2011 World Championships: Pre-Competition

I was asked to share our road to the 2011 World Gymnastics Championships and post it as a blog. Why not, it may serve to educate and assist those with aspirations of attaining the pinnacle of this sport. Let me just say, be prepared for a long haul.

Our journey started with a “knock off the competitive cob webs” event that served as step one to the eventual goal of qualifying to the World Championship Team and representing the USA in Tokyo. Cover Girl classic was the event. We had decided very early that we were only going to do Bars and Beam at this event and use it as a stepping stone in our preparation. 4-6 Weeks from that event (which was late July) we started putting full routines together. We did not want to log excessive numbers especially on the events that tend to take a toll on the body (Vault and Floor). This is not to give the impression that Beam is an easy event on the body, but due to it’s importance from a mental preparation standpoint, we wanted to make sure Jordyn had ample time and numbers under her belt. We decided not to get Jordyn ready for Vault simply due to the difficulty and risk associated with the Amanar vault. Regardless of her level of mastery of this vault, I really felt the need to limit the exposure to hard landings and the potential for a costly landing mistake. We also didn’t want to over expose her to hard landing for tumbling and thus chose not to prepare for floor at this time. Jordyn also is hampered by asthma which makes training for longer periods of time a bit challenging. This is not to say that we were not training Vaults and Floor routines, in fact just the opposite. We were just not ready to put them on display.

Step one at the Cover Girl Classic served its purpose. She posted the top score on the 2 events that she did perform. The ball was now rolling.

Step Two was preparing for the Visa Championships 3 weeks later. To do well at that competition was a major goal but we still needed to keep our focus on the ultimate goal of making the World Team. This was tough to manage. On one hand, what athlete, coach or program does not want to have the Senior USA National Champion, on the other we had to be careful not to push too hard too soon. These opportunities are rare, so the plan was to go after the national title hard. We also wanted this meet to serve as her launching pad and to serve notice to the world that she would post consistent scores worthy to be considered world class.

Championships is preceded by 3 days of podium training. We have always wanted to take advantage of any exposure to the competitive arena and equipment. There are normally 2 training sessions per day scheduled (one on podium and one in a work out facility). It is expected that USA National Team members be on hand for these sessions. Numbers are not dictated by National Team Coordinator, Marta Karoyli, but the message is clear the serious contenders need to take advantage of each training opportunity.

Championships day one went OK. 2 events were good (Vault and Floor) but the other 2 were far from acceptable standards. She did manage to escape any major mistakes and had a fairly comfortable lead after day one. Day one was on Thursday August 18th.

Light training day on the 19th.

Day 2 featured Jordyn at her best. She topped every score from Day One and posted the 2nd highest AA score ever in the World. The goal to send a message was accomplished. Now it was important to evaluate our position, knowing that the world judges would not be as friendly as their American counterparts. The conclusion was that although we were extremely pleased with the results, that there was still plenty of room for improvement (mostly in the area of landings and range of motion on flexibility skills).

Sunday following Championships is always the official and required National Team Meeting. Departure home was scheduled for late afternoon.

Monday was media day at the gym. Local and State affiliates were on hand for an exhausting day of interviews. We even had a news crew in from Tokyo in the gym to do an all encompassing “Day in the Life of Jordyn Wieber” as a promotional lead up for Worlds. Jo was simply wiped out by the end of the day. Monday was supposed to be the rest and recovery day, but it did not turn out that way so we made her take Tuesday off. Wednesday would be a light training day and then we would get back up to full speed on Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

2 weeks of training at home before we were commanded to attend a PRE-WORLDS evaluation camp (September 5-10). To me this camp served little purpose, but I am not the one with all the experience. It was thought that this camp was necessary in order to make sure everyone was on the right path for the World Selection Camp which was one week later. 5 days of show and tell at the National Team Training center and then back home for 6 days prior to returning for the REAL DEAL. I felt that the early September camp got in the way of establishing any momentum. In traveling to the NationaL Team Center we lose 2 training days due to travel, so to me the benefit of showing our point of readiness did not outweigh the benefit of being home, comfortable, with family, in school, training hard, resting in familiar surroundings etc. Again, I tip my hat to those who have lived and seen more than I, but this requirement puzzled me.

Departure for World/Pan Am Selection Camp was September 17. The camp would have a training day followed by a mock competition on the 19th, another training day on the 20th followed by an event assignments (each athlete repeated 2 or 3 events) competition on the 21st. The team was then to be named that evening. I really do not think there were any big surprises as to the results. A couple of athletes that could have claimed a 6th or 7th spot either were coming off of injuries, OR were not far enough along in their comebacks to present a strong enough case. Makenzie Caquatto’s mishap on beam probably was the biggest set back for Team USA and opened the door for others to step up. Those that did not make Worlds had the greatest possible next best option and that was being named to the 2011 Pan American Games Team. All members that participated at this camp were named to the USA National Team. There would be nothing worse that enduring this process only to have nothing to show for it in the end. You have to appreciate USA Gymnastics concern here, they rewarded those that persevered.

The World team had to remain at camp while the Pan Am team departed. A World Team Camp was then conducted from September 22-25. This is where the team bonds, initial line ups are selected, competition rehearsals are done etc. It serves a valuable purposed but considering what was yet to come, I would have liked to see a few more strategically assigned rest days. There were none and thus this process is simply grueling, both mentally and physically. I am not saying it is not needed, but I would not be being honest if I conveyed that it was paradise. From September 5th through the end of Worlds (if all went according to plan) we were looking at 42 days and 2 days off (3 if you count the 13 hour plan ride travel day as a day off).

Training went well during the World Team Camp. The entire team looked focused and with the exception of one bad landing (Makayla Maroney on her second vault that is needed to medal at worlds) everything went smoothly. Jordyn had to re-prove herself as she missed her 3rd tumbling pass (2.5 punch front layout) twice during verification. Basically she was over charged and I never have an issue with “over doing a skill”. Marta on the other hand doesn’t differentiate … a mistake is a mistake. We were satisfied with her assigned line up spot on all events except Floor. She was assigned 4th spot (followed by Maroney) on Vault, 4th spot (followed by Anna Li) on Bars, 5th spot on Beam but 2nd spot on Floor. We had to improve on this.

Travel day was Monday the 26th. The 13 hour flight from Houston to Tokyo meant leaving on Monday and arriving on Tuesday. Our arrival time in Tokyo combined with a 2 hour bus ride to the hotel meant it would be too late to get in a scheduled training session. So we trained in the hall of the hotel (a brief warm up, basic line drills tumbling, light conditioning and then flexibility). We were invited to train at Tsukahara gym where we would acclimate to the time change and get a chance to work on SENOA equipment (the official supplier for Worlds). 3 days of 2 a day training and then we were to move to the official host hotel for worlds.

The training schedule for worlds had 3 gyms assigned during the next week prior to Team Preliminary Competition. One gym was set up on a podium which would be considered a major luxury and allow for an easy transition to the competitive equipment. The feel of the equipment on a podium is totally different than your traditional meet set up. Podium equipment is usually far more “bouncy”. Gym 2 was a traditional set up and used as our choice if we needed a second training session that day. Gym 3 was a beautifully set up competitive arena. The Japanese spared no expense in putting together the best possible venues for training and competition. This again is a rare occurrence at World Championship competitions (so I’ve been told).

The plan was to do 2 days of 2 a day training followed by a short efficient single training session on day three. This is Marta’s normal plan …2-2-1 usually timed for an important day 4 (podium training, competition etc). It was not uncommon for her to really cut back on the expectations and numbers expected during the 2nd training session. Normal numbers were 2-3 competitive vaults, 2-3 bars routines, 3-4 beam routines and a full floor. The evening training expectations were normally 2 bars, 3 beam and floor dance. The next day we could adjust vault requirements as needed and the floor requirements were a dance through with one pass if you wanted to. We chose to keep doing our 3rd tumbling pass (the one she missed in verification) in the dance routines so as to prove that her mistake was simply a fluke. This worked to the tune of being moved from the 2nd spot to the 3rd. Still not where we wanted to be but an improvement.

Day 14 in a row, (the day after podium) I spoke to Marta about not training in the PM. Jordyn was visibly tired and I wanted to rest her for the following day where the requirements would be full. We did a bit more than was expected in the AM with the plan of doing nothing in the PM. Rule number 1- take care of your athlete. Marta is agreeable to modifications to the program provided you discuss your plan with her. Out of respect for her and her position, this is a logical request.

Stay tuned for more-