Brenna Dowell: I Moved On

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Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics

Brenna Dowell is an American gymnast that has slowly but surely been climbing the ranks to become one of the top gymnasts in the USA. Brenna first represented the USA at the Pan American Games in 2010, the same year she also made her first National team. She had a great showing in her senior debut, finishing 9th in the all around at 2012 US Nationals and qualifying to Olympic Trials. Later in 2012, Dowell had individual international success at the 2012 Mexico Open in Acapulco where she won the all around title. In 2013, Dowell continued to shine as she finished 3rd in the all around and uneven bars and 5th on floor exercise at 2013 US Nationals. After camp, Brenna Dowell earned a spot on the 4-member World Championship team but was designated as alternate shortly before the competition started. Since then, she has taken time to recuperate and is back ready for the challenges she may face in 2014.

How did you first get started in gymnastics?
When I was little, I had 2 older sisters and they were both cheerleaders and they needed to learn how to do a back handspring. My mom was looking for a place to teach them and she found GAGE. They went to the back handspring clinic and she put me in a class. So, I've been at GAGE since I was 18 months.

How far did you get in the JO system and when did you qualify for elite?
I did Level 9 and made it to Westerns and then I did Level 10 and made it to Nationals where I placed 2nd. It was a lot of fun there. Then, I qualified for elite that summer [2009] and went to the CoverGirl Classic and Championships and got 19th. Then, the next year, I made the National Team.

How would you describe Al Fong and Armine Barutyan Fong as coaches?
They're really good coaches! They always have a lot of drills to fix all the things you need to correct with your skills. Al always thinks of crazy things to do and fun things to work. Armine's really good at dance and flexibility and improving all of that stuff. They're really good coaches.

Did skills come easily for you?
I always had a lot of energy and a lot of power so I would always be really brave and I was always the first person to go for things. But I always had to work really had to get everything. When I was younger, I had a really good group and we all pushed each other.

Can you talk about the lead up to Olympic Trials and what your goals were for 2012?
2012 was my first year as a senior. It was my goal in the beginning to make it to Italy and compete. I did that and was happy with that. My next goal was to do as good as I could do and make it to Olympic Trials and hit 8-for-8 and go out there with no regrets and do the best I could do and whatever happened would happen.

Did your mentality change at all between 2011 and now as far as skill progressions? Was there anything you had to tell yourself to gain confidence?
Well, I always like to just go into the gym and have fun and just enjoy myself. I think it was just a time that everything started coming together. I got to try some new skills and add some difficulty to everything... I kept working hard and everything just started to click.

Let's talk about 2013 and the lead up to Nationals.
2013 was a really important and cool year. After Mexico in 2012, the Acapulco meet, it definitely boosted my confidence from there and I knew that I could do well. In 2013, in Italy, I got 3rd and that was definitely a big confidence booster. Going into Classics and Championships, my goal was to get in the top 3 and I was able to do that at both meets so that was exciting. It was just a lot of hard work in the gym and making sure that I gave it my all. Then, my goal was to make it to Worlds and compete but that didn't happen but I'm still happy and I didn't have any regrets.

There was a camp after Nationals where the team would be announced. What were your thoughts going into camp before Worlds?
I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was excited and just wanted it to come and get it over with, figure out what would happen. I know when Martha [Karolyi] called out the team, like, I was happy but the biggest feeling was relief because up until then you were working for something that might happen and then it happened. Going into it, I was really excited to go out there and compete.

When you got to Worlds and were training together as a team, at that point, did you think that you were still competing? Were you aware of the possibility that you might not compete?
Well, we all went in there and all trained 4 events. [Martha] didn't tell us the final lineup until the day before so we just went in there not knowing who was doing all 4 events and who was just doing a few. So, the day before is when she told us the final lineup.

Did you know there was a chance of that happening?
Yeah, Al and Armine were just telling me to make sure you make every routine count and go out there and hit. So I tried to make sure that's what I did.

Were there any specific events during that training session where you had to be extra careful?
Not necessarily. I knew that if I were to compete, it would be bars, so I made sure to hit every routine while I was in Belgium. I knew that I did everything that I could, she just had other plans.

How were you told? Was it that last podium training?
It was the workout before that. Al and Armine just pulled me aside and told me that Kyla Ross, Simone Biles, and McKayla Maroney were doing all around and I still had to be ready just in case something happened but I wasn't going to compete.

How did you feel?
I was definitely disappointed but I knew I had to make sure to keep working hard so I could be ready if something happened. So, I just went in there with the same mindset as before and kept hitting my routines so that I could be ready.

After Worlds, you and Al decided not to try and qualify for any other meets in 2013. Can you talk about that decision?
Well, Worlds was just really long and I just needed a break from routines and time to get back to normal gymnastics - just having fun and trying new skills.

How was competing in Hawaii?
We were definitely not in routine shape yet so we went out there to have fun and it was definitely the funnest meet I've competed in, probably in my whole life. The routines were easier so it wasn't as stressful and it was awesome to go out there and have fun. And being in Hawaii, it was beautiful so that was cool too. We got to travel with our parents and we were there for a week so we got to go to the beach and go to Pearl Harbor and the North Shore.

At that meet, you debuted the Tweddle-Ezhova (straddle back 1/2) while at Nationals you did the Tweddle-straddle back. Has that been the plan all along?
That's what I've been working on at the gym and that's what I'm hoping to have in my routine at camp. When I first learned it, I was working the straddle back 1/2 but as meet season came along, it wasn't ready yet so I just went back to the straddle back. We were planning on working the straddle 1/2 back after Worlds because it's bonus if you do the 1/2 but it's not if you do the straddle back.

Part 2 can be read here.