LENA: Everybody had a little serving of caviar there. I mean you could eat it or not eat it, but the fact is, it was there.
JESSICA: This week, an interview with Lena Degteva about growing up in the Soviet system in the 80s, our NCAA picks of the week, and cures for rips.
ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts, Elite Sportz Band is a cutting edge compression back warmer that can protect your most valued asset: your back. I’m Allison Taylor on behalf of Elite Sports Band. Visit elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: This is episode 17 for January 23rd. I am Jessica O’Beirne.
SPANNY: I’m Spanny Tampson
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim
JESSICA: And this is the best and only gymnastics talk show in the world, starting with the top news stories from around the world. The first news comes out of Australia. They’re hosting the Olympic Youth Festival. Australia, Great Britain, and China and New Zealand competed. Australia got to have two teams, one from the west and one from the east. And it sounds like it was a fun competition. It was good to see kind of the up and comers. But basically there was no Komova, so, meh. That was my feeling from reading about it. And I don’t know, you watched one of the routines, Spanny, what did you think?
SPANNY: Yeah, Catherine Lyons on beam. She’s a gorgeous gymnast. The skills are kind of eh, she loses some form on split leaps. But she does an incredible front scale, kind of like Mattie does on beam, she does the front scale directly into she holds her foot up into that full turn. The kind of foot up by her head. Just really gorgeous presentation. It’s gorgeous, but then she went into a moment where she did a butt shelf and wrist flicks at the same time, and I had a rage stroke. But it’s a beautiful routine. If you know, younger innovative gymnasts. See different stuff. So it’s worth it to take a peek at.
JESSICA: Cool. The Couch Gymnast has full coverage and a break down, so you can check it out on their site. Uncle Tim, what do you have?
UNCLE TIM: Well this past week, Catalina Ponor – a video of her doing a double layout dismount off of beam emerged. And it looked pretty good until I watched it frame by frame and it looked like it would have been a giant face plant. But still it’s good to see that somebody’s trying to push the envelope. And I think Spanny has some more commentary on it.
SPANNY: Yes. So there’s been rumor for years that Armine from GAGE has she’s had a claim that she did the double layout off beam, or at least trained it.
JESSICA: And we should say she’s doing… Ponor is doing this into the pit. Just so, yeah.
SPANNY: Yeah, mats on it. Was it mats?
JESSICA: I think so.
SPANNY: So discussion on the Russian… there’s a Russian gymnastics message board. Someone there, I don’t have a name, but claims to have trained at Round Lake at the same time. Not unlike our interviewee this week. I believe the quote was the position, it would have been like a ring leap, or like a sheep jump position. It was a sheep jump position going backward. That was her “layout.” And that it was no way credible. It was never completed. It was never done onto surface. So this, if Ponor were to do this, it would legitimately be the first one done. So I don’t know if that dispels rumors about “oh double layout off beam in the 80s,” but it was quoted as being a sheep jump double back.
JESSICA: Ooh, when we have Armine on the show, we’re totally going to ask her about that. We will have to… seriously. And it should be noted that we don’t know when this video is from. So it could be 10 years old, it could be from last week. Like it doesn’t have, you know, we don’t know when she was doing it. But it’s really cool to see because really people have been talking about this for years and debating if it’s possible. And it looks like it is possible. From this video it looks like it is possible. You’d have to be about four feet tall, but yes, it does look possible. Except I do have to make this point. Because I was talking to a gymnast about this earlier this week, and she brought up something really interesting which actually makes a case for older gymnasts doing this skill. And that is, if you have your weight in your hips, it’s harder to flip a double layout. But if you have your weight in your chest, so if you have boobs, it’s easier to do it. And yeah, I had never really thought about it that way before, but it really actually makes sense. So yeah it kind of does. So it makes the case for an older, taller gymnast being able to do this like Ponor. So just throwing it out there. The physics of boobs for gymnastics.
SPANNY: And I think everyone’s kind of craving new skills. Real quick too, McKayla Skinner with her double twisting double layout on floor onto the hard surface. People are like “oh form, ugh.” It’s just kind of cool to see it being done. Regardless of whether or not it’s every competition ready, you know, we complain about having so many “oh another full in double back” or something that we’ve been seeing for 20 years, it’s really cool to just see the new skills in real life.
JESSICA: Another thing that’s in the news that I found newsworthy was that Beth Tweddle, you know she’s in that skating show, there’s a story about her and wedgies. Of course it was a from a very serious news source. High profile. Almost like the New York Times in the UK kind of magazine [laughs]. And they interviewed her about wedgies. And she was like well I asked about my costume and I was worried about this because she’s like wedgies are the worst and you’re not allowed to pick them and all this stuff. And so she said that in ice skating, you always wear tights right? So she’s talking about why you don’t get wedgies in ice skating. So she says you wear tights under your leotard and you have these tiny hooks on them to keep the costume on. It’s very clever. And I was like this is genius! Like why can’t you invent something like this. Oh, because you can’t wear tights, and you can’t you know. And I was also like well you’re not supposed to land on your butt in ice skating, but like you know you can slide and roll and stuff like that on your butt in gymnastics. Especially on beam. So you wouldn’t want to like cut yourself with these tiny hooks. And like, do they only go on the hip? Are they on the crotch too? That could be very dangerous in gymnastics. But it seems like something other than butt glue could be invented because obviously butt glue does not always work. Speaking of butts, the other thing she says which I like in that interview is she said, “I know it sounds strange, but I really like my bum. It’s small and a nice shape, and it’s a product of 20 years of gymnastics. So I’m proud of it.” And I was like good for you! Yes! One other piece of news in the master’s gymnastics adult gymnastics realm is that Burlington BGs in Ontario, Canada, is once again hosting their fabulous World Masters Gymnastics Championship. And it’s going to be on Saturday, March 9th in Burlington, Ontario. I will put the information up. But this meet looks super fun. And my favorite thing about this meet – they have the rules up, they have all the info on there so you can find that. But my favorite thing about this week is that their motto is “why quit when you can become a master?” And this is my favorite thing about masters competition is that you get to be called a master just because you’re old [laughs]. It’s the best thing ever. So yeah I’ll put the info up and it looks like it’s a fun meet. That place always has a great sense of humor and everything. So with that, let’s find out what’s happening in NCAA with Spanny.
SPANNY: NCAA. Last week was a fun one. UCLA got one of their super outrageous home scores, which people of course were calling “shenanigans.” But as we’ll come to see, other teams are catching up with gigantic scores right away. Florida had kind of a stunning loss to LSU. But we know all that. So we’re going to go over a couple of quick details. Routines and memorable snippets of the week. I’m going to start with “Birds Nest of the Week.” Jessie Jordan, LSU. Like, I saw her hair and it was legit sectors of hair. There was the braids sector and there was the rat tail sector and there was the curls sector. But it wasn’t organized sections. It was, I’ve never seen anything like it. And you know I pay a lot of attention to hair. I… it must have taken her all day. And then she competed on it. It was incredible. And it didn’t go anywhere. I don’t think it had anywhere to go. But, incredible hair. I don’t know whether I’m horrified or really happy. I don’t know, it’s weird. “Ambien of the Week” goes to Michigan’s floor rotation. Pretty much the entire rotation. I’m sorry Michigan. They’re really good routines, they’re just nothing memorable and I dozed off immediately. Then again I’m pregnant, so I always fall asleep.
SPANNY: “Why Are You Crying” of the week: Florida. They just looked completely defeated before they even started. I mean their very first bar routine, it looked like everyone had a puppy, and the puppies all died at once. An honorable mention to Lloimincia Hall. Although I did read afterwards that her grandfather did pass away and so she had a very legit reason for crying after every event.
SPANNY: I know. “Quote of the Week” was again from one of the Michigan announcers: “You’d think that tumbling on the beam is just like tumbling on the floor.” Really? Does anybody think that? Oh, this is not… I’m going to call it the “Tease of the Week.” I have another word in mind. CBS All Access and PAC 12 TV. I bought all these different services this month because I really wanted to watch the meets. And as soon as I did, I got scheduled every Friday night for like the next year. So I’m like that’s ok, I’ll be able to watch. I wasn’t able to watch anything. Only thanks to a couple of random streams that people have posted.
JESSICA: So you can’t watch the replay? You can only watch it live even if you pay for it?
SPANNY: It’s impossible. I was able to watch… again obviously Michigan. I was able to watch LSU and Florida. I’ve been slowly coming upon them. I only saw just today I was watching the UCLA Utah meet only because Abomb over at GGMB posted his home video of it. So thank you Abomb for that because I feel silly trying to report on NCAA without having watched the routines. So I’m going to see if CBS, maybe they’re just really slow about uploading.
SPANNY: We’ll talk about that next week. “Half Ass Leotard of the Week.” And I’m stealing that term from Uncle Tim and his NCAA bingo because it’s perfect.
JESSICA: Everyone needs to go look at his NCAA bingo on his site. It’s freaking hilarious. It’s Uncle Tim at his absolute best. Oh my gosh I love it.
SPANNY: Yeah, “Half Ass Leotard of the Week” again goes to team Michigan. It’s not because they’re one of the few teams I was able to watch this week. But that’s really, everybody… they’re in good shape, that whole team, but everybody’s bums were like… it was Romania bad.
SPANNY: It was just a bad cut. And then they… other teams had, it’s just you can wear a lower cut, and it’s not unflattering. I just don’t want to see your butt all the time. And finally, “Nice Try Choreography of the Week.” When I was finally able to watch Utah and UCLA, Nansy Damianova from Utah. Ah. Just I mean obviously that whole team gets a lot of attention for their lack of… their floor routines, great tumbling, not so much choreography. So it’s Holle Vise’s old tango music which I love. And I’m like oh tango, you know this is great. So she tried doing that little – I don’t know what they’re called in actual dance, but those little knee kicks – but she looked like she was so doped up that she was just barely moving through them. The whole team, and just on floor, just needs like eight shots of adrenaline. And I think if they really committed to… the choreography is what you make it, you know. But maybe it’s because they’re saving up all that energy for their billion E passes which is great. But I either snooze or laugh uncontrollably during their choreography.
JESSICA: Yeah. Utah just looks kind of bummed out this year. I don’t know what’s up with them. Like I don’t know, they have two good competitors and everyone else just looks like eh. They’re just not into it or something.
SPANNY: Yeah I was really shocked. I mean obviously I think everybody was shocked by their bar rotation. Not just the falls but… again maybe it was that, seeing it from the audience perspective again, because of Abomb’s home video, I could see from across the gym that you can see flexed feet and legs apart. And it didn’t look polished at all. And that’s not… I don’t think that’s something you can really criticize Utah for normally. It’s that usually whether or not they’re boring as sin.
JESSICA: Right. Exactly. Yeah their thing is that they can be totally boring but they’ll be undeductable. You know, that’s always been their go-to. You can always depend on them.
SPANNY: Bekah from… what’s her website’s name? Oh crap, sorry Bekah.
UNCLE TIM: Get a Grip Gym Blog
SPANNY: Yes, thank you. Get a Grip Gym Blog. She started her own NCAA vlog this week. And it’s pretty good.
SPANNY: She’s got a lot of insightful information. It’s just she points out specific routines and her thoughts on them. She used a term for a blanket of teams. But she was like, “they were very midwestern.” And she’s from the midwest, I’m clearly very midwestern, and I wasn’t offended by it. It’s so true. That there are a few teams that are very vanilla. They’re very… midwestern. And it’s palatable, but in the midwest, people think ketchup is spicy.
SPANNY: And Utah, they seem like they think ketchup is spicy. I don’t know if that makes sense to anybody else. But like it’s all very neat and put together, but it’s just nothing exciting.
JESSICA: Yeah. Speaking of her video blog, I was really impressed with it. Not only impressed because sometimes she can be a little bit harsh on her blog, but I really liked like just her attitude, the way she talked about things. And she put links to the routines. So while she’s talking about it, you can see what she’s talking about. And if you’re doing a video blog, it has to have the visuals. You know it can’t just be you’re looking at you the whole time. So I was really impressed to that. I really liked it. So we’ll put a link to that. And then Uncle Tim, there’s kind of been some like… blah-ery, I’m going to call it blah-ery, in NCAA. Let’s discuss.
UNCLE TIM: So yeah. Last week you guys chatted with Sam. And you talked about some of the more superficial things- the hair, the leotards and stuff. And so I guess what are some of your pet peeves when it comes to the actual gymnastics and dance and the skills? Because I have a bunch when it comes to NCAA gymnastics, but I want to hear your thoughts first.
JESSICA: I’ll start with, I guess on vault I’m sick of seeing yurchenko fulls. I just, I’m sick of it, I’m sick of it, I’m sick of it. You know and this is something that has to be addressed in the rules. Because when you have a team that every single person is doing the exact same vault, you know we’re going to have Super Six and everyone’s doing the same vault, like that’s something that has to be addressed in the rules. And I’m also sick of there being no variety in dismounts on beam, which is another thing that has to be addressed in the rules. I mean if it’s not, it needs to be a harsher deduction. If everyone is doing a layout full, or a “run to the end of the beam, throw yourself sideways, and then do a gainer pike that you can’t stick,” that has to be something that is not up to value. Like on bars it’s not up to the difficulty level. So it should be like a point off of something. Because you could do something more creative that’s harder. You know, I just, ugh.
SPANNY: With the gainer off… to be fair I’ve never done a gainer off the end of the beam, or the side, or anywhere. But the gainer, I can’t think of a more unsightly-er, or just unsavory dismount than a gainer pike off of beam. And again the irony is that some of our best beam workers in the country, who are so lauded for the interior of their beam work, and then they dump off the end of the beam in a pike. And then I’m just like was it a mistake? Was it, I don’t know. Also on beam, I feel this is new this year or if it’s even a thing, but the front aerial to back handspring. And that’s it. That’s the end of the pass. And again I feel so unsatisfied where I’m like wait, what else, there’s more? And nope, that’s your connection. Good luck to you. I say those are my beefs right now.
UNCLE TIM: Gotcha. Well I have a bunch, and some of them emerged in bingo. But definitely the straddle gienger is one.
UNCLE TIM: Where they do a gienger and then [whoosh] their legs just come apart and it’s you know a straddle gienger. And a thing I observed when I was watching Nebraska was that they do bails. But they don’t do bail to handstand, a lot of them, they just do the shoot over. Which is… I mean it’s a skill. But I think that when you’re going against teams that are doing bail to handstand, it makes your bar routines less difficult. I mean they’re all starting out of 10s, but in order to get to the next level, I think you have to do the bail to handstand. That’s just my opinion though.
JESSICA: Yeah and if you’re doing that, if you’re doing the straddle back-y version of that, not to handstand, of the bail, you need to do something crazy ass hard into it. Like if you’re doing a full twisting gienger and then you do that, then I’m like go on, like that’s great. But if you’re doing just a tkachev into that, oh hell no.
SPANNY: It reminds me, remember Kerri Strug was known – and since then I’ve called them the “dumpy bail” where they just I think, whoever it was, Bart Conner, said she dumped herself over the bar. But it seems like whole teams do it. Again, Nebraska and Ball State. And it becomes progressive where I feel like because they don’t go to handstand, their faces get progressively closer to the bar. And without fail, somebody on that team smacks their face on the bar. Every week. It’s inevitable.
UNCLE TIM: Also the blind full to the double tuck. You know it’s ok if there’s one routine that does it. But I did notice that in Oklahoma’s bar rotation they had two back to back, which just is kind of, I think, I big no no in NCAA routines. So, do you guys agree?
JESSICA: Yeah and you’re a unit. And you are a team. You’re not competing as an individual in NCAA. So the coaches as much as they can should be constructing everyone’s routines to be seen as a unit and not as one individual. Because if you have to put up three people or two people back to back doing the same thing, it just makes you look terrible. It makes you look like you have no depth. And not to mention I’m just sick of the full to the double back. Make it a double pike at least, make like something, throw a little half turn at the end, like anything. That makes you stand out so much because basically it’s almost like compulsories now. On vault it’s compulsories. Everyone’s doing the freaking same vault. So, yeah.
UNCLE TIM: And I think we could say the same about the Rudi or the back one and a half on floor as well. Everyone’s doing it. Some are doing two in the routine. And it’s just like really? I have to watch another Rudi in the same routine? I mean it’s acceptable, you can do it, they’re not getting deductions for it. But I’d like a little more variety there. And the last thing that I noticed last night when I was watching Bridget Sloan’s routine unfortunately is a long sequence of floor choreography, we’ll call it. Where you stay on the floor and you dance and you spin on your butt. And she did like criss cross her legs a bunch. I think you can get away… I mean most people will go down and do a couple things. But when you spend a long time down on the floor and then get up and not hit your next pass, it makes you look like you are not in shape for your routine. And I hate to say it, but that’s kind of probably what the judges are thinking too. So that’s just something to watch for.
SPANNY: I think another athlete who does that is Shayla Worley. And I feel like I can’t criticize because her dance is gorgeous. Like she does… about the same. Where I’m like the better the dance is, the worse the final tumbling pass is going to be. And again last night it was true to form.
UNCLE TIM: For our listeners who didn’t get to see the meet, she did a… her routine was going well, and then she went for her last pass and did a front layout into a botched front tuck basically. She landed on her feet, but it just was not supposed to be done that way.
JESSICA: Now we’re going to bring you our interview with Lena Degteva. We’re going to step back in time now, to an era which every gymnastics fan longs for. Lena Degteva trained with the likes of Chusovitina and Olympic champion Tatiana Gutsu at Round Lake in the Soviet gymnastics system in the mid-80s. She was born in 1976 in Lviv, Ukraine. She was a Soviet junior national champion in 1989. She was a two-time National Champion and two-time World Championships competitor for Canada, and went on to be a two-time NCAA champion in the US. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.
JESSICA: Thank you so much for coming on the show. We’re super excited to talk to you, and as you know, Round Lake—legendary, Ukraine—legendary, and we all admire the program so much, the whole Soviet program. So we’re super excited to talk to you.
LENA: Well, I’m very excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
JESSICA: Thanks. Ok. So. The first thing we always ask anyone that’s on the show is, if there’s anything that you have always wanted to talk about, or something that you’ve always wanted someone to ask you, that they never have. Is there anything like that?
LENA: That’s interesting. You know, I’ve never really given that a thought, but, let’s see. Well, I think that most people—and they’re right in thinking so—they feel that the athletes that came out of the Soviet Union gymnastics program, you know, they aren’t very happy people. So I suppose I’ve always wanted somebody to ask me, was I happy growing up?
JESSICA: Ok, were you happy growing up?
LENA: Well, I think there’s probably two parts to that answer, yes and no. You know, there were a lot of times where it was very difficult, and life felt like you were an adult trapped in a child’s body. [LAUGHS] But there were also a lot of really, really fun moments and good moments, and yes. You know, at the end of the day, I was a gymnast because I liked doing the sport, and I enjoyed it, and there was a huge element of fun in that for me.
JESSICA: Ok. I’m glad you brought that up because that is really, that is a stereotype and that people think about, so I’m glad you brought that up. Is there anything else?
LENA: No, I would say…I would think that most things that people think of, when they think of Soviet Union and that whole era of dynasty gymnastics, where we won every meet and every major competition, I think, for the most part, you know, things are true, what they think. So, if there are any questions you have for me, I could definitely answer them and clarify.
JESSICA: Ok. Well, let’s start from the very beginning. So, tell us about where you were born, in Ukraine and that era, and kind of, you know, what it was like there, when you were born.
LENA: Ok. So, I was born into a family of gymnastics coaches, both my mom and my dad were. They were gymnasts themselves, but they both ended up just being very passionate about coaching the sport and so, when they met and got married, they were both coaches. And my sister and I were born into a family where really we didn’t have much of a choice, you know, in becoming gymnasts ourselves. So, the city where I was born in us called Lviv (leh-VEEV), that’s the pronunciation if you want to say it in Ukrainian, and it’s a very small town. A lot of people think it looks like Paris, which is lovely, but yes. It’s a very small town, and yeah. So kind of, our destiny was decided, really, by the fact that we were born into parents that were coaches.
JESSICA: And so, did you not have that moment where we hear about in China and Romania, where you get—someone comes to your school and they ask you to do cartwheels outside, and then they say, “You’re selected to for our country!” Did that happen to you, or now?
LENA: Well, it’s interesting you ask me that, because I’ve certainly seen it happen, because my mom, you know, was part of that process. They would go to schools. They would check to see if there are any talented kids, and they would give them a test, and if you were talented enough, they would then approach the parents and, you know, talk to them about it. But because I was fortunate enough to have my parents be coaches, I didn’t have to go through that process. And the reason why I said fortunate is because I don’t know if I would have been selected to be one of those talented kids. My mom and I talk about it all the time, and I didn’t display those qualities that they looked for, when they would choose the kids that should have been gymnasts. So, I snuck in there. [LAUGHS] Snuck in there because I had an advantage.
JESSICA: Interesting. Tell us how the—I just want to go back to the, kind of Ukraine and the era. Some people think that, in a way, in the Soviet system, if you were at a certain point, you had everything you needed. And other people think about it in terms of, people had nothing that they wanted and were starving and it was really hard. What was your family situation before you went to the National Training Center?
LENA: Well, when I was growing up in the 80s, everybody in comparison to the lifestyle that people lead in this country, in the US, were considered to be poor. But, we were all poor together, so there wasn’t necessarily your neighbor who had all this stuff, and you were looking at them and comparing yourself to them and thinking, “Oh, I don’t have anything.” Nobody had anything. Everybody kind of lead a difficult lifestyle. So, gymnastics, as other sports in the country, was really a way to get out of the poverty, or it was one of the ways you could get out of the poverty. If you were an excellent athlete, and you got to a National Team level, and you began to represent the country, and travel, and, especially, win medals internationally, that’s when you could stand to really make some money and open up doors for yourself, so that you could live a better life. So, I think that was one of the huge driving factors for a lot of even parents, who would be willing to put their child into a program, even if it meant they might not see them, even if it meant they would have to go far away and train somewhere else.
JESSICA: Ok. And was there, in addition to changing your lifestyle, and for this, being one of the only vessels for upward mobility in society, was there a sense of national pride? Was that important, of was that something out of the propaganda machine, or was it more, what could you do for your family and yourself?
LENA: You know, it’s the same as the chicken or the egg question. I don’t know that you are born with that patriotism innately, or, like you said, you were brainwashed. I mean, during the time when I was growing up, we were in Cold War, and there was a lot of talk about the USA is not good, they’re the devil, and now that I’ve immigrated and I live here, I’ve learned that the same kind of propaganda was fed to the kids that were growing up at the same time here. USSR is not good, they’re the devil. So I think that, you know, a lot of national pride came from this idea of we’re the good guys, and somebody else is trying to destroy us. So I don’t know, it’s very difficult to know if I felt national pride for the right reasons. But I certainly felt it. Yeah.
JESSICA: Ok. I wonder, just coming from Ukraine and the old Soviet system, I wonder if this was a hindrance or a benefit in some ways. You know, we’ve heard that things about, like in Canada, there’s an underlying political pressure that there has to be someone from every different province, and since the Soviet Union made up of all these different countries, not provinces, was it a benefit? Was it a hindrance? Was that even an issue you were aware of at the time?
LENA: I don’t believe that was an issue at all. I believe at the end of the day, the politics consisted more of who is the most talented, versus—or, I shouldn’t even say that. It was more about, who is most likely to win a medal. It didn’t matter that in, let’s say Olympic trials, you made a mistake that would have technically taken you out of the team, because if the national team coach believed that you had the potential to win an Olympic medal at these games, you were going to be on the team no matter what. And, you know, some of the kids who really deserved to be on that team may not be on the team. So that’s really the extent of politics. It wasn’t so much about geography and what republic you were coming from.
JESSICA: Ok. So how did you start training? Did you start training at home, and then eventually you were selected to go to Round Lake? Or actually, let’s forget Round Lake for now. Just, tell us about how you first started, and where you first started training, with who and what the system is like? Did you have a class system like we did back in the 80s, like claims 1 through 3 and then elite, or a level system—how did that work?
LENA: There really wasn’t much of a class or level system up until you became, I would say, maybe a novice level, where you could actually compete. Prior to that, you would just be—you know, the way it happened for me was, A., I was coming into the gym since birth because that was a place where I could have somebody care for me other than my grandparents. There was no such thing as nannies or daycare for kids that are too young to be in daycare. So, I was in the gym since I was able to crawl, basically. So, and I remember that I was in a group of kids, first coached by my aunt, actually, and it wasn’t doing much, just doing things, basic things here and there, and then after that, I began training with my dad and my mom. They just started coaching me. So, if there was any level systems, it was probably more like a novice, junior, and then senior category, as opposed to one through ten, and then elite, like they do here in the United States.
JESSICA: Ok. And tell us, I remember there was a quote, and I think it was Vitaly Scherbo who said this, but I could be wrong, so. One of the great champion men said that basically, he was picked for gymnastics, it was super boring for two years, and he was just like, eh, so lame, for two years, and it was totally boring, and that we did nothing for two years, and then after two years, we could do everything. So—and basically, what he was saying was that basically they conditioned, they got strong, they learned their body shapes, and then after those two years, everything was easy and they got to actually do gymnastics because they had established that base level. Was that how training was for you when you started seriously, or was it totally different?
LENA: No, if I have to decipher what he means by what he said, yes. Russian school of gymnastics is very technical, so the one thing that they instill in you from the beginning is all the basic skills that you will need to be a good gymnast, and I think that’s what he meant by saying, I was bored for two years. Yes. You spend a lot of time working on handstands and basic skills that will give you the base to be perfect in everything else that you’ll ever do. So, saying that he was bored with that, I think that comes from a very talented individual who probably could do a lot more a lot faster. So I think that was probably what he means by, I was bored. But for somebody like me, you know, gymnastics wasn’t necessarily easy. I found it very difficult. Took me many, many years to get to a level where I could actually call myself decent. I probably needed all the boring things I could get, and which, I don’t recall being bored, that’s for sure. But you understand what it means.
JESSICA: Yes, and now I think for sure that I was right it was Scherbo, because that is exactly as you described it—like, somebody who is super talented, and was bored with those things, totally sounds like him.
JESSICA: Yup. So tell us about the dance training that you had from the beginning. Like, was it—did you actually go into a dance studio, and it was ballet, pure ballet, or was it something that was just integrated into every event? How did it work?
LENA: Ballet was treated like a rotation, just like any other event would be. It was just an addition to all the four events we already trained on. We had quite an extensive training. We would do the barre for about half an hour, and then we would take it on the floor and we would do a traditional dance on the floor where we learned all the basic steps of all the basic dances, and then, of course, we would practice different types of jumps and leaps and things like that. But it was very serious. I mean, it was one of those things where it was a necessity, and nobody looked at ballet and dance as, “Oh, it’s just ballet and dance.” It was just as important as anything else, and we continued doing that when I got to Round Lake. If anything, it was more strict there, and there was more attention devoted to that rotation than I remember training in my own gym. And we had a coach, specifically just for that. We had a ballet coach, and she would get through all the kids in the gym in their separate classes, that’s what we would do, all day.
JESSICA: Wow. And so, did you guys do any other kind of dance, or was it all strictly ballet?
LENA: It was all—well, it was strictly ballet, but when we would take our class to the floor, the floor portion, we would, they would teach us how to waltz. They would teach us how to do other kind of dances. The basic steps of those dances.
LENA: And I think that’s what, in the end, gives us such great coordination and such good movements, when you see Russian gymnasts, even today, there’s a huge difference between them and other countries.
JESSICA: That is really interesting, because I didn’t understand—at first I was like, all the different steps, like, that’s so fascinating and that explains so much.
LENA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We knew how to do all of the basic dances.
JESSICA: So, was there any—when you were training as a kid, was there any pressure, or even at Round Lake, was there any pressure from the coaches to make training fun or interesting to you, or was it an honor, kind of, to be there, and you just wanted to be there? Because here I feel that coaches are so—they feel like, they have to bring the money in, and they have to keep their gymnasts in addition. It’s a business. And also, you know, Valeri Liukin has said that he didn’t have a lot of elites that made it in the beginning because he broke them all, and then it seems like he found a way to stop breaking their spirit and make it a little fun for them in addition to making them great gymnasts. So how was that part?
LENA: Well, the biggest fundamental difference between the two programs—and again, I don’t think it’s true today, but when I was growing up the 80s, the sport was funded entirely by the government, and you did feel privileged to be a part of it, because you were selected. And it’s not like here, you can just make monthly payments, and no matter what, they have to work with you because you’re a paying customer. It’s a business. It’s not a business when you talk about the 80s and USSR. Yes, you felt like Cinderella on some level, that you were selected and you were special and you were obviously more talented than other people, and that’s why you were being paid attention to and this is why you were there, this is why you trained at Round Lake. So, I don’t think that there was necessarily a focus on having fun. It was a more of a focus on, you must be the best you can be, because people put faith in you and a lot is riding on your shoulders.
JESSICA: Ok. So, tell us about when you first went to Round Lake. How did it work, that you were invited there, and did you live there or did you go there for training camp? Or how did that happen?
LENA: Well, to begin with, I ended up at Round Lake as a very small child, for the first time. Had nothing to do with National Team just yet. My mom was already coaching kids who were already part of the National Team, and they were being invited to go to Round Lake, and because my mom would go to these training camps for really long periods of time, it was really tough on me and my sister to have her be away. So what she would do is she would alternate, and every other trip, she would bring either me or my sister with her, and so we were just small kids. We were already gymnasts, but we were there. You know, we couldn’t train with the team, we would practice in between, but we were there to just sort of observe everything and see everything happening. You know, I was a small kid watching Svetlana Boginskaya train. It was kind of exciting, you know, to see the kids who were winning medals at World Championships and Olympic games, and you were just sitting there, watching them.
JESSICA: I would have died. Boginskaya…ahh.
LENA: So that’s how I ended up at Round Lake for the first time, and many other times. It wasn’t until I was about twelve years old, when I was officially invited as myself, as an athlete. It had nothing to do with my mom. [LAUGHS] So, your question was, did you live there? Yes. It basically, it’s a little village outside of Moscow, I don’t remember how far outside of Moscow, but it was kind secluded in the middle of nowhere. There was a lake, that’s the name. And there was a long trail that would lead you away from the lake, into this kind of village, I would say. We had dormitories. We had a cafeteria. And we had our training facility there. I don’t remember if other sports were there with us, to be honest with you. There may have been other sports. There may have been different training facilities for different sports as well.
JESSICA: And what was it like at the time? Was it super well-staffed and brand new and top-of-the-line everything, or what were those conditions like?
LENA: It’s hard for me to remember the details in terms of the conditions. I just know that it was very convenient and very well structured for us. Everything was right there next to each other, you could just walk from one place to another. We had a very strict schedule. We had—I do recall that they took care of us very well in terms of our diets. You know, we would get caviar twice a day. The table was set for however many people, and you know, you would show up at the cafeteria and would sit down, and everybody, they would have a little serving of caviar there. I mean, you could eat it or not eat it, but the fact is, it was there, because they felt like that was a very nutritious delicacy that we all needed to have. So…yeah, it was pretty convenient. I mean, we had a sauna, and a pool where we could sort of relax whenever we could. So, it was pretty well set up, I think.
JESSICA: So you’re mentioning the food, and that reminds me of—I have a friend from Cuba who won a World medal, and when he came here he told me that the way that it was set up in that Communist country was that the more medals you won, the better food and conditions in general for living you got. So there was an area for people that hadn’t won medals, there was an area, then, for if you’d won one medal, and then there was an area with the best food and the best everything and people ate separately if they won an Olympic medal. Was there any kind of division like that?
LENA: No, no, no. Wow, talk about discrimination there. No. Everybody sat in the same area, received the same food. I don’t recall anything like that happening.
JESSICA: And so when you first went there, did you have to, I don’t know if you remember this. It’s been so long. Did you have to be just invited? Did they go, “She’s good. We should invite her.” Or was it something official? Like you had to win X competition to be invited to live there?
LENA: Because the National Team consists of quite a few girls, obviously not everybody could win a competition. Only one person wins. So I think that it was just about seeing skill level and the potential and perhaps maybe if you were top 10 in the country, something like that. Maybe top 15, you would get invited, for sure.
JESSICA: What was it like when you first went there as an official, invited gymnast rather than as your mom’s daughter? Did you feel like super excited and nervous? Were you like oh I’ve been there a million times. It’s no big deal. Was it welcoming? Was it cut throat when you got there? What was that atmosphere like there for you?
LENA: I was very used to being there already by then. So I don’t know that it felt like novelty or any additional excitement. I think my parents were probably more so excited about the whole situation because they watched me go from somebody who wasn’t necessarily very promising to getting to a level where I all of a sudden had a future. And that was something easy for them to see but as a child, you don’t know that you’re not necessarily the strongest, the fastest kid. You just work hard and then you see results and that’s great. And so I think, if anything, they may have felt more excitement for me than I felt for myself.
JESSICA: And was everyone else pretty welcoming? I remember Boginskaya saying that when she was a kid, she was so competitive that she would bite and kick the other girls when the coaches weren’t looking. I wonder if there was any Mean Girls stuff that went on or was everyone cool.
LENA: Well, again, I was just part of the junior team and I don’t know if her experience was the junior team or the senior team that she was talking about.
JESSICA: I think that’s when she was little little she did that but you know.
LENA: I don’t remember any sort of cattiness between the girls. If there was any, maybe it was internalized. But I definitely remember being friends with the kids And I remember having fun. We played with our dolls together. I don’t remember any animosity really.
JESSICA: And so who else was in your training group, what other gymnasts? And who were your coaches?
LENA: You mean other coaches than my parents?
LENA: Well, it’s hard for me to remember a lot of the names. One for sure is Tatiana Gutsu of course. We were the same generation and the time that I spent at Round Lake, all the times I spent at Round Lake, I remember with her. In fact, people thought we looked a lot alike when we were small kids and I have some pictures where you look and it’s hard to distinguish between who is who. So she’s definitely one of the kids I remember a lot.
JESSICA: And so you were coached primarily by your parents but was like Alexandrov there at the time or Rodionenko, Arkaev?
LENA: You know, I’m trying to recall who was the junior national team coach during that time. You might know better than I would. I can’t remember. Of course we had the National Team coach but we also had additional coaches. For example, we had a coach that worked on trampoline with us and he was strictly trampoline. He didn’t coach anything else. We had a coach that would do tumbling with us. Strictly tumbling, nothing else. We had a ballet coach of course. So there were three additional specialty coaches that we worked with on top of having the National Team coach and of course your own coach.
JESSICA: Oh that’s cool! This explains so much. Let me see. So what kind of schooling education did you get while you were training there?
LENA: Ah. Almost nothing.
LENA: My mom and I talked about this last night a lot actually. Three times a week, they would drive a group of teachers out to Round Lake. I assume they came from Moscow. And three times a week, at night, after dinner, we would all show up in these classrooms that they had set up for us. But to be honest with you, we didn’t really do anything. I remember being so tired and so exhausted and these teachers being so lenient that they would just sort of sit there and let us do nothing and play around for an hour. We really did not receive much of an education while we were at Round Lake. School was kind of on the back burner, not important. You know, I just think that they felt that gymnastics was going to take you wherever you needed to go and why would you need school?
JESSICA: Wow so you went to Canada, you went there when you were around 12?
LENA: Well, pretty much we spent the last year before we immigrated, that was really the only year I spent going to Round Lake to training camps and not going to school as a normal kid would.
JESSICA: Ok so basically had you stayed there, say that you had never immigrated to Canada and stayed there til you were like 20 or whatever, you basically would’ve stopped going to school effectively in junior high.
LENA: I think so. I think that my education would have kind of been disrupted at that point and probably would have never gotten it back basically.
JESSICA: Wow. Someone brought up, there’s a journalist in Romania that was talking to someone I know and they said that gymnasts were kind of put up on a pedestal at a national stage, but on the other hand, they are kind of seen as lower class because they’re really uneducated peasants who this is their only way out. And they really never receive an education and they don’t really have any other opportunities. And we kind of talked about this in connection with one of the Romanians, one of the World Champions and now she’s a prostitute in Germany. This is how we came to this whole conversation. I wonder if there was any of that, if people viewed the gymnasts that way outside of the gymnastics world in the Soviet Union because of the education situation.
LENA: I think that I was too young to really know what society’s perspective would be on athletes like us. But what I can tell you is that a lot of athletes who were very successful post-sport, they would have a very difficult time in life because they weren’t really prepared for life. Sure you have qualities of good work ethic and other things that gymnastics can bring you but in terms of skills to survive in life or get a regular job, you really didn’t have any. I know that quite a few athletes have become alcoholics and began using drugs and they just didn’t know what their place in life was. You know, if you weren’t going to coach, then you really couldn’t do anything else.
JESSICA: So let’s go to kind of describing what a typical day at Round Lake and what it was like for you.
LENA: Well as I mentioned before, we were on a pretty strict schedule. The junior national team worked out twice a day. The senior girls worked out three times a day. We alternated. We were not in the gym at the same time. The older kids would go in for their first practice at I think around 7 am. It would be quite short or short relatively speaking because they have three of them. They would go from 7-9 and then they would go and have their breakfast and then the junior kids would come in at 9:00 and I think we had about three hours. In the mornings we would do conditioning and there was ballet, trampoline, tumbling, and then beam and bars. Now the entire morning was dedicated to compulsory program. At that time, there was still that universal compulsory program which you competed even at the Olympic Games. So the morning was devoted to that. And at night you would come back and do all the optional things on all four events. In between, we would have meals, physiotherapy if you really needed something, and the one thing I remember is that I would sleep as much as I could. I always wanted to sleep. I was always tired. And at nights, after dinner, three times a week, supposedly we were going to school, but you know, not really.
JESSICA: I remember you told me when I first met you and cornered you in a bar and asked you every question I ever wanted to know about Round Lake, you told me a story about what the conditioning was like. Basically, if you didn’t finish your conditioning, it was like a circuit and you had a certain amount of time to do it and all these different rooms and if you didn’t make it, you had to leave. Can you describe that whole thing?
LENA: Oh yes. It was pretty nerve wracking. Probably the most nerve wracking part of our day, at least for me. You had ten stations in our conditioning circuit. Just to give you sort of an idea, one of the stations was on bars. You had to do kip-cast-free hip ten times in a row. That was just one station. One of the other stations was climb rope twice in a row. No legs. We had 20 minutes to complete all ten rotations. Some of the rotations required the coaches to spot you. You couldn’t do this on your own. So if somebody was already on that station, you wouldn’t just stand there and wait because you had so little time. You’d have to kind of keep running to the next thing and come back whenever that station would free up. Twenty minutes to complete ten stations. They were split into two different rooms because we couldn’t fit everything into one room. We had two gyms. In one gym we had the floor and the ballet and behind the wall, in another section, we had the rest of the events. So yes, if we didn’t complete all ten tasks within 20 minutes, we were told we would be kicked out of the gym. So I don’t know if anybody ever really let that happen because we were too afraid to be kicked out. That was really the consequence we thought of as we did our conditioning circuit.
JESSICA: And one thing I wanted to ask about is you said that you didn’t use grips. I remember nobody used grips back then. And then when you moved to Canada, you started to use grips. And the Romanians just now started to use grips and made this huge change. We’ve speculated that Romanians kind of suck on bars because they have never been able to use grips. Then the Soviets were amazing and they never used grips. People were wondering if that would allow them to train longer now that they’re using grips. Did that totally affect your gymnastics? Did it not affect your gymnastics? Was it something that you think would have changed had you started doing it from the beginning?
LENA: Personally, to this day, I prefer the no grips. The transition was quite difficult for me. You have such a better sense of the bar with just your bare hands. You are able to grip on to the bar a lot better and there’s nothing in the way. Grips have a way of creating more margin for error. Sometimes, if the grip doesn’t fold properly, it shifts, or the loop makes a weird shape, that could be the reason you don’t catch your release move. Or when you do intricate pirouettes on your hands, sometimes you might slip or your hand doesn’t get on properly. None of that really exists when you work without grips. I always preferred no grips. It was just so impossible when we immigrated to be the only kid to go up on bars that are all chalky. That was the one thing, you don’t want a lot of chalk on the bar when you are working without grips. Just the fact that we would have to shave it all off every time we went up and the kids after us would have to put it back on so they wouldn’t slip the grips. It was just a lot. It was just a hassle. So in the end, you kind of had to choose the lesser evil.
JESSICA: It was kind of after this era, but we heard some before and some after stories of abuse and pressure and extreme coaching from the Eastern Bloc. Like Mukhina has famously blamed her coach and said I told him a million times I was going to kill myself in that pass. And he was like no no. People like you don’t break their necks. And later, there have been stories. There was a girl who was hit and punched by her coach during practice in Romania and died later. Did you see any of this? Was that part of your experience at all when you were there?
LENA: Absolutely yes. The program was really based on “win at all costs.” Absolutely. There was harsh treatment. I was very lucky to have had my own parents coach me. There was sort of a level of caring for me because I was also their offspring. They knew where to draw the line and where to push or not to push. Believe me when I say I’m hurting. This doesn’t feel right. My mom was always very level headed about everything. There was certain skills she would never let me do like fish flops on beam. Skills that you end up crotching the beam basically. She always said, “I don’t want my daughter doing that.” I was lucky because I actually had somebody care about me a lot more than I think other people had coming from their coaches. And I don’t think it was across the board necessarily. I think there was some coaches that were very caring and then there were others that wanted to win at all costs. And yes, there was a lot of harsh treatment that I’ve seen personally.
JESSICA: I have a friend who did soccer professionally in the Ukraine. And she said that after practice, basically everybody got a shot, got a little cup of pills to take. She was like, “I’m not taking that. No telling what it is.” There’s stories that were around back in the day. It looks like it’s still going on in some places. Was there anything like that that happened while you were there? Were you given things you didn’t know what it was?
LENA: Personally, no. I’ve never had an incident with pills or any shots. Again, I don’t know if that’s true for everybody. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anything like that. But I have seen girls go through issues of bulimia and eating disorders. That was definitely happening, especially for those who had a hard time keeping their weight where it needs to be.
JESSICA: And that was another question I had, if there was a lot of pressure to be really thin and if people went to extremes. Like were they encouraged by the coaches or wear rubber suits or use laxatives…
LENA: I don’t know if the coaches specifically would tell them what to do but I know there was a lot of pressure to stay thin. In fact, if you weren’t in a certain kind of shape, that was a reason that they wouldn’t put you on a team. It was a high price to pay if you weren’t going to be in shape from the girls’ perspective. Because if you were at Round Lake, your whole existence revolves around being on a World Championship team or the Olympic team., winning a medal. Why else are you there? So yes, a lot of kids would do things that were unhealthy just so that they could meet that goal weight or look a certain way for sure. Some people were already naturally thin and fit and didn’t really have any issues but there were others that I think struggled.
JESSICA: So this is something everybody always wants to know. What was the social life like there? Going from the harsh side to maybe the fun side. It always seemed to me that the Soviet gymnasts from that era were more well adjusted than the Americans. The Americans seemed to have absolutely no life whereas the Soviets who trained at Round Lake seemed to be very well adjusted. What was social life like? Did they have normal social lives?
LENA: It’s so hard to say what’s normal and not normal. I think the one thing that I can say is that we knew how to have fun even if it wasn’t the same kind of fun. What’s fun is going out to a party in this country and maybe having a couple of drinks and going to a bar. That’s considered fun. Of course, at Round Lake, that’s not something you could do. We sort of created our own fun. Like I mentioned, the younger kids played with dolls a lot. We would all have our dolls as our athletes and we were their coaches and we would make leotards for them and we would create competitions amongst our dolls. That was one of the things that was our pastime. But I also think we had fun making up dances, being in the room laughing and talking about things. I was too young to deal with am I going to the prom? Am I going to say no to this drink? That wasn’t really an option for us. But I think we did have a lot of fun. We created our own. I think that we may have been just a little bit more rebellious than I think the American kids would be on that level. I think at the end of the day, only high spirited kids survived that program. So that high spirit is what I think would give you that rebellious nature. You would just find your own way to have fun. I remember having fun. It wasn’t always bad.
JESSICA: For the older kids, it seemed like they had normal teenage lives. They were people having sex. They had access to birth control. Like drugs, well not drugs. Drinking at least. They seem more worldly I guess I would say.
LENA: They all smoked.
JESSICA: Yes right!
LENA: Yes I think that was the rebellious part that I was talking about. You know you shouldn’t do that as an athlete but it’s like your only escape so you do the things you’re not supposed to do anyway. Again, I was too young to really hang out with the older kids and really know what they were doing but I think that was probably what was happening. It was an escape thing to have a little bit of a normal life here and there.
JESSICA: And speaking of a little bit of a normal life, I just want your opinion if you think this is plausible or not, no facts or anything. But there is a story about Svetlana Khorkina, and I know this is after the era that you were there but still she trained at Round Lake for a while, there’s a story that she went to one of the minor World Cups, like in I don’t know one of the smaller european countries, and the story is that she said, “Okay, I’m going to bed” at eight o’clock and then emerged from her room dressed for the club an hour later and didn’t get back until like 5 A.M. Then the next day was up at eight for the meet and won every event; she took advantage of the one time that she was traveling around. Is that something that you think is crazy or can you see that happening with someone who is like a unicorn, like Khorkina?
LENA: I could totally see that happening for some reason. You know obviously that’s just me speculating, but I don’t know it wouldn’t surprise me if that was really the truth. [LAUGHS]
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] That’s what I thought, too. I was like, “Khorkina? Yeah, I could see that”
LENA: I think that just watching her and kind of her personality and the way you perceive her through interviews, I could totally see that this girl really likes to live on the edge, she thrives on those moments. So I think it’s very much possible that that happened.
JESSICA: I wanted to ask just about- the Soviet Union was a country with so much ethnic diversity and tribal diversity, and it’s just such a huge country. In the U.S. when we see gymnastics, especially in the NCAA, you really see that diversity and in the Soviet system it was very interesting because there was a uniformity but people really pushed the envelope with creativity and artistic expression. Was there a kind of uniformity that was enforced through the ballet but then- I just wonder if anyone tried something really off the wall if someone was like, “No, absolutely you can’t do that”, if there was any political protest through what they did or if there was any sort of expression that was quashed by the system, if that kind of thing ever came up in gymnastics.
LENA: No, I don’t think that there was ever any sort of protests. The reason why I think you look at it as a uniform look is because we all trained in the same place, we all received the same gymnastics education, we were coached by the same specialists, so I think it’s inevitable that we would all come out with a very similar style. Are we talking about dance, or are we talking about gymnastics skills, like has anyone tried something different in terms of dance?
LENA: Um, I think there are memorable floor routines here and there if you look through the years. Olga Strazheva…
JESSICA: Yes! Oh my god, that’s one of the podcasts “must sees” of all time.
LENA: When you see her floor routines they’re quite eccentric looking compared to some more classical movements that other kids had. So I think here and there, depending on your athlete, and what they’re capable of, and maybe their personality, and maybe once in a while that came through. Just like Valorie Kondos’ excellent at identifying each girls personality type on the team, she seems to always have this great way of choosing the right music and the right choreography for each athlete on her team. I think once in a while that will come through in the Soviets as well.
JESSICA: You went to fashion school and you are now a stylist, a very successful stylist I might add. Do you think that your Soviet training and your artistic foundation in gymnastics and ballet informed your work as a stylist?
LENA: I think that everything in life is connected and yes, the short answer to that is absolutely yes. I think that I was probably already born with that mind that leaned towards creativity, but I think everything needs to be developed to get to a certain level of success. I do, I think that all and any kind of artistic training that I’ve ever received probably shaped everything that I do today.
JESSICA: Can you give us a quick little Russian lesson? How do we say ‘Shushunova’ correctly?
JESSICA: ‘Shushu-nova’, Okay.
LENA: Pretty close to how you say it, just a very sort of refined way of pronouncing the letters.
JESSICA: Okay, and ‘Shaposhnikova’, it’s ‘Sha-posh-NI-kova’. Is that right?
JESSICA: Oh, whoops. ‘SHA-posh-ni-kova’
LENA: You know, it’s okay. At least you’re getting the basic pronunciation correct, so don’t be hard on yourself.
JESSICA: Okay, okay. I know that we say ‘stoi’ for sticking, right?
JESSICA: What do we say if we want to say like, ‘Go! Kick Ass! You can do it!’, like if I want to yell something at a meet? What do I yell?
LENA: Um, you know we don’t really…
JESSICA: …do that?
LENA: …get that elaborate. I think that the one thing that we did yell out at each other was something like, ‘Let’s go, Olga!’ You know something like that. Is that something you would want to learn how to say?
LENA: Let’s just go with Olga. You would say, ‘Davai, Olga’
JESSICA: ‘Davai, Olga’
LENA: Yeah, like ‘Let’s go, Olga’
JESSICA: ‘Davai… blah, blah, blah’ Excellent!
JESSICA: Okay, and if we want to say like, ‘good job’ after they’re done, what would we yell?
LENA: We would say, ‘molodetz’ (molo-DYETS) and thats not really ‘good job’, but it’s just this word that kind of says that you’re like a superstar, you’re like a champ, as opposed to, ‘good job’ That’s what we would say, ‘molodetz’
JESSICA: Okay. For people that are interested in finding you for choreography, or custom leotards, or to learn more about your styling expertise, where can they find you? Website, Twitter, Facebook, whatever.
LENA: Well my website is not up just yet, I’m still working on my website for the leotards portion. When I do have it up, it will just be degteva.com. So my last name dot com. For choreography it’s really just been word of mouth. Local clubs around here know of me, the coaches know of me, and once you work with somebody one summer they invite you back. I suppose you could just email me at LDegteva@hotmail.com
JESSICA: I was so happy with that interview and, of course, I just totally love Lena. There was some things that even though I’ve heard the story before, there were things in there that surprised me. What stood out for you? Uncle Tim, what were you surprised to hear about?
UNCLE TIM: First of all, the caviar. I was surprised that they get to eat caviar. When you think of Soviet gymnastics you think they probably get a bunch of slop, and the content of a baby’s diaper probably looks more appealing.
UNCLE TIM: I mean, that’s kind of the image that I had in my mind, and I was surprised that they had caviar. The other thing was their conditioning circuit, you have, what 20 minutes to do ten stations and if you don’t do that you get kicked out. I was thinking about this last night, it’s interesting because I just finished reading Claudia Miller’s book where she talks about how Steve Nunno used to kick gymnasts out of the gym all the time, and I was thinking about this and wondering whether Steve did that to kind of replicate the severe Soviet training, or if he was just a mercurial person. But the mention of the fear of getting kicked out made the connection in my brain with Claudia Miller’s book.
SPANNY: I made the same connection. I thought about when she mentioned the [inaudible], what were they free-hip handstands? Whatever it was, ten in a row and then I thought immediately about Claudia Miller’s book when she mentioned the time that Steve went nuts on Shannon and made her do a million in a row, and then she was so sore she couldn’t do anything the next day…
UNCLE TIM: And I think it was right before a competition, too.
SPANNY: Yeah, I thought that was surprising. I thought that her honest response to the schooling where she was like, ‘School wasn’t important, we were told it didn’t matter. They didn’t think education was going to get you far, gymnastics was going to get you far’ and I think it’s even more surprising that at that time it was probably true? I don’t know, not knowing very much about it. Just her general ease, I guess, where she doesn’t seem to have- she seems to have a very positive outlook on her entire experience, not a lot of bitterness. And again, maybe I’m so molded by NBC’s portrayal of ‘bitter divas’ that she just seems like a well rounded woman who enjoyed her experience and got what she could out of it and was well taken care of. They had the pool to chill at when they had time and their friends, and I’m just like, ‘Oh that sounds like fun!’ Which I’m sure it wasn’t. I was surprised by her positive outlook.
JESSICA: Yeah and the thing that was like so cute to me about it is when she talked about how she had so much fun because there was a bunch of other girls there and they all played gymnastics with their Barbies, which totally reminded me of Spanny, of course! So I was like, ‘That’s exactly what I did!’ Like first I gave my Barbie a mohawk and painted it purple, and then they did gymnastics routines. Yeah, I was like ‘that’s exactly what we did’. And I asked her in the very beginning if there was something she wanted to talk about and she’s like, ‘Yeah, I had a really happy and positive childhood. I realize we didn’t have a lot and whatever but, for me it was really nice’ so it was nice to see a different perspective. Although, and this leads to my next question, do you guys think that her experience would have been as positive had her parents not been there?
SPANNY: I think it could go either way. I think we’ve heard about as many stories where the athlete is negatively affected because their parents are crazy gym parents or if they put more pressure on them. I think it’s great that her parents were normal and she didn’t have to deal with homesickness. I’m not sure if that would have really made it a terrible experience had her parents hadn’t been there, but I’m sure it helped.
UNCLE TIM: I mean it’s a hard hypothetical question to answer because she says in the interview that she would not have been picked to be a gymnast had her parents not been gymnastics coaches. Her life would have been probably completely different and she would have been just a kid who went to school and did something else with her life, and who knows if she would have ended up at UCLA and becoming friends with Jess O’Beirne and life would have been different.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] The thing that we did talk about, which we could do a whole follow up about the whole experience of when she emigrated to Canada and how shocking that was for her. Not just the gymnastics was different, the food was different- she had never had processed food before. Not any processed food at all, no preservatives, no artificial anything. And bananas, she never had a banana before so she ate so many bananas that it made her sick; she could not eat bananas again for like… Just so many things that were very, very different for her. Anyway, it was a really interesting interview and I’m excited to reach out to some other people who grew up there and had different experiences and compare all their different stories. Because I’m sure who you are and your personality affects your interpretation of what you might have been through as well.
SPANNY: I just think it’s nice to follow up, again the prior week when we did do a lot of focus on ‘ooh, bad coaches, bad gymnastics’ and to follow it up with a positive experience, even in harsh elite climates people can have positive experiences with the sport.
JESSICA: Okay Spanny, what’s going on with listener feedback?
SPANNY: We got some really great positive stories from some listeners who wanted to share their positive stories in the sport, which is nice to hear because so many people take the time to write out- just in life, even in customer service or just the real world- people will take the time to write complaints, not as many people take the time to write about their positive experiences. I’m not going to read the entire comments, we’d rather post them on the site for you to read because I want you to be able to read the entire things, it’s just not worth cutting any out. The first is from Lauren Beal, she’s a, and this is self described, ‘terrible gymnast who was so inspired by her coaches Bob Kohut and Chris Young, who competed in the 2000 Olympic Trials. She went from one gym that said, ‘oh you can just sit out on bars, because you’re never going to be good’ and then went to another gym and immediately started getting those bars skills so that is definitely worth reading, and thank you Lauren for sharing that story because it’s just awesome to hear those things. A similar email is from Katy Lovin Jones- best name ever- and she had a similar experience. She enjoyed gymnastics so much because of her coaches, she had great teammates and great competitive experiences but she said her coaches made her feel accepted, welcomed her, and made a very positive environment for her. And she gives some great examples like bringing popsicles on those hot days. It’s another email that we’d like to post for you to read, and thank you both for sharing those positive things with us because we are here because we love our sport and it can be tiring, or just heavy I guess, to rehear all about the negative things all the time. All you want to do, I do this all the time, is rag on the gymnasts and it’s nice hear positive experiences. Oh and a shout out real quick to LaTonya, I’m not gonna share the email, but I just wanted to say thank you that made everybody’s week, I think. Thank you, LaTonya and keep listening!
JESSICA: LaTonya’s whole comment you can read on our About page and it is like the sweetest thing ever, it totally made me cry. It was like awesome, awesome, awesome. If you like what she has to say comment back to her on our About page, it’s just beautiful. And then I also wanted to read an email that we got…
SPANNY: Oh no, I want to find LaTonya on Twitter, or find a way to contact her. That’s all.
JESSICA: LaTonya, send us your email. We want to chat. Okay so, a response from Faith, we got an email, she says, ‘and mostly this is a joking response, but where’s your apology for queer female fans? Granted I don’t think there was anything like ASac’s Body Issue shoot this year, but straight men get and apology and we don’t? Ouch. Anyways, loving the show and can’t wait to hear more as we go through 2013 ’. I am so sorry, when the words came out of my mouth when I said that, ‘until we get a straight guy on the show blah, blah, blah’ and in my head I’m thinking like wait the entire gymnastics media, except NBC, is run by gay guys and I didn’t even give a shout out to our queer female listeners? So, shout out to all of our queer female listeners, we love you, thank you for listening. And if you have recommendations for us totally tell us what you have and let us know, and we love having you as listeners too. Our sincerest apologies, I’m doing a little arm gesture and a bow to you right now. [LAUGHS] Let’s see, another thing I want to mention that I just have to bring up right now is Gymnastics Zone has this whole discussion posted about rips and cures for rips. I would just like to say I wish someone had told me this long, long ago. I did not discover this until I was studying athletic training in college. What you do is, I swear this is the best thing ever, so you have to get your rip when it’s still at the blistery stage or when you can tell it’s just about to come off. You put a little hole in the side, don’t let the skin rip all the way off, keep the skin. You fill the end of a syringe, the body of a syringe not with a needle, there’s no needle involved. You just need something to squeeze it, you could use one of those squeezy things like a turkey baster, too. You take Zinc Oxide, you put Zinc Oxide in the end of the syringe, you then fill your blister hole with the Zinc Oxide until it looks like a giant whitehead zit that’s ready to pop. So it will look like this giant white pus-filled blister but it’s actually Zinc Oxide. It looks disgusting. If your rip has already ripped off, that’s okay but leave the skin at the top, don’t cut the skin off yet. Put the Zinc Oxide all over the rip and then fold the skin back down on top of it, and then there’s Zinc Oxide tape that you can tape that skin down. Spanny looks like she’s going to throw up right now. [LAUGHS] Leave it for as long as you can, I swear it heals your rip, it’s moist so it prevents your rip from cracking when it gets dry. In 48 hours your hand will be as good as new. It’s amazing, amazing amazing. I swear to god, forget teabags, forget the udder rub or whatever they use for cows that they sell to people. Seriously, the Zinc Oxide on your rip totally works, I swear by it. It’s so genius. And then of course the best way to avoid this is to file your callus’ down, which no one ever told me either. Everyone liked to show their callus’ like, ‘My callus is huge look at this thing!’ But then of course if you let your callus’ get huge that’s what happens, eventually it rips off. You have to file down your callus’, I used to do it after gym I would just do a little bit all the time so that wouldn’t happen. So that’s my tip of the day.
UNCLE TIM: What happens if, I was a huge ripper. Like I would rip off the palm of my hand basically once a week. And I would bleed all over the place. I was disgusting. Does this work for people like that?
JESSICA: You know what, I also ripped off the whole palm of my hand once, and after that is when I started having to file down my hand and also had to really take a rest from bars, which was no problem for me because I hated bars. So, that means your whole hand has built up that giant callus, so that’s the thing, you have to file the whole thing. But in terms of healing it? Yes, the Zinc Oxide will work, and the filing. I swear by these things, but you also have to rest, which is another thing. No coach is ever like, ‘oh just take two weeks off of bars’ you know, that never happens. So coaches out there, come on long term, we have to think long term here.
SPANNY: It would probably work in smaller instances, too. The worst ones were the wrist rips from grips, you know? I don’t know if you’d file, it’s not like you have callus’, but still you could take care of those. It’s interesting now, and I see a lot of this on my Facebook page and Twitter, is now that…oh my god what’s it called? The fitness circuit training that everybodys into now?
SPANNY: Crossfit! Yeah, and the people who post pictures of their rips, because they do all their chin ups and stuff, as if it’s a brand new invention and it’s only them. They’ve never seen it before…
SPANNY: ‘It’s a rip, get over it’ is basically what I comment on everybodys picture. But I bet some of your information will be shared around the fitness community as well, because they are also getting rips.
SPANNY: They’re not as good as gymnasts.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] Of course!
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 sports with a ‘z’, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code: gymcast
JESSICA: Okay everybody that’s going to do it for this week. I want to remind you that every single episode of our show has now been transcribed and is available on our website. I was really excited to read that a couple people listen to the show, then they go back the read the transcripts because they love it so much. One of our listeners from China says that the transcripts are helping her learn English, and especially the jargon of gymnastics. If she doesn’t understand something she reads the transcript and then looks up that word. We want to give a huge shout out to our team of transcribers, you guys are amazing, we love you. And every single episode of the show is up now, and we usually have the episodes transcript up by the following week. Remember that you can support the show by shopping in our Amazon Store or Powell’s Bookstore, or rating us or writing a review on iTunes, and of course you can get us on the Stitcher app which we love, you can contact us at GymCastic@gmail.com, you can call and leave us a message at 415-800-3191, or you can find us on Skype and leave a message that way, our Skype name is GymCastic. That’s going to do it for this week. I’m Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com
SPANNY: I’m Spanny Tampson from Spanny’s Big Fake Smile
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talk’s Mens Gym
JESSICA: See you guys next week!
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