JESSICA: Before we start this week’s show, I just want to let you guys know that this show is rated PG-13. So our show’s always rated PG-13, I just haven’t taken full advantage of that yet. So just like movies like The Avengers, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and, of course, The Hunger Games, that means that occasionally you’ll hear a naughty word on the show. It also means that we will occasionally lift the veil, proverbial veil on gymnastics and show that gymnasts are just like any other jocks. And they’re also just like us because they talk like us. I think gymnastics sometimes suffers because it has this teeny-bopper goody two-shoes image and I think it’s really healthy for us to let people come on the show and be themselves. I wish I’d had a role model like Kyle when I was a kid. And I also feel like if you know one naughty word on this podcast, or three or four, is the worst thing that kids come across on the internet, as Dvora once said on the show, then thank God, because there are way worse things than a bad word on this show. This show’s a great influence I think. In the end I have to make a judgment call about when it feels right, and in this case, you know, I talked to Kyle about this after the show. And I was like podcasts are intimate, they’re not the same experience when you get when you’re watching a TV show or something. And because of this, because we’re not on live TV, because we’re not on a stage, we’re not in front of an audience, you know our guests can really be themselves and you get to experience them in a way that you normally wouldn’t. And so you know that means that we let them be themselves and use the language they want to use and talk the way they would with their friends. And with that, let’s begin. Hope you like it.
KYLE: It’s the Olympics, you work your butt off for your entire life to be there, and you should be able to go make friends with whoever you want to make friends with and just have fun. You get this all-access pass to do whatever you want. And you will not get in trouble. You can get [laughs] you can be as bad as you want, and someone will drive you back to the Olympic Village.
JESSICA: This week on the show, floor Olympic Champion Kyle Shewfelt, one of the most artistic gymnasts of all time, he our own Uncle Tim talk about the Winter Cup, and we talk about MyKayla Skinner’s crazy skills.
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JESSICA: This is episode 21 for February 20th, 2013. I’m Jessica
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim
KYLE: And I’m 2004 Olympic Gold medalist and triathlete wannabe Kyle Shewfelt.
JESSICA: [laughs] Welcome to the show Kyle we’re so excited to have you here with us today. And I want to remind our listeners that this is the best and only gymnastics podcast on earth, starting with the top news stories from around the world. Blythe, what do you have for us?
BLYTHE: So the major news for me this week is Mykayla Skinner at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. She unveiled a double twisting double layout in her floor routine. She’s the first woman we can remember who had actually done this in competition. Really one of the first one’s to actually do it in training as well. Can you guys think of anybody else who’s done that? Even in the training gym.
JESSICA: I feel like Maloney was working on this but never competed it.
BLYTHE: Yeah that’s possible. I mean she was one of the first to do a full twisting double layout. Not the first, but it was pretty intense when she was doing that in you know 99, 2000. But this is just, it’s off the chain. It looks like… and she does it so easily as well. And she’s also got a couple of very hot vaults. She’s doing an Amanar, or as they would say in men’s gymnastics, a Shewfelt? Is that right Kyle?
KYLE: [laughs] That’s true, yeah
BLYTHE: And she’s also got a Cheng. And she is the first woman to do the Cheng in competition since Cheng Fei and 2008 Olympic Champion Hong Un Jong of North Korea. And they did it in 2008. Nobody did it last quad.
JESSICA: And Vanessa Zamarripa did it at Nationals.
BLYTHE: Ooh that’s right
BLYTHE: For whatever reason I always forget that she did that at the 2010 Nationals, and it was absolutely fabulous as well. But a lot of people are kind of projecting McKayla Skinner as 2013 World Vault Champion if she’s selected for the team. And four of them will go to the World Championships this year, and she looks like a shoo-in really for a vault/floor specialist if she can maintain these amazing skills that she’s got.
JESSICA: I totally… I, she’s amazing. I want to take nothing away from her and I’m so excited to see super badass tumbling going on, but I have to say her Cheng is… it basically goes straight forward. It has absolutely no lift. It’s really odd that she can even do it with absolutely on amplitude, but it’s still exciting to see. But, just saying, it doesn’t compare to the original.
KYLE: Can I jump in? Sorry, I watched her vault, McKayla’s Cheng, and to me it really, like if you watch it super close, it’s almost like a double twisting yurchenko. It doesn’t have the clear definition to me on a half turn, a block off, a push, a flip, and then a front with a one and a half twist. The twist on the horse it, you’ve got to watch it really really close. It’s borderline to me.
JESSICA: Yeah, I totally agree
BLYTHE: It does look like kind of basically a round-off double twist. And it’s still a very impressive vault that she can do that. And I was almost thinking that she could even add an extra half twist and it would be like round-off, half on, front double full. But I think Kyle’s absolutely right, she doesn’t quite have the definition of the half twist and then a block and then a front one and a half. But…
KYLE: One thing’s for sure, she’s a powerhouse.
JESSICA: Ok so, super exciting news coming out of Germany today. That is our beloved Oksana Chusovitina has declared that she has applied to the FIG to compete for her home country of Uzbekistan, and that she is going to compete for Uzbekistan, maintain her German citizenship, and try to go to the Rio Olympics, which is so awesome oh my God. I’m so excited about this I can’t contain myself. Like if she can do it, why not. And can you imagine being from… imagine if you’re American, and you have never ever competed for the US in your whole life. And you have this incredible legacy. You’re one of the oldest gymnasts and one of the best in the world. And you’ve never won a medal for your country. I have no doubt she’ll make it, are you kidding me? Like especially because she’s thinking she might not make the German team now, but she’ll be the Uzbekistani team. So this is very exciting, I’m so stoked about that.
BLYTHE: Yeah. And it would be great for Uzbek gymnastics as well. You know at the Olympics, their one athlete who qualified, Luiza Galiulina, she was sort of stripped of her Olympic credentials. She didn’t get to compete because she tested positive for a banned substance just before the Olympics began, and that was it for her. And they’ve also got Daria Elizarova, a former Russian competitor and the 2006 Junior all-around champion at the European Championships. And with Chusovitina, and if Galiulina [inaudible] suspension and comes back, they have three fairly strong gymnasts and they could be a formidable team at the World Championships maybe.
UNCLE TIM: She hasn’t won a medal for Uzbekistan? She was competing for Uzbekistan at the 93 World Championships when she won a bronze on vault, and she was also competing for Uzbekistan at the 94 Asian Games where she also won two bronze. So…
JESSICA: Oh that’s right, in between her Soviet and…
UNCLE TIM: Yeah
JESSICA: Yeah. Thank you for that clarification.
UNCLE TIM: Gymnastike’s web series at Cincinnati Gymnastics is back, so everyone needs to check out episode four and meet Mary Lee Tracy’s father. He’s a very interesting man. At one point Mary Lee asks him who his favorite gymnast on beam was, and he responds, “Amanda Borden, because she used to fall off the beam a lot.”
UNCLE TIM: So [laughs] yes he’s a pleasure to listen to.
JESSICA: I love that show, I’m so glad it’s back. So in other news, USA Gymnastics has just launched a “We Care” initiative, which is to better educate parents about the important role they play in preventing child sexual abuse. So it looks like now after the Olympics are done, they’re starting to roll out the initiatives and really invest the money that they’ve made back into the program, which is exactly what we want to see from a nonprofit that runs our gymnastics in this country. I’m really happy to see that. And we’ve spoken about Safe4Athletes on this show before, also started by former gymnasts and swimmers who were abused by their coaches. And it’s great to see that USA Gymnastics is partnering with other organizations and really making sure there are standards in place to prevent this and a system of letting people know how to report crimes like this when it happens. And Kyle, I wondered if, does Canadian gymnastics have this?
KYLE: Yeah actually in Canada there’s a program called Respect in Sport. And it’s a requirement. A lot of sports are now signing up. Gymnastics Canada has been one of the forerunners. They really jumped on board. And it was started by Sheldon Kennedy, an athlete who was a hockey player who was abused by Graham James. And Theoren Fleury was also abused by the same man. So Sheldon started it, and it’s huge. And every coach has to go through the Respect in Sport program. And they’re starting to implement it so that every parent has to as well. And it makes a huge difference. Just that awareness piece, right?
JESSICA: So Uncle Tim was at the Winter Cup last week. And we have been waiting and waiting to hear everything about it.
UNCLE TIM: So the Winter Cup was obviously last weekend, and Jake Dalton came in first, and Adrien de los Angeles came in second, and Danell Leyva came in third. And we added a few national team members. The list is on our website. I’m not going to go over that. But I want to talk about some of the routines. Let’s start with high bar. There’s an interesting routine. The University of Illinois boys just did not want to fall off the high bar, so there were some interesting releases. We’re going to start with Jordan Valdez. I sent you guys the video earlier. He did a stretch tkachev and then caught it. And his hand slipped off and he did a one-armed giant. And then he did a stretch tkachev with a half twist and caught it, and his arm slipped off and did this kind of crunchy little giant going around. So Kyle, my question for you is what was going through your head during that routine, and what would you have said if you were commentating on the Canadian television for everyone?
KYLE: Well when I watched him compete, I could totally tell that fighter’s attitude that he has. You can really see that in an athlete, whether they fight to stay on or whether they crumble. And we have seen some athletes who fall and cry and crumble [laughs] obviously. And Jordan, you could tell right at the beginning of the routine there was no way he was coming off that bar. And I personally love to see that. If I was a commentator saying that, I would definitely letting the Canadian public know it was a good thing he jumped off when he did though, because [laughs] it was getting a little bit… it was like a roller coaster ride. The next one could’ve been a big slip on the dismount and you never want to see that. Always good to jump off, recollect your thoughts, get back up, and finish the last half of your routine.
UNCLE TIM: You get deductions for these form breaks and stuff, so at what point is the right time to actually jump off the bar because you’re just accruing so many deductions?
KYLE: Well I think your mind starts to go so fast, right? That at the point you can’t think ahead. And you just can’t safely complete the routine. So I think for him after that first skill, you could already see his mind was going and that’s why perhaps there was that mistake on the second release skill. But you’re always told to fight till the end. But I think every athlete, especially gymnasts, they have such a great mind and body connection that they understand [laughs] this is going to equal death if I don’t jump off right now
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
KYLE: And so I think he definitely made the right choice. But maybe one day if he was in training and there was a pit and stuff he probably would’ve tried to go through the rest of the routine. But in competition with the hard mats and stuff, you don’t want to get hurt.
UNCLE TIM: I concur. Does anybody else have thoughts on that?
JESSICA: Well, my only thing is like, I feel like [laughs] Winter Cup always has some crazy thing like this happen. Maybe I don’t watch men’s gymnastics enough. But I feel like Winter Cup always has these nuts routines where you feel like there’s eminent death and then someone makes it and then… I don’t know, from you guys, Kyle, are lots of men’s gymnastics meets like this? Or is Winter Cup that first meet of the season so you see more of this?
KYLE: It’s usually that first meet of the season. The athletes, especially after the Olympic Games, there’s some new faces, they feel like they have some things to prove, and they’re trying to do the big new skills they learned over the summer and have implemented into their routine. So this is their chance to try that new stuff. And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But the thing about February, actually the thing about the year after the Olympics is that you really don’t need to be that great. It’s kind of just a testing ground. If you’re thinking… I think in Olympic cycles. I don’t know about you guys. But I always think who’s going to be great in four years. And I think for Jordan he has awesome swing, a really great body line, and I think that because this happened, he’s going to be able to go back into the gym and rework and gain more confidence on those skills. But man, Winter Cup is a little bit crazy, always.
UNCLE TIM: I agree. I think one year, Jonathan Horton just bashed his face against the bar, too, on a release move I think. I can’t remember what year it was, so. Definitely some interesting things. And speaking of people who almost bashed their face against the bar, Paul Ruggeri, he unveiled his kolman on high bar. I think that was his first time competing it. But he also did something interesting, a skill that you don’t really see nowadays that often. He did German giants, and I thought that was just really cool. Kyle, what did you think as you watched that routine?
KYLE: Well, as I was watching the video, it kind of looked to me like the German giants were him just trying to improvise [laughs]. Which is an interesting improvisation. I wouldn’t want to put myself in that body position to improvise. But you could tell at the beginning he was really gaming for that first release skill. That’s where most of the focus and the energy was right from the top. And then the brain starts to get tired throughout the rest of the routine, and the endurance just isn’t there. And at this point in the year it shouldn’t be. But yeah I felt like him jumping into German giants was… it didn’t look super planned to me, to be honest.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah I thought that too. I thought the composition of the routine was a little strange. I don’t know what the right way to work in the German giants is, but yeah it seemed like it was just kind of an add-on that he needs to find a better way to get into the skill. And maybe it’s just modern day gymnastics too. You don’t really see too many people do that skill, and so it’s also a strange transition no matter what you’re doing. Because it’s usually giant, giant, some kind of pirouette skill, some kind of release, more giants. I don’t know.
KYLE: And you know, the crazy thing about high bar especially right now and this new Code of Points, is the routines are so bloody long that by the end, I mean your brain is super wiped. It’s like being a bobsled driver, you know. You’re going so fast around all those turns, your mind is just burnt right out by the end. And your body too, right. You need huge endurance both mentally and physically. I think high bar is one of the events where it’s the hardest to do the long routine because by the end your hands… they don’t want to come up. They don’t want to hold on anymore.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, yeah I can imagine. I never competed at that level but I’ll take your word for it. But there is one gymnast who’s a junior, Bobby Baker, who you know at the end of his rings routine still managed to throw a triple back, which is an F dismount on rings. Incredible. And also he did a full twisting double front on floor, which was pretty awesome. He didn’t land it well either day. He did it very well in warm-ups but in competition he had some troubles. But the full twisting double front in the United States is rated at an E right now. Do you think that that’s too low, or do you think that’s about right for the skill?
KYLE: Well I think that how many people in the world are doing it, none. So I think E is definitely too low for that skill. It’s so intricate to be able to fit that in. Obviously it’s very difficult to perform, he didn’t land it either day. But it’s one of those buzz things right? I even saw on Facebook after Winter Cup there was a lot of people posing the video of him doing it. From around the world, like “wow look what this little kid from America did.” And I think that’s a great move for Bobby. I think you want the world to start talking about the skills you’re doing. So great risk, I think, for him. And it seems like there’s a lot of buzz around it.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And did you get to see his triple back off rings?
KYLE: I did, yeah, he made it look way too easy.
KYLE: A triple back off rings at the end of a routine is ultra difficult. To even just have the right amount of grip left to pull, because you really have to pull those rings and throw them out to the side. But one thing I did notice about this young athlete is that he has great air awareness, great airsense. In his floor routine he does tons of double flips and always lands. He’s like a cat.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, he’s very impressive. I can’t wait to see what happens with him in the future. You know it’s also interesting though because he’s, I believe, either 16 or 17. And if he were a female gymnast we would be saying, “Aw, but he should’ve landed that!” And you know because he’s a male gymnast we kind of make concessions and say oh you know, he’s still young, he has time to land that full twisting double front. Do you find that you’re a little bit easier on the younger guys than the female gymnasts?
KYLE: Oh totally, yeah. I think it’s a natural thing for us because perfection is demanded a little bit later in a male gymnast’s career. And I think a lot of us understand and appreciate that when you’re 16, 17, 18, that’s sort of the years when you’re trying to build confidence in competition. You’re trying to reach that mastery level. So you’ve got to throw some skills that maybe aren’t quite ready. Obviously not dangerous skills, like good thing he wasn’t doing double twisting double front because that could be a little bit freaky.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
KYLE: But yeah you’ve got to be in competition. And I’m sure he lands it in training all the time. But sometimes in competition, you’ve got to learn how to complete a skill. So for the women, they’re winning Olympic Games at 16, 17, 18, right? Unless you’re Chusovitina.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
KYLE: [laughs] And you’re like 400, but
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
KYLE: But for the guys, yeah. You need to start doing the skills younger and hey, it’s a big thing, you’ve got to fail before you can succeed. You have to learn how to fall before you can learn how to land. So the first thing you learn in gymnastics: how to fall safely. Because you do it a lot.
UNCLE TIM: That’s, yeah, very true. And since we have a floor expert on our show today, I also want to talk a little bit about floor. But first, I also sent you a video of Stacey Ervin and his insanely high tamayo. It’s just crazy how much height he gets. What were your thoughts as you were watching his routine?
KYLE: Well to be honest I didn’t watch it, I’m just pulling it up right now here on YouTube.
UNCLE TIM: Take a little pause
KYLE: Yeah sorry guys, it’s actually not loading on mine. So can you just describe it to me? It’s super high?
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, super high. Let me think. Jess, you were a huge fan of his tamayo, can you describe it?
JESSICA: Oh my God, oh my God! Basically it is a legit tamayo, first of all. No fakey fake like Jake Dalton. Don’t even get me started on Jake Dalton and his fake tamayo. If they are giving him credit as a tamayo, I will riot. Let me just tell you. That’s the kind of thing I would like to be able to throw a yellow flag at the judges. It makes me so angry! Because that skill is so awesome.
KYLE: Why does it make you so angry?
JESSICA: Because if you’re not doing it right and you’re still getting credit, it’s not fair to the people who are really doing it well, because it’s so hard.
KYLE: So Jake’s doing a double layout with a half turn in the middle and then a front layout, right?
JESSICA: Yeah. He does a… yeah. He doesn’t twist at all, and I did watch it like 100 times and paused it at each, you know [laughs] so I could tell. He does not actually do a front layout until the second flip. I mean, not even close. Right, yeah. So I love Charlie so much that I just feel like it’s not fair to him and the legacy of his skill [laughs] that they do this. But Stacey Ervin’s tamayo is… it’s so legit, he’s completely rotated before he starts the first flip, and it’s so high that it actually looks like he’s going to over rotate it. I mean it’s just beautiful. Is that not normal? Do you not get angry when [laughs] people get credit for skills they shouldn’t?
KYLE: Yes, for sure. And I also did the tamayo. I, yeah. I mean to take off and do a half turn and do a double front in a layout is much different than setting from your takeoff in the layout position. Mine went to two broken legs [laughs] because you kind of lose your awareness in the air so I give huge credit to anybody that does it right and can land it right.
UNCLE TIM: Speaking about floor in general, one trend that I noticed during the Winter Cup was that it was basically a bunch of tumbling lines, then the guys would do a press to a wide armed handstand, and then tumble some more. And you, Kyle, were obviously somebody who included things like full twisting back handspring to prone position. Also a full twisting jump to prone also. Those are considered the non acrobatic elements of floor and we really don’t get to see those too much. What can we change to encourage gymnasts to do that?
KYLE: Well it is so disappointing that this is the direction that gymnastics is heading in. It’s becoming more of an extreme sport than an artistic sport. And I know that you guys fell in love with the sport of gymnastics because it was artistry combined with athleticism. I loved watching the Russians, or the former Soviets, step to the corner with style. Or even the Chinese, Li Ning back in the day. They looked… there was a grace and an aesthetic to their routine that really made it look like it was art meeting sport. And that’s super lost. Now it’s just brute strength, how many passes can you jam in to a minute in 10 seconds. So with that being said, I have a solution. I really do. And I brought it up to the FIG. They haven’t taken steps forward on it, but I think they need to start limiting the amount of tumbling passes. They need to say maximum five passes. And then they need to increase the time limit. Put another 10 seconds on the routine. But say, you have a minute and 20 seconds, and max five passes. They can do that. There’s limitation that they’re already putting on with the Code of Points. So why not just limit the number of tumbling passes? And that allow the gymnast extra time to breathe and take that extra 10 seconds to do something nice. I know for myself, being a gymnast from Canada – and you guys are lucky, you’re from the states where it’s a very prominent country on the international gymnastics scene. But in Canada, we’re really not. We have to be innovative, we have to be different. You think of someone like Yvonne Tousek. Everyone fell in love with her because she was so different. Or in my situation, I got noticed because of the small things I did. That jump full turn to prone. At my very first World Cup competition in Germany, I was 17 years old. And I thought I needed a big double layout dismount. And I did it, and guess what they wrote about? They wrote about my jump full turn to prone. Because that’s something different that people notice. So I think we really need to figure out a way to encourage that again. That’s the roots of gymnastics, and I think moving forward, that’s something that needs to come back.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And would they still count 10 skills? In terms of the difficulty score?
KYLE: Well I mean, that’s just a whole can of worms that we’re going to open right now. I say counting 10 skills sure, why not? That totally works. But it’s the… it’s just the emphasis right now on the skills. Maybe they should count seven skills and then you should have to count three non acrobatic skills. Perhaps that could be a solution. But I don’t know if the FIG is moving in that direction. I don’t think their sights are set on that. But I don’t know. I think that’s why a lot of people fell in love with gymnastics, it’s because of the artistry and athleticism meeting.
UNCLE TIM: We are so proud to have TumblTrak sponsor our interview with Kyle Shewfelt. If you’re looking for ways to build your preschool program, I think personally that TumblTrak is the perfect way to do it. So when I go home to Wisconsin, I love visiting what I call my “gymnastics nieces.” I take them to my old gym and we set up a little obstacle course with pretty much all TumblTrak equipment. So first we climb up what they call the mini mountain. Then we practice swinging in a straddle on the junior kip bar. Afterward we do some tuck jumps on the mini trak. And at the very end of the circuit we sprint down the TumblTrak like a cheetah and do a forward roll onto a big pit. And then we do it again, and we do it again, and we do it again and again and again. And the little girls love it, and their mom loves it too because the little ones are ready for a nap afterward. So check out tumbltrak.com to read more about their equipment. That’s t-u-m-b-l-t-r-a-k .com.
BLYTHE: What we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about your career. And Kyle, I know that you’ve been quizzed on your career quite a lot. And so just before we begin I wanted to ask, what the craziest thing a reporter’s ever asked you?
KYLE: Oh the craziest thing a reporter has ever asked me? I haven’t been asked too many crazy things to be honest. Most of it has been revolved around the sport and my passion for it and my goals and all that stuff. The most offensive thing that has ever happened [laughs was after the 2008 Olympics, and this is something that really opened my eyes to the power of media. I’m in it now. I get it. Someone said that my 2008 Olympics was a failure. You didn’t win. You failed. And it was like really? I failed? I think we all have a different definition of success. I guess in the media, failure is when you don’t win gold. It really brought to life to me that there is possibility for success even when you don’t get a medal. It’s about being at your best, knowing that you did everything you could to be the best that you could be. When that reporter said that, you failed, my heart broke for a second, and then I was like no I didn’t! So to me, that was always a very monumental moment for me in my career.
BLYTHE: Wow! I am so so sorry! Do you think they were just trying to get a rise out of you? Get an original quote?
KYLE: Oh yeah! Probably! And they like that headline “Shewfelt failed in comeback.” But it’s not just me. I see it all the time, in every sport where an athlete perhaps has a great performance and doesn’t get the result and we call it a failure.
BLYTHE: Well ok. Let’s actually go back to the beginning. Your father was a hockey player correct? And so you have this athletic heritage and I was wondering what brought you to gymnastics. Could you just tell us that story?
KYLE: Yes. I don’t actually remember picking gymnastics. I remember gymnastics picking me. I was a little boy and my dad was a hockey player and both my brothers and I, we played hockey. And I liked it. I was pretty good. But I didn’t love it, you know? In the morning, Saturday morning for practice, my dad would have to like drag me out of the house to go to hockey. It was painful for him. I did swimming. I did soccer. I did t-ball. I did all these other sports, but none of them, I didn’t feel passion. And I was cartwheeling around the house and I was flipping on my parents’ bed and I was doing handstands against the wall. I always say my mom put me in gym because I was going to break her furniture or break my neck. She needed a safe place for me to be. But it was, Blythe, that instant that I walked into a gym, like a light shone down and I found a place where I belonged. And I loved it so much I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to go everyday.
BLYTHE: And eventually you got to do that! You told me before about meeting Kelly Manjack, your coach for the 2004 Olympics, and quite a bit before that. Could you just tell our listeners that story as well because I just love the way that you phrase it. When did we talk about it, a year ago or so.
KYLE: Yeah I did a couple of sessions of rec gymnastics, which I think is huge. I love recreational gymnastics. But I had a little more talent than your normal kid. So my coach at the time called Kelly, the men’s head coach at the Alberta Gymnastics Club. He called Kelly over and said hey you need to meet this kid. So Kelly comes over and is like hey my name is Kelly. What can you do? I ran all the way across the floor, diagonally, and in the last two feet, I did roundoff back handspring. He was like whoa where did you learn to do that? I was like in my backyard! He said oh my goodness. Holy smokes! Can you do the splits? I jumped down into a split. Hmmm interesting. He took me up to a bar and said how many chin ups can you do? I did like eight chin up. He pulled me off the bar and said where’s your mother? And we walked out of the gym and he met my mom and from that point on I was in the pre competitive program. Kelly and I worked together from the time I was six until I was 22 at the Olympics in 2004. At first he had 99% control over my training plan and what I was to do and learning and as we grew as coach and athlete, we shifted where I took 99% of the ownership and he was there for the 1%. He’s my best friend. You don’t spend 30 hours a week in the gym for 16 years of your life without knowing someone inside and out.
BLYTHE: And can you explain to us a little bit about the way levels work in Canada? Because I think it’s a little bit different than they do in the United States, becoming an elite gymnast and moving up through the ranks.
KYLE: Well I think any kid that has potential could be an Olympian and find their own path to the top. In Canada, it’s changed even since I was a young boy. There was a category called cadet. We were little cadets. Well there was sparks, cadets, argo, tyro, novice, junior, senior. So when I was growing up, as a tyro, you could go to national championships and as argo, you could go to the western Canadian championships. It’s kind of like regionals and states. I started off in those low level programs and started to win. I scored a perfect ten actually! That just popped into my mind. I was a little argo, one of my floor routines, big dive roll, perfect ten. The only one I ever got. When I was argo, I went and won the Western Canadian Championships in my category. I went to the Canadian Championships as a tyro when I was 13. I did that for three years. Then I was supposed to become a novice but I decided that I wanted to just completely skip it because I had compulsories and I didn’t really want to do them. I wanted to test my mettle on the real events. I was very loose on pommel horse and p bars and super self admitted to that. Those are not my strengths. I maintained them. I couldn’t do the compulsory routines well enough to be able to do well. Kelly and I always had this philosophy that we should achieve success in the goal. We should never set a goal so high that you’re going to go and completely fail. We wanted to go and we wanted to achieve great results and performances at Canadian Championships. That was always our big goal. I skipped novice completely, went junior, did junior for one year and then I jumped into senior and I was at the Olympics in 2000. It was a pretty fast progression.
BLYTHE: In 2000, you were still very much the new kid on the scene internationally. When I think about your three Olympics, there’s certain things that come to mind. At the 2000 Olympics, you’re the new kid. At the 2004 Olympics, you’re the superstar, the floor gold medalist. In the 2008 Olympic Games, it’s kind of like the comeback and the great moment that you had just being able to perform and being there. So can you talk a little bit about those three Olympic experiences and how they were different and just sort of how you felt to go through all that?
KYLE: Yeah it’s funny Blythe that you name them those things because those resonate with me and that’s what I call them. Although I call the first Olympics, my experience Olympics instead of the new kid. I was 18 years old. I thought I knew everything about the world of gymnastics. I really didn’t. When I was standing there in the corner ready to compete at the Olympic Games, I remember looking around and seeing all them. And I had done the training before podium training but this is when it really clicked in my mind, holy crap. I’m at the Olympics! It’s in the mats. It’s on all the side boards. That’s when I realized, this is bigger than anything you’ve ever done before. No matter how much you pretend it’s another meet, it’s bigger than anything you’ve ever done. That kind of clicked in my mind before I went to compete and I couldn’t feel my legs. I saluted the judge and I started my routine and I had so much energy. When you perform at the Olympics as an athlete, time kind of slows down. I like to say it’s like a car accident where things are really slow motion or so they feel. But on the outside, they’re actually moving really fast. So I watch that routine back in 2000, I’m like holy….I was on supersonic speed. But inside, it felt like I was going so slow. At the end of the day, I went out of bounds on my first pass. I did whip, 1 ½, front full to front 1 ½ and did a rebound into prone and like my toe went out of bounds. And I didn’t even know that it did. I went through the rest of my routine really cleanly and I had added a double twisting double back as my dismount because I felt like I had to up the ante for the Olympics and my score came up and I noticed I had that small deduction for 1/10 for going out of bound. And I just remember going what did I get that deduction for? And they went back to the video review, we put in a protest, and yep, my toe went out. So what I really learned from those Games is the experience. It was at the Olympics, 1/10 of a point dropped me from 4th to 12th and I was 12th on floor and 25th on vault. I debuted the Shewfelt there and it was a huge success. Also a bit of a disappointment because I was done after the very first day. But then I was basically hammered for the rest of the Olympics and I had so much fun and I met people from around the world and I partied and I got a tattoo and I had the Olympic experience. I saw tons of events and that was awesome. But Igor Vihrovs won those Olympics on floor and he was a friend of mine and I’d beaten him before so I really felt like in 2004 it was going to be my time, that there was potential. You know when someone you’ve beaten before wins, all of a sudden you get a new sense of belief. Fast track to 2004, I was a machine. I was so prepared, so ready. I had set myself up so well over course of the past few years. My success at the Commonwealth Games, World Championships, World Cups, winning multiple medals. I was so confident, so ready. I had a small ankle injury actually before those 2004 Games. It was like the universe giving me a small distraction so that I wasn’t so focused on the winning part. I was focused on the preparing and the performance. 2004 was literally a dream. I think back to that often in my life now that I’m removed from sports. I have never felt so prepared and so ready for something, physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. I was so connected to that best version of myself at those Games and that’s the thing that I hope for every athlete to experience once. Literally, I had a zone performance on floor at those Games. I was not thinking. It was just happening and I was watching it happening. How I stuck my first pass? I don’t know. [laughs] I just stopped thinking about it. It happened. The rest of the routine was exactly the way I had practiced it over and over and over. And I knew that I had to stick my dismount. I remember being a little kid. And I know that you guys all did this when you were kids in the gym pretending you’re at the Olympics. You’re like, ok I gotta stick this one. I’m at the Olympics! Have you guys done that?
JESSICA: I still do that at gymnastics practice.
KYLE: Ok! So I did that a lot. I do that too. Literally I was at the Olympics and I had to stick my dismount because if I would have hopped, I would have been fifth. I believe in total commitment. I believe that if you are fully, deeply committed to something, it can happen. It does happen. And for me, on that dismount. two flips and two twists, literally like a bus could have come and hit me and I would have been stronger than the bus. The bus would have bounced off of me. There is so much energy inside of me fighting for that landing. It was like a version of me, I don’t even know how the hell I access it. Just the warrior inside of me was there and the urgency of the moment. I ended up sticking that dismount and not a better feeling for an athlete than knowing you did your best routine in the moment that it mattered the most. It didn’t matter at that point whether or not I had won. I didn’t give a shit. Awesome! I did the best routine at the Olympics. And then my name came up on the scoreboard and I was first and I had to sit and wait and at the end of the day, I ended up winning. That was literally like a dream. A dream come true. I had dreamt of that. I dreamed that dream for 16 years of my life. Since I was 9 years old, I laid in bed every night and imagined what that would feel like, so to be there in that actual moment, it was pretty surreal. It didn’t feel real until the next day. It was pretty crazy. But I feel like I’m going on for a long time. I’m reliving it. I hope you guys are immersed in the moment with me.
BLYTHE: I have a question. Because actually I’m watching the video. I was very inspired by some of the things that you were talking about. And this was just a sport. You stepped into the corner of your floor routine. You said something to yourself. You muttered like one word. What was that?
KYLE: In the lead up to those Games, in the preparation, it was super intense. I was starting to feel the stress and the pressure so I came up with a key word for myself, a key phrase that was going to ground me and fill me into my performance. I used it for three months before in training. It was make it happen. I was physically prepared. I was mentally prepared. I was emotionally and spiritually ready for that moment and all I had to do was just make it happen. And by saying that, it put me in a place of trusting, trusting in my preparation, trusting in my readiness and trusting in my being able to do it in that moment and not talk myself out of it. Because we all have a demon right that lives inside of us and we have a good wolf and a bad wolf, a good voice and a bad voice, an angel and a devil and in a moment of high stress and high pressure, the devil can be so loud. It just can eat you away. It’s what happens to a lot of athletes. They talk themselves out of success. But for me, make it happen, that was the thing that grounded me and put me forward through that routine.
BLYTHE: Just talking yourself into success you said.
KYLE: Absolutely. Settling into it. Being open to it. Trying not to talk myself out of it.
BLYTHE: We want to go back to 2008 for second. But first, and we ask every Olympian that we have on the show this question. You kind of alluded to it before. We hear that there are awesome parties in the Olympic Village during and maybe after the Games are over. Confirm or deny. True or false?
KYLE: Um true! Hello! It depends if you’re open to the party and allowed to go to the parties. Let’s just say that. Because there are a few teams in this world, not naming any names, that aren’t allowed to go out. I think that’s so unfortunate. It’s the Olympics! You work your butt off for your entire life to be there and you should be able to go and make friends with everyone and just have fun. It’s an all access pass to do whatever you want and you will not get in trouble. You can be as bad as you want and someone will drive you back to the Olympic Village. You’re not going to get in trouble. I’ve always made it a mandate in my life to become friends with as many people as I possibly can. I want to die with like a billion friends. I don’t want any enemies. I always walked into the gym and was friends with my competitors. There was something that like Marian Dragulescu and I were like enemies. No man! He was one of my good friends. I respect him so much. He was such a great athlete and was an awesome party animal. There’s a time for focus and there’s a time for fun. And I knew when to do both. And yeah the parties at the Olympics, they’re kind of off the hook. Let’s say, 5 am you get home, minimum.
BLYTHE: And what goes on at the parties?
KYLE: Oh my God I can’t tell you that. There’s a code. You don’t know unless you’re at the party. No I’m joking. Just a lot of fun. A lot of sweet dance moves, lots of shots, lots of people celebrating this moment. And I think that’s why the Olympics are so beautiful because everybody there, regardless of sport, regardless of background, regardless of religious history, everyone there has dreamt the same dream. And everyone worked their tail off for that one moment, for that one time frame. And so when you’re done, the stress release is huge and everyone’s celebrating life and celebrating human potential, celebrating performance and celebrating friendship and celebrating sport. I can only tell you that is what happens.
BLYTHE: It’s really too bad for people whose events begin on day 10 or day 11
KYLE Oh yeah!
BLYTHE: Because they don’t get a taste of that.
KYLE: It was funny. In 2004, my teammate Alexander Jeltkov, he was my roommate for four years. We just got along so well. It was a really high performance team that we had at that time. We knew each other well. We knew each other’s routines and like what annoyed the other person and what not to do. But Sasha was done after the first day and I still had to compete so he decided he was going to stay out all night and party and he’d come home in the morning, and I’d get up and go to training and he’d sleep all day. So it was like a trade off. That’s how teammates work.
BLYTHE: Turning back to competition for a little bit, could you clarify how gymnastics programs, particularly men’s programs are funded in Canada? I know that you saw pressure after your Olympic win. Tell me what it was like being at the 2006 Worlds and being like ok I have to get a medal so our program can get funding so we can continue on. And like that. Is that the reality?
KYLE: Yeah it is. It’s the reality that success equals money. Medals equal money for the program. I tried as an athlete to ignore that and focus on the things I could control because you can drive yourself totally crazy keeping up with all the external pressures that are on you. You’re right. In 2006, I was very aware of what it meant for me to be at that Worlds to win another medal and what it meant for the program. Because 2004 was a huge success. Our team did well at the Olympics. We didn’t win a medal but we did win a medal in our funding to move forward. Yeah I was pretty aware. And it kind of messed with my mind a little bit.
BLYTHE: Was it a lot of pressure?
KYLE: You know, I think as an athlete when you’re standing there ready to compete, you should be thinking about how ready you feel. How prepared you feel. And not be afraid of what would happen if you don’t get the result. And unfortunately at those Worlds, we had great success as as team and did get an individual medal, but it didn’t feel the same as it did in 2004. 2004, like I told you, I was so open to the possibility of greatness and in 2006, I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t get the results. I look back on that and I’m happy it happened because it’s helped me move forward in my life and to be more of the person that I want to be. I didn’t like that feeling. I highly advise any athlete who focuses on results to reevaluate and refocus more on the performance.
BLYTHE: It’s really hard to block out isn’t it? How did you adapt after 2004 to being the guy who is the Olympic Champion, to the guy who is the best right now and all of a sudden have all these people, I don’t know if I want to say under you but like all these people who want to knock you off that hot spot and have to deal with that as a competitor?
KYLE: Yeah it is hard. It’s always harder being at the top than getting to the top. It’s harder being chased. Sometimes I like to equate it to you’re running up a set of stairs and there’s all these people running and they’re trying to grab your ankles and pull you down and that’s scary. But I think the way that I was best able to deal with it was that I was the best version of myself as an athlete was when I focused on creating like magic, when I wasn’t thinking oh I’m going to do this because I’m going to get this result. It was I want to do this routine because it’s going to look this way or it’s going to feel this way. And I think after 2004, it did take me some time to re adjust and realign with that performance value but I always felt it a huge honor and a huge privilege to be able to be on a pedestal, to be able to be a role model because I thought that was the best way for me to set a great example and to hold myself accountable to……being a champion was when I knew there was a younger generation watching me in the gym, how I behaved, how I acted, the integrity that I had, the character that I had every day. And in a way I kind of…..I always try to turn things that could be possibly negative into something positive. That’s just something I’ve always done.
BLYTHE: Why did you decide to continue after 2004, and was there a burnout following that Olympics?
KYLE: Well I decided to continue for a few reasons. I felt, number one, that I still had some gymnastics left in me. My body was feeling good. I missed it a lot. I decided I was going to take three months off just to go and do what an Olympic champion does, meet people, speak, go and do a lot of events. I just took a break and I really started to miss gymnastics. And I felt I had some sort of sense of obligation to my federation and to my country because I had achieved success and I wanted to help continue that. And I really wanted to be a leader. I wanted to be a leader of the next generation. I saw Adam Wong, Nathan Gafuik and Brandon O’Neill coming up. Dave Kikuchi and Grant Golding and Ken Ikeda, all of them were coming up and doing so well and so committed and I wanted to be apart of that. I had achieved success individually and that was amazing and it was with the huge support of my team and I don’t think people really recognize that I was great because I had a great team behind me. But I wanted to help that team elevate to that result that I knew that we could achieve. I knew we could be one of the top six teams in the world. I knew we could win the Commonwealth Games. I knew that I was going to play an important role in that. That’s one of the reasons. And of course there’s also the hmmmm this is something that I can do and I can actually make a bit of money doing it. My parents liked that. [laughs]
BLYTHE: I’m sure after so many years of paying for gymnastics, I’m sure they very much appreciated that. And then we come to 2007 and you’re in Stuttgart and it’s podium training and it’s in the training gym and we all know what happened with the injury. Take us through that day maybe without too many gory details or the gory details.
KYLE: Oh you’re getting the gory!
BLYTHE: Oh bring on the gory! How did it feel? [laughs]
KYLE: Well, you know, heading into those Worlds in 2007 I was so prepared. I can’t tell ya. I was better than I was in 2004. My routines in all of our training camps and mock competitions, it was easy. That’s when you know you’re ready as a gymnast, is when the most difficult routine becomes easy. You know, you’re not struggling for breath at the end, it’s just like, oh yeah, double double at the end. No problem. Let me walk into this. I felt like I was floating. We were there in Stuttgart and the first two days of training was awesome. Like, your first day always sucks, it just happens and you accept that, because jet lag is weird. But the next day I went through and we had half routines, that was what we had to do, our training… I’m losing the word right now…it was our program. That’s what it was, our training program. So I did my half routines and didn’t miss my def on high bar, and is a sign to me that I’m ready is when it’s just easy. But then on the third day we had morning training, and we had our choice of whether or not we wanted to do one routine in the afternoon or morning, but we had to do one routine on each event and we would be competing. So, I was like a super go-getter, I was like, “I’m doing it. I’m getting all my routines done this morning so that this afternoon I can, like, chill.” So, I started on floor and we were the first ones in the gym, Team Canada, and I warmed up and I went through my routine, and instead of doing an arabian double front layout, I did an arabian double front pike in the routine, and then I was going to train the arabian double front layout after just to see. So, I went through the routine, and I remember there was people sitting all around the floor. Like, all my friends from around the world and people were like clapping at the end of my routine because I was in great shape, and that felt awesome. So I said to Eduard, “Eduard, I think I’m gonna do-” and this is Eduard Yarov who was our National Coach, said, “Eduard, I’m gonna do one arabian double front layout just to get a feeling. I’m gonna put in the mats, do you want to watch it?” and he’s like, “Okay, yep. No problem.” So I put in the mat and I was standing in the corner, and I felt great energy. I felt alive, I felt power in my legs. I took off and I just kind of missed the take off a bit and I really stretched my body and I had a millisecond of misjudgment where I thought I was actually higher than I was, and I opened up my body a little bit more to come in for a landing, and I thought it was going to be like a rockstar landing. But actually, my heels went in and my body arched, and my head went back, and then my head flipped forward and smashed into my chin and my legs hyperextended, and I heard them snap. It was like, “Crrrrunccchhh!” and I heard everybody around the floor go, [[MAKES GROSSED OUT NOISE]], and that’s not a sound you want to hear [laughs] when you’re an athlete. So I laid back and your instant reaction when you hyperextend is to bring your knees up into your chest, so I brought my knees up into my chest and, you’re editing this so you can bleep it out, but I was like, “F***. F***. Oh, f**** this hurts!”, right? And all of a sudden people start coming over and Eduard comes over and looks at me and he’s like, “Are you okay?” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be okay. I just need a minute. I just need a minute.” And our physio comes over, and then and then our massage therapist comes over and then all of a sudden there’s like ten people around me, and I’m like laying there and my world starts to spin. I kept thinking, oh my God, I’m letting my team down. What are they going to do? What if I can’t compete? Okay I’m going to be able to compete. This just hurts right now, I just need ten minutes. I went through the entire spectrum from gymnastics being over to no I’m only going to be out one day. I’m gonna ice and I’m gonna be okay. Then I got carried off the floor and instantly the doctors from the german delegation were there, and they put, like, a scope and looked in my knees and they said, “Okay, it doesn’t look like there’s any ligament damage”, so I actually walked out of the gym that day, believe it or not, on crutches. I was like “Ow, ow” and my face making a lot of funny looks. They drove me to the hospital, and I laid in the MRI machine, and that’s when my legs were starting to get stiff. I was like, “This is not good.” And then I saw the doctors talking and then they wheeled in a wheelchair. They wouldn’t let me put weight on my legs, and they told me I’d broken both of my legs and I was going to need to have surgery and I would definitely not be competing at those Worlds. So, that’s a big moment of truth, as an athlete, to be in the best shape of your life and then in a millisecond have it all taken away.
BLYTHE: I can’t believe they let you walk out of the gym on crutches!
KYLE: Well, there was no damage on the little machine that they did, the ultrasound machine, they couldn’t see any. And like, you want to be tough, right? You’re at the World Championships, your team’s there, you want to be like, “Yeah, I can walk this off’, but my legs were so weak at that point, literally they started to atrophy instantly, they went into protection mode and they were hot. My legs were so hot. I remember- not like my legs were “super hot”, but like they were on fire from the inside out. [laughs]
BLYTHE: The other thing I can’t believe is that you’re lying there on the mat and you’re like, “It’s okay, I’m okay. I just need a minute.” And the pain didn’t get to you right away.
KYLE: Well, I mean it was there but I was in denial, right? I think most gymnasts are tough. Gymnasts are the toughest athletes. The injuries that they get and work through is incredible, and you always try to find a way to push yourself through that pain, but in some instances, you just can’t.
BLYTHE: Growing up, did you have an injury before this one, that had hampered you? Anything at all?
KYLE: Yeah, for sure. I always injured myself doing stupid things. LIke stepping off a mat I broke my foot, once on pommel horse I was doing a flair travel and I put my hand down the wrong way and busted my wrist, broken my fingers… like, male gymnasts have every single finger broken basically, just from pommel horse and p-bars and high bar. Of course, there were always little detractors, little detours. But never an injury that took me completely out of it for a few months.
BLYTHE: Yeah. And, what was the rehabilitation process like? Both physically and mentally because, obviously when you are a year out from the Olympic Games, and at that point it was less than a year out from the Olympic Games, you have to think, Oh my gosh, I’ve built myself up to this point preparing for this moment, not this moment the World Championships although I’m sure focused on that at that point as well, but this Olympic moment, and oh my gosh this could all go away. How did you sort of come to terms with that, and how did you overcome that? Take us through the process and everything.
KYLE: Well, I elected to stay in Germany for 10 days after my injury because I wanted to be there for my team, I wanted to support them, I wanted to be there in the most positive capacity that I could to help them qualify a team to the Olympics, because without my routines and my scores they were on the cusp, and they ended up pulling it out and they came 11th. That was a huge relief. I flew back to Canada, sitting on an airplane with your legs straight out from Germany to Canada is not super fun. [[LAUGHS]] But good thing I was a gymnast because I could walk around on my hands pretty well, lift myself into the seats and stuff. I did a lot of L-sits; I had super strong abs. When I got home, I had my own home at this point but I couldn’t move into it because I had a lot of stairs, so I had to go back to my parents place, so I was in my old bedroom, which is kind of weird. I had great support from the Canadian Sports Center in Calgary, they had arranged for me to see the surgeon the day I got home, and then the next day I was in the surgery at 8 A.M., and he put a metal plate with screws in my left knee, and then in my right knee I had a couple screws, and he had to repair the bone chip and the ligament in the left knee. And, so I think i was in denial to be honest. I thought it would be a six week recovery. I was like, “Yeah I broke my legs but they’re gonna be fine”, but when he went in and he saw the real damage, it was a lot worse. And they prepared me for it, but I woke up in the hospital with these two gaint braces on my legs and at that point it really clicked in my mind. Like, okay, is this really something I want to do? And what really resonated with me, and it was the thing that drove me through the whole process, was I want to be there for my team, I want to compete in a third Olympic Games. That was always something I wanted as a kid, I wanted to do three Olympics. And lastly, I was like, how can I inspire people through this? It wasn’t about me as much as it was about that next generation of gymnasts. How can I show them something that might inspire them through my performance, through my fight back? And, I don’t know, that to me is a really great way of approaching anything, is to think of what you can do to inspire those around you, and that was a real big driving force for me. On those days that I didn’t want to go to the gym, I was like no, I have to. I have to be accountable here to all the people who are helping me in this journey. I was in a wheelchair for a couple months. I could slowly get out of it and start putting what they call ‘featherweight’ on your feet, so I could kind of slide around with a walker and two giant braces. Yeah, it’s pretty humbling when you can’t do anything for yourself, when you can’t bathe yourself, when you can’t make a meal, when you can’t do anything. You need help with everything because you cant move your legs, yeah that really helped me appreciate, as an athlete, everything gymnasts can do. So, yeah my legs became very skinny, really atrophied. I had, what looked like two giant lumps of muscle hanging off my calves and [laughs] slowly my upper body started to shrink. Then I got the braces off, and that was a monumental day because all of a sudden I could start going back into the gym and trying to do stuff. And I couldn’t do anything. I could barely even step up onto a- I couldn’t jump of an eight inch mat, or even a two inch mat because the pain inside of my knees was just too intesnse. It was baby steps, like anything, right? It was fueling that dream. Everyday I was imagining myself competing at the 2008 Olympics, standing on the floor, how that would feel. And that’s what really got me through. It was a huge growth process for me as a person. More as a person than as an athlete, I feel I grew. And I grew to learn that each day we have a choice, we have the opportunity to chooce whether we feel defeated or whether we are going to chasing a victory. Everyday I tried to groom myself to chase that victory, and try to get one ounce of potential out of myself. Just to move forward a little bit, and to celebrate the heck out of that victory. I mean, yeah, it’s fun to talk abou this and to relive it because I can kind of feel the pain back in my knees again! [[LAUGHS]]
BLYTHE: How do your knees feel today? When you have an injury like that, I’m sure they’re never quite the same. And when you were doing gymnastics, even when you got back into full shape going into the 2008 Olympic cycle, what did it feel like to do a double double onto your pair of tibias?
KYLE: Well, I had had a few cortisone injections, so that helped. I had a lot of pain actually in the hamstrings, that’s where it hurt the most. Imagine that? How you break your legs and you get pain in your hamstrings. But that’s because where the plate was in my left leg- where the plate and the screws were- it was actually pushing on the attachment of my hamstring, so I couldn’t lift my heel to my butt because the pain was so great in my hamstrings, like the nerves inside. So I just learned to compensate and deal with it. I just focused on getting strong. I went through a great strength trainer named Mack Reed, here in Calgary, and my physiotherapist who’s in the city, and Ed Louis was my massage and they became my team. The gym stuff started to slowly come back. I remember the first day I could do a cartwheel I was like, “Yeah, buddy! I did a cartwheel today!” And it was just being really safe, and really listening to my body, and being really aware. But today, I run now a lot, which is something I never imagined I would do. In gymnastics I ran 25 meters full speed towards a stationary object and I flipped over it [laughs] and I ran my first marathon last year. So, my knees are good. At the end of that marathon they sure hurt, let me tell you, but I think everybody’s knees hurt.
BLYTHE: Did you have any desire to continue after 2008?
KYLE: Um, yeah. It’s fun to be truthful, isn’t it? In 2008 after…
KYLE: Well, as an athlete sometimes you’re a little guarded of your emotions and where your head is at because there’s so many things around that you’ve got to be a little bit protective. Yeah, right after the 2008 Olympics, after I was done there, the next day we took the day off, then I went to training the next day because Nathan and Adam were both in All Around Finals and I wanted to support them. And my body was so sore, oh my god. My wrists hurt, and my legs hurt, and my back and everything hurt! I started to train and I was like what the hell am I doing? So, it’s amazing how powerful a goal can be, you know, that focal point. I had a resonating purpose and a reason for eleven months, from that day I broke my legs to the day I competed at the 2008 Olympics, something that burt so, so warmly inside of me. That fire was huge. And then literally in an instant it was done, it was like, so hard to get it back. So, that was the last day that I really went into the gym and I tried to train. I would go and play a few times here and there, but I was really struggling with what I wanted. Did I want to set new goals? None of them felt right. I didn’t really want to go to the World Cups. I felt like 2008 was the ending I wanted it to be. I competed, I did the hardest floor routine of my life, I felt a huge sense of success and accomplishment and I felt like that was a really great note to end it on. So, yeah it took me about nine months after 2008 to come to the conclusion that it was time. My girlfriend Kristen and I went to Thailand for a month and I did a lot of journaling, and a lot of writing while I was there, and a lot of listening to my intuition and I knew it was time. It was time to move on. I think sometimes as an athlete, you don’t want to go because you’re afraid to, but I have a philosophy in my life that I don’t want to hold on to things because I’m afraid to let go, I want to let go and start the next chapter. So, I did and it’s been great.
BLYTHE: And I understand that that next chapter has involved commentating, among a lot of other things. Is it true that you did some commentating in 2007 as well, at the World Championships?
KYLE: Um, not in 2007. In 2008 at the Olympics I did. So, literally the day after I was done competing, I took the day off and did all of my interviews, as you do, and I met with the president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at the time and he called me into his office and said, “Hey, do you want to join our broadcast?” And I was like, “I’d love to! That’d be awesome!” And he was like, “Okay, you start tomorrow!” [laughs] I’m like, “What?” and he said, “Yeah, for the Men’s Final” and I was like, “Okay!” So, that’s when I started my commentating career. And I didn’t know what the hell I was doing for the first five minutes of it, but I think I settled in.
BLYTHE: Was it scary? Did you do anything to prepare yourself?
KYLE: Well, I knew all of the athletes really well. I had been doing a lot of spying and researching in the lead up to the Olympics to see what people were up to. So, yeah I knew what I was talking about for sure. But I was nervous! To think there’s all these people listening to you at home and you’re the ‘expert’. So, that was a little freaky. Sometimes it’s easier to be out there performing it and doing it, than it is to be behind the camera talking about it.
BLYTHE: You’ve gotten such great feedback from gymnastics fans on the way that you do your commentary, is it something that you want to keep doing throughout the next few years, several years maybe?
KYLE: Absolutely! And that makes me smile that you say I’m getting good feedback. I really try not to pay attention to the feedback, because this year at the Olympics with CTV, on Twitter I read something that someone said about me and I was like “Oh my god! They think I’m this or that” and I was like s***, I’m not gonna do that anymore! That’s just bad. You never want to listen to what people are saying about you, it’s easy to hide behind Twitter, right? So yay, thank you everyone. I love commentating. It is like, so fun, I love preparing for it and sometimes I laugh at myself, the stuff that comes out of my mouth. But I want to share my passion, and my excitement, and my joy, and my love for the sport of gymnastics with as many people as possible. And I want to educate as many people as possible. I want to do it for the next, bajillion Olympics. I want to do it until I’m 80. I want to be the eighty year old doing gymnastics commentary. It’s really, really fun for me.
BLYTHE: What is your ritual when you are preparing to do commentary? How do you stay up to date on all the news and all the meets?
KYLE: Well, I have to thank you guys, because you really keep me informed. I read all the blogs, all the fun blogs, all the serious blogs, Gymnastics Examiner plays a really big role in my research.
BLYTHE: Oh, stop!
KYLE: No, it’s true! It’s really true, and I think that we all have to stick together. We’re a community and we have to help each other and share our knowledge. I think that’s when we can really share the great gymnastics stories. But of course, I’ve got to scale it back sometimes. I can’t bring in all the dirt, right? I’ve got to be professional, I’ve got to keep a professional line. But, the way my ritual worked before this Olympics was each day I would spend maybe two hours doing gymnastics research, watching online videos pretending- you know I would video tape myself commentating. If I would hear a word that I loved I would write it down, and create this spreadsheet- not a spreadsheet, just words that would help give me some great flavor to my commentary. I watched a lot of old videos, I wanted to bring back some of the vintage stuff. I think Bart Conner is one of the best commentators, so I listened to him a lot. Elfi Schlegel helped me, she’s a really good friend. Lori Strong has done a fabulous job. So, I watched people that I admired, and same thing I did in gymnastics, I tried to implement some of the things that I really loved into my own commentary. On the days of the meets, I don’t know if you saw at the Olympics, but I can’t sit when I commentate, I have to stand. And I actually don’t wear shoes, I have to have at least my socked feet, if not my bare feet, because I need to feel the floor. I get those freaky singers who have to take their shoes off now. I have to feel the floor, and I feel grounded and it connects my body to my mind. Then I can actually like… I’m doing the skills with people, when I’m doing an iron cross I’m like, “[[GRUNTS]] feeling muscles that are pushing down and that strain that you feel. So, I get super into it. I sweat a lot, and then at the end I’m like, “Whew!” I have to put my feet up because I’m so tired.
BLYTHE: I wanted to go back and ask you a little bit about Kelly Manjak, you’re coach from age 6 through the 2004 Olympics. It seems like you guys always got along so well and had a special relationship, and when you did the movie White Palms your character used the name Kyle Manjak, which was a very fitting tribute. Tell us about him and what makes him special as a coach, and your relationship with him as an athlete and now as a friend.
KYLE: Well, Blythe, it’s funny that you bring up White Palms because that was Miklos, Zoltan Miklos his name is [inaudible], he was my assistant coach with Kelly. We met him in ’96 at my very first international invitational meet, and he came and coached with us, and his brother was a movie director. Long story short, this was a [inaudible] movie project and being involved was a great honor for me because, I mean, the movie did well in Hungary. But my name was supposed to be something completely different, but [Miklos] kept calling me Kyle in the filming. So, we would film at night from 12 A.M. to 8 A.M. because that was the only time we could get the gym with nobody around. I was doing full-ins at four in the morning and defs at like, yeah it was crazy. But anyway [Miklos] kept calling me Kyle, and I was like okay my name’s not going to be Kyle Shewfelt in the movie because this is not real, and he was like, “Kyle Manjak!” and I was like, “Yeah, man. Let’s do it.” So, Kelly Manjak is someone that was born to be a gymnastics coach, he has so much passion for the sport. But more than that, Kelly is the type of person who wants to create a great person, rather than a great athlete. He could give two s**** about producing a great athlete. He wants to have people of integrity, of character. He wants independent athletes, he wants people that follow through on their commitments, he wants people who come to the gym prepared and ready to work hard and to push themselves to reach their potential, and he inspired that in me. We just always, we were really kinetically connected. He knew what I needed, and I knew what he needed. He was the calm in the storm, and I’m a total perfectionist and can be a bit of a … I’m not a hothead at all, but in those moments of stress and pressure I can get a little freaked out, and Kelly would just bring the calm. He’d say things to me that just kept me so settled and grounded. I remember in 2004 he wrote me a letter, that’s what Kelly and I did for communication, instead of having a meeting we would write each other. And he wrote me a letter and he gave me an envelope when we got on the plane to head to Spain for our training camp, and the letter just said, ‘Kyle, you’ve worked so hard and you are so prepared. Let’s make this the best month of our lives. Let’s enjoy every moment, whether it’s the good stuff, the bad stuff, lets be in it, lets live it”, and he just reminded me of how prepared I was. Stepping up to the floor in 2004 at those Olympics, Kelly and I walked up, and he always walked right beside me with his hand on my shoulder, like, that’s what he did when I was 6 years old when he walked me out to my mother, and that’s what he did. It was like, kind of putting a little bit of pressure on my shoulder, just making sure I was grounded, you know? He looked at me and he was like, “Kyle, you know, no matter what happens today I want you to know I’m so proud of you. You’ve worked so hard, I love you.” Can you imagine? I get tears in my eyes when I tell the story because Kelly was my second father, we spent so much time in the gym together. I helped him grow as a coach and he helped me grow as an athlete and as a person. I can’t tell you enough good things about the man. Gymnastically, he’s a genius. He can spot any skill, he can teach any kid any skill. But more than that, he’s nice and he cares about them as people.
BLYTHE: Can you talk a little bit about the Canadian men’s program as it is? Obviously not qualifying for 2012 as a team was a huge disappointment, and now you’re kind of faced with a sort of rebuilding process as we move into this next quad. Where’s the team at right now, what are the hopes for the future and how are you guys going to get there?
KYLE: Well, missing out on 2012 as a team was a huge devastation for a lot of the team members. Nathan got to go to the games and he had that untimely injury before, he injured his thumb, and tried to get back into great shape. And I mean he did a pretty good job of getting back from his injury. But the word rebuild is where the Canadian program is right now on the men’s side, and I think for the women’s side, too. Gymnastics is a funny sport, you don’t have much longevity and there’s always a turn over. I know Tony Smith is now the new men’s national coach program director and he’s got some really good plans of looking at the younger athletes and sending them around the world, and getting them experience. He understand the importance of the experience. I think the goal is definitely to qualify a full team to the 2016. This year right now there is a lot of young talent that’s coming up, and it’s identifying that talent and investing in them, that’s the best way to sum it up.
UNCLE TIM: Alright, so earlier you were talking about how your knees are surviving marathons and everything, I’m just curious, how’s the rest of your body feeling? Your back, neck, wrists, etc.?
KYLE: Everythings feeling good. I’m a pretty dedicated yoga practitioner, so I learned to listen to my body. I still do a headstand or a handstand and a backflip almost every single day. But, gymnastics provides you with a wonderful foundation for life, you know? It’s a fundamental sport, I have amazing physical literacy. For a couple years after a few things hurt, but now my body feels 100%.
UNCLE TIM: Wow that’s, that’s terrific. I just imagine after doing rollout skills and everything for so many years, I mean, my body, my neck, and everything would hurt, but that’s awesome that you’re doing so well.
KYLE: Yeah. I never bailed on a rollout. I never landed on my head. I never saw the stars or the birdies flying around my head.
UNCLE TIM: No cartoon moments for you?
UNCLE TIM: So how do you feel about rollout skills?
KYLE: I think…you know, I was never a fan of them, but I had to learn how to do them, because it was a requirement. It was the way that you could earn points. I think they can be beautiful if they’re done perfectly. I think if a gymnast is fully aware of where they are and they take the time to kick out and make it like a dive…I hated the ones that were clunkers, where they came around and back smashes, their ass smashes on the floor. I love it when a gymnast can take something and make it look so refined and so perfect and so on purpose—that’s when I think rollouts are ok. But when the guys are hacking them and nearly concussing themselves, I don’t like it.
UNCLE TIM: I think we can all agree with that.
TIM: So, on a lighter note, one thing that we love to talk about on this show is fashion and one that thing that has always kind of stood out to me was the fact that you wore an eyebrow piercing while you competed. And I’m curious, did you get any flack for that at all? Or compliments?
KYLE: Both. Yeah. In 2000, I got my eyebrow pierced, for my 18th birthday. Why we do these things, sometimes, I don’t know. I’m 30 now, I don’t have my eyebrow piercing, I haven’t had it in many years. But yeah, for me that was part of being an individual. It was—literally, I didn’t notice it. But they made me take it out in the 2000 Olympics, so I was newly pierce but I had to take it out. But in 2004, I didn’t even know I had it, to be honest. It just became a part of me and my face. But I saw a funny video once on YouTube, somebody sent me a link, the British guy, the commentator—“It’s a stud, is it?” Something like that. It made me laugh.
UNCLE TIM: [LAUGHS] Gotcha. And I’m sure he was talking about your eyebrow piercing and not your sexual prowess.
KYLE: Yeah, no, it was totally, “That’s a stud. Look at the stud.” No, it was about the eyebrow piercing.
UNCLE TIM: Did you ever worry about hitting it against the high bar, metal against metal? Or was that never a concern?
KYLE: You know, it’s funny that you bring that up, because once I did catch it and the bottom pulled up a bit, and that hurt. A lot. So yeah, I was a little worried about it. But the one I had at the Olympics in 2004 was as small as possible eyebrow stud that you could have. So.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And so, on the topic of fashion, some gymnasts have suggested that the spandex look hurts men’s gymnastics. What do you think?
KYLE: Well, it’s traditional, but the sport is moving into an era of being a little less than traditional. So, hey. I think that if that if the International Gymnastics Federation is looking for television ratings, and looking to make the sport a little more popular, then dudes with shorts and no shirts? I think we’re going to have a really big audience. Something to think about. But traditionally, guys—I never wore a shirt unless it was in competition, I didn’t train in a shirt. I didn’t train in spandex. I trained in shorts and no shirt. It’s more comfortable for a lot of the athletes, you get a lot more movement, and you don’t have something going up your butt. So, it’s, yeah. Perhaps that’s a move in a different direction that could get bigger TV viewership and ratings. And it would probably make the athletes a lot happier.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, very much, yeah. Wearing that.
KYLE: And it would probably make you happier too, right?
UNCLE TIM: Yes, as a gay man, I would love it so.
KYLE: Yeah. All over that. Yeah.
UNCLE TIM: I fully support that motion. Anyway. On a different note, something that you’re very involved in is the Right to Play. Can you tell us about that, a little bit about that?
KYLE: Yes, I can. So, Right to Play is an amazing organization. It’s an international humanitarian organization that provides spots to play in some of the most disadvantaged places in the world. And we’re talking like Liberia and—I went to Liberia, which was torn by war for decades, and where there’s child soldier and where drugs and killing people is like a way of life. So what Right to Play does is, we bring in programs to these disadvantaged parts of the world, and we start to break the cycle, and we start to teach the kids about leadership, about respect, about teamwork, about fair play. Those are just a few of the things we teach about through the games, and all the games we play—and it’s not just like we’re putting soccer balls there to have games of soccer. The games are, they’re more than that. They’re learning games. So there’s always, it’s called RCA at the end, Reflect, Connect, and Apply. So, we teach games about sexual health, we teach games about disease prevention, we teach games about malaria prevention, we teach games about what to do if somebody comes up to you and wants you to be a child soldier, how you can deal with that sort of situation. So, it’s hugely powerful, and it’s makes so much of a difference, and it’s changing so many lives in a positive way. And you know, it costs fifty bucks, fifty dollars, per year, for each child. That’s pennies. I mean, fifty bucks can really, it changes lives, and with my gymnastics center that I have here in Calgary, we give a portion of our proceeds to Right to Play, because we want to make an impact off the gymnastics floor. We understand, we’re here, we’re local, but we’re pretty privileged in Canada and USA. There are parts of the world where they don’t have the opportunity to play because there’s no safe place to play and there’s landmines and there’s people who would shoot these children if they were out there playing, so it’s providing a safe place to be a kid. Yeah.
UNCLE TIM: Wow. Sounds like a great opportunity. What has been the most poignant moment for you during this experience?
KYLE: The most poignant moment was seeing—when I was in Liberia I want to an area called West Point. And it is the ghetto of Liberia. It’s people living in shacks, shantytowns. The entire place is covered in garbage. There’s people selling drugs everywhere you turn. And where the Right to Play programs were happening, it was a safe place, and the kids were just—there was so much joy, singing, dancing, laughter. The kids could let their guard down in that space, and to me, that was just—that was really magical, to see that, amongst everything that was going on in the external, that internal place of Right to Play gave kids hope that the future could be a little bit brighter.
UNCLE TIM: Wow. Ok. I mean, I don’t even know what to say with that. It sounds like such a powerful moment, and incredible experience, so I’m glad that there are people doing this and we’ll definitely put a link to the website on our webpage. Earlier, when Blythe was talking to you about your coach, she mentioned the film White Palms, and it’s, you know, kind of a dark film from the perspective of a child who has an abusive coach and whose parents use him as basically a trophy child. Many gymnasts of note might shy away from participating in that sort of darker film. Was that ever a concern of yours?
KYLE: No, it’s wasn’t. It’s not a Hollywood film, it’s a foreign film, it’s a film that delves into a bit deeper of issues, such as child abuse and trophy children, but I think there’s some great resonating messages in it that really stuck out to me. For me, it was, like I said earlier, an honor to be involved because Tony, he was integral in my growth as an athlete, he really, really helped me, and Kelly, to get to that next level. So it was a privilege to just be involved in. And I didn’t know the whole script until I saw that movie at the Verona Film Festival. I only knew my part.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And do you think that this issue is something prevalent in gymnastics, or do you think that this was trying to get at larger societal issues?
KYLE: Well, I think it was based on Tony’s experience growing up as a gymnast in a communist regime in Hungary, and he told me lots of stories about what it was like and the abuse. And that was just the norm, that was the way things were. If they were bad, they would have to tuck up in a ball and then their coach put a milk crate over on top of them, and they would sit on it for the whole class, and the kids would be crouched up in a little ball. So that’s kind of—it was more his experiences as a young child growing up, and I’ve been to so many gyms across the world and I’ve seen so many programs and I think that the way gymnastics has moved forward—it’s a very positive sport, for the most part. Of course, there’s some things that happen, but there’s some things that happen in every sport, but gymnastics really, ultimately, it’s very positive. Especially at that grassroots level for kids, that fundamental fitness and fun.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. Like, when you were talking about your recreational program earlier, so, yeah. And while we’re kind of on these darker topics, we know that you’ve appeared in an anti-bullying campaign in Canada. Can you tell us what prompted that, for you to participate in that campaign?
KYLE: Yeah. Well, I really believe in being part of something that makes an impact and makes a difference, and I think that as an Olympian, or as an Olympic champion, you do have a bit of a platform, and I think it’s important to raise awareness to things that are really happening. As a young boy growing up in Canada, doing gymnastics, I got called a lot of names, for sure. F**, homo, wimp, girl, gay, whatever. And, I…it never really deeply affected me, because I knew that gymnastics was what I loved, and I knew that I was a stronger athlete than everybody that was calling me those names, and I knew that I could challenge anybody to a chin up contest or a pushup contest, and I could whoop their ass. But it’s true, and I get the question a lot from parents with young boys growing up, how do you deal with the bullying? And for me, it was always saying to those other boys that would call me those names, I’d be like, “You know what, you don’t know me, and that’s fine that you want to call me that, but get to know me before you do. And I’d love for you to come to the gymnastics gym and try it out. Like, let’s see how strong you are.” [LAUGHS] Right? And some of them would actually take me up, for sure, there were hockey guys that came into the gym and they would get a new appreciation. But it is that external, right? You see the guys in that tight little uniform, and I get it. Those shorts are tight, man. I totally get it. But, at the end of the day, I feel strongly that we need to be empowering the people around us, we don’t need to be calling them names and trying to bring them down. I think we should allow people to love what they love, love who they love, and I think that people should be able to be that best version of themselves, and we should always try to elevate the people around us. So, I feel really strongly about anti-bullying, and that’s why I did the little picture with the girl, her name’s White Cedar—well, that’s her photographer name—and I think it’s a really powerful campaign, and that’s why a lot of people have stood up, and we have all experienced it. And I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think we should ever have to question who we are or if what we are doing is worthy because of what other people are telling us.
UNCLE TIM: That’s a very good message, and I’m just curious, do you think that helping fight homophobia in general will end up helping little boys feel more comfortable doing gymnastics?
KYLE: Oh, sure. But like, ok. I get it. A lot of people think that I’m gay. And I’m not. And I have a lot of friends who are gay. But I happen to be attracted to women and I have a girlfriend who I just love and adore. But I don’t think that it should even be an issue in sports. I think your sexuality plays zero role in how awesome you can be on rings, high bar, pommel horse, vault, you know. It doesn’t matter. And it’s just, it’s really sad that our world likes to place value on sexuality and defining who we are. I think at the end of the day, we are all people, and no matter who we love, we all have the potential to do something great, and we should never, ever make some feel like they can’t because of who they are and anything, right?
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, yeah. I think we’re all just sitting here smiling as we’re listening to you say that, and thank you for sharing that with us.
KYLE: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. And hey man, I grew up, I went to a sports school, and I know what hockey dudes do, ok? I’ve been in a changing room with a bunch of hockey guys. I’ve seen it. I know what happens. Gymnastics? We don’t do that.
UNCLE TIM: Well, we’re kind of laughing on a very light note, you’ve kind of become a household name in Canada after becoming not only the first gymnast to win a medal in an Olympics, but being an Olympic champion. So tell us, how famous are you in Canada? Are you like the Nadia of Canada? I mean, tell us a little bit about that.
KYLE: Oh my god, ok. Well, the funny this is that in my life I’ve made a huge commitment to humility. So I don’t really like to talk about celebrity and fame, it’s not important at all. Let’s just say that right after I won the Olympics, it was pretty heightened. I would be in a grocery store or whatever and people would, I like to call it rock-egnize me. Because everyone was like, “You got rock-egnized!” I was like, that’s awesome. I love it. But now, I’m an ambassador in my community. I don’t want to be known for my accomplishment, I want to be known for the impact I make in my community, whether it’s through Right to Play, through Kids Sports for Special Olympics, through my projects in the art community here in Calgary, or through the sport community. So, I’ve made a lot of friends, and I get a lot of people who recognize me because of that—“Hey, are you that gymnast guy?” I’m like, yeah, that’s me. But I always try to be humble, and I think that’s really important, because what I accomplished was just an accomplishment. We all have great accomplishments, right? We all have something we work hard towards, and many of us get to achieve great things in our life. I’m not doing Jockey underwear commercials like Nadia did, but I have a relative—yeah. I don’t know. I have a little bit of fame, I guess you could say, but I try to use it for good things.
UNCLE TIM: So you mentioned the art community. I am just curious, what you have been doing in the art community?
KYLE: Well, as an athlete I always really valued the artistic side of sports, and I loved it when people have the courage to be vulnerable, and have the courage to train their entire life for one minute and thirty seconds, like a gymnast does, or an artist who spends years and years and years, or an author who spends so many years struggling to get their book done. I love that process of struggle. I think that’s where character comes from, I really support that. I want to support anyone who has the guts to lay it all on the line and be creative and put themselves out there and be vulnerable. So, with that being said there, Calgary is a growing city, and there’s a great art community here, and I’ve become a little bit aligned with it, and we actually just did a great project, it’s actually in progress, Andy Warhol’s paintings, the athlete series, here in Calgary, and it’s a really great series and I played a role in getting ten Canadian athletes to lend their name and their hand and their image for ten Calgary artists to paint. And so, that’s going to be showcased in Calgary in June, and that’s going to be really awesome. I love it when two worlds that are so different can come together and collide and make something just a beautiful explosion of awesome.
UNCLE TIM: I hear that you’re working on two, a couple books right now, so I’m sure you can relate to that process. What are your books about?
KYLE: Oh my god. It is like a war, writing these. Yeah. It’s kind of, I’m stuck, right now, on them. My first book that I want to put out is my gymnastics story. I’ve got a lot of words, but none of them have been put together, if that makes any sense. I’ve written, the book’s written, but it’s just a matter of getting it put together in the right format. And then the other one is—I get new book ideas every day. I actually have notes that I put in the shower, they’re called AquaNotes, and they’re a waterproof paper with a waterproof pencil, and I fill them with book ideas. I really want to write a book about presence and potential, the balance between being here and reaching your goals, you know? Because I think that’s really important, to enjoy the process and to be immersed in it, but also how do you get there? And I really enjoy that. I get to look at life through the most optimistic lenses possible, and I try to be as positive as possible, and I don’t know if there is a place for a book around that, but I’ve sort of been throwing some ideas around about how we can move some things in our lives with just a little more optimism.
UNCLE TIM: Cool. I should definitely read your book as I can definitely be succumb to pessimism in my life, or harsh realism, so I’ll check out those books when they’re finished. And while we are talking about your projects, can you tell us a little bit about the Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics Festival? What inspired it? And what’s it all about?
KYLE: Yeah. So the Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics Festival in a nutshell, is Canada’s, it’s our most innovative and most entertaining gymnastics event. I think it’s become the premiere event in Canada. We have a lot of athletes come and compete, and they have a lot of fun, and that’s where it came from. When I was finished with the sport as a competitor, I wanted to give back as much as I could, as an ambassador, and the University of Calgary Gymnastics Club and I came up with the idea to do this meet, and we try to make it different. We have massage therapy students come for our judges, we have DJs come and play during the meet, and the sound is just super awesome and loud, tons of bass, and we do a big group cheer and we have awesome sponsors to give us prizes to throw into the audience. We just try to inject some energy and life into a gymnastics meet, because we’ve all been to a boring gymnastics meet where it’s just moms and grandmas sitting there, and we’re just trying to make it bigger than anything that we’ve seen and more fun. So we have costumes for our finals, and we used to have celebrity judges, this year, moving forward, we’re not going to have a celebrity judge portion, we’re going to do a little bit more gymnastics than that part, but yeah. It’s fun, it’s innovative. I love it. It’s a great weekend. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of work, but we have a big team that dedicates a lot of time and a lot of energy, but man, it’s a really fun weekend.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And so, what’s your favorite part of the meet?
KYLE: My favorite part of the meet, I think…geez. It’s all, I like it all. My favorite part is the march in because I made a mandate for myself at the beginning that I wanted to have myself have an interaction with every kid and with every parent that I possibly could, and so as the kids do their march in I give them a high five, and then we kind of have a dance party on the floor, and that’s always—dance parties make life better. Let’s just face it. If you’re having a bad day, throw on some tunes, grab your dog, and dance in your living room. It makes life better.
UNCLE TIM: Do you think that there are elements of your meet that could be used to help promote gymnastics in an international scale? Are there are things that the FIG should do in the future?
KYLE: Well, that’s a pretty open-ended question.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah.
KYLE: I don’t think my meet has a place for the FIG. Our focus is on the grassroots movement of gymnastics. We do have a team competition. We’ve had China and Australia and the USA in the past, this year we’re having Canada vs. USA for the men. But more than that, there’s almost a thousand young participants that come, and for them, maybe one or two of that thousand are going to have a chance to make an Olympic team, so I want to give them a memory, a memory that sends them out, and I want to give their parents an event where they can say, that was the most fun an event we ever went to, and that music was awesome, and my kid had a great time, they had their best performance, and the awards were awesome, and they got free grips from Grips Etc., and they got this awesome gym suit, and I just want it to be a great experience. So I think the FIG—one thing, while doing my research for the Olympics, and even now, the rules have changed, and it is so difficult to understand, even as someone who loved the sport and did it, and I think that we’re just alienating the general public. I think we need to make it more accessible and we need to make it more understandable, and that could be the best move. So yeah. That’s was a long answer to that.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah, ok. Yeah, when we have Tim Daggett on our show, a couple months ago now, he wanted to go back to the 10. He thought that was the easiest way. Do you think that there’s, do you think that we should go back to the 10?
KYLE: Well, I just think that’s not going to happen. I loved the 10 system, but I think there were a lot of flaws in it. But what I really believe could be a great way to go forward, is to make the difficulty more understandable. All these connections, and you have to hit handstand here, and this and that, you just alienate the general public, and without the 10, people just don’t get it. Even me, sitting here, knowing the sport, can’t think of what a good score is. Like, I knew it’s around a 16. And before the Olympics, I thought I knew it inside and out, but now I’m a bit removed from it, so a little lost. I think it would be great to have the difficulty score, and then five execution scores, all out of 10, and then show them, and show the high and the low being dropped, so that people get it and then add together those three scores out of a ten, and people can understand where that execution is. Judges have a hard job, don’t they?
UNCLE TIM: Yeah.
KYLE: I mean, the human eye and the human mind, I don’t think it’s capable of calculating all of the things they’re supposedly able to calculate in a split second. I’m sorry. It just doesn’t happen. We need slow-mo.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. I was doing quick hits for the Winter Cup for the first time, and it was just so difficult to just sit there and try to name all the skills for people, and then, on top of that, also talk about the execution and what was going wrong, so yeah, I can’t imagine the judges, what they’re going through. One of my final questions for you is, you seem like a very positive person, and last week we had Jennifer Pinches, the now-retired British gymnast, on the show with us, and she shared her mantra with us, which is “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome”. And I’m curious if you have kind of a mantra you use on a daily basis?
KYLE: I don’t. I don’t have a mantra that I use on a daily basis. I just—there’s two things I always think about on a daily basis, because they always pop into my mind. And the first one is potential. I always think about, am I meeting my potential? Am I holding myself accountable to it? It’s really important for me at the end of the day to be able to have cheerleaders in my mind rather than rugrats. I want to make each day count. And the secondly, I think I really try to focus on how I can be an impact in someone else’s life. Make someone else’s day a little bit better, whether it’s at the grocery store, whether it’s at the gym, wherever it is. Just like engaging someone, talking to them, listening to them, and just trying to give them as much positive energy as possible, and I find that that really comes back in tenfold, so.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And can you tell our listeners where they can find you? Your blog, your Twitter, etc.
KYLE: Oh my gosh. I’m the worst blogger. You guys are so good and I’m so bad. I find that life gets so busy, and to take thirty minutes to sit down and write about it is like—I don’t know how your guys do it. But my blog—if you just search me on Google you can find everything—but my website’s at KyleShewfelt.com, and my blog is at KyleShewfelt.blogspot.ca, and yeah.
TIM: I think that’s all we have for you today. And thank you so much for taking two hours of your life and sharing so much with us. We really appreciate it.
KYLE: Well, I have to thank you guys too, for being such great promoters of the sport, for being such passionate advocates for gymnastics. I think in today’s day and age, social media that you are putting out is just first class, you guys are on the cutting edge, and please know that gymnastics fans thank you as well. Thank you so much.
JESSICA: Thank you! Thank you so much.
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JESSICA: Visit EliteSportzBand.com, that’s sports with a z, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code: Gymcast.
JESSICA: That’s going to do it for us this week. We want to thank Kyle Shewfelt for spending so much time talking with us, and just his general gymnastics Buddhism. His being a little Gym Buddha. His true gymnastics spirit. That’s one of the things about this show that is kind of a second goal of the show, is just to bring happiness and joy and goodness to the world, and he embodied that, so we really want to thank him for that. We want to remind you that this is the last week for the Gym Nerd Challenge of the month: take someone’s gymnastics meet virginity. Take them to their very, very first gymnastics meet, and send us a picture to put up on the website. And remember that you can support the show by checking out TumblTrak’s really cool new 25th anniversary videos on YouTube. It’s really, really awesome. And also by supporting EliteSportzBand. You can rate us or write a review on iTunes, and you can always download the Stitcher app and listen to us from there. One of the things I like about the Stitcher app is that it doesn’t take us space on your phone, so you don’t have to download the whole episode to listen, you can just go to the Stitcher app to listen from anywhere. I love apps, I have way too many on my phone, so I love the Stitcher app because it saves space because I don’t have to take up the storage space with all the podcasts I listen too. Remember you can contact us at GymCastic@gmail.com, or leave a message by calling 415-800-3191, or call us on Skype, our username is GymCastic Podcast and ask us any question. And we’re all over Twitter, so find us on Twitter, it’s just Gymcastic on Twitter. And until next week, I am Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com.
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym.
[[OUTRO MUSIC – Blame Canada from South Park]]