The Gymnastics Olympica club in Van Nuys, founded by Fritz Reiter, has been training boys and girls how to balance, flip, roll, spin, somersault, tumble and twist since 1974. General Manager Arthur Minasyan said they have worked with “tens of thousands” of kids, building healthy bodies and competitive spirits.
Now club members have another reason to feel proud.
Seven youths — Ben Allins, Malcolm Baytop, Julian Brutchin-Roose, Isaiah Drake, Samuel Phillips, Blake Tingzon and Dylan Young — had qualified for the 2015 USA Mens Junior Olympic National Championships in Daytona Beach, FL. All performed well. And Drake, Phillips and Young did so well in their age groups that they earned spots on the USA Junior Olympics national team.
Phillips won the Level Eight (ages 11-12) championship. Drake was third overall in Level Eight. And Young was fifth overall in the Level Nine competition (ages 13-14).
It was the first time three athletes from Gymnastics Olympica made a USA national team roster in the same year.
How big is this?
How big is a dream?
“Our dreams (for their students) don’t end with Level Eight national championships,” Minasyan said. “We plan these kids’ futures until they at least join an NCAA program, or reach the age of 18. We’re trying to build a strong foundation so the kids will have an easier transition into training for the Olympics.”
Ah yes, the Olympic Games, the ultimate performing stage for sports like gymnastics. Like Broadway, there’s only one way to get there — practice, practice practice. The stage where specific routines on such apparatus like rings, pommel horse and the high bar are honed by endless hours of repetition and then are subjectively judged. Where both pressure and expectations can create tourniquets of tension that can cause a high anxiety levels in even the best performers.
“[The current ownership] hasn’t produced an Olympian yet,” Minasyan said. “The gym has: a female Olympian for the Canadian team a long time ago. But we haven’t yet.”
Which is why Minasyan, and team coach Pavel Sarksyan, were encouraged by the performances they saw in Daytona Beach.
“They’re on the right track,” Minasyan said. “But when you’re speaking sports, you can just train for it, chase the dream. But for me to sit here and say they’re extremely close to being Olympians, I’d be lying. And any coach that would sit here and tell you that would be lying. There’s injuries, and so many unknown factors that come into play. But right now, we’re on that path.”
As Junior Olympics national team members, Phillips, Drake and Young are invited to visit and train with the elite USA Men’s Team in Colorado Springs. They have two visits: the first one is in June, and second in October.
Phillips, now 13, has specific goals. “I’m looking forward to becoming friends with the new guys on the team, and to learn new tricks and show everyone what I’ve got and what I’m made of,” he said. “I hope to impress the national team coordinators and the people running it. And have some fun.”
Drake and Young are looking to upgrade their performances. The Daytona Beach event was the first national competition for Drake, 11, and to come in third was “huge for him as a first-year experience,” according to Sarksyan. But Drake believes he can do better.
“[His teammates] told me what to expect and what I needed to do,” he said. “I just saw what other people would do, and I knew what I had to do and trust my training. Now I have an idea.”
Young, 14, felt empowered by the progress he continues to make as a gymnast.
“This was my third time. And I took [more] confidence in my presentation,” Young said. “I think I’ve improved everywhere, especially my confidence. I wasn’t confident the first year and was 13th. It’s hard to be confident the first time. This time I was fifth.”
Everyone brought back something positive from the experience. Bayton, 13 (who had recently recovered from a fractured right hand) and Brutchin-Roose, 13, were in their first national meets, and had to deal with first-time nerves.
“It was a big deal for me,” Bayton said. “On the first day I fell once, but the the second day I was trying to make it better.”
“I was a little bit lacking in, let’s say, confidence — I didn’t have too much,” Brutchin-Roose said. “I knew it would be tough competing with others throughout the country. But seeing it now means that next year I can definitely push myself harder to get on that team. I have a clear vision.”
Allins, 16, was competing for the second time. He, too, has seen progress, and maybe his limits. “I’m not sure I could be elite like the Olympics, but I want to get a scholarship to Berkeley,” he said. “I’d like to be on an NCAA team.”
Even Tingzon, 13, another first-time national competitor, spoke glowingly of his experience. “It was hard to get past the excitement of how great Florida was, but I knew I had to get my mind set on the reason we were there.”
Don’t expect to see any of them at the Olympic Games in Rio next summer. But as for Tokyo in 2020…
Well, that is why we have dreams.