By Mike Chaiken
In August, all eyes of the international gymnastics community will be focused on Hartford, Conn. as the XL Center hosts the U.S. Gymnastics Champion ships.
The event is for men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics and will feature all-around and individual event competition. The winners will be the national champions.
To help promote the event, U.S. Olympics gymnastics great Shannon Miller barnstormed area gymnastics schools to talk about the competition and inspire young gymnasts.
Among the facilities recently visited by Miller was Plainville’s Farmington Valley Gymnastics on Northwest Drive.
Miller, now retired, was a world class gymnast who knows all about the national championship coming to the Nutmeg State. She went to the Olympics in 1992 and 1996, winning gold, silver, and bronze medals and numerous world championships along the way. She also was one of the longest touring gymnasts ever lived, she said, participating in package tours of gymnasts that performed at arenas across the country from 1992 to 2008.
Now, Miller, who is four months pregnant with her second child, said her gymnastics days are pretty much limited to broadcasting events and making appearances, such as the one in Plainville. “My body said, ‘No more,” said Miller, “but I loved gymnastics (when I did it). It was a blast.”
“I get my fix of gymnastics by talking to kids and parents,” said Miller. “This is my opportunity to hear from you guys.”
The upcoming national competition coming to Hartford, said Miller, “is really exciting” especially with the success the American team – and the Fierce 5 led by Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas- had at the 2012 Summer Olympics
And many of the gymnasts who went to the Olympics are coming back for the nationals. The Hartford event is the first major competition for these athletes since the Olympics, said Miller. It is also an important competition since following the Hartford event, the gymnasts go on to the world competition in September.
“It’s amazing to see (gymnastics competitions) in person… (with athletes) 10 to 20 feet away,” said Miller. “You get to see the height of their tumbling, the crack of the bars, and the floor squeaking (during the floor exercises)… This is a rare opportunity to see in your own backyard.”
Miller told the young gymnasts at Farmington Valley Gymnastics how special and privileged they were to train in the sport. “There’s not a lot of people who get to do gymnastics,” said Miller, “It’s really amazing what you get to do every day… Enjoy the fact you get to do such a sport.”
Her first born son does gymnastics, said Miller, who started her own gymnastics journey at the age of 5. She said the sport has been beneficial for the youngster’s strength and balance.
As for whether her son or her next child will follow in her footsteps, when asked, Miller said it’s up to them. All she wants to do is let them find an activity they are passionate about, just as long as they keep active.
During a question and answer session with the students at FVG, Miller was asked what tricks could she still do, before she was pregnant. “I can do something that looks really cool that isn’t too difficult,” said Miller. But she said gymnastics is a sport that is really hard to do without consistent training. It’s not something like basketball or baseball that you can just pick up and play. “You have to prepare your body,” said Miller.
The youths also asked Miller when did she know she wanted to go to the Olympics as a gymnast. Miller said her ambitions when she was younger weren’t that grand as shooting for the Olympics. When she first started the sport, all she wanted to do was be able to manage a somersault. Her Olympian aspirations weren’t stoked until she competed in the nationals and made the national team. Suddenly, the Olympics were on her radar.
And that’s what makes the competition in Hartford so exciting, said Miller. “This is where dreams are made.”
Asked by a gymnast if she was nervous at the Olympics, Miller said the first time she competed, she was nervous. “I didn’t know what to expect.” But those nerves faded away when she focused on the task at hand.
Asked if she ever considered coaching gymnastics, Miller said when she retired that thought did cross her mind. And she did teach a few clinics. But she said coaching is not really her strength. She is more of a technician and can help tweak a gymnast’s moves but not really coach them.
As for her favorite gymnasts, Miller told the students at FVG that she loved U.S Olympian great Marylou Retton. But Miller said she wasn’t built like Retton and couldn’t do what Retton did as a gymnast. She said the gymnast that had the greatest influence on her was Svetlana Boginskaya. Boginskaya’s style of gymnastics had more of a ballet-style than an athletic approach, said Miller. And Miller said that style fit more with her own skills as a gymnast.
The 2013 U.S. Gymnastics Championships will be held Aug. 15 to 18 at the XL Center in Hartford. Tickets range in price from $125 to $395. Tickets are available at 1-800-745-3000 or at Ticketmaster.com
For more information about the nationals, go to USAGym.org
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com