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Gymnasts launch into training for competitions

By BEN MCCARTY

News staff writer

March 3, 2007

The motion comes suddenly.

Kristin Kawachi flies down the mat, hits the vault and flips through the air.

Unlike her previous attempt, where she toppled Gorge gymnastics coach Steve Roney to the ground with her velocity, this time she sticks it.

Roney is thrilled.

“Great job!’ he exclaims.

Kawachi and her advanced class are practicing in the gym at the Hood River Sports Club. While the group goes through its routines in preparation for the Rose City Challenge event in Beaverton this weekend, a group of “Kinderoos” are learning the basics of gymnastics across the blue-covered area for floor routines.

Some of them are learning just how to hang on parallel bars, others learn how to rotate.

But while they have fun hanging from the bars, and occasionally getting tickled by the instructors, they seem to get the biggest kick out of simply running across the floor. They skip and race back and forth, while they try out various positions for floor routines.

“We try to make it fun for the kids,” Kinderoos coach Becca Slotterbeck said.

Kids from both age groups appear to be having fun and Roney wants it to be that way.

“Kids learn better when they are happy and pumped up,” he said. “So we incorporate all sorts of games.”

In between the games, the younger kids are learning the basics of gymnastics so that they can grow to master more complex routines.

Even learning something as basic as a handstand takes practice and several steps.

“Something as simple as a handstand can have five steps to it,” Roney said.

Once the younger students have mastered basic moves they can begin to move on to more advanced moves, and can find themselves flying around the parallel bars or off the pommel horse.

“We try to do things that are sequential for little kids,” Roney said. “That way they have something to build on.”

Claire Rawson and Kawachi, who were both working on their floor routines for the Rose City Challenge at Thursday’s practice, have risen up the ranks to become two of Roney’s top students this year, and they still have room to grow.

The gymnastics program uses Junior Olympic standards, so as gymnasts master the levels of the sports, starting at 1 and rising to 10, they can eventually have the chance to qualify for the Olympics if they so choose.

However, Roney cautions, that is not easy, the Olympic team is made up of 12 gymnasts, out of thousands across the country.

To get to that level, gymnasts have to train their bodies to become finely tuned acrobatic machines.

Many of the twisting, flipping maneuvers happen so fast that gymnasts do not have time to think about what they are doing once they have left the ground.

“They don’t have time to think about what they are doing,” Roney said. “So they train their bodies to think for them.”

The younger kids have not quite gotten that far yet, as Slotterbeck and another instructor work with them on learning how to rotate over a bar and make their way across the balance beam.

However, the coach hopes they will eventually want to be as good as their older counterparts.

“They start watching the older kids and they’ll be like ‘I want to do that,’” she said.

Roney is often amazed at how fast his pupils pick up the skills to become competitive gymnasts.

“These guys go nuts by the time they are 10 or 11,” he said.

Some even pick up the necessary skills and abilities before then, and can be prepared to try more complex moves.

“The younger they are, the better they do,” he said as he watched Kawachi prepare to make another run to send her body spinning through the air off the vault. “They have no fear.”

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