It’s Been a Decade, Y’all

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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

49 thoughts on “It’s Been a Decade, Y’all

  1. As a relatively new follower of the website, I wanna congratulate you for all the effort you continuously put into the articles, which I adore. I love gymnastics so for me it’s great to have a place where I can learn a bit more and also see what other people who also are fans think about whatever going on. You are deserving of all your achievements. Thank you for the brilliant content and here’s for another great decade of gymnastics coverage!

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    • Thank you so much! I really hope I can up my game even more this year in helping people learn about the sport in some small way, whether it’s with skills and the code, or who to watch, or how various competitions work…I love doing it because the sport can be so confusing to follow and I really hope to make that experience less confusing so more people can enjoy it. I’m glad it’s helped you a bit and hope I can keep doing that!

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  2. Thank you Lauren, for this brilliant and touching article about your passion which is ours too. Your blog and your work are wonderful. For the European Championships in 2020 in Paris, you can come and live in my home rather than in an Rbn’b. I leave in a big apartment in the center of Paris, and you can stay as long as you want. It will be my pleasure to welcome you.

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    • Thank you so much! My friends rented an Airbnb with several bedrooms so I was going to stay with them and pay for a share of it, but I’ll let you know if this doesn’t work out and will get in touch with you! I’m only going to be there from the morning of April 30 until the evening of May 3, so a really quick trip, but I should be able to at least catch all of the competition.

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      • Oh yes, of course, let me know, even at the last moment. The Arena Hotel, where the competition takes place, is located at around 35 minutes by metro from my home which in South Pigalle. All your gym trips cost a lot of money and if you don’t have to pay for this Airbnb in Paris, you can save money to go to another competition!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Amazing…thank you again! I’ll definitely be in touch! Thankfully this Airbnb is the cheapest among all of the hotels all of my gym trips this year…with five of us in the apartment it only ended up being about 120 euro TOTAL for the whole time I’m staying…the flight was the really expensive part of this trip, I guess because of the time of year. I spent a little over $800 on the flight, and usually I can get to Paris from NYC for about $400, but that’s in the winter so I guess it’s not as popular a route. They had one cheap flight, but there was a 12 hour layover in Portugal, which didn’t work for my schedule sadly! But thank you, if the Airbnb doesn’t end up working out, I will let you know!

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        • I suppose plane tickets are expansive because it will be the spring vacation in France. anyway, feel comfortable to send me an email if your (very cheap !) Airbnb doesn’t work out !

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  3. Your website helped pull me out of some major hopelessness about life and jobs and the world. I fell in love with this sport again after finding your website and will always be grateful for your immense contributions to the sport. I’m excited to continue supporting you going into 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I’m so happy that I helped you enjoy the sport again, and honestly, doing this site helped ME with helplessness about life and jobs as well…out of college I had two really bad part-time jobs, no prospects, and no clue what to do with my life, and putting this together really helped me get back on track and figure something out, even if it was just a small distraction at first. That small distraction helped so much, so I’m glad it has also helped you in some way!

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  4. Thank you for this blog and for creating a great community. Your blog has become a gathering place for people from all over the world to discuss the sport we love. I know what you mean about getting your work plagiarized on Gymnastike. This same person would plagiarize from my comments left on different blogs–like two full paragraphs copied and pasted!

    When you cover Tokyo, please tell Oleg how much his fans adore him. And tell Nina that I somehow hold my breath and gasp and hyperventilate during each bar routine. It is so beautiful!

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    • Thank you so much!

      Yeah, I remember writing about an Italian meet and got all of the details from an Italian friend who translated the meet format for me, and when I saw that site was also covering it, I was like omg how cool, they never cover these little meets, and clicked and it was just our entire article with a few words changed. I couldn’t believe it, and then I found multiple things she wrote that were copied/pasted. :-/ I’m glad she left pretty quickly because that job really wasn’t for her, hahaha.

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  5. Really enjoyed reading about your journey, your studies and ambitions. Come on Gymternet, please get behind Lauren, for the cost of a couple of cups of coffee you get some of the best coverage the internet has to offer. Thanks and best wishes Lauren.

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  6. Thank you for your website. As a lifelong fan of the sport and mum of a young competing gymnast, this is my go to place for all my gymnastic news. I am inspired by your determination to carve out a place for yourself within the sport. And I have often wondered how you have managed to do so much with so little. I’m going to cancel some other subscriptions to support your site as I’d be lost without it.

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  7. Hi again Lauren, will you be adding an option to pay via Visa etc, Paypal for international subscribers, their exchange rates are ridiculous & out of principal will not use.

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    • Hmmm…I’ll see what I can do on Patreon. Tbh I didn’t look into their international subscription options but if they don’t have anything good, I’ll definitely figure out something I can do with Paypal!

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  8. Hi–loved hearing how you got here! Thanks for telling us. This is my favorite (and almost only) source of gymnastics news–could read it all day! Too bad about real life jobs that get in the way not only in writing about gymnastics but in being able to follow it! If we want to do the podcast, do we just increase our Patreon contribution? Can we make a one-time donation towards one of those trips? Thanks for everything you do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much!! Yeah, if you already donate via Patreon I think you can just up it to the $5 tier, but if you’d rather just do a one-time donation through PayPal I’d be more than happy to supply you with the podcast links! Just have to figure out a way to do that but I’m sure I can. Thank you again!

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  9. One of the reasons I appreciate your work is that you celebrate gymnasts from ALL programs around the world, even if they haven’t yet made it out of a qualifications round. You know who they are, and you recognize what constitutes a victory for them- a hit routine, a hit skill, or a personal best. Thank you, Lauren, it’s clear that you put your heart into what you do, and the amount of original content you produce (while also working full time and becoming a ballet bad-ass!) is really impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much!! That was my goal when starting this, especially because for TCG, I focused only on the U.S. and felt like I was missing out on so much. I get that some people only care about gymnasts who will make finals and win medals, but I’ve discovered so many really talented gymnasts from underrated programs and that’s been the most exciting part of this for me…like, Elisa Hämmerle might not be on anyone’s radar, but seeing her get injured in 2016 at the test event and then watching her come so far and have the meet of a lifetime at worlds this year and just break down in tears at the end of her incredible floor routine and qualify to Tokyo…that’s been a highlight for me this quad, and there are SO many stories like this, I love finding them all and following their journeys. I’m really happy that you and others appreciate this, and I hope that I can keep trying to make people want to know more about the gymnasts who don’t have Amanars or 6.5 D scores or gold medals, but who are still incredibly talented and deserve recognition!

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      • Yes, love the stories! I think my favorite so far was Houry Gebeshian–going to school and working full time, funding most of her own training–made it to the Olympics–was never going to win a medal but got a skill named after her! I love the medal winning athletes because they are amazing but Houry’s story is what the Olympics is about!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes!! Her story was incredible, and so many of these smaller-program gymnasts have similar stories, I wish I could bring literally all of them to you guys (and I’m trying to this year).

          Liked by 1 person

  10. When I first started reading the Gymternet, I saw your name and thought, hey, isn’t that the person who writes for The Couch Gymnast? TCG articles were the first ones I read from you, and I always thought it really neat that you started as a contributor for someone else and worked your way up to getting a gig with NBC, establishing one of the primary online gym sites, and now take yourself around the world to cover meets. There are multiple, well executed, very enjoyable gym sites, but out of all of them, yours always struck me as the hardest working one. It’s really impressive to see someone build up their work through effort and time and dedication. Many people don’t have the patience or drive to go for what they want if they can’t have it quickly. But they’re the ones in the same place they were 10 years ago whereas you keep moving up. Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished in the last decade, and I would not be at all surprised to see you making a seriously good living covering the sport by the time you post your 20th Anniversary article. Thanks for everything you’ve brought to the gymnastics community over the years.

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    • Thank you so much! This was so touching to read. It’s always been hard to be taken seriously as a “blogger” in a world of professionals, but I figured if I worked hard enough I could get respect from people instead of having people turn up their nose at me in the press zone. It happened a lot, but I went from being the weird little blogger to the person whose website was open on every single journalist’s laptop at every meet so they knew what was going on in front of them, which I consider a victory, LOL. But I didn’t start this site to become “known” for writing about gymnastics, I did it because I wanted to share stories and cover meets that people usually don’t know about, and I definitely put a lot of hard work into trying to share whatever I possibly can. It’s nice that opportunities came to me because of this effort, and while it would’ve been nice to land a job at NBC out of college and have a salary to do what I want, in a way it worked out better for me to do things the way I did them. Having full control over what I do and how I do it while still getting to experience some of the bigger opportunities is the best possible compromise, and to be able to cover the Olympics exactly how I want to do it next year is like a dream come true. Maybe someday it’ll work out that this is a full-time job, but even if not, it’s still so worth doing as a passion project because it’s way more about loving what I’m doing than it is about career goals or anything like that. It’s great that big things do happen for me and the site on occasion, especially in the Olympic years, but I’d do it even if no one paid attention aside from a few gym fans who just wanted to learn more.

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    • Right now it’s just going to be on Patreon (they have like, an audio platform kinda thing) but I’m gonna figure out if I can do it in another way for people who find it easier to listen elsewhere.

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  11. Hey Lauren! Congratulations on a decade of excellent gymnastics reporting. I never knew anything about gymnastics growing up, I was a dancer (and still am. I hate en dehors turns too.) At college, I got invited to watch a club meet and was blown away by all the cool flippy things the people were doing. That led to watching clips of gymnasts on YouTube. Then I found your blog. Thank you, thank you so much for all the reporting you do. I have learned so much about this amazing sport, mostly because of your You Asked articles and your live blogs. I can’t imagine if you weren’t out there reporting for us. Having moved overseas, I’m not always able to watch the events live due to stupid country copyright rules. Congratulations on getting your Olympic credentials! So excited for you. Keep up the good work.

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  12. Honestly I don’t know how I got to know about this blog but now I can.t go a day without checking if there are new updates. I was never a gymnast but I always loved the sport. I think you are doing an amazing work. Wish you the best in this new chapter!

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  13. Congratulations on an amazing decade, Lauren! I appreciate so much how you are respectful about all the athletes and introduce the world to lesser known gymnasts. It’s so inspiring to see how far you and the blog have come!

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  14. Pingback: Welcome to The Gymterpod! | The Gymternet

  15. You’re truly an inspiration, Lauren. Congratulations on an amazing decade of the absolutely BEST gymnastics coverage out there. And thanks for never forgetting the small ones 🙂 wish you all the best!

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  16. I’m gonna join in with everyone else in saying congratulations on all you’ve accomplished these 10 years. Your site is so thorough and comprehensive and the gymternet is lucky to have you! 🙂 I’m glad to see you’re jumping into the podcast game, too; the more voices we have access to, the better!

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  17. Lauren,
    I love your site! my daughter did competitive gymnastics through level 6 and I was a gymnastics fan when I was a teen myself. If you are ever in Indianapolis for things (Is the American Classic here?), you are welcome to stay in my shared Airbnb. Since USAG is here, there might be reason for you to be here at some point…if my place is free, I am happy to host you free of charge!

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  18. Thank you for what you do. I feel like over the last four years I’ve gone from casual fan to vaguely stalker-level fan because of your site.

    As a fellow journalist – and you ARE a journalist, a really fantastic one – I cringed when I read about the plagiarism. I’m glad you came out on top and will get to chase a dream in Tokyo.

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    • Thank you! I was SO mad about the plagiarism at the time because I had been passed up for that job despite my skills/experience as a writer, and then for the person they hired to not have ANY writing skills and to just steal everything I wrote was like a second knife going in after not getting the job. But I think it worked out for the best for me, and was glad I got to do this for myself rather than take a job where I would’ve been incredibly limited with what I could do!

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  19. Hi, Lauren! I’ve been such a fan of your site and learn so much about gymnastics each time I come to your blog. I really appreciate you sharing your journey to reach where you are right now, and it’s just so inspiring! How amazing is that it’s like culminating in attending the Olympics… hello! Many congrats to you, keep on keepin’ on, and I am so looking forward moving into this new decade of gymnastics with The Gymternet!! You rock!

    Like

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