11
Nov
09

Poking fun at the past

Here is a pretty funny spoof on (former) eastern block coaches who have immigrated to America and become gymnastics professionals. (WARNING: THE VIDEO DOES HAVE ONE BIT OF INAPPROPRIATE LANGUAGE) The video title mentions Marta Karolyi by name but there are more than just Marta out there.  British comic Tracey Ullman is poking fun at coaches who, through neglect, intimidation and hard-line tactics have produced many disposable champions in the past. I do want to point out, that this type of coaching was eminent years ago, but today American coaching is more nurturing than ever. There are some gyms that require the team to have tutors and not attend public school, they practice up to 40 hours a week and endure grueling training sessions for flexibility and strength. These kids were socially mal-developed when they “retired” because there was no interaction with anyone other than the team and their coaches. They found their bodies badly beaten from years of unforgiving training and after it was all done, they experienced soreness and pain on a regular basis for the rest of their lives. Those were the dinosaur days as I call them.

Today’s more modern gyms are producing champions that outlast their participation in the sport. Coaches like Shawn Johnson’s Liang Xiao (formerly of China) insist that his girls workout no more than 25 hours a week and attend public school, unusual for the Chinese. Xiao has changed the face of modern American Gymnastics and we are all grateful. Kids are developing like “normal” children and yet they are still winning World Championships. Their retinue of skills is deeper and harder than any gymnasts before and when they retire they can participate in other activities. We finally got the formula right.

When the Karolyis came to the USA they changed the direction of American gymnastics. Our teams used to show up at large competitions and were hardly noticed and certainly winning was rare. Bela and Marta Karolyi are also owed a debt of thanks for showing us that we can produce as good as the rest of the world, at that time, and could be contenders for championships. Coaches like Xiao and Valeri Liukin (Nastia’s father and coach) have taken it a step further. We can win AND have healthy children. Gymnastics has evolved so much over the past 20 years. My brother was a coach before I was, and he had left the profession back in the early 90’s. If he were to return to coaching he would find a whole new world and may have a hard time adjusting…that’s how much it has changed. We have all grown with the sport, learning how to train great gymnasts but not leaving behind the fact that we are working with children. The sport has newer, smarter, more empathetic coaches that are making a new age for gymnastics; coaches like the late Tim Rand (Florida), Liang Xiao (Iowa), Dave Adlard (Idaho), Mike Hunger (Minnesota) and Marvin Sharp (Indiana) are leading the way for this growth. They, and coaches with like philosophies (like Gymfinity’s) are the new icons for gymnastics. They’re just not funny enough to be spoofed by Tracey Ullman (I don’t know, Adlard is pretty funny).

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