Welcome to the live blog for a conference call with U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi! Karolyi is preparing to depart for what will be her final Olympic Games before retiring. Refresh your browser every few minutes for updates, the most recent of which will appear at the top of the post.
12:50 pm. Leslie King is back for closing remarks, thanking Martha and the press. Thanks for tuning in!
12:49 pm. “How do you feel about Romania not having a team at this Games?”
“It’s very sad to see a nation who was dominating for several quads not compete. The system was broken. They developed a system in Romania that was very successful, but then I don’t know why, but I think they had conflicts in the organization and with development, but somehow they forgot about the importance of raising gymnasts to be ready for every quad. They pretty much realized that they don’t have enough strong upcoming gymnasts who can try out to make the Olympic team, so the system was broken.”
12:47 pm. I missed the question but here’s the answer…
“We developed a system that works for this country, the semi-centralized training system with a centralized program to maintain the gymnasts staying home and training at their own gyms. It’s not only having the gymnasts but having the coaches who get involved at the elite level. Several teams working together to unite all efforts to be successful and giving fierce competition at the world level is the most important thing.”
12:45 pm. “How does this team compare with 2012? Which countries do you consider the toughest gold medal competition?”
“I don’t compare teams. Each has a uniqueness. This is a strong team, including some experienced girls and newcomers with strong skills and good energy levels. It’s a good combination and it’s working very well. I’m pleased with this team. The top nations like China and Russia, and now Great Britain, these are the strongest countries we’ll be competing with.”
12:44 pm. “Is Gabby Douglas prepared to do the all-around?”
“I forsee that she will do the all-around but we’re not making these decisions yet. But it’s a strong possibility that she will be one of the all-around gymnasts.”
12:39 pm. “Did having family members/guests/an audience at camp a couple days ago help the girls?”
“We had an open training session where we had our verification, which we often do in training camps, so it was certain people who supported our program from the area in Huntsville. It wasn’t a huge amount of spectators, but I thought that it was okay for the girls to get a tiny bit of extra pressure performing in front of the public without being isolated. It went well and I was pleased.”
“Can you reflect on your career? How are you feeling? What’s the biggest adjustment you’ve made over the years?”
“It took several years to build up the system. The most important was what direction you want to go in as a country. Most importantly we never wanted to copy anybody because a copy is never as good as an original. We didn’t want to be the Russians or the Chinese, but wanted to do it the American way based on our girls’ talents. That was very important – we can be very good if we train hard and unite our efforts and have a common goal. That was the most important thing accomplished through the training camps. Also, to raise generations. Don’t think only about this Olympic team. We’re already thinking who are those little girls for the next quads? We have already lined up several of those little girls who are very talented who can pop in during the next Olympic quad. That’s how it happened with Simone Biles, popping in right after 2012. You have to have a system where you’re permanently developing gymnasts and even the coaches’ education. Some young upcoming coaches without that experience learn everything step by step and are able to lead their gymnasts to the highest level of competition.”
“Have you changed any of the composition of Gabby Douglas‘ floor?”
“It includes the same skills. We’re working on perfecting, and on the rhythm of the full-in to back tuck. The Ferrari is getting better and better, and is looking better than Vanessa Ferrari did it.”
12:36 pm. “Can you give us an update on Gabby Douglas‘ progress?”
“Gabby is doing very very good. Her attitude is extremely positive, very open to any suggestions and corrections in her training, and actually I don’t even know if she missed any beam routines in our last four or five days. I’m pleased. It certainly is a work in progress and every day we’re doing improvements, so I’m pretty confident that she will be able to function well.”
“Will there be an Amanar?”
“She is improving. She gets in shape in the last stretch. Most girls were at a higher level at trials, but she’s made great strides and she is really really looking good. I’m thinking that by the time we get to Rio, she will be able to be proud of her second Olympics. There will be no Amanar, but she improved her beam consistency and her bars look excellent at a 6.5 start value. You can’t put everything on one single skill.”
12:34 pm. “How do you hope this team improves on the London team?”
“We’re not doing anything different as we always do. The preparation is always the same, focusing on improvements and building confidence, so we’re not doing different things between one Olympics and the next. The team composition is always different, but there is a general team concept and besides that, we pay attention to different personalities because every gymnast is a different person. We try to take the right approach for every girl and to bring out the best from each of them.”
12:33 pm. “Can you give us clues as to what to expect from the leotards? What role does the leo play in competition?”
“The leos this year all will be in patriotic colors. It’s definitely…we have some great designs, most of them are very sparkly, and we already handed them out to the girls. They were very excited. The leotards are like little prom dresses for the girls, so they’re pleased with them and it will give them a good feeling going out there with a good look and good preparation paired together.”
12:29 pm. “What are your thoughts on Simone Biles and what you’ve seen out of her and the pressure she faces in her first Olympics?”
“She faces the same pressure as anyone going to the Olympic Games. We had to make sure that they don’t feel outside pressure – it should be coming from inside, making sure that they do their best performance and if they do their best performance, what they’re capable of and prepared for, everything will be okay. They don’t need to put any other pressure, and we talk about this very often. The person you want to please is yourself, and if you set high standards for yourself and you put the work behind it, you will be happy regardless of the outcome. You’re not thinking of the outcome, but of the process. If it’s done correctly, you will be satisfied. Simone’s in a good place.”
“What’s so special about Simone?”
“She’s very talented, she’s physically explosive, and she knows how to come out from those very difficult skills. She brought gymnastics up a level with very difficult skills made to look like they’re executed easily. Besides this great talent, behind the performance, it’s a very regimented and dedicated work. Nobody can become a world champion just because they’re born with talent. She is in a very good training system, she regularly comes to camps here, doing the pre-Olympic training focusing on details and refining things…she is a big contender to be on top at the Games if everything goes in the direction we’re going right now.”
“I honestly feel like it’s no extra pressure. Maybe it’s even more pressure on your first time going to the Olympics. It’s easier the second time mentally because you already know how things go, and what to expect. I feel like it’s an advantage for them to be more experienced and based on that, they can be more comfortable in all kinds of situations. They’re doing a very good job.”
12:26 pm. “About the alternates, what do you expect at these Olympics? How did Ashton Locklear do in your most recent camp?”
“The three alternates are training under Steve Rybacki’s control because I’m focusing 100% on the five team members. We train all together and they do the very same training plan I developed for the team, and if something happened to the team members, based on where we would need reinforcements, we would choose one of the alternates. Ashton is a bars specialist, and the other bars specialist on the team is Madison Kocian. If anything prevented Madison to perform, Ashton has to be in very good shape, which she is. She is working very well and is consistently doing her high-class bar routine.”
12:25 pm. “What were you looking for at the most recent training camp and what did you see?”
“At the training camps we always want to perfect things. At trials, we see the routines, and we see where we can become better. We’re working on details, to come closer to perfection, and based on coming closer to perfecting the routines, we’ll become more consistent. On this base of consistency, the girls’ confidence levels will be very high. Building up the consistency and confidence level of all team members [was the primary focus].”
12:24 pm. “How much of a factor was Aly Raisman‘s leadership on a team with newcomers?”
“It’s certainly good to have a more mature gymnast, both Aly and Gabby Douglas have the Olympic experience, they know what it takes, and they can really help the newer upcoming girls to understand how it works and possibly calm them down if the nerves come. Aly also is a good role model because she’s very dedicated in her training and is always disciplined and giving 100% effort to become a better gymnast.”
12:21 pm. “How do you feel about USA Gym buying the ranch?”
“We’ve had a lease with USA Gym for five years now and it was named as an official Olympic training site, so it’s nice to see that once I’m finishing my job, USA Gym will take over and continue and I think that’s the best way as to preserve the system which proved itself as very efficient, able to produce world class gymnasts and world class teams.”
“Do you have any lineup ideas yet?”
“Yeah, we have a tentative lineup, but it’s absolutely tentative and we will not release that lineup at the moment because most likely, there will be changes as time goes. Usually when we go to worlds, we do the selection much later, but in the Olympic year we have to do an earlier trials so in this period of time we are studying the level of gymnastics, consistency, the potential of scoring high in three-up three-up count, and at a much later date we finalize the lineup based on the actual situation closer to the start of the competition. The final decision is always taken after we complete podium training, which is a big rehearsal for the competition. We test out how they can handle the more pressure situation, which is when we come up with the final lineup.”
12:18 pm. “What do you feel is the greatest contribution you have made to women’s gymnastics since being in this position?”
“I would like to say that really, the system started two years before 2000 when Bela was named as national team coordinator. Bela loved the idea of the semi-centralized training system and at that point, it was a major changed because nothing was organized before that point. The teams were selected from private clubs and it was lacking leadership and organization. In 2000, we could continue improving the system. I think we’re in a very good place, we don’t have to take the gymnasts away from their home gyms or from their families, but getting together on a regular basis every four or five weeks for training sessions with some leadership, directions to the gymnasts…we unite all the coaches and gymnasts and we make them understand that we are strong as we stay together as a team instead of trying to beat our teammates, so it’s a positive atmosphere and a united approach to planning and working on a training plan and preparation plans for major international competitions.”
12:17 pm. “Can you describe what Aly Raisman brings to the team as a gymnast and a team leader?”
“She is a very good gymnast, a very dedicated one, and we really appreciate her contributions, especially working for her second Olympics knowing how much dedication it takes to do the job right. I think the girls look up to her because of this reason, and they elected her in a tight run between her and Simone Biles. She’s a good leader, very balanced, loves what she’s doing, supports the newcomers, and she’s able to help them understand the whole process and gives a good personal example.”
12:16 pm. VP of Media and Communications Leslie King is on the line introducing Martha Karolyi.
12:15 pm. Here we go!
12:13 pm. Listening to hold music at the moment but in a few minutes everything should be live!
12:05 pm. The call is set to begin in ten minutes! I assume most questions will be about the team’s preparation, but USA Gymnastics announced this morning that they are buying the ranch from the Karolyis, so a fair amount could be related to that as well.
Article by Lauren Hopkins