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Local Clubs Benefit From Gymnastics Fever

Yes, Michael Phelps captured his Olympic-record 17th and 18th gold medals, increasing his overall total to a whopping 23, on Friday and Saturday in the final Olympic events of his storied swimming career. Yes, the U.S. Women’s Soccer team remained undefeated and extended its shutout streak to an incredible 368 minutes before snatching a come-from-behind victory over Canada, 4-3, to advance to the gold medal game against Japan. And yes, the U.S. men’s basketball team continues to steamroll opponents on the way to yet another gold medal (one of its more recent victories, in fact, was a record-setting rout of Nigeria, 156-73).

Those are all great stories, but they aren’t the biggest stories to come out of London over the first week of the 2012 Olympic Games.

No, thus far the real story, the story that has captured the imagination of both die-hard fanatics and mere casual viewers from coast to coast, has been the dominance of U.S. women’s gymnastics and the so-called “Fab Five.”

There will be plenty of area girls participating in gymnastics this fall thanks to the boost in popularity in the sport because of the success of the United States women’s team. This action was during a past practice session of the Falconer Flyers. P-J photo by Valory S. Isaacson

With successes coming in dominating fashion both in the team – the squad won its first Olympic gold since 1996 by a whopping 5.066 points, the largest margin of victory in 52 years, over Russia – and individual competitions – Gabby Douglas won the all-around gold medal to become the first American in the sport to win both an individual and team gold medal at the same Olympics- gymnastic’s popularity, it seems, is at its zenith.

“There’s always a lot of interest (in the sport) during the Olympics,” Karen Stroup, owner of Stroup’s Gymnastics, said. “But when they bring home gold and silver and bronze medals, there’s a peak in the popularity because the kids are seeing these athletes in the headlines and on television a lot more.”

And local gymnastics programs, such as Stroup’s Gymnastics, the Falconer Flyers and the YMCA, are reaping the benefits.

“We don’t start our gymnastics program until September,” Lakewood Family YMCA branch manager Tom Anderson said, “but we’ve already seen an increased (amount of interest in the program). It’s been very noticeable.”

The craze, however, is nothing new. And according to local gym owners and gymnastics instructors such as Sherri Melson of the Falconer Flyers  and Stroup, the flood of interest and surge of phone calls are forecast – with great accuracy – to coincide with this major sporting event.

“Every four years I plan for it,” Melson said with a laugh. “We’ve been through this before, and all (of the local gyms) get a boost in attendance (from the Olympics). It happens all over the country. The phone has already started ringing off the hook, but we’re ready for it and have added a few more classes to prepare for the influx.”

Said Stoup, “Yes this happens every four years and is an expected cycle every Olympic games.”

Anderson agreed, “Every four years I’d say (the YMCA gymnastics program) gets about three or four times the amount of kids (compared to non-Olympic years) that want to participate.”

It’s a surge that they are more than happy to oblige.

“I don’t mind it at all,” Melson said. “It’s great for the sport and great for the kids. Not many people realize just how much impact it has on them, even if they only do it for a short time, in terms of coordination, strength and flexibility.”

While the Americans’ successes have introduced a great many new and eager fans to the sport, they have also reinvigorated those that have already been frequent participants in these local gymnastics programs.

“I marvel at the dedication of some of these kids,” Melson said. “We have a group that is here every Monday through Thursday at 8:30 a.m., and they are also really excited about it. They all say they want to be the next Gabby, or the next Jordyn (Wieber).”

And with the recent news that Douglas, Wieber and Aly Raisman (another member of the “Fab Five”) will be in town at the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena in December, Anderson thinks that – at least in our area – this usually brief boom in interest may not be so brief after all.

“It’s tremendous what (the U.S.) team has done for the sport,” he said, “I think they may do for gymnastics what the Williams’ sisters did for tennis.”

Finished Melson, “There’s a lot be excited about right now.”

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