RICK: I think the difficulty demands are so high now, we have entered an era now where you have to get the unique physical specimen on each apparatus.[EXPRESS YOURSELF INTRO MUSIC]
JESSICA: This week on the show, Brevet level judge, coach, clinician for the International Gymnastics Federation and professional passport stamp collector, Rick McCharles.
ALLISON TAYLOR: Hey gymnasts. Elite Sportz Band is a cutting edge compression back warmer that can protect your most valued asset, your back. I’m Allison Taylor on behalf of Elite Sportz Band. Visit elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: This is episode 34 for May 22, 2013. I’m Jessica from masters-gymnastics.com.
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from The Gymnastics Examiner.
RICK: And I’m Rick McCharles from gymnasticscoaching.com.
JESSICA: And because it’s a proven fact that Canadians are the nicest people on the planet, this is the world famous and only gymnastics podcast ever, starting with the top news stories from around the gymternet. And today, we have a special Canadian with us. Canadian Championships are happening. So we have with us Rick from Gymnastics Coaching. And will you just start with telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you started gymnastics, what your gymnastics background is and about your site?
RICK: Sure Jess. I was a late started. I was about age 12 and I was quite a crappy gymnast I would say back in the day. Quite quickly, I gravitated to coaching. Certainly when I was a teenager, I would coach one age division then judge the next age division and then compete the third age division in the same day. That was very typical for me back then.
JESSICA: That’s awesome! Where did you start coaching?
RICK: Well gosh. You’ve heard of the Weiler kip
RICK: Now that’s Willy Weiler a German-Canadian. His brother Heinz Weiler was my first coach. And we worked out of a school, set up a take-down gym. And fortunately, Heinz was with the Canadian military and they were rotated every two years. So after two years of getting excited about gymnastics, we lost our coach. So my mother, the treasurer, had the money. I think she had 175 dollars or something. She went over to Altadore Gymnastics Club which was a girls only club at Altadore Elementary School and set up take-down. And somehow she talked to the head coach who’s been a mentor and a guru to me ever since into accepting the boys. I know it was mainly because he wanted our budget added to his budget. So then I spent 23 very happy years with the Altadore Gymnastics Club in Calgary, Canada. It was quite fun to see it grow from the set up take down school to building our first pit. We had the third pit in Canada and then it was all up and up and up at Altadore back in the day.
BLYTHE: And Altadore is of course the club that produced Kyle Shewfelt. Correct?
RICK: That’s it! Yes, we’re one of many clubs in Canada. I remember the day when….we had a lot of kids at Altadore, a lot of nationally competitive kids. And my assistant coach was Kelly Manjack. And so I remember the day one of our recreation coaches came over and said hey guys. You’ve got to see this 6-year-old boy. He’s pretty good. I specifically recall saying oh now we’re too busy. We don’t have time to look at this 6-year-old boy. Somehow, we went over and saw this 6-year-old and I remember it specifically. Kyle could do a perfect front handspring on floor that day, with form, like feet together, knees together. It was very tough for this young kid. So he became a very special project of Kelly Manjack from that day. Of course he ended up Olympic floor champion in 2004.
BLYTHE: Absolutely. And it all started for him right there. I never heard that story before Rick, that you were the head coach of that club and Kelly was the assistant.
RICK: When I went back in 2003, Kelly was the head coach and I was the assistant. Kelly Manjack was our top Canadian coach ever, wasn’t from Romania, wasn’t from Russia, wasn’t from China. He was from small town British Columbia. I remember Kelly walking in the door too to Altadore Gymnastics Club because we were the closest big club to his town in rural British Columbia. And he walked in the door 6’1 maybe 190 pounds and said I want to be a gymnast. Yeah he did compete gosh for a year or two at 17 maybe 18 years old before Kelly got the bug and became the great coach he is today.
BLYTHE: I see. Very very interesting. So you know everybody there is to know, not only in Canada and Canadian Gymnastics but around the world. I know a lot of people follow your blog and you have tons and tons of hits and comments. But you could you tell us about sort of the genesis of the blog and how you began as a blogger and do you have more than one blog and some of the traveling you do for those things. We’d really like to get to know you a little more.
RICK: Sure. In high school, we had one of the first computer labs. I’m so old it was punch cards. I really did like programming and basic and the evolution of computer back in 1974. About that time, IBM released the selectric typewriter. And me and my buddies bought us, it cost us a fortune back then, a selectric typewriter. We all took typing. I was quite into that at a young age. Internet wise, in 1999, Kyle Shewfelt became the youngest male gymnast to qualify for the Sydney Olympics at 17 years old. And I get the bright idea that we should do a daily online training report of Kyle’s experience getting ready for those Olympics and then the Olympics. I remember Kyle coming over around Christmas 1999 and I was pitching him this idea. And he was very suspicious because this was all new. You know, the internet was quite new. And the only thing that really caught his interest at that time, was there was two good websites on the internet. One was Hollie Vise. It’s still on today, lovely website back then, one of the firsts. It was a great website. And then Wecker from East Germany at that time, had a really good website at that time too. And Kyle said, yeah that’s cool. We should do something like that. So it started with this Kyle Shewfelt personal website. But things were so difficult and expensive then, it was called ineedtoknow.com. ineedtoknow.com. It still exists on the internet. One thing led to another and eventually started other sites for ineedtoknow.com. And WordPress just revolutionized personal blogging as far as I’m concerned. When WordPress came along, I switched it over to gymnasticscoaching.com and some other sites. Yeah I love blogging and spend a lot of time every day working on it.
BLYTHE: How many hours would you say you spend a week blogging, searching the internet for interesting, cool stuff about gymnastics?
RICK: Oh gosh, like a slow day would be two hours. Some days, could be six hours I would say. I’m gymnastics focused every day of the year, year round.
BLYTHE: And you have such an interesting, eclectic bunch of content. When you decide to put something on gymnasticscoaching.com, do you have certain criteria for what it should be? What catches your eye?
RICK: It started very much focused on artistic gymnastics. Until age 33, I was just one of those maniac gymnastic coaches who was only interested in artistic. I think if you go back and look at the early stuff, it had a lot to do with coaching education for artistic gymnastics men and women. Then I started getting involved in Cirque du Soleil. That really opened my eyes to what acrobatics is, if you’re not constrained by all these rules. Of course, it’s wonderful. I just love it, the acrobatics and Parkour. Back then, you might remember the header. It showed all different aspects of acrobatic, not only artistic gymnastics. So from that point on, I’ve really made it a mission to make artistic coaches aware of all these other disciplines. Criteria wise, yeah it’s more what catches my interest. And you’ve seen certain themes like basics, coach education, ethical gymnastics, safety. I also try not to duplicate the other great sites. So I try not to duplicate or replicate what’s on Gymnastics Examiner which is my first source for gymnastics information on the internet, or Couch Gymnast or Full Twist. Those sites do a great job, especially yours Blythe I should say. So I don’t try to duplicate or compete with that content.
BLYTHE: It is incredibly kind of you to say so. And I know all of the gymnastics bloggers that get linked to from your site have an incredible appreciation for what you do for them. I remember back in 2007, I started a little blog. You know, kind of inspired by Rick’s site actually called The Gym Blog. And after a few weeks or something, Rick found it and he linked to a post and when I’d saw that he’d linked to the post on Gymnastics Coaching, it was like lift off in some ways. It was so awesome. And I wrote you a thank you email saying oh thank you so much. I hugely admire your site. And that is how we first got to know each other just a little bit.
RICK: I should mention that story about Spanny. When I found Spanny Tampson’s Big Fake Smile, it just killed me. And nobody had heard of her. I remember in an early post on that site and I was linking to every post that she put up on that site. One thing led to another till today.
JESSICA: She’s on maternity leave right now. But yeah she totally loves your site too. She’ll love hearing that.
RICK: Oh great! She’ll remember those first links.
BLYTHE: And how many posts are you at right now on gymnasticscoaching.com?
RICK: Well it’s well over 11,000. But you know how the internet works. Posts degrade over time. Some day, I’ve got to go back and just delete ones where all the links are broken. Last year, I had 3 million unique hits plus. So that’s a lot of traffic especially when I totally don’t explain what a Tkatchev is and who Aliya is so it’s really focused like a trade rag tour to artistic coaches who know what I’m talking about. I don’t get that many parents. I don’t get that many gymnasts following the site because they find it a bit too technical.
BLYTHE: And you have the themes that you sort of emphasize on Gymnastics Coaching before. You do have some gymternet, and some photography pet peeves that everybody who spends a lot of time going through the internet seeking out photos and videos and new and information has. Could you talk about those?
RICK: Oh yes. I think a few sites once a year do a best of gymternet and also mention our pet peeves. I think the internet is great though. My biggest complaint though would be those people that are very very negative about everything. If somebody does something fantastic, all these people swoop in and say how they are a terrible gymnast. I’m always wondering if she’s such a terrible gymnast, how come your gymnast isn’t winning that competition. So I do find it seems to….especially some of the forums get very very negative. So that would be my first pet peeve. I think the biggest thing that ever went right for us was YouTube. I remember paying for bandwidth for tiny crappy videos before YouTube. And you had all this content that you’d love to share but you couldn’t afford it. When YouTube started, that’s the best thing that ever happened. I was in Nigeria and Senegal over the past few months. They’re watching everything that’s happening in Russia, United States, Romania. So all around the world, they know about modern gymnastics because of YouTube.
BLYTHE: It absolutely revolutionized the sport in the way that we watch the sport. And it continues to. And for some of these smaller countries or non gymnastics countries as you like to say, that do want to have programs, having that will be phenomenal for them. And having things like the FIG age group program will also I think just do a world of good. And I know that you’re involved with that. Could you talk a little bit more about what you’ve been doing?
RICK: Oh sure. Now I started with, there’s a long term program called the Olympics Solidarity. That program brings in experts from all the nations of the world. So the USA even once had an Olympic Solidarity course. I did a number of courses over the last six or eight years for Olympic Solidarity. Then FIG’s coach education program is called the Academy Program. It’s multi disciplined. It’s run by Hardy Fink from Canada. It’s just doing a fantastic job. There’s courses all over the world every week in this gymnastics Academy program. I’m actually not a clinician for that program. This past year, Hardy Fink dreamed up another program called FIG age group program only for developing countries. So for example, Panama qualified. And it’s a pretty affluent country so there’s some cut off lines like years in FIG and opportunities in FIG and that’s the one where I’ve been in seven nations over the last six months doing a week long coaching course on basic gymnastics. I think there’s been seventeen nations. The last ones in the first cycle going in the past two weeks. Carol Angela Orchard and Jeff Thompson are in the Philippines right now and they’ve come from Vietnam last week. And let me tell you, those countries, as you arrive there, they will tell me this is the first time FIG ever did anything for us. You know, they really feel neglected, forgotten. And so that program has gone over really really well every place I’ve been.
BLYTHE: Can you name off the places you have been? You said seven countries in the last six months for a week a piece. Which seven countries?
RICK: I went to the Middle East first. Saudi Arabia, Yemen. You know we had Nashwan a 2008 Olympian from Yemen. So they had some gymnastic history there. Also Qatar. And Qatar is booming gymnastics wise. They’ve got really good coaches and really good programs. They’ve only been doing gym with FIG for I think eight or nine years. I went to Africa, Senegal and Nigeria. I also traveled at my own expense to South Africa. I got to meet some of the coaches and gymnasts there. In between, I was in Panama and El Salvador. Both have some really super strong coaches and really really good gymnasts in both of those developing nations.
BLYTHE: Oh fantastic! Now can you tell us a little bit about gymnastics in the Middle East and Africa? How is the sport perceived and how far is it going and proceeding at a high level and hopefully sending people to the Olympics and what not. You mentioned Nashwan Al-Hazari who was a 2008 Olympian for Yemen. He competed the wild card. What are they doing to grow their program and do they have the same concerns that they do in the US and Canada about gymnastics, high level skills, safety? Perhaps there might be concerns in Muslim countries about women showing their legs and what not? Have you run into any of that?
RICK: Oh yes. In the Arabic countries, the whole issue of women doing gymnastics is, there is almost no women’s gymnastics in Arab countries. In fact, one of our girls from Calgary moved to Saudi Arabia and was a super keen young gymnast and she had to travel across the border to Bahrain to even do gymnastics. I did see one photo in Saudi Arabia of a bunch of girls doing gymnastics in a school with two male coaches. I jumped on that photo and said what’s this? And they said that was a private school. They bring in male coaches to teach these girls. But within private schools and that environment, girls can do gymnastics and physical education classes. So when Qatar decided to go so big on education and sport, you know they’re bidding for the Olympics and are incredibly aggressive to develop all Olympic sports in Qatar. The coaches told me the first couple of years, they had to divide the training for the girls and boys. But fairly quickly, it became obvious to the parents and kids and the administrators that it would be okay to let boys and girls train together. If you walk into gyms in Qatar today, it looks like you’re walking into an American gym. Probably the next step of your question there is there a sense of ethics and safety and I want to say yes. Our biggest problem there is there’s quite a dependence on spotting. So the coaching system in a lot of developing nations is a really competent spotter spotting the kids all the time. They don’t have pits. They don’t have Tumbl Trak’s, air flyers. So when we arrived as clinicians, one of our major things was well let’s teach these kids without spotting them. Let them do it on their own. That would be my second issue. I found in all those nations, there are some very good coaches. Very passionate, very knowledgeable. So that was a bit of a surprise for me to see coaches in Senegal and Africa and small nations with iPads, watching YouTube videos, showing me videos I’d never seen before. So it’s been a lot of fun to help out in those nations.
JESSICA: Now I’m really glad to hear what you’re saying about Doha and Qatar because the Doha World Cup is in Qatar. One of the things I’ve always wondered about, and we asked Jenni Pinches about this too when she was on the show. I have this concern that it’s not going to be equal for women. They’re not going to have the same opportunities to do gymnastics that men do because it’s a religious country. And I’m so happy to hear that the Middle Eastern country that the FIG has chosen to have a World Cup in is a country that you have seen huge progress in in terms of the equality for women doing gymnastics. That changes my whole view on the meet there. I think our listeners would be really interested to hear about that so that’s really great to hear. I’m so happy about that.
RICK: Yeah it’s changing. And it’s certainly not as bad as we hear about the life of women in Islamic countries. Yeah but no worries at all about Doha, Qatar. Personally, I’d love to see the Olympics go to Istanbul, Turkey. I think that would really open the eyes of the world to progressive Islamic nations.
JESSICA: I agree.
BLYTHE: Yeah I second that. It would be amazing. Although, where would they put the Olympic stadium?
RICK: Oh it would be a fight for that on both sides of the river. So I’m not sure. But I’ve seen some really remarkably fundamentally developmental things. Most of the funding for this new age group program, I think all the funding is from IOC, not FIG. So that’s a new budget. So IOC is clearly progressive. It was pretty controversial for them to put the Olympics in China and it was a big success story in the end.
BLYTHE: Absolutely. So now when you go as a clinician, what do you do exactly? Are you like observing and then doing presentations? Are you actively coaching? Is it a little bit of both?
RICK: Oh it’s quite a tight script over the five days. All the clinicians are volunteers. So our travel and estate and we get honorary at. It’s not a paid role. But what we do over the five days is quite tightly laid out. So this first year in the age group program is just rolling it out consistently around the world. The parts of it are: there is a physical test program, there’s a technical testing program, there is a series of compulsory and optional routines. And all those things are opt in. So each nation can decide. Well we think we’ll adopt the FIG one because it’s more standardized. And over the five days, we’re just explaining that system and then doing practical work on the elements. I know in the nations I was in, we focused mostly on the compulsories for the youngest beginners. In the second year of the roll out, I think we’ll be talking about implementation and looking at the optional routines. Does that answer your question Blythe?
BLYTHE: That does! Thank you. Oh you know one thing I forgot to ask earlier, of all the videos that you’ve seen lately, what’s the last video that you saw that just kind of knocked you off your feet? You just went wow!
RICK: Good question. There’s been a lot of amazing stuff lately. I think Skinner’s double twisting double layout on floor. Of all the amazing videos, she makes that look pretty easy. You know guys, every guy wants to do that line. Some try, most fail. And she makes that look easy so that’s certainly one of the best of late. I would link to that one on your page for this episode.
JESSICA: Oh we will do it again yes. We could watch that all day.
BLYTHE: Oh yeah. Absolutely spectacular line. She’s got some pretty nice vaulting as well. But that double double is….yeah.
JESSICA: I have one more question about FIG. You know, the FIG is sort of a big mystery for us.
RICK: It is. It is for me too.
JESSICA: I’m glad to hear that it is for you too. Since you get to work in this program, that just sounds fantastic. If it all exists because the IOC is giving them money, at least they’re using it in a great way. Like, I love how they’re using this. What do you think, as someone from the outside looking in, as someone who’s worked with the FIG, what do you think people would be interested in knowing about who you’re working with? The quality of the people or the quality of the program, you know just sort of lifting the veil a little bit. What do you think people would be interested in knowing or what do you think they’d be surprised to know?
[EERIE MUSIC PLAYS]
JESSICA: Yes I did stop right when we were about to talk about the FIG and Coach Rick’s trip to the FIG headquarters because we have to pay the bills. So I want to tell you guys that this interview is brought to you by TumblTrak. And one of the things that I love about TumblTrak and Rick’s going to talk about this a little later, is that they have tons and tons of drills on their website. So as an adult gymnast, I don’t have a coach all the time telling me what to do and it’s hard to get new ideas and it’s hard to think of new drills. I personally love doing drills. I think it’s so fun. I could do it over and over and over. And it’s great strength training. And who wants to do regular strength when you can do a fun drill instead? TumblTrak has videos on their site of drills for each of their products. They also have videos that you can just use to get ideas. I’ve been getting tons of inspiration from the power launch videos. I love that product and I love how you can use it for practicing dismounts and skills on beam as well. Find your inspiration at tumbltrak.com. That’s tumbltrak.com. TumblTrak. Do it again.
RICK: Well this is one great question because most of what you read about FIG is pretty negative. It’s usually what went wrong, this disaster. No certainly that’s improved. I think we can agree the past couple of years a lot of things have gone right for FIG. But my eyes were opened maybe about five years ago, I was invited to visit the office in Lausanne. And no real expectations I was toured around in it was great. Because I was meeting all the employees at FIG. These aren’t the elected volunteers who are fronting the new stories on the internet. These are people that stay and have been in that job for years and years. And they’re so passionate and so hard working and so multilingual. I was shocked they all speak five or six languages. And it is a really good organization in the back end, the part that we never hear about. The next thing I would say about FIG is that Bruno Grandi really dominates. Since he’s been president, he is the spokesperson for that organization and even the technical chairs used to have a stronger voice, they have to be really careful not to say anything that might contradict Bruno Grandi. So you know I’m not fan of the open ended scoring, I like the perfect 10 scoring. I was quite critical of FIG and Bruno Grandi because he was the face of pushing that change through the Code. But meeting him in person and dealing with him at these events, he’s a pretty extraordinary guy. And I’m not sure FIG would be anywhere near where they’re at, we wouldn’t have this [inaudible] program of Bruno Grandi wasn’t so aggressive in pushing all the new disciplines so hard. So I’m not sure our next president is going to be anywhere near as good as this president in FIG.
JESSICA: Well I mean you know that Spanny and Uncle Tim are going to win. They’re going to run together. So we’ll see about that.
RICK: Oh I see!
RICK: Well that will be interesting [LAUGHS]
BLYTHE: Let us move on to the state of Canadian gymnastics. Rick you are our Canadian gymnastics expert, being both a Canadian and a gymnastics expert. And we just happen to have the Canadian National Championships coming up in Ottawa this weekend. And what can you tell me from the organizational standpoint how it’s going to be and you know maybe you could outline a few of the favorites. Things you’re looking forward to seeing.
RICK: Oh I’m super excited to go to Nationals this year, especially because for the first time in a while I’m not on the organizing committee. I’ll be a little bit freer to interview the gymnasts and coaches. This year I am on the Sascatuan- the Province of Sascatuan’s delegation on the men’s coaching side. Last year Sascatuan hosted so I was on the organizing committee on coaching girls. But this year I’m on the men’s side. So needless to say it will be quite a bit more relaxed. So we’ve got over 600 athletes, all four disciplines combined again. That’s rhythmic starting first, trampoline and tumbling, which is our strongest program in Canada by far, men’s artistic and women’s artistic, all at the same competition at the same venue in Ottawa, Canada. Beautiful city. Super excited because this is the year of the World Championships after the Olympics, I call it the unimportant World Championships. Everything is up for grabs this year and we start to see which of the juniors are going to be there four years from now in Rio and will Canada qualify a full team in men’s and women’s gymnastics for Rio. So it’s all very exciting. Which athletes are you most interested to hear about Blythe?
BLYTHE: Well let’s talk about the men and the women but actually before that, you brought up an interesting point about how the Canadian Nationals, it’s everything all together even if things happen on different days. So you can see rhythmic and you can see tumbling and you can see trampoline and you can see artistic. And have the disciplines always been together like that? I remember in 2011 you had sort of event finals of all the disciplines going on in one huge gymnasium at the same time, and that was very different from what we get in the United States where it’s a big more structured. You know its men’s artistic one day and then women’s artistic the next day and then finals, and it staggered like that. Do you think that it helps promote each of those sports, trampoline, tumbling, rhythmic, as well as just being about artistic gymnastics? And do you think there’s more crossover maybe or kids who come to see artistic who leave wanted to do rhythmic because of the way that that is structured?
RICK: Well personally I love seeing all the disciplines together, but that’s not the consensus of the coaches. Certainly rhythmic is almost never with us, but I have to say each time they’ve joined us they start grumbling and by the end of Nationals they say, “Oh we’re really glad we were with you this year.”
RICK: For one year I was the liaison between rhythmic and the organizing committee because no one else thought they could deal with those ladies. But yeah it was great. My best story there was I was trying to make them happy the first day, we were hosting [inaudible] Canada, and one of the East European ladies said, “I need chairs! I need 36 chairs! I need them right now!” So I ran off and I brought chairs and I thought the girls needed a place to sit because there was only a couple of girls on the floor. Well all these girls immediately started doing their oversplit program on the chairs. Those chairs were only to warm up flexibility. So that was a shock to me. Now trampoline sports would prefer- I think most of the otp coaches would prefer to be separate from artistic. But I think it’s a very very good fit because so many artistic gymnast are the ones to go on for power tumbling and [inaudible]. For example our national tumbling champion, my buddy Jon Schwaiger, was an artistic gymnast in Calgary and moved over at age 16 to train at Altadore Trampoline and Tumbling. And so I’d like to see more of artistic kids going on to trampoline and tumbling sports.
JESSICA: Yes! I totally totally totally agree.
JESSICA: We need so much more of that Because then you can do- artistic is so hard on your body, and you can do these other sports for so much longer and they’re so fun! Like oh you just get to do tramp, you don’t have to do anything else all day? Oh my god! It’s a dream! I wish I could’ve done that.
RICK: I was so happy at Arizona Sun Rays I showed up for the meet this year, the big invitational artistic girls meet, and there’s 200 trampoline and tumbling kids! I was like wow. You know if big meets in the US start having a component of trampoline and tumbling, it’s a natural fit with artistic.
BLYTHE: Oh yeah, definitely. And here in France it’s been very interesting to see how there are some of the artistic kids who were on the junior national team for example who are a little bit older and maybe they’re a little bit older and maybe they’re focusing on their studies so they’re training five, 10, 15 hours a week less than they were when they were 14, 15, 16, but they’re keeping their hand in the sport by actually competing as tumblers. And they’re very good at it. And there’s a tradition of this actually from Maurine Debauve, who was the European all-around champion in 2005, and she was at the Olympics in 2004 and 2008 in artistic. Well after the 2008 Olympics she transitioned over to tumbling and she was the top of their tumbling team for a couple of years over the past quadrennium and she was very very good at it. And now there’s a junior national team member I believe who’s doing the same thing. And it’s very nice to see. And we don’t really get that in the United States. And so a question for you Rick- can you sum up in a word or a sentence, because I think our listeners will be interested, the difference between gymnastics in Canada and gymnastics in the United States as you see it?
RICK: Oh gosh the difference. Well I see in the USA what we often say coming from my perspective is we see some of the worst gymnastics and some of the best gymnastics. Like great innovators like GAGE, Al Fong’s program. If I had to name one program in the world with the most efficient and safest training, surprisingly I would name GAGE. Al Fong was a coach who had serious accidents in the past, had a bit of a bad name, that gym is fabulous and that gym wouldn’t exist in Canada because of our regulations. We’re a socialist country with a top-down scheme for coaching education and insurance. And I think what I see in socialist nations is it stifles innovation. On the other hand in USA we’ll see some crazy coach doing some crazy things without education, and there’s no policing that person unless he gets on the USAG banned list. So I would say what I see is the average coach, the average recreational coach in Canada, I find them superior to the average coach in the USA because of this coach education structure. But I’m not really sure if anything’s happening around the world, like I was just saying South Africa, that gym could’ve been in Texas or Toronto. Really the training is very very similar around the world now.
BLYTHE: Interesting. And given- to talk about artistic, given the Canadian women and the Canadian men, it’s really kind of a tale of two sides…
RICK: Oh isn’t it.
BLYTHE: …at the moment. Isn’t it?
RICK: Oh, my highest high and my lowest low with our Canadian teams in 2012.
BLYTHE: Definitely. The Canadian women, they had this wonderful historic fifth place finish in the team competition in London. And there’s now a ton of young talent coming up into the senior ranks, and gymnasts doing things that we just haven’t really seen Canadian gymnasts do before. I’m thinking especially of Heaven Latimer for example who does a fantastic back handspring back handspring layout full twist on the balance beam. And you know you don’t really see that in most countries in the world period. And she is the first one I can recall, maybe I’m wrong, to do it in Canada. And she is 15 years old this year? Fifteen, 16? So she’ll be a great one to watch as well. But you know in terms of the women, Rick, what do you think- they’ve really seem to come on these past four years. What do you think it was that made them so strong all of the sudden to to give them these terrific results that we’ve been seeing?
RICK: Well that is the question because if you look exactly what happened- in 2008 the Canadian women didn’t qualify for the Olympics as a team and it was a big mess. The way funding around in socialist countries like this is based a lot on results, so the women’s funding really dropped. Over that block of time we lost Andrei Rodionenko as national coach to Russia. So it really did not look good for the Canadians on the women’s side. Yet over those years, like you say all this talent from many of the top clubs were still the top clubs, all these new young kids were coming from all over the place. And probably the biggest surprise of all was Ellie Black out of Nova Scotia who, I knew the name but I didn’t know her, all the sudden she’s an Olympic finalist and winning World Cup meets. And so we had lots of surprises like that. Really world class- I’m saying these days that if a Canadian is in an international competition, that girl is contending for the podium at every meet now. And that’s probably only been one period of time in history where we’ve been this competitive. In the mid 80s, we had Laurie Strong and a very strong generation that were amongst the best girls in the world. But my proudest moment was looking at that scoreboard and seeing Canada fourth ahead of China for a long time. And if Peng Peng Lee had been on that team I have no doubt at all they would’ve easily been fourth and pushing third. So that was really exciting last year for everyone in Canada.
BLYTHE: Yeah, absolutely got to agree. And then there’s the men’s program. And you know you were in London for the test event in 2012 and the men- it was very early in the morning, they were in the first subdivision, and it just wasn’t quite enough at the end of the day when everybody had gone for Canada to qualify a full men’s team. And as somebody’s who’s been close to the men’s program for many years, could you talk about that and maybe where the program is now?
RICK: Oh that was so tragic there at the test meet. And even at the Tokyo Worlds at the first qualifier, because that same history- when I say the women’s side was quite rocky in Canada for some time, the men’s side had been really strong. Long history of good national teams. In 2004 certainly Canada was in the top six teams in the world easily. And we were looking to do well in top six and ended up having medical problems and ended up seventh in 2004. 2008 again quite a strong team, full team. So we come to 2012 and if you recall what happened there is our national coach Edward Yarov went to WOGA. So he’s down with his gymnasts, his students, Liukin, working with him at his business and those clubs. And so we had one of our legendary coaches, Japanese-Canadian coach, volunteered to step in to coach the team for the trials for the London Olympics. So that’s Naosaki. He’s really a cherished coach, was the coach of Curtis Hibbert, one of our best gymnasts in history. Blythe you and I were there hearing the buzz about the Canadian men, all we heard was, “Oh the Canadian men look great. They’re hitting everything.”
RICK: “They’re so clean.”
BLYTHE: And they did
RICK: I was going, “Oh sweet, I’m so proud.” It turned out when I talked to the coaches, we’re the only team that was going to try to win with good execution rather than start score. So that was the plan, to go clean, hit everything, and try to sneak into the top 12 without having top 12 difficulty start score. And the guys did look great in both Tokyo and in London. Unfortunately in both the qualifying meets, they made mistakes on those comparatively easier routines. So in London, Canada ended up 13th and only the top 12 teams go. And not only that but now the 13th team, 13, 14, 15, 16 only get one gymnast not two. So we ended up with only Nathan Gafuik in the London Olympics. And a very dissapointed group of Canadians. By comparison, Belgium was 13th for girls. I went straight to Belgium after that London meet and they were thrilled because they’d never come anywhere near that high before. So they weren’t disappointed with 13th, the Canadian men were devastated.
BLYTHE: Yeah and understandably so. They had some very high expectations going into that meet and we were all kind of thinking, “Oh it’ll be no problem.” And then it just didn’t quite go their way. Now speaking of systems and training and whatnot, there was some controversy back in 2008 when the women could only send two gymnasts to Beijing. They had this whole kind of elaborate point system for qualifying these two gymnasts and they had six or seven gymnasts who really wanted to go. And it was about you go to a World Cup meet and you get 13.whatever on uneven bars and that gets you so many points toward qualifications. It was really kind of this algebraic formula. And what was your opinion of that system and the way that the selection worked? Also for the men for 2012.
RICK: Oh back in then for Beijing yeah I agreed with the consensus which was that system was a disaster. Remember Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs was forced to start training her weak event again when she had been previously told that they were just looking at her stronger events like beam.
RICK: And I remember Elena Davydova said at the end we were forced to compete so many meets to try to get enough points to qualify that our girls were burned out and/or injured before the Olympics. So I think the Canadian women learned a lesson from that. And while they still had a very confusing and complicated scheme as far as I could see for 2012, I think the best team did get selected in the end. And that hurts to say because I would love to see Jessica Savona competing on that team. She’s such a good competitor. But I’m a coach, I don’t argue with results. Those girls did a fantastic job at the London test meet. In fact I’ve never seen those coaches so happy as at that London test meet when the Canadian women just did everything. They were the happiest team maybe except for Brazil. Brazil was even happier to qualify 12th at the London test meet. But I think the bigger story with the Canadian women is the process and the communication with that program is very minimal. You get almost no information, their stories aren’t told very often, the rules are always complex and frequently changing. So if you ask the coaches on the floor which I will in Ottawa next year, what’s the selection process for 2013 Worlds, I’m not sure they’re going to be really clear on it. By comparison, the men’s selection for the London Olympics, we had only one spot and we had four or five guys up all expecting to get that spot. I thought that was well done. And I was there watching the trial and it was simple. It was basically who has the best chance to qualify for an individual apparatus final in London. So as it turned out, horizontal bar was the apparatus where we had gymnasts, a number, who could’ve qualified for that spot. And it came down to the day and Nathan Gafuik hit it and anybody standing there would say Nathan deserved under that set of rules to be the guy selected. And I felt kind of good for Nathan because he’s a guy that’s been through the wars and been there every single meet for Canada in the bad times and the good times. So I was quite pleased to see Nathan selected. Does that answer your question on selection?
BLYTHE: I think it does. I now have a question about money actually.
BLYTHE: So in the US of course you know the National team, they pay for your travel, your hotel, to World Cups. I’m not sure about this but I even believe if you’re on the National team or the Junior National team you might get some sort of stipend to support your training. It’s not the case in Canada. So tell me if you are in Canada and you want to go to the Doha World Cup, is there some money to do that if you qualify? If you look good in the eyes of the national coaches? Or are you pay your own way? Are we finding gymnasts that pay their own way to go to Elite Massilia or to any of the World Cup events or anything like that?
RICK: I think it varies meet to meet. I remember in the days of Kyle Shewfelt attending so many World Cups that some were paid and some weren’t. So I think each program has their budget and the men can decide who to fund, trampoline can decide who to fund, and the women decide who to fund. I recall 2011 Japanese Junior, the athletes funded themselves in that competition. So I think it varies. That Doha World Cup when Peng Peng Lee went, she was funded I’m quite sure. So I think it all depends on the goals of the program and I think sometimes the national team, the list goes and says which of these World Cup meets is your gymnast going to be fit, ready and willing to go. And I think they sometimes have to bid for those meets. So I’m not sure on the funding. I much prefer the US model. There’s not a penny of taxpayer money that goes into USA Gymnastics and I think that’s the way it should be. Because as soon as the socialist organization like Gymnastics Canada, they’re very affected by the changing governments and priorities of governments and it’s very hard to do long term planning when funding is so inconsistent.
BLYTHE: Understood. How do you feel about the Junior Olympic program that the US has in place with levels and national camps and verification and the TOPS program and all that? Do you feel like Canada should adopt something similar or has Canada adopted something similar?
RICK: Well my favorite gymnastics in the world is the JO program and the women’s collegiate program under the perfect 10. And I love it so much because it’s clear, even the grandmother knows what 9.1 means and 7.8 means. And we have all those kids and all those coaches and officials, over 80 college teams, all in the sport. So that’s my favorite program. I walk around with an NCAA ball cap most of the time promoting that program. And I would love to see the Canadians offer the JO program equivalent to the US. So we often take our kids to the US for meets and then I have to change all my routines to try to juggle our levels versus their levels and routine requirements. And I think it will come. It’s such a good strong system in the US it seems inevitable that Canada will adopt that. Now there will be a separate elite program in Canada, which will be similar to what we have now I think. Then the girls can opt between the two.
BLYTHE: Oh that will be interesting. And you know just going back to the men’s team a second, what do you think that the men’s Canadian program needs to do to become more competitive? To reach that level that the women seem to have reached now where they’re going to World Cups and can be expected to challenge for the podium?
RICK: Oh gosh yeah this, you know having watched it with my own eyes, Kyle Shewfelt was for 10 years one of the best floor and vault guys on the circuit. World Cup, World Cup finals, Olympics. So I’ve seen how that’s done. I think we have entered an era now where you have to get the unique physical specimen on each apparatus. So when you see that great guy on rings from Greece or the great vaulter from Vietnam, I think the difficulty demands are so high now that we have to look for these unique individuals here in Canada. And unfortunately on the men’s side there’s at least twice as many strong teams on the men’s side from the women’s side. I should give you one name though, one guy we’re really excited about is Scott Morgan from Vancouver. Last World Cup bronze on floor. Probably should’ve medaled on rings at that meet. He was a guy that didn’t start gymnastics till his late teens. And he trains only three apparatus. But that guy is great. Scott Morgan. He could easily be a contender for podiums, say by Rio. So I think Blythe you’ve been here at Canadian Championships and we’ve got dozens and dozens of great young guys. It’s a super strong program and has been for years and years here. But to go from the super superbly talented 12 year old and get to the senior now, that’s a big jump. And I think we need to identify the super talents with programs like the TOPS program in the US and then really nurture the genetically unique kids out there.
BLYTHE: How do you feel about this era that we’re living in of specialization where you can be on the national team where it wasn’t like this 20 years ago, but today you can be on the national team. You can be a guy who’s great on three apparatus. You can train only those three apparatus. Never mind pommel horse if you’re not good at it. And you know you can be in contention for making World teams, Olympic teams, because that’s how you have to play the game now. But you know there was also this era of great generalists. And do you feel like that has been lost now in both men’s and women’s gymnastics. It seems like the all-around is maybe not as important as it once was. Still important, but maybe not as much. Do you think that’s been good for the evolution of the sport?
RICK: Well i think Jess I would agree that if we have specialists like Berki our Olympic champion, Berki could win the next Olympics. He could win the one after that. We can keep our stars longer. So I like the specialists. And Shewfelt for example, he was a good all-arounder. And the day came where the National coach said, “Kyle, you do only four events right now. I want you only training four. That’s it. You’re done in those last two.” At a certain stage in his career. And that kept Kyle in the sport a lot longer. I think that was a really good decision. So I’m all for it. But at the same time, FIG is making the team size smaller. So for the top nations, it’s really tough to be a specialist now. But for the middle and developing nations, yeah absolutely. Hungary will send Berki to every meet they can for as long as he’s willing to train pommel horse I think. And I think that’s really good for Hungary, I know really good for our sport.
BLYTHE: Yep, Berki is going to be 45 and in the Olympic pommel horse final. No doubt.
RICK: Oh I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s very tough to beat that guy, he’s genetically unique for that apparatus.
BLYTHE: Rick, one thing I think a lot of people don’t know about you is that you are a brevet level judge, correct?
RICK: Yes I was for years. And in 2006 I managed to miss the continental course. That was the course when we changed from the 10.0 to the open ended system we have now. So for about a year I was missing judging, and then I noticed I wasn’t missing judging too much. So I was, I think for two years I was in limbo or lapsed, and then I was not a judge in the last quadrennial. This quadrennial though our friend Steve Butcher became the men’s tech chair of the FIG so I got so inspired because I love Steve Butcher and I think he’s fantastic judge and leader that I got all inspired and registered and paid my own way to go to the continental course in judging. Managed to pass the course so I’m back on lists as a judge. We’ll see how active I am over the next four years.
BLYTHE: [LAUGHS] Ok. And you’ve been kind of critical of the open ended scoring system. You like the perfect 10, no?
RICK: Yes, much preferred it.
BLYTHE: And so you know given what we have now, what would’ve been some better alternatives to think Fink Code as it is?
RICK: Yes a lot of people have forgotten that back before Bruno Grandi stood up and said we’re going to adopt this, it was called the Fink Code and it was not popular. Nobody liked the idea. It was proposed by Hardy Fink and others in FIG when men’s tech chair. I remember the women’s tech committee unanimously saying, “We don’t want it.”
BLYTHE: What year was that?
RICK: Oh gosh, when the Fink Code was first being pitched?
BLYTHE: Yeah and when the women’s technical committee was saying, “We don’t want to go there.”
RICK: It was before Nelli Kim, so the chair was the American… oh, I’ve just forgotten her name, old age!
RICK: Yeah, Jackie Fie.
BLYTHE: Oh, Jackie Fie!
RICK: Jackie Fie was dead set against it. So, when Bruno Grandi – the way I saw things rolling out was historically all of the problems in judging were on the women’s side at the major international meets. Not many people paid attention to the men’s judging. And certainly when I was a FIG Judge in Japan, Australia, Commonwealth Games, there was no controversies. It was really easy to get right guys as finalists and get the awards podium ranked correctly. There wasn’t a lot of debate. Then in 2004, you remember, was the disaster on the men’s side and the women looked good.
BLYTHE: Oh, yeah!
RICK: So, it was because of that disaster at least five of the six finals were messed up, I thought.
RICK: That led to Bruno Grandi standing up and saying, “we’re gonna go to this new system that will be fairer for the highest level in sport”. Well, I don’t think that anybody thinks that the new system has been much better at getting the right people into the finals or the right finalists on the podium. I think this game could work. I have learned to like it on parallel bars, I think its worked really well. Uneven bars, I think our asymmetric bars is much more interesting and much better now under the current system than it was under the perfect 10 system, where it was easy to top out your difficulty. So, there’s pros and cons but my biggest dilemma in the sport right now is that the e-panel will not score a bad routine low or a high routine high, so there’s not enough gap in the execution score to identify that Uchimura doesn’t have any form breaks, and this other guy, he had a form break on every element!
JESSICA: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
RICK: I mean it’s a mess; it’s very, very disappointing for the best gymnasts. I remember sitting next to Blythe in the pommel horse final – 2010 pommel horse final. Eight guys went, eight guys hit, it was like a miracle of pommels. I would have given every guy 9.8/9.9.
RICK: Those were fantastic pommel routines, and I think the highest score was 9.1 in execution! So, we’ve evolved that a perfect routine gets 9.1 now. And you have to be – something strange has to happen to get the 9.3 or 9.35. So, I really think that’s where they’re going wrong. They need the best routine 9.5 and higher, and the need the weakest routines really low. You know, 6 points in execution.
JESSICA: I could not agree more! You just took the words right out of my mouth.
RICK: Oh, yeah.
JESSICA: I mean, the whole thing when Grandi pitched this was like, “Oh it’s going to be great because we’re going to have a World Record for difficulty”
JESSICA: Which they haven’t done. Nobody knows that. The All Around is the only website that even keeps track of that. And then they’re like, “Oh we’re still going to keep the perfect 10!” Well, but no! They haven’t. Maroney’s vault in freaking finals, in the team finals at the Olympics, come on!
JESSICA: It could have been at least a 9.9. Ugh Blythe, come on! 9.9 Blythe!
RICK: Now, Liukin’s 1 ½ twisting Yurchenko is also a perfect 10 to my mind. She got a 9.55, so at least that’s something, in Beijing. So, they will occasionally go to a 9.5 but there’s been – like most recently I was upset with the Chinese Champions bar routine. Maybe the best bar routine ever done, and what did they give her 8.55, 8.65, something like that?
JESSICA: Yeah, it’s criminal. It’s criminal.
RICK: Yeah. So, and you know I took the men’s judging course and I had to match the expert score on execution, so I was sort of seeing how you might end up in this trend to what we call boxing the scores. So the highest ones are lower and the lowest ones are higher, and then you can stay in range, so you’re not identified as cheating. The judges sometimes will not be sure if it should be an 8.5. They’ll go closer to what they think the average score will be so that they’re not out of range. That’s the only reason I can think of that these scores are so low at the high end on execution.
JESSICA: Yeah. Yeah, because it’s ridiculous and clearly – and I think you totally acknowledged what the problem is; people are terrified to be out of range.
RICK: Out of range, yeah.
JESSICA: Because then you get scrutinized and you can be penalized and there’s all this stuff, which is good, we should have that, but not to this degree. And also, you know, I think they’re totally missing the marketing opportunity that doing this kind of scoring presented because we could still have the 10.
JESSICA: That is what NCAA Gymnastics gets
RICK: They do that great!
JESSICA: That FIG is totally missing out on, so. Pfft!
RICK: Yeah, I’ve always thought that marketing – as we know the FIG communication department, it is fantastic! They’re doing such a good job. But their marketing department is a weak side.
RICK: We have this great product, it’s the number one TV draw every Olympics, yet they can’t seem to market that product with the World Cup Series. Yeah, they really need some marketing guru to get in there and figure out how to sell artistic gymnastics better.
BLYTHE: Do you have any ideas? The Professional Gymnastics Challenge which just happened seemed to be directed at doing just that.
RICK: Oh, yeah. And I love it. I’m 100% thrilled with that program despite the problems. You know it’s only the second year, but I think that’s exactly the direction to go with our name gymnasts. They made a conscious attempt to bring in Ponor and to bring in the older athletes because they want to keep them in the sport longer, too. I’m super happy with that initiative, and I think Brent Klaus and that group who are running that event are going to keep doing it until it works, and they’ve got a three year TV contract. So I think by the third year, if not this year, it’s going to be a real growing concern, and if it’s successful I’d love to see it turn into a circuit across North America and then across Europe. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that works.
BLYTHE: Excellent. And you know Jess, I think at this point I’m going to turn it over to you because I know we have some questions from our listeners on Twitter, and I think you have one more thing you’d like to ask as well?
JESSICA: Yes. Okay.
JESSICA: So Rick, I have to ask you since you were a coach and a judge during sort of the dark times of gymnastics, which is what we refer to the 80’s as…
RICK: Oh! [LAUGHS]
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] Dark times for fashion, dark times for [inaudible]
BLYTHE: Dark times for hair!
JESSICA: Did you know that there were documented cases of judges being bribed, people trying to bribe coaches, collusion between different countries to try get their gymnast on the podium. In fact, who was it? The Utah coach, Greg Marsden, refused to coach elite anymore after he was approached at the, was it ’89 I think, ’87, World Championships about colluding for some scores. So, when you were coaching and judging during that time did you ever see examples or were you ever approached, you know, did you ever have anything like this happen?
RICK: Um, no. Possibly I was lucky. But I do remember judging, a Korean judge who was not a judge, he was some sort of administrator because he didn’t know anything about gymnastics, he came over and tried to say, “Your boy very good high bar, or floor. My boy very good vault” and that’s about as far as I got. I just nodded, “Yes!”
RICK: Because what I found in men’s judging is men’s judges are pretty proud. They want to have the right score. I should mention the last perfect 10 in men’s artistic gymnastics was Canadian Chris [inaudible] on pommel horse. That’s the last time the e-score was a 10 for a male gymnast, so it was for one of the great Chinese pommel guys. Chris threw a 10, and when they called him in to rake him over the coals he said, “Tell me deduction and I’ll change my score” and they allowed him to keep that score as a 10 and scratched it because they couldn’t identify any specific deduction on that athlete. Anyway, no I’ve never seen or heard, but I wasn’t that, you know, as a coach or a judge at major international meets. I should say as a judge if you went out low on the athlete from your nation, you heard about it. It wasn’t like, you were fired or anything like that, but there was some pressure that the judge – so I’m a Canadian judge, when the Canadian athlete goes I should get the final score or be one tenth high, because they come around “Why are you killing our Canadian guys?!” It’s the only pressure I ever felt. Certainly I gave the correct score as I saw it anyway, even on the Canadian guys. So no, I have no good stories for you there.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] That was still interesting though. I think it kind of makes sense to me that the guys would have more of an ego about their gymnastics, because you definitely see this more from the male coaches, I mean I’m not talking about anybody specifically – Steve Nunno – but…
JESSICA: You know, but we definitely see it.
RICK: Oh, of every coach I dealt with, Steve Nunno was… uh… a classic. I only had a couple meets with him, but he was pretty bad at those events where I was with him.
JESSICA: Well, well I have to say there’s something…
RICK: It’s a good bad example for coaching.
JESSICA: Yes, exactly. We’ll just leave it at that. So we have a couple questions from our listeners and the first one is, what is the best gymnastics related experience you’ve had? So whether it’s as a gymnast or traveling, and what is your favorite way to participate in the sport now? I know you’ve even competed in some Masters meets now and then when you’re traveling. So, best experience and how do you participate now?
RICK: Okay, all my best times and best memories were as a young coach and a young judge, the first time we did things. I was a maniac, insufferable, worse than now so you can imagine as a young coach, and my region was in Canada the weakest city and the weakest region in the whole country. So we were building up from that, and so everything we did was a first. I remember going to my first Nationals to watch, and that was a huge thrill. And then my first Nationals to coach and that was my biggest thrill to that date. And then in the compulsory days my guys were first and fourth, boys, and that was a huge thrill. So, I have to say as a young coach. I don’t have any one specific memory, but that whole era. I assumed that I would be at Altadore Gym Club my whole life doing exactly what I loved every single day of the week. I loved to work seven days a week. So, those are all of my best experiences.
JESSICA: And do you still do gymnastics now and then?
RICK: You know I was very good about doing adult gym my whole life, until about the last eight years. I’ve been feeling very guilty, Jess. I’ve got to get back to it. Because for time spent doing fitness, I think artistic gymnastics or anything using your own body weight, even playground, so the last few days I’ve been doing conditioning on different playgrounds as I travel. I think that’s the most efficient, funnest, and easiest way to stay in muscular shape. So, yes I’ve almost always been the one running the adult program, locking the door after throwing out the last parkour guys. I love adult gymnastics to death and I do think we’ve probably got more adult gymnastics programs today than we’ve ever had, so it is a growing concern. Me, I love crossfit. If there’s anything better than adult gymnastics, its crossfit. It’s similar and booming, of course.
JESSICA: Yeah I agree, I really like crossfit. And I like that you get the team environment in crossfit which is really something…
RICK: Yep, more motivating.
JESSICA: Yep. I totally agree. I mean that’s the thing, you can do so much when you have a team around you. And that’s one thing I love about adult gymnastics, is you end up doing it with the same people for years and years and years and years. So the next question is from Anne Harrison, and it’s a really interesting question, I’ve always wondered about this. So, she says el grip on bars – I’m going to paraphrase here, but basically she wants to know if you have an opinion on beginning drills early, like the Chinese, and Russians, and WOGA seem like they do? Or is this something that if you start too early it will weaken girls’ shoulders? Should you only do this at a young age if they demonstrate the flexibility naturally to do this? And is there anything you can suggest to sort of help the US improve on this since it seems like we’re a little bit behind Russia and China. So, what’s your opinion, over-all, on this?
RICK: Well, this el grip it’s very important points in our coach education. All male gymnasts that want to reach a high level have to show el grip. It’s still a requirement despite quadrennial after quadrennial we hope men will take it out as a requirement because it’s damaging to the shoulders. Luckily, it’s not a requirement on the women’s side. So quite often I use the ratio, if we have 100 JO girls, only 10 of those 100 should do stalder endo, and probably only one of those should do el grip. I really think, yes it’s trainable, I’ve seen the boys kill themselves training it from a young age, but I think it damages the shoulder capsule. So I would say unless you’re genetically, naturally really good at el grip, leave that family. Do not do it in women’s artistic gymnastics. We’ve seen at WOGA and at China, they select the pre comps specifically that are flexible in the shoulders, so I think that’s why those programs have those kids, they were selected.
JESSICA: And so do you think for a coach who’s looking at this sort of shoulder flexibility, is this the kind of thing that you lay them on the ground and if they can hold the bar in el grip from a young age naturally then you work on it?
RICK: Oh, yeah. We test it, say in the FIG age group physical testing program, it’s a solid dowel. A little bit better with the solid dowel than the elastic, and we look at ratio of shoulder width versus hand width where they can easily and repeatedly in both directions [inaudible]. And if you’re not super comfortable with that shoulder width, I would say don’t train those elements on the women’s side. You can always do the Beth Tweddle routine.
JESSICA: Okay, one other topic I want to ask you on this topic. I’ve heard some coaches worry about gymnasts hand size being too small to safely do the level of gymnastics that they’ve reached. And they’ve talked about getting bigger size grip to compensate for how small their hands are, or you have to back off on bars until they grow enough so they can safely hold onto the bar. Have you heard about this before?
RICK: Oh, yeah.
JESSICA: Okay, so what do you think of that?
RICK: Many, many times. Our thinking in Canada is to have kids not wear grips for as long as possible, and do a lot of elements without grips to train their grip. In competitive gymnastics, I love grips and I can start them with girls and guys about age eight. We’ve seen what the Chinese girls with little hands do is they run the dowel longer because the dowel, or the little wooden part at the end of the grip is like the end of your fingers, the last point of friction on the bar. So you’ll see these Chinese gymnasts with their dowel way, way out there to try to get more pressure further around the bar. But overall, I think the whole issue of grips and hand size is a little bit exaggerated, a little bit of an excuse, because there are many, many tiny girls who do great bars with very small hands. So we know it’s possible to do it. On the boys side, no issue at all, the boys hang on very loosely on the rail, so they don’t need much friction to stay on.
JESSICA: Yes, I always thought about this. When I heard coaches talk about this I was like, but there’s a Chinese whole country and their like a quarter of a size of all of us, and they’re doing harder bars than we are, so.
RICK: Well one nice trend is there’s almost nobody left telling elite girls they can’t wear grips, Right? Because Romania’s now switched, I think most of the Russians switch at fairly young age now. So, I think we’ve entered an era where everybody’s going to wear grips on the women’s side.
JESSICA: Okay, can you tell our listeners where they can find you online, and then I hear your doing some free clinics this year, can you tell them about that, too?
RICK: Oh, I’m super excited about that! So, the American equipment company called Tumbl Trak is 25 years old this year. Of all the apparatus companies I love Tumbl Trak the best and I hang out with them as much as I can, because they don’t have any competitive equipment. No FIG approved equipment, everything they make is a training aid to make gymnastics safer, funner, easier, adult gymnasts want to be on the Tumbl Trak, like you do, Jess.
JESSICA: Yes, yes, yes.
RICK: So the company was wondering what they should do to celebrate their 25 anniversary, so they put together this series of free clinics. Gosh, I’m going to be one of the clinicians at three of those at least this summer. Us clinicians are going in as volunteers, we’re called Tumbl Trak Ambassadors. So we don’t get paid by Tumbl Trak, but they fly us around and treat us really, really well, they give us equipment. In fact, maybe I can reveal that Tumbl Trak has an amazing new product that’s coming out this year that’s going to be launched at the series of clinics, called the Laser Beam. You heard it here first, that will be standard technology for training beam within a couple of years.
JESSICA: Can you give us any hints about it or you’re just…
RICK: Nope! Sign up for the clinic, TumblTrak.com!
JESSICA: Okay. [LAUGHS]
RICK: And I will show you there, I think they want to save it for that series of camps. So I’m very excited about those! Now, you can find me on GymnasticsCoaching.com, or my new gymnastics site RecGymnastics.com which has yet to really take off, but I hope that one day that site is even bigger than GymnasticsCoaching.com, it’s a much bigger market of people.
JESSICA: And what’s your handle on Twitter?
RICK: Oh, good question. I have three, so we better go with @GymCoaching is my gymnastics twitter.
JESSICA: Awesome! Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. This is fascinating. I learned so much, and I got a lot of questions that have been brewing in my mind for years and I finally got to ask you. So this was fascinating, thank you so much!
RICK: And thank you for getting this podcast together, Jessica. Because on my phone I have no music, I only have podcasts and books on tape so
RICK: GymCastic is a highlight of my week!
JESSICA: Aww, thank you so much!
BLYTHE: It is wonderful to talk to you as always. And thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
RICK: Oh, you’re very welcome.
ANNOUNCER: Professional Gymnastics and ESPN present the Pro Gymnastics Challenge at Stabler Arena May 10th and 11th. See Olympic, World, and National champions compete in a skill for skill gymnastics battle that will electrify the audience. Friday, May 10th it’s the no borders competition. Saturday, May 11th it’s USA versus the world. Get your tickets now for the inaugural event at Stabler Arena. Visit professionalgymnastics.com for more info. That’s professionalgymnastics.com.
JESSICA: The Pro Gymnastics Challenge happened two weeks ago but it’s been on TV this whole week. It was on on Monday, it was on on Tuesday, and it’s going to be on today, that’s May 22nd on ESPN2. So your homework last week was to set your DVR and make sure you watch. If you missed it on TV it will be online, there is some helpful gymternet fan who has put the ESPN broadcast online and we have a link on our site, so you can watch it now. Why is this so important? Because next week we are going to have a panel discussion and we are going to talk all about this meet, what it means for gymnastics, what the future means, and we want your feedback on it. So, send us an email at GymCastic@gmail.com and tell us what you thought about the Pro Gymnastics Meet. And if you want to know what it was like to be there in person, check out Emma’s first person feedback and her review of the show, with pictures, from what her experience was like in the VIP area at the live event. So go check it out, and make sure to watch and do your homework for next week. Yay! Gymternet homework!
JESSICA: Okay, next week we’re going to discuss Canadian Championships and we’ll discuss some of the other meets that are happening. But I want to remind you guys that Gymnastics Canada is offering a live stream of the meets, and you can pick what apparatus you want to watch, so you can watch vault, you can watch floor, it’s fantastic. And we know, Victoria Moors threw her double twisting double layout, competed it this weekend. So check out our show notes and you can see hers and you can compare it to Mykayla Skinner’s. For all of you gym owners out there, or anyone who wants to promote your gym, or if you are a college gymnastics program or a small gym in a socialist country like we’ve been talking about and you don’t have a huge budget to promote your gym, there is a really exciting tool that you should know about. Google had their I/O Conference this week, and one of the things they unveiled is a new way to use Google Maps. I’ll put a link on the site so you guys can check this out and sign up. Basically, what the tool will do is allow you to create a virtual tour of your gym, of the inside of your gym, simply by taking pictures of the inside of your gym with your geo-tagging capability on, so your location marker on your phone enabled, or on your camera enabled, and just uploading those pictures. They gave an example of taking pictures of the inside of a church and what they did was they’re taking pictures that all different users have uploaded, and bringing all those pictures together to create a seamless virtual experience, like a 360 video almost, of the inside of these places. This is a major marketing tool for gyms and if I was a gym owner what I would do is I would have a bunch of my staff stand at the front of the entranceway of our gym with their hands out saying like, “Welcome to our gym!” and I would take a big series of pictures so that when you do the virtual tour of your gym it looks like there is a bunch of people welcoming you into the gym. And you could have people doing that on the beam waving hello. You could have kids swinging on one hand on the bar saying hello. It’s such an incredible tool and it’s free, it’s from Google. I’ll put a link up on the site, and if you guys try this, let me know. And if I find an example of a gym that’s doing this, or the some kind of club, I will put an example up. Someone’s got to do this. It’s such a cool thing. I can’t wait to see who tries it out. We talked about rankings and how The All Around hasn’t put up their rankings yet this year, but the fabulous Uncle Tim has put up his own ranking, the uterus rankings. So, you can see who’s winning the all-around rankings right now and who’s winning each apparatus. Check it out, you will not be disappointed, and it’s fascinating as always. You know I always say things are interesting and fascinating, but they really are to me! That’s really how I feel! So I know I use those words a lot, and now I feel bad forever for making fun of any commentators but yeah, it’s really exciting check it out. You can see who’s leading in the rankings and see how these rankings hold up as we go into the World Championship season later this year. I’m pleased to announce the winner of our contest for the Cloud & Victory poster of Afanasyeva. The winner is: Dylan Marshall of Ireland, of County Wicklow , Ireland. Thank you for your suggestion for Scott Bregman of USA Gymnastics of how to film podium training, I will pass on all of your suggestions. Thank you to everyone who entered the contest. Scott will get all of your suggestions. And Dylan, you are going to be getting a poster mailed to you in Ireland. I want to give a special shout out to Alyssa Nambiar for her suggestions, second place, incredibly detailed email and suggestions that she gave as well. So congratulations, Dylan!
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. Elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sportz with a z, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code gymcast.
JESSICA: Until next week, I want to remind you guys that you can contact us at GymCastic@gmail.com, don’t forget to give your feedback about the Pro Gymnastics Challenge. And if you have a non-gymnastics fan, because that’s really who this was made for who watched it with you, or gave you comments, or gave you feedback, tell us what they said, tell us what they thought. Because really, it has to be NFL fans and the X Games fans who are brought into the gymnastics experience by liking the ESPN show, so tell us if they had any feedback for you, GymCastic@gmail.com. You can call the show. Call into the show and leave us a message, 415-800-3191! And if you are abroad you can call in using Skype at username GymnasticsPodcast. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Google+. And remember you can find a transcript of every show on our site. Of course, you can visit the show notes to check out the routines that we’re talking about and follow along. Did you know that you can get GymCastic delivered right to your inbox? Yes! Just sign up using the subscribe box on the side navigation of our homepage and each episode will be emailed to you. Thank you to everyone who supported the show by donating, and thank you so much for our sponsors and everyone who has rated us on iTunes, or downloaded the Stitcher app because we are picking up a mixer. And by that I mean I am picking up the mixer, and I’m extremely, extremely excited about it and our audio is going to approve going forward, and that is all 100% due to you guys. So thank you, thank you, thank you! You can also support the show by recommending the show to another person, maybe a grown up like us who’s just as obsessed with gymnastics as you are! Hmm! Until next week, I’m Jessica from Masters-Gymnastics.com
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from the Gymnastics Examiner
RICK: And this has been Rick McCharles from GymnasticsCoaching.com
JESSICA: Thank you so much for listening, see you guys next week!