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Point your toes! Coach or ballet mistress, dancer or gymnast, if you’ve said or heard this once, you’ve heard or said it a zillion times! If only you had a nickel…
The New Yorker’s Katia Bachko describes, in exquisite detail, why mentors in both dance and gymnastics pound the toe point into the heads of their artists:
“In ballet, the pointed foot creates extension from the top of the thigh to the toes; without an emphasis on this stretch, gymnasts curl and clench the toes. When coaches put too much emphasis on strength training, athletes end up with bulky shoulder muscles which compromise the graceful, elevated carriage of the head, which is typical among Carly Patterson, Jordyn Wieber, and other American gymnasts. Pay attention to the way the head position changes as the torso moves. Graceful, fluid neck movement creates dynamic, pleasing movement; a tight upper body gives the impression of tension. These minor, but important differences reflect the influence of ballet training. If they stop mattering, in terms of points and, ultimately, victories, the sport will be the worse for it.”
Every event in gymnastics demands the gymnast point his or her toes — because certainly, male gymnasts are not exempt from this technique to lengthen the leg and please the eye of the fan and judge alike!
However, we see the discipline of dance make its biggest mark in women’s events; most notably, the floor exercise with it’s, well: choreography.
Gymnastics, like music, art and other niche sports, has suffered greatly from educational budget cuts. Fewer high schools feature gymnastics programs. Kids are lucky, these days, if they get physical education (PE) at all. Cuts have hit so hard at the college level, the number of NCAA men’s gymnastics teams has gone from 270, only a few decades ago to just 16, now.
The sad and frustrating part is that enthusiasm for boys and men’s gymnastics continues to grow, but boys and men have fewer opportunities to pursue it on a competitive level, in a way that pairs gymnastics with an advanced education.
As the number of college teams has plummeted, so have scholarships to compete and attend school. That, in turn, makes for fewer educational opportunities for many male gymnasts’ who rely on athletic scholarships to offset the expense of college.
What we’re seeing is men who want to continue with gymnastics — while they’re bodies are in their prime — end up forced to choose between gymnastics and a higher education. Because of these cuts to teams and scholarships, male gymnasts are being deprived of opportunities to get an education on par with other athletes.
What ends up happening is that male gymnasts stay local and attend a community college, rather than a larger university, so they can still do gymnastics at their own club or gym. Fewer men at the larger, NCAA affiliated schools also leads to an impoverished NCAA field when good gymnasts get weeded out based on scholarship opportunities and scant team availability.
We spoke with a dedicated men’s gymnastics coach who’s taken a different tack to keep his athletes both in college and in the sport of gymnastics at a high skill level.
Born in ’52, George Michael Raines, President of GMR Gymnastics Sales (Yep! GMR…) found his passion for gymnastics at pools, trampoline parks and Lakeside High School.
An active, but shy kid, Mike practically grew up in the neighborhood pool and took to diving as a sport at age 10. Family outings to the local, in-ground trampoline park and his brother Tom’s trampolining at Briarcliff High School inspired Mike to try out for his school’s gymnastics team in the 8th grade. Mike remembers, still sounding a bit disheartened, “The coach dropped me because he wanted the older guys.”
“When I got to the 9th grade, my school didn’t have a team, as such. Guys who liked gymnastics tumbled on horse hair mats in the cafeteria after school. We did it on our own.” (more…)