The path to Paralympic gymnastics will be long, but worth it — Other gym news

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, April 1, 2023

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NCAA regionals are happening! Like, they are in progress right now, possibly while you are reading this. Maybe you have it open on a second screen, like I am while I’m writing this. We all make sacrifices, is what I’m saying.

I don’t want to be making predictions about nationals, or even regional finals, while the process is still in progress, which is why I’m going to give you results below for the play-ins and for the semifinals that end before press time, but I’m not going to provide commentary or reflect on What It All Means this week. I’ll do a wrap-up next week as we head into nationals.

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

What I am going to discuss this week, though, is British Gymnastics launching a plan to produce international competitions for disabled gymnasts in the hopes of creating a pathway for the sport’s inclusion in the Paralympics.

This week, British Gymnastics laid out their invitation to top international federations to work together to get gymnastics included in the Paralympics in a document called Leap Without Limits.

At last week’s British Championships, the country’s top disabled competitors squared off in the Disability Masters, held alongside the marquee event. This is the goal of the Paralympic movement – the “para” prefix in the name of the Paralympic Games referring not to a type of disability, as is often assumed, but to the parallel nature of the competitions for able-bodied athletes and their disabled peers, happening at the same time in the same place.

British Gymnastics also maintains a classification system for para athletes, similar to how athletes would be classified (that is, by the type and extent of their disability; the classifications encourage the fairest competition possible) at the Paralympics.

This is not British Gymnastics’ first attempt to hold national championships in conjunction with the Disability Masters championships. They did so in 2018, but ultimately ended the competition early and did not offer the athletes a place at the 2019 national championships.

A national championship is currently the highest level at which para gymnasts can compete, but not every country supports a para gymnastics program. In the United States, although USA Gymnastics’ website contains a section with resources on serving individuals with special needs in its member gyms, the organization does not appear to support high-level competition for para athletes.

The FIG has a Gymnastics for All program with two quadrennial events for para gymnasts, but neither appears to be for elite–level athletes.

A 2021 Wall Street Journal article (paywall; you can create a free subscription) questioned why an Olympic sport as popular as gymnastics is not yet a Paralympics sport. Jen Bricker-Bauer, a former power tumbler-turned-professional aerialist who was born without legs but became a state champion competing against able-bodied athletes, is interviewed in the story.

Bricker-Bauer, who was adopted at birth, is the biological sister of Dominique Moceanu, a revelation Moceanu made in her 2012 autobiography. A trailblazer in her sport, Bricker-Bauer said in the story that she had to create her own path, there was no other way, and that she wished for better representation for the disabled athletes she now coaches.

While I haven’t researched the issue deeply, I would imagine other countries offer similar recreational programming without providing a path for most para athletes to advance farther in the sport. And I’m sure cost and liability are factors, but this would be a way for the sport to grow and perhaps shed some of its elitist reputations.

So I applaud British Gymnastics for both providing elite-level para gymnastics, for modeling it on the Paralympics system, and for working to create enough competition in other countries to place the sport in the Paralympics.

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Other gym news

Regionals, regionals, regionals!

The Balance Beam Situation has your schedule, along with links to streams and scores. Spencer has also liveblogged Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

At press time (that is, Friday at noon), the play-in meets have concluded. NC State defeated Ball State in Norman, Okla., to advance. Boise State knocked out BYU at UCLA. Penn State will head to the semifinals in Pittsburgh after beating Towson. And Arizona topped North Carolina in Denver to advance there. After the first semifinal in Norman, Alabama and Kentucky will advance to the regional final. And in the first (may it not be the last; I heart chaos) major upset of the regionals as Washington overtook Auburn after a three-fall bars rotation to advance along with Utah to the UCLA regional final. 

I love this College Gym News story on LIU superstar Syd Morris, who will compete at the UCLA regional in the all-around. They did not have a traditional path to NCAA gym but have ended up really making a mark beyond the sport at LIU.

Sierra Brooks is a Michigan powerhouse with a serious work ethic. The Michigan Daily interviewed her and it’s terrific.

LSU says it is in it to win it this year.

Zoey Molomo ruptured her Achilles at the selection camp for junior worlds and is out for the rest of the elite season. We hate this.

Zoey Molomo updated her Instagram followers about her recent injury in a Story./Instagram

Shawn Johnson posted a video about taking her daughter to the Nastia Liukin cup in which she also gives her thoughts on the current state of USAG. It’s worth a listen. Start 10 minutes in if you just want to listen to that chunk.

Sophie Nélisse, who plays the teenage Shauna on Showtime’s Yellowjackets, and who will vie for a best-actress Emmy this fall, was an elite gymnast in Canada before her acting career took off. 

Social post of the week

Tears! Kennedy Hambrick of Arkansas, who we heard last week was out for the remainder of the season following an emergency appendectomy, posted this within a few minutes of Arkansas’ elimination from the UCLA regional Thursday. This is always the most difficult part of watching regionals: Seeing seniors (or fifth years, like Hambrick) realize their careers have ended with an unexpected result.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Lela Moore