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U.S. Gymnasts compete for Olympic placement

Meet two top women contenders

by Derek Clarkston, Sports editor

Being a college student may be difficult at times, but imagine still being in high school, training six hours a day, and trying to qualify for an Olympic team.

Now that is difficult.

Many of the gymnasts who performed in the Pacific Alliance Gymnastics Championship at the Stan Sheriff Center face these difficulties. Gymnastics is primarily a youthful sport, with many of the competitors either in their teens or early twenties. No one said it outright, but the general sense is that they start training at a very young age, so when it is their time to prove that they are worthy of representing their country, they will find it easier to do so.

Alicia Sacramone, a first-year member on the women’s U.S. National Team, is 16-years old and is still a sophomore in high school. She has already participated in more than a handful of international and national competitions and is hoping that all the training that she has done will help catapult her into the Olympics.

“ After all the years of putting work into gymnastics, you learn to love it,” said Sacramone. “It just becomes part of your life. You can’t see yourself living without it. It really is a lot of fun. Some days are harder than others, but you pull yourself out of bed, and once you get to the gym, it’s not that bad.”

Sacramone’s teammate and fellow 16-year old, Allyse Ishino, also competed for the U.S. team. In her last meet, in Brazil, at the 2004 Siegfried Fischer Trophy Championship, she placed first in the uneven bars and second in the floor routine. She has been participating in gymnastics since 1991 and is in her third year on the U.S. National Team.

“ Being a gymnast takes a lot of hard work, “said Ishino. “I’ve been doing gymnastics for 13 years. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, but in the end it pays off. And it’s really fun.”

Ishino was drawn to the sport of gymnastics because she liked all the acrobatic events that a gymnast gets to do and believes that’s why the fans are attracted to the sport as well.

“ Gymnastics is very diverse. We do a lot of different kind of tricks and a lot of people are attracted to it because we do a lot of flips,” said Ishino.

Ishino’s coach, Steve Rybaki, is hoping that Ishino’s training will pay off in her attempt to make the 2004 Summer Olympics. A good showing in the Pacific Alliance Championship will advance her in the quest to go to Athens.

“ It’s a possibility for her to make it to the Olympics,” said Rybaki. “She is always participating at a high level of gymnastics either at the gym or at training camps. If she shows here that she can step up to the plate it will really increase her chance of making the team.”

Rybaki, who has been coaching for 30 years, believes that one of the biggest reasons why gymnastics is so appealing to young athletes is the difficulty that comes with the sport. “Probably one of the most drawing factors to the athlete is that the difficulty level of the sport is so high,” said Rybaki. “It’s a very challenging sport, it’s a very technical sport, it’s a very physical and demanding sport. “When you watch it, there is a lot of beauty involved, but you also have to look at the other side of the coin as to how difficult the skills are, especially at the elite level. It’s extremely difficult.”

Rybaki also claims that it takes a special kind of athlete to compete in gymnastics, an athlete that can take something that is very difficult and turn it into an artistic masterpiece.

“ If [an untrained] person were to try just one single skill that is on the floor, they could paralyze themselves,” said Rabiki. “Gymnastics is really appreciating the difficulty and how the athletes can take that difficulty and make something artistic out of it.”


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