Last week was one of the busiest weeks of my life. From Monday at 9 a.m. to Saturday night at 10:30, I was going non-stop in Louisville for the USA Gymnastics Championships — the national championships for trampoline and tumbling, rhythmic gymnastics and acrobatic gymnastics. It was my first time seeing any of these disciplines live and I have to say, I’ll be going back for more.
Not only is rhythmic gymnastics a photographers’ dream, but trampoline, double-mini and tumbling keep you on the edge of your seat the entire competition. Not to mention my back ached just watching the acro pairs and groups perform.
Monday was setup day for the competition. My boss, Leslie, and I drove down mid-day, checked into our hotel, picked up our USA Gymnastics-issue apparel for the week (!!!) and headed to two hour-long meetings from 9-11 that night. We also had dinner with Karl Schmitt of the Louisville Sports Commission. He’s been around forever and knows just about everyone in the business, so he’s not a bad person to know, that’s for sure. Greg Fante of the sports commission also was at dinner. Hearing the stories Karl and Leslie threw around so casually about Richard Mellon (yes, of Carnegie Mellon), the nine gold-medalist boxers at the 1984 Olympics and so many more was very cool.
The real fun started the next morning with the first day of competition. My main setup was at the Kentucky International Convention Center where all of the Junior Olympic and elite tumbling and double-mini competition would be held. My job while I was there was to collect results and type up the champions in AP style for the website (Elizabeth Grimsley, Decatur, Ga./Atlanta Gymnastics Center) as well as help with media coordination. Leslie was the KFC Yum! Center contact. We were set to have our first media come in, so instead of throwing me into shark infested waters without a chainmail wetsuit, she setup shop at the convention center to show me the ropes before heading over to the Yum! I’d like to pause for a second and say how much I like the Yum! Center. It’s one of my favorite arenas I’ve been in and even has a whole side of windows that looks over the Ohio River to Indiana. it’s pretty cool to say the least.
Whitney Harding of WHAS11 and her camera man arrived to shoot pieces on the tumblers’ rod floor and the event itself as well as interviews with our COO Ron Galimore and former acro world champion Arthur Davis. We escorted her to the rod floor and then to the acro floor to get b-roll. Whitney was a former gymnast with the infamous Bela Karolyi and was very friendly, so she was a great first media relations project for me.
That morning Leslie and I also scoped out the best spots for photographers to shoot from should they come. I took test shots from the stands, the competition floor and various other parts of the arena to find the best area for potential photographers. All week, I only had one photographer come to the convention center and she decided the angle was better from the spectator areas, so my job was made much easier since I didn’t have to escort her through the training areas or on the competition floor.
Wednesday was the day before the elite competition was set to begin as well as media day. Six of the top competing elites from the three disciplines came over to the Yum! Center to talk to reporters about the event, their stories and anything else they might have been asked. Preparing for media started a while back. We had to lineup the athletes in advance, create fact sheets for the athletes and send our information to the media so they would know where to come, what to do and why they should be there. While were were expecting only a couple people to show up, we were surprised with at least six or seven photographers, TV crews and reporters. I also went around with our video services coordinator, Peter, and did video interviews of each of the athletes. After the interviews photographers and TV crews were allowed to go anywhere in the arena and shoot footage of the training going on at the time.
After media day ended, I ran back to the convention center to meet a radio reporter to do an interview with a local louisville kid competing in the J.O. competition as well as talk to Karl about the economic impact of the championships.
That day I also wrote a couple releases for things not having anything to do with the championships. Just because you’re spending all your time at an event doesn’t mean the other disciplines are at a standstill. The men’s national qualifier was being held in Colorado Springs that weekend and the Pan American Olympic Festival was set to begin the next day. We also released the names of all the competitors competing in Chicago at the Secret Classic in two weeks (which I also found out I will be going to!).
After a hectic day of running back and forth between the Yum! Center and convention center about four different times, my feet were seriously starting to hurt. But the day wasn’t over yet. That night we had our staff dinner and I got the privilege of meeting 2000 bronze medalist at the Olympic, Elise Ray, who would be commentating on the live webcasts at the Yum! Center.
If I thought I was busy Tuesday or Wednesday, I was in for a rude awakening with the start of elite competition Thursday. My day began at 8:30 that morning at the convention center. Once competition ended there at 4:30, I ran over to the Yum! Center to take video of the Kick-off Celebration at the plaza out front for Karl. Then the senior elite competition began at 6 p.m. and I was on the clock for results, releases and anything else that came up. The scoring system we use for these disciplines doesn’t have the ability to give us results in any form besides a PDF, so I had to manually type and track results after each routine to be able to get the top three put into AP style in time for newspapers’ deadlines. The spreadsheets I had made the previous week with the athletes names, hometowns and clubs ready to go in AP style were a lifesaver. While I worked on the results and took some pictures, Leslie worked on the release. After the competition we traded tasks to fact check all the scores and names as well as check for grammar mistakes and anything else. In the end, everything turned out fine as we got our results published in the agate of the Louisville Courier-Journal each day of elite competition.
Friday was much of the same with more competition at both buildings, more running back and forth, more results and more releases. The highlight was definitely the doube-mini and tumbling senior elite prelims. I have to give a shout out to Jerrett Jensen who stuck the crap out of a tumbling pass that I’m still in awe about. He not only qualified in second to the tumbling final and second to the double-mini final but qualified to the individual trampoline final as well. Saturday was a fun day and not just because the week that felt like it was lasting forever was finally almost over. In the morning, Leslie and I talked to the trampoline youth Olympians Nicole Ahsinger and Cody Gesuelli and put them through a short media training session. Both junior gymnasts, neither had much experience talking to the media, so we told them the dos and don’ts as well as what to expect and how to handle sticky situations. it was definitely interesting seeing what Leslie told them to do around media and be on that side of things. Now I know why interviewees act the way and answer the way they do somethings. It’ll help me better understand the process and hopefully help me become a better interviewer as well. After the media training, Nicole and Cody then got some practice in as I interviewed them for features I’m doing on the youth Olympians for the website (yay journalism!) with Nicole going before her competition and Cody just after he won his third consecutive junior national title. I have to say, even though they’re basically rookies in the interview game, both were great subjects, and I’m pretty excited to write up their stories. So keep an eye out for those coming to the USA Gym website soon.
That night was the final day of competition for the senior elites. Individual trampoline, rhythmic and acrobatic titles as well as national team spots were on the line. After finishing trampoline prelims, Jeffrey Gluckstein was in third. After semifinals, he was in second. After finals, Jeff made his way up to first and grabbed his second consecutive national title. After the meet, I took Kenzie Winstead of the Courier-Journal down to the floor to talk to Jeff for his story. I also got rhythmic co-champions (for the first time ever) Rebecca Sereda and Jazzy Kerber for Kenzie to talk to. After interviews we rushed to get results, the recap releases and the national team releases finished and sent out to the media before deadlines. By the time we left the arena it was 10:30 and the event was finally over. I might have been stressed and anxious the majority of the week, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Not only was the job part of my time there fun, but I truly enjoyed getting to watch the competition as well.
It all seems so crazy and hectic when I tell it this way and it may not seem like it, but there was some time to sit back and really enjoy the competition. I have a new respect for all three disciplines and hope that everyone can be exposed to them in some way. Gymnastics isn’t just the stuff you see on TV or watch during the Olympics (although, not to shock you, but trampoline and rhythmic is at the Olympics). I think if more people watch just one routine, they’ll be hooked and the sport will grow, which is the ultimate goal in the end anyway. I’m still amazed at how high the trampolinists jump in the air or how they can correct their bounce when it looks they’re
about to crash. I’m still amazed at how double-mini trampolinists can do such difficult flips on a trampoline no bigger than a twin bed. I’m still amazed at how a power tumbler can do the equivalent of three artistic tumbling passes in one go and make it look effortless. I’m still amazed at how acro gymnasts can bend then bodies in such a way or have the strength to hold up a 60- or 70-ish pound person in the air for long periods at a time. I’m still amazed at the ease rhythmic gymnasts do their skills and how they are able to catch a ball or hoop or clubs or ribbon from the air all while doing a leap or walkover.
Overall I really did enjoy my time in Louisville. Sure it might have been stressful or chaotic at times, but what job in media isn’t? Now it’s time to get back to the office after a much needed day off today and start final preparations for Chicago in just 10 days. I’ll also be a guest on THE gymnastics podcast Gymcastic this week to talk about the championships. And if you want to see all the best pictures I took at the event, go to the public Facebook album I created. Or check out the best of the best below.
I have two weeks left in Indianapolis, and I intend to make the most of it.