JAKE: It wasn’t always even gymnastics stuff. We would watch skateboarding, and we would try all those tricks that the skateboarders and snowboarders were doing but on tramp. It really built a solid foundation of air sense for me.
—[[“EXPRESS YOURSELF” INTRO MUSIC]]
JESSICA: This week, 2012 Olympian Jake Dalton on being a sex symbol and what new skills he’s training. Our expert panel reviews the Pro Gymnastics Challenge, and Blythe brings us news of the scandal in Germany.
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 35 for May 29, 2013. I’m Jessica from Masters-Gymnastics.com
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
LAUREN: I’m Lauren from thecouchgymnast.com
EVAN: I’m Evan, former University of Michigan gymnast and Twitter gymnastics commentator
JESSICA: This is the world famous and only gymnastics podcast ever, starting with the top news from around the gymternet. Blythe, this week has been riddled with scandal. Tell us what’s happening.
BLYTHE: Riddled with scandal. Riddled with scandal, Jess. Especially in Germany. Or, as I like to call it, what happens when there is a miscarriage of judging. Who wins? Nobody. But as you have probably read around the gymternet, there was a bit of a flap at the German National Championships which were won by Fabian Hambuchen and Elisabeth Seitz by the way. But this actually took place during the individual event finals on men’s floor. And what happened was Fabian Hambuchen, he went up, he did his floor exercise, he received I believe a 15.1. And what happened was the judges credited a 1.5 twist that he did in one of his passes as a B. It’s a C. And that knocked down his D score by .1. So really he should’ve had a 15.2. He was credited with a 15.1. And then what happened was there is a rule. And the rule states if you’re going to protest a score, the gymnast can’t do it, the coach has to do it. And the coach has to do it before the gymnast who goes up after the gymnast who is protesting the score finishes their floor routine. This didn’t happen and apparently there’s been some back and forth as to why this didn’t happen. Hambuchen himself complained to the head judge but as the rule is your coach has to complain. And his father Wolfgang who is his coach says that he tried to complain but he didn’t get there in time. He was blocked by security. Something like that. So anyway and I believe that the official protest was filed after the next gymnast up had started competing- had finished their floor routine. And so you know in both places the rule was broken. So even if technically Hambuchen is in the right and it was the judging that is wrong, because of the ways the rules are situated, it’s kind of like tough luck. So what happened was his teammate Matthias Fahrig, one of the bouncier kids in Europe who was the 2010 European floor champion by the way. And looking quite good this season as well. So Matthias goes up and he gets a 15.15. Not as good as the 15.2, I should say as Hambuchen should have had but still good enough because Hambuchen’s score has been knocked down, you know to take the title. However it turns into a big thing and they end up giving it to Hambuchen anyway. They raise his score in spite the fact that the rules were broken. And so Hambuchen is credited with the win. And then after the medal ceremony they lower the score. So in the history book it will be Fahrig who has the win. And this pisses off Hambuchen, this pisses off Fahrig, although they were both very polite with the media and they said, “Alright our problem was with the judging, it was not with- it’s nothing between us.” And so that was the German Nationals. And I mean I guess this is just what happens when it goes a little wrong, the judging. The judges are human.
JESSICA: There needs to be a spirit of the law rule. Like we know we did the wrong thing so let’s just do the right thing even if the other rules weren’t followed.
BLYTHE: Well I think it was a very creative solution. You know in the moment Hambuchen gets the glory and in the history books Fahrig is credited as the winner. Does that make either guy happy at the moment? Well no not really. But what can you do at the end of the day.
JESSICA: There you go. So this morning the FIG released some shocking news, I think it’s kind of harsh. What happened there?
BLYTHE: Well you know as you might remember from the Olympic Games, Uzbekistan’s Luiza Galiulina, she was their sole qualifier to the 2012 Olympics. And she basically during podium training in London they had a doping control and her sample came back positive. And that was on July 25. And on August 1 they got the B sample back and that was also positive for furosemide, which is this diuretic which is- it’s an interesting diuretic. It’s actually used in the US to treat hypertension and some things like that. And random fact that I got from Wikipedia-ing it, it is used also to keep racehorses from bleeding through the nose as they run.
BLYTHE: Yeah, yeah. That’s a fun fact for the day.
BLYTHE: And so you know gymnasts take this every now and again when they want to lose some weight. The wildcard from Thailand from the 2008 Olympics, she was banned from the Olympic Games when she tested positive during training. And it was just a shame. And Diane dos Santos from Brazil in 2009, she was way out of competition, she was recovering from surgery and what not, and she tested positive and was given a six month suspension from competition which didn’t affect her at all because she wasn’t in competition at the moment.
JESSICA: And I should say this. I mean diuretics, they dehydrate you, they don’t help you. I mean so you lose water weight which is like the worst thing ever for an athlete. So just this is ridiculous. So anyone that’s listening to this and like, “Oh is this a great idea?” Like this is just- it’s such a bad idea. And it’s if you’re in a sport where you have to make weight, then that is the kind of thing where people would use this. But even they wouldn’t because it’s ridiculous. But it’s just a stupid stupid thing to do and it shocks me that anyone ever does this anymore. I mean it’s just basically they want to look better
JESSICA: And you can’t train well when you’re dehydrated so it’s just stupid.
BLYTHE: Yeah and as for Galiulina and really everybody else who’s been busted for furosemide in the past few years, you look at them and you’re like, “You don’t need to lose any water weight.” But apparently they think they do. And so Galiulina, she was stripped of her badge to enter the Olympic Village which is what they do, and she was banned from the Games. And she didn’t compete and it was very sad. And it was really too bad for Uzbekistan. And then November the FIG, having investigated the situation, handed her a six month competition ban from FIG competition retroactive to the date of her positive sample. So the positive sample was August 1, 2012, and so in theory she could’ve competed February 1, 2013 again. However what happened was- so that was the FIG sanction. Six months, ok. Which in the six months after the Olympic Games, that’s nothing. That’s a slap on the wrist barely. And I guess and they seemed to figure that she didn’t get to participate in the Olympic Games and that’s kind of punishment enough if that’s what you’ve worked for for the last four years and that seems reasonable. And it was the World Anti Doping Agency that came back and said no we want to crack down and we think that her ban should be two years from international competition. And so you had the FIG on one side saying, “She didn’t get to do the Olympics, let her compete again, that was punishment enough.” And you have the World Anti Doping Agency saying, “No no, we have to crack down. Doping is not a good thing and they need to be taught a lesson. And so we say two years.” And what happened was, the FIG and the World Anti Doping Association went to court. They took it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is in Switzerland. And what happened this morning was I believe the court handed down a decision. And the court sided with the World Anti Doping Agency. Her two year suspension stands. And it’s two years retroactive from August 1. And so she will not be able to compete internationally again until August 1, 2014. Which you know if she wants to is doable. She won’t miss the 2014 World Championships which will be one of the steps to qualifying to the 2016 Olympics if she wants. But you know she also did the Olympics in 2008. She’s a seasoned Olympian. She’s been arguably one of the leaders of the Uzbek team and she is a very international class gymnast. And so the whole thing just it seems like a shame. And I think there’s a lot of, at the moment, people talking about is this fair. And I don’t know, what do you guys think? What is fair? Is it enough that you don’t get to go to the Olympics and you don’t get to have the Olympic experience and you don’t get to compete? Or should there be more?
JESSICA: I hate this. I think it’s way way way too strict. Especially for something that’s just basically- I mean I know you can die from dehydration, it’s serious, you can really abuse this. But not in gymnastics. That’s very very very unusual and I think it’s way too harsh for this. And really what’s happening is that someone has problem with their body image. That’s really what this is. Or they have insane crazy coaches. So I just think it’s way too harsh. Especially when you see- you have a world champion like dos Santos and it doesn’t affect her at all because she’s out of season. There needs to be something that’s more across the board with this. I mean yes it’s serious you shouldn’t be allowed to do it, but then again you have sports like boxing and wrestling and judo where everyone is cutting weight like this. They’re not using a drug to do it, but they’re all cutting weight to a seriously dangerous level. So it’s just, I think it’s too harsh.
BLYTHE: I don’t really know what to think honestly. I tend to agree with the FIG actually that not getting to compete in the Olympic Games like the worst thing you can do to a gymnast. And I’m sorry especially when you have a gymnast like her who is probably earning at least portion of her income based off of World Cup meets, you’re taking the ability to do that away. Of course you don’t want to encourage gymnasts to use furosemide, but they really don’t seem to be doing that anyway. At least not in artistic gymnastics, just a little in rhythmic gymnastics. But you know and so I don’t know if it’s that much of an issue. So I would tend to agree that this is kind of an extreme measure. And I’m just sorry for her. She’s a quite good gymnast.
JESSICA: Yeah it’s really sad. Especially for that country when it means so much for them.
BLYTHE: Yeah and these Uzbeks have- they have a national team and now they have Oksana Chusovitina and that’s really going to lift them up. But between Chusovitina, Galiulina, Daria Elizarova, the 2006 junior European Champion back when she competed for Russia. And they have a couple other just kind of good leadoff gymnasts. They’re not a bad team. And so i hope Galiulina kind of hangs in there if that’s what she wants.
JESSICA: And finally of course we cannot end the news without talking about how Victoria Moors broke the internet at Canadian Championships. She threw her laid out double double in prelims and in finals. She put her hand down in prelims, and she didn’t have a great landing in finals either, but we have a video up of that you can see. Rick from Gymnastics Coaching who was on last week, he put the video up so you can see both back to back. And it’s just really exciting to see that skill. And she wasn’t really feeling well so she didn’t finish the meet. But it was a great Championships. Canada’s just looking fantastic so we’re excited to see what else this year will bring for them. So we have the video up on our site and Rick has a bunch of videos up on his site and great coverage of Canadian Championships.
BLYTHE: Today’s interview with Jake is brought to you by TumblTrak. I recently started doing gymnastics again after throwing my back out two months ago, and I am so glad- no, grateful, that there’s a TumblTrak in my gym. I was told to take it easy to protect my back, and having a TumblTrak has allowed me to do just that. It totally minimizes the pounding the body takes and has allowed me to gain confidence as I regain my old skills. I worked out just last night and am completely pain free today, and I couldn’t be happier as a result. Visit tumbltrak.com, that’s www.tumbltrak.com for more information. TumblTrak, more reps, less stress.
BLYTHE: 2012 Olympian Jake Dalton has been on a roll ever since returning from the London Games. The NCAA all-around champion from the University of Oklahoma was first at Winter Cup this year and had what was arguably the best meet of his senior career to grab his first big international all-around title at the American Cup in March. Jake is calling in today from Flip Fest, the fantastic gymnastics camp run by John Roethlisberger and John Macready to talk about what is happening in his life right now in and out of the gym. Jake, thank you so much for taking the time today. We wanted to go back a little bit at the beginning of your own gymnastics career. And we looked at your resume, so to speak, and Wanda Fredericks is listed as one of your coaches at Gym Nevada. And we were thinking it’s kind of rare for male gymnasts in the US to have a female coach. And so we were wondering, you know especially since you’re really well known for having beautiful form, beautiful toe point, what did a woman coach bring to your gymnastics?
JAKE: Actually she was- for me I think she was really really good at allowing me to learn my airsense basically. We did a lot of trampoline and a lot of tumbltrak so maybe something you wouldn’t really expect out of a women’s coach. You would think maybe those lines probably came from her. But you know I think I got most of my airsense from being young and just kind of playing around on trampoline and just kind of goofing around. And we used to play games on tumbltrak like a sticking game. So the harder skill you did and if you stuck it, the more points you go. So just things like that that allow me to use my airsense nowadays on floor and vault. Pretty much every event but mainly those two, it’s really really helped me excel on those just to know where I am at all times and help me learn new skills just because I knew where I was in the air and things like that.
BLYTHE: I see. Do you feel like that’s something that came naturally? Or did you really have to work at it?
JAKE: I think it came natural just because of how much of the trampoline and stuff we did. I wasn’t sitting there necessarily trying to do all these things. It wasn’t always even gymnastics stuff. We would watch skateboarding, and we would try all those tricks that the skateboarders and snowboarders were doing but on tramp. It really built a solid foundation of airsense for me. And I really didn’t think anything about it.
BLYTHE: I see. And is it true that your parents ended up buying the gym where you were training?
JAKE: Yes they actually they took it over right after I decided to stick with gymnastics, I want to say nine or 10 years old. And they had never done gymnastics so it was kind of something new for them. But my dad was- he knows just the basics about business and owning a business so he kind of took that aspect of it. And my mom had coached, taught a little bit and she kind of inched her way into the boys team and taught younger boys and she still does here and there. So over the years they’ve definitely progressed but yeah they kind of dove into it blindfolded and took it over and still run it today.
BLYTHE: That’s quite a commitment especially for a family that has no gymnastics background like that. Did they just really like the sport?
JAKE: I think so. And the owner was about to sell it and they just thought that they wanted to keep things the way they were because I was doing so well and coach Wanda Fredericks was there and we wanted to keep her in the gym. So there were just so many things that they didn’t want to lose and they decided they knew the owners really well and they were really good friends with my coach so they kind of talked it over with them and eventually took it over and it became their full-time job. And I think they enjoy it still to this day.
BLYTHE: Cool. And at what point did gymnastics become a very serious activity for you if you know what I mean? Sometimes people have kind of benchmarks where they get a skill or they get to a certain competition and it kind of clicks like, “Oh, this could be something that really takes me places.” Did you have a moment or anything like that? Or was it something that sort of happened more serendipitously?
JAKE: I think it kind of happened on its own, but it was- I made junior national team when I was about 14 or 15, 14 I think. And it was back in 2007 and I was at a national team camp. And when I was a little bit older I think I was about 16 or 17 and I learned my vault, which is either- it’s a Kas to a full. And so once I learned that actually at national team camp and the first time I did it on the hard ground was at national team camp. And I didn’t really expect to do it there, I was kind of playing with it in the pit and my coach was like, “Hey just try it over here.” And we tried it. And a lot of the national team coaches were excited because it was the first 7.0 since I think Justin Spring had tried it before he hurt his knee. So we were excited just to get the ball rolling on the 17.0 vaults which is now a 16.0 vault for the US. And then I landed it that same year at qualifiers and at USA Championships, and that same year I went on to Worlds. So that was definitely a good start and a good year for me, where everything kind of turned over and it really took off.
BLYTHE: And this was 2009 is that correct?
BLYTHE: Right. And what was that experience like for you at Worlds in 2009? Being really this young rookie on the US team with two fantastic vaults.
JAKE: It was definitely new and a good learning experience for me. And just kind of went out there and was hoping to soak it all in no matter how I did. And was really hoping to be able to make finals on vault, and I actually ended up getting sick there so that didn’t really help anything at all. But it was awesome to be able to go over there, got my toes a little bit wet and see how World Championships work, and just to kind of get the feel of the international competition. And actually the week before I went to London they sent me to a Japan International to get some more experience. So those couple weeks was definitely doing a lot of traveling and getting a lot of experience at a young age. And it’s done nothing but help me now. But looking back it was just really really fun to be there, really exciting, and has definitely just helped me understand just how the international community works.
BLYTHE: Have you taken a different approach to competition, at all, as compared to when you were that young guy in 2009?
JAKE: Yeah I definitely just try and take basically everything that I’ve done, look back on , and I try and take that and just put it into a positive mindset in my head. You know when I go to compete I like to be mentally strong and just try and be positive. I don’t want to be overly positive and psych myself out, but I also- you have to be confident when you compete. So just kind of looking back on those things, World Championships when we medaled as a team, and even this last year at the Olympic Games. Just kind of trusting yourself and all that hard work that you’ve put in, I’ve just basically got to trust that. So I think that’s the only thing that’s really changed when I go to compete ist hat I try to be confident and you know just make sure I’m there mentally and ready to go, and that’s pretty much what’s been any different really.
BLYTHE: I see. And you made the Olympic team and you were kind of thought of as a guy who was a potential finalist on floor, a potential finalist on vault, a guy who’d gotten very good on rings, very good on high bar. But it wasn’t really I thought until the American Cup this year that you really had a breakout performance as an all-around gymnast. And can you tell us what that was like for you to live through that competition and to wind up on top when you have really eight international superstars competing?
JAKE: Yeah no it was a really exciting time. And I wasn’t sure if I was going to do all-around at Winter cup. And just about a month or two months before we kind of decided to do all-around and start getting back into it pretty quickly. So once I went to Winter Cup and did well, I got the offer to do American Cup so I was excited about that. And yeah I mean I knew for me I feel like I’ve always been a decent all-around but obviously pommel horse has kind of not helped me score as high as Danell or Jon or those guys. So I was really trying to focus on getting that together. And I think that’s one of the things- that’s why it wasn’t so apparent before the Olympic Games. I knew I wasn’t going to be competing pommel horse at the Olympics so I really just tried to focus on those other five events. So you know after the Olympics I was able to focus on pommel horse a little more and able to get my circle a little bit better, and I think that’s really, along with training some other events and trying to get some new skills in there, it’s really all just got put together and hopefully continue on the same path.
BLYTHE: Tell us why you decided to go to Oklahoma. I’m sure you had offers from you know all of the big NCAA schools. What was it about Oklahoma that sold you?
JAKE: For me it was- there was a few things. Obviously the team chemistry there was a big thing for me. Those guys all seemed like they got along really well. We did a scavenger hunt when we were there and it was a lot of fun. So team chemistry was really cool. When they’re in the gym they’re goofing off but they’re having fun working hard and they’re getting stuff done. So you know it wasn’t too serious but it wasn’t laid back. So that was another thing. Then just the fact that there had been national team athletes there that had done school, and international competition was a big factor for me because I wanted to continue on my international gymnastics path basically along with doing college. So the fact that they work with you so well doing that and balancing those both was a big upside for me.
BLYTHE: I see. And as you prepared for the Olympics, what was it like training with Steven Legendre, who was also preparing for the Olympics? And as it turned out with you guys both being floor/vault guys, with those both being your specialities, your main competition really for making the team.
JAKE: Yeah it was a lot of fun. It’s obviously really hard because we’re both good on floor and vault and you know we were hoping we’d both be able to make it. But Steve was awesome. He was helping me throughout the whole thing. We kind of coached each other when we were doing routines and stuff like that, sliding mats, and we were just good teammates training all the way through it. And even after the Olympic team and it was really hard just because he had helped me so much ever since I got to college so I was hoping we could both make it. You don’t want to be that one selfish where you just want to make it, and you don’t want to be selfish where he just makes it. You just want the best for both of you guys, and he had just done a lot since I got to college to help me. Especially on floor and kind of fixing some technique on things. And but he was awesome. He was the first one to give me a big hug after they called my name for the Olympic team and he’s been really cool. And we still hang out all the time, and we train together. And I always tell people that I think he handled not making the competing Olympic team a lot better than I probably would’ve. But that’s the kind of person he is. He’s excited for you no matter what because that’s just how good of a person he is. So, but it was a lot of fun training with him, I wouldn’t want to train with anyone else. And that’s why we’re still training together.
BLYTHE: Now the Olympic Trials process, it was just such an amazing few nights there in San Jose. And I couldn’t believe that they- you competed, you did two days worth of routines, then you guys all had to sit there for an entire night while they deliberated. And then the next morning I guess they got everybody together and they said, “You, you, you, you, and you.” What was it like to live through that last night after you were done but still waiting for that final confirmation?
JAKE: It was definitely nerve wracking. I remember almost being more nervous getting up in the morning and just waking up kind of early and wanting to go to that meeting but kind of have to wait around. I think we had it probably around, it was either 9 or 10 or 11 or something like that and I was probably up at like 6:30 waiting around. But yeah I just remember feeling like I had to throw up because I was so nervous. You’ve done everything you could basically and you’re just waiting on them and hoping that your name was going to be called. So it was definitely nerve wracking but there was nothing you could do, it was all over. So you felt a little bit better but still very anxious and really really hoping you made the team.
BLYTHE: Yeah. And when you returned to Oklahoma after the Olympic Games, what was it like going back to school? Were you recognized on campus a lot?
JAKE: Well actually as soon as I came back we had about a week or two and then we went to tour. So as soon as I came back we left basically and started training for the tour and did shows so I wasn’t really back to campus very quick. And you know but I came back for about a week and I went shopping and there were some people in Sam’s Club that just kind of walked over and were like, “Hey we watched you, congrats that’s awesome, we were pulling for you.” So it was really cool to have people you didn’t know just in the store to come up to you and congratulate you and basically let you know that they supported you while you were over there and stuff. But yeah I took that next semester off while we did tour because it was going to be pretty strenuous and just very busy. So I just got back- just finished my last semester and I’m doing some summer school nwo. And most of my stuff is online so I’m not actually on campus too much. So yeah I haven’t had too much on campus doing anything like that, but you know so it’s been pretty normal for me. Just been very busy.
BLYTHE: Ok. And so you just finished up last semester, and when will you be graduating?
JAKE: That, you know, it kind of depends how fast I can get done and kind of how my schedule goes. I’m not in any rush. I was going to try to finish this December, but with traveling and being out of the country two to three weeks at a time, it’s really hard to take full courses while I’m doing that. Especially because when I’m out training and competing I try to focus just on my gym so I can put everything out there. So right now it may take about two more semesters. I may finish up after the fall next year. But yeah it just kind of depends. I’m taking it a little bit slower so I can make sure I do my school well and I can also train internationally and compete internationally.
BLYTHE: Definitely. And you know now after your junior year I believe, you won the NCAA title and that was awesome. And then you decided with the Olympics coming up and maybe some opportunities that you had that you would be done with NCAA. And I gotta ask, was it difficult to give up your NCAA eligibility?
JAKE: Yes absolutely. You know competing with those guys was some of the best times I’ve ever had. And those guys are- it’s just like a big family there. So having to do that, I think everybody understood. I talked to people about it. Talked to my coach, my family, and it definitely was a very big decision but it was something I just had to do for myself to kind of- you know the opportunities after the Olympics, I just wanted to enjoy everything and take it all in, enjoy the whole experience, and be able to start basically my life after that. So there’s things you have to give up, but there’s definitely things after that you got in return for your accomplishments and things like that. So it’s definitely was one of the toughest decisions, but it was something I just did for myself. And everybody understood that and they stood behind me, so I couldn’t be more thankful for that.
BLYTHE: Definitely. And what brought you back to Oklahoma if you weren’t going to be competing for the team anymore and you could do most of your course online. Why did you choose to come back and live there?
JAKE: You know there’s just really no place I’d rather be. The training, the equipment, the coaches, the guys there, everything’s perfect there for me. And it’s just for training it’s perfect. Our gym’s fantastic. I’ve got a great training partner, Steve and I train together and I also am able to train with the guys a little bit being a volunteer coach. So you know just to have that type of skill training with you all the time and all those guys training with you and having Mark as our coach, it’s just training basically couldn’t be any better. And I had those guys as friends outside of the gym. I have now my fiance who is there as well and she’s doing school. So everything worked out perfectly from gymnastics to my personal life outside of gym to just enjoying Oklahoma and being near a college town in a quiet small town. But it was just everything basically worked out perfect for me.
BLYTHE: That’s awesome. And congratulations on engagement by the way. We have a lot of listeners who tweeted at us and they would like to know if you wouldn’t mind sharing about the story of how you guys got engaged.
JAKE: Yeah absolutely. So actually there’s a place called Turner Falls, it’s about an hour away from where I live. And we’ve always wanted to go there a lot of us, guys on the team Kayla and I have wanted to go there, Steve wanted to go there. So finally I was like, “Let’s plan a trip. Let’s rent a cabin out there for the weekend. I don’t have to miss any training because I can train Friday morning, we leave Friday and can come back Sunday before we go to practice again.” So we’re like hey, Steve and I planned a trip to take his now wife Alaina and Kayla out there just to have some fun, kind of relax, and just be able to camp out a little bit. Kind of see the scenery that we’ve never got to see before. So and I ended up having the ring and I was going to plan basically going out there, check everything out, and I knew I wanted to do it by this really gorgeous waterfall out there. So it was kind of funny the first night we were there was Friday night, and I was going to check everything out with all of them, check out the waterfall basically and see if there’s a good spot to do it and how to do it. And I decided to take the ring with me just in case Friday night, which was actually a good thing because Saturday night there was just tons of people out there. So it kind of worked out Friday there was nobody there and we went out and we found the waterfall and it was beautiful out. And we took some pictures of Steve and Alaina by the waterfall just casually and I basically just wanted to surprise Kayla. So she had no idea that it was coming. So we were just out there taking pictures by the waterfall and ended up just kind of getting down on one knee and doing it there basically. And she was pretty surprised. And I ended up getting my whole sweatpants wet from getting down onto one knee or whatever. But I tried to surprise her as much as I could and make it so we got some pictures out by the waterfall and everything like that.
BLYTHE: That is an awesome story! And how is Kayla doing by the way? In terms of her back, how is she doing?
JAKE: Yeah, yeah.
BLYTHE: Yeah, I’m sure she’s over the moon [LAUGHS]
JAKE: Yeah, she’s doing great. She’s just got clear to do a little more running. She was cleared for running two minutes at a time and then she would have to walk, and then she could run for two minutes. So, she’s actually doing really good now. She can work out more, she’s pretty normal. There’s still things she can’t do, she can’t lift a lot of weights and things like that, but she’s pretty much almost fully recovered. So it’s been definitely a hard process for her, but she’s gotten through it like a champ and she’s doing really good now.
BLYTHE: I bet it was hard on you, too. Having to wonder and not know exactly what was going to happen.
JAKE: Yeah, it was definitely scary. It shows you that anything can happen at any moment, so don’t take life for granted and really just appreciate everything.
BLYTHE: That’s a great philosophy. Oh, we wanted to ask you also about your clothing company, Mesomorphic. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
JAKE: Yeah, absolutely. I actually just came up with that. I was watching a TV show, Shark Tank, I don’t know if you guys have ever seen it. I was watching that, and it’s just basically a lot of people who either have inventions, or business ideas, or they have a business going, and they partner with basically these millionaires to help them grow their business and things like that, and it’s just really about entrepreneurs and stuff like that. So it was basically before the Olympics and I was just at home, I wasn’t too busy doing classes or anything. To keep my mind off of gymnastics so much, I started designing some t-shirts and kind of just got the whole idea going and basically started it up. And some of my friends thought it was a really cool idea, so it was kind of something fun for me to do that I could design shirts that I thought were cool and it kind of took off from there. Now I have a few sweatshirts, some women’s shirts, hoodies, a few cellphone cases, things like that. So, it’s just fun for me to do kind of on the side and also lets fans have a part of something that I do. It’s pretty fun for me to do something outside of the gym.
BLYTHE: It’s a nice sideline. Have you always been artistic?
JAKE: Um, actually I don’t think so, not really.
JAKE: You know I just started getting into it. You know obviously everybody picks out the type of clothing that they like to wear and things like that, so I just basically created all these t-shirts in styles that I liked. I’ve always had some ideas for t-shirts, so it was kind of cool to be able to put those on paper, get them designed up and be able to print them. It’s been pretty fun so far.
BLYTHE: That’s awesome! Where are you, by the way, in your training right now? We just saw you at the Pro Gymnastics Challenge, and that looked awesome. What are you prepping for, Nationals and Worlds, hopefully?
JAKE: Yeah, definitely. Right now, kind of…I’m basically right before I start getting into more routines and stuff like that. So I was really just trying to learn some new skills, or get some sequences and things like that put together. So after I’m coaching this camp, and then I’m coaching IGC in about a week. So after that, once I get back home, it’s really dig down and start doing two a day trainings and getting back into routines, and just basically gear up for U.S. Championships and hopefully World Championships as well.
BLYTHE: Definitely. And talk to us a little bit about the Pro Gymnastics Challenge. What was your motivation to do the meet?
JAKE: That was, it was pretty fun. That was mostly just to go and do some fun skills, and just kind of try and grow – for me I want to just grow the audience for gymnastics. It was a way to get nervous and go compete, but it wasn’t a whole routine so you didn’t have to be in as good of shape as you would something like the U.S. Championships, obviously. But it was a fun way to get your nerves going, just to get in that mindset again. It was a cool way for people who don’t normally watch gymnastics to kind of get involved with the sport a little bit, where they don’t have to understand all of the rules and all of the skills, but they could see one or two big ones and think it was really cool and compare it to the next person. So that was something that I was trying to do, was trying to grow it for all of the fans and even those who never really watch gymnastics.
BLYTHE: We talk an awful lot about what men’s gymnastics needs to do in order to attract a wider fan base, and I’ve got to ask you, if you could change one thing about the sport, whatever it would be, what would you want to change?
JAKE: Um, if I could change one thing… You know, I don’t know. That’s a good question, hmm.
BLYTHE: Getting rid of pommel horse?
JAKE: Yeah, that would definitely help me out a little bit. [LAUGHS] It just depends which way you’re looking at it, whether there’s a skill or sequences that you wanted to take of out of gymnastics or if it’s something that goes all the way to the competition apparel we wear. But I’ve always thought it would be really cool to compete in a pair of workout shorts, not something like basketball shorts where they’re too baggy, but something where you can still see your knees and your toes, obviously. But I thought it would be cool to not have to wear a tank or a shirt or something like that, because that’s pretty much how we all workout, is just in workout shorts and I thought it would be a little bit cooler. It’s kind of like the up and coming UFC, the fighting championships and stuff like that, where they fight in just boardshorts, or just little workout shorts, things like that, and you can see people’s tattoos, or I just feel like it’s a little more personable for the fans who like to watch, just things like that. You know it’s also hard to change, it’s kind of like taking wrestling out of the Olympics, we’ve always worn our competition apparel and its part of the sport. But you know, it’s kind of the like PGC, that’s how we dressed up and it was a lot of fun.
BLYTHE: I see. Maybe you could design some board shorts that could be adopted in gymnastics!
JAKE: Exactly! There we go, that’s a good call. If I went to the federation I’m not sure they’d like that.
BLYTHE: I think you could try! Start something on Twitter and get people tweeting about it, and then it will just snowball from there.
JAKE: There we go! [LAUGHS]
BLYTHE: So was the National Team okay with you participating in the Pro Gymnastics Challenge? Were they like, “Don’t you dare get hurt! You’re a National treasure!”
JAKE: Yeah, they’re definitely – that was their concern. Make sure that if we were going to do it, to not push the limits, to not get hurt. But they were behind it, they were tweeting about it. They were trying to get people to watch it because they also want people to watch the sport, enjoy the sport, and they’re trying to grow it also. They were kind of supporting it, in the same way they were making sure that we were being safe and just doing things – that we weren’t pushing our comfort level too much. But other than that, they were supportive and they thought it was cool, and they asked us how it went. We’re trying to just all basically put our hands in and grow the sport.
BLYTHE: I see. And I don’t want to ask you to give away state secrets here, but could you give us a little taste of some of the things you’re working on in the gym right now that we might not have seen you do yet?
JAKE: Yeah, a new side pass on floor, I’m trying to get a 2.5 double front on floor. Just because I know the floor at World Championships is going to be pretty bouncy, so I’m trying to up the start value on floor a little bit just to get things going there, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to put this routine together for our AAI floors, so we’ll see how that goes. That and just doing a whip double Arabian pike on floor, that’s probably a little easier than the 2.5 double front. So just trying to get some things in there that I can get a higher start value on floor. I’ve been working, obviously, some front handspring front vaults. I’m trying to decide between trying either or a Randi or front double front half. They’re both really, really hard vaults, especially for me because I’m used to doing a Tsuk or Kas vault, so I’m really just trying to understand the front vaults a little bit better, so trying to decide on one of those two that I’m going to be doing for the next U.S. Championships hopefully.
BLYTHE: I see. And are you training by any chance a triple twisting double layout?
JAKE: I’ve done some of those, like off tumble rods into the pit and stuff like that – into mats in the pit. But landing backwards hurts kind of floor, so I would not want to do that and land short on floor, I’m not sure I’d be able to walk away from that one.
BLYTHE: I see.
JAKE: So I’m not sure, yeah. I continue to train them, I did some today on the rod floor here at Flip Fest, but you know rod floor and floor is definitely different.
BLYTHE: Yeah, totally! Has it always been that way for you? That it hurts to land backwards? Because now that I think about it you do, you do land most of your passes forwards.
JAKE: Yeah, when I was younger it hurt, but not too bad. But after a few short landings and a few short vaults, it gets kind of worse over the years. So I used to compete a laid out double double on floor, and even after that it hurts. Especially after you don’t do it for a while and then you start doing it again and it starts hurting again, and so I really just try to do things on floor that doesn’t hurt too bad.
BLYTHE: Mm-hmm. And you’ve been pretty injury free most of your career, or do I have that wrong?
JAKE: Yeah I’ve been pretty lucky so far, knock on wood.
BLYTHE: Knock on wood.
JAKE: I had surgery when I was 14 on my knee, I tore my patella tendon. So that was probably one of the biggest things for me. A few things here and there obviously, but that was the only real big surgery that I had to come back from, so other than that I’ve been pretty healthy and trying to stay on top of those things.
BLYTHE: Cool. We got a Twitter question, were you born with naturally beautiful toe point, or did someone have to sit on your feet?
JAKE: [LAUGHS] I actually did have people – we would put our feet under eight inchers and we would have our coach or our teammates sit on them, so we did a few things like that when I was younger. And I actually don’t think I really had that great of a toe point until I started getting a little bit older, a little bit better on floor where I just really wanted to make everything really clean and I kept working on that. And I think I even find myself when I just stand around at the gym, I’m always kind of curling my toes under and standing on my toes. Which is kind of weird, but I think it might actually help in the long run.
BLYTHE: Awesome. Outside of the gym you ride a motorcycle, is that correct?
JAKE: Yeah, I have a street bike and I also have a dirt bike. I haven’t been riding the dirt bike too much, but I ride the street bike every once in awhile.
BLYTHE: Cool! Well Jessica and I were talking and she had a coach who rode, and he had to make a promise to the team that he would not ride during the season. So how do your coaches feel about the motorcycle? Do they have safety rules?
JAKE: Um, no I think Mark’s been pretty cool about everything. He actually has a motorcycle himself, so sometimes he’ll ride it to the gym.
JAKE: So it’s a little bit older, but if he gets it started up sometimes he’ll ride it over to the gym, so he’s usually pretty cool. But I just try and be smart, especially riding a motorcycle. It’s really dangerous. Especially a lot of people don’t pay attention on roads, so you have to watch out for them. So it just comes with riding a motorcycle, you have to be careful. And you can always push it out as much as you want to. So I try to be pretty safe. Once the Olympics came around I rode it a lot less, and then once I was named to the Olympic Team I just kind of stopped riding until afterwards. You definitely just take some precautionary decisions before big competitions. But other than that, I basically just try and ride safe. That’s about it, just try and enjoy it.
BLYTHE: Definitely. And throughout the Olympic selection process and beyond you’ve been in the public eye a little bit, and you’ve appeared on lists like, “The Hot Men of the 2012 Olympics”. I’ve gotta ask, did that ever bother you? What did Kayla think of that?
JAKE: Um, I mean yeah, it definitely… Our audience definitely grew after the Olympics. When you go from 2,000 followers on Twitter to 70,000 or 80,000 or whatever, it’s cool. You have a cool fan base and it’s awesome to see people watching you and stuff, but yeah it’s definitely different when you have people tweeting at you all the time. So it’s just something you’ve got to – I don’t want it to sound bad – but you’ve got to get used to. Just take it and enjoy it because it could be the other way around where they follow you because they don’t like you, or they could be tweeting at you because they don’t like you. So it’s definitely cool to be on the other end where people like you and support you, but it’s also really cool to have a solid foundation of fans who enjoy you.
BLYTHE: Absolutely. And this year, just thinking about what’s happened after the Olympics until now. What happened with Kayla, you winning the American Cup, and the tornado in Oklahoma recently. How have you managed to stay focused through all of this? Or is it that gymnastics has given you a respite; you can go into the gym and take your mind off whatever’s happening outside?
JAKE: Well, actually yeah. When Kayla got hurt I was with her quite a bit in the hospital, and me being able to go into the gym – I think I stayed there two days just to make sure after surgery she was okay, and then after that I would leave for a few hours and go to the gym and it was kind of a way for me to get my mind off of it so it’s not always on your mind. It definitely kind of breaks you down mentally when you’re there just because, you know, you’re trying to do everything you can for her. So getting into the gym, it kind of clears your mind a little bit; it felt good to work out. So yeah, gymnastics definitely helped basically keep you sane, but it’s also nice to have something out of the gym to focus on. When you get things like toward this tornado, it’s definitely really scary and really, really sad to see what happened to all those people in Moore. I was watching the tornado on TV and actually it cut out and I lost cable, internet, and I actually didn’t even have cell phone service, so I was kind of cut off from the world for about four hours. I had no idea how much damage it had done, and I was the only one home. So I was with my dogs just kind of hanging out, and I took a nap and when I woke up my roommate Troy got home and he was like, “Yeah man, did you see everything?” And I was like, “No, I haven’t had any internet or phone or anything.” So when I turned on the TV I saw how much damage it had done, it really kind of surprised me and struck at home for me because it was so close, and so many people lost so much. It’s been great seeing everybody pull together in the Oklahoma community, the outreach that’s been given to them and the support and things like that. It’s really great to see a community pull together like that. Kayla and I went shopping the day before we came up here to Flip Fest and got some gloves, some trash bags, some Gatorades, some snacks, things that people up there would enjoy and just kind of make them feel a little better when they’re living at that church or at a safe house or whatever. So it definitely kind of hits you at home when you see people like that. Like I said, getting back in the gym definitely helped, but it was definitely surprising once you get in there and see how much damage there was. It was just… I keep kind of blabbering about it, but it was almost like a movie when we drove by and we saw all the damage and stuff like that. So anything we can do to help we’ve been trying to do, and there’s been some great people out there helping as well.
BLYTHE: That’s excellent. Can you tell our listeners where they can buy the fundraiser shirts for tornado victims?
JAKE: There’s a bunch going around. A bunch of our friends are doing it from Oklahoma. You can actually follow the Red Cross Foundation on Twitter. I donated to the Red Cross Foundation, so you can just donate there. I had a friend from home who just set up an eBay page real quick and try to print some shirt that he could so he could donate the profits to the tornado funds.
BLYTHE: We have one last question. You’ve been absolutely great so far, by the way. From @Gymnastics411 on Twitter, we would be interested to know how your parents influenced your success, and what other advice you have for gym parents.
JAKE: Okay, yeah. I basically wouldn’t be here at all where I am today without my parents. Like I was saying, they took over the gym. So them doing that, dumping their entire lives into the sport of gymnastics and owning the gym club, just pouring everything they had, their time, their money, just everything they had into gymnastics really, especially now that I’m older and I see how much they really put in. I’m just kind of speechless to say anything about it, because they did so much for me, and they still do to this day. They put everything they could into it for me; they wanted nothing but the best for me. They still help me today. If I ever have problems I give them a call. They’re always at competitions supporting me. So the advice I would say, obviously you don’t have to go out and buy your kids a gym, but something that’s been supportive to me was having them there all the time when I need them. Gymnastics itself is hard enough, so when you get home from a bad day and you just need your parents to talk to, don’t sit here and be like, “Well you didn’t do this today.” For me it was always nice to come home and they’ll be like, “You know what, you’ll get it tomorrow. Don’t worry about it”, just kind of take your mind off it and relax. They were never too pushy in making me always go to the gym. I kind of wanted to go on my own, but if I was being a little bit lazy they would remind me for sure, but they weren’t too negative or anything like that. I always had a positive support group at home, and they always loved to come watch me. Basically it was never a hassle for them. They loved to do everything about it; they loved supporting me going to watch every time. That was the best thing for me.
JESSICA: Alright, I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time you guys, so let’s talk about the Pro Gymnastics meet. So now that the event has aired on TV you can watch it online, so check our website for a link to that. Also make sure to check out our articles! There’s two articles from Emma on our website, she was at the meet in person and she has a lot of behind the scenes, in person details for all the stuff that you didn’t see on TV, it’s really interesting. She has a lot of really great pictures, too. So check those out, she has two posts for both days and I’ll put a link up to that. So now, let’s just talk about why this event is so important and why we care about it at all. So Uncle Tim, can you just give us a little bit of historical perspective on this?
UNCLE TIM: So nowadays in the U.S. we tend to think of professionalism in terms of NCAA eligibility, but for many years it was kind of a conversation surrounding the Olympic Games, because the Olympic Games was an amateur competition. So if you accepted money for competing in a sport, you technically were not supposed to compete in an Olympic Games, and I think that Tim Daggett mentioned that in his interview way back in the day. But it became difficult to define what amateurism was. Many thought the Soviet Union were cozening the world. Were you an amateur is the government was paying for your food and basically your entire livelihood so you can do a certain sport? And does anyone know what they called the Soviet Athletes back in the day?
UNCLE TIM: [LAUGHS] Well, that’s one of them. They called them Shamateurs. Like amateurs, but with the word sham in front of it. So that was kind of a problem until 1986 when the International Olympic Committee started allowing professional athletes to compete. There were some exceptions to this. They didn’t let professional boxers compete because they thought that a professional boxer might kill an amateur boxer. Yeah, so that decision ultimately allowed athletes, including gymnastics, accept prize money and still represent their countries in the Olympics. And that gave way to all of these professional gymnastics meets. We talked a little bit about this, Germany has their Bundesliga which is basically a professional gymnastics circuit, similar to the soccer circuit. And as Blythe pointed out in Episode 26, the French have the club championships, and during their club championships they pay foreign athletes to attend their competitions. And in the U.S. we’ve had a couple meets, if you’re a little long in the tooth you might recall the World Professional Gymnastics meet that lasted about two years, in 1997 and 1998 we had it. And while Lilia Podkopayeva was in the meet in 1997, it really was kind of a farewell meet for the Magnificent Seven. And now we have the Pro Gymnastics Challenge, which hopefully will be able to last a little bit longer. And this meet turned gender paradigms on its head. Usually the U.S. gymnastics specials focus on the women, but this meet really showed off the ‘badass-ery’ of men’s gymnastics. I mean, it was kind of one big glass of testosterone, and I was just slurping it up. Evan you are also a gay man, did you feel the same way?
EVAN: It was great to kind of see the guys getting up there. For as much publicity the women get during the Olympics, the guys for what they’re doing, how they look, what shape they’re in, did just as much and deserve just as much, so I’m all for it. Two thumbs up, and a wink!
JESSICA: A big wink! Love the big wink. Lauren what did you think?
LAUREN: I loved it. I was going in watching to the typical gymnastics meets, like Nationals, and Worlds, and stuff like that. So I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel. I think it’s kind of perfect for people who are not already passionate gymnerds. I think the way that they used the athletes to just kind of go one skill at a time, and really tried to explain what these skills were and how they were done. I think it was Jessica Lopez, they put sensors on her and her throw, I think maybe a double or 2.5 on floor, and it was like they kind of explained the motion of the skill, so I thought that was amazing. I watched with my family, and they’re not gymnastics people and they started to get it a little more. So I loved that aspect. And I love the thing in the team competition with women and men counting similarly. So yeah, I thought it was great.
JESSICA: I think the other thing that’s really important about this meet is that, right now the way it is – and I’ve talked about this before – if you want to continue after college you have to figure out a way to pay for yourself, and pay for your training, and pay for your living expenses, pay for your travel expenses. And unless you’re already on the National team, and not only that but you’re a badass on the national team, you’re not going to make ends meet. There isn’t a way, you have to find sponsors and all that stuff. And this could potentially provide a way for our athletes to stick around and stay active longer, and make a way to not only be competitive for the U.S., but have a way to stay in the sport so we can enjoy them even, if say, they didn’t get selected to the U.S. Team. And we know a lot of those gymnasts who we love, but they just couldn’t stick around forever and keep doing gymnastics for fun, but never got to compete in an Olympics or maybe a World Championships. So that makes it super exciting for me. And I love that they’re not just trying to copy ice skating and trying to do the whole weird fake sexual tension, or just the weird fake sexual stuff in general in ice skating. I just find that so obnoxious and old school. Like remember when they did with Hollie Vise, they put her on beam and she was wearing like her Marilyn Monroe outfit and the guys were all in tuxedos and like carried her up to the – like that’s just weird! I don’t want to see that. So anyhoo, a lot of people were talking about the difficulty in this meet and they didn’t really… like they weren’t stoked about the difficulty, they thought it was too low. But we did have some things that maybe we haven’t seen in competition before. Can you give us the lowdown on those?
EVAN: So one of skills we haven’t seen before is at the brightest point of the competition was on parallel bars we saw a couple of Bhavsar’s out there, the giant double backs that maybe guys aren’t going for all the time in their regular training, but attempting out there. I thought it was great to see and definitely raised the whole level of the competition. But then I was like “WTF guys!” I want to see you on the World team, and you’re doing that landing on your kind of shoulders, kind of arms, halfway in between doing the skill and I thought, “Um, rewind and maybe let’s take a look at this.” So while the skill level on that event was great, I could definitely see how some people were way more content to do what they were comfortable with. All over the place you saw some bright spots, and then Jessica Lopez is like, “Oh I’ll just do a whole routine!” and some other people were like, “Definitely not doing that. One skill and done.” So just the parody between that, you could see who was comfortable doing that kind of format, and who maybe wasn’t so much.
JESSICA: I hear you with that. And I think it was really cool to see they kept talking about Ruggeri and skills he threw that he had never done before, he had just learned that week, you know so they said, although I could believe that too. And also Zam and Mason threw triples, which I haven’t seen them do before, although Mason probably has thrown a triple in competition before. And then Zam did a piked double Arabian. And then we saw a double double from Pritchett. So Lauren, what did you think about the difficulty level in general, considering that this is gymnastics where you don’t just throw things you’ve never done, unless it’s maybe into the pit because you can die.
LAUREN: That’s what I was actually thinking about when I was watching it. They kept saying a lot of the broadcast, “they’re going to go on the offensive and throw something and they’re going to try to copy it after.” And then they kind of broke it down by percentages and said people who were first to throw the skills, that was where they were winning. And then the person who would try to repeat the skill would not get the point. So I think in that sense it’s difficult, and I feel like it can be probably not good in terms of injuries. You saw it was I think Marissa King who threw the switch to Shushunova ¾, and then Brie Olson went after her and basically fell on her chest on the beam, and that just did not look good. So I don’t know it was hard to see how they can make that work with skills that you’re not training, in terms of figuring out how to throw them in competition for the very first time. I think for the most part they did a good job. Beam was a little harder than bars I would have to say. There were some where I was confused because they didn’t throw the skill that the first girl threw, so I was kind of not understanding what the game plan was there. I think someone did a double front half, and then after someone did a full-in, so that was confusing. Overall in terms of difficulty, I want to say I was impressed with some events. Beam I wasn’t really that thrilled with, there was some cool combinations, but the skills were pretty low difficulty. I was kind of thinking in a competition like this where you’re not doing full routines you’d see just huge skills from everyone. So when it got to vault and there was a Yurchenko full I was like, “Okay, that’s not really what…”
JESSICA: Right!? I was like, “What the hell. Seriously, a Yurchenko full?”
LAUREN: And it was Ashanee’s Yurchenko full with her separated legs on the entry, I was like, “Why? I thought we were done with this.”
LAUREN: So I was very unexcited to see that again. But I loved some of the tumbling. Like Zam, you would never see her in NCAA, obviously, do a Arabian piked double front and then a triple on floor, so I loved the tumbling part of the competition. I’m kind of in the middle. I think it was really determined by event for me.
JESSICA: What was your absolute favorite skill?
LAUREN: My absolute favorite was probably… I’m gonna go with Zam’s Arabian piked double front in terms of the women’s. I also like Ponor’s combination on beam, it was a front aerial, full twisting back handspring, and then I think a back handspring quarter to handstand in the splits. It was just a really cool combination and no one even attempted to do it on the U.S. side. Yeah, I think that was it for the women. I also liked Pavlova on beam with her double stag to Rufolva. And I’m thinking, I think Brie Olson on bars, her Deltchev and then her full twisting double layout. Those are probably my top skills.
JESSICA: Uncle Tim how about you?
UNCLE TIM: Um I’m going to have to go with Nastia’s hair flip. That was my favorite skill.
UNCLE TIM: No, it kind of was. But my real favorite skill was Barbosa’s Tejada on parallel bars. It’s just one of those skills that no one ever does which is a peach basket into a back tuck into the upper arms. For men’s it’s a D which is the same value as a giant double back on the bail between the bars. But yeah, it was my favorite. It’s a rare skill.
JESSICA: And Evan how about you?
EVAN: Based on sheer emotion and the fact that she I’m pretty sure said I don’t know how to do it before she did it, Alina Weinstein’s double front half out off [inaudible]. First of all, you could tell she was just like go really high and turn your body over. And it worked out. I was like yeah! So that really struck a chord with me. The 3.5 front punch full was a little crooked and punched off the floor, but leave it to Paul to pull something out of his back pocket because that was really cool. It was one of the big skills that Lauren kind of alluded to that you would see and it really didn’t disappoint in that aspect. I liked it.
JESSICA: In terms of the lack of difficulty, which a lot of people talked about, especially with the women and especially on bars, I don’t even know. Did they really even do a competition on bars? It seems like they didn’t. And beam, they barely did anything. What do you guys think we need to do or the competition needs in order to even up bars and beam for the women? Like what needs to happen to help this? Do they need to compete over a pit? Do they need to have a beam that has padding on it? What would be your suggestions to help this? Evan let’s start with you.
EVAN: You know, I think the 8-year-old boy recording everything that he possibly could vaguely related to gymnastics really connected with Lilia Podkopayeva in a cowboy hat rocking out to Cotton Eyed Joe and still doing a double front on floor. I feel like it’s that mainstream component that really ties in those fans that aren’t hardcore gym nerds but you still appreciate it. I think there has to be a connection to everyday life. I really don’t think we’re going to see benefits from I can do a skill and I know for a fact that no one else from the other team can do a Deltchev. How exciting is that for the audience from the US just knowing that no one else from the other team can do it and no one on the other team should safely attempt it. So I feel like there needs to be that component of performance. Because we’re not trying to make this the Olympics. We’re trying to make this fun. We’re the geeked up fans for the sport. For the lack of a better term, I just need some more Cotton Eyed Joe.
JESSICA: It’s interesting that you mention like performance because there’s some people who really like Shayla Worley on beam. She stopped when she was done to let everybody know she was done, kissed her biceps and did a pose. Where as Anna Pavlova finished her skill and just like snakily fell off the side of the beam and walked away like ok that’s just a regular day for me. And I was like, no you need to tell people that was awesome. That’s like the part that’s missing you know? So that makes sense to me. Uncle Tim how about you?
UNCLE TIM: Well I think that in terms of beam and bars, I think you need to have almost a list of skills that are possible and you say you can only choose from these skills so that there’s a…..You know on bars, your team cannot do a hop full. You need to choose skills that the other team will be able to throw. I think they could do something more interesting on beam. And the rope climb, that worked really well because it was this head to head competition. I think one thing that you could do is I don’t know, back handspring layout stepout, you go I go. And whichever team falls off first loses the point. Something like that where…..you know that’s a lame idea but something more head to head. I think that would have upped the ante a little bit on balance beam.
JESSICA: I agree that’s a good idea, the back to back. And some teams have done that in their intrasquads. The team just keeps going and going. Or even doing like add on, like honestly a game of add on. Can you do this release into this release into this release? That would create spectacular falls too which is also exciting, which can be really dangerous but also exciting. Lauren how about you? What do you think they could do to fix this lack of difficulty? What do you think they should add that would help with that?
LAUREN: I was actually going to say something similar to what Uncle Tim said in terms of having like a list of skills. I think for me, it was kind of boring when the first athlete would go and they would do something clearly no one on the other team could do and the other team would have to forfeit. Like you don’t want to see teams getting points just because the other people have never trained that skill before in their life and they could probably get horribly injured if they tried. So I think not making it up on the spot. I think it was Nastia, or the coaches, I’m just picking on Nastia, would go up and kind of help them pick what skill they would do.Maybe having some sort of grab bag almost where they pick the skill out of a hat or something and both teams have someone who can do it. And then it’s not who can do the skill, but who can do it better. I think that was missing a lot and that was when I kind of would get bored with it. I think that was probably the biggest disappointment. And then I think also changing the whole…..I don’t know if this is related to difficulty but changing the whole audience voting for the tie thing because we’re in the United States and you have a United States audience voting. Like the whole Shayla vs. Ponor thing on beam. Shayla’s was not as good as Ponor’s in my opinion and I feel like in their opinion as well. The US audience doesn’t know anything about gymnastics. They’re not going to choose Ponor. They’re going to choose Shayla. That was something they just need to iron out. They kind of go hand in hand.
JESSICA: I think there’s two things. One, they need to do a monetary incentive. So they should have, and obviously this is going to work better for the athletes that have graduated from college and aren’t just ramping up for world team trials. But have a sponsor like they do in fighting. So in fighting, if you have the knockout of the night or the fight of the night or whatever, you win like an extra $1000. And when the UFC got much bigger, now it’s like you know, $10,000. So some kind of monetary incentive, and that’s something they can do with a sponsor. Another sponsor they can do is you get a car manufacturer to sponsor the event. And whatever new car they’re rolling out, you can stick it on the podium with the athlete and whoever the audience votes for the skill of the night or whoever does the hardest skill is going to win that car at the end of the competition. And that’s serious incentive especially if you’re in full time training and maybe you don’t have a car or you have a crappy car. Or you know you can sell that car and fund your training for the next year. That’s something they can do with sponsors to get the athletes to do harder stuff. Another thing I would like to see is in terms of it being skill for skill, I think that you should be able to do a progression. We saw a little bit about that on floor. Someone does a 2.5, someone else does a triple and a triple punch front. They should win. Somebody does a triple and the next person does a triple punch front, that should win. Or somebody who does a Deltchev goes and the next person does a Def. Then you should win if you up the skill a little bit. So I don’t necessarily think it has to be exact skill for exact skill. You should be able to add something to make it even harder. Someone does a double layout dismount (makes snoring noise) and then the next person does a hop full into the double layout or a double layout full out or something. I mean that’s the kind of thing that makes it more exciting. But definitely, like they have to up the difficulty level for the women. And it might just be that they add series or add one skill before it. But seriously on beam, I love beam. It could have been much more exciting. How about a three series of layouts hello? Like they were doing it in the eighties, I think you can do it now. Ugh don’t get me started on that. Let’s move on to the general format. Just give me one thing you liked and one thing that could be better than what was in the rules right now. So Uncle Tim let’s start with you.
UNCLE TIM: So one thing I don’t think really worked was the call out because nobody really ended up doing the call out I think. When Tommy Ramos tried to do the call out on the inverted cross and I think he said Brandon Wynn come do this and he didn’t even try. In one regard, it shows respect for what Tommy Ramos did which was a 15 second inverted cross. But on the other hand, you still kind of want to see the other person at least get up there and try. So that, I don’t think really worked.
EVAN: I think in terms of something I would like to see added, maybe I think the [inaudible] I don’t think it dragged on for me but [inaudible] back to back to back. I think there was a lot of gymnastics that was kind of just extra and you could kind of see that it added to the whole thing. I think really just selecting the team and the layout to really highlight those athletes who are amazing far and away from the other events and presenting that in a quicker format to the audience would be more able to grasp kind of the magnitude of what’s happening. In terms of something I liked, I thought that the arena looked really good. I thought it looked engaging. I liked the floor. I would’ve liked to have seen Cotton Eyed Joe. I liked that we were able to see highlights of individual tumbling skills and passes and kind of bring the men and women onto the same level. I think in that aspect, I enjoyed it. But there’s definitely room to improve which is good for an event like this.
JESSICA: Yeah and the X Games, when it first started, the ones they had in the very beginning are totally different than the ones have now. Except for like half pipe. So they’re very open to seeing what worked and changing and that’s why I think they’re a really good partner for ESPN. They invented in the X Games. They’re the same company so they totally have the right partnership for a company who really knows how to make a really great event for TV. So I think they’ll totally be open to all kinds of changes and next year’s will be totally different. Lauren, what did you think about the rules and the format? Anything you would change?
LAUREN: Well I already talked about the audience weighing in on things. I really liked the point system though. The one point for each routine or for each skill. I think that made it easier for fans who maybe don’t know too much about the elite scoring because they always find it confusing. I think watching it with non gym fans highlighted that especially because they were like ok (inaudible.) It wasn’t so much like ok why does this person have a higher score if they had a fall and you have to try and explain difficulty blah blah blah. It made it more sort of colloquial to baseball or basketball or something. I felt like it was just easier to follow. You know they’re winning and you know why they’re winning. They got more points.
JESSICA: I think it’s interesting that you brought up the audience deciding because obviously they’re totally biased. And I think USA vs. the World sucks. That sucks. I hated it. I was like what is this the Cold War again? Like what a bunch of crap. Nobody cares about that. The best thing about this competition is that we get to see Zam and Ponor doing the same skills as each other. You get to see people who never compete against each other going head to head. Like seeing, um who broke their ribs, what’s her name? Brie Olson. I don’t know if she really broke her ribs but it almost looked like she did.
EVAN: She did her best Marie Fjordholm impression.
JESSICA: Exactly. Oh God thank God it didn’t end like poor Marie Fjordholm. Everyone go look that up because you will not be disappointed and it’s horrible. But actually they need more of that on this show. Because it shows how hard gymnastics is and how punishing it is. One of the things people love about the X Games is wipeouts. But then again, those people get paid enough money, I think for the most part, that they can afford to be out of commission for a whole year and then come back and do it again. So sidepoint. Anyway, I hated USA vs. The World. I loved seeing somebody like Brie Olson go up against Chusovitina. I’m sure they both threw Deltchevs at one point and just liked knocked that out. That is just so cool to see people like that competing against each other and doing gymnastics together. And I would love to see something like mixed pairs with this. Like these two male female gymnasts from the US and another country and are going to pair up and compete against another pair. Mixed pairs is something they’ve done at World Cup events and pro meets in the past. And I think that would be way more fun and way more fair than this whole USA vs. The World. I feel like that’s so outdated, old fashioned. I just feel like nobody cares about that. Maybe it’s just me but I think that sucks. Uncle Tim, can you put this concisely into why I hate this so much? I feel like I’m at a loss for words about why this bothers me so much.
UNCLE TIM: Well I think that you just find the geopolitics of it all rather laughable. But I think that for the average viewer who does not have this huge gymnastics background, I think it works because that’s really what the Olympics are all about. You watch the Olympics to cheer for your home country and so I think they’re trying to build off that excitement and that kind of nationalism. It’s US vs. The World in the Olympics and for us, it’s like no we appreciate Anna Pavlova’s beauty and we appreciate Catalina Ponor getting up there and saying that series, I can do like five or six skills in a row. We appreciate that but for the average viewer, I think that was what they were trying to go for.
JESSICA: That’s a good point. Actually, I guess I’m thinking about the X Games. I don’t feel like there is a lot of nationalism. That’s not really a thing in the X Games. Am I imagining that? And I compared this entire thing against the X Games. That was my measuring stick. So maybe that’s where I’m getting that feeling. Yeah I think you’re right. Alright let’s talk about the important things. Smack talking and costumes. I know they didn’t really wear costumes. And Adidas thank you for sponsoring this. I appreciate that the men were just wearing shorts and no shirts which we have talked about many times on this show. But gymnasts generally, with the exception of three gymnasts competing, female gymnasts, do not have boobs. So if you could have a seamstress make the hike down there to the middle Pennsylvania and alter those bras so that they are not saggy over their boobs, that would be great. Because that was extremely distracting and super annoying. So let’s work on that Adidas. You have beautiful beautiful sports bras. I know we can make this work.
EVAN: I just noticed they look, yeah those sports bras look bad. They were literally frowning on their bodies. You could just see it on another level. Everyone looks great. There’s no one out there where you’re like what why are they doing that? I think the variety that can be seen, it’s something to be explored. Adidas Gymnastics is kind of still in its infancy. I think they’ve got more up their sleeve as well.
JESSICA: Yeah I think they could do something exciting. And they could even use this to debut new products. This could be their platform for a gymnastics line. That could be really exciting. I like that they just did sports bras and shorts. That’s how people work out. So I agree with you. This could be a huge….like I always think of the business side and the marketing opportunities and how people can bring more money into gymnastics. Because more money into gymnastics means more money for the athletes and that means they can continue the sport longer. I think that would be so cool to see what you can buy from Adidas this season, watch the show. Oh my God. I would love that. Whose personalities totally translated onto the TV? Because this was also a big part of this. So let’s start with the athletes first. Who really stood out? So Lauren who stood out for you?
LAUREN: I’m going to have to say probably Zam which is interesting because she never stands out to me in NCAA. There was one part where she just jumped on the rings and started fooling around on the rings. So I thought that was interesting. I don’t know. For me, as someone who’s not an athlete and that’s who I picked up on when I was watching who was in the background, I think Brie Olson probably too. At Oklahoma, she’s always been one to fist pump after hitting her vaults and stuff. So I’ve always loved watching her. And that also translated well onto TV here. Even when she fell on bars and fell on beam, both times she came off looking like happy to be there. I liked that a lot.
JESSICA: Uncle Tim, how about for you?
UNCLE TIM: Honestly, in terms of personality, what really really stood out to me was Nastia and Svetlana Boginskaya.
JESSICA: Yes yes! Me too!
UNCLE TIM: I was just waiting for them to like start mud wrestling or something which by the way would probably up your ratings a lot if you had to mud wrestle or arm wrestle or something. But yeah, those two personalities. You could see how competitive they were and how fierce they were. And yeah. Yeah. That’s all I have to say about that.
JESSICA: I totally agree. I freaking loved it and when Nastia went over to….we were talking about this earlier before we started recording and Nastia went over to Boginskaya and was like it was a Deltchev. It was a Deltchev! And you could just see it like oh this is the super competitor who won the Olympics. Ok. Now her gymnastics has a voice right now. And Svetlana, when she was talking and being interviewed like the veins in her neck were standing out. I was like yes! I loved it! They totally stole the show as far as I’m concerned and that was fantastic. Ok Evan how about for you?
EVAN: Not to be upstaged by Lady Miss Dame Posh Gymnastics Spice Lisa Mason kind of coming out of the woodwork. You know, the vignette on her when she was talking and her accent and I was like yes! Yes! Yes! Whatever she was saying, I was sold. And then I also loved Nastia pulling her B out and her neck craning around and being like what?! It was a double stag. It was a double stag! And they’re trying to explain it so those two, the divas, the queens of PGC were a highlight for me as well.
JESSICA: Ok. And did you guys notice how Svetlana Boginskaya was totally like encouraging was it Petrix Barbosa to like run up to Catalina Ponor and give her those giant loving hugs afterwards? Did anyone else notice that?
LAUREN: Yeah wasn’t that her boyfriend?
JESSICA: Isn’t that her boyfriend?
LAUREN: No Tommy Ramos is her boyfriend.
JESSICA: Ah so it was him.
LAUREN: I definitely saw her hug him like a bunch of times. I didn’t see Svetlana but that was one thing they showed a few times and I was like aww.
JESSICA: Interesting! So where is he from?
LAUREN: Puerto Rico.
EVAN: Puerto Rico. I think one of the great things you also saw was the world team was giving those awkward language barrier high fives that sometimes the Chinese athletes used to do. They would like shake hands and then high five. And then shake hands and then high five. Like this is good right? So it was kind of this awkward time. Like yeah we have no idea how to speak each other’s language but we’ll hug, high five. You know that was great for me to watch. I’m like well yeah they don’t know either.
JESSICA: How about the commentators? I personally absolutely loved Roethlisberger. How about for you guys? Lauren you watched with non gymnastics fans. Did anybody stand out for you? Did the commentators add something?
LAUREN: Yeah they loved Roethlisberger. I think he invented a lot of new words like craydiculous or something was added to his vocabulary, so crazy ridiculous. I think that was added after Dalton’s vault or something. But yeah I loved that. Bernstein I was okay with. I had no idea who she is.
JESSICA: Me either.
LAUREN: Yeah so I was like why is she commentating gymnastics. I feel like they must have given her a crash course before because she’s calling double layouts a layout. So there were a couple of things that made me kind of wonder if she knew anything about the sport but I think she did a good job in terms of giving commentary. I think she should have stuck more to the fun commentary than naming and throwing out skills. I kind of liked her too even though I was hesitant at first. But she loves the guys with their shirts off and that’s what my non gym fan friends found funny. Yeah I thought they were a good team. And then Suri doing the interviews sometimes seemed a little awkward to me. But I think maybe some of the athletes made it more awkward and she was trying to deal with that. So I found that funny. I felt it was good overall.
JESSICA: Yeah I felt like the on floor interviews were just painful honestly. I couldn’t even watch. This is so awkward. Yeah anywho Evan how about you?
EVAN: I mean just get on Suri Surano’s train headed to nowhere. I was just really kind of disappointed. She had like a crumpled up notepad paper that she was kind of glancing at to reference something relevant. I was just thinking you know this is her job. I mean I know it’s difficult. I don’t want to sell her short but I really was like I could definitely do a better job than her right now. So I think that’s where I was at. For an athlete, you have to know you have to keep it simple. I think it was Catalina Ponor who totally answered a question she did not ask. You could tell that she had that rehearsed and that’s what she felt comfortable saying. Look at the hand you’re dealt a little bit. I know that this is obviously the first time. Everyone is still learning but she did not do it for me. Suri Cruise, whoever she is, she did not do it. Roethlisberger and Bernstein, they were great. I don’t think it’s going to get much better than that. John is great with having that Olympic experience, training at such a high level and still trying to cast the net wide and bring out those people with his humor that you normally wouldn’t engage with gymnastics. And Bonnie was like guys vs. girls. I love this! It’s battle of the sexes. I love it. So she was super into that. They engaged me. But Suri, no no. She’s out. She’s out.
JESSICA: I know it’s really difficult and we complain all the time about Andrea Joyce but after seeing this, I’m like oh Andrea Joyce is like a serious seasoned professional. Like you can tell she’s put the time in. She’s been doing this for like thirty years. So yeah it definitely is harder than it looks. Uncle Tim how about for you?
UNCLE TIM: I don’t really have much of substance to add. Just skip over me.
JESSICA: Haha ok. I’m skipping you. Final thoughts. If there’s one single thing you could do to make this more non gymnastics fan friendly, so to bring Average Joe football fan to like gymnastics and this would be the format, what is the one thing that you would add? Evan I’ll start with you.
EVAN: I know this is going to sound pretty obvious but I would bring more Olympic caliber gymnasts. I know they were there, but unfortunately, you know a lot of little girls who watched gymnastics at the Summer Olympics are not going to put up a poster of a great NCAA athlete in their room. As much as they are still talented athletes, it’s the Gabby Douglases and the McKayla Maroneys, Shawn Johnsons even who bring those big crowds and really connect people to the sport because they were at the Olympics. The Olympics is what resonates with gymnastics and hopefully PGC can kind of be an offshoot of that. I don’t want to make it into the Olympics but I think they need to capitalize where the sport is.
JESSICA: Ok Lauren how about for you?
LAUREN: There were a few things but I think number one is probably setting out guidelines beforehand and telling people what they’re in for. That was to me, it felt confusing so I can imagine the people who have never seen anything related to gymnastics before would kind of get either confused or maybe turn away just because things aren’t really out there for them to understand. They’re not going to want to watch. And I think that also relates to having it over a three day period. I know a lot of gym fans who got bored and didn’t want to come back the next day because it kind of takes away from the excitement. And they did do a good job of I think building the excitement of the narration of the meet. Since it was just over a three night period, I think people are not going to tune back in each night of the week to watch this competition that could have taken like less than three hours.
JESSICA: Ok Uncle Tim. How about for you?
UNCLE TIM: So I think that one thing they can do is change the event a little bit. Like I said earlier, one of the events that really worked well was the rope climb because you had this head to head competition and everyone in PE class has had to climb the rope. You know how crappy that is if you’re not a gymnast. So I think they need to take advantage of what the sport gives us which is this kind of superhuman strength pound for pound. Male gymnasts don’t necessarily bench press but they do things like pull ups and if you grew up in the American school system, we were all put through the rigors of the Presidential Fitness Test. So something as simple as a pull up contest that shows off the strength a little bit more. And I think Tommy Ramos kind of hit it on the nose when he challenged Brandon Wynn to the inverted cross contest. You know, something that really shows off how challenging this is. Beyond just doing skills and matching skills and doing a skill higher but those physical challenges. I think that would add a new element and would probably attract some viewers.
JESSICA: I think the biggest thing this was missing was crashes and wipeouts. And even if it means they wear the gopro cams in practice, somebody with a good HD camera during practice, they need to show more wipeouts. And honestly, I don’t want people to get hurt obviously. I don’t want anyone to try anything they’re not supposed to do. But wipeouts are a huge and awesome part of the sport and they’re also really freaking funny. I think showing more wipeouts. They showed wipeouts in the prep part of it or when they were doing the prep for the final section but they didn’t show it in the actual show. So I don’t know if it’s a montage or leaving those in to the final product, that would be great. I mean that’s one of the things I love about the X Games.
UNCLE TIM: I think that one thing they could do is show a little bit more about what gymnasts do during the gym. So we don’t necessarily say oh I can throw a triple double off of high bar. Can you? It’s more of like we play stupid games growing up. Like I can do a front tuck that’s longer than your front tuck. Right? Like some kind of competition like that, beyond gymnastics skills. Like who can do the longest front tuck or those kind of things, those kind of things we did as children growing up in the gym could work too.
JESSICA: I love that.
LAUREN: I like that a lot because it takes away the subjectivity of elite gymnastics and JO gymnastics. It’s like you have a way to measure it which is really hard to do with this sport. But I remember there’s a video of Alicia Sacramone trying to break a camp record for back tucks or something. Stuff like that is fun and it gets people really into it in a way that a routine might not. I think that’s a great idea and that goes along with what Uncle Tim said earlier about the rope climb and stuff like that. You can measure stuff like that and it scores based on who wins, not by what someone thinks but what somebody did. Yeah I’d have to say that would probably be awesome.
UNCLE TIM: Or like who can do the most standing back tucks in a minute. Eventually you’re going to get dizzy and you’re going to have to stop and it’s going to be this constant battle. Ok I have to keep going. I have to keep going or something like that.
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sports with a Z and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast. Thank you so much to our awesome special guests for joining us this week. Lauren Hopkins from The Couch Gymnast and Evan Heiter. We love a good long discussion when there’s something so exciting and new to talk about in the gymnastics world. And now I have a very very special announcement. The news you have all been waiting for. Baby Spanny Tampson has arrived in the world. That is right. The most anticipated gymnastics baby of all time has arrived. You can send Spanny and her family your congratulations on Twitter @spannytampson. And I can attest that the baby is ridiculously adorable and I’m sure you will see pictures soon. Check out Uncle Tim. He has his uterus rankings up. He is doing rankings of the highest scores on every event and highest difficulty rankings because The All Around is not doing it yet. What’s going on All Around? Who can get in touch with someone at The All Around who listens to the podcast? We need to find out what’s happening over there. So check out his uterus rankings. Remember you can call us and ask a question at email@example.com. You can call us on Skype at Gymcastic Podcast. You can find us on any social network you’re on. You can find a transcript of our show. You can donate to us. You can recommend us. You can review us. Those all ways you can support the show. You can get an email every week to let you know Gymcastic has arrived. Remember at the website you can see past pro gymnastics championships and see what those were like. I could not find a video of Lilia Podkopayeva doing her cowboy dance. So if anyone finds that, let me know and I will put it up. Until next week, I’m Jessica from masters-gymnastics.com.
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
LAUREN: I’m Lauren from thecouchgymnast.com
EVAN: And I’m Evan, fomer University of Michigan gymnast and Twitter gymnastics commentator.
JESSICA: See you guys next week. Thanks for listening.