Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Round-off Roundup: Is the US moving towards a de facto centralized system?

Texas’s dominance over gymnastics training is increasing.

The Round-off Roundup.jpeg

U.S. National Team member Reese Esponda just left her gym in Montana and moved to World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas. With her move, that makes 13 women on the national team who train in Texas, out of a total of 27 team members. Three of those team members are in college, and that doesn’t count gymnasts like Addison Fatta, who is trained by her parents in her hometown.

So, out of 24 gymnasts on the National Team currently competing for a club, 13 of them are training in Texas! That’s more than half of all the top gymnasts in the United States this year.

It’s not as if all of these girls are born-and-bred Texans, either. In fact, almost half moved to Texas from across the country. Jordan Chiles moved from Vancouver, Wash. Kaliya Lincoln moved from Santa Clara, Calif. Zoe Miller moved from West Hartford, Conn. Hezly Rivera moved from Oradell, N.J. Last of all, Tiana Sumanasekera moved from Pleasanton, Calif. All have come to train in the Lone Star State. 

The gymnasts are drawn by one of the two big gyms in Texas: Simone Biles’ World Champions Centre in Spring, a Houston suburb, or the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in the Dallas suburbs of Plano and Frisco.

WCC’s elite coaches are Laurent and Cecile Landi, from France. American gymnasts currently training at WCC include Biles, Dulcy Caylor, Chiles, Esponda, Miller, Joscelyn Roberson and Sumanasakera. Other foreign gymnasts have also come to train there — for example, Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France is there long term and Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland came for a few days in 2020. 

WOGA is run by Valeri Liukin, father of 2008 Olympic All-Around Champion Nastia Liukin, and has employed mainly coaches from previously Eastern Bloc countries — Liukin’s wife Anna Kotchneva Liukin from Russia, Yevgeny Marchenko of Latvia and formerly Natasha Boyarskaya of Kazakhstan. Liukin himself is from Soviet Kazakhstan and won two gold and two silver medals at the 1988 Olympics for the USSR. The American gymnasts currently training there are Skye Blakely, Madray Johnson, Lincoln and Rivera.

The fact that the majority of the national team members are all training in one state raises the question: Is the United States moving towards a de facto centralized training system? 

A little background: there are three options for running a country’s gymnastics program. 

First, there can be no centralization: everyone trains on their own. Gymnasts only come together for selection competitions and nationals. This was how the U.S. operated before 1999. 

Option two is total centralization: All of the gymnasts live and train together at one location for the majority of the year. Russia has Round Lake, and China and Romania have also historically operated under centralization. 

Lastly, you can split the difference and have a semi-centralized system. Gymnasts train on their own, but come together frequently over the year.

The US operates on this semi-centralized system, which was instituted by Romanian Marta Karolyi in late 1999 and was based on the East German system. Gymnasts train on their own at their home gym but come together for “camp” once a month.

However, with everyone training in Texas these days, we’re moving closer on the spectrum to the totally centralized system — and is that good for the future of U.S. gymnastics?

This isn’t a new phenomenon — Texas has always been an “it” place to train. But, the top women used to train all over the country: Parkettes in Pennsylvania in the northeast, Twin City Twisters in Minnesota, Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy in Ohio, Charter Oaks Gliders in California. While a gymnast might move to be nearer a better gym, it didn’t require moving to Texas specifically. 

The increasing centralization of resources will limit the talent pool if this trend continues. If the only place you can train and be a good gymnast is Texas, gymnasts from elsewhere might not get a shot. Texas is quickly becoming the center of American gymnastics.