Olympic Trials-Journal #4

Olympic Trials- Post 4

Just killing a little time here on the biggest day of my coaching career. I’d say biggest day of my life but I do have 3 outstanding children and recall their births as being the most special life altering events ever. Gymnastics has to take a back seat to some things.

Just killing a little time after the 8:30 am training and before the 12:00 team lunch. I’d like to squeeze in a work out, a hair cut, and a nap to tick off a few more of the minutes between now and the 3:15 bus to the arena.

Day 1 of the competition was absolutely thrilling. 12,000 buzzing gymnastics fans created an atmosphere that up until this point I have yet to experience. The anticipated 15,000 fans for tonights finale should blow the roof off of the HP Pavilion here in San Jose.

During bar warm ups, Bridget Sloan suffered an elbow injury. Something popped in her elbow while doing her low bar combination. She was in obvious pain and after giving it a valiant effort she had to withdraw from the competition. Not exactly how you would script the final pages of a shining elite career. I have the utmost respect for Bridget as a former Olympian and World Champion. She has always conducted herself with class and dignity, representing the sport as it should be. When she and Jordyn were slated for the 2009 American Cup, Bridget could have easily posed herself as the intimidating and experienced World Champ. But instead she encouraged and comforted the up and coming 12 year old. Even after Jordyn edged her out for the American Cup title, she maintained the role of a mentor and big sister. The bitter unfairness of this sport has no shame and I am so sorry that Bridget didn’t get to shine at these Olympic Trials. Fortunately she has a collegiate career sparkling brightly in the not to distant future. Good Luck at U of Florida Bridget. May your Gater years be filled with success!

I have accepted the pomp and circumstance of big events to be an evil necessity. On one hand I would just like to get busy as soon as the allotted warm up time is completed. On the other I understand the need to make these events special for the athletes and fans … as special as they deserve. The organizing forces in San Jose put on a great show. I especially liked the individual introductions accompanied by video of just the athletes eyes.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed in some of the scoring. I am usually fairly objective when it comes to evaluating performances and if anything I tend to be more critical of Jordyn’s. Some scoring just did seem to separate the good from the great, and the great from the outstanding. In speaking with Martha, Bela and some of the other coaches, most were in agreement. I am not knocking the judges as I fully realize that their efforts are forever under appreciated, but some things just did not make sense to me. In the end, I do believe they got the rank order correct (Easy for me to say since Jordyn finished the day in the top spot).

We drew Olympic order and started on Vault. A 15.9 is a good score but we will be looking to improve on the heavy landing tonight. On bars Jordyn put forth her best routine in a long time. Here I do not feel the score adequately rewarded her performance although it was still one of her best bar scores ever (15.35). Beam went well but still lacked a little confidence in a couple of the connections (costing .3 in start value). Floor was a highlight event. Jordyn darted her first pass and was strong throughout the rest of the routine (15.4). The 61.7 AA put her on top of the leader board, but by no means is this a comfortable lead. We need to be better tonight.

Post competition celebration was non existent but I did manage to throw back a few beverages with friends at John Roethlisberger and John MaCready’s congress gathering. Kathryn and I volunteered to do a couple National Congress sessions, which were early Saturday am so this put an early end to Friday night.

I really enjoy sharing information and thus the reason for doing the congress sessions but also the impetus for creating a coaches education blog/web site and related coaches instructional DVD (Success Videos). Coaches might want to check this site out (TheGymnasticsCoach.com) as it has been well received and serves as a place where questions can get answered and topics discussed. The goal is to help shorten the learning curve for coaches. By no means do I feel we offer all the secret answers, but do feel that experience is a good teacher. If you get a chance, check it out. By the way, the USAG Congress was packed and a great indication that our governing body is doing their part with coaches and judges education.

The mens competition concluded in dramatic style. I watched in amazement of how far this sport has grown since my days of tumbling on horse hair mats (yep… no spring floors back in the stone ages). The drama doubled when Sam Makulak from U of Michigan, had to withdraw from the AA to intelligently rest a tweaked ankle. This put his fate in the hands of the petitioning process and the men’s selection committee. I can’t imaging the gut wrenching anticipation of the final decision.

The afternoon training was uneventful. The day in between competitions is a day where coaches need to keep their athletes focused. They will naturally be a bit exhausted from the competition (more mentally than physically) which should serve as a red light warning to be careful. I reminded Jordyn of how one bad landing can change everything and we proceeded to train very lightly.

Saturday night was a very special evening. About 15 of our past gymnasts, some from as much as 25 years ago, gathered for dinner. The display of support for Jordyns quest and for Kathryn and I was heartfelt and something I will always remember. The group included 3 doctors and 2 attorneys which says volumes about the life lessons that this sport can teach. It was an amazing evening reliving old memories.

The obligatory am training session served it’s purpose. It gets the kids up, moving and gets the brain back on track for competing well. We did some light conditioning, a few vault timers, one bar routine and some parts trying to emphasize more vertical pirouettes, one strong beam routine and parts before closing the book on training.

I did have an interesting conversation with one well established coach about the expenses incurred by the club owners during the long haul to an Olympic Games. He stated that the athletes and their families get significant funding from the national office and related programs yet sometimes the out of pocket expenses for the clubs is under appreciated by the parents of some upper level athletes. I did let him know that this may not be the case in all situations and he was surprised to hear that the Wiebers offered up a percentage of Jordyn’s pro income to help reward our contributions to her success. This is a rarity and I mention it here not to shine the light on the Wieber’s but more to encourage this as a TREND for elite parents to adopt. Elite gymnastics is a major financial strain on gymnastics clubs. Equipment needs, staff training, extensive travel, missed gym time, planning hours, coverage in the gym while away, etc are not something that is covered by monthly tuition. I am thankful that the Wieber’s get it!

The goal of coaching an athlete to an Olympic team is within reach. I just wish my arms were longer. 30 years of coaching serve as a reminder of how special this opportunity could be. I feel honored and blessed to be knocking on the door of the London games, and it is with a crystal clear realization that opportunities such as these are oh so very rare.

I just killed 60 of those minutes!