In Simone Biles' path, a fearless young gymnast learns new 2020 routine
Ty-la Morris has been adapting to training during the pandemic.
January 2, 2021, 3:50 PM
• 10 min read
Ty-La Morris has always been special.
"I used to tell my coworkers every day and they all kept saying, put her in gymnastics. I'm like, I can't afford gymnastics.
Gymnastics is very expensive," said McCormick, who lives with Ty-La in New Windsor, more than an hour north of New York City.
Raw talent met opportunity two years ago when Ty-La, who is now 13, began classes at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, which offers free and discounted classes for children in Detroit and in New York -- and is now fighting to serve hundreds of students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Trying to keep these kids together has been what I've been working the hardest to do," said founder Wendy Hilliard, a Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast, who rolled out "Zoom" classes as the pandemic sent families indoors and later found spaces across the New York City metro area for her students, including a tennis court in the Bronx and a gym in Yonkers.
Throughout the year, she's fought to find those facilities for her students to keep them competitive and in shape, as more affluent private gyms that serve predominantly white communities have the resources to stay open.
"I'm so frustrated that the priority - you know, if you have money, stuff like that, you can have your kids do these extra activities and other kids can't if they're urban kids or they don't have the spaces," said Hilliard. "We've been trying to navigate that part."
For Ty-La, a fearless tumbling and trampoline gymnast who dreams of attending UCLA, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adapting to a social life on Zoom after the coronavirus shattered daily routines.
"They were having their regular meeting times (online) every day, even though it's probably just stretching or whatever," said McCormick. "The first time they had a meeting at a gym, they were just ecstatic to see each other. They were overjoyed. And I'm like, this hurts because they're really close."
She draws her inspiration from Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, and earned the nickname "Gabby" from her former cheer squad.
"She would tell me, 'Oh, mom, I'm going to the Olympics. I'm going to buy you a house, car and everything is going to be good. I'm going to the Olympics," said McCormick.
Ty-La, who said she's also drawn comparisons to 2016 Olympic champion Simone Biles, said a "full" -- a tumbling move where a gymnast flips backwards and twists -- was her favorite move that she's learned through her classes at Wendy Hilliard Foundation.
She's also formed rock-solid bonds there with other students.
"We are very close. We (are) like brothers and sisters," said Ty-La, who does abdominal workouts and push-ups to stay fit at home, on top of the instructional videos posted online by the Wendy Hilliard Foundation.
She's picked up new skills during 2020, despite the numerous hurdles that come with training in the middle of a pandemic, learning how to do a front full, double backs and more.
"I just always wanted to do gymnastics because I just love to flip," said Ty-La, "And now I'm doing it."
Athletes like Douglas and Biles ushered in an era where Black excellence in gymnastics has been front-and-center for Ty-La and aspiring gymnasts her age, said Hilliard, who was the first African-American woman to represent the United States Rhythmic Gymnastics team.
And in a year where Biles' Olympic dreams were postponed, it was her candor outside of the gym -- opening up about her mental health and wellness -- that once again lit a path.
"Seeing her be so strong was very helpful because it was like even the greatest gymnast in the world is struggling," said Hilliard. "You know, the time is different for us. You can sit up and take off six months a year and move on. But a kid who's like nine years old a year is so long."
Gymnastics-Fearless Biles a winner after capping comeback with beam bronze
- "We're human beings," says Biles
- Biles won't rule out Paris Olympics
- Imperfect but fearless execution
TOKYO, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Simone Biles made a fearless return to competition on Tuesday, capping a tumultuous Tokyo Games with a bronze medal on the balance beam and then using the Olympic stage to remind everyone that athletes are human beings.
The final gold of the women's artistic gymnastics programme would go to China's Guan Chenchen with a score of 14.633 and the silver to her compatriot Tang Xijing but it was Biles who grabbed the spotlight for her courageous comeback.
"I was proud of myself just to go out there after what I've been through," said Biles, who arrived in Tokyo having already won four golds and a bronze in Rio five years ago.
"This one is definitely sweeter. I'll treasure this one a lot more after everything I have been through."
While still dealing with the traumatic events of the past week, Biles did not rule out returning to the Olympic stage in three years for the 2024 Paris Games.
"I have to process this Olympics before I think about Paris," said Biles, who owns a combined 32 Olympic and world championship medals.
"Right now I’m going to focus on myself a little bit more often rather than push stuff under the rug."
Three times a world champion on the beam, Biles might have finished third but her mere presence in the final was considered a victory after she abruptly dropped out of last Tuesday's team competition -- where she failed to complete the planned number of twists in her vault -- citing mental health issues.
The 24-year-old came to Tokyo eyeing a record haul of six golds, which would have made her the most successful female Olympian of all-time across any sport, but instead suffered a crisis of confidence that led to her withdrawing from the all-around, vault, asymmetric bars and floor exercise finals.
Biles explained later she was dealing with the "twisties" -- a type of mental block where gymnasts get disoriented during their gravity-defying sequences.
It was that pressure and expectation that appeared to derail Biles' Olympics and she spoke with remarkable candour about her decision to prioritise her mental and physical well-being.
"Mentally I still have a lot of things that I have to work on but to bring the topic of conversation on mental health to light means the world to me," said Biles, who was widely applauded for putting athlete mental health in the Olympic spotlight.
"People have to realise that at the end of the day we’re humans, we’re not just entertainment. There are things going on behind the scenes that people have no idea about."
But if there was any lingering apprehension when Biles entered the arena for her final shot at a medal, it did not show as she blew kisses to the television cameras.
After a hug from her coach and a quick intake of breath, it was back to work as Biles stepped up to the beam with a look of determination.
With billions of viewers transfixed on Biles as she mounted the 10cm-wide apparatus, she did not waver as she began to showcase a number of complex skills with a triple spin in the squat position.
But as she prepared to get ready for her dismount, everyone held their breath, willing the American to make a safe landing.
Before she arrived in Tokyo, Biles had spent hours perfecting a double twisting, double back dismount from the beam -- and unsurprisingly she did not attempt that combination on Tuesday.
What she did pull off was a double-piked somersault dismount -- and when she landed that safely, roars could be heard around the arena, in Tokyo and probably the rest of the world.
She broke out into a huge smile and clutched her heart as soon as she completed her routine before performing a delightful jig. The prolonged tight embrace she then shared with her coach summed up the huge relief they were both feeling.
Her performance was clearly not the normal perfection expected from a gymnast billed as the greatest of all-time but was fearless in its execution.
The third of eight competitors to perform, Biles' mark of 14.000 did not look as if it might be enough for a place on the podium but in the end the only one to leapfrog the American would be the last one to compete -- Guan.
When the final scores appeared, Biles celebrated by first embracing her team mate Sunisa Lee, who had claimed the all-around crown earlier in the competition.
"I didn't expect a medal today I just wanted to go out there for me and that's what I did," said Biles, who had also picked up a bronze on the apparatus in Rio. "I dedicate this all Team USA for helping me and reaching out and it meant the world."
The bronze was the second medal Biles picked up at the Tokyo Games, to go along with the silver she shared in the team event.
The two medals bring her Olympic total to seven.
The women's beam final was sandwiched between the men's parallel bars and horizontal bar finals.
Twice parallel bars world champion Zou Jingyuan secured gold for China on the apparatus for the third time in four Games with a score of 16.233, finishing ahead of Germany's Lukas Dauser.
Japan also finished on a golden high when all-around champion Daiki Hashimoto added to his haul with a win on the horizontal bar to close out the competition.
Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Elaine Lies, editing by Pritha Sarkar
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Fear is a tricky subject all trackers, free runners, gymnasts, or any athlete has to face. Let me introduce myself. My name is Raven McCarthy from The Colony, TX. I do Freerunning, coaching, music, and run a parkour team in Dallas. I was a gymnast for nine years and a freerunner for five. Within those fourteen years I’ve seen and done a lot of things that aren’t really about skill, but just a state of mind. As a coach I’ve developed a system for fear that I even use for myself.
First thing is first; I go the mental route. I go step by step in order to let myself do a new trick on the floor that I learned on a tumble track. One of the first things I do is accept the fact that it’s either scary or really hard, and after you accept that fact it won’t seem so scary anymore. After accepting that fact, I usually look up videos and watch people do the trick I want to learn. I pay close attention to timing, positioning, and more. I also look up progressions.
Progressions have not only helped me, but also my students and friends. The reason why I use progressions is because it conditions your mind to being comfortable with something you don’t normally do. After going through progressions and mastering those progressions, I take it and use it. Your body is now comfortable with the movement so the best way to practice it is to do it.
Something all gymnasts hate is conditioning! Ask any gymnast. Conditioning is not fun, but if you’re trying to learn how to twist (for example) then you have to condition your ab muscles. Conditioning isn’t just working out, it’s also stretching. Stretching is important because not only does it prevent injury, but stretching also increases your range of motion. So after conditioning and stretching practice your progressions from the very beginning. Skipping progressions leads to poor form and failure. You have to master each progression before moving on to the next one. Progressions also lead to muscle memory. Muscle memory is good!
My students ask how I do what I do. The answer is simple. I JUST DO IT! All the while it’s easier said than done, that is the case. This leads to the topic of what should go through your head when learning and doing a move. What is on my mind when training? Nothing. Nothing at all. That’s the way it should be. The more you think about it, the more you stress yourself and become afraid to do it.
Now when learning a move, it’s different. You don’t think during the move. You think before the move. Don’t think about too much, though. That will stress you out. Go one step at a time and fix one thing at a time. Progressing is a process. Think about steps and what to fix.
When doing any sort of movement you have to commit 100%. Not committing to a move can result in injuries and more fear. Do not do anything you’re not comfortable doing until you’re certain you can do it after you wake up. Commitment is key to learning a new move.
Try learning from new people. People have different ways of doing thing, and one of those things might work for you. I watch videos all the time just looking for something new to learn. By the end of the month using my method, I can land it on a mat with no problem. There will be days where you just don’t want to move. Take that break! Pushing yourself is good, but if you’re not feeling it to start off with, that can lead to injury. Save yourself and take the break.
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