MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Olympics fans have surely marveled at the high-flying displays put on by Suni Lee, Mykayla Skinner, and the rest of the Team USA Gymnastics squad in Tokyo.
While they impress avid fans of the sport, and even just general watchers once every four years, they are inspiring young gymnasts who hope they, too, can compete on the biggest stage one day.
“They’re a huge inspiration,” said Makenzie Poe (17).
“It’s really cool (watching Team USA),” said Joley King (11).
“It’s super inspiring,” adds Isabella Uphold (10).
Team USA is not only inspiring young gymnasts from all around the world, but right here in West Virginia, too.
“It is cool that some of the skills that they do, that I’m able to do. I’ve been growing up watching the Olympics, and I’m at a high enough level that some of the skills, it’s like oh I can do that too,” says Poe, a student at Morgantown High School. “And it’s just impressive to see all of the crazy stuff that they compete and successfully land.”
Poe and the rest of the youth gymnasts at the West Virginia Gymnastics Training Center in Morgantown not only have gold medal-caliber Olympians to look up to, but they learn first hand from a former WVU athlete.
“Having been a former D-1 athlete, I can see first-hand, and teach them first-hand, exactly what it’s like to go through that process, and the skills that they need to obtain to get to that collegiate level,” says Alexa Goldberg, who graduated from the WVU Gymnastics team in 2017.
Goldberg not only helps train these youth gymnasts, but helps prepare them for high school and, potentially, collegiate competition.
She watches and provides feedback as the young gymnasts practice their routines on the floor, beam and vault. She also helps them build the strength necessary to compete at a high level.
A big part of that training process, too, is studying the best in the sport.
“We do it in slow-motion on YouTube, and we get to see exactly when she takes off, when she pushes off the table, and where her legs and her body is located, and how we try to translate that to drills, and making sure that their timing is correct,” Goldberg said.
“It does help watching their skills to see, like, where we can improve on certain things, and get corrections from them, because you always have room to improve,” added Poe.
Breaking down the “GOATs” do what they do is one thing, but breaking down their own movements and techniques is key for these young, aspiring athletes.
“It’s not just like seeing a video of someone else do it,” said Poe, who could be seen training on the vault after practice had officially ended. “You can literally slow down the video of yourself and see certain things of where to improve, like on vault, seeing where I can improve getting onto the table to get the height I need to get my twist around.”
Poe is committed to compete in gymnastics collegiately for SUNY Cortland in New York. Watching her spring off the vaulting table and then immediately go to the iPad to watch her form is a good example of why she has that chance.
Hopefully more of these gymnasts will get similar opportunities.
One thing is certain, though: the summer Olympic games in Tokyo have had a big impact on gymnasts from West Virginia, and all around the world.