TIM DAGGETT: GymCastic is fantastic!
ANNA LI: GymCastic is fantastic!
LOUIS SMITH: GymCastic is fantastic!
ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts. Train smarter with the holiday’s 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 13. I am Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com. And I’m joined by my fabulous cohosts…
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 from Unorthodox Gymnastics.
JESSICA: So, this episode we are super excited to have Justin Spring joining us. Olympian, amazing trickster, always known for his crazy skills, his untimely injuries, and being the youngest coach with the most success ever in the NCAA. I don’t know if it is really ever, but he’s amazing and super young and took over and just took that team to the top, immediately. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about some fantasy skills. We’ve got a lot of interesting things in the news this week, and we’re going to continue our discussion of the history of gymnastics in the United States by talking about the AAU, which gets very juicy because, I don’t know if you guys know, but the AAU used to be in charge of gymnastics and was the one that was allowed by the IOC to run gymnastics for the Olympics, and then they lost that right, so we’ll start to hear about them and find out what happened. Let’s get started with a little bit of a reminder of where to find us and support us. You can find us on Stitcher. You can find us on iTunes. You can support the show by telling your friends. Tell your friends, “Oh my god, I found this awesome podcast, I love podcasts and I love gymnastics and I’ve been waiting for this my entire life! Listen to this!” Post it on iTunes, you can review us on iTunes, which we absolutely love. And of course, you can support our sponsors, which we appreciate very much, and you can find anything that we are talking about on the show, we’ll post a link to on our website, so if there’s a routine we’re talking about, and you’re like, I have no idea who that is, just go to the website and we will post a link there, yes. [Ok, so I just wanted to prep you guys that this is our mmm, I’m not going to even say the number of the episode again, but we joked about it being bad luck at the beginning of this episode, and I was like “no, no, it’s going to be great, perfect luck”, and then, of course, the internet decided to, just decided to get revenge on us today for some unknown reason, and it’s constantly going out, so there will be some technical issues. We have dealt with them well, and we’re going to start with the news here and we’re not going to mention the number of this episode again, ok? Blythe, take it away.
BLYTHE: Alright. So competition wise, two big things happening this week: the Valeri Liukin Cup took place in Texas, and the Voronin Cup took place in Russia. And the Voronin Cup, and I’m sorry if I am pronouncing this incorrectly, it’s kind of the Russia, kind of the country’s end-of-the-year gymnastics showcase. I don’t actually know the results, and I don’t really care who won, because every year I approach this competition is just a chance to see the amazingness that is Russian gymnastics and Komova’s competing, Mustafina’s competing, Afanasyeva’s scheduled to compete, so you have all these Russian greats, and they’re just going to be showing what they can do, and that’s very exciting. So a few videos are trickling onto YouTube right now, and it should be good to just watch and see where everybody’s at right now. Nobody ever comes to this competition in very good shape, they’re either kind of recovering from the World Championships or an Olympic games like this year, and they’re getting ready for the next season, but all the same it’s great fodder for conversation. And the Valeri Liukin Cup, the Japanese men, who have come to this competition for the past few years, they absolutely dominated. They won the team title. A newcomer named Naoto Hayasaka—again, apologies on the pronunciation—won the All Around with an 86.5, followed by Ukrainian standout Oleg Stepko and Daisuke Suzuki, also of Japan, and in fourth place was Paul Ruggeri of the United States, making his return to the competition for the first time since the Olympic trials. Paul scored an 87.1. Moving on to something different, if you want to go to prom with Gabrielle Douglas, you are not alone. A guy named Leon Purvis has made a YouTube video in which he very, very enthusiastically proposes that Gabby attend his senior prom with him next May, and apparently Gabby was asked about this in her interview with Barbara Walters for Ten Most Fascinating People of the Year, and she said, “Yeah! That would be nice!” So we might have something to report there, but we’re going to put the YouTube video up on our website, and it is, well, Mr. Purvis is very, very enthusiastic. Just wanted to give people an update as well on Jacoby Miles, the Seattle-area gymnast who was paralyzed after hitting her head coming down on a double back dismount on uneven bars. There’s going to be on Monday night, in Tacoma, which is a suburb of Seattle, a benefit/auction for her, and several Olympians are going to appear. Kerri Strug is slated to come. So is Olga Korbut, and several Olympians from other Olympic sports, from the Pacific Northwest, and that should be really good, and the community here in Seattle now—I live in Seattle—has been very supportive, and there has really been an outpouring of love and support for her since it’s happened. It’s gotten some publicity in the Seattle news outlets, and so that’s been very nice to see, and we, of course, wish her all the absolutely all the best in her recovery as that continues. Yeah. Speaking of injuries, there is unfortunately another one to report. Kayla Nowak, the Oklahoma senior and one of the stars of that team, took what we hear is a scary fall off of the uneven bars, and she has damaged back and spine. Now, she is, I wouldn’t go so far as to say OK, but she is walking around and it appears that she will regain full mobility. Oklahoma’s not actually made a statement about this yet, but some of the blogs have picked it up, and Kayla herself, I think, has tweeted some things about it, and we wish her all the best as well. And what do you guys have?
DVORA: We have something straight out of the Romanian tabloids, and now the German tabloids, about Florica Leonida, who was a member of the 2004 Romania Olympic team, and is reportedly working as a prostitute, sex worker, whatever your choice of words, in Germany. And this has caused all kinds of controversy. You know, her former teammate, Olympic Champion Monica Ro?u, was interviewed about this, saying that she was shocked and her family and her former teammates thought that she was working as a fitness instructor in Germany. And mind you, I am not sure how confirmed this is, so we might be trafficking in a kind of tabloid rumor, kind of to mind, we blog—as GymCastic cohosts, we have often been talking about how do gymnasts move on when they’re done with gymnastics, what are their opportunities—we spend a lot of time talking about that. We talk about it in connection to, you know, how do they make money, how do they capitalize on your Olympic success, or if you’re an NCAA athlete, how do you transition out of an identity that has been so important to you, but we never talk about prostitution, obviously. It’s more like, do you become a coach? Or do you do the Amy Chow move and move away from the sport completely and just kind of create this entirely new life that has nothing to do with your athletic past? So, it kind of made me recall a conversation I had had a couple of years ago when I was traveling through central Europe, and I was in a hostel in Vienna with a Romanian journalist, and obviously the second I heard she was from Romania—the only thing I know about Romania is gymnastics, basically, so I accost her, I’m like,“Tell me about the gymnasts!” And she kind of rolled her eyes, and said something—well, I don’t think she was particularly interested in gymnastics. One of the things she said to me is that a lot of, not all, but some of the girls who are recruited to the gymnastics training programs don’t come from, you know, lower socioeconomic classes and don’t receive the same education, because they are more focused on their training, and you have to wonder if this is true, and this is just based off of her statements to me, though she’s really smart and knowledgeable and awesome, we stay in touch on Facebook. And it kind of made me wonder, if you aren’t an Olympic Gold Medalist individually, and you’re not necessarily making enough money, and you didn’t get the best education when you were growing up, what are you opportunities? Especially in a country like Romania that doesn’t have the greatest economy. What do you do? Now, I don’t think it’s an obvious jump to prostitution, but what are the opportunities for gymnasts who come from poorer countries and spend their entire childhood training? And I don’t know what sort of oversight there is in terms of what sort of education they have to receive at the National Training Center. Are they getting the bare minimum? What sort of laws are in place to protect them to make sure that, if gymnastics doesn’t work out for them, or if gymnastics stops working out for them by the age of twenty, can they go forward? Do you have any thoughts on that one?
JESSICA: Yeah, that’s the thing. Like, I’m definitely, I’m really interested in, and I’ll give you guys a full list of the guests we are going to have on in 2013, but—oh no, now I said that number again, so something bad is going to happen. No, it’s not. Everything is going to be fine. Knocking on wood right now. Ok. So, I’ll get to the… [[Laughs]] So, I’m totally—we have someone coming on the show who’s been in the Eastern Bloc system, and who told me that basically she would have had no education if she hadn’t left. They have to go through fifth grade or sixth grade, and then that’s it. You’re a professional athlete. So you basically have a grade school education. So I’m interested to find out more about this. If people that have lived there and know and have been through the system and know, if you could give us feedback, but really, I’m not interested in talking about who chose to become a sex worker. It’s legal in Germany. Apparently it’s a huge scandal in Romania, but, I mean, it’s legal in that country. That’s really not what we’re interested in talking about. It’s more interesting to find out what the opportunities are, and if it’s true that there aren’t laws in place in these countries, or there isn’t an organization to enforce the law or regulate and make sure that people really do get an education, or is it that these are kids from places where a fifth grade education is great? Like, it’s great if you can make it all the way through and you don’t have to quit and work or something like that. I don’t know. So it’s just an interested topic that we could talk about further.
DVORA: It kind of reminds me of the laws that are now in place for child actors on sets, right? And how at first, that there weren’t any laws and there weren’t any protection, so it wasn’t just about their money and about how their parents could basically spend their fortunes, but how they were working these long hours instead and they weren’t getting an education. And now, because of a bunch of scandals, there are laws that are, from what I understand, pretty rigorously enforced. And so, as we know that very few child actors successfully transition into adult, working actors. So, whatever they do as young teens or kids, that’s probably as far as they are going to get. And so it’s really important that they have tools to move forward, to create a different life for themselves and similarly, even if you are a very successful gymnast, your career really doesn’t go beyond your adolescence, or not much beyond that. So, it’s really important that they have all of the resources they need to become successful adults, and that means a good education.
JESSICA: One correction on the Florica Leonida. She was not on the 2004 team. She was on the 2003 World team where they took the silver medal in Anaheim. So I just wanted to correct that.
DVORA: Oh. That’s why she wasn’t an Olympic gold medalist with Ro?u.
JESSICA: Exactly. So there are two other things that I want to talk about this week, and one is that this is the coolest thing ever, and this is from a couple weeks ago, but Azerbaijan is giving two of their biggest fans awards and recognizing them, and I just think that is a great precedence-setting activity. I think that every gymnastics organization should be doing this. I think that every sports organization should be doing this, because you don’t have a sport without fans, and fans include parents who decide to put their kid in your sport. It includes everyone, every gymnast who is doing the sport, every coach who is coaching the sport. All of them are fans. You have to like the sport if you’re going to put your kid in it, if you want to have anything to do with it. So I just think that it’s a great precedent, and I would like to see more organizations encourage fans to really get out there and do more by supporting them and showing their appreciation for the fans, because we don’t have a sport without fans. So I just think that’s great. And then the other thing is you guys totally have to check out, and we’ll put this on the site, but the head coach at Chow’s, Michael Durante, has put up—he has started to put up videos of—he totally knows what’s up. He knows what we want to see, and we want to thank you, Michael Durante, for what you are doing, sir. He is putting up the coolest videos. The first one is of a girl doing a no-handed Anodi, which is ridiculous. So basically she is doing an Anodi, but instead of putting her hands down, it’s like she’s doing a front aerial after she does the half turn. It is so freaking cool. Like, it’s not that close to being on the beam, it’s not that close to making it, but the skill she has down—I would like to see somebody just do that on floor. Just throw it in as your front skill. It’s so freaking cool, I totally love it. And the other thing he put up is of somebody doing, ok, it’s a straddleback, but imagine a Jaeger before you catch the low bar. So you swing towards the low bar with your butt facing the low bar, you do a flip, a straddle flip, and then you catch the low bar. Insane! And she does it great. I mean, one of the things my friends ask on Facebook is how do you keep your feet up, doing a Jaeger skill like that on the low bar? And that is the really hard things, and I was wondering if you guys know, like I thought that if you do a Giant or a dismount off the low bar, you can bend your knees on the low bar, because she was like, how do you keep your knees up? Because basically you would have to catch it in a Stalder position so that your legs don’t drop, or you’d have to catch it with your feet right next to the bar instead of a normal Jaeger position where you want to be laid out when you catch, but it’s so cool, and I hope that somebody figures out how to catch that or how to keep it going with a Stalder move right out of it—oh! I’d die! That would be so cool.
TIM: It’s ok. The FIG will make sure that it ends in handstand, otherwise no-one can compete it.
JESSICA: Alright. We’re continuing our discussion of fantasy skill combinations that we would like to see, and so this week we’re going to talk about gym acro series, or floor or tumbling series we want to see, and p-bars. So I will start with gym acro series. I love gym acro series, and I want to see it come back as a requirement, because I think it’s the best thing ever on beam and on floor, and I would love to see somebody do a roundoff, like there used to be a lot of people who would do roundoff, half turn, split jump into a front handspring. I would like to see a roundoff, half turn, split jump or half turn, double full stag, or a full twisting double stag jump into an immediate tucked front full. I think that would look so cool. Or a full turn into a…like, a roundoff, full twisting jump, into those back tucks where you pike open and then you land in a Shushunova? I think that looks so cool, and it looks like someone’s just doing a death drop onto the floor, and I love seeing that and I think that would be really cool. What about you guys?
TIM: I want to see a cat leap full. I love cat leap fulls. Cat leap full into a Tinsica. Nobody does a Tinsica anymore. I mean, nobody does walkovers, let alone Tinsicas, but it would look so pretty. It would get you nothing in terms of difficult, but it would be pretty.
SPANNY: I mean, what if you added on to it—I know it’s traditionally been gym acro gym or acros gym acro, but what if you added on another step, and you did a roundoff into a split half, into maybe a Barani, into a double stag? And you could make it a four skill combination? Like, kind of rebounding back and forth. That would be interesting. Then again, I don’t know if the Barani would be super high or anything, but it would be…I don’t know. I think of that. And then, I always think of—it’s not anything new. When I think of gym acro, I think of Mo Huilan, who obviously did beautiful beam, but even on floor, where she does a back handspring into the corner into a straddled jump flight. Incredible. I’ve always enjoyed, and it was pretty popular in maybe the early 90s, a straddle jump into a front tuck or a front tuck to your stomach or your knee or…I enjoy the change of direction gym acro combinations.
JESSICA: I always loved watching those one and a halfs, like the more…achoo!
SPANNY: Bless you.
DVORA: The face that Blythe just made, as you sneezed…
JESSICA: Sorry, I tried to stifle my sneeze, and it didn’t work.
DVORA: …It was horrifying.
BLYTHE: I was like, Jess, are you alright there?
JESSICA: I thought I was going to die. We’re always on videochat, so everyone can see me. So, anyway, yeah. [[Laughs]] So I flew out of the camera and sneezed.
DVORA: Right out of the frame.
JESSICA: Yeah. Ok, so what I was saying was, not one-and-a-halfs, because we don’t like to land on our heads, one-and-a-quarters. They made those, and I think they banned those for women, because I guess there were a lot of broken elbows. But I would love to see the one-and-a-quarter brought back, but it should be that you actually have to land in a pushup position, and if you touch your upper body it’s worth zero, because then you’d only have people doing it who can actually do it correctly. But I like that skill, and I think they stopped doing it because it was banned in the early, late 90s?
SPANNY: That always reminds me of Jamie Dantzscher, and in prelims, was it, when she just tried to pass it off as if she did it, that was the skill she intended to do, but really she just fell on her face.
DVORA: Oh yeah.
JESSICA: What about tumbling? Is there anything you guys are dying to see?
DVORA: Whip immediate double layout. I just like whip immediately into things. A lot.
JESSICA: Me too.
BLYTHE: I like whip backs into things. They really add excitement. Round off, whip, whip, back handspring, double layout. I loved that pass when Kim Zmeskal did it.
DVORA: Oh. Cause it’s kind of the same principle that applies to same bar releases, and the more—even if you are doing three Tkatchevs in a row, each one just bring up, ratchets up the excitement, so the crowd would go insane by the third whip back, and I just don’t think you have any passes that build that kind of excitement, except maybe Aly Raisman’s first pass, where just so much keeps being added on to it. But I think it’s something, kind of…whip backs is the same skill? For some reason, that makes it even more exciting. Like, how many can she do before it’s over?
JESSICA: She runs out of room.
DVORA: Runs out of room, goes out of bounds.
SPANNY: I feel that…again, if you’ve ever done whip backs, especially in combination, you understand how the build momentum. I think even you don’t even have to have performed to know that. You can see that momentum is being built and accelerating, and I think that makes it exciting, too. I want more back to back tumbling. I mean, I doubt we’ll ever see it, but it pretty much totally adds to the combinations, by just piling more and more and more. But it doesn’t need to be incredible…I mean, Dominique Dawes, she did three back handsprings in her passes, but it was still pretty exciting.
TIM: I would like to do Liz Tricase’s old pass. She used to do whip half into double front, but I’d like to see somebody do that whip half into double front out, so like Podkopayeva used to do. So, I think that would be super cool.
JESSICA: We are now going to get into our increasingly juicy and scandalous History of Gymnastics in the USA segment with Uncle Tim. So tell us about the AAU?
TIM: [[Laughs]] Well, we won’t get into the super-juicy stuff yet, but we’re just going to talk about the beginning of the AAU. And so it started on January 21, 1888. That’s when the Amateur Athletic Union was started. It was the merger of many amateur athletic organizations, and from its inception, gymnastics was always a part of the organization, as it should be. In 1889, the organization held the first national gymnastics competition in New York at the New York Athletic Club. The organization quickly became the shindig, you might say, because if you wanted to win a national title, you had to participate in the AAU’s competition. Granted, the first were only for men; it wasn’t until 1931 that the women had their first national competition in the United States. At the AAU nationals in 1931, the women competed in side horse with pommels, vaulting, parallel bars, and rings. And even though women started competing in the Olympics in 1928, the American women didn’t compete until 1936. At the Berlin Olympics in 1936, the American women competed in uneven bars, balance beam, side horse vault, and team drill exercises. I guess what is interesting about the Americans in the early Olympics is that they really sucked at compulsories, and the suckage was actually systematized. At the time when gymnastics teams were divided into two types: compulsories and optional exercises. Compulsories had mandatory skills, optional exercises was a free for all, and the Americans were really good at optionals. They could do the big skills, but they were terrible at compulsories. And it was because, at the AAU-sanctioned meets, they only had to perform optionals. They didn’t actually have to compete the compulsories, and it wasn’t until 1927 that the AAU Nationals began to include compulsory events. And I guess what I find so interesting about this is that, historically speaking, this has kind of been the reputation of American gymnasts. They’re kind of not seen as having the best of basics, but they’re somehow able to do the big skills, and, I mean, it would be interesting to think about whether Team USA would have won the gold in 2012 if there had been compulsories, and of the Americans who competed during the last quad, who would have been good at compulsories? What are your thoughts? I mean, this is all hypothetical, obviously, but what are your thoughts?
DVORA: I think Jordyn Wieber would have been good at compulsories. I think she has mostly pretty clean technique. Um, who else?
JESSICA: I think Kyla Ross…
JESSICA: …and, Kyla Ross, and…it’s the people who have the beautiful extension who are good at compulsories, and have those balletic basics, I think. So I think Kyla Ross, Anna Li, and, for sure 100%, the one with the Irish name who’s from Missouri from GAGE who’s gorgeous…
BLYTHE: Sarah Finnegan.
JESSICA: Sarah Finnegan, oh my god, would have been gorgeous doing compulsories, gorgeous.
DVORA: But do you think anyone else who was a member of the actual team, other than Kyla, would have done ok in compulsories? I think Gabby would have gone by. I don’t think she would have been a standout at compulsories, but I think she had good enough execution that she would have.
TIM: She would have been like Dominique Dawes, just kind of getting by on her compulsories.
JESSICA: Yeah, I mean, they would have been fine scores. I mean, they would get, I don’t know, 9.7s. I would say that team was a 9.7 team except Kyla Ross and Finnegan, I think, could have been, would have gotten incredibly high compulsory scores.
UNCLE TIM: As we’ll discuss later, eventually the AAU ran into some problems. But one thing it did do early on was establish some of the precedent for what we… for how things are done today. First as I already mentioned, it established the idea that there is one national championship that everyone should go to. Second, it cemented the fact that a central organization should be responsible for selecting gymnasts for the Olympics and planning their participation. Third, it divided the country into regions. At the time, there were five New England, the metropolitan New York area, the Atlantic, the Central District, and the Pacific District. Today obviously USAG also has regions but there are nine of them now. And fourth and finally, it divided the competitors into juniors and seniors. This division, however, was not based on age. As Bryan Shank explains, a person 35 years old could be a junior, and a person 18 could be a senior, depending on their championship experience. When you won the novice championships, you became a junior. After winning a junior championship, you automatically became a senior. And I know we talked a little bit about the issue of juniors and seniors in episode 9, but I was wondering if anyone had additional thoughts, or if you thought maybe we should go to something more like the original junior and senior division?
JESSICA: Why did they do it like that? I mean did they have… this is the thing. I don’t understand why they did it that way unless they didn’t have a system at all like ours back then where basically you didn’t have 12 year olds qualifying as seniors.
UNCLE TIM: Well the other thing you have to remember is that when the AAU started, it was all men. And so… yeah. It was also a different system. But I mean do you think we should have that? You know, if you are the junior champion, you become a senior.
UNCLE TIM: And why?
JESSICA: Because… I mean because then we’re going to have a situation where we would have juniors competing against seniors and potentially beating them but then never being able to compete outside of the country. Which would then just make them feel crappy and then get more people trying to get them into the Olympics. And there would be more pressure to have younger gymnasts competing in the Olympics and international events. So I think it’s not a good idea.
UNCLE TIM: What if the world went to this kind of system?
JESSICA: Then I think it would be even worse. Because then we’d have superbaby Chinese gymnasts. And by superbabies I mean actual superbabies competing [laughs]. Like the movie Super Babies competing and winning championships [laughs] [laughter]
DVORA: Genetically-modified superbabies [laughs] Sounds like a movie that needs to be made and then go directly to DVD.
JESSICA: [laughs] Exactly. Right it would create a direct to DVD gymnastics system. We don’t want that.
JESSICA: Ok but I have one question. Why did the… I mean the AAU is called a union. So was it actually formed to be a union in terms of protecting the rights of athletes?
UNCLE TIM: Well yeah. So one thing that I didn’t really get into was they had a stipulation about you had to be an ameture. And another stipulation that they made that will play into the later problems are… one stipulation was you could only participate in AAU-sanctioned events. And so that’ll create problems later on, which we’ll talk about, with the NCAA.
JESSICA: Ah, ok. I can’t wait for that.
[[INTERVIEW SEGMENT]] –
AL TRAUTWIG: Justin Spring is having a great night, Andrea Joyce. Let’s find out about it.
ANDREA JOYCE: Justin, you’ve scored the best numbers of the night here, but you’re most surprised about what you did on floor. Tell us why.
JUSTIN: Well I injured my ankle pretty bad…
ANDREA JOYCE: You haven’t practiced floor at all, basically.
JUSTIN: I have not done floor since… like I’ve done tumbled and I’ve done passes, on Tuesday. But I haven’t done a routine.
ANDREA JOYCE: How did you guys make the decision, and when did you make the decision that you would do floor tonight?
JUSTIN: We’re playing politics, man. Like I know they’re making the selection. Floor has in the past been one of my best events. Dealing with injuries, so it’s something we knew I had to do. And like I said I hadn’t tumbled in eight weeks. We came out here and were like, “dude, this is it.” It was Tuesday, today’s Thursday. So passes went well, and Jon and I were like, “we’ve got to try this thing.”
JESSICA: That was Justin Spring in 2008 telling Andrea Joyce how he was about to make the 2008 Beijing Olympic team. And he earned a silver medal there by doing floor routine and getting an incredibly high score after not doing a floor routine for eight freaking weeks. Here comes our interview with him.
BLYTHE: 2008 Olympic team bronze medalist Justin Spring went from the top of the elite echelon to a head coaching position at his alma mater, Illinois. In four short years, he’s led the Illini to it’s first NCAA mens team title in just years and years, and has coached three athletes – David Sender, Paul Ruggeri, and CJ Maestas – through the Olympic Trials. So Justin, thank you very much for coming on the show. And first of all, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about going from NCAA athlete to NCAA head coach in the span of just a couple of years. Was it odd to be fully responsible for guys you were competing with just a couple of years before?
JUSTIN: Yeah. I will say it’s gotten… somehow it’s gotten easier. It doesn’t feel any easier now. But that first year especially and even the year afterward, it really was… we were just operating, or excuse me, I was just operating kind of in survival mode. It was really… knowing the amount of programs that are still left in the NCAA, you know the kind of gravity of taking ownership of one of these really solid programs was, yeah, it was nerve-wracking. But I think that you talk to a lot of competitors, people get motivated in different ways. My kind of anxiety and worry about taking on all that responsibility is kind of what I think pushed me to learn and get my Masters in Sports Management. And you know I tapped immediately into the leadership classes. And just anything was a resource for me to try to learn how to be a better coach, because I refused to fail. I mean it was my program, I loved it, it was a solid program. So yeah it was a scary first couple of years, and it’s still a learning process. But it was certainly more back then. That first year everything was new and [laughs] every day was something new. And I was calling up fortunately the NCAA men’s gymnastics coaches were there in support. And I got a lot of emails from Miles Avery, at the time head of Ohio State, Kurt Golder, Mike Burns, Randy all just lended a helping hand within the Big 10 and said, “hey, you got any questions, let us know.” And they were super helpful and and helped me kind of get on my feet.
BLYTHE: Can you talk a little bit about what happened with Jon. He was your personal coach, correct? And he was on the floor with you in Beijing?
JUSTIN: He was. Well, not on the floor unfortunately. You know personal coaches don’t get credentials to be on the competitive floor. You only get two. So, he was there the whole time, and so.
BLYTHE: And so after this sort of incident happened, did you talk to him about it? ANd the implications there could be for the Illinois program?
JUSTIN: Yeah and you know I think that he… he was, you know, ashamed or embarrassed. But I don’t know, I think he was going through a really rough time, a midlife crisis of far deeper issues of just “man I want to buy a car” or something. It was just obviously some deeper stuff. And for him as a coach, to me, to get me to the Olympic Games, he was incredible. And obviously he didn’t make all the right choices in other elements. So I don’t know, it’s such a weird topic and subject. For me personally, he was a great coach for me and did the right thing. But obviously just lacked in some judgment calls in other areas. So it was what it was and in a weird way it gave me the opportunity to be in the position I’m in now. So, certainly don’t hate him for it, but.
BLYTHE: Certainly understandable. And do you still keep in contact with him today? Ask him for coaching tips?
JUSTIN: Usually we don’t talk about coaching, when we do talk, which is extremely rare. It’s really about… he just asks how I am and I kind of do the same thing, and it’s very… I don’t know, very superficial. You know, just, “how are things going,” “I’m alright,” “hope you’re doing well,” things like that. Because I want the best for him. People make mistakes.
BLYTHE: When you have a team that has been incredibly successful, and that already knows, you know, “we’re going to go down, our legacy is going to be ‘we’ve won an ncaa title.’” How do you motivate them and be like, “no you’ve got to get fired up, we’ve got to go do it again,”?
JUSTIN: Well that’s.. and you know you brought up a great point, because we sold that to the team last year. That you will be remembered. This team has not won a national championship since 1989, this university hasn’t won one for 10 years, you guys will go down, you know, you guys will be legends in our gymnastics world. You know the Illinois team stepped up and did it, it’s been 20+ years and we sold that kind of like big picture to them. And they wanted it, they ate it up. And now… [laughs] you’ve got the team that has that. And now you have to sell him on.. you know I came in this year with kind of the theme of [inaudible] of great. And that yes you won a national championship last year, but this team is still just good. We are not a great team yet. You know, Oklahoma, the Sooners, the men’s program in the 2000s, that was a great team. They won like seven out of 10 teams in the 2000s. That was a great decade, and that was a great team. That is the challenge in front of you now. Because not only do we have a target on our back, it also doesn’t help that somehow we were ranked #1 again in the country. So you know we just won, we’re ranked #1, it’s just gonna roll into us, it’s going to be this easy kind of mentality. And it’s like, absolutely not. You guys don’t realize you’re going to have to work twice as hard as last year because of the situation you’re in.
BLYTHE: That definitely makes sense, but already this season I was reading about CJ Maestas’ injury. So you’re maybe at a little bit of a disadvantage, and maybe that’s not how you wanted to start this season. Can you give us an update on how he’s doing and what happened with the injury?
JUSTIN: Well I don’t like to speak medically about athletes, but I kind of have been in close contact with CJ and he’s working with the national team and the injury situation is always kind of a big question and people want to know expected timeline of recovery. So we’ve kind of been through the.. cleared to talk about this. So CJ basically had a pre-existing injury. Basically a fracture. He really cracked his elbow on a concrete back in high school realy bad and basically fractured the tip of the elbow at the point where the tricep muscle connects to the elbow. And so he’s a tough kid, kept working out, was like, “I can still use my arm, it hurts, but I’m good.” So actually the fracture never got a chance to thoroughly heal. And in fact it scarred with what they believe is scar tissue rather than actually bony growth, like your bone healing back. So it was kind of an injury waiting to happen. I don’t want to say that, but it was definitely a weakened part on his body. And he was training the air flare, the thing that Morgan Hamm invented back in 08. It’s now a D ground skill on floor which is big. And we were kind of reformatting his routine, not allowed to do whip Thomas skills or any connection into a Thomas on the floor anymore for the men. So that was a great thing for him to kind of off-set that. And so he was training it, to be honest with you the first day it was going really well. And just on one of his, you know he planted that right arm back after popping up to do the air flare, and on I guess when he caught the elbow was fully extended, it shifted, slightly dislocated in and out real quick. He grabbed it, it popped back in place, but the shifting was what gave way to that bone piece that was only anchored down by scar tissue and basically caused it to disconnect from the main bone and then the tricep tore about 80%.
JUSTIN: Muscle tearing is extremely painful, and I was standing right there when it happened. And CJ was rolling around of a little bit but eventually got up and walked over to the trainer. He’s a tough kid, man, he’s incredible. And going beyond the injury now and recovery, he’s actually, range of motion is far beyond where we thought it would be. He’s coming back faster than doctors or trainers ever anticipated. I think he’s fueled by maybe thinking he can get back in this year. I think it’s possible. I think it would be incredibly… that would be miracle comeback story to be honest, because they’re saying he won’t be doing gymnastics for another three months to start and he’s like “I’m going to be back. I will be back by March.” And I’m kind of going to let him roll with it because I’ve never seen him attack rehab like this before. And he’s in the gym and yelling at the guys and really has taken on kind of a team captain/coach role because he can’t train right now. But he kills his rehab and gets out and lights a fire under his teammates. And the team is certainly missing his energy on the floor, so I’m so glad he’s still taking on that role a little bit as much as he can, to be in the gym and yell at the guys and kind of being an example even though he can’t lead with his gymnastics. So he’s been great.
BLYTHE: Mhmm. And just at the beginning of our little discussion about CJ here, you spoke about not being able to discuss athletes’ injuries or being cleared to discuss.
BLYTHE: Is that an NCAA thing? A US National Team thing?
JUSTIN: That’s just a HIPAA thing to be honest with you.
JUSTIN: HIPAA is State of Illinois medical coverage and so you know you’ve got to have written clearance to discuss any kind of medical issue between insurance groups, parents, people that call up and “oh I need medical…” you know. It’s all getting more regulated now, so you just have to make sure the paperwork’s signed for me to kind of speak on his behalf basically.
BLYTHE: Yeah that absolutely makes sense. You know and can we talk a little bit about the Olympic Trials process this year? You were able to go through it with both CJ and Paul Ruggeri and…
JUSTIN: And David Sender
BLYTHE: And David Sender! Of course. We want to talk about David as well.
JUSTIN: Ok [laughs]
BLYTHE: And as someone who went through that process, you know can you just talk about being, again, on the other side of that? And you know obviously none of the three made it past the Olympic Trials, and how you just sort of were there for them and helped them through the letdown and through the summer.
JUSTIN: Yeah once again you know everyone handles setbacks, injuries, and… I don’t want to call them failures because if you have the right mentality, a setback is not a failure just as long as you kind of learn from the process. And that’s really how I kind of… it’s not really twisting the reality. The reality is you set a goal, you didn’t make it. Let’s go back, reflect, review, and figure out how to make sure this never happens again. And that’s really what the USA National Team is doing right now. We didn’t get a team medal. What happened? Why? How do we go after it in 2016 and make sure it doesn’t happen then. And that’s kind of what I set up for Paul. I knew David was done so that one was a little touchy, that was tough. And yeah you know fortunately he’s moving on to big and better things and he’s going to be a vet. Actually I just saw him yesterday, he’s in our veterinary school here at Illinois. For CJ it was you’re young, let’s learn from this experience. What do we got to do? How do we get more politically invested with the selection process? How do we get your gymnastics that international look? And we’ve got to go back to the basics and get a four year plan going and try to get you excited about it and take the next steps. And the same thing kind of with Paul. Paul actually is up and moved back east to be closer to his family. He’s training actually at Daniel Ribeiro’s parents’ gym, US Gym Center with Genadi Shub I believe is the coach, and then Jesse Silverstein is his training partner right now. So we actually just spoke about it at camp, at the national team camp last week. And he’s in a good place. He needed a change of pace. He’s always kind of liked the big city feel. And it was a mutual move-on. And I wish the best for him. He made sure that I knew though that wasn’t a permanent thing, that he was keeping all his options open. So I think Paul’s kind of life-searching right now and see if he really wants to commit to training for another quad.
BLYTHE: That certainly makes sense. And actually he was just at the Valeri Liukin Cup I think last weekend. He did great.
JUSTIN: Yes. Yes.
BLYTHE: He was fourth. He got 87.1. Very very well.
JUSTIN: Yep. Yep. And I’ve always told Paul his potential is limitless. And he’s got to get comfortable with where he wants to be with training and routines. And it’s really a mental game for him because of how talented he is. Just like it is with all talented athletes.
BLYTHE: Let’s talk about David for a second. Now I had the opportunity to interview David actually at the 2009 Nationals which was, you know, his kind of big farewell party.
BLYTHE: And he did some monster skills, and he did very well. And then he said, “I’m done. See you guys later, I’m going to med school.” And we asked him at the time, you know, “it’s interesting that you’ve chosen Illinois as your choice of graduate schools because you could possibly go to Justin and train with him for the 2012 Games.” And he said, “no I’m not doing that.”
BLYTHE: And then he showed up at Winter Cup and he was back and it was amazing. And can you just tell us how that whole process happened?
JUSTIN: [laughs] Yeah. Dave was a character, man. Every day, he’s in med school he came in and kept training. And it was just like, “so David, when are you announcing your comeback dude?” And he’s, “I am not coming back.” And I’m like, “no one comes in here, swings pommel horse which is their worst event, you hate it.” But then again, David’s an interesting character. David I would almost call a masochist. He loves to beat himself up. He loves just doing strength to rip his body down to build it up stronger. He’ll do… just I’ve never seen someone so persistent. He was truly self drive, but adamantly, adamantly he is not coming back. “I am not coming back.” As he’s doing yurchenko double pikes into the pit. And I’m like, “What is that David? What is that?” And he’s like, “I’m just playing around.” I’m just like, “You’re so full of it dude.” And that’s just, for a year, that’s how the conversations went.”
JESSICA DISCLAIMER: Ok right now you’re going to want to turn your volume up, because this is when the internet decided to go out on us and think it was funny that it was episode 13. So turn your volume up because the quality is going to change a little bit. And as soon as Justin’s interview is over, the quality will go back up again. But I promise you it’s really worth it. So hang in there through this interview because it’s great.
JUSTIN: Yeah, so it’s after 2011. David’s obviously serving his position as athlete rep very well and still very much in the network. And a call from David out of the blue is certainly not unexpected. And so I’m out at IGC camp for a week after Visa’s just, you know, kind of decompressing a little bit. Getting out there. I’ve been going to IGC camps since I was like 8 years old. And I get a call from David and he’s like, “So I was talking to Dennis Mcintyre, the men’s program director…[long pause].” And just kind of, he’s struggling to spit this out. And I’m just like, “Yeah…?” And he’s like, “Well there’s no other way to say this. I am coming back for 2012. Will you be my coach?” And I was like, “Ah I knew it!” And he was like, “No you didn’t because I didn’t know it.” And I was like, “I knew it before you knew it. No one does this just to have fun. You were staying in shape, and you were waiting for someone to be like ‘you should come back.’” And it was after ‘11 that the field looked, you know, looked not as deep. And David saw that he had an opportunity to get in there you know because of his huge vault and huge rings and quite a few areas. And so the conversation was obviously not unexpected, but when I saw it I lit up like the Grinch smile, I knew it. But yeah that kind of started it. We got back and the training began.
BLYTHE: And was he satisfied with what he was able to do at Nationals and Trials? And kind of close things out on a positive note for himself, especially…
BLYTHE: …after what happened in 2008.
JUSTIN: No. [laughs] Absolutely not. He was not satisfied. He came back to make the Olympic team. Hands down. And you know he… David is a very smart intelligent and almost so much that that’s his weakness as well. He kind of… I just feel like he really got worked up with the process and really sat down and I don’t know he kind of avoids talking about it. He was weird with media stuff and any kind of interview, and he didn’t really care. Like he literally trained for the Olympics because that was the milestone for him, internally and personally. Not because it would be fun and to represent.. you know what I mean? He’s a very internally motivated driven dude. And I’ve never really worked with anyone like David. So he was disappointed and angry you know and frustrated after the process. And he came back to make an Olympic team and he didn’t, and that’s not what he came back to do. So it was kind of a… and being the end of his career, that’s a sour way to end. And he’s fortunately got a way out, he’s going to be a very successful vet, and awesome. I watched him stitch my dog up on my couch one time. And that is definitely his calling. You know he wanted to make an Olympic team, and he was darn good. It just didn’t work out. So, five spots isn’t exactly a good opportunity.
BLYTHE: Now, Illinois has been called, and I think it might have been Paul who said it’s the only school where the coaches are better than the gymnasts. You’ve got you, you’ve got Ivan Ivankov, you’ve got David running around the gym. I was wondering do you guys ever have handstand push up contests with the team, stuff like that.
JUSTIN: I very quickly let it go. Well, that’s a whole other story. I may choose to get into that in a minute or so. But Ivan, still at any given moment, even with Maestas is the strongest human being in that gym. He is a freak of nature. A specimen. I don’t understand it. He is so strong. He was just in the process, and we’re hopefully going to do it at a halftime show in one of our competitions this year, is breaking the record for the most consecutive handstand pushups. It was 42. After maybe three or four weeks of training, he flew by that. He’s working out like 46 to 50 in a minute which is just absolutely insane. So Ivan still stays in pretty good shape, on the other hand, I don’t know. I got my hands full. I did a push up thing with John MacReady, 200 pushups a day. I think it was actually a website they had. I did it about six months. Now I’m just overwhelmed with the team and having a five month old child and the whole nine yards so I don’t really do gymnastics anymore.
BLYTHE: And so you’re never just climbing up on high bar, doing a Kovac messing around with the guys. You’ve got Ivan over in one corner working on his push ups but you…
JUSTIN: I don’t know. I haven’t done it in a while. And a lot of it is the last time I was at the Pan American Games as the head coach in 2007, I basically did a—-this is every elite athlete’s ego, they always think they’re still the best you know what I mean. You didn’t get to be the best without thinking you’re the best. The trick is, the ones that are remembered do it very humbly and gracefully, without saying that in every interview they get in to. But I was like you know I still got this. It was Pan Ams. It was done and some of us were going to mess around on P-Bars and I was like doing giants. And I hop up, I still had my shoes on like a complete idiot. I’m on the end of the bars and I was going to do like a baby giant since I was just goofing around. I hadn’t done gymnastics in forever. I was bailing and I was like I need to take my shoes off. I am an idiot. Ridiculous. So I’m pulling at my hamstrings so hard to spread kind of my knees apart like a cowboy almost. In doing that, I literally do a handstand bail on P-Bars and just drive my patellas right into the steel upright of the parallel bars. And I jumped off and walked off like I was fine. I walked off and I was man I guess I don’t still got it. All the while, I was in the most intense pain with fight or flight adrenaline running through my system and so I almost passed out from how much it hurt. And I was like that’s it. Never again. My body is truly disconnected to my muscle memory in my head and I should never do gymnastics again. I really don’t think I’ve popped up and done much since, I guess the last time was the IGC staff exhibitions Friday night when I was at IGC camp last summer. I did Kolman and a triple back over the pit that one day and my shoulders hurt for like a week. I think I can faithfully say I’m done.
BLYTHE: And as somebody who’s career was really marked, especially at the end, by a lot of injuries, how does your body feel? Are you having any aches and pains?
JUSTIN: My lower back is always a mess. That was kind of my gymnastics. I lacked in a lot of raw basics and had to use my talents which was explosive, fast twitched big gymnastics. I was never the first at anything but I was the second at a few things. I did a triple double on floor, second person to do that (inaudible) triple full. Those are all great but those are all skills I got hurt on. I tore my ACL doing a triple in ‘07 or a Tsuk triple I should say on vault. Triple double, I crunched my ankle which was probably why I had four ankle surgeries among the two ankles. It was just my style of gymnastics but I had to do it. That’s what made me stand out from all the other athletes. I wasn’t the most clean form-wise gymnast. I had the explosive skills that were exciting to watch and I played to that strength.
BLYTHE: The skills that you did, especially in the era, that you did them as you said, really when nobody else was doing these things, was it scary to train them? Was it scary to be you and go into the gym every day and be doing a triple double? I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to train that.
JUSTIN: No. I grew up, my dad was an astronaut, experimental test pilot, an Army ranger who did two tours in ‘Nam. Talk about a guy with some experience. He definitely raised me…and rarely said no. Dad can I have a BB gun? Sure. Can I have a bow and arrow? Sure. Can I build a treehouse three stories up in the woods? Sure. Can I play this tree? No that’s just unnecessary risk. I was kind of brought up to take risks. And I enjoyed that. That’s kind of the thrill you got out of gymnastics. That adrenaline rush with those new big skills is really why I got burnt down to the end. I was always coming back from injuries and I wasn’t doing new skills anymore. Those training woes and showing up to a meet talking a triple double on floor and everyone else was like wow that was ridiculous. That was exciting! That was the thrill of gymnastics and competing for me. That is what I miss. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to experience that later on in my career because of the injuries. It was always just about coming back. That was really the most exciting part of gymnastics, not necessarily the most scary parts I guess.
BLYTHE: It was especially interesting that you describe yourself as kind of a power trickster guy because we notice during your career you’ve always had, what we describe as artistic flare that we don’t really see on men’s floor today. The butterflies for example and the almost martial arts inspired combinations. And we were wondering where that artistry came from. Was it your coach?
BLYTHE: Well I think once again it all plays into your strength as an athlete. My pommel horse skills are not very good. My flexibility was bad. I couldn’t really do a split to wide arm or I couldn’t do a triple Russian without deductions. But I could pop up and do a full twisting butterfly and learned it in one trick. That was a D. It set me apart. That was my uniqueness. I certainly wasn’t the most technical gymnast but I think I definitely had an originality to my gymnastics. I wish I could say it was because of my awesome creativity but I really don’t think it was. It was just that was what my gymnastics strengths played into. The flairs on floor helped me. Things like that. Full twisting butterfly seemed like the most logical choice. Weilers on high bar which were not done really at all, which are done a lot now. I couldn’t do an Endo, my flexibility hindered. It was probably my worst quality despite how much I worked on it and I think that’s why I got injured so much. Generally more flexible people get injured less. If I had to go back, I really don’t have any regrets, but knowing the things I know now, I would train and approach my training a little bit differently.
BLYTHE: As somebody who watches a lot of men’s gymnastics, I don’t like rollout skills on floor and I ask everybody who I talk to in men’s gymnastics, what’s your opinion on rollout skills? What is your opinion?
JUSTIN: I think they’re fine. I think people are going to find a way to get injured in the sport of gymnastics no matter what. Yes, rollout skills, you worry about the head. People are very good at protecting themselves. They’re training that skill. You’ve got guys with bad air sense and they’re deathly afraid to do Thomas work or wolfs. But the ones who do do it are generally more comfortable. There’s always the guy whose belief in his ability is far greater than his actual ability. That’s where you can get in danger a little bit. But I think that it’s fine with the amount of mats and training progressions in the sport of gymnastics.I think we’ve had more catastrophic neck and spine injuries from vaults than rollout skills.
BLYTHE: I heard a rumor that Daniel Ribeiro might begin training again just on pommel horse. Can you confirm? True or False?
JUSTIN: He’s kind of in my boat. I think he’s really enjoying being lazy. But he could. I think he could be in a place to make individual worlds on pommel horse. I will occasionally inflict the team as a running assignment and many strengths would jump in there. Daniel, get in here with me and do this and he’s like no way dude. I’m not doing that. But I don’t think his drive is anywhere where it needs to be to coming back to training any time soon so I would have to say that’s a myth. Sorry. He may talk about it and be like you could totally make worlds because that’s fun to hear people say that but not he’s definitely not coming back.
BLYTHE: Ok. The other person I did want to ask you about was Tyler Mizoguchi. There were a few articles last spring where he left the team and it was surprising given that he was an NCAA men’s parallel bars champion and he was one of the big three along with Paul and CJ, to just not be there all of a sudden and could you talk about that at all?
JUSTIN: Yeah, it just seemed bad for both parties at that point. Let that be kind of what happened. It’s really all I want to say about that. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and a valuable learning experience to me along the way. I think it was in the best interest for both and that’s really all I’d like to say about that.
TIM: So my questions have to do more with the recruiting and the marketing questions surrounding NCAA. Sor for our listeners, could you describe how the recruiting process works for men’s NCAA programs?
JUSTIN: Well I think we’re one of the few sports now that continues to recruit the way it was intended which is we really pursue juniors, you know, the junior year, as far as looking at them and we take the people we’re seriously interested in and we have official visits and official recruiting trips. Whereas most of other sports, the time where you’re allowed to do official recruiting, they’ve already verbally committed a year or sometimes two years before and it’s just a formality. It’s like oh well you’re already coming here. Well, we’ll give you a trip. You know, I like it. No one pushes the threshold too much. But it is an interesting piece because of the programs we have and you know, there’s not obviously that many left and so we’ve got to fight pretty heavily against the small programs. I don’t know if that makes it harder or easier to be honest, being in the social world that is gymnastics.
TIM: Ok and in terms of scholarships, men’s Division I programs can only give out the equivalent of 6.3 scholarships which means that not every gymnast can get a full ride. So what factors do you take into consideration when you decide how to divvy up those scholarships?
JUSTIN: Not nearly enough. The whole team is not on individual scholarship. You know, it’s just like picking the Olympic team, you know how you make the strongest team on the floor. Every year it varies. Every year it varies because of our team, because of the recruits that are out there. There’s so many factors that go in. You know we may be horribly weak on high bar next year and a guy that can literally do a 6.3 high bar routine but can’t even touch the other equipment could get a really big scholarship in that one. The year before that one you got Paul with his back injury (I think. kind of hard to understand), wouldn’t have even brought him on a trip. It’s tough. I think parents wonder why this program is offered here and I’d rather go there but they won’t offer me the same offer. Because maybe the value of your son isn’t the same for us not because we don’t value your son as much but he’s not as valuable for us for where our program is. It’s a tough mix of steps that could clash and what the team needs and what the kid has. It really just varies so much.
TIM: Ok so there isn’t one specific thing that you’re looking for in your recruits or there certain character traits that you also look for?
JUSTIN: Well I was just speaking to the team athletically. Truly, we are trying to recruit so much off character. I can’t tell you the amount of walk ons that just exceeded my expectations beyond my wildest beliefs and how often some scholarship guys come in and just, you know the talent was there but your true potential so far away from where you are right now because you know of character things. I think we all know of someone who’s super super talented but never panned out, never made a national team or Olympic team or World team and it’s like what happened? That’s the mental element. I think I spoke to that a long time ago in an interview. I think I was speaking to Paul Ruggeri about that mental stability and focus and drive and if you can get that in line in a talented kid then yes, you can take off and do anything you want. That can be some of the hardest things to train.
TIM: Often times when we think about women’s programs, we kind of talk about almost having to deprogram and how they learn to think as an elite gymnast or upper level 10 gymnast when they transfer to college programs. Is this also an issue for male gymnasts or are they just starting to begin their elite careers and so they’re kind of potters using this unformed clay and you’re kind of molding them?
JUSTIN: Exactly. From a recruiting standpoint, certainly. We are looking for obviously the potential that exists for the athlete. Always. It’s rare that we get a CJ Maestas who is on the national team as a high school student. Usually, you know like with me, I came in on the junior team and really started to excel and come into my own in my college years. That’s the tricky eye of recruiting. And that’s certainly a part we look for and that’s also a big part of training in general. You know, you’ve got to recruit that. We’re a team that has national team members on it consistently and we’re in the loop of USAG and if you wanna make the national team and the world team or the Olympic team, we’re willing, ready, and committed to take you there. To use your metaphor, we’re trying to work with unmolded clay. Some just take off and become incredible and I was fortunate enough to do that and to go back to Jon Valdez. He was a fantastic person to coach me and he was awesome. He did everything to get me geared. He was a friend when I needed him to be and what not. And some people come in and that talent is never realized. And that happens all the time. That’s certainly the other really tough part of recruiting.
TIM: Earlier in the interview, you mentioned that there are very few NCAA men’s teams left. I think in 1981, there were about 79 and now there’s a total of 17. And I’m just curious. Do you think that number will continue to dwindle or do you think there will be expansion in the future?
JUSTIN: Well, you know we have these conversations all the time. We did our 62 plan meeting at national team camp last week and I just walked up to Mark Williams of Oklahoma and Michigan’s coach Kurt Golder and I said you this is the kind of thing we’ve got to do for our NCAA coaches because we kind of need to get a vision of what we are trying to accomplish and I think that the lofty goal of trying to reinstate programs, I don’t know if that’s where we should be focusing. Because I don’t know if that’s the most (inaudible) right now. I think that we need to, like you said, look at the 17 programs in existence and find out how to make them as strong and self sustainable and popular as we can in order to then move forward and reinstate the programs. We’re fortunate that Illinois has great crowd size, fully funded budget. You know, we’re bringing in close to 2000 fans into the seats for home meets and that’s good but are other AD’s of other programs going to look at men’s gymnastics, look at the expense, look at I guess the cultural significance and say men’s gymnastics sounds like the right thing to do? They’re not really even looking to reinstate men’s programs. A lot of universities are still trying to balance the offset of scholarships for football and bringing on women’s teams. Adding another men’s sport, obviously you can get into a Title 9 debate here, it’s tough. I think our vision and purpose should be to move forward with really solidifying the 17 remaining programs and getting them solid and their feet on the ground, great crowd size, a passionate following where people in the community love and support gymnastics, 5000 people show up to every competition, just a sport that people get involved in and want to see, that’s why you should reinstate a program at your university and we’re not there yet. It kind of drove Daniel and I to these conversations and this parade we went on last year reintroducing this format. I think gymnastics, in its ancient beauty of artistry and what it is, it doesn’t fit with this time, this year’s expectations of what a sporting event should be. In the time of X-Games, where everything is analyzed and critiqued, when we want judges’ reviews of judges’ reviews, with video replay and things like that, it’s too subjective and people don’t get it and can’t, in the middle of a gymnastics meet, look up at the scoreboard and say 275.36 to 271.45 and 90% of the people go, is that close? Is that bad? I have no idea. Can someone tell me what’s happening? So we’ve kind of lost our general public to go in and watch gymnastics because it’s not so much a sporting event and if you just want to see the beautiful artistry of gymnastics, you buy Cirque du Soleil tickets. We’ve got to bring gymnastics back to being a little bit more of a sporting event with University of vs. University of….the team sporting event and we’re going against each other. People look at a gymnastics meet and see a team competing against that judging and the other team is over on a completely different event competing against that judging. We’re not really playing against each other. So that’s kind of where the head to head match format came up in the future events of men’s gymnastics and what we thought should be the next step. We’re still pushing for that.
UNCLE TIM: Ok, and so could you give listeners a little more background about what will be happening during the Illinois vs. Minnesota meet in March?
JUSTIN: Yeah, so that is the first real competition that we’ll be running the match based format. Basically, fortunately the NCAA mens side is used to an all up all count format, you know it’s five up five count on each event, and basically we need to give gymnastics come offensive and defensive elements so both teams would start on floor together. There will be no set lineup, and there will be a four judge panel. Everyone’s on floor, so there’s no six ring circus going on. That was the other thing, I love the energy of a Big Ten Championships, I sat and watched prelims at NCAA’s last year, and it was six teams and I know these teams, I know the sport, and I know the athletes. I sat and watched that event and I was like, “I don’t even know what’s going on”. There’s number and scores flying around everywhere and I was like, “This is bad”. People can’t focus on two things let alone six and then really 30 because there’s scores everywhere. So we wanted to focus on one event, floor and floor. Again, we’re still ironing out these things, but the team starts and then as I watch their routines, no scores show. You can check your start value because that’s what we can petition. We have a red flag like in football you’ll throw if you have to petition a start value, and basically after I watch Mike’s first guy go up on floor, I pick a guy to beat him. Plain and simple. If I want to take my anchor and waste him on Mike’s first guy up, I can do that, and that’s part of the strategy at play. Then my guy goes up, then at the end of the head-to-head round, the judge raises a maroon flag, or an orange flag, point Illinois or point Minnesota. The scores can be done behind the scene, so it’s still straight FIG scoring, you’re just not really throwing that out. People have no idea how you get that, even people decently involved in the sport of gymnastics can’t calculate start value and do the deduction execution, it’s too much for the general public. So we can put that on the side for people who are real gymnastics fans, and they can see all that statistic stuff. But on the floor, a general person walked in and saw one routine, then they saw the same event and another routine back-to-back, and they can go, “I don’t even know what he did, but he stuck that landing at the end, I like that one better”. They can at least have an opinion. That’s my dream is that in the middle of a sporting event, I get a fan that yells at our judges, “That was a bogus call ref! That guy should have won!”. You know, people can’t get invested. Fans right now, they watch a routine, and they think they know what a good score is, which is maybe a 15.5, but it’s pommel horse and it’s our first guy up and his start value is maybe 15.2 and they’re like, “Oh he rocked that routine he’s probably going to get a 15 and he get’s a 13.8, what do the guys in the crowd say? “I’m an idiot, I just don’t know what’s going on” you know because they don’t, but if it was one versus the other, you get a 50% chance you might anyway, but also you know it’s just aesthetic. What did you like better, which did you think was better? You don’t have to calculate the score. I just think it’s a fan friendly format, Big Ten Network loves it. You go head-to-head and the final score can be something like 16 to [inaudible]. We ran a scrimmage against BYC which went well, our orange and blue thing that we did, we basically split the girls team in half and the guys team in half, and put 6 girls and 6 guys approximately and the same on the blue team, and we ran it under this format. I was on the mic, I was the co-emcee for the night, and we brought in some in-gym commentary about going big and loud when there was a stuck dismount, because there’s a big bonus for NCAA men’s gymnastics this year which is cool. Basically, you can build up the challenge. You know, “Blue is behind by one point, they need to take this match up in order to get the tie going into round four”. It makes sense from a sporting perspective. Reporters can understand the statistics, CJ Maestas got six points, he’s averaging five point for a competition this year for an all arounder or something out of a potential six versus a 15.8 on rings, they don’t know what that means. They have no idea what that means. So it kind of opens the world up for a little bit more of a followable sporting event I guess.
UNCLE TIM: And what happens in the event of a tie at the end?
JUSTIN: [laughs] that’s the big debate right now. This does lend itself to a little bit more a tie. 15 to 15 at the end. Right now we’ve won the two end of the meets with a back tuck stick off in the middle of the floor. Some people absolutely hate it and think it’s ridiculous, some people love it. The ones that hate it come at me and are like, “You’re going to end the meet with a stick off? Like a shoot out?” and I’m like, “Uh yeah. Like in hockey. This is done in sporting events, it’s not that extreme”. Some of the other ideas have been to do a high bar dismount stick contest, it’s a little too crazy to get back up and do a dismount, it may not be the same dismount, you can do tucks, pikes, and fulls. You put three of your best stickers out there and you go one to one, one to one, one to one. And people get that, because an audience can grasp the concept of a back flip and a stick, they get that. I used to have people asking me if I did five flips of the highbar which was a triple back. They can’t even count flips, the more basic the better. They don’t get twists, they don’t understand it and so I think that’s a really exciting and really intense finish that people can get. Do you have any suggestions for me? Of better ways to break the tie?
UNCLE TIM: Not that I can think of, but I’ll think about it actually
JUSTIN: This isn’t set in stone yet, we’re still creating it kind of, it’s all up in the air now.
UNCLE TIM: Blythe actually has a suggestion.
BLYTHE: I do have a suggestion actually. I don’t know if you saw the Glasgow World Cup last week but when they introduced gymnasts, there’s eight guys and eight girls one-by-one, and the guys ran onto the floor and they did kind of a little party trick, you know like a front tucked full, something easy. But it really got the crowd into it, and it was like, “Hey these guys can do these really cool things”.
JUSTIN: Well it’s like, a boxer with his theme music and comes out and does his patented six hit combo. It all makes sense, we just kind of lost the crowd appeal here. We need to play up the crowd a little bit. We’re doing incredible things and we just need to kind of let them buy into what we’re doing, and little things like that are a huge difference. The endgame presentation of gymnastics is really what we’re trying to work on, that’s a great point.
UNCLE TIM: When I was a grad student at Illinois I remember going to Huff Hall and it was always full, always, always. And so I’m just curious how has Illinois been able to attract such a big crowd even when fans might not necessarily understand what’s going on?
JUSTIN: You know I think we’re in a perfect place, we’re a big university in a small town, and just like Penn State and Happy Valley, the community surrounds the University of Illinois and we’ve been a successful program, they’re gonna show up and watch a team win. We haven’t had a great football team the last five years, we haven’t had a great basketball team the last five years. We’ve had a really dominant volleyball team, and Huff Hall is slammed with 4,000 people every match. We’ve had a good mens gymnastics team and we get about 2,000 people, which is I think second in the entire country for attendance records this last year. I think we have a good mix of a successful program and a town that really supports the University of Illinois. Thats why the push of this format is really geared towards team. It’s not ideal or perfect for the individual trying to do all-around, fast paced kind of throw up at any time format, but it’s more about the team. And I’ve got to tell you that my belief is that university athletics should be about the team, it should be about the University of Illinois men’s gymnastics team, not CJ Maestas. As much as he’s an integral part of it, it’s not his show. I’m not saying that to pick on him, he’s our stud, but it should be about the team.
UNCLE TIM: How do you convert your fan base into money, I guess is the question, because most mens programs post you know a $300,000 deficit, most womens programs post a $500,000 deficit, so how do you turn college gymnastics into something that’s more lucrative?
JUSTIN: Well, I think you’re about two decades down the road at that, maybe more. I don’t think it’s realistic to say that college dual meets are going to become a revenue sport, that college gymnastics is going to become a revenue sport because in reality there’s really only three, maybe four revenue sports: men’s and women’s basketball, football, and women’s volleyball, I may be missing one. But that’s only in extreme cases, some football teams are not making money in the sport, most volleyball teams are not, most women’s basketball teams are not. And so if it was about making money based off attendance, you wouldn’t do it. The original NCAA Athletics was supposed to be, like I said, that cultural significance. It’s supposed to be about exposing the student athlete to the spice of life, for lack of a better way of putting it. [laughs] You know that’s kind of why athletics was brought into the university system, it’s been in the last 20 years that it’s gone ridiculously haywire with billion dollar TV contacts and people getting hired and fired and admissions to a university is extremely tied to the success of a football program. It is no longer about just getting a taste of what’s out there and things like that. It has become about money, unfortunately, but only for really football. I think that it;s about men’s gymnastics over men’s soccer or something, if you’re gonna have- I refuse to believe that we’re going to let the downward spiral continue to the point where two sports rule. If revenue sports are the only ones that survive then in 30 years we’re going to have football and basketball. I just don’t think we’ll let it get there because people like other things, and so we just need to make sure that a lot more people like gymnastics. Like I said, it may not ever become a revenue sport, but at least when AV’s are looking at budget cutting and things like that they’re going to say, “Well we’ve got five thousand people showing up for the men’s gymnastics meet, and only six hundred sitting on the bleachers for a soccer game, maybe it’s soccer that should go”, or on the other side maybe we should put up gymnastics. We have equipment because we used to have a program, why not bring gymnastics back, it’s having an overall significance in the community it exists in. I think that’s kind of the first step.
UNCLE TIM: Going back to this idea of popularity in men’s gymnastics, Paul, when he was on our show, said that he thinks the spandex look hurts men’s gymnastics. And I actually found it interesting that during the blue and orange competition you guys were competing in baggy shorts and shirtless. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that a uniform change is necessary?
JUSTIN: Absolutely. Tell me a sport that hasn’t had some minor uniform change in like fifty years? We lost the suspenders [laughs] on the pants…
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
JUSTIN: …but otherwise our uniform is pretty much the same as the, I guess we don’t do the low neck, but more or less [inaudible] spandex suit exists until gymnastics and it’s not necessary. Divers speeders probably have 1/8 the material that they used to. People see those and it’s like everything is getting a little more edgy and risque a little bit, and let’s be honest, gymnastics, I’m biased, but I think has the most incredible athletes on planet Earth. And I think with that comes incredible bodies, guys that are stronger and more chiseled and ripped than any other sport and I think that certainly plays into a little bit of gymnastics or are a part of the fanbase. And I think we should show that. Gymnasts are very strong and that should be a little bit of the marketing. And spandex, when you think of spandex you think of Jane Fonda and 1980’s jazzercise
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
JUSTIN: It’s not exactly with our time.
UNCLE TIM: Well thank you so much for being on our show, we appreciate you time and your energy. We look forward to seeing what happens in March with the head-to-head dual meet.
JUSTIN: Well, me too. Thanks guys, thanks for having me on I appreciate it and I look forward to talking to you again in the future.
JESSICA: We are so excited about this new match format. It’s been proposed alot before but no one’s actually pulled off doing it, so this is super exciting and we want to hear what you guys think. Ok coming up next is listener feedback
SPANNY: So in the past week, we’ll start with some Twitter feedback. If you remember last week we had answered a question from a listener about what elite athletes do the night before a meet and weather or not they had problems falling asleep, whether or not they pass right out. Let’s Talk About Gym from LTAGymnastics responded to us, “Well I’m an elite trampolinist and nights before meets I’ve found that I’m just so tired from traveling and training from the previous day that I sleep like a baby the night before the meet”, I appreciate that feedback. That’s kind of what I figured, is that you’re probably so exhausted and burnt out that you don’t have the time to sit up and have anxiety issues. Although Kerri Strug, I remember in her autobiography Landing On My Feet I think it was called, she spoke pretty extensively about having sleep issues and journaling her [inaudible]. So you could do that or take Ambien, either way. Alright.
SPANNY: The GymCastic website, which you can also comment on and we will read all of those responses. Nick Mann responds again to last weeks discussion about fantasy beam combinations where we all gave our input about what we would like in our fantasy beam combinations, hence the name, his fantasy beam combination: “I love things that are opposite or mirror each other like Alicia Sacramone’s mount on beam, front tuck to back tuck, so I would love to see a backhandspring layout step out layout stepout and then a front handspring front aerial front aerial, that would be cool”, and I agree. There is, I like when things mirror each other, and there’s a lot of creativity I think you could…Uncle Tim you’re going to help me out here: early 90’s, NCAA, Olympian for Bama, I can’t think of her name.
JESSICA: Wore the catsuit went to Parkette’s
DVORA: Kim Kelly?
UNCLE TIM: Kim Kelly, yeah.
JESSICA: No, no the good one.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
JESSICA: [laughs] The one that was almost World Champion. I don’t mean that Kim Kelly wasn’t good, I just mean she was better than Kim Kelly.
SPANNY: No, Kim Kelly went to Georgia didn’t she?
UNCLE TIM: Hope Spivey?
JESSICA: Yes! Hope Spivey!
BLYTHE: I think that was 1988
SPANNY: At UCLA, I think her senior year, her floor routine she does a 10-15 second chunk of choreography, we’ll have to find this video, where she does it going one way, stops, and reverses the exact choreography jumps and everything. There’s always, I don’t know if it’s the 80’s kid in me, but yeah there’s always a lot to be done with that and I find it very creative.
JESSICA: I love that routine.
SPANNY: I’m with you. Also from the GymCastic website, Christian says, “I love Stella Umeh’s triple turn. In her 1993 routine, she definitely sets it up but at least she actually performs rather than holding her breath and hoping she doesn’t fall on her face. Also the Li Li routine, which is perfection (and I agree, editor’s note) [laughs] was that the year China got deducted in Team because of the fit of their leotards because jeez, if I wanted to see that much butt I’d pay monthly?”
SPANNY: 1992 that they were deduced and they showed up still after that still with insanely small leotards, which is why my best friend and I said if you had a snuggie, “You had a snuggie bigger than China” which was funny on so many levels for many years. It really was perfection though. Not the leotard, the routine. Finally this is from Twitter, from @SusanW wrote she would be interested in a GymCastic discussion about whether gymnastics should take place in the new European Olympics. Susan, I have no idea what you are talking about, and I would love to know. Here at GymCastic we are going to have a Holiday decoration contest. We will tweet some examples over the next few weeks, and then in two weeks on the 2012 Award Show we will give our favorites a shout out. There aren’t a lot of places you can buy gymnastics ornaments or any decorations so you’re going to have to be creative. [inaudible] and she has a Yang Bo ornament, I have, it’s a little weird thread doll that was given to me by one of the little girls I coached, this was ten years ago now, I’m old, and I never knew what to do with it and then I started hanging it on my tree, this little bendable gymnast thing. Yeah so get creative, if you have any ideas or if you have a wreath.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs] a Festivus Pole.
SPANNY: What is a festivus pole? If you’re my menorah, well they could be little gymnasts, you can make a menorah out of anything, there might be gymnast dolls. Tweet us any pictures that you have, any ideas conceptually you come up with, and we will give a shout out to our favorites in two weeks, the final show of the year. Now, there is yet another Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular. Now it doesn’t air until mid-January, but you’re lucky for now. If you made it to this “sold out event” please leave us an email or voicemail and tell us what you thought, because I’m sure it’s fabulous. It’s Nastia…
SPANNY: Gabby, Aly and they were fudging around with some hockey players which is trouble, I’m just going to say that now. Girls, stick to your sport not theirs. But yeah it seems you know “Skating and Gymnastics, Yay!” I’m sure it’ll be really fun to recap it. So let us know if you saw this live and what you thought about that. Finally, today we would like to announce our new segment: GymLine. Like LoveLine. For you younger listeners LoveLine was a radio call in show in the 90’s with Dr. Drew and what’s his…
JESSICA: It’s still around!
JESSICA: Yes it’s still on! It’s been on for like twenty years now fifteen years now.
SPANNY: I used to listen to this like, to this day Adam Carolla’s voice can like lull me to bed.
SPANNY: I did that like every night
JESSICA: He was the best cohost.
SPANNY: He was! And then he got into weird stuff, I wonder where that guys at now…Anyways, this will be a combination of LoveLine/Oprah-y all rolled into one for gymnastics. Not to be used for technique advice or…we are not licensed to give advice, but if you need an opinion on a leotard color, hair style, if you want to know why your butt glue isn’t washing off in the shower and you still have chalk on your butt the next day, those are the types of issues we are equipped to help you with. Not real mental issues. So please give us a call and leave a voicemail and we would love to respond to you, with all of our expertise.
ALLISON TAYLOR: 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.
JESSICA: So that’s going to do it for us this week. Remember that we are gone next week, next week is Christmas week so we’re taking that week off and we’re going to come back with our final episode of the year which is going to be a fantastic and very exciting award show, so you can look forward to that. Remember to send us your gymnastics related Holiday decorations, so we can check those out and award our favorite for the final episode of the year. And remember you can find us on iTunes and Stitcher, you can review us. You can find anything we talked about today on the website and until our final episode of the year, I’m Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com…
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: and Dvora from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: We’ll see you guys in two weeks!
JESSICA: This is episode 13 right? Yeah.
DVORA: Should we just skip it and go to 14, like some buildings skip the 13th floor in the elevator?
JESSICA: No it’s going to be our lucky 13! Okay..and….
[My Only Wish by Jessica Simpson plays]