Nothing like a little gold to inspire young athletes.
Medal-winning performances by Americans at the London Olympics in the last two weeks have motivated some of the East Valley’s gymnasts to jump a little higher, flip a little more and practice a little harder, they and their parents say.
It’s also sparked a boost of interest from young boys and girls.
At Chandler’s Gold Medal Gymnastics, run by 1996 gold medalist Amanda Borden-Cochran, the girls in the top ranks spend five hours a day training.
Casey Betts, 15, took a break from practice Thursday at the gym to talk about what she enjoyed most when seeing the American women win the gold medal in the team gymnastics competition.
“They were really a team,” Casey said. “One day, we could be doing that.”
Becca Beasley, 11, said she saw that, “We have to work really, really hard,” to reach the same milestone as this team.
Both young ladies hope their years of training — Casey started gymnastics when she was 11; Becca started serious training when she was 7 — will lead to college scholarships.
Training so many hours a day requires time management in order to juggle homework with gym time, they said.
“You have to be responsible to get your homework done, maybe doing it on the way here and on the way back. You have to get to bed early so you can get enough rest,” Becca said.
The parents of the gym’s top athletes said watching the Olympics has motivated the girls.
“They could see where they could be in four years,” said Christa Bell, mom to 14-year-old Caitie Bell of Chandler.
Colleen Harvey said the day after the team finals, her 12-year-old, Kaitlin, came home from practice excited after putting together skills she’d seen Aly Raisman perform.
“They see, ‘Hey I can do that!’ They’re thrilled,” Harvey said. “You know your kids love gymnastics when they come home after five hours of practice and do gymnastics in the living room.”
Gilbert’s USA Youth Fitness Center’s owner Mike Naddour said the gym saw more than 400 kids sign up for trial classes in the last week.
“They see it on TV and they are just mesmerized by the flips and the cool stuff. They want to try it. Pretty soon they’re jumping on the bed, the couch, and flipping on anything that looks like a bar,” Naddour said. “At that point it’s the mom saying, ‘We need to get you in a safe environment.’”
Most of the trial classes are children under 12, he said. About 60 percent are girls and 40 percent are boys.
Naddour is coach to an Olympian himself. His son, Alex, was an alternate to the men’s gymnastics team. The two just returned from London.
Borden-Cochran said she sees this jump in interest every time an Olympics rolls around. There have been 25 to 30 new kids coming to her Tempe or Chandler gyms each day in the last week, some just to look around. She recalls how she got started in the sport after seeing Mary Lou Retton win gymnastics gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“It definitely gets our sport buzzing. We started seeing more interest through the Olympic team trial process,” she said. “Those girls, those boys become their heroes. They want to be like Jordyn Wieber or Gabby Douglas.”
That’s exactly what happened in the Fried house in Chandler. Melissa Fried was at USA Youth Fitness this week for the first time with her 6-year-old daughter, Chloe.
“When we told her one of the Olympians (Naddour) came here, she was like, ‘Maybe I can go to the Olympics,’” Melissa Fried said.
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