Sports

Flipping over gymnastics

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

David Mackey has seen it before — Americans cheering and falling in love with the sport of gymnastics. It seems to happen every four years during the Summer Olympics.

But this might be one of those “special” Olympics. The sport of gymnastics basically gets one chance at the spotlight in the United States every four years and Mackey, the owner of Gymnastics Unlimited in Federal Way, couldn’t have asked for anything more than the American gymnasts’ results at the 2004 Athens games.

“It has been an excellent Olympics,” Mackey said.

The United States men’s and women’s gymnastics teams both garnered silver medals in the team competitions and America’s Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson captured the all-around golds.

During his 20 years of working in the gymnastics’ business, he has found the better the United States does in the Olympics, the more business Gymnastics Unlimited sees.

“There is a rise in enthusiasm in the public forum from the Olympics,” Mackey said. “There are a lot of kids who get energy from the Olympics.”

Gymnastics Unlimited saw a fairly significant surge in attendance after the 1996 Summer Olympics when the United States women’s team won the gold medal and an even bigger surge following the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

That was when Mary Lou Retton made gymnastics a must-see event. Retton closed the meet with two perfect-10 vaults to win the all-around gold medal. It was the biggest event in the sport in the United States, helping to double enrollment in gymnastics classes nationwide. It was also the same year Gymnastics Unlimited was established.

“It was kind of a coincidence, but we picked a great year to open,” Mackey said. “But even before that, gymnastics had been coming on pretty strong. It was a huge year for the sport.””

Until last week, Retton was one of the select few Americans who have captured an all-around gold medal.

“We get a lot of business after the Olympics,” said Mandy Tommervik, who has been a coach at Gymnastics Unlimited for the past 10 years and also coaches at Decatur. “We have been advertising the Olympics a lot. We post signs and record all the Olympic events so we can watch them over.”

Gymnastics Unlimited has plenty of experience in dealing with the post-Olympic Games rush. The facility is currently celebrating its 20th year in Federal Way and has produced numerous state champions and even a national champ.

Gymnasts like 2004 Federal Way High School graduate Lauren Webb and Decatur grad Kelly Miller were involved with Gymnastics Unlimited since they could barely complete a somersault. Currently, Bri Schwartz, a Sumner High School senior, is the cream of the crop at the Federal Way gym. Schwartz won the Class 4A all-around title as a sophomore.

“I started when I was nine years old,” she said. “My goal is to get a full-ride scholarship, hopefully.”

But even Schwartz’s four-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week training sessions at Gymnastics Unlimited during the summer don’t even come close to the practice Olympic-calibur gymnasts put in, according to Tommervik.

“It just amazes me,” she said. “I’m sure they put in eight hours a day, every day. If they go to school they come in the morning and then come back after school.”

Gymnastics isn’t a sport that can be put on the shelf for six months like football, baseball or basketball.

“You have to keep up your strength,” Tommervik said. “You have to be consistent with your routines. You get kids who take a week off for vacation and their strength is gone. It’s just one of those sports that you have to keep doing.”

Gymnastics Unlimited currently has about 200 kids enrolled in several programs for all different levels of gymnasts. Boys and girls age 3 to 18 years old can be involved. They offer preschool, beginning, intermediate, junior and senior high and advanced classes. The 8,000 square-foot facility features every apparatus used in gymnastics, including balance beams, bars and a regulation floor exercise mat.

“This sport was created to make an all-around athlete,” Mackey said. “We have cheerleaders, divers, swimmers and a lot of martial arts kids in here. It’s a fun sport.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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