Olympic Preparation Camp
Before I present some insight on the Olympic preparation camp period I have to back up a bit and say WHOA Wieber Fever fans. Perhaps I need to read my blog posts a bit more carefully prior to posting but I must have hit a few nerves out their with the last article. Although most submitted comments expressing positive thoughts on the content, there were a few people who misunderstood my message.
At no time would I criticize my athlete (or any other for that matter). My point of illustrating the post Olympic trials “let down” was only to show that even the best athletes in the world are human. They will have periods when, for whatever reason (distractions, mental or physical,) they will not live up to the expectations. Call it a bad day or whatever you want but the reality is that every athlete experiences them. The learning point here was for coaches to read their athletes and when it calls for backing off … do so. Put the tough love coaching ego in your back pocket and back off. I called it “living to fight another day”.
A couple people took offense to what they referred to me “whining” about the cost of elite gymnastics. For the record, this is not my first rodeo and I have fully accepted the financial obligations that accompany training upper level athletes. Again my point in laying out some of the related costs was purely educational. To paint the elite program as being all sugar plums and daisies would be misleading coaches. My secondary point was to acknowledge the giving hearts in our gymnastics community and how they so willingly stepped up to assist in lessening the financial burdens.
4:00 am came knocking early the morning after our wonderfully successful send off party. A 5:45 flight to the National Team Training Center (The Ranch), located just outside of Houston for the Olympic Preparation Camp. USAG policy limits the amount of information that I can disclose so this report will be somewhat vague. The rationale for limiting the informational leaks is strategic and to help foster team camaraderie. Often times comments made about other athletes, or photos/videos are used in poor taste so rather than risk inner group issues, the national office has frowned upon giving out specific and detailed information.
Our 1 hour commute from the Bush International Airport to the depths of the Sam Houston National Forest and Karolyi’s Ranch always includes a stop for supplies and lunch 12 miles out. Upon arrival the athletes and coaches check the welcome board in the parking lot for their room assignments.
Media was present for photos and film fluff material prior to the 5:00 workout. Day one is normally used for acclimation, a warm up, light conditioning and then 4-20 minute rotations. On vault we just get dialed in, making sure steps are right and then do a few layouts stressing the block and rise. On Bars we normally do a couple parts and focus on alignment, angles along with form and execution. On beam we do a skill warm up followed by 2 routines (seldom is there really a workout on beam where you don’t do full routines), On floor we do 2-3 of each tumbling pass only because we are very familiar with the floor being that this is our second home. IF we were getting used to new equipment we may spend more time with basics so as to “feel the floor” prior to launching major difficulty or combinations.
Prior to training we always have a coaches meeting to discuss the training plan, the expectations of the camp and to disclose any health issues that any of the athletes might be experiencing. The initial plan included training every day … 2 a day’s on Thursday, Friday, a mock competition on Saturday, 1 training session Sunday, then back to 2 a days on Monday and Tuesday and finishing with a single training session on our travel day (Wednesday the 18th). I have never been a proponent of not having an off day so I spoke up. My point was that no coach trains 8-9-10 days in a row while at home SO WHY would we change what has proven to be proper while heading into the most important meet EVER. Coaches agreed and one thing that has become surprisingly evident is that Martha listens to the personal coaches with open ears. The compromised was to trade a full day off for a 90 minute practice the morning of the mock competition. DEAL!
Next we discussed the proposed competition line up and who would be used in the 4 man team, 3 scores count. This is important so that we train in the same order as we would compete. This way the athlete leading off has advance notice. Little things like this make a difference, for instance if you are towards the end of the vault line up and towards the beginning of the bar line up it would be important to rehearse getting your grips on in a hurry. Or if you are towards the beginning of the bar line up you might not want to do a full routine in your 30 second touch so that there is not concern about recovery time.
The line up is suggested by Martha based on past performances and the reputation that the athlete has established on each event. The Olympic team is a 5 member team yet in the qualification round we use 4 of the 5 members on each event. The proposed line ups used 3 All Around athletes with the 2 events each for the other 2 athletes. There were a couple of line up spots that were debatable. In these cases we discuss the options and go with a tentative line up while waiting to see how training and verifications go. We will set the final line up prior to departure for London which unless there is a major issue is the line up that will be used for competition. I specifically had slight issues with where Jordyn was placed on beam and vault so I asked that this be reviewed later based on her camp performances.
The Karoyli’s Summer camp is in full swing this week so naturally the Olympic Team is the center of attention. They are off limits to the campers but nevertheless you get the feeling of super star status. Each morning, prior to training, the day begins with autographing something. This has become known as their wrist conditioning but certainly puts smiles on the lucky few that find a connection or a way to get something signed.
I can not disclose exact details about the training sessions and or competition but I will say that team USA looks poised and polished. They are focused and fit, determined yet relaxed. It should be a good showing for USA in London. With this being said however I’d like everyone to know that the rest of gymnastics powers of the world can make similar claims. Social media has USA already wearing gold around their necks but we fully anticipate that this is something that will require a phenomenal performance on game day. We are confident, we are ready, but are certainly not counting any medals before they are rightfully earned.
The mock competition on Saturday went well. There were a few hitches but nothing that would be considered major issues. Jordyn performed very well on 3 events and pretty good on the forth. There were some shining moments presented by each and every athlete which delighted the special guests (dignitaries, camp staff and campers) in attendance. The after competition celebration took place at “The Lodge” (a gorgeous guest house on the lake). Bela always prepares a meal featuring something wild. This nights gourmet entree was bacon wrapped quail. It was wonderful. USAG President Steve Penny was on hand to deliver a few good luck, congratulations and motivational speeches. Steve is a inspirational leader and undoubtedly the cornerstone on which USAG has built much of it’s success. Some plum wine (Palinka) and champagne toasts accented the evening throughout.
The highs and lows of life were never more evident than on this night. The highs of an Olympic team performing well and striding confidently forward to what could be a historical London Games for USA Gymnastics. The lows of a rare text coming through at the ranch (reception is poor at best in the forest) stating that a close friend was killed in a auto accident. We learned later he was struck by a hit and run vehicle while taking a leisurely bike ride in our neighborhood. I knew this respected man very well. RIP Curt Dombecky. I could do an entire book on this man and how he has impacted the lives of many, but this blog is not the place. I will say, in his honor, that he was influential in molding my coaching philosophy and style.
The off day served it’s valuable purpose. First the girls (and coaches) got to sleep in a bit prior to heading into civilization for a welcomed change of pace lunch and a movie. The next day there was a noticeable bounce in their steps. Dah… they were rested. Training went very well but the highlight of the day was receiving our National Team Apparel. Coaches received a large Adidas rolling duffle bag stuffed to the zipper with various warm ups, shirts, socks and other 3 striped goodies. The only problem is that we can’t wear Adidas during the Olympic Games due to Nike being the official sponsor. This left the male coaches scrambling to find enough non striped warm up pants to last through the multiple days of London training.
The last two-a-day training session on Tuesday showed signs that the team is simply ready to be done at the ranch. The big coaches meeting is scheduled for tonight and I have to say I am a little anxious. The official coaches will be named and the final line up will be determined. As for the title of Olympic Coach, it would be the ultimate resume topper, but in this case the selection committee (Martha, Steve Rybecki and Tarin Humphrey) has a tough call to make as all attending are certainly deserving. Stay tuned for more later from London.