LSU Dominates at Season Opener

The NCAA season is officially upon us. #2 LSU beat #9 Georgia in their season opener with a 197.825, the highest score in LSU opening season history.

The LSU Tigers started off warm on vault but then the fire was unleashed when freshman Kennedi Edney stuck her one and a half twisting Yurchenko and scored a 9.950. The rotation continued with Myia Hambrick sticking her Yurchenko full for a 9.925. Ashleigh Gnat was the anchor with a superb double twisting Yurchenko with excellent height and improved form. She had a hop back for a 9.925.

Bars has a new lead off routine in Canadian senior Shae Zamardi. Due to an injury, the decision was made to take out her unique Markhelov release. Because of this and her difficult to stick double arabian, Zamardi was moved to the start of the lineup. The nice thing is that LSU now has a solid easily 9.8+ gymnast leading their lineup with the hope that scores will only build. Zamardi hit her routine for a 9.850. Hambrick had a great routine for a 9.875. Gnat was next in the lineup and got stuck on her full pirouette and lost her form in a few places to score a 9.775. Edney continued to deliver in her college debut with a beautiful Hindorff and a 9.875. Finnegan showed off her beautiful lines throughout her routine for a 9.9. Lexie Priessman has the anchor spot on bars and earned a 9.875.

Erin Macadaeg is back from a foot fracture to lead the Tigers off on beam. Macadaeg was training the all around but had to pull back for the first meet while recovering from her injury. She had an excellent routine without a single wobble for a 9.9. Lauren Li, transfer from Penn State, made her debut as a Tiger with a wonderful beam routine and a 9.850. Ewing, Finnegan, Gnat closed out the lineup with 9.9, 9.95, 9.875, respectively. Finnegan showed her triple wolf turn.

The Tigers then went to floor, the event for which they are well known for difficult tumbling and unique choreography. Sydney Ewing started things off with a 9.85. Senior Zamardi was 2nd up and mounted with a beautiful double arabian but had to take a large step forward. She earned a 9.850. Priessman had the 3rd slot. Unfortunately, she fell on her double pike dismount and scored a 9.200.  Hambrick was up next with a cute but sassy routine. Her opening double layout was a little short but the remainder of her routine was solid for a 9.9. McKenna Kelley had a phenomenal routine with a double layout mount. Her second pass was a very open and high full in. She dismounted with a double pike and scored a 9.925. Gnat closed out the meet with a lovely double arabian at the start of her routine and scored a 9.950.

Notably missing from the floor was Ruby Harrold. An Olympic alternate in 2012 and an Olympian in 2016 for Great Britain, Harrold is best known for her unique releases on uneven bars. She competed at Gymnastics 101 where they mentioned that she had been ill recently and was working to get her strength back. She is a gymnast that has a Yurchenko 1.5, worth a 10 so I imagine they would want her in that lineup as well.

Myia Hambrick won the all around with a 39.575. Close behind was Ashleigh Gnat with a 39.525. Georgia's Sydney Snead finished 3rd with a 39.225.

Georgia had a rough meet finishing with a 193.600, their lowest opening score since 1999. Beam continued to be rough for Georgia having to count four scores ranging from 9.150-9.625. Highlights of the meet were all arounder Sydney Snead who had a hiccup on floor but finished well everywhere else, including Georgia's team high on beam of 9.800. Sabrina Vega made her return to competition for the first time in almost 4 years. She had some wobbles on balance beam to earn a 9.625. Her floor exercise was lovely, mounted with a full in, and earning a 9.775. Morgan Reynolds returned on 3 events (all but beam) after missing the majority of last year's season due to severe infection with E. coli.

Notably missing for Georgia was Natalie Vaculik who would be a helpful score on beam but especially on bars.

The Tigers will compete again next week against #3 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Alabama just suffered a loss against #1 defending National Champions Oklahoma, 196.700-197.750. They will be eager for a win at home.

Photo by Chris Parent

Interview with Roxana Popa recently interviewed Roxana Popa. Popa was born in Romania but moved to Spain at the age of six. She was an immediate asset to the Spanish team. She was a member of their junior European team and continued her success as a senior. In 2013, she finished sixth in the all around and seventh in the floor final at the European Championship. She competed at both the 2013 and 2014 World Championships where she competed in the all around finals. At the end of 2014, she had a knee injury that revealed a torn ACL that was likely an old injury. Since then, Popa has had multiple surgeries and is now recovering from a procedure in October. She did return to competition at the 2015 World Championships where she competed on the uneven bars. Popa was best known for her prowess on the uneven bars and floor exercise.

Hello, Roxana. Thank you very much for answering our questions. Could you please tell us how you started doing gymnastics?
I started at age 4. I was a very hyperactive girl that used to climb the furniture around the house, jump, and run non-stop. My mother did rhythmic gymnastics and that's why she realized that I needed to relieve that energy, and not in the same gymnastics discipline as her. So she took me to the gym where I then trained for about two years.

When we got to the gym, the coach (Ciprian Cretu) said that I was very young and when I heard it I began to cry, and I don't know in what order things happened, but according to what my mother told me, I began to climb a rope that was in the gym while they were talking, and when the coach saw me he asked me to stay that afternoon. At the end of the training session he told my parents that I had a talent that could be clearly seen, and that's how everything began.

How was your life in Romania?
I honestly don't remember much. I remember my father used to work abroad because he was a general officer in the armed forces, he was in the navy, and my brother and I used to stay with my mother. Later on, my father came to Spain and soon afterwards it was my mother the one who left, leaving me with my maternal grandparents and my brother with my grandmother on my father's side. Some time later, when they saved enough money, they were able to bring us to Spain by bus.

When did you move to Spain? What was the hardest part in a personal level? And about gymnastics, what was the hardest part of starting training here? What differences did you notice in the ways of training between Romania and Spain?
We came to Spain when I was about 6 years old, so because of the kind of training that you do at that age, you don't really appreciate any changes. Training was not hard for me at all. The first place we went to was to the Spanish National Training Center in Madrid, hoping I could train with Jesús Carballo. I also had a letter of recommendation from my coach in Romania, but once again I was too young, and they sent me to the best place I could go to until I turned the age to prepare for the junior category, and then return to the Spanish National Training Center to start my gymnastics career seriously. But it didn’t turn out like that for different reasons that I partially don't know, they didn't want me to leave, and they got into my head that the National Training Center was a horrible place where you get beaten up, and many more things. Today, after five years, almost six, of being in the National Center, and after two Olympic cycles in which the gymnasts have changed, I have never seen or have been through anything like that. Moreover, I am who I am thanks to them.

In a personal level, it took me quite a lot to fit in at school, not because of the language but because of my classmates. Let's say I had a difficult Primary school, also because of the teachers, who never quite understood my situation; we didn't own a car yet and I had to take three buses to get to the gym every afternoon, and another three to go back home, coming to practice at around 7 p.m. and leaving at 9 p.m., and getting home at 10-11 p.m., and then shower, dinner, and homework and more homework. I always fell asleep while doing them, and my parents used to try to finish them so that I didn't have problems at school ... But of course the following day the teachers, despite the efforts of my parents, would realize that it wasn't me who had done the homework, so they tore the sheets out of my notebook and I had to start all over.

How and when did you start training in the Spanish National Training Center in Madrid?
I got there because of my elbow injury after the club responsible for the injury left me in the lurch, I was not useful for them anymore. The second surgery was carried out thanks to María José San Martín (from the Spanish Gymnastics Federation), she was the only person who got involved in my case and got Dr. González to see me in the Deyre clinic. He got in touch with Dr. Tabuenca, who was my surgeon, and they laid down the details of my surgery. Then I started my recovery in the National Training Center in Madrid with the support of the technical team, and they were the ones that, besides giving me a second chance to live a normal life, got me back to gymnastics.

What are your best and worst memories to date in gymnastics?
My best memories... I think the best of them all was, on the one hand, the American Cup; before entering the competition arena it came to me the memory of everything, that a few years before I would be retired, I simply thought: "Look where you got" and I began to cry, trying to hide it, but I did cry, I admit it. On the other hand, the first competition in which I competed after [the injury] of my cruciate [ligament], the Novara Cup, when I finished my uneven bars routine. Once again, the words of my mother -which she hasn’t stopped repeating since March, when I had the second surgery on the knee -came to my mind: "You're strong, we'll get through this, you're going to make it."

The worst moments are related to several things, starting with the second surgery in my elbow, to how I spent the week in the hospital suffering the physical rehabilitation. The day after the surgery they removed the cast. It had been placed with my arm extended and with the palm up, and they started to move my arm by force. I could not stop crying out in pain and begging them to stop, but it was the best for me. And with that came the disappointment to all of the people around me (except by my family obviously), which made me realize that when they get something out of you you are useful, but when you are not, they give you the heave-ho.

On the other hand, I remember María Paula Vargas' injuries. I became very attached to her, she was my role model and I remember it hurt seeing her go through both injuries, and seeing her getting out of both helped me face my knee injury.

The last and worst moment I might say, because I've been aware of all of it, has been seeing in March how the Olympic Games slipped between my fingers after so long and so much ... It is painful.

Of all the places you've competed, what has been your favorite or where would you like to compete again?
American Cup. It has always been something I have dreamed of. I remember watching the competitions when I was little, with the flag in the background, and saying: "I want to be there."

What is your favorite event? And your favorite skill? What skill or combination would you like to do in the future?
My favorite event... Honestly if I had to choose it would be between the uneven bars and floor. My favorite skill... I could not say: double layout on floor, the tumbling pass with the whip backs... I enjoyed doing them. On the uneven bars, the full twisting double layout dismount, the Shaposnikova... I have no favorite elements as such. I would like to pull off the elements that I once worked on: the full-in full-out on floor, the Amanar vault, the full-in full-out layout dismount on bars, etc.

Do you choose your own floor music? With what kind of music do you feel most comfortable?
I usually suggest and search for music. The latest ones were chosen for me by Sara Bayón, coach of the national rhythmic gymnastics group.

What gymnasts do you admire?
I don’t admire just one. I admire many who, like me, have their story, and having gone through similar things you understand them better and you appreciate the effort.

Could you please explain the problems you've had in your knee? Will you have surgery again? (Note that the questions for this interview were sent to her before her latest surgery and she didn’t respond until after the surgery) Could you please tell us why, and how long do you think it will take you to recover?
In December 2014 I broke my cruciate ligament in the AMG [Mexican Gymnastics Open], I had surgery and they fixed it, they took a piece of my lateral meniscus and another one was sewn into the medial meniscus. I started training slowly, and in March this year without a bad fall, for no apparent reason, I broke my medial meniscus, the one that was sewn. I had surgery again in April and the loose piece was removed. For some reason I had the feeling that my knee went out rather frequently and even when doing things such as walking faster, or running, or going downstairs... I went back to have Dr. Leyes, our surgeon, and he concluded that there was hypermobility in the cruciate ligament and had a considerable pivot. I had an MRI but nothing could be seen in it because what was used to secure the ligament was a piece that caused a stain on the screen. The only option was to have surgery again but this time a tendon would have to be brought from the morgue. I have had the tunnels enlarged, the tendon has been moved through the tibia to limit the pivot and reduce the chances of that movement breaking it again. The surgery went better than expected, there were no complications. I was in the hospital under observation from Friday, the 14th of October until Monday, when I left hospital, and afterwards I spent two weeks with the splint at home. Over time, what is sought this time is a little stiffness to avoid the hypermobility of the tendon, so physical rehabilitation will be much slower and controlled. The rehabilitation period will take more or less about 9 months, and for top competition, some more.

Were you able to train in recent months?
Not since March, when I broke my meniscus and started with the bad sensations again.

Overall you've been rather unlucky with injuries, besides the change of nationality, etc. What keeps you motivated to keep doing gymnastics?
It is not motivation, you know you have to fight your way out of each of them, because when you get more mature, gymnastically speaking, you know that sooner or later you will get injured. No athlete enjoys getting injured nor undergoing physical rehabilitation, we like to train, but without a proper rehabilitation that will not be possible, so the love for the sport you do is what makes you keep going.

What are your plans for the future in gymnastics? What do you think could be your next competition? Do you think you will be able to participate in the next European Championships, that will be held in your home country Romania?
Unfortunately, no. I'd love to, but first comes my knee, and my recovery is the most important thing. To date I have lost the most you could lose at a competitive level, so everything else can wait.

Besides gymnastics, are you working or at school right now?
I'm at school, since last year I left it to prepare for the Olympic Games.

Have you ever considered competing NCAA or has any American University offered you a scholarship? Have you perhaps received any offer from an European league? Do you follow American collegiate gymnastics, European leagues, or like a team in particular?
I've never thought about it, but I have seen some competitions, and it's a joy to watch, it is a very nice way to take your gymnastics career to another level when you decide to stop competing elite.

What would you like to do when you retire?
I honestly don't know, I've thought a lot about becoming a choreographer, it is something I've always enjoyed and it would be another way to stay involved with gymnastics. Apart from that, I have also considered some things outside of gymnastics, but I can't make up my mind.

What do you think of the situation of Romanian gymnastics now that they didn’t qualify a team for the Olympics, or that Cătălina was the individual representative?
I think that they are not machines. Gymnastics is a sport in which you can lose, and it's OK. I think it is disrespectful when people criticize their losing streak. Behind the misfortune of failing and not qualifying, there is a lot of work by newcomers and inexperienced girls, but also by the veterans and the coaches. It's a sport, no one is programmed to always win.

We have seen that you have a leotard with your signature, and we loved it when we saw it. Is it still for sale? Could you give us a link in case anyone wants to buy it?
Yes! A new leotard has been recently released, actually Gimar Gym has done a great job. It may sound weird... But even I wanted to have it, lol. They have it on their official website, here:

Out of curiosity and because we have seen your snapchats, how many cats do you have?
I have 7, yes 7. I love them, why lie. My parents brought home the first cat we had, who unfortunately got lost, but I brought home all the others.

We've seen you post quite often on social networks. Do you interact much with the people who follow you?
Yes, whenever I can. Actually I don't usually look at the messages but when I do I always try to answer. I've always tried to give people the idea that they won't bother me if they write to me; on the contrary, I like it, in the end I am a normal girl.

We are going to translate this interview into English since you have many fans abroad, is there anything you want to tell them?
Little more than what is already known, thanks for the support received during these past two years from all over the world.

And in general, is there anything else you would like to add or you want to tell us?
About my leotard, it is not known exactly when, but a new one will be released soon.

Thank you very much, Roxana. We wish you the best. :)

Thank you GimnastasNet. You can read the original Spanish interview here.

New Talent Shines at Top Gym

The annual Top Gym competition took place last weekend in Charleroi, Belgium. It's a junior competition that proves to caattract some future stars. Past attendees include Jordyn Wieber, Amy Tinkler, Jonna Adlerteg, Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar, and Axelle Klinckaert to name a few.

The star of the meet was Célia Serber of France who will turn senior in 2019. She won the all around with a 51.833. I couldn't find video of her vault but early in the year, she had a full twisting Yurchenko. On bars, she shows a strong Jaeger but has some form issues on her Pak. She dismounts with a lovely full twisting double layout! There wasn't much difficulty yet in her floor routine (she opens with a double pike) but it was a great performance. Beam was where she really caught my eye. She has an air of confidence on beam and has some actual moments of choreography that remind me of Claire Martin meets UCLA. She scored a 13.450 (5.7D) for the routine below.

Naomi Visser of the Netherlands finished in 2nd with a 51.699. She will join the senior ranks in 2017. Her best scores were on vault and floor exercise where she showed that the Dutch philosophy of lower difficulty with clean execution and excellent performance value is alive and well.

Olivia Cimpian of Romania, senior in 2017, has been making a name for herself recently and is one of the hopes for Romania next quadrennium. She had multiple falls on balance beam which cost her the gold medal but earned her a bronze. In event finals, she won vault and floor gold with silvers on bars and beam. I realized that she seems to be the gymnastics love child of Ana Porgras and Larisa Iordache making her floor enjoyable to watch with the highest difficulty of the competition. She shows both a piked and tucked full in during this routine. 13.550/5.4D for the routine below

Other notable mentions goes to Adela and Vendula Merkova. Vendula finished the all around in 4th place and earned the bronze medal on uneven bars. Her sister, Adela, earned an individual medal on floor where she finished in 3rd place. The Czech team shows a lot of potential for the coming quadrennium. On floor, they seem to be a bit like the Netherlands with lower difficulty but eye catching, sometimes tear jerking, choreography. They also turn senior in 2017.

Honorable mention for the meet goes to France's Alisson Lapp who has a lovely floor exercise. Between the French performance here and at Massilia, it is a reminder that French creativity and flair is alive and well. Lapp will be a senior in 2018. She earned the bronze medal on floor for this exercise with a 12.850/5.1D.

Additional video can be found at Belgian Gymnastics
Follow @belgiangym for news on Team Belgium

LSU Ready to Attack

LSU finished the 2016 season with a historic second place finish. They have slowly but surely been creeping up in the ranking and for the past year or two, have had a "this will be the year" vibe. Unfortunately, it hasn't been the year. Not yet. But, the Tigers are proving they'll be in the running. The key for the team this year is depth. The athletes have said that they have more athletes than in the past ready to go on each event. This is pre-season anything can change, but as of right now, these girls are looking fiece.

Returning athletes: Julianna Cannamela, Sydney Ewing, Sarah Finnegan, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick
Watch for: Freshman Ruby Harrold is going to be an asset on every event and threaten for an all around spot as a freshman. In training videos, she shows a very solid 1.5TY vault valued at a 10.0. Kennedi Edney is also shown in the videos doing a 1.5TY. Sophomore Lexie Preissman spent the bulk of last season injured but this may be the year for her to make the lineup with either her FTY or DTY. McKenna Kelley also debuted a front handspring front pike half off vault. It's a new vault for her but I expect her to make the lineup (she may exhibition at first then make the lineup).
Cannamela's spot is likely the one most in danger. Ewing has a 10.0 vault. Finnegan's spot is precarious as well but she would need the spot for the all around. The other 2, Gnat and Hambrick, are most definitely safe. Hambrick has shown an upgraded 1.5TY and Gnat continues to show her strong DTY.

Uneven bars
Returning athletes: Sarah Finnegan, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick, Lexie Priessman, Shae Zamardi
Watch for: Ruby Harrold will slay us all with her phenomenal routine complete with her unique van Leeuwen to Zuchold. Kennedi Edney shows a lovely Hindorff. There are also clips of Erin Macadaeg on uneven bars.
The 5 returning athletes are pretty stable barring injury. Gnat is potentially the weakest link in the lineup but needs this for the all around. Harrold will most likely sneak right into this band of 5. Edney would most likely be next in line should any of the girls get injured or need to rest.

Balance Beam
Returning athletes:
Julianna Cannamela, Sydney Ewing, Sarah Finnegan, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick, Erin Macadaeg
Watch for: Beam has been LSU's nemesis for the last 2 years causing them a spot in the Super Six and causing them an SEC Championship. So this may be one of the places with lineup changes. They're returning their entire lineup. Again Harrold may be able to make the lineup. There are also clips of Priessman and Lauren Li training on beam. Li reportedly had a 9.9 at the intrasquad with a very impressive routine with split layout stepout and gainer layout full dismount. McKenna Kelley did beam at the most recent intrasquad as well.

Floor Exercise
Returning athletes: Sydney Ewing, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick, McKenna Kelley
Watch for: Yes, yes, Ruby Harrold. She has an interesting potential for passes with a double arabian and front double full. Edney showed a lovely floor routine at the most recent intrasquad with a high and well landed double arabian. There are clips of Priessman and Finnegan doing double layouts. In earlier videos, Lauren Li was training a piked full in. The landing was a little low but it was also earlier in preseason. Zamardi has done floor a few times last year and is shown again working her double arabian. Given the strength of tumbling of her teammates, she'll have to work hard to make the lineup. Sophomore Katelyn Szafranski exhibitioned last year on vault and there are videos of her on floor in the intrasquad with a score of 9.9.
In the most recent intrasquad, it actually looks like Kelley is working on a full in dismount which would be all amounts of insane.

All Around
Returning: Myia Hambrick, Ashleigh Gnat
These 2 will most definitely continue with the all around. Gnat may be taken out if for some reason her UB scores are really, truly, significantly hurting the team.
Watch for: Finnegan is probably next in line for me. She did the all around last year but given her past injuries and unsteady balance beam, where she's a crucial member, she went back down to 3 events. She's shown on floor a lot so I think they're grooming her for the all around either for next year or if Gnat for some reason is no longer doing all around. Macadaeg mentioned that she's training all 4 events but despite her excellent floor exercise score last year, she didn't make it into the lineup again. A full twisting Yurchenko will also be tough to break in this current 10.0 vault lineup. Harrold may exhibition on floor and beam and may be able to work into those lineups for injuries or for resting other athletes. She'll definitely need to be groomed for the all around for next year when they lose contributing routines from Ewing, Gnat, and Zamardi.

LSU will have their Gymnastics 101 Showcase on December 12 and their first meet will be January 6 against Georgia.

Get to Know WOGA's Sloane Blakely

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.

Sloane scored a 13.450 for this routine on Day 1 of the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships. She finished 11th on balance beam at this meet.

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.

Sloane Blakely at the ranch during the summer of 2016, where she first qualified elite.

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.

Some really exciting upgrades! Check out that endo!

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.

Sloane Blakely with 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles

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.

Sloane with her sister, Skye

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.