Sunday, July 21, 2013

Is Chow's the New Karolyi's?

I am eagerly awaiting the premiere of Gymnastike's (even if I can't ever say the name of the site correctly) documentary on Chow's. I've been impressed with his new crop of elites--Norah Flatley, Alexis Vasquez, Rachel Gowey--and like everyone else, can't wait to see mere glimpses of Gabby Douglas back in training.

This "Beyond the Routine" trailer features Douglas, Gowey, and Vasquez talking about moving from other parts of the country to train with Liang Chow.

Douglas' story is well-known and oft told, but moving across the country to train with a coach isn't as common as it was in the 90s. The other four Olympic team members were able to find top notch coaching locally. Jordyn Wieber spent her entire career at Geddert's. Raisman changed gyms at around 10 but didn't have to leave home. Same with McKayla Maroney as Southern California has no shortage of excellent gyms. Ross spent her entire career at Gym Max. Only Douglas moved for coaching instruction.

Same applies to the 2008 squad. All stayed home to train--no need to uproot the family to find better instruction. (Though alternate Ivana Hong did do that, not once but twice.)

My point is--with few notable exceptions, the days of gymnastics uprooting their families to train with the best are over. Back in the 80s and 90s, every elite flocked to the Karolyis in Texas to train. It wasn't just that there were fewer gyms that handled elite instruction. It was also due to the cult of personality that sprang up around Bela Karolyi. And I wonder--is something similar starting to happen with Liang Chow?

Now don't get me wrong--Chow and Karolyi couldn't be more different. (While I have never met either one, I'd say Chow is the one I'd want to have a beer with while Karolyi is probably the one who'd drink more beers.) But Chow has now coached back-to-back Olympic champions. In his "rookie" quad, he coached a world and Olympic champion in Shawn Johnson. And then coached Gabby Douglas to a gold medal in the all around. It's not exactly surprising that more gymnasts are showing up on his doorstep even though virtually every city offers elite level instruction. The way Vasquez spoke about him in the clip--that she wasn't thinking about how she was moving but just about Chow (the man!)--sort of reminded me of the reverence that people used to show to Bela back in the day.

It's been awhile since we've had a famous gymnastics coach. (I can't think of gymnasts talking about Valeri that way aside from his daughter). I wonder that if Chow is successful yet again during this quad and Rio will we end up seeing an even bigger migration to his gym?

I sure hope not. As much as I love Chow and his gymnasts, there's something that really bugs me at times about athletes making those kinds of demands on their families. I especially feel for the siblings in these situations who already don't get as much attention as their mega-talented sisters and then are forced to accommodate them further and uproot their lives. (I remember the story on Nicole Harris and how upset her younger sister was about moving to Pennsylvania so Nicole could train at Parkettes.) In a way, I was pleased that Gabby's family didn't move to Iowa with her. She learned an important adult lesson in sacrifice but not making everyone around you sacrifice, too. A gymnast's parents' and siblings' lives are just as important even if they don't possess Olympic caliber talent.

UPDATE: I just watched the first ep of the documentary and I totally stand by my assessment of Chow and the cult of personality that has developed around him. He comes off AWESOME in the piece but the way the girls talk about him and moving to train with him is reminiscent of the Karolyi era. It'll be interesting to see how this progresses especially if he has more success in Rio.

On an unrelated note, Travis and Missy Parton are the cutest people ever.

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