Sunday, July 4, 2010
The Road to Elite Gymnastics
There are a lot of questions about the path to becoming an elite, and that's probably due to the fact that that path changes all the time; just about every time the Elite Committees meet, something is changed. It keeps us on our toes, as gymnasts or gym parents, that's for sure. So as of July 2010, I'd like to give you a brief overview of the progression of a gymnast to elite status.
There are a few different ways gymnasts can go with this. One is with the J.O. (Junior Olympic) program. This is the level 4 - 10 program that a lot of you are probably familiar with. For gymnasts who have their sights set on the world stage from the beginning, this is not a popular option, but it is the option that your average USAG competitive gymnast takes. It is the path I took, along with the TOPs program which we'll get to later. The purpose of the J.O. program is to give the gymnasts experience in meets and to move forward in the sport at a steady pace (this is what I was talking about earlier, when I said most gymnasts take one year per competitive level).
A separate program is the TOPs program. TOPs is a program for young gymnasts, ages 7-11, who have the strength, agility, and flexibility it takes to potentially learn elite-level skills. They are tested less on actual gymnastics moves (such as back handsprings, vaults, etc.) and more on their strength and other attributes that are important in high-level gymnastics. While TOPs is not required of gymnasts who want to test into elite, it does emphasize the abilities elite gymnasts need to have and can be play important role in training for the elite level.
Finally, you have the Elite programs. Gymnasts have to test into the elite program by their scores in an elite qualifier meet. You've probably heard of the two classifications of elite gymnasts: Juniors and Seniors. This has nothing to do with skill, but with age. Junior Elites are between 11 and 15, and Senior Elites are 16 and up. When gymnasts first test into the elite level, they are classified as National Elites, and then have the opportunity at various Elite meets to qualify as International Elites. As you guys know, there are age restrictions at the Olympics, so only Senior Elites can compete at Worlds and in the Olympic Games.
Something relatively new in gymnastics is the Hopes program, for 10- to 12-year-old pre-elite gymnasts. Gymnasts must test into this division at a Hopes qualifier.
So there you go, gymnastics lovers. These are just a few of the ways that gymnasts can reach their elite dreams. However, there's a lot more to this stuff than I can't begin to understand. I've given you a brief (well, somewhat brief) overview of the information I gathered from gymnasticszone.com. If you would like to read the full answer that includes all this information and more, check out http://gymnasticszone.com/EliteProgression.htm