I spent the weekend at the Olympic gymnastic trials in San Jose, where I got a chance to talk to legendary gymnasts Carly Patterson and Shannon Miller. Patterson is the 2004 Olympic All-Around Champion and Miller is the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history. Here's what they had to say about the past, present and future of the sport.
Lois Alter Mark: How does it feel to be back at the Olympic trials?
Shannon Miller: It brings back that feeling in the pit of my stomach right before the Olympic trials, which is just nerve-wracking and stressful. But it's also a feeling of excitement and fun. I know those athletes are feeling excited that it's finally here. Tonight they'll know whether they're on the team, and just to have that knowledge when you go to bed is such a relief.
Carly Patterson: It's really cool because it's one of those competitions when you know the intensity is so high and everyone wants to be perfect and do a great job and turn their dream into a spot on the team. It's definitely nerve-wracking.
LAM: It seems to me that competing in the Olympic trials would actually be more nerve-wracking than the Olympics themselves. Once you're in the Olympics, at least you know you made it that far.
CP: That's exactly how I feel. I know I was much more nervous at the trials than I was at the Olympics. You're just trying to make the team, and once you make the team, you kind of breathe a sigh of relief, and then you can just go and do your job at the Olympics.
SM: We talk about that a lot. The trials are so much more difficult and pressure-packed than the Olympics. Not that the games aren't pressure-packed but you're already an Olympian. Everything after that is icing.
LAM: When Mary Lou Retton was introduced, she said that the difficulty level of these gymnasts' routines is so high that if she competed today, she would probably score a five! How has the sport changed over the years?
SM: There's a huge difference. Every four years is just out of this world. What they're doing now -- I couldn't have even imagined trying, much less performing and sticking the landing. So much in gymnastics has changed since I competed. The vaulting horse is totally different, the equipment has changed, the scoring system has been completely changed and that's on top of the level of difficulty at which these athletes perform.
LAM: Last night, they screened the new American Girl movie, McKenna Shoots for the Stars, for the crowd. The movie is about a young gymnast, and she says at one point that the two most important things for success are support from family and friends and balance in your life. The balance part seems sort of counterintuitive since focus is such a big part of being an elite athlete. How do you feel about her statement?
CP: Oh, I totally agree. You definitely need that balance. For me, when I was in the gym, it was all about gymnastics but when I wasn't in the gym, it was just home life. I was so lucky to have had such supportive parents and friends who kept those separate for me so it was easy to just relax from the gym when I wasn't there.
SM: I agree completely. For me, the balance came with school. I identify a lot with the character in the movie because, like her, I had to balance school and gymnastics. My parents made it very clear that if I didn't keep up my grades, I wouldn't get to go to the gym. They went hand in hand, and it was important to have that balance mentally and physically. As far as support, no one gets to that podium -- no one gets that gold medal -- alone. It takes family, community, friends, fans, everybody.
LAM: Any advice for the new Olympic team members?
SM: Enjoy the process because it's going to be a hectic road. You're going to be in the history books! Embrace that role and use the voice that you'll be given, to give back. From this point on, you're always going to be an Olympian.
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