At the 2016 Secret Classic, there were quite a few juniors that caught my eye. One of them was new elite Sloane Blakely. She trains at WOGA under coaches Tatyana Shadenko and Ryan Roberts. She caught my eye on floor where she held her own with a particularly strong piece of music with powerful tumbling to match. She vaulted, and stuck, a lovely full twisting Yurchenko. Many on the gymternet first noticed her beam when she placed first at the 2016 Level 10 Junior Olympic Nationals. As a newcomer to the elite scene, there weren't very many interviews with the young talent. I had the chance to speak with Sloane and her mother about gymnastics, WOGA, and her hopes for the future.
How did you get started in gymnastics?
I started with dance and my mom was looking for activities to do other than our daily schedule so she signed us up for gymnastics and ever since then I enjoyed it and it's been my passion. I was 5 years old [when I started]. I did [try and do gym and dance together] but then after a little bit, my gym schedule started taking over and I just stopped doing dance and continued in gymnastics. [Dance] helped me with my coordination and helped me with the dance parts of my routine on floor, of course, and beam as well. I did ballet, tap, and jazz. I liked jazz the best.
What's your favorite event?
My favorite event is vault. I like vault because I get to fly, it's a really fast event but it takes a lot of power and I love to use power to fly high and try to stick the landing.
When did you first realize you were good in gymnastics?
In compulsories whenever I was just starting, I was starting to get first place a lot in a lot of the meets and I, then I thought, "Wow. I'm getting better at this" and I just started to propel from there.
What is your weekly schedule like with training?
Monday through Thursday we have morning practice from 7:30 to 12. Then we have school from 12 to around 4. We start gym at 4:30 and we end at 7. On Fridays, we start at 7:30 and go until 11:30 and then after first practice, we go to school (we don't have second practice). On Saturdays, we practice 8 to 12.
What was the hardest skill for you to learn?
The hardest skill for me to learn was probably my Tkatchev. Well, I was working on it a lot. I wanted to do it by myself but whenever I wanted to go, I kept doing it with my coach. Then finally I felt it. I felt how to do it. I was like "Oh now I get it!" And then I went for it and I felt so good.
Have you had any obstacles to overcome in gymnastics (injury, mental block, losing skills, issues during meets, fear, etc.)? And how did you get through it?
This was when I was transitioning from compulsories to optionals. I had a mental block on back tumbling and it really made me upset. The way I got through it was I worked with my coaches a lot and they gave me certain drills to do. I continued to stay focused on my goals and I trusted in the Lord and knew that He would bring me through this.
How do you feel like the last year went, looking back on Classics and P&Gs?
I think it went well for my first time to be at Classics and P&Gs. I didn't know what to expect and my coaches were preparing me. They were happy with the way I did and they were very encouraging for me. At Classics, I hit 4-for-4 and at P&Gs I hit 8-for-8 so I was very pleased and happy with myself.
What are your goals for this season and for the future?
This season, I want to make it to P&Gs again. I want to have cleaner and higher difficulty routines and I also want to make national team. For the future, I want to represent USA at Worlds or maybe even the Olympics.
How was your first National Team Camp?
It went well. It was a good experience. I got to see how they train there, how the daily schedule went, and I met new people. The coaches gave me corrections and I learned new approaches and new techniques on ways to perfect my skills. The biggest thing I learned was to listen to the corrections and just to fix it as best as you can. If you don't fix it right away, do drills and keep trying your best to make the correction.
Were you a little nervous at first or mostly excited?
I was a little bit nervous. I didn't know how it would go. I didn't know what to expect but once I got the feeling of how it was there, I was excited and happy that I was there.
What upgrades are you working on?
On bars, I'm working piked Tkatchev, Gienger, double layout full. On vault, I'm working on a 2.5 twist. On beam, I was working some dismounts like double arabian and full in off the beam. On floor, I'm working double double, double arabian piked, and double layout.
Any pre-meet rituals or superstitions?
The ritual that I normally do is, with my family, we always come in a circle and we pray, asking for protection over the meet and asking the Lord to help me do my best. I also have time to myself to just think and concentrate on my routines and meditate on the way I would like the meet to go.
Who are some of your role models and why?
One of them is Simone Biles because she is always high spirited even if something doesn't go the way she would like it to, she's still bubbly and happy. She has a lot of talent and skills, she has a lot of height, something that I would like to have. She was very encouraging because one time, I was kind of nervous and she came up to me and said, "You can do it! You'll be fine. You got this!" and she was just very encouraging towards me and kind.
What's your most embarrassing memory in gymnastics?
One time at a meet, I was either level 5 or 6, I was getting ready for floor. I was supposed to go second but as the first girl was going, I got a bloody nose! I had to go last even though I was supposed to go second. I did well on my floor routine even though I had a bloody nose but then they forgot to call me up on one of the awards so I had to receive my medal later. They were like "Sloane Blakely please come up. We forgot to say your name."
Have you ever trained at the WOGA Plano location? What are the differences?
The gym there is a little bigger. They have more sets of bars and beams. They have an extra area where you can warm up. Something different, you know that some of WOGA's best gymnasts actually trained there. Being where they trained is kind of cool and it's motivating.
Mrs. Blakely: When we (WOGA) host a meet, we host it at our Frisco location and when the girls or the boys can't train, they always go to the Plano location. It's really good because it takes them out of their norm. Whenever you get out of your comfort zone or your home, it just helps to, I think, heighten your preparedness, and awareness around your skills. It's kind of like a mini meet. It's not a real meet or anything but when they go there they are taken out of their comfort zone a little bit even though they know people there, they're teammates, it just helps them because the equipment is a little different. It's not what they train on every day. I think it's really healthy. It happens maybe once or twice, every 3 months you're probably going over there.
All in all, we are WOGA. The fact that we have 2 locations doesn't really make a difference, we are one team. I think that WOGA Frisco is going to be put on the map when you look at the caliber of gymnasts that are coming up. At the end of the day, it's not that Frisco has to be called out because WOGA is WOGA. We're one gym. We're one family.
Do you train with your sister? What's it like training together?
Most of the time, we're in the same group. Whenever we train together, it goes very well. We encourage each other and it's like a different bond than just your teammate. We're not only teammates, we're sisters. So we know what's going on. We know what facial expression means, what and how to help each other out.
Mrs. Blakely: This year was interesting because before Sloane made elite and before Skye had made Hopes elite, they were both Level 10. So technically they were in the same groups at the same competitions and we had not had that before. They were on the podium together on beam at one of the meets. So that was pretty interesting to have them get the exact same score on beam! I'm kind of glad that Sloane is moving it forward and we don't have to have them both in the same session, same competition. The way that we approached them being in the same age group, we told them they are Team Blakely and no matter what the result is, we're family.
Sloane: I do give her advice sometimes if I see her doing something, "Oh maybe you should try it this way" or "Try doing this drill before you go." Sometimes we're upset with each other, as sisters can be, but we work through that and we know that we help each other and we make each other better.
Mrs. Blakely: Skye had gone to the developmental camps last year and Sloane couldn't go because she had an injury. So Skye had experienced camp at the Ranch before Sloane did and Skye was able to give her some "Hey. Here's what you're going to expect when you get there" experience.
When you get home, do you have to try to stop talking about gym?
We have our stories of the day. We talk about how the day went, of course. Sometimes we do bring gym into it but we talk about other stuff. We don't have to say let's stop talking about gym.
Mrs. Blakely: We actually want to know. We have a pretty standard routine when they get out of training. We pick them up and do a high and low discussion. What were your highs today and what were your lows today because we don't get a chance to be with them during their training and we want to know what's going on, what's bothering them, what went well today, what didn't go well today. Because so much of gymnastics is very mental and we have to make sure we're in tune with where their heads are and just keeping them grounded and helping to push through some of the challenges that they face or celebrating the victories.
Skye is 11 and she made Hopes Elite this year. So she definitely has big aspirations as well so it's always interesting to have two daughters in this sport. We stay quite busy.
Thank you to Sloane and the Blakely family for this interview. Wish you the best of luck in the future and can't wait to continue to follow your career.