12.21.2014

Thoughts on Gymnastics Part Two: Reading & Viewing Primer


I wanted to follow up my review of Chalked Up with links to a few books, videos and thoughts about gymnastics.

Chalked Up is not the only book exposing the dark-side of gymnastics.

My gymnastics memoir would be titled "Bent Out of Shape"
"Chalked Up" and "Off Balance" are already taken.
Joan Ryan's Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters came out in 1995 and was updated in 2000. Ms. Ryan was a sports reporter for San Francisco Examiner who wrote an in-depth article on how the demands of training shape the physical and mental well-being of elite gymnasts. This was her inspiration for the book. In the book's intro she writes, "I set out to answer there questions…but when I finished I couldn’t close my notebook." She interviewed many gymnasts, skaters, coaches, and parents so the scope of the book is much wider than Chalked Up. Read it and form your own opinion on elite gymnastics.



Dominique Moceanu's memoir Off Balance was published in 2012. Another book like Jennifer Sey’s, exposing the dark side of the sport, but light on eating disorders and self-destructive behavior, and heavy on training while injured, demanding coaches, and the overzealous parent. Ms. Moceanu’s book also includes a gold medal in the Olympics, suing for legal emancipation from her parents, and discovering a sister she never knew she had.



Teen Olympic champions bring a different perspective. I haven’t read these but it sounds like they are more bright & perky than the above books. Check out this book on 2012 Olympic all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas of the United States, this book about Shawn Johnson and this on Nastia Liukin.



Kim Hamilton Anthony was a successful gymnast in the 1980s making it as far as the Olympic trials in 1984 and later winning several national titles while at UCLA. Her memoir, Unfavorable Odds, was published in 2009 so, like Chalked Up, I appreciate this book for its adult perspective. Ms. Hamilton comes to the sport with some obvious disadvantages. At 5'7", she was unusually tall for a gymnast and she didn’t get an early start in the sport. She had a rough upbringing growing up poor in a tough part of Virgina, so I found her story to be accurately titled. Ms. Hamilton really did overcome unfavorable odds to succeed at an extremely demanding sport. Ms. Hamilton shares moments of self-doubt and insecurity throughout the book, but she basically survives the sport largely unscathed. Falling in love and finding God at the end of her competitive days factor into her story, but I commend her for not going overboard on the finding God part of her memoir. In Unfavorable Odds, Ms. Hamilton presents an honest look at her life, talking positively about her triumphs but not glossing over the tumultuous times.



I wasn't familiar with this book about Nadia Comaneci that came out in 2011. According to Amazon,

"Although part of a mentoring series (Letters to a Young Lawyer; Letters to a Young Chef; etc.), this memoir is less about motivating aspiring gymnasts than justifying the author's life choices. Romanian-born Comaneci took the sports world by storm when, at the age of 14, she was the first person in Olympic history to earn a perfect score in gymnastics. At the event she garnered several more medals. When the author recounts her early years with legendary coach Bela Karolyi and details how his intensive training requirements plus her own determination led to her success, the text is engrossing. Comaneci, however, devotes far too much space to discussing the controversies that dogged her career."



Nadia has lived in the United States since 1989 (Interestingly, she is now married to Bart Conner.) but competed for Romania during the Cold War. I'd be curious to know if/how her time spent living in the United States influences her recollection of her time in the sport. Could be interesting reading.



Male gymnasts come into their prime in their early 20s when they benefit from the greater strength that comes with maturity thus eliminating them from the race against puberty that female gymnasts face.



  • Winning the Gold by Bart Conner. He was three-time Olympian who overcame a serious shoulder injury to win Olympic gold at age 26. This came out after the 1984 Olympics, and I read it while I was in high school.  One piece of advice he gave, which has stuck with me, is to set big goals and know your direction in life but base your daily life on attaining smaller goals. In his early years in the sport he never said he wanted to be an Olympian. Rather, he set short-term goals (I want to learn a giant swing, I want to compete in the state meet next spring etc.) and before he knew it, the Olympic trials were right in front of him.

  • Tim Daggett was an Olympic teammate of Bart’s in 1984. In met him over the summer of 1988 when we were both working at Woodward Gymnastics Camp. He has a book sharing his tale of triumph and tragedy.

Things to check out on YouTube...


  • I thought I’d start this section off with perhaps the most inspiring gymnast on this post, if not ever.  Oksana Chusovitina was 37 years old at the 2012 Olympics. She made the event finals on vault. I couldn't find a video of that vault but I did find this from the qualifying round.

Born in the USSR in 1975, Ms. Chusovitia has competed on Olympic and world championship teams for the USSR, the Unified Team (The name for the 1992 Olympic team from the former Soviet Union), Uzbekistan and now Germany. She has competed in the Olympics six times; in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Making her accomplishment more amazing is that she had a child in 1999.



This montage depicts Ms. Chusovitia over the years. Check out the images of her in a sleeveless leotard from recent years. Fit, muscular and mature looking, she is a nice contrast to teen gymnasts and should be an inspiration to everyone.



  • Nadia Comaneci’s compulsory bar routine in the 1976 Olympics, the first perfect 10 in Olympic history.


  • The above routines from Nadia and Svetlana give a good idea of how women’s bar routines have changed between 1976 and 2000. Check out this cool montage of bars from 1950s through 2005. In under seven minutes you can really get an idea of how the apparatus has evolved in a 50+ year time period.

  • Curious about promising gymnasts for the 2016 Olympics? USA’s current best hope is Simone Biles, 2014 national Champion