the things that stuck out to me was she talks about the new code and she talks about, you know they kind of go around and have these judges courses, and she talked about that they invited representatives from Cirque Du Soleil who trained the judges on how to understand and assess artistry and then she follows that up by saying everyone interprets beauty in their own way, but we’ll try to assess something subjective with objective criteria. Which is like, so basically she’s admitting like this is very difficult, artistry is something you can’t, that’s really hard to put into an objective criteria but what stood out to me is everyone interprets beauty in their own way. Artistry doesn’t have to be beauty, it doesn’t have to be beauty. It can be something ugly and weird. There have been some ugly weird routines that have really evoked emotion, and so that kind of disturbed me, yes we can talk about the beauty of lines and the angles are part of gymnastics but the beauty thing kind of..ehh..and this is a translation so maybe that’s a different thing in Russian. The other thing that was really cool that stood out to me, and this is actually something that Tim Daggett brought up to us in his very first interview with us, is she talks about how now there will be 10 skills again, which we’ve talked about, and you can get up to six for gymnastics elements and then four for dance elements which is like ..ehh.. but at least its not 10 flipping elements, that would be no good. But you can get up to .8 in bonus now and she talks about if gymnasts do a triple back on floor -and land on their feet- [laughs] they can get the highest bonus. And she talks about how Valeri Liukin and Kharkov did this back in the day and how they did it perfectly, and this is just what Tim Daggett was saying, like lets have people do this again. They were doing it back in the day and they stopped doing it so if you can do it safely, it’ll be worth doing. So I liked hearing that from her. It is a great, great interview so I highly recommend reading it and we’ll put a link on the site to it.
UNCLE TIM: The key word there is safely [laughs]
DVORA: Oh that would give…
UNCLE TIM: And…
DVORA: Sorry, I was going to say that would give Uncle Tim lots of gifts to work with [laughs] if we start seeing that happen again.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs] Yeah
JESSICA: I’m wondering what woman- I mean there’s definitely women who could do the triple back no problem which is probably Aly Raisman, but I’m wondering who you think will do it. I’m thinking of little, tiny, adorable Mai in Japan
BLYTHE: Oh Mai Murakami!
JESSICA: Mhmm. She’s bad ass when it comes to her tumbling, like sick! She’s the first person that came to mind. I don’t think Aly will- I don’t think they’ll go for that. I just don’t think it’s their gym style to do something like that.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah and it’s actually really scary to do a triple. Not that I ever competed one on the floor or anything, but just flipping an extra time, it takes a little while for your brain to get used to that idea so, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I also found it interesting that she said the men have more judging issues than the women, I was like, “I want to hear more about that!” but they don’t really do into it in the interview.
JESSICA: Dude she totally threw the men under the bus, she was like “They’re a mess over there” basically is how I interpreted that!
DVORA: [laughs] Uncle Tim, do you agree with that? Do you think that the men do have more judging issues than the women do?
UNCLE TIM: I think so. I mean just look at how long it took them to evaluate Kohei Uchimura’s pommel horse dismount, it took them 10 minutes to figure out whether he hit a handstand or not, so I would say that was a big problem.
DVORA: It does seem over the years that more of the judging controversies have come from the men’s side than on the woman’s. We just don’t set the apparatus to the right height. [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
DVORA: The women, just you know…
JESSICA: We could have killed our gymnasts, no biggie.
DVORA: Yeah we just set up situations that are really, really dangerous and invalidate entire competitions. [laughs]
JESSICA: So what do you guys think about there is a petition going around about changing the two per country rule, and of course this was an issue when reigning World Champion Jordyn Wieber did not make it into the finals for the All-Around in the Olympics because she place third, or fourth?
BLYTHE: She placed fourth
JESSICA: She placed fourth in prelims, but you can only have two people from each country. So even though she was fourth in the Olympics in prelims, she didn’t make the final. So there’s a petition going around people have written about it, what do you guys think?
BLYTHE: I think it’s pretty simple. I really liked the format before, it was 36 gymnasts in the All Around, three per country, and they really, really should go back to that.
DVORA: I have a question, first of all- I guess two questions- why did they reduce the number of competitors in the All-Around? Because the team size is the same, except for this Olympics which we all know.
BLYTHE: Yeah I think it was to make the competition shorter.
JESSICA: I thought it was because they wanted to encourage people from other countries. Or not encourage but allow people from other countries who are just developing their programs to be on a bigger stage, so it doesn’t have to do with having the best gymnasts, it has to do with making gymnastics a bigger deal in countries where it isn’t a very big deal right now.
DVORA: Well, first of all about that, I mean three per country rule the competition is the same thing, because there’s still the same number of opportunities for those perhaps lower ranked gymnasts to get in. Does, lets say a gymnast who qualifies as a result of the two per country rule, does her placing 23rd do all that much for excitement in gymnastics back home? I understand there’s a need to build, but does the argument work? And one of the things I feel, like fairly strongly about is one thing we’re not acknowledging, is that the All-Around competitions have changed because you know have specialists. It used to be when these rules were first introduced, everyone did all events, the entire Soviet team was comprised of all-arounders, the entire Romanian team was comprised of all-arounders and without setting some limits, they would probably take all the top 12 spots. And now you have fewer all-arounders so it seems really detrimental to the competitiveness of the All-Around competition to eliminate top all-arounders when you have fewer of them at this point.
JESSICA: Yeah I’d rather see more.. I mean the all-around.. I never liked.. the all-around was always like meh.. to me. I know everyone on NBC is always like, “It’s the greatest thing ever” and “Oh it’s the premiere blah blah blah.” But you know I love specialists. It’s the most exciting part of any games, any competition for me and I would rather see like 10 or 15 in the Event Finals instead of it’s eight now right? The top eight?
JESSICA: And so yeah I would rather see that I think it’s more exciting. But yeah, I agree. I mean it would be interesting to see, you know the FIG has a marketing report that they put out that I’ve been trying to get for a long time, maybe if someone’s listening from the FIG I would really love to see the marketing report. Do we have to buy it? What do we have to do? They’ve done a study about are the things that they’re doing working, and are these changes they’ve made working, does having the first gymnast ever who’s 22 from Singapore making it to the Olympics, did that make a huge difference in Singapore? Did a bunch of little kids sign up just because she made it to the Olympics, not even talking about making it to the All-Around, just qualifying to the Olympics. I’d really like to know, I don’t know if their initiatives are working because I’m not in those countries and I don’t know what’s happening, but it would be great to find out.
DVORA: Well just about that, I mean first of all I also kind of enjoy the specialists because they really have pushed limits, especially on events like uneven bars, but because there are specialists now we have fewer strong all-arounders. So I don’t think you have to give up the specialists, but maybe we can just let the strong all-arounders into the final. You know still have the specialists compete on bars and vault and obviously without specialists on vault there is no vault final anymore anyway [laughs]. And I don’t think we could even field 15 vaulters. Could we really even field 15 girls with two vaults?
JESSICA: No. [laughs]
DVORA: Basically anyone who had two vaults in London got into the final, almost everyone got into the final.
DVORA: But yeah, going back to what you said, does a gymnast from Singapore affect the popularity of the sport in her country, I don’t really think that’s the issue. Gymnastics is a judged sport and it’s important for- it takes a long time to kind of get a reputation in the sport and so it’s important for the gymnasts from Singapore to be at the Olympics, but does she have to be in every part of the competition of the Olympics? That’s my question, is prelims enough or does she have to really compete in the All-Around final to start making headway for her country in the sport?
SPANNY: I think prelims is absolutely enough, I mean I think that takes away a lot of the fact that, whether it’s just one athlete for the country, they qualified for the Olympics. I think that in itself and that extra coverage for that one athlete, that’s what brings the people in, that’s what brings the kids in. I think, in terms of the all-around, the all-around is for the creme de la creme and that’s it. It’s once every four years. We have mid quad worlds where they’re qualifying all the teams, if you want to go see level six gymnastics from Mumbai or whatever, you can see them at Worlds, they have opportunities to compete on these big stages. However that’s why there is a qualification process up to the Olympics, that’s why there is this selection. And to allow for qualifications, I know it doesn’t get enough coverage here in the states, I know, but we do get to see these full routines from all these different countries from mixed teams I was just making a falls montage so I went through every mixed group routine, they do have the chance to compete, to qualify. I don’t feel like someones throwing them a bone just by letting them be in prelims, that’s a big deal. They’re in the Olympics, their country people are watching this. I feel like what Grandi and others are saying is like, “Well that doesn’t mean anything. That’s just prelims, our throw away competition. It doesn’t mean anything unless they’re in the finals for team/all-around/event finals” and that’s not the case, that takes away the whole prestige of just qualifying to the Olympics.
JESSICA: We’re gonna talk now and continue our discussion about our fantasy combinations. So let’s start with beam. Let me see. I’ll go first and tell you guys what I really want to see. I want to see a Chen, or I think if you do it as a mount it’s called a Lisovitch. It’s a back tuck open and you kick out and swing down. And I’d like to see that into an immediate back extension roll, the way that Shannon Miller used to do a beautiful back extension roll stepout. And then I’d like to see someone do a step out into an immediate Onodi front tuck. How about you guys?
BLYTHE: Oooh! Well I had one that I was thinking, it was almost compulsory-ish. But it really demonstrates balance in sort of an old school way and that would be to do a full turn with leg at head into an immediate back walkover. I just think that would look very cool.
JESSICA: That would be so gorgeous!
SPANNY: Kind of like from ‘92 Compulsories floor routine had something like that. I’m thinking about that on beam.
BLYTHE: Yeah and a few gymnasts we’ve seen doing like switch leap to immediate switch half on beam sometimes switch leap to immediate switch full. I like that combination. I like that the fluidity of it. Somehow when you do a switch leap to wolf, it’s not quite the same thing.
SPANNY: I think mine would also be a compulsory holdover from ‘92 floor yeah. I went through a phase where I made little beam routines. And this would have to come out of a back handspring I would suppose. Kind of an open Arabian, step out, into a front walkover. They did that at the end of the ‘92 floor routines and I thought it would be so neat on beam. I know it’s being ambitious. Even a piked Arabian step out into not saying a front handspring that’s all the trend but a legit front walkover. That’d be pretty fancy.
BLYTHE: Those old school skills, what we call old school now, the front walkovers, the back walkovers: every now and then, you see them in a competition, like an elite competition, and they’re just so well done. Like, I know this doesn’t take much effort for you and it’s an A skill, but even so, they’re very special. They can be.
DVORA: And Afanasyeva on floor did a back walkover on her elbows and it was so interesting. I love that floor routine at the Olympics. It got pretty weird at times. That was one of those routines that was weird. I always thought it worked. I know that Blythe loved it.
BLYTHE: I loved it. It was maybe my favorite floor routine of the entire quad. Loved it.
SPANNY: Mine too.
DVORA: And going back to what we were talking about last week that none of that choreography was interchangeable. It couldn’t have gone in any other routine. Whereas most choreography is just a set of skills. That all had to be in that routine. It couldn’t go anywhere else. I just remember. That backwalkover really stood out to me. Just a little difference that catches your eye.
JESSICA: And for our listeners, if you like these kind of routines, I would say the only team out there, besides elite where you can see this every now and then, but a college team that still does gymnastics like this and that is the University of Minnesota.They have totally unique, beautiful, interesting throwback skills and they do them perfectly.Their coaches are very very very focused on artistry and if you like the kind of stuff that we’re talking about then watch the University of Minnesota. They put up all of their floor routines and everything is unique and interesting and beautiful and especially watch Kristin….
SPANNY: Kristin Furukawa….her mount. That’s my number one fantasy thing ever. Even though it’s not an acro combination, like that goes into every single one of my dream routines.
JESSICA: It’s the most beautiful
DVORA: What’s the mount? Sorry I haven’t…can you describe it?
SPANNY: It’s not even a mount. So she does a head roll that she holds it in an angle. And then she rolls down. She does a chest roll I think, like a straight chest roll from ‘96. And then she kind of rolls onto her stomach and somehow ends up facing the other way. It’s the most gorgeous thing you’ll ever see in your life.
DVORA: And she faces the other way in two seconds. That’s what’s so exciting.
SPANNY: She turns that, I don’t know what they call it, the belly roll. It’s stunning. It takes up the whole length of the beam. You don’t see anyone else doing it ever and it’s, well that’s what gymnastics is. That’s what it’s supposed to be right there.
TIM: I like the mounts that take up the whole length of the beam. I was thinking of one where you do like a front headspring step out into an immediate front handspring stepout front. I thought that would be challenging and kind of realistic. I think somebody could do that. It would be fun too.
JESSICA: Dvora, you have one on here too.
DVORA: Oh yeah. It’s more straightforward and not as interesting as what we’ve discussed. Could someone help me with the pronunciation of the Ukrainian gymnast. It was the one who did the front handspring front combo.
DVORA: Ok. Sorry. I just wanted to up the ante on that one and do a front handspring front half, a Barani. I think that would be kind of amazing. Because again, like I love that skill. And I know Chellsie or some other people have done a back handspring connected after it. But that’s not a real connection. Do it as a tumbling pass or just do the skill nicely. But don’t do a backhandspring after you’ve landed with your chest down and you wait a few seconds and then call it a connection. And so that’s kind of what I would love to see. Because I really love front tumbling on the balance beam. I just really enjoy it. So I just want to see more of it.
JESSICA: Yeah and you can’t fake a connection when you’re doing front tumbling. Like you can’t pause before your front tumbling. Well I guess you kind of could because some of these gymnasts are so freaking ridiculously strong that they can do a standing front tuck. But in general..
SPANNY: Lauren Mitchell kind of. She almost pauses and then head dives into a front tuck. And somehow makes it. Her routine never seems fast enough for me. I get boggled that she does it.
JESSICA: That is so the Australian MO. They look like they’re gonna die but they make it somehow. It is right? Brigid’s gonna be upset with us after that comment. It’s true. It’s true.
SPANNY: Hey, they get it done. I mean and it’s creative. You give them that. It just defies logic and physics is all.
JESSICA: Continuing on our series on the history of gymnastics in the United States, we are going to cover the YMCA this week. So Uncle Tim, tell us about it.
TIM: So, I actually did dress up which my co-hosts did see and now Dvora is doing the YMCA arms, now associated with gay culture but way back in the day it wasn’t. The first YMCA was founded in London in 1844 in response to the increasing industrialization and urbanization of England. At the time, single, impressionable young men were moving to the cities and were tempted by the many vices that the city had to offer. So the YMCA wanted to help the young men make good life choices. The founder, George Williams’s motto was “Replace evil with good morality and Christian values.” Seven years later, in 1851, the first American YMCA was founded in Boston with the same Christian principles. But it wasn’t until 1869 that the YMCAs began to build gyms and they modeled their gymnastics programs after the Turners. I guess what is kind of interesting about the YMCA gymnastics movement is that they really made an effort to unify their programs early on. For instance, they required each gym to have the same equipment, which by the way, included a set of parallel bars. In addition, after Springfield College opened, the YMCA National Board established that Springfield College was the national training school for coaches. Springfield College is still around. It is the only remaining Division III men’s gymnastics program in the NCAA. Similarly, the YMCA gymnastics programs are still around and they even host their own national competition each year. Unfortunately, YMCA gymnastics has kind of gained a bad reputation. In shows like Make It or Break It, they depict the YMCA programs as inferior to club gymnastics. And regardless of whether you think that’s true or not, historically, that has not always been the case. For instance, in the 1960’s, girls around the nation moved to Seattle to train with George Lewis at the YMCA. So there you go. Shout out to Blythe in Seattle. Doris Fuchs Brause was one of the girls. In case you don’t know who she is, she’s credited as the first woman to really swing bars without pauses between the big skills. So, to conclude this segment, you know, thinking of Doris Fuchs Brause, I wanted to ask you guys what gymnasts stand out to you as people who have really changed the sport of gymnastics? I mean besides the obvious ones like Nadia and Olga. Who has really kind of revolutionized the sport like Doris did?
JESSICA: I think on bars, it would totally be Roethlisberger. Marie Roethlisberger. She really revolutionized bars in a totally new way after Doris Fuchs Brause did as well. And I think she won the first medal for an American woman. I think it was the same meet Kurt Thomas won and then she competed later in the day and she won too. Right? I think they both won.
DVORA: At worlds?
JESSICA: Yeah at worlds.
BLYTHE: No she was the first to win a medal. And Marcia Frederick was
JESSICA: Marcia Frederick! That’s who I’m thinking of. Marcia Frederick! Sorry not Roethlisberger. Marcia Frederick. Sorry. Yes. Thank you for clarifying that. That was the person I was thinking of. Yeah. We’ll link to that routine.
TIM: Blythe you go eagerly for an answer right there.
BLYTHE: Well I think about Khorkina honestly. You talk about the ‘90s and the certain body type and the certain age. For a while, gymnastics seemed very constricted you know. If you were over 17, you were over the hill and if you were over 4’11, you were too tall for the sport. And Khorkina just blew all those stereotypes out of the water. And love her or hate her, you really have to give her credit. Longevity, originality, and just kind of wiping the floor with the competition and just really enjoying doing it so and I think she showed a lot of people that you didn’t have to conform to these stereotypes that had been set up in order to be a successful gymnast. I think that did change the sport. Now we have taller gymnasts. Now we have gymnasts who are 25 and competing at the Olympics and doing really well and I think the sport owes something to Khorkina for that.
DVORA: And Brigid of The Couch Gymnast this week posted a video on Facebook of Khorkina being interviewed by Rosie O’Donnell, the old video. It turns out that Rosie was kind of obsessed with her. It was a clip package of all the times that Rosie mentioned her on air until she finally appeared as a guest. It was kind of utterly charming. I also really appreciate Khorkina’s contribution. I think towards the end of her career, she did get some gifts. But she really set the standard and made it possible for even comebacks like Catalina Ponor.
JESSICA: And it’s such a good point that you guys make because her skills were so hard that even today, it’s kind of rare when you see a Khorkina skill on bars. Like, there are definitely more of them but they’re so difficult. Yeah, she’s super bad ass.
DVORA: And just that long body made everything look even more spectacular. I liked her attitude more than her gymnastics at times. I like that she had one. I like that she was expressive. I know that she set the template for the Russian diva discussion. I really like seeing a female athlete that was fiercely competitive and didn’t hide it at all. You know, you see male basketball players yelling at each other or like riling trying to get the team…I don’t know. I don’t actually watch basketball. I don’t watch sports. Let’s just be honest. But every time you see male basketball players expressing frustration with team members, it’s not this kind of positivity constantly. Sometimes, anger and disappointment are a part of sports and you shouldn’t have to hide those emotions.
TIM: I respect the fact that she did the all around too. Because nowadays, I feel like some coaches would have been like oh you’re not going to do floor. You’re really not that good at it. You’re just going to do bars and maybe beam. Probably not vault. So I really have respect for her for doing all four events.
JESSICA: Can you remind us what the YMCA stands for? Christian Men something?
TIM: Yep. Young Men’s Christian Association.
BLYTHE: So we have just gotten word that Elizabeth Price has won the Glasgow World Cup by a whopping four and a half points over Elisabeth Seitz of Germany and Kim Bui also of Germany. And Price and Seitz went 1 and 2 last week at the Stuttgart World Cup in Stuttgart. This result is a phenomenal result for Price and we were just joking, hey Elizabeth Price 2013 World Champion? Seems like it could happen. On the men’s side, Marcel Nguyen won his second title in two weeks, topping the field over Kazuhito Tanaka of Japan and Daniel Purvis of Great Britain.
JESSICA: And now it’s time for part two of our interview with UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos-Field.
DVORA: One of things in my totally unscientific survey, it seems that UCLA gymnasts presumably stay elite, go to international competitions much more than former elites or level 10s from other programs. Am I completely off base or is there something to that? Is there something about how you approach training at UCLA that gymnasts stay elite or go elite?
MISS VAL: We really try to make the sport fun for them again. You know, Chris is an amazing coach. He’s an unbelievable technician and he is passionate every single day. Our training is really fun. We train at 8 in the morning and it is high energy power packed. We love what we do. We love the palate, you know the athlete that we get to work with. And so our athletes don’t get bored. And even though you don’t see all the skills that they can do in competition, because as you well know, it’s not worth it for us to throw all the skills that they can do, we do those skills in the gym. And that’s what keeps them in the back of their minds thinking you know I could go and I can do elite again. I can compete internationally. I just had a conversation yesterday….you know Vanessa wants to go on to 2016. And Peng Peng definitely will continue to train elite. And I said you know Vanessa you need to carve out your summer so you can go home and train with her. Because you need to keep that enthusiasm up and train with someone that’s at your level to push you and that’s what we do in our gym every day. We’ve got Sam Peszek and Alyssa Pritchett. Who’s going to be the first one to throw the double double on floor? It’s a healthy competitiveness and it keeps them hungry and excited about their sport. I think that has always been our culture.
DVORA: In terms of their success in the NCAA….one thing you know when you watch elites go from elite to NCAA ranks, it’s not necessarily a given that they’re going to do very well in the NCAA even though they competed as elites. It seems like the Canadian elites that come to UCLA by and large just thrive in the NCAA. Why do you think that is?
MISS VAL: I never thought of that. I don’t know. I think it’s a combination, I’m just guessing honestly because I’ve never really thought about it. I think it’s they have a tremendous appreciation for being paid for the first time in their lives to do gymnastics. It’s not something they grow up expecting and it’s not something they feel entitled to because it’s so rare for them. I think it’s that combined with…they don’t grow up watching a lot of collegiate gymnastics meets and they don’t grow up going to collegiate gymnastics meets and so it’s so new to them that oh my gosh look at all this energy that’s put into my sport! And for the first time, they’re treated like professionals. They have everything they need to be successful that they thrive in that environment. They didn’t grow up even expecting it. They didn’t even know it existed. I can’t tell you how many Canadian parents…they don’t understand. No you don’t have to buy your leotards. No you don’t have to pay for their travel. No really you don’t. It’s just like Christmas for them for four years. They are just so appreciative of it. I remember when I was talking to, when Lena Degteva was on our team and I found out that Canadians got twice as much taxes taken out of their scholarship checks. So when Lena moved off campus and was getting her monthly check, hers was substantially lower than the Americans because they had the Canadian taxes taken out of it. And Lena just looked at me like I was crazy. She was like why would I care about that? I’m being given a college scholarship. I’m getting my education paid for and I get to do gymnastics. It’s very refreshing.
DVORA: Definitely. I know I definitely did not get paid to go to school. But also do you think, and this is just kind of spitballing, do you think that the Canadian elites, even though they come out of the elite system, do you think Canadian elites are less burned out because Canadian gymnastics is less of a pressure cooker than the Americans seem?
MISS VAL: Yes. Yes.
DVORA: That was just a random thought.
MISS VAL: No I agree with that.
DVORA: Earlier we were talking about how the girls learn to function as part of a team but still thrive as individuals. Now I imagine that not everyone works out. I’m not interested any names but what happens when a gymnast doesn’t thrive or does not work out or doesn’t manage to integrate successfully into the team? How do you handle those situations and how do you decide if necessary to cut ties?
MISS VAL: I like to give them as much time as I can, as many chances as possible for them to get those very valuable life understanding that to be a part of something greater than yourself, the rewards of that are far greater than anything you could have ever achieved alone. And I like to give them as many opportunities as possible, as long as possible to get that. But when it comes to the point that it is detrimental to the team and it is a huge distraction to us building our team, and when it comes to the point where we’re spending more time on them than the other 15 student athletes on our team, then it’s time to cut ties. When I just realize that they just don’t appreciate what they have been given. And unfortunately, a lot of time it’s being mimicked by their parents.
DVORA: How so?
MISS VAL: Well the parents are agreeing with them with whatever the issues are, that their daughters are right and I’m just being totally unreasonable. And so when it comes to that, then the athlete doesn’t have a chance. If the parents and I are not on the same page, then I don’t have a chance, I don’t have a very good chance to get that student athlete to understand the difference throughout the season.
DVORA: I’m just curious as to—if you could be a little specific, like what sort of challenges, specific challenges that someone might have in integrating into a team?
MISS VAL: That there aren’t separate rules for different people. Excuse me. I have a cold. In our program, there are certain expectations that everybody is held accountable to. And those aren’t gymnastics expectations. They’re character expectations. I expect you to appreciate the program, be respectful of the program, honor the program, which means you show up on time. That you come in in a good mood. I don’t care if you have a final that day or if something horrible happened in your family. You come in and you are respectful to other people. You don’t have to be yippy skippy happy. But you have to be a decent human being and acknowledge people and treat them with respect and dignity. And if student athletes feel that that doesn’t pertain to them, that they can come in and just be a brat whenever they want to, well that gets old real fast. And that is not acceptable. And a lot of times they think I want them to be happy everyday. You know I’m not happy everyday. Well first of all, yeah you can decide to be happy. Ok. Your life does not suck that badly that you can’t make it a great day and be appreciative of the fact that you actually have everything that you have every day. But if you are really that upset about something or bummed out sad about something, it does not give you the right to treat people disrespectfully and to be a brat. It just doesn’t. So those are the types of things that don’t fly on our team. I’ve never ever not renewed someone’s scholarship or kicked someone off the team because of their gymnastics. It’s because of a sense of entitlement. And they think there are different rules for them and there aren’t.
DVORA: It’s difficult to imagine. I mean I’ve never done any high level gymnastics but it’s difficult to imagine that someone had trained for years and they were allowed to get away with certain behavior at a high level gymnastics training?
MISS VAL: Well not really though. How many times have you seen elite kids on the floor and they do a routine and whether it’s good or it’s bad and their coach comes up to them and they don’t even look at the coach. The coach is trying to coach them and the athlete doesn’t even look at them. Ok well maybe because that’s how the coach treats them like that in the gym and puts on a different face in competition. I don’t know. But I know that’s not how we treat our athletes. Do unto others as you wish them do unto you. If I’m going to treat you with respect and dignity and if I’m going to even when you’re being a brat, I’m going to take the time out to come over to you and treat you, I expect the same in return. And that goes for how you treat your other athletes, your teammates and how you treat your coaches, staff, and everybody else. And it drives me nuts. There are times we’ve gotten athletes in and that’s their pattern of behavior. When you coach them, they think that they’re in trouble and they don’t look at you, they become very robotic and it’s like why are you acting like I’m whipping you? I’m simply helping you get your legs straight on a back handspring. It’s the deconditioning so that you can recondition. It takes a while but they have to be open to it.
DVORA: Well that kind of just, what you just said, kind of speaks to their previous training, that any time a coach approaches them, they were clearly doing something wrong or they were in trouble, and they react defensively to that, it seems.
MISS VAL: Right.
DVORA: You know, and…
MISS VAL: And that’s when, that’s the programming of your values and your self-worth is in your performance.
MISS VAL: And one of my biggest challenges is erasing that.
MISS VAL: Your value to yourself, your sense of self-worth, should be based on your intentions. If you’re intending to be respectful to your coaches and listen to what’s being given and respectful to your teammates and the encouragement they’re giving you, and your intention is to do the best that you can do, then you should be walking on clouds. It has nothing to do with whether you hit the skill or not.
DVORA: So it’s kind of…
MISS VAL: And that’s really, really, really hard, and it’s really hard, and what we’ve been going through now—we’ve been putting in full floor routines together—and, you know, we’re doing routines and stopping before their last pass. Ok, well they’re not at the point in their training right now where we can expect them to land on their feet every single time they do their last pass. It’s ok if they make a mistake, if they have a fall. It’s ok. That’s where we are in our training right now. But to get them to realize that it’s ok, and just keep working, just keep improving, it’s ok. You don’t have to get down on yourself. That’s a huge issue we’re going through right now.
DVORA: Well, that also kind of leads me into my next question, because you were kind of talking about how, in many ways, they come to college and there has to be some kind of mental deprogramming that happens, so—and it seems to be largely a function of how they were coached. So if you had the power to institute one or two changes to coaching nationwide, what would it be? What would they be?
MISS VAL: [[Laughs]] I’ve always felt that everybody–I’ve always felt that the system we have in our country is backwards. It’s…to coach at a college level, you have to have a degree, a collegiate degree, but to coach beginners and our upcoming children, anybody can coach. And so, I think that should be backwards. I think in order to coach beginners and our development of kids, you need to have some sort of teacher’s education.
MISS VAL: You have to know how to teach, how to prepare, how to influence change in a positive way. And, you know, if I was Queen of the Universe, then I would make all of our teachers, even in our school systems, mandate that they have to have the tenacity, the ability to, an understanding of how to teach from a positive perspective. And that doesn’t mean it’s always fun. I mean, I believe in tough love, definitely; in discipline and structure and all of that. But, I do think it’s backwards in our country. When I was in school at UCLA and I did a paper on the difference between the Soviets coaching structure and the United States coaching structure, and it was backwards there. It was totally different from ours. In order for them to coach elite athletes, they had to have a Master’s Degree, in some sort of anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology, something.
MISS VAL: No, excuse me, to coach beginners. I’m sorry, to coach beginners. But to coach the elites, their National and International Teams, you know, they could have just been good gymnasts, and over here it’s exactly the opposite.
DVORA: Mmhmm. They’d have to start paying the beginner level coaches a lot better. [[Laughs]] If they had that…
MISS VAL: Yeah, and school system’s and everything. Yeah.
DVORA: Yeah. Someone who coached…
MISS VAL: Yeah, and really, if I—if you want to be a great coach, then go get your Master’s in Psychology. Go get philosophy. You know, just go, go study the human psyche, and—because coaching is all about motivating change, and you can motivate change by being harsh and tearing someone down, you can motivate change that way, but the damage that it does along the way negates the change. So you may get them to be able to get them to do a beautiful triple twist on floor, but if you have damaged their psyche and their self-worth along the way, you’re never going to be able to count on that triple twist.
DVORA: One of the things you pointed out is that especially that a lot of gymnasts end up going into coaching, and don’t, may or may not, have specialized education training, and just kind of were good gymnasts. They could teach a skill. Do you think that in many ways they just kind of repeat this cycle of both the positive and negative ways they were taught, because they’re not being educated specifically in something in something like psychology, that they are just kind of repeating that cycle? And, at the same…
MISS VAL: Yup, yup.
DVORA: You know, reinforcing a lot of the same negative experiences that they had when they were coming up, and kind of thinking, “Well, this made me successful, so therefore…”
MISS VAL: Yup.
DVORA: “…It’s going to make the next generation successful.”
MISS VAL: I remember vividly having an athlete, an elite athlete, in the 80s come onto my team, and one of her teammates would not do the free series on beam. And they came from the same club. And this other athlete said to me, “Just yell at her. I promise you she’ll do it.” And I said, “She probably will do it. But there’s a better way.” There is another way, and it’s a better way, because the other way, that I’m going to do, is I’m going to instill in her the self-worth and the confidence that she can rely on when she’s out there competing, and I’m not standing next to her yelling. So there’s a better way. And it was very foreign to her, to the athlete that was telling me, “Just yell at her, just yell at her, it works, for the last ten years it’s worked.” And it was like, ok.
JESSICA: So, speaking of the 80s, and the 90s, so, you know, Jennifer Sey and Dominique Moceanu came out with their memoirs, and they talk about, you know, the kind of abusive coaching and, you know, inattentive and ignorant adults that they were around when they were elites. And, you know, do you see a change in that? Is that still going on? Do you find elites who come in with those exact same problems, or do you see more of your level 10s and elites come in who have had more of a positive coaching experience, in something that’s, and, do you know, do you see anything changing or do you see this kind of coaching still is the majority of the coaching?
MISS VAL: I think both, quite honestly. I see the same exact types of issues coming in, and I see…you know, in the 80s and 90s, we had elites that came in that were very happy with, had a great experience, positive experiences with their coaches. And I think you’re always going to see it. I think there’s always going to be the people that coach from an abusive standpoint, and it’s, you know, it’s…whenever I think of the dichotomy of that, I think of Coach Wooden and Bobby Knight. I’m sorry, you guys know basketball?
JESSICA: Yeah, you know, Bobby Knight, the chair thrower.
MISS VAL: Yeah, and that’s very…
JESSICA: They guy that beats his…yeah.
MISS VAL: …Very abusive and very…I mean, profane with his team. But you knew what you were getting into, and Bobby Knight was a very successful coach. Very successful. You knew what you were getting into, and there are some athletes that can go to a system like that, can thrive in it because that doesn’t affect them, and there are other athletes that it just, it totally destroys their value, their self-worth. And, you know, that’s probably the biggest part of, I feel, my job is spending four years with those athletes like that, those people, and helping them restructure their inner psyche. And it’s…and I mean, I have absolutely no training in it, so I do the best job I can, and I’m not great at it, but it’s very important to at least try.
JESSICA: So I want to go back for a second to just to follow up with kind of the positive coaching thing and how it’s different in other countries, and not to say that they’re more positive than other countries, but you know there’s this positive coaching alliance that I think Phil, the basketball guy in LA, I know you’ll his name…
MISS VAL: Jackson?
JESSICA: Yes, thank you. He’s a big proponent of, and that coaching alliance I think I’ve seen that it’s gaining more steam, and it really has to do with the dual coaching thing and, like, building character through sport and that being the main focus. And I feel like there’s more and more gymnasts, you know, elite gymnasts that are having this experience of college and having this dual coaching experience, and really having positive coaching, you know, the Wooden way rather than the Bobby Knight way. And I’m wondering if you think that we’ll ever really see a change in that system, that we’ll see a shift to the positive coaching model as opposed to the negative coaching model.
MISS VAL: Yes, I do. [[Laughs]] I know you want me to expand on that.
JESSICA: Yes I do.
MISS VAL: But I don’t feel comfortable doing that.
MISS VAL: Yes, I do.
JESSICA: Good. That gives me hope.
MISS VAL: Yeah. I’m sorry.
JESSICA: No, you don’t have to be sorry. That’s fine.
MISS VAL: Ok.
JESSICA: So, ok. I would like to know, in this last year we have seen some big changes in gymnastics and the politics of how gay Americans are treated, and we’ve had, for the first time, we had an out gymnast compete at an Olympic Trials. So Josh Dixon came out in a newspaper article, he was out in his life but he came out, you know, publically, and then we also had two of the male gymnasts from Michigan made It Gets Better videos and talk about their experiences coming out and competing in college. And do you think we’re at a turning point in gymnastics, where we’re going to see more out gymnasts? Obviously, there’s tons of gay gymnasts competing, but that they’ll be comfortable coming out in a sport that’s judged, and that we’ll maybe even see a head coach that’s out? I mean, I know that in the NCAA right now, there’s not a single gay head coach.
MISS VAL: Hmm. Yeah, absolutely I do. And you know what, I don’t know if I’m a good person to ask that question to, because I really have a hard time with prejudice. I just don’t get it at all. So, if you tell me that there are still gay issues out there, I go, “Really? [[Laughs]] Wow, wow, ok.” And it’s my own ignorance, but it’s probably because I just don’t surround myself with people that think like that, so…I think that once someone has opened the door and they can make other people see it’s not so scary out there, and the door’s open and other people will poke their head through and walk through the door. That’s always the way it is. Once someone breaks the glass ceiling, then there’s no more ceilings, so you can climb as high as you want, and…I should probably be able to speak more eloquently to this subject, and the reason that I don’t is because I don’t think about it. I don’t, it doesn’t…I just can’t believe that there is still prejudice out there, in any way, shape, or form.
JESSICA: Other colleges have had, NCAA programs have had issues with people of different religions and different beliefs kind of coalescing and being together on the same team, and we wonder if, you know, UCLA seems to never have these problems—at least, we don’t see them publicly—and there seems to be such diversity both in, you have straight coaches, gay coaches, and all these different religions and everyone seems to get along just fine. Do you find that it’s one of the advantages of just letting your program be instead of promoting it as a certain type of program? That this naturally happens?
MISS VAL: No. No, well, no, it doesn’t naturally happen. It’s not—our program isn’t like that because I just let it be. We have not gotten recruits that I would have liked to have gotten because of our diversity.
MISS VAL: So, you know, they had said, it’s just they wanted to go to a place that won’t…this particular girl wanted to go to a place where the team was much more Christian. All of them. And my personal point of view, and the fact that I’m the leader of this program makes it kind of pertinent and relevant, it that…I think, I believe that everybody can have an opinion. You can have opinions all you want. But I don’t believe that it’s up to you to judge anybody. And I, myself, I have a very strong faith. I grew up Greek Orthodox; I am a Christian and I believe strongly in my faith. And I don’t understand how people can have a strong faith and feel that it is up to them to judge what other people do. Those things contradict each other, to me. So, while I can respect your opinion, if you don’t want to be around gay people or if you don’t want to be around Muslim people or if you don’t want to be around Jewish people or the Jewish people don’t want to be around Christians or, while I can respect your opinion about that, I absolutely, there is no place on our team for you to judge yourself and say that you are better than someone else. And I let that be known when I’m recruiting. The diversity on our campus is mirrored by the diversity on our team, and that diversity encompasses a wide range of things, and if that is not something that you can embrace and appreciate and realize that if you could stop judging other people and just start observing them, without formulating a judgment, it’s going to help this world be a whole heck of a lot better, then UCLA is not the right place for you. And I’ve encountered that a lot, actually. So it’s not that our team just happens to be diverse. It’s something that I cultivate and I am very, very proud of, and I encourage it. I encourage them to talk about politics. I mean, when Michelle Selesky was on the team and a staunch Republican, and Trishna Patel was on the team and a staunch Democrat, and we would open discussion about this, and most of the girls on the team had never even thought about politics. I thought it was great. And I’ll never forget the time being in the van and talking with Mohini about what she believes and why she believes it. The same with Ariana, being Jewish, what she believes, why she believes it. I think it’s a really healthy discussion, to be able to moderate discussions like that and not allow them to formulate judgments on each other. I love it. [[Laughs]] I always tell them…I hate it when people get in this little gang mentality where they think what they are and what they do is better than what other people do. And, years and years ago, in the 90s I think, our reporter for our Daily Bruin, a guy, we took him on a trip with us and he was in a van—that was before we took buses—and we got to the hotel and asked how was your trip, and he said it was actually a little uncomfortable because the girls in the van were talking about how uncomfortable it would have been to be brought up in a lesbian household. Well, they had no idea that this guy was raised by two women, by a lesbian couple. And so it was a wonderful teaching moment, during that night we had a team meeting, and I said like, you know, What were you discussing in the vans? And the girls that were in that van were just laughing and laughing about what it would be like to be raised by two women, and the problems that would come up, and I said, you know, told them that, “Did you ever think that, to think that one of your teammates, let alone this guy’s parents, are lesbians?” And they were mortified. But it opened up a wonderful discussion for us to have about how they just thought jokes and laughing and formulating judgments and opinions about things was funny. And it wasn’t funny.
DVORA: Does it make you sad that someone would not want to come to UCLA because they don’t want, like, they don’t want to encounter different points of view?
MISS VAL: Yeah. Well, I felt it was sad from that perspective, and also felt that it was a bit hypocritical, because if you are a Christian and, you know, the life that Christ lead, He didn’t surround Himself just with people like Himself. He surrounded Himself with the dregs of society. And so if you’re supposed to be out there, ministering to people, I don’t…it doesn’t make any sense to me to surround yourself with people that are all Christians. So. I thought the message was lost. I mean…
DVORA: It is a really strong impulse, coming from a closed-off community, it’s not that you don’t want to have your…they’re very scared. I mean, I’m not sure how these other gymnasts are raised, but there’s a tremendous resistance, they’re so afraid of saying…they know that there are other good points of view out there. It’s not like they’re…But they also believe fervently that the world view that they’ve given you is the best one, and the one that you should have, and they’re very scared of it having been challenged, and sending kids out, particularly at an impressionable age, and let them decide for themselves. They’re very afraid of it, the parents and the community.
MISS VAL: I think…yeah, I do. And that is not a philosophy and a belief that I have. I encourage our student athletes to go out and seek. Don’t be Christian just because your parents are Christian. You need to be, you need to figure out your truth. And they’re at a wonderful age, when they come to college, that they’re starting to think about all of this stuff and formulate opinions and, don’t just, don’t formulate uneducated opinions.
MISS VAL: And I love it when the girls, you know. I’ve had many, many girls over the years come to me and ask me why do I believe what I believe. I love having that conversation with them. And I love showing them exactly why I believe what I believe. And I don’t tell them this is what you should believe. It’s just opening the door to say, go seek. Go seek and you shall find. Just go seek, go figure yourself out.
DVORA: Mmhmm. Kind of seems like the whole point. Go figure yourself out, not just philosophically or religiously, but what you’re doing in general in college gymnastics as well figuring yourselves…
MISS VAL: Right.
DVORA: …out for the future.
MISS VAL: Right. And I’ll be very honest with you and share stuff, and hope that I’m not sharing something I shouldn’t, but Mattie’s been having a difficult year this year. I think part of it has to do with the whole Olympic thing, and she says flat out, it didn’t have anything to do with her regrets. She doesn’t regret not continuing, or the fact that they won a gold medal. That’s not it at all. It’s kind of all just hit her, and she’s had a hard time in the gym, and being up and happy and appreciative. And the conversations that I keep on having with her are that it’s so clear to me that Mattie is exceptionally bright. She’s a really, really, really smart girl. She’s been blessed with smart, smart genes. She’s obviously very talented. And she has a very high emotional intelligence, intuitive intelligence. She gets things, social things, really well. And I’m telling her to not—what’s so bad to me is that you’re wasting even one day of this amazing experience and opportunity you can have here, because at the end of your four or five years here, you have everything you need to be anything you want to be in life. Anything. The sky is the limit. Dream big. You’ve got it all, right here, right now. And the fact that you are depressed because of what’s happened in your past is very, very sad. And it’s affecting your present, right now, today. And I’ve had multiple discussions with her about that. And I refuse to give up on her, and I will do everything I can to get her to have that Aha! moment where she becomes brilliant Mattie, because she is just a phenomenal, phenomenal young woman.
JESSICA: I have two more—I have one more question, and then we have some reader questions—unless Dvora, if you wanna—are you good?
DVORA: No, I wasn’t sure if we were going into the reader questions.
JESSICA: Ok. Yeah. So I have one more question that I’ve always wanted to know, ok. So, you know, I have probably fifty things I’ve always wanted to know, but this is one I’ve never heard you answer, so: if someone is offered a full—like, if someone, if you’re talking to an elite, and they’re considering going pro, and—or maybe it’s a level 10, and they’ve been offered a commercial, and they’re like, “oh, I totally want to do this, I want to get into the entertainment industry”, whatever—do you tell them, if you’re in the recruiting process, do you break it down for them? “Ok, if you’re gonna go pro, make sure you make X amount of money after taxes because a UCLA scholarship is worth this much money.” Do you do that?
MISS VAL: Yeah.
JESSICA: And if so, like, what is the number?
MISS VAL: Yeah. It’s…I’ve had that conversation a lot. I’ve had it with Jordyn Wieber when she called me after World Championships and was trying to decide what to do, and before the Olympic games, Kyla Ross and her father came up just specifically to talk about that, because they knew I had gone through it with other girls. I think everybody has a price. We all like it or we don’t, but I think everybody has a price, and it’s important that you figure out what that price is. The cost of an out-of-state scholarship at UCLA is $50,000, so after taxes, you figure you want to make $250,000. Well, I think it’s—my personal opinion is that the number is greater than that, because you cannot put a value on the experiences that you have being a collegiate student athlete. It’s priceless, in my opinion. And that was discussion I had with Jordyn and her parents, because Jordyn realized the value of that experience, and wants to be a part of a team, but was getting offered a substantial amount of money and didn’t see herself continuing doing gymnastics for that much longer. So…but she said, “I don’t want to give up my eligibility if it means that I can’t be a part of the team, the team experience.” So that was a great discussion to have with her, and I think she did make the right decision. You know, as much as I would love to have her competing on our team when she comes, I do think that her age and all of that allows her to make a substantial amount of money. It’s the same conversation I had with Kyla. Kyla—can I talk about Kyla?
JESSICA: Yes, please do.
MISS VAL: No, well, cause I’m not—you can’t talk about recruiting someone.
MISS VAL: I’m not talking about recruiting her, I’m talking about the conversation we had about her going professional.
MISS VAL: Ok.
JESSICA: That’s clear, yes.
MISS VAL: Cause that’s an NCAA violation, to talk about recruiting Kyla. I’m not talking about that. But Kyla’s, you know, 15 years old, 16? She’s got quite a few more years to be able to make a substantial amount of money. What’s the magic number? And her dad was a professional baseball player, so he knows the professional world well. What is the magic number? When we had the girls in 2000 come in, Jamie and Maloney and Schwikert, they did their homework. They called up Amy Chow, they asked Amy, Kerri Strug, after taxes and paying your coaches, how much money did you make? And it wasn’t enough for them to give up their collegiate experience.
JESSICA: Wow. Alright we have some questions from our listeners who wrote in because they knew you were going to be on the show and they have some questions for you. So let’s see. The first one, LetsTalkAboutGym asks “what traits and styles do you look for when recruiting new Bruins?
MISS VAL: Big beautiful gymnastics, maturity in their character, and appreciation for what UCLA is. And that’s a great academic institution. They’ve got to be excited about their academics. They need to be passionate about school and learning. And then that translates into being passionate about learning in the gym. And the standard of excellence. They’ve got to thrive in that. So when i talk to recruits face to face and I talk about the standard of excellence, academically, athletically, and personally and socially what it means to be a part of our team, there’s some who get scared, you can see it in their eyes. And there’s some that just come to life. When they get excited about talking about all of that, I know that it’s a good fit.
JESSICA: And Texas Bill, whom sounds like someone you know, he said “is this the most talented Bruins squad ever? How did Mattie Larson get so funny? And how did Zam become the greatest performer?
MISS VAL: [laughs] I don’t know Texas Bill. No this is not the most talented squad ever. No. uh-huh. Sorry, I should probably say yes, but they’re not. They’re very tenacious, they’re very fun. Even when they’re in trouble, and they’ve been in trouble a lot this year [laughs]. But last year we had a team that was really talented and they were pretty much status quo. You knew what you were going to get. This year, they’re all over the map. And Chris keeps saying, it’s like we’ve got a team of thoroughbred huskies that are pulling… we’re expecting them to pull this really heavy load a long way and they’re all going in different directions. And it’s our job to make sure they’re all going in the same direction. So it’s challenging but I like it because I like tenacious people like that. Honestly if we had Peng Peng back then I could say we’re probably one of the most talented squads we’ve ever had. But we’re a very different team without Peng. Mattie Larson is really quick witted and she’s really funny and she’s really smart. So that is, when I talk to her about being the best Mattie she can be, that’s that combination of person that I hope to develop in her that she can be every day of her life without having these highs and lows that she does. And then Vanessa performance quality, Vanessa’s just a sponge. And once we learned that Vanessa is… she’s by far the most visual learner that we’ve ever worked with, kind of to a savant stage, and we start coaching her differently, she’s just blossomed. When I choreographed with her, it was very funny, in fact it just happened two days ago. I took a part of her routine and I switched it from one side of the floor to the other so we could do it in the mirrors so she could see what she looked like. And when she went back to the other side of the floor, she did it as if she was facing the mirror. And I said, “I knew you were going to do that, Zam.” Because she’s such a visual learner. And I had to go over the same thing all over again, break it down all over again for her facing the other way. And I think that’s why she’s become a great performer.
MISS VAL: On beam, on beam she tries to be Elise. She says she brings out her inner Hoppy. We call Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs Hoppy. And when she’s sharp and she’s performing, she’s pretending to be Elyse.
JESSICA: That’s so adorable!
MISS VAL: I know that’s a good little nugget, huh?
JESSICA: That is! I love that! Who wouldn’t want to be Hoppy on beam? Hello!
MISS VAL: Yeah and she started that about two years ago. Because she’s so fluid and mellifluous up there and it’s like damn, you give yourself way too much time to fall off and wobble.
MISS VAL: Just be Hoppy. So I said I want you to go through a whole routine just being Hoppy. And it was sharp and crisp and clear, and you could see her finishing her skills like Elyse did. And the other day she did this beautiful routine and she got off and she looked at me and says, “I brought out my inner Hoppy.”
JESSICA: Awwww, I love her! Ok so does this mean… you mentioned Peng Peng. So does this mean that she wouldn’t even do bars maybe toward the end of the season if she’s ready?
MISS VAL: I think, actually I think she’s going to be ready to do bars and beam. I think she’ll get cleared in February and she is a maniac with her training. The only other person I’ve ever seen like her is Kate Richardson. Peng keeps herself busy with constructive conditioning and training for the entire time we are in the gym. She’s in better shape than she has literally ever been in. And I think she will be ready to go, and at that point we’re going to need to determine if she’s going to be able to score higher than someone we already have in. And are we going to use one of her four years for one event or two events. I would imagine that we would, especially the teams we’re hosting. But you know that question will be answered in late February.
JESSICA: Ooh that’s very exciting! Ok we have one final question from a listener, Danell Pestch, and she would like to know about.. you know you’ve talked a lot about how the design process works and how you do the leotards with Rebecca’s Mom’s Leotards, but she wants to know more specially how the production process works. Do you design the leotards? Do you actually sketch them out and color and embellish them, or is it a collective staff decision? Do you use existing designs from Rebecca’s Mom and then put them together?
MISS VAL: No, no. It’s very simple. I go through People magazine and I pull out all the pretty dresses from the Academy Awards that I like, front or back. And I have my little folder. And then every year, Candy, who’s from Rebecca’s Mom, Candy [inaudible]. She and I get together and we go, “oh this is different, let’s try this one! Oh this is different.” And the she’ll make up some samples and bring them in without the glitz and glamour on them. And I notoriously tell her to drop it lower in the front and drop it lower in the back. And it’s not because I want them to be risque. It’s because I’m used to the ballet costumes and the tutus that I used to wear. And dancers don’t have to worry about their bosoms because they don’t usually have any. So to me it’s no big deal to show where the cleavage should be because I never dealt with cleavage. So we argue about that, how low we can go and all that. And we have the girls try them on, how do they fit, how do they feel, can they move in them. And she’ll usually start with a sample and she’ll usually tweak it two or three times and bring it in for the girls to try on before she shows all the glitz on it, and then we have our final product. But it always starts with me pulling out a picture from a magazine.
JESSICA: Can you tell, for the people who haven’t heard the story, can you tell the Will and Grace story?
MISS VAL: [laughs] Yes.
JESSICA: Thank you!
MISS VAL: I will make it short. My very best friend in the whole wide world, his name is Paul, and he and I lived together for eight years. He is gay. Obviously before I got married. And he was dating someone that whenever they would go out, they would ask me if I wanted to join them, go to dinner. And I thought it was just a free meal so I thought ok I’ll go. And I would go to dinner with them and we would tell stories, just the funny things that happen when I straight woman lives with a gay man. And including, you know, my water bra. It didn’t burst and squirt, but I was wearing a water bra and we talked about the fact that I walked out one morning and I had this cleavage and Paul went, “whoa, where did those come from?” And said, you know, they’re my water bra. And so the guys thought we were hysterical, and they dated for quite a few months, and they broke up. And literally a year later Paul and I were sitting on the sofa watching the pilot of Will and Grace and we looked at each other and we said, “oh my gosh, that’s our lives verbatim! That’s exactly what we live!” And when the credits ran and it sid “created by” and it showed the people it had been created by, one of the gentlemen on there had been the guy that Paul had dated. So, no I have not received any residuals from that. And a lot of the episodes were taken from… I’m sure they happened to other gay guys and straight women friendships, but they were verbatim to what Paul and I had lived.
JESSICA: I love that story.
MISS VAL: And I had no chest and I had very curly hair, it’s just not red, and I’m not Jewish. But he is hot, so.
JESSICA: [laughs] Ok we are going to now, to wrap this interview up, we are going to do a little game, which I’m so excited about. So we’re going to do a lightning round, and
MISS VAL: Love lightning rounds!
JESSICA: Yes! Ok, so, the plan is, it’s like word association. So I’m going to say a word or phrase, and you just give me a one word answer or very short phrase. And you have to go as fast as you can, 60 seconds.
MISS VAL: Great.
JESSICA: Ok, ready?
MISS VAL: Yes
JESSICA: Ok, buttshelf
MISS VAL: Nastia
JESSICA: Peng Peng
MISS VAL: Lee
JESSICA: Gabby Douglas
MISS VAL: Hair
MISS VAL: Pick ‘em
JESSICA: Sexiest man alive
MISS VAL: Oh alive? Well dead would be John F. Kennedy Jr. Alive, Jon Bon Jovi
JESSICA: Sexiest male gymnast ever
MISS VAL: Dragulescu
JESSICA: Vanessa Zamarripa
MISS VAL: Absolutely darling
JESSICA: Lindsay Lohan
MISS VAL: Very sad
JESSICA: Sad wrist syndrome
MISS VAL: Jessica O’Beirne hates it
JESSICA: Sexiest woman alive
MISS VAL: The blonde british woman… why is her… the actress… her, her name is escaping me. Short blonde hair. Blonde British accent, are you guys going to help me out here?
DVORA: Helen Mirren? Are you talking old or young?
MISS VAL: Helen Mirren.
JESSICA: Helen Mirren! Oh yeah she’s hot. Ok, vajazzling.
MISS VAL: Va-what?
MISS VAL: What?
JESSICA: Vajazzling! It’s when you bedazzle your va-jay-jay.
MISS VAL: Ooooooh. I had no idea. Way too much effort. Guys don’t give a crap about that. I don’t know if girls do, but no.
JESSICA: Long-distance relationships
MISS VAL: Loved them. Absolutely… I was the queen of long-distance relationships.
JESSICA: Sexiest female gymnast
MISS VAL: Boginskaya
MISS VAL: Therapy
JESSICA: Chris Waller
MISS VAL: Remarkable
JESSICA: Best dancer I’ve ever coached
MISS VAL: [long pause] probably…
JESSICA: I’m giving you bonus time now, you’re very slow at this lightning round
MISS VAL: I know it, this lightning round is killing me. I’m not going to answer that. I’m going to answer the quickest study I’ve ever coached.
MISS VAL: And that’s because she just shocked me. Is Sophina DeJesus. Oh my goodness, that girl. Normally when I… I’m sorry lightning round ok we’re taking a pause. Normally like when you choreograph you do something and then you go “what did I do?” and they go “I don’t know” and try to figure it out again. I will do something, she will mimic it, and I’ll say, “what did I do?” and she’s like “you did this” and she has it down like photographic memory choreographically.
JESSICA: Best performer I’ve ever coached
MISS VAL: Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs
MISS VAL: Why not
JESSICA: Favorite choreographer
MISS VAL: I don’t have one. I actually… ok, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, and my new favorite Travis Wall.
JESSICA: Favorite gymnastics choreographer
MISS VAL: Dominic
JESSICA: Hm, Dominic…
MISS VAL: Zito
JESSICA: Zito. Mustaches
MISS VAL: Love ‘em.
JESSICA: London Olympics…
MISS VAL: On women or on men?
MISS VAL: Oh, love them. I love facial hair.
JESSICA: [laughs] London Olympics
MISS VAL: London Olympics… It was extremely exciting. I couldn’t get past the pink in the arena. And that obnoxious woman that would not stop commentating the whole time.
MISS VAL: Homeland
JESSICA: Stella Umeh
MISS VAL: What?
JESSICA: Stella Umeh
MISS VAL: Stella Umeh?
MISS VAL: Crazy
JESSICA: [laughs] Alright well done. Excellent lightning round. Even though you took pauses
MISS VAL: I did
JESSICA: But we’ll let it pass because you answered
MISS VAL: Oh you know who I should have said for most… what was it, the best dancer I’ve ever worked with?
JESSICA: Yeah, best dancer you’ve ever coached.
MISS VAL: Alright. Let’s go back to that one.
MISS VAL: Ask me again.
JESSICA: Best dancer you’ve ever coached
MISS VAL: Jessica O’Beirne.
JESSICA: Ah! Thank you! Thank you! Well now you have to tell the story.
MISS VAL: That’s the truth because…
MISS VAL: Do you know what Jessica… what I gave Jessica for her wedding gift?
UNCLE TIM: No…
BLYTHE: Enlighten us
MISS VAL: Ok I’d never met her fiance Coop. I get this call…
[Jessica tells others to take a pause]
MISS VAL: from this very darling man, who says “Miss Val you don’t know me, but I know such much about you. I’m Coop, I’m Jessica O’Beirne’s fiance.” I’m like oh I can’t wait to meet you, blah blah blah. And he says, “I want to give Jessica a priceless wedding gift. I don’t care how much it costs me, I want her to have a floor routine by Miss Val.” I thought he was the craziest human on the planet. And I go “are you serious?” And I thought it was a joke and he said “no no no seriously I want you to choreograph a routine for her and that’s going to be my wedding gift to her.” And I said “well obviously I’m honored and it’s my pleasure to do this for free.” And I choreographed a routine for Jessica O’Beirne. And it was stunning.
JESSICA: Best four hours of my entire life.
MISS VAL: [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: Is it on YouTube?
JESSICA: No, it’s not on YouTube. Because it’s so precious, I just…
MISS VAL: She puts everything else on Youtube but she won’t put her own floor routine on YouTube.
JESSICA: [laughs] There are videos of me messing around on YouTube but that’s not up yet. It’s just… ah. But let me tell you how my husband told me about this. So he.. it’s like five days before the wedding and he brings me into the… he’s like “I’m going to give you your wedding gift now.” And I’m like no no no. So he takes me in front of the computer and there’s a picture of… he has like this gymnast like running to Miss Val after a meet but it’s like my head is on her. And it says like “you’ve supported the team now let’s see what you can do.” And I was like “what is this? What are you talking about?” And then he’s like “Miss Val’s going to do a routine for you as a wedding gift. And I was just like..
MISS VAL: [laughs]
JESSICA: I didn’t believe him, and then of course I burst into tears, and of course he’s taking pictures of me crying my eyes out and sending them to Miss Val. And then…
MISS VAL: So weird
JESSICA: [laughs] And then he tells me “I told you about it five days before the wedding because I knew that you wouldn’t be able to think about anything but this, so I need to make sure that you can actually concentrate on me when we get to the wedding ceremony.
MISS VAL: [laughs]
JESSICA: And he was totally right, that’s all I could think about until the actual day of the wedding.
MISS VAL: And then Jess had to get in shape. She wouldn’t let me choreograph it until she got in shape [laughs]
JESSICA: That’s right. I had to get in serious shape. That was like four hours of choreography! Ah! I feel asleep at like 4:00 that day and slept till the next morning.
MISS VAL: Thank you all for your time, this was fun!
JESSICA: Thank you so much
DVORA: Thank you
BLYTHE: Thank you very much
[[LISTENER FEEDBACK SEGMENT]]
JESSICA: So that was our interview with Miss Val. I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as we did, we had a good time. And next week we’re going to have Justin Spring on the show. And in the meantime, Spanny’s going to tell us what’s been happening with listener feedback. Can’t wait to hear your feedback about our interview with Miss Val. We are so excited that Spanny’s back with us this week, and she has listener feedback. So Spanny, let us know what’s out there.
SPANNY: Alright a few things from Twitter. Amy mentions “you guys haven’t interviewed Jennifer Pinches yet, have you? I think she would be great.” I agree. You know, we had a good time interviewing our other British counterpart. So, she just retired, is that right?
SPANNY: So, she’d be a good interview. This is from Jackie: “I cannot be the only one eagerly anticipating a Kim Zmeskal interview with super-fan Dvora Meyers. When will this happen?” Well, I think we need to get Kim on the show, for one. And then Dvora you can creep her out with your doll stories. And I can join in. I also have dolls…
DVORA: Yeah I’m a little afraid she’s going to think I’m some sort of freak. I mean, yeah
SPANNY: If she had to freak out over every adult woman who had dolls named after her, it would waste a lot of energy. Because I’m sure everyone our age has played with dolls and pretended they were Kim and Shannon.
UNCLE TIM: I have!
DVORA: Of course Uncle Tim has
SPANNY: Lauren Hogan says “thank you for making your most recent podcast the exact length of time it takes to get from Milwaukee to Chicago with no traffic. Uncle Tim, what’s that, two hours no traffic? An hour and a half?
UNCLE TIM: I’d say an hour and a half
SPANNY: I remember… well maybe it’s because I’ve never encountered no traffic on the way to Chicago. I was like the podcast was four hours long? But that’s great, Lauren. We can entertain you in the car. And that’s a boring drive too.
UNCLE TIM: It is.
SPANNY: I’ve made it many times. From Facebook, here is a question: “how do gymnasts manage to get any sleep the night before a big competition? I can barely go to sleep if I have a job interview the next day, and I don’t know how gymnasts relax enough to be able to nod off.” I’d like to make that an open question to any of the gymnasts listening to this. Whether you are a level 5, rec, high school, or elite. Or even coaches. If you have suggestions. How do you or your gymnasts managed to get any sleep the night before a big competition? I remember Gabby saying that she didn’t have any problem sleeping the night before. I just wonder if you’re tired and exhausted and anxious I guess so you’re ready to go to sleep like it’s Christmas. I don’t know. And I have one more. Now this is an iTunes review from the3EsMom. Just a reminder people you can review us on iTunes and we would appreciate that. “Great podcast. This podcast, great. Speaking as the mom of a gymnast it is really helped me to understand the ins and outs of the sport and what die-hard fans really think. It gives you a lot of information while providing you with a laugh at the same time. Thanks, guys.” That’s really sweet, thank you.
JESSICA: That was a good review
SPANNY: Yeah yeah
JESSICA: That made me so happy
SPANNY: That’s nice. And hopefully we can [inaudible] all of your [inaudible] listen, you know this can be something you can listen to with your children and have discussions so that’s great. Thank you. And just a reminder to everybody that you can always review us on iTunes and you can comment on Facebook, Twitter, email, voicemail and all the fun ways.
JESSICA: And we do read single one of your emails and we try to respond to all the tweets that we can get to. And we try to answer questions on Facebook. And we love getting feedback and we really try to answer everybody.
This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. Elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sportz with a Z, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast. Alright you guys that’s going to do it for us this week. We want to thank Miss Val so much for being on the show. And I want to tell you guys that next week we are having Justin Spring. Olympian, NCAA standout, head coach at Illinois, they’re the reigning National Champions. He’s an incredible gymnast and is doing an incredible job at Illinois so we’re super excited to have him on the show this week. And I want to remind you guys that you can support the show by telling your friends about it, post about it on Twitter, post it on Facebook, tell your friends to listen, show your friends how to download it. I’ve had to show a couple people… podcast, what is that? It’s like a radio show. Here’s how you get it on your phone. Just do this. Give them instructions. Rate us on iTunes. Write a review on iTunes. And you can support our sponsors on the website. Or our audiocast. And remember that you can find links to what we’re talking about on the website. So we’ll have some of these routines up that we’ve been talking about. And remember you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, at firstname.lastname@example.org, we read all of your emails. Our Skype name is gymcastic so you can find us on Skype if you’re in another country and you want to leave us a voicemail. You can find us on Skype that way. And our voicemail number is 415-800-3491. Remember to leave your name and a message that’s under 60 seconds. And for gymcastic, I am Jessica O’Beirne for masters-gymnastics.com
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
SPANNY: Spanny Tampson from Spanny’s Big Fake Smile
UNCLE TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
DVORA: Dvora from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: See you guys next week!
TIM DAGGETT: GymCastic is fantastic!
ANNA LI: GymCastic is fantastic!
LOUIS SMITH: GymCastic is fantastic!