Blythe Lawrence, Luba Baladzhaeva, me essentially in pajamas, and Scott Bregman at the 2019 European Championships in Szczecin, Poland
So, first order of business, this is just a little blog I’m writing about my own little gymnastics journey. It’s not a recap of gymnastics or a list of my faves or anything. It’s just me.
I’m a couple weeks late in writing this because I was like, what should I say? I wanted to write something for my personal gymnastics milestone, because I never really get into myself on here, aside from the occasional “in my experience…” rants in “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered” like how I’m a failure at turning en dehors so I totally get why gymnasts stick with inside turns, or if I’m just sharing meet anecdotes, like who my favorite gymnasts to talk to are, or the funniest things that have ever happened while covering a meet (hands down: when Kyla Ross and I were waiting in line to use a very tiny bathroom, I believe in 2013 or 2014, where the two stalls were occupied by judges shit-talking literally everyone).
So, here’s my story. After a lifetime of trying to be a gymnast but failing miserably and then just following the sport, I decided it might be fun to write about gymnastics, which I started doing within a little community on Tumblr in 2009.
I fell in love with many gymnastics blogs at this time, including The Couch Gymnast, and in 2010 I decided to ask founder Brigid McCarthy if I could start helping her out with coverage. She said yes, and by July of that year, I was off to Chicago to cover the U.S. Classic. It was Alicia Sacramone’s comeback meet, it was Katelyn Ohashi’s first elite all-around podium finish (I still remember everyone being concerned that she wouldn’t be ready to speak to the press in the mixed zone because it was her first time and she was 13, but she had full control of every interview), Gabby Douglas defied physics with her 45-year-long straddle press handstand on the low bar…I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t even know where to start with my writing, but I remember sitting on press row next to Gymnastike thinking “I want to cover every meet for the rest of my life.”
Over the next few years, I covered a few U.S. meets, like the American Cup and nationals, with the U.S. Olympic Trials added on in 2012. I wrote about the U.S. potential in 2010, their glow-up in 2011, and their domination in 2012, when they blew the rest of the world out of the water in London. I continued going to meets in the following year, watching press row at U.S. meets go from standing-room-only in the Olympic year to just me and a handful of other gym nerd faithfuls at the American Cup a year later, where Ohashi beat Simone Biles in Biles’ senior debut before she went on to become the biggest legend in the sport’s history (at that meet, I asked her about her infamous standing double back, and her coach Aimee Boorman rolled her eyes and said, “That’s what she does when I’m NOT around”).
After graduating from college in the spring of 2014, I thought about branching out a bit, and began looking for jobs that would allow me to cover the sport full-time. I applied at Gymnastike, but their creative director was concerned about my expertise because I myself wasn’t a high-level gymnast (they hired a former NCAA star who plagiarized every article I wrote on my own site before quitting a few months later…though shoutout to the current Flo gym team because they work hard, are smart, and are awesome). I looked into bigger networks, like NBC, but most only hired for short stints during the Olympic Games.
Shockingly, there aren’t many adult human jobs for people who want to watch gymnastics all day and get paid for it, so I was like, cool. I’m gonna start my own website. And so I did. I created The Gymternet in July of 2014, and began playing around with content and features. Some worked, others were scrapped, but starting with the Commonwealth Games that summer, I would go on to cover 40 meets in our first year, and people seemed to like what I was doing enough to follow along.
As the site grew, Real Journalists began coming to me for my thoughts for articles they were writing, especially going into 2016. I was featured in the New Republic and on NPR, talked about leotards with Racked and difficulty with The Economist, and covered the Olympic Games for SB Nation and NBC, where my crowning achievement was forcing the world to watch future two-time world champion Nina Derwael’s bars because I knew she was a queen even though the judges snubbed her that summer.
Writing about gymnastics didn’t become a job in the way I had originally hoped it to be, but I carved my own little niche as a timid but determined young lady in a world dominated by people with far much more experience and training than I had. I’m not a journalist. I studied political history and human rights in college, and thought maybe I’d be a lawyer or work for an NGO. Writing about gymnastics may seem trivial in comparison, but it became my escape from a world that is often so terrible and haunting and cruel.
Even when the ugliness of the world makes its way into our sport, always at the hands of adults who take advantage of the girls and young women they’re supposed to protect, the girls and women continue to prove their brilliance, and I won’t remember this decade for the grown ass adults who tried to destroy that brilliance, but rather the girls and women who won gold medals and brought the sport to new heights and used their voices to stand up for themselves and others in spite of every adult and system working against them.
The athletes are why I fell in love with the sport 24 years ago, and the athletes are why I started writing about the sport a decade ago and why I continue doing it to this day. Their stories, their triumphs, and everything they’ve had to overcome, it’s why I spend whatever spare time I have trying to share these with all of you.
On July 22, 2010, I took a train from New York City to Chicago to cover my very first meet, and on July 22, 2020, I’ll take a flight from New York City to Tokyo to cover the Olympic Games. I covered 2012 for The Couch Gymnast, sharing live updates on Facebook from my college dorm room, and I covered 2016 for NBC, highlighting my favorite routines in a post-competition recap show called “Daily Dismount” from NBC’s studios in Stamford. But in 2020, my Olympic coverage will be all me, coming at you live directly from the room where it happens. Insanity.
Though it’s super rare for the USPOC to award credentials to a website that has never before been to the Olympic Games when spots are limited and priority is given to Real Journalists from newspapers and magazines, last year I found out that my website had been accepted and that I’d be credentialed to cover the Games. It’s something I dreamed of when I started this website five-and-a-half years ago, but it’s something I didn’t expect would actually happen…at least not this soon. But it’s happening, and because of that, I’m aiming to make 2020 the year I bring the best coverage that I can.
With bigger opportunities come bigger expenses, and the fact is that I am running this website solo with just a few hundred dollars a month coming in from Patreon supporters and ads. I spent the first four years of my “career” self-funding every opportunity I had to attend meets, and since starting my website, I’ve had some help from some great people who have contributed, but I still self-fund more than half of my gymnastics travel each year, and this year, based on what I’ve spent so far and have planned going forward, I will have to self-fund at least one-third of these trips (which, let’s be real, I’m happy to do, but I also have to pay rent and student loans).
With so many big meets this year, including Olympic trials and qualifiers as well as the Games themselves, I have the goal of attending as many as I physically and financially can, and so I’ve decided to release a weekly podcast – The Gymterpod, naturally – available only on Patreon to subscribers who pledge $5 or more per month (a $10 monthly donation will get you the podcast plus priority on the You Asked question queue, and $20 gets you both of these plus an additional monthly audio commentary for a meet you can follow along with on YouTube).
Because I don’t believe in pay-only content, everything you hear in The Gymterpod will be covered somewhere outside of the paywall, whether through an article recapping a meet on this website, via a retweet of an athlete’s upgrades, or in a newsy post. But the weekly podcast will tie all of these together for your listening ease, with each one including the biggest news of that week (with all of my thoughts and opinions, of course), a recap of that weekend’s competitions, a preview of the upcoming weekend’s competitions, and a tiny audible version of “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered” where I answer three questions not featured in any website edition.
I plan on releasing The Gymterpod beginning Monday, January 20, and the first episode will be free so you can get a taste of what to expect going forward. If you feel like supporting the website and all of our planned coverage in 2020, you can then subscribe for $5 a month to help us meet all of our coverage goals (feel free to subscribe now, but the first patreon-only episode won’t be available until January 27!). But if you don’t want to, or can’t, help us out financially, I get it, and I promise that my website and social media coverage will be better than ever, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.
So far in 2020, I have budgeted to attend the following trips:
- Mar 6-7 – American Cup – $600
- Apr 30-May 3 – WAG European Championships – $1,000 (flight and shared Airbnb booked)
- May 7-10 – Pan American Championships – $700 (flight and hotel booked)
- Jun 4-7 – U.S. Championships – $600
- Jun 25-28 – U.S. Olympic Trials – $900 (hotel booked)
- Jul 22-Aug 5 – Olympic Games – $4,000 (flight and media hotel booked)
I’ve also planned on potentially planning to travel to at least some of the following, with the men’s European Championships a priority, if I can raise the funds, but haven’t actually budgeted for them yet:
- Feb 20-22 – Winter Cup Challenge
- Apr 2-5 – City of Jesolo Trophy
- Apr 24-25 – American Classic
- May 23 – U.S. Classic
- May 27-31 – MAG European Championships
After a wild ride during my first decade of coverage, I’m hoping to do bigger and better things in the Roaring 20s, and Tokyo is just the start. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and this website for all of these years in literally any way you’ve been able to lend support, and I’m excited to do everything I can to make this year’s gymnastics reporting next-level, with more interviews, more knowledge, more history, more live coverage, and more profiles of the athletes who make this sport what it is.
It’s been a decade, y’all, and I can’t wait to keep going.
Article by Lauren Hopkins