Gymnastics: Olympics leave impact on local gyms

Samantha Andrijeski, 6, works on doing a back walkover with the help of her coach Megan Jelinek during class Tuesday at USA Gymnastics.

For Hollister’s USA Sports gymnastics coach Donna Evans, the Olympics are more than just a celebration every four years of country pride. In the gymnastics’ world, the Olympics are their version of the Super Bowl.

Every four years, the Olympics, which are watched by millions of Americans each year, put a spotlight on the sport that dates back to Ancient Greece. What soon follows is an outpouring of support from the local community and young athletes.

For gymnastics, the Olympics is a cyclical “inspiration” and building block for the local gym, Evans said.

“It definitely has an impact,” she said.

In a non-Olympic year, enrollment at Hollister and Gilroy’s USA Sports drops during the summer and picks up in August. This year, though, the enrollment should be much higher, Evans said.

“We will see an increase throughout August and September now because it’s an Olympic year because of the inspiration,” Evans said.

Kids want to follow in the Olympians’ footsteps, former USA Sports member and 19-year-old coach Megan Jelinek said.

“They act as role models for even the younger girls here,” Jelinek said.

The UCLA sophomore did gymnastics for nine years before stopping when she was 17 because of an injury. During that time, though, she saw the Olympic impact firsthand.

“There are competitions all the time but they are not broadcasted all the time,” she said. “It’s the Super Bowl of gymnastics. It’s what everyone sees and what everyone knows. Gymnastics is a year-round sport because you have to be in it. You have a competition season but really you can’t stop – you practice all year long. The Olympics are … they are celebration of that.”

And everyone notices regardless of age. During the 2008 Olympics, four out of the eight most-watch Olympic events included gymnastics, according to the Nielsen ratings. The most-watched program among the 18-49 demographic was the Women’s Gymnastic All-Around competition.

Those numbers translate to the local scene. During or directly after the Olympics, enrollment raises nearly 25 percent, owner Mark Lawrence said.

“There is always a pretty good spike in enrollment,” Lawrence said. “I think we saw a 25 percent increase in enrollment in the gymnastic classes from toddlers to all the way up last time.”

For Lawrence’s USA Sports, which has gyms in both Hollister and Gilroy, the Olympics are the perfect advertisement for what gymnastics and its training can bring, he said.

“It just draws people’s awareness to the sport when they see how physically fit they are,” said Lawrence, who owns the gym with his wife Melinda. “Parents think that’s a good thing for their kids and I would agree with that. If you look across all sports and all these people are doing some fantastic things, I would like my child to get involved with a sport. When they look around to what is available to them in Hollister, we are one of the things.”

Despite the immediate impact from the Olympics, Lawrence doesn’t believe gymnastics is the only sport to benefit.

“A lot of sports see a spike due to the Olympics,” he said. “We just happen to be an Olympic-based sports. I’m sure swimming gets a nice spike. More people notice the sports because of Olympics.”

And with more people, the gym will be able to offer more to those that come in. Currently, the gym has one travel team consisting of 20 girls from Hollister and Gilroy that compete in state and national tournaments. Each day, the gym holds classes for kids as young as 1.

“We provide the avenue for them to go as far as they want to but we also want them to understand that we want them to be well-rounded individual,” Evans said.

With the Olympic boon, USA Sports’ competitive teams from both Hollister and Gilroy could have successful seasons, which start in September.

During the last competitive season, Level 7 competitor Colette Yamaoka won the state championship.

This year, they hope for more growth, Evans said.

“It’s a lot of fun watching these kids grow and become young adults,” Evans said. “Gymnastics is just an awesome sport. It teaches discipline and it teaches even self control. It teaches kids when they have fear to deal with fear and to process that.”

The gym, though, also expects more interest on a non-competitive level, Lawrence said.

And with more kids active, the Olympic spotlight is worth the four-year wait.

“The vast majority of our programs are here for a physical outlet to help the kids become more active,” Lawrence said. “We want to develop yourself physically so you can develop mentally as well. We want to keep the kids moving and keep the family active.”

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