TIM DAGGETT: GymCastic is fantastic.
ANNA LI: GymCastic is fantastic.
LOUIS SMITH: GymCastic is fantastic.
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: Welcome to GymCastic episode 5. In this episode we’re going to talk about what’s going on in the news, we’re going to get a little review of Shawn Johnson’s Dancing with the Stars by Uncle Tim. We’re going to do a little reality gymnastics show quiz, and we’re also going to talk about cyberbullying in gymnastics. You will have noticed that we have a new advertiser on the show. You know we love to bring you the show advertising free, but podcasting is not free. We have to pay for our equipment, our server. And so we’re really happy to have Elite Sportz Band on board to help us out with that. And I’m also super excited because you know I’ve grown up watching the rest of the world use this product and it’s never been available in the United States, so I’m super happy that it’s finally here and we can help tell people about this product. I take the integrity of the show very seriously and so I want you guys to know that we recorded our interview with Allison Taylor well before Elite Sportz Band became a sponsor. I actually thought about whether or not I should have the advertising start on this episode where she’s interviewed, but I actually think that it’s great that she’s a spokesperson for them. I think this is a great product and I stand behind it. So if you guys have any questions, feel free to email us, I know you will. And with that, let’s start episode 5. I’m your host Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com and I’m joined by my fabulous cohosts
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence, from the Gymnastics Examiner.
SPANNY: Spanny Tampson, from Spanny’s Big Fake Smile.
TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym.
JESSICA: So we’re going to do a little special segment right now with Dvora Meyers. We have tried to get her… we tried to do shows with her like twice now, and once the computer decided to break and the second time I totally screwed up the schedule. So we really love Dvora, we love having her on the show, and I think she’s one of the great writers in gymnastics right now. Like there’s some people that are just reporters and some people who are journalists but Dvora is one of the few people out there who’s really writing about the sport and who’s getting really in depth articles out there in big publications. So I want to give her a chance to contribute to the episodes since we’ve had all these debacles get in the way. So first we’re going to get into… talk a minute about men’s gymnastics. We had that conversation last week about what… so Dvora what do you think can be done in men’s gymnastics to make it more popular, and why do you think it’s not more popular?
DVORA: I guess I’m going to start with why I think it’s not more popular. I remember when I interviewed Miss Val, she pointed out… we were discussing the appeal of Olga Korbut back in 1972, and she said something that, you know, seemed like common sense. That it’s only natural to be attracted to things that are young. And if you look across our media to actresses to models to obviously athletes, and especially female gymnasts, they’re all quite young. I can’t scientifically pinpoint why gymnastics and it’s young female athletes is so much more popular than the men’s side of the sport, but if I had to take a wild guess, I would say it’s almost like unexpected. When you look at a really strong buff guy and then he does really cool things, flips and twists and does these strength parts, it’s exciting but almost expected. That’s kind of almost what you were expected. The visuals make you expect it and I think we look at these small you know younger women who are doing all these feats, it’s very I think it’s just… we expect one thing from people who are young and smaller and then completely comes and does a 180. Obviously we now know… conditions to know this. Also I think there.. and I dream about this… I mean I spend a lot of time thinking about it because I really really know I do not know.. understand men’s gymnastics as much as I understand women’s. I really really enjoy watching it. I think also the men… not only do you expect them to be able to do kind of these wonderful things because of their muscular appearance. They’re also fully adult when you first see them. They might be young, they might be 19, 20, 21, but they look like adults. And so you don’t get to kind of get to watch them transition. I think it’s a thing we enjoy watching about alo child stars. Like seeing kind of.. watch them grow up. And I think you get that with female gymnasts. And what can men’s gymnastics do to become more popular. I think first already it’s become more popular. I mean I think some of the reason men’s gymnastics especially… and I think more of a reason it isn’t as popular as women’s is that the women have more of a winning track record. And we’re the US, we like to see our athletes win and I think if they started with the same track record as the women had, I think that would in turn help. And I think more of what they’re already doing… I think what they do have going for them is that the women can we kind of quiet and subdued on the sideline and this… was another thing that Miss Val was noting when she was a trials was how much people seemed to be enjoying watching the men’s personalities on the sidelines.
DVORA: You know the men are a little older, they’re really more into their personalities, and I think people get into seeing that. you know, hearing Chris Brooks cheer from every end of the arena, you could literally hear him no matter where you were, no matter what event was going on you could hear Chris Brooke. And I think people enjoy seeing the guys celebrating. I think that’s why Danell Leyva and his dad have become a little bit you know popular because of… just the way they express themselves. I don’t know that the sport itself can really dramatically change. You know you can’t… the male athletes are going to peak later, you can’t make them younger, and why would you want to? I mean we’ve been trying… you know, and the women’s gymnastics fans are so hopeful when we see older athletes competing. So we’re not trying to make it younger which, you know, this is a good trend. You know, I’m not sure that i have an answer. I think it’s a combination of winning and also finding that Mary Lou type character that really launches the sport into the spotlight in the US. Mens gymnastics doesn’t have the icon like women’s gymnastics does. Even in Kohei Uchimura, he’s even become a worldwide celebrity. I mean I think it has a lot to do with that bubbly youthful personality and I know that he’s quite popular in Japan.
JESSICA: Is it basically what we need is we need Jordan Jovtchev to have been a US gymnast, he needs to have won the all around instead of being screwed over all these years, and then we need to have followed him and continued to win. Like that’s who we need, like someone who’s totally remarkable but who keeps winning. You know?
DVORA: Yeah. And you have to realize that the US still is the biggest media market in the world.
DVORA: So US popularity means more than popularity in Japan. It means more than popularity in France. Not that those are meaningless, but… they’re very important. But this is still the biggest media market in the world. If you’re famous in the US, more likely people around the world know who you are. Not guaranteed, but more likely. Because we export our TV shows, all those kinds of things. So it’s a big deal. Yeah he needs to be from the US, he needs to be not an adult male. Remember, think of Michael Phelps. He first appeared… we get to know him at 19. He first appears in the Olympics at 15, that’s his first Olympics, nobody else is swimming when he’s like 15 years old, and 19… we get to grow with up. And he’s still a very young guy. And obviously his dominance is obviously the story there. But no gymnast has never… I mean Larissa Latynina like from you know a totally different era in gymnastics. Not even… apples and oranges.
JESSICA: Later in this episode we’re going to tackle the topic cyberbullying in gymnastics. And when I first brought this up I kind of wondered if I was using the right term. So when I talked to this and brought it up to Dvora, she had some opinions on whether or not that was the right term to use or not. So what do you think? Is that like with what happened to Allison Taylor who is going to be a guest later on the show, do you think that’s the correct term to use?
DVORA: Whether or not what Allison Taylor experienced was bullying, I’m by no means an expert, people who have said nasty things are obviously just going to say something like “well we’re entitled to our opinions.” But, and yeah you are, just like Tosh… Daniel Tosh was allowed to make his stupid horrible disgusting rape joke. Like, there is no censorship. Go ahead, say whatever you want about these girls, but also realize that you… your words have repercussions, your words have consequences, and no one is taking your right away to say them. But the gymnasts often read it and they react negatively to it. So you can’t just put nasty things out there and not think about the consequences of them. But you know, you have to be willing to hear people’s responses to what you say. My problem is… I’m just using, this is a really sad parallel because there’s obviously a huge difference between saying that someone should give up their scholarship and saying… making a rape joke. But a lot of what came back was like all these comics jumping to his defense, and people saying, you know, “I’m entitled to make jokes and say whatever I want.” So yes, but you are not immune to criticism if you do. So Allison Taylor can get on the air and say that what she thought happened was cyberbullying. This is how it made her feel. And you can’t close your ears to that.. I mean you can, you can do whatever you want, you are an anonymous internet commenter, no one is going to find you, but don’t get super sensitive when, after you spent hours criticising someone, they don’t have wonderful things to say about you either. [laughs] That’s it, that’s my spiel.
JESSICA: Dvora I want to thank you so much for coming on and doing this do-over do-over, and hopefully someday our schedules will all align so we can all… so we can have you on the show regularly. Can you remind people where they can find you and where your work is published?
DVORA: So my website is UnorthodoxGymnastics.com. It’s, you know, it’s really hit or miss for the gymnastics fans. Sometimes there’s stuff about gymnastics and sometimes there’s stuff about Judaism and sometimes there’s just stuff about things that i found interesting on the internet. It’s really a personal blog in the truer sense of the word, but some people seem to enjoy it. You know and other places my work appears is The Atlantic, Jezebel, Slate, the New York Post. Basically I’m a writer for higher, so anyone who let’s me write something, that’s where I write.
JESSICA: Good, and where can people buy your book?
DVORA: My book is available on Amazon. You can search… so my book is called Heresy on the High Beam: Confessions of an Unbalanced Jewess. It’s really… when I was inspired to write it by Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, because it’s really a memoir of being a fan, not being a great gymnast. I think most of us out there who watch the sport may of done a little gymnastics or done some more gymnastics. But most of us were not Olympians, but we truly love the sport. It’s really a memoir about how the sport impacted my life, and it has a lot to do with religion because I grew up pretty religious. And you can find it on Amazon. It’s a digital book, but don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle. Because you can download… they have a bunch of apps, there’s an app for your iPhone, there’s a cloud reading app, there’s an app for like a million different devices. The only reason I’m saying this is because a lot of my friends, good friends, like two months after it came out were like, “How do I get this book? I don’t have a Kindle.” So I just wanted to throw that out there, you can get it even if you don’t have a Kindle.
JESSICA: Perfect. Alright, thanks so much Dvora, and we’ll catch you next time hopefully.
JESSICA: So, Blythe, tell us what’s going on in the news.
BLYTHE: What we’re seeing this week is the 2nd annual Mexican Open. We will have several people who did compete in the Olympics in London including Dan Purvis of Great Britain, and several people who probably should’ve competed in the Olympics, including Anna Dementyeva of Russia. From the United States we will also have Brenna Dowell from GAGE and Donnell Whittenburg who is a very exciting young gymnast from the east coast. He is actually the junior National Champion in the 16-18 age group category, and he is heading to Ohio State this year. And he’s an incredible guy, powerhouse gymnast, and has a lot of finesse, especially for his age, and big skills too. So that should be very exciting to watch. On the international front, we’re reading that the girls from Romania are starting to use grips on bars now at all levels. And we saw that a little bit at the Junior European Championships this year, almost all of the Romanians had grips then. And it really did seem to improve their bar work. We know that it improves their training as well, they used to not be able to train much on bars because they would be ripping their hands open before competition. And so they just wouldn’t do very much. But now with grips it’s going to totally revolutionize their system. They also have a promising young coach who is working with the juniors. He is very highly educated and is giving them a lot of motivation, and it was great to see them interacting with them as well. So things look rosier on the Romanian side, I think you could say. In the Great Britain gymnastics magazine, there is an update on Svetlana Khorkina. And she’s always a fascinating personality and great to read about, so I suggest checking that out. Over on the US tour front, we hear from Jonathan Horton that he had a bit of an incident on rings. And if you haven’t seen the tour, the guys do rings about three quarters of the way through the show, and they’re doing rings pretty high up. They get suspended 15, 20, 25 feet in the air, and he had a little bit of a malfunction with a grip, and we’ll be asking him about that when we interview him shortly for another podcast. So stay tuned to hear about that. Elsewhere, Jessica what have you been hearing?
JESSICA: Well, I don’t know if you guys saw this week that there is a cheerleader who broke the Guinness World Record for back handsprings, and she did 35. Which, you know, is fine, it’s impressive, 35 on grass. And she did it with her legs together and her form was not that bad. But as we know… and thank you all you cheerleaders out there, we appreciate what you do… but honestly, this has to be a gymnast who holds this record. I mean 35 is really not that many let’s be honest. So I know a few elite gymnasts have already seen this and are planning to contact the Guinness people to change this record and set it straight. Put it back firmly in the hands of gymnasts. So I’ve very pleased about that because, really, it needs to be held by a gymnast. And then also I watched the video of… have you seen, there’s a video out there of Chusovitina. She’s…is she 38 or 37 now? And she competed at the… at her state meet or national meet in Germany. And she did all around. And of course like she did floor and it’s watered down but it’s awesome because you can tell she’s been enjoying her summer, she’s super tan, she has a good time. It’s just great to see her doing something like that and supporting her team by competing with the team at their meet. And you never know, she’s always out there, she’s always competing. And that story said that she was going to be… her contract ended with Uzbekistan and she’s going to be coaching juniors in Germany, but she’s going to keep like an exchange program open between Uzbekistan and Germany. So I think that’s great because that’ll really help the Uzbek program. And it’s great to see she’s staying true to her home country. So, always love to see Chusovitina.
BLYTHE: And it’s really interesting to see Chusovitina competing. After London she was pretty adamant, she said, “I am done.” And she’s 37 years old, she’s been to six Olympic Games, she’s just an inspiration to all gymnasts. And she really seems very firm in this decision. But maybe she felt, “Hey, I’m still in pretty good shape, I can still do all this stuff.” That floor routine was impressive, it was great to see her on bars and beam as well. Everybody knows that she can vault. And the league that she’s competing in – the German Bundesliga League – they have a series of competitions in the fall and in the winter and they can be competing for their teams that they’re on almost every weekend. And it’s a great way to stay involved if you are an elite gymnast, a former elite gymnast. It’s the same competition we saw the return of Fabian Hambuchen, obviously in great shape as well coming off of the Olympics and looking really really strong and doing every routine terrific and celebrating that routine. And it’s a league where they often have international guests, and so Russia’s Polina Miller has competed quite a lot in the Bundesliga League, and Anna Pavlova as well. And a lot of the men- even men from a really long time ago. Sergei Kharkov, who was a 1998 Olympian for the Soviet Union, was out there at least a couple of years ago doing high level gymnastics at age like 42 or something crazy. So maybe even if Chusovitina says, “my international career is done, I want to spend time with my family,” we’ll see her continue to compete in the German league, and that would be really exciting.
JESSICA: Alright so, Uncle Tim has been following Shawn Johnson’s progress on Dancing with the Stars and he has a review for us now.
UNCLE TIM: Alright so the other night I went to a dinner party and I got put at the little kid’s table, where I probably belong. And so I pulled out my phone and watched Shawn Johnson compete with Derek with a little kid named Felix. And he’s six. And I took notes on his comments. And so we’re going to go through what he had to say. Week 1, Shawn and Derek did a foxtrot, and they scored a 22 out of 30. And to kind of set the stage a little bit, you might recall that Shawn was wearing a mustard yellow sparkly dress with a plunging neckline. And I’m not going to lie, I’m not used to the bootylicious side of Shawn Johnson and neither was Felix. His first remark was, “I think I can see her boobies.” Then his second remark was, “Why is her skin fake?” And I think he was referring to how tan she looked. And then when it came to the actual dancing, Felix wasn’t too impressed. At one point Shawn and Derek tried to do synchronized fan kicks, and Felix said, “She’s not very bendy.” Amen Felix, Amen. So that was kind of the end of Felix’s comments So let’s bump ahead to week two when Shawn and Derek did a jive. They scored a 25 out of 30. Shawn performed the jive in what looked like a hot pink [inaudible] halloween costume.And Felix’s favorite part of the routine was the beginning, which does not bode well for the rest of the routine. If you didn’t watch, Shawn and Derek both do cartwheels going down the stairs and quite frankly I’m impressed because Shawn did her cartwheel in high heels and I can barely do crab walk in heels, let alone stand up and turn a cartwheel. Unfortunately for Shawn, Felix’s amazement quickly disappeared. His next comment was, “Why is she squatting so much? She’s like a sumo wrestler.” Later on when Shawn and Derek went into their kick sequence, he said, “He’s way better than she is.” At the very end, he said, “That ended was terrible.” Out of the mouths of babes. Finally, week three, the quickstep, which was supposedly the best dance of the Dancing with the Stars sequence out of 15 seasons. Shawn scored a 26.5 and I’m not sure if you saw the routine but Shawn opens with a front tuck and Derek does a tuck-ish barani. And, I’m not going to lie, if springboard was an event, I think Derek would have a higher difficulty score with the barani because it has a half twist. Anyways. Felix loved the opening, he also loved when Shawn did a backflip over Derek. But shortly afterward, Shawn did a straddle jump, and Felix said, “She can’t jump very high can she, Uncle Tim?” Sorry Shawn, this is what a 6 year-old said. And at the very when Shawn and Derek jumped off the stairs, Felix asked me, “Did Shawn just die?” [laughs] And I’m a terrible human being and I said “yes.” Felix ran into the living room yelling, “Shawn Johnson just died!” And he said, “I’m going to need some alone time now.” Then I had to explain to him that I’m a terrible human being. And once he got over that, I asked him who he would like to see on Dancing with the Stars. He said me, Iron Man, and Big Bird. Which I thought was apropo given recent political developments of the United States. Anyways my question for you guys is who would you guys like to see on Dancing with the Stars, or what would you like to see changed about Dancing with the Stars, what are your thoughts?
BLYTHE: I would like to see Jonathan Horton on Dancing with the Stars. I don’t exactly know why, you know, he’s so short. But I think that he could be quite graceful, and I would like to see how that storyline would play out on television.
UNCLE TIM: Ok. And he’s also done some YouTube videos, I believe, of dancing. Spanny?
SPANNY: Well this is after seeing… there was a video posted the other day of the tour group rehearsing the shuffle, or whatever before… their dance rehearsal. And Nastia just stands there, she clearly has no idea what’s going on. Anna Li is running the show. Now first choice is obviously Anna Li, she would win the whole thing. Second choice- Rebecca Bross. I think she’s been lowballed with choreography her whole career. If look at her she’s kind of busting it up like on the side there. I think she could surprise a few people.
JESSICA: I would like to see Dannell Leyva. And of course this is totally racist and I’m just going to say it anyway, that he’s Cuban. And Cubans learn how to dance correctly from the time they’re little. And you know why this isn’t racist is because Americans, and I will say white people in general, dance like goofballs around little kids. And so little kids don’t learn to dance properly because adults that show them baby dancing instead of real dancing, and so this is why this happens. This is my theory, I’m just throwing it out there, but anway. He’s Cuban so I’m just going to say that he’s probably learned to dance correctly from adults around him since he was little, and so I think he can probably bust it out. And also I would like to see Orozco. Because if you watch Orozco on tour, he kills it. He is really good. Like he has personality, he sells it, he’s obviously really comfortable and he was actually really surprising on tour because some of the guys really struggle with dancing but Orozco was definitely very comfortable dancing. So I would love to see him. And of course, Svetlana Boginskaya needs to be on the show. And I know no one knows who she is anymore here, but I don’t care. I want to see her, she would win it all, and she would be the best ever.
UNCLE TIM: I would like to add that white people do know how to dance, it’s just dances like polka. If you grew up in Wisconsin, you learned how to polka from a very young age. Anyway.
SPANNY: In gym class right?
UNCLE TIM: Yeah in gym class, exactly [laughs]
SPANNY: Yeah you danced on one line to the other side to the other side [laughs] ok.
UNCLE TIM: Exactly. So anyway, I would like to upt Josh Dixon on there too because on tour, he and Anna Li were killing it on the floor, so I think Josh Dixon could also be a good contender. Now I have a little segment for reality television in general with gymnasts and coaches. And so I was wondering if there was a Survivor with just the coaches, who would you vote off first. We’re all on Survivor, and who of the following coaches would you vote off first: Marta and Bela Karolyi (they’re a team), Bill and Donna Strauss (they’re also a team), John Geddert, Steve Nunno, Mary Lee Tracy, Tim Daggett, and Rick from gymnasticscoaching.com. So who would you vote off week 1?
JESSICA: I’m going to say Marta and Bela for sure. Because, those two are crafty, they’ve taken over gymnastics programs in two different countries, and they’re definitely the biggest threat. I can see them making alliances with everyone else, and so I would get rid of them for sure first.
BLYTHE: Very tough question. I think that there are a couple of very dangerous silent assassins, if you will, amongst that group. John Geddert would be a very crafty competitor, I’m sure. And he might be the person that I would choose to vote off in the first week if I had that opportunity. Just because I think that he would really surprise people once he got into the swing of it. You cannot underestimate Rick from Gymnastics Coaching either. Not many people may know this about Rick, but he is a very very avid hiker and he’s in phenomenal shape. So Rick would be very dangerous as well. But I’m also tempted to agree with you that Bela and Marta absolutely could not be trusted, and they might have to go early.
SPANNY: My initial opinion is that Bill would be the weak link, he would bring everybody down. But then I remember there’s Donna, and she’s a mean one. I think if anybody’s going to start poisoning water supplies or stealing rations, it’s going to be Donna.
SPANNY: But nobody’s going to think it’s her because Bill is going to be crying and nobody’s going to think it’s them. I think that they need to go because they frighten me [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: And I’m going to go with Steve Nunno just because of his personality. I’m going to be in the middle of the wilderness with someone, I need to be able to get along with these people. And Steve Nunno would just be… you’d be chopping would and he’d be sitting there bleeding like a dying lamb going, “aahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” right? And ti would just be too much. And you’d be like chopping the wood and he’d be like, “THAT’S THE ONE! ONE MORE TIME! ONE MORE TIME!” And I just cannot handle that. So, alright our next game is: Philipp Boy is our bachelor, and our contestants are Alicia Sacramone, Svetlana Khorkina, Beth Tweddle, Suzanne Yoculan, Catalina Ponor, Vanessa Ferrari, and Dvora Meyers. Who would end up with Philipp Boy?
SPANNY: I’m going to say Suzanne, because she’s got a lot of titles. She can walk in heels on any surface. I could see her killing the other girls with heels. I could see her wiling her way… I could see her bribing producers and stuff, being like, “Oh Alicia’s on drugs,” and then, oh Alicia’s gone. Then all the sudden everybody’s gone and Suzanne’s the only one left. I could see a lot of shady things happening and Suzanne being at the helm of them. I think, and it breaks my heart to say it, she and Philipp Boy would be at that final episode together.
JESSICA: So I’m going to say Khorkina because she is also a crafty one and I could see her doing anything to win. And I can see her.. you know she can transform herself, she’s like a chameleon. Like one day she’ll look like a little gymnast, the next day she’ll look like a supermodel. And you know she’s very crafty. So I can see her taking out, you know, some of the other gymnasts, like that ice skater… what was her name… you know with the…
SPANNY: Tanya Harding
JESSICA: Tanya Harding style [laughs]. With, off camera without anyone knowing. You know like she managed to marry some movie star, but then she had the kid in the US, so the kid will be the US citizen. Like, that woman is wise, so I can see her totally winning.
BLYTHE: I would say Ponor. She’s young, she’s very pretty, she’s absolutely fierce. She obviously wants to win at all costs. And I think her sense of fun would appeal to Philipp Boy. So for all those reasons, Ponor. There would probably have to be some stiletto fights and things like that to beat off Yoculan and Khorkina.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs] And I’m the only one who has faith in Dvora Meyers. She would win him over with her sense of humor, and I’ve never seen her try to walk in heels or anything, but I have a feeling she could learn. And you can’t be a freelance writer without being super competitive, so I think Dvora would find her way to that final episode as well. Our final game show is Ninja Warrior. And several gymnasts have appeared on this show and actually haven’t done too well. Who do you think would actually be able to finish the obstacle course? And our options are: John Orozco, Sam Mikulak, Marcel Nguyen, John Macready, Bart Conner, Uchimura, and Anna Li.
BLYTHE: I would say John Macready. The man has incredible tumbling skills, even though he isn’t doing too much of it now. And he could really get the bounce that he’d need off of those towers and things to finish the course. So I would have faith in him.
JESSICA: I would say for sure Anna Li, because we know that she has ridiculous superhuman upper body strength and is just getting stronger as she gets older. And she always talks about her “man back” so I think she’d blow people away on this. But the real person I think that could win this show is, more than anyone, is actually Jenny Hansen. Because she is absolutely getting stronger with age. She look exactly the same as she did when she won al of her NCAA titles. And I think she could totally… and not only would she blow everyone away, but she would giggle and smile the whole time. And that’s something you don’t see on that show. So I totally give it to Jenny Hansen.
SPANNY: I’m going to say Bart Conner. I can’t think of him ever failing at anything. It’s like Santa failing, it doesn’t happen. And he’d just look awesome while doing it, and his voice would be amazing. Yeah, Bart Conner can’t fail.
JESSICA: He did land Nadia and get a gold medal so…
SPANNY: That’s right. You know, he’s two for two.
JESSICA: And the nicest commentator ever.
UNCLE TIM: And I’m just going to have to say Uchimura just because he’s Kohei Uchimura and what can’t he do in this world besides hit a handstand on pommel horse?
JESSICA: Ok I just have to qualify now my Danell Leyva Cuban comment now because I have to say that it’s not that white people can’t dance, because it often offends me when people see me dance and they’re like “oh you’re so good for a white girl.” And I feel like that’s so offensive. Although it’s meant as a compliment clearly, but i’m just saying that little kids don’t learn to dance well because adult white people don’t dance like normal people around them. They dance like goofy little kids around little kids. Whereas if you go to Cuba and… I’m just saying if you go like Cuba and Brazil, adults don’t change the way they dance because there’s little kids around. That’s all I’m saying.
SPANNY: Who was the adult dancing in McKayla Maroney’s life?
SPANNY: The video… the last one where they’re at a baseball game and they’re all… ok it’s Kyla, Gabby, and then Maroney, and they’re doing the dougie. So of course Kyla’s just like shaking her head, kind of whatever. Dougie’s doing her dougie and it’s beautiful and awesome. Maroney, bless her heart…
SPANNY: I don’t know what to say about it [laughs] I mean where are you learning that? I have the image of Mean Girls where the little sister is dancing in the house to the “Milkshake” song. Like, I kind of think that was her as a kid.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
SPANNY: That said, she’s a great dancer, I just…
SPANNY: I don’t know where it’s coming from. That’s all I have to say about that.
JESSICA: [still laughing] Alright, now that we’ve gotten all of our dancing comments out of the way, thank you Shawn for the inspiration and Uncle Tim for this fabulous reality show segment, let’s take you over now to our interview with Allison Taylor. And she’s going to tell us all about growing up at WOGA.
JESSICA: You may know Allison Taylor from the 2010 National Championship winning UCLA gymnastics team. Perhaps you listened to her commentary on the meet broadcast. Or you may remember her from her early career as a standout in the Texas elite scene. If you don’t remember her name, you should. Because what we know now is that she was a founding member of the most successful elite gymnastics program in US history. Allison Taylor was part of the first successful elite group to come out of the famed World Olympic Gymnastics Academy, or WOGA, in Texas. Coached by Valeri Liukin and Natalia Markova, her training group included Nastia Liukin and Rebecca Bross, while Carly Patterson, Hollie Vise, and Lindsay Vanden Eijkel trained alongside her in Yevgeni and Natasha’s group. What was it like to grow up in a program like that? We’re about to find out. Allison, welcome to the show.
ALLISON: Thank you for having me, I’m happy to be a guest.
JESSICA: So the first thing that we do on this show is we ask people about something that they’ve always wanted to talk about or what’s something they’ve also wanted to be asked. And I asked you about this before the show. And you were kind of… should I say, the victim of some cyberbullying while you were at UCLA? And let’s talk about that and just get that out of the way, and adress kind of your journey at UCLA and what happened. Let’s just talk about it.
ALLISON: Right. Well my… I had an incredible journey at UCLA. I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to even go to a university like UCLA and continue competing in the sport that I love. And yeah you’re right I feel like I was kind of the victim of some cyberbullying that was unnecessary. There was a lot of talk about my scholarship and whether I honestly deserved it or not. And to be honest, I know people get cyber bullied all the time. But it’s hurtful, no matter who you are, and it’s impossible to ignore. I mean, when you go on Google and you search my name and gymnastics, a couple of those threads are like the second thing that pops up on Google. And you know my journey… I had a lot of injuries in high school, and some of them I didn’t fully recover from. I broke a bone in my foot my senior year of high school which kind of hindered me from doing vault throughout college. And that was a rough time. I didn’t perform to the level that I expected myself to, which was difficult enough. And to that the worst things you think about yourself, people are talking about on the internet, is a hard thing to go through. And I understand the internet is a place of free speech, and people can talk about whatever they want, but it’s still hurtful. And I was going into the gym every day and busting my butt just like everybody else was. And, to be honest, it doesn’t matter to me if people think I deserved it or not. I know that I was in the gym every day training just as hard as everybody else and putting just as much into the team as, you know, a star performer like Vanessa Zamarripa or Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. In a team situation, you don’t win National Championships without every integral cause on the team.
JESSICA: With that out of the way, let’s talk about… what are your very first memories of WOGA?
ALLISON: My first memories of WOGA… well, when I first went, I was still kind of a munchkin. I think I was level 9 or level 10 or something. And I just remember WOGA being almost the enemy to be honest. I remember going to competition and… we called it “the red army.” Because at that point, they had the all red warm ups and they were always all up on the podium stand winning everything basically. So I was kind of intimidated to be honest when I went in the first time and met with Valeri and Yevgeni. I almost didn’t feel like I deserved to be there just because they were so good all the time. And I came around to realize that I did deserve to be there and that it was my place and a place that I would eventually call home. But I just remember being so intimidated and almost being nervous to practice because I didn’t want to mess up. I wanted to impress everybody.
JESSICA: So how old were you when you were put into the pre-elite group, or when you went to WOGA, is that how it worked? Do they do pre-elite group?
ALLISON: Yeah. There was… so there was… Valeri and Yevgeni had their separate teams, Natasha was with a team, Natalia was with Valeri. And within those teams they had separate groups. So, you know, there was kind of a 9/10 group, and then a pre-elite I guess you could call it, and an elite group. At that point, we didn’t have a ton of people. So when I went to WOGA I think I was… maybe I was 13 or 14. And I started in the 9/10 group and got evaluated then relatively quickly I was fortunate enough to move up to train with Nastia and Megan Dowlen. At the time Becca wasn’t around yet, she was still a little kid [laughs], but at the time it was basically Nastia, Megan, and I.
JESSICA: Did you guys have any dance training? Everybody wants to know this.
ALLISON: Yes, we actually did. We did ballet twice a week with Nataliya. She had a whole ballet program mapped out. We did it… it was probably a 45 minute routine with about half the time spent at a ballet barre in front of the mirror, and half the time kind of out on the floor with choreographed ballet exercises with walkovers and leaps and that kind of stuff. So it wasn’t just strictly your ballet training, but she also integrated gymnastics training into it as well, which is why I think it was so beneficial for most of us.
JESSICA: And this is why you don’t have horrible wrists.
ALLISON: [laughs] That is why I don’t have the horrible flippy wrists that so many people have. Yes, I credit that to Nataliya and ballet training. Because it was a pretty intense training. If she got too upset with you or if you weren’t doing what she wanted, you were out for the day. And you had to go stretch do conditioning while everybody else finished [laughs]. She was pretty intense about it.
JESSICA: Damn. So not a lot of people know about her, tell us about her.
ALLISON: She is fantastic. She’s very soft spoken. She’s an older woman obviously so she never really… it was rare for her to raise her voice. When she did raise her voice, you knew you were in big bad trouble because she’s always very soft spoken. Most of the time, I kind of looked to her as more of the motherly figure. Because she…. you know, she did balance beam and mostly floor exercise. So when you had a rough day on bars on bars with Valeri, you could come to beam and get a hug from Nataliya before she told you your assignment and you got going on your beam routines. But she likes to kind of hang back in the background. She’s not a forefront kind of person. She doesn’t like a lot of the attention. But I loved her. I was never the best athlete at beam, as most of you probably know. But she was great and patient and helped me just about as much as she couldn.
JESSICA: You know it seems like WOGA has really good fundamentals, except obviously some people have forgotten fundamentals about their wrists, but we won’t go into that.
JESSICA: So [laughs] so it seems like you guys really do, and did you guys work on that every time? How was the emphasized?
ALLISON: Right, basics was a huge part of our everyday training. On every event and… not even on the events, but just simply holding handstands and doing pirouettes and doing work on the floor bars. Every day we would warm up and do our conditioning, then we would have either a handstand program that we had to do, or a floor bar program that we had to do. We spent a lot of time on flexibility, which I think is very important to the basics of gymnastics. And then you know on uneven bars we had to go through a whole basic warm up every single day. Same thing on balance beam, we would have a series of walkovers, a series of two to three back handsprings, holding a handstand on the beam, that kind of stuff. And then a few days a week also we would go on the rod floor and have a basic tumbling program which consisted of back handsprings, front handsprings, front layouts in a sequence, whips, all that kind of stuff. And occasionally we would go on the tumble tramp if everyone was a little bit sore. But basics was definitely an important part of our training that I think shines in every single WOGA athletes’ performances, because form is something that WOGA takes great pride in.
JESSICA: And what was a typical day like at WOGA, including your morning conditioning, all that kind of stuff?
ALLISON: Well, we had long days. We were training twice a day. So we would wake up… I lived about 20 miles, a little over 20 miles away from WOGA actually. I didn’t live in Plano where the gym is located. So I had to wake up pretty early and get in the car and… once I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, which was a big step, I could drive myself which made my mom really happy because she didn’t have to drive the 40+ miles every single day to take me to practice. But we would get to the gym, with Valeri actually we ran track a couple days a week. Just to kind of stay in shape and work on sprinting and plyometrics and that kind of stuff. So we would either do the track workout or we would go straight to the gym and do a workout. We did the National team warm up every day. Then we would go through conditioning. We would either have an upper body day or a lower body day. Obviously core is mixed in with either one of those. And then finish witha bunch of stretching. And then like I mentioned earlier the handstand program. We also worked a lot on turns, so we would go through a series of turns just on the floor. A full turn, trying to stop perfectly. A double turn. You know whatever turn you had in your routine, whether it was leg up or whatever. Then we would split up into our groups and go to our events. And our program… for me I trained from 8-12 in the morning, then went to school in the middle of the day at Spring Creek Academy which was less than a mile from the gym which was really convenient. Then came back, ate a little snack, and trained again. Shorter warm up, shorter conditioning in the afternoon usually just get right to your events to finish your routines, or your parts or whatever, your skills you were working on that day. And usually wrapped up around 7 o’clock and made my trek back home.
JESSICA: And how did this work where you guys had like… with Valeri and Nataliya you had one program, but then simultaneous there was another elite program going on with Yevgeni and Natasha in the asme gym. Did you guys do any stuff together? Were you always separate? How did that work?
ALLISON: Occasionally the groups would overlap. You know, Yevgeni’s group would be on bars and we would finish beam faster than expected, and we would start bars with them. So it definitely wasn’t like “everyone has to stay separated and no one can be on the same event at the same time” because WOGA is a big gym and there’s not only the 9/10 groups and the elite groups but there’s also compulsories and optionals that need to get on the events as well. So it was kind of a choreographed ballet of rotating between events. But Yevgeni kind of had his own program that he did with his girls and Valeri had a different one he did with us. But it certainly wasn’t like we couldn’t overlap or interact with each other during practice. It was actually kind of nice when you got to an event and there was another group there of girls that you didn’t normally get to train with, kind of got to socialize a little bit, a little bit, I emphasize a little… between your turns. But I mean it was great. I couldn’t have asked for a better environment with all of those girls. And, like I said, I really enjoyed when we overlapped on events.
JESSICA: And just so everybody knows, so it was eventually Nastia, Megan Dowlen, Rebecca Bross, Brenda Magana, and then in the other group was Carly Patterson, Hollie Vise, Lindsey Vanden Eykel, Stephanie Gentry, Kaitlin White, Nina Kim, and Nikki Childs. So that’s quite a group.
ALLISON: Yes, it was a big group. And then for a while there we had some National elites. And so they kind of joined in the group as well. I remember taking… you know we do the team pictures, and I remember taking an elite picture and one year it was literally exploding with blue leotards. I couldn’t… I can’t even remember everyone that was on the team just because at one point we had so many girls that were at that level. Which is a nod to the gym and the training style and the coaching style that they have. But yeah those were the groups, those were the first groups [laughs].
JESSICA: Crazy. So how much Russian or Kazakh language and culture did you learn while you were at WOGA?
ALLISON: It was definitely a part of our everyday life. The coaches normally talked to each other in their native tongue, whether it was Kazakh or Russian. And we of course learned some. We would ask the coaches – when they were in a good mood of course – we would ask them you know what stuff meant and how to say things. And once the coaches kind of knew what terms we knew, they would try to talk to us… if they were ready to tell us to go home, they would tell us to go home in Russian. And of course we would be happy. But I was lucky enough to travel to Russia twice to compete, and I was completely immersed in the culture in Moscow. And luckily Valeri was with us because otherwise I have no idea how we would have communicated with anybody. Because most people over there don’t speak much English. And Russian isn’t like a Spanish where you can kind of figure it out if you know a little bit. It’s completely foreign. But we had a great time learning about our coaches’ culture and how they grew up.
JESSICA: And so what was it like when you guys went… like did you train with the Russian team? Was their extra pressure because, hello, it’s Valeri Liukin coming back to his homeland.
JESSICA: What was that like?
ALLISON: Right, we went over there, the first time we went over there we go to the big gym there called Dynamo. And you’re right, Valeri is a rockstar over there, and Yevgeni as well. Everyone knows who they are. And so we took pictures with everybody and got to train alongside some of their top athletes at the time. It took some getting used to. The equipment is a lot different over there, we had some major wipeouts.
ALLISON: [laughs] And their mats are all kind of this white beige-y color, which takes some time to adjust to as well because in your vidusal site when you’re trying to flip, it’s hard to spot white. And it just a different aspect than looking at blue. But we had a great time and I really enjoyed the experience. And Valeri was a rockstar, everyone knew who he was which was pretty cool. We kind of thought to ourselves, “oh, wow, he is a big deal, you know this is pretty cool!”
BLYTHE: Allison, your generation at WOGA is very well known for how they comported themselves at national and international competitions, but I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about the individual personalities of your generation at WOGA. Who was the class clown? Who was the serious one? Who was the messy roommate when you traveled?
ALLISON: [laughs] Well let’s see. The first thing that comes to mind for some reason is Steph Gentry. She was very… she was kind of introverted. But as we got older I think she kind of found her personality. And every once in a while at the chalk bucket she would say something so funny and you just kind of look over at her and thought to yourself, “Where did that come from?” because she’s usually so quiet. But you know Megan Dowlen was kind of the older girl that was in a my group. Nastia and I were basically the same age and, God forbid, I was not as talented as she was, but we kind of grew up together and, you know, went to school together and spent 12 hours a day together. So Megan was kind of the girl that we looked up to, and Megan was always really funny and tried to keep the group as light hearted as she could. We were all busting our butts for so long every day, and it’s inevitable that you’re going to have rough days, and it was nice to have someone older than Nastia and me really guide us through. Nina… Nina was hysterical. She’s very artsy, she’s very creative, she’s actually doing makeup now for weddings and photo shoots and so forth. So she was always kind of hysterical and really creative. And Hollie was relatively quiet, Lindsey… Lindsey, she got made fun of when she got to UCLA because she always wore her shorts really high. Like, her spandex shorts were always basically over her belly button. And I kind of started doing that too. And when I came to UCLA I got made fun of it as well. So now everyone out here at UCLA thinks that all WOGA girls wear their shorts over their belly buttons, which is very strange. But yeah I mean we had a great group, it was really eccentric, and everyone had their own personality. And luckily not everyone has a bad day on the same day so you basically always had someone to go to when you were having that rough day that could make you smile or laugh or just put life in perspective for you.
BLYTHE: It must have been a very special thing to be able to be in the gym as Nastia was preparing on her Olympic journey. And I know that Miss Val has given interviews about you being a very good friend to her during that time. Can you talk us through the experience about what it was like to watch that coming together and the relationship between Nastia and Valeri as that happened.
ALLISON: Sure. They were… they had an interesting relationship. You can imagine, like I’m talking about with everything, there are good days and there are bad days. And I am just happy that I could be there as a friend to Nastia and help her through those bad days and vice versa. There were days that I wasn’t on my game and Valeri was upset with me and she was there to comfort me. We spent time together outside of the gym, and it was an incredible thing to watch her… have her lifelong goal come to fruition. By the time she went to the Olympics, I had been through one year of college. So when I was watching her I had been removed from the gym for a year. But when she was up on that podium I had tears just running through my face. And Miss Val likes to say that part of that gold medal is mine [laughs] just because we spent so many years and so many long hours together training. And like I mentioned earlier I was nowhere near as naturally gifted as Nastia. She’s an incredible talent. But I’m just glad that I could be there and help her through the process in my own little way,. She had a million people helping her, but I’m glad I could provide the role of friend and teammate while we were training together.
BLYTHE: And other than Marie Fjordholm who Valeri was coaching through the 2000 Olympic cycle, yours was really the first generation at WOGA to have a lot of success and really gani that national attention. What do you think the coaches learned from your generation about how to coach?
ALLISON: I think they learned a lot. I think that they understand that every athlete is a little bit different and every athlete has a different perspective on gymnastics and needs a different approach when they’re being coached. Some people like when they get yelled at, that fires them up and gets the gong. Some people are really more sensitive about that kind of stuff. And I think with a group as big as ours of elite gymnasts who are training at the highest level, that the coaches really realized that everyone has a different personality and for everyone to perform to their potential, they needed to be aware of the athlete’s mindset and emotions, and that way they could approach it much better and help the athlete as much as they could.
BLYTHE: And gymnastics is a sport that of course breeds a lot of injuries. And that certainly happened to almost everybody in your training group at one point or another. But you all came back to handle it very well and to go on to the NCAA. How does WOGA handle rehab and pacing and returning from an injury, and how did that contribute to success in the NCAA?
ALLISON: Well, everyone was usually very understanding about injuries. We didn’t have a rehab program that we necessarily did at the gym. Most of us.. if you had a serious enough injury, you had gone to see your orthopedist and you had a PT place you went to to do your program. I had one that was relatively close to the gym, so that I could go in between school and night practice. But even coming back from injuries, once you were cleared, I know for me Valeri was always really cautious and had me build back up to training. I feel like a lot of people try to jump back into it and end up overcompensating or creating another injury because they’re worried about their old one because they’re not prepared yet to fully go back to training. But Valeri was understanding of needing time to rehab and needing time to progres back into your full training. So yeah, I think that’s why our group was so successful. And our group was very motivated. Everybody had goals. And once kind of the first person went off to college and everyone saw how cool it was and how fun it looked, then everyone kind of put that as a goal in their mind. And it was kind of a light at the end of the tunnel. Like if you can make it through this, you’re going go have a blast in college and have it be more of a team atmosphere than an individual sport.
BLYTHE: Do you feel that WOGA’s coaches understand teenage girls better than most?
ALLISON: [laughs] I think as the years have gone on, yes. But again that first group, there were so many of us. And sometimes during the month things aren’t going to happen the way that they’re supposed to and you may just start crying for no reason. Which I think was pretty foreign to them at first. But I certainly think as the years have gone by they understand teenage girls. And it definitely helped that Nataliya and Natasha were there for each of the separate teams because, like I said, they sometimes provided a mom role. And if you had a rough day with the guys and they weren’t understanding you, you could go to Nataliya and just say, “hey I’m having a bad day, I’m falling, I don’t know why, I’m frustrated.” But yeah I think there was a learning curve with everyone trying to understand teenage girls in America.
BLYTHE: Can you give us an update on Yevgeni Marchenko? You know, Valeri has been all over the place this quad with Rebecca Bross, but we’ve seen a little bit less of Yevgeni. Is he still coaching at WOGA?
ALLISON: As far as I know, the last time I went and visited was… let’s see, I was home in July and I went up to the gym and saw everybody. And after Carly won the Olympics, I think Yevgeni just wanted to take a step back. And he still coaches up at the Frisco gym, which WOGA opened several years ago. And, to be honest, I don’t want to overstep my boundaries because I don’t know how involved he is anymore because I’m not around, but I know that he is coaching and he’s obviously still co-owner and very involved with the program.
BLYTHE: Of course. And WOGA also has a great reputation for pacing gymnasts very well, which allows them to peak both as junior and senior elites. Can you talk about what you feel it is about that coaching philosophy that allows that to happen?
ALLISON: Well obviously pacing is an important thing in gymnastics. First thing that comes to mind is Katelyn Ohashi. And she is already a stud muffin and could’ve competed probably on the Olympic team this year, just wasn’t old enough, and basically has to wait another four years for her chance to live out her own Olympic dream. And I know that the coaches know when each athlete should peak. I look at Carly and I look at Nastia and they peaked perfectly. And it’ just something about the coaches having that experience as athletes themselves that they know how important pacing is because they know the process and they know when you need to be doing what. Sometimes we maybe wouldn’t compete at a Classic because it just wasn’t right at that point or during that year. And I think that’s a really big part of why WOGA’s been so successful at the elite level.
BLYTHE: WOGA has been incredibly successful at the elite level. And there’s also the feeling that Nastia could have been terrific at the Olympics in the 2004, and Katelyn, as you said, could have been terrific at the Olympics this year. How do you feel about the international rules that prohibit gymnasts from competing at the senior level until age 16? Do you think that should be changed?
ALLISON: Um… if it were to be changed, I would say only change it to 15. I am a big believer in young girls being able to be young girls and not pushing themselves further than necessary. Because, there’s just.. when you’re young, you don’t necessarily have the maturity level or the emotional capacity to be able to compete at that level. And some girls do. But I think it’s kind of an anomaly. Whereas most young girls are still 13 and 14 years old and trying to start high school, and they don’t know what’s going on. So I appreciate the fact that the international rules try to preserve youthfulness as long as possible, and I think the 15-16 age range is where you’re going to be at your best because you’re big enough and strong enough to have power, but you haven’t maybe fully hit puberty yet. So you’re fully functional and able to flip as easily as you want. But I think an age limit is necessary, but if they were to change it I think maybe 15 would be as low as I would want to go.
BLYTHE: My last question is sort of a tough question, and you are not under any obligation to answer it…
BLYTHE: I was just remembering when Vanessa Atler went on Starting Over, the reality TV show, she alleged that she was asked to skip meals when training at WOGA when gearing up for the Olympic Trials. And I was just wondering, was this ever suggested to you?
ALLISON: No. Certainly not. I actually remember one time… I got really sick and I lost a bunch of weight just because I couldn’t keep any food down. And I came back to training and just had no power, couldn’t do anything, and Valeri was making sure that i was eating because he wanted me to be powerful and have muscles. Otherwise you’re just going to land on your hand and it’s going to end up being a really dangerous situation for the athlete. So, for me personally, I never had that experience with anyone suggesting that I skip meals or do anything of that nature that would be unhealthy.
BLYTHE: Thanks for answering the question. You know, just because that was out there, that was the only reason that I ask.
ALLISON: Oh no, certainly. And I understand. That’s a big topic in gymnastics, it always has and it always will be because of the frame of athletes in gymnastics. Most of them are naturally small, and I’m not going to be stubborn and say that that never happens anywhere. But for me personally and my experience, that wasn’t the case.
UNCLE TIM: Alright, so I guess one of my first question is, what is the WOGA policy about watering down routines, and do they let the gymnast decide if they’re not feeling up to a certain skill that day, or what’s the philosophy with that?
ALLISON: Watering down is an interesting topic. I think that… in my experience, when you’re a young athlete, you don’t want to go up to your coach and say, “I’m not feeling up to doing this.” Which is something that really became clear to me once I came to college, because once you’re in college, you’re an adult, you’re 18 19 20 21 22 years old, and you can go up to your coach and say, “hey this is what I think is better.” And it’s more of a camaraderie and you’re kind of interacting with your coach. But when you’re 12 13 14 years old, you’re not necessarily comfortable going up to your coach, someone that you look up to and someone you want to please so much, and saying, “I’m not comfortable with doing this, I’m not feeling up to it.” I think that… I don’t know if this is going to sound bad, but I feel like in club gymnastics it’s more of a dictatorship where the coach is telling you “this is what you’re going to do” and you don’t feel necessarily feel like you’re in a position to argue or have a discussion about it. So watering down routines, I never really experienced it, I never really watered down unless I was coming back from an injury, but I think it’s necessary at some points to avoid injury.
UNCLE TIM: So WOGA girls are known for certain things and not known for other things. And so one thing that you expect from a WOGA girl is good front tumbling. So how do you guys learn how to front tumble so well?
ALLISON: Well like I said at the very beginning, we do a ton of basics. So I remember when I came to WOGA, I hurdled wrong. And I didn’t even know that I was hurdling wrong, but Valeri had a conniption fit my first day of training because I was hurdling basically off of the wrong leg. And I probably spent two days basically just doing hurdles into a cartwheel, into a front handspring. Nothing after it. But I think the emphasis on basics and knowing that you’re capable of front tumbling is really important. We do a lot of trampoline work which is also really helpful in learning how to front tumble and front twist and double front and all that kind of stuff. So I think the trampoline training, the tumble trak training, doing all the basics on the rod floor, really was helpful to all of us in front tumbling.
UNCLE TIM: Alright, and there are other skills that usually give some WOGA girls trouble, like the tkachev and…
ALLISON: Oh yes bar dismounts [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: And bar dismounts [laughs] I was going to laugh about that. So why do you think that you know WOGA girls have trouble with these skills?
ALLISON: You know what, that’s really funny that you ask that because I knew you were going to say bar dismounts before you even said it. And I think the bar dismount issue is that we try to jam so much into a bar routine because Valeri and Yevgeni are fantastic at teaching bars and coaching you into putting routines together and teaching you new skills that are going to make your bar routine a marathon. I think about Nastia’s routine in the Olympics, and it was a marathon. And I feel like everyone’s just so tired by the end of their routine because there’s only so much that each girl can do to put it on her feet you know? And with the tkachev issue… I mean tkachev was personally for me was the easiest release move to learn. I remember going through the process of trying to learn a gienger which it didn’t’ work for me whatsoever. It kind of meshed with my dismount abilities. I couldn’t separate the two mentally. And I did learn a yaeger and I did it for quite some time, but I had a bad habit of smacking my heels on the bar, and I still have these calcium build-ups on the back of my feet to prove it. But everyone kind of went through a process of learning their big “release move.” And I don’t know if it was just because… I mean Valeri was a yaeger man himself. A full twisting yaeger is you know named after him. So maybe that’s why it’s… a coaching style and them knowing how to teach certain skills better? I’m not really sure. But the dismount issue I think is just because everyone is so freakin pooped after their routine.
UNCLE TIM: So you mentioned kind of the long process of learning release moves, and so I was wondering if you could talk maybe about some of the wipeouts you saw at WOGA. Where there any good bar wipeouts? Where there any beam wipeouts?
ALLISON: Oh we had wipeouts all the time. It’s inevitable when you have that many people in the gym trying to learn new skills. And don’t forget we have a very successful men’s program as well, so we had guys that were just chucking skills all the time. And for me, I was learning a shaposhnikova on bars at one point, and Valeri was spotting me, and I threw the bar too early and was going to land back on the low bar. And he pushed me into the middle of the bars, but him pushing me pushed himself onto the concrete and actually broke his thumb trying to spot me. And he saved my life more than once, that’s just one example. But at the Plano gym… before it was WOGA, it was a grocery store. So it was kind of a split level. There was a level up top where there were two pit bars, a rod floor into a pit, a vault into the pit, trampolines, and then a beam that dismounted into the pit. So if people went crooked off that top platform, they were off. They were off onto the floor, and it was kind of a substantial drop. And I mean like I said there were guys and they were so powerful that they would fly off, and the floor was kind of next to the beam, so if they over rotated out of their tumbling pass, they might run into the beam that you’re trying to do something on, [laughs] which caused some problems. But yeah, I’m sure I could go on and on about wipeouts. But we had some really great ones and actually at a competition when we were in Moscow at Dynamo, there was a photographer there. And the floor was… there’s like no springs over there, it’s just kind of the squishy foam that’s supposed to be bouncy but really isn’t. And one of our male athletes, Tim Gentry, Seth Gentry’s brother, finished his floor routine with a half in half out and just had no bounce and basically landed on his face and got a rug burn all up on his face and the photographer caught it just as his feet were on the floor and his nose was about an inch from the floor. And that kind of became an infamous pictures. Someone I think printed it and put it on his locker and it was a good time. We had some good times with wipeouts.
UNCLE TIM: So could you tell us something that we would be surprised to know about Valeri or Yevgeni or WOGA in general?
ALLISON: Let’s see… well, Valeri does not like vodka, even though he’s Russian. That is something most people find really intriguing. I don’t know if that’s appropriate to put on the air [laughs] but I threw it out there anyway. Let’s see… I think most people think it’s this really scary hardcore no one smiles no one laughs kind of place. And the girls… everyone is basically like a family. I mean when I go back to WOGA even now, I’m greeted with hugs, everyone asks me how I am, and granted a lot of the athletes I don’t know anymore because I’m so far removed that the girls are like 10 years younger than I am. But it’s a really big family and everyone genuinely likes each other and is honest and loving and I couldn’t say any more great things about it, it really formed who I am today and I couldn’t be more appreciative.
UNCLE TIM: So you mentioned that you guys had fun stuff, and there’s this moment that’s been captured on television by gym fans
UNCLE TIM: So during the 2003 Worlds Carly infamously said, “Did she just fall? Aw, that’s too bad.”
UNCLE TIM: So what did you think when you found that out?
ALLISON: [laughs] Oh my gosh. Well Carly was still so young and we were all still so young. Any of us would’ve said it on TV without even thinking about it. But when you listen to that clip, she’s still got a really thick Louisiana accent and she just sounds like this little cajun girl complaining about someone falling. And it’s still something that I talk about. I think not too long ago I found that on YouTube because I was showing my boyfriend because it’s so funny and I put it on her wall on Facebook and she was just like, “I can’t even believe I did that, that’s so embarrassing.” But you have to be honest, it was a great funny moment. And gymnastics is so worried about always kind of being straight laced and politically correct, and putting on a good face, so i think it was great that they actually captured it, a real honest moment [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: And speaking of Carly, her wedding is coming up. What can you tell us about her wedding and then also about other WOGA girls’ weddings?
ALLISON: Well it’s that time of our life where everyone is getting married and having babies and growing up which is really strange. I currently have… well Nikki Childs is getting married today in Georgia. She is marrying a guy that she met at the University of Georgia. Carly’s wedding is here in about a month, and I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to make it out to that one. I work a ton here at UCLA. But it’s going to be in Dallas and she’s marrying Mark Caldwell, so she’s going to be Carly Caldwell, which I think is adorable. And Megan Dowlen is getting married in December, which I will be able to attend because I’ll be off work and going home for Christmas break. So I’m excited about that. It’s insane to think about when I look at the old pictures and to think that we’re all at that point now.
UNCLE TIM: One thing that many gymnastics fans wonder about is the school you guys went to. You mentioned it earlier, Spring Creek Academy. Can you give us the scoop on that? Is it just gymnasts or are other people there? Do you even have dances? Or, what’s the deal with Spring Creek Academy?
ALLISON: Well when I first started going there I was in 7th grade and that’s when the school was pretty new. And it was basically all gymnasts at that point. I mean we would go to school in our leotards and we would just throw some spandex and a tshirt on and go do school for however long and go back to practice. But as the years went by we had a plethora of different athletes. Hockey players, ice skaters, tennis players, people that were in the Dallas Symphony, people that played in the orchestra. It basically was a school for kids that had an extracurricular activity that took up a substantial amount of time. And it was intense and it was focused. We didn’t have PE or recess or lunch or any of that kind of stuff. It was short 30 minute segments. And we got what we needed to get done. And everyone always asks me, “Well do you feel like you got a full education?” And I tell them, “Well I just graduated from UCLA.” Like obviously I had enough in my brain to go to UCLA and be successful and graduate. And that’s just a tribute to the kind of people who go to that school. Because everyone is as focused on their sport or their music or whatever they’re involved in, which means they’re going to be disciplined in school. And whatever they need to get done in the time they need to get it done, that’s what’s going to happen.
UNCLE TIM: So it sounds like you were kind of surrounded by very driven people for a long time. And with driven people often times you have driven mothers.
UNCLE TIM: And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about some of your experiences with gym moms. Were they kind of like the moms on the television show Dance Moms?
ALLISON: [laughs] I love Dance Moms first of all. Anything like on the TLC Discovery network, I’ll get sucked into it in a second as dramatic as all of it is. First of all, I’ll say I was completely fortunate that my parents were relatively hands off. My mom was involved with running meets and stuff, but I had awesome parents who supported me in whatever I wanted to do. But when you ask me about crazy parents I think of right after each Olympic quad, people would pick up and move their lives across the country to come to WOGA thinking that their children were going to be the next Olympic champions. And when that didn’t happen, parents got upset. And I kind of wanted to say to them, well, it’s not like you walk through the front doors and this magic sprinkly fairy dust falls on your child and suddenly they’re an Olympic champion or they’re a World champion. A lot of it has to do with the kid themselves and how talented they are and how hard they’re willing to work and how focused they are. So we definitely had some parents that got upset when their child wasn’t the next Carly or the next Nastia.
UNCLE TIM: So it was kind like the Stick It moment where the mother’s like, “but she’s going to the Olympics!”
ALLISON: Oh yes, oh yes. You’re spot on. [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: Alright, and one question that we ask all of our interviewees is what is your most embarrassing gymnastics moment?
ALLISON: My most embarrassing gymnastics moment happened when I was a level 8 and it was the state meet and it was the last rotation and i was going to win the meet if I stayed on the beam, which was huge for me. And I start my floor routine, and my very first I’m running… I don’t even get to the hurdle, I literally stub my toe and roll across the floor. When I stand up I don’t even know what to do. So I just run to the corner and salute like I just did a whole tumbling pass, when really I just did something a toddler can do. And I keep it together, obviously my mom’s videotaping, I keep it together for the rest of the routine, I finish and the second my foot steps outside the white line, I’m bawling. I’m freaking out. My coaches are saying, “don’t’ expect a high school because your start value is going to be so low.” Because I literally missed an entire tumbling pass and all the requirements that were in it. So that was probably my most embarrassing moment. I was mortified. And you know when you’re a level 8 you’re still pretty sensitive to that kind of stuff. I’m not as easily embarrassed now, but it was pretty bad, and that’s something that scarred me for life. [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: Thank you very much for being on the show, Allison.
ALLISON: Thank you so much!
JESSICA: So right when I started the interview with Allison, I used the word cyberbullying when i was talking about kind of what went on with her and how she was treated when she was on the team at UCLA. And immediately I felt regretful like, oh I shouldn’t use that, because that’s too strong of a word to use. We can’t compare this to kids that are bullied so bad in school every day that they kill themselves. And then I was like… but I mean, isn’t it kind of the same… Like I brought it up with the rest of the hosts, and I said like God I kind of regret bringing that up, and then I was like but should I take that out, is it really the same? So we kind of started a conversation and you know I just thought that conversation.. it’s a really prevalent issue in gymnastics, and I thought we should bring that conversation to the air because it’s definitely something that’s going on. And it’s something that to this day it follows Allison Taylor because there are public spaces where if you google her name or watch a video of her, you know, all of those comments are part of the public records. It’s not like were said in private and then that goes away. You know all those things are still there out in the open. So anyone, what do you guys think? Let’s talk about this. Uncle Tim, you responded right away when we started this conversation.
UNCLE TIM: I think that gymnasts are used to having their gymnastics critiqued. And I think that what bothers them is when it goes beyond their gymnastics and extends into parts of their life. And with Allison is a question of whether she should have her scholarship or not, and personally I don’t really have an opinion on that. But in terms of cyberbullying I think that yes, everyone kind of has the right to free speech, but I think that when you have that right you also have to remember that there will be repercussions for what you say. And thankfully none of the repercussions thus far have been tragic. We haven’t had a case where an elite gymnast has read something online and then caused personal harm, or as far as I know there hasn’t been a case where an elite gymnast has read something online then developed an eating disorder something, and I’m very thankful for that. And I could see how some comments could trigger those responses if a gymnast was in a specific mental or emotional state.
SPANNY: I think too there’s a mob mentality. And in any social setting, I’m not just saying the internet. Get a pack of girls together in junior high, and that’s how a lot of people bond is by agreeing on one thing. And a lot of times that one thing is something negative about one person.
So what’s a great way to get everybody on the same page? Let’s discuss a bad bars routine or a certain bars mount… because everybody goes “I hate that, blah blah blah” and everybody agrees and everybody feels close to one another. There’s a line. You know you can say like, “I didn’t like that and heres why” or “this was incorrect because of this.” I think when people just pick on one thing like “that was filthy, she’s disgusting,” like, now you’re getting just mean. And I’m not going to pretend like I haven’t done it, I have, but I don’t think it’s healthy. And I mean, you know especially as we get older, there isn’t a need for us to bond about trashing teenage girls.
JESSICA: I think it’s really interesting you point out the mob mentality because I know studies show that negative bonding is the most powerful kind of bonding. That’s why when you’re in the military they put you in a group and they put you through hell so you bond with the people next to you. I feel like that happens also in the gymnastics fan mentality, like none of us can stand “this” and so everyone goes off about it. But I agree with Uncle Tim that the negative… like the personal attacks, like unless in some cases there are people who have done horrible, said horrible things, and that has been a repercussion for their entire gymnastics career because no one has forgotten that one thing they said or thing that they did that showed their character, and that they had said something they have never been able to live down. I thinik that in the case of someone who just has a hard time gymnastically… gymnastically has a hard time, to attack them personally is really harsh. And I think it’s better kept in a private space.
[[LISTENER FEEDBACK SEGMENT]]
JESSICA: So with that out of the way, let’s talk about listener feedback. Spanny what do you have for us this week?
SPANNY: Let me start by saying we receive all of you feedback whether you email it, leave it on the GymCastic website, Facebook, Twitter. We have one comment we’d like to point out is from the GymCastic website. Again this is after we were discussing all the drama in Russia. This is Yuri Cuzco, says, “There’s a great series of posts on Tumblr about events leading up to the Russian team going to the Olympics and Alexandrov’s firing. Both hilarious and insightful, I highly recommend it.” And then she goes on to link to Rachel’s Tumblr, which is whatshouldgymfanscallme.tumblr.com. It’s hilarious, I’ve been a fan of it for a while. But she points out either her reactions to various things all regarding gymnastics and some pictures and her’s are really insightful and hilarious just as Yuri pointed out to us. This particular post, again regarding kind of a history of Russian gymnastics, is in four parts and it’s worth every part for your internet to load up. So yeah, I wanted to pass that link on because I think it’s insightful and hilarious. And I love moving pictures, especially of gymnasts. And of course we give all your positive feedback, and we are working on sound issues and things like that, so please continue to leave feedback regarding either technical issues or just what you look or what you don’t like. If you do listen to us on iTunes, please rate and review us because once we have enough reviews, it goes up on the list, and then more people hear us, and we can talk about more things. And if there are any other services you would like to listen to us on aside from iTunes, there’s Audible, there’s Stitcher, but if there’s anything you would like us to try, we will attempt to do. Finally, I would like to note that we are going to have a gymnastics Halloween costume contents. I know, the ideas are firing in immense and you’re already brimming with them. I mean yeah if you’re going to dress up as Bela and Kerri as people have been doing for a lot of years now, if you’re going to dress up as Maroney, yeah, send us ideas, pictures, even if you want to flush out a few things, you want our opinion, you want other people’s opinions, let us know, we’re all in this together. Ideally we’ll have ideas before our Halloween podcast which is going to be October 27. However, most people don’t get dressed up before Halloween. If you do go out that weekend, to a bar or whatever, send us pictures, videos, we want to see them and comment on them. We’ll post pictures of the best ones. Oh I’m excited, yeah they’re going to be a lot of people squeezing into leotards this year.
JESSICA: Thanks for all your listener feedback, we love getting your comments and Facebook posts and tweets. And next week we’re going to talk to Jonathan Horton, so if you have any questions for him, be sure to comment on the website send us a tweet, put a comment on Facebook, email us at Gymcastic@gmail.com and we will try to ask him all of your questions. And we want to thank you guys so much for listening.
“This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. Elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back”
JESSICA: Visit Elitesportzbands.com, that’s sportz with a Z, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code “gymcast.” Until next week I’m Jessica O’Beirne with Master-Gymnastics.com
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
SPANNY: Spanny Tampson from Spanny’s Big Fake Smile
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: See you next week.