FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- Mary Lee Tracy sees it every four years at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy in Fairfield -- an increase in enrollment and enthusiasm in the sport she loves.
Numbers for this fall at Cincinnati Gymnastics are about 10 percent greater than last fall, according to Tracy, the owner and president of the club.
Credit the Olympics and stars such as Simone Biles.
“It starts almost dead on when all the hype starts for the Olympics,” said Tracy, who coached Olympic gymnasts Amanda Borden in 1992 and 1996, and Jaycie Phelps in 1996.
With Biles and her Team USA teammates are dominating the Rio Games this month, Tracy and other area gymnastics coaches expect heightened participation and passion for their sport.
“What’s nice, especially when there are such good results, is All-American-type athletes,” Tracy said. “This is a good, diverse and healthy group of women. The gold medals are always amazing, but these girls have really good personalities and character and it shines forth. They look like they’re having fun.
“In the older days, you would watch a whole Olympic Games and no gymnast would smile. Now, they’re enjoying what they do.”
Biles won four gold medals in Rio for the women’s vault, the floor exercise and for the individual all-around competition, and she led her teammates to the team all-around gold. Biles also took home a bronze medal in the women’s beam competition. Aly Raisman added silver medals in the floor exercise and the individual all-around, Laurie Hernandez won silver in the women’s beam and Madison Kocian won silver in the uneven bars.
“It blows my mind,” said Sue Bone, who has coached gymnastics at Seven Hills High School for more than 25 years. “That whole team has so much depth. Those top eight girls, it’s crazy. They’re so good. Simone is probably the best gymnast ever. But they’re all good. It will just keep getting better and better.”
There is no question about Biles being the best ever for Tracy.
“She is,” Tracy said. “She is by far. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. She is second to none. There has just never been anybody quite like Simone Biles.”
So could this Olympics year propel the sport locally even more than usual? Tracy said that 1996 was a big year for enrollment and enthusiasm because the Olympics were in the United States and she coached Borden and Phelps on the team. Biles and company seem to be having a similar effect.
“I do feel that way,” Tracy said. “Just the whole fitness and strong women values. I think people see that in gymnastics. These girls develop confidence in themselves and a lot of that is because they’re strong and fit. If you watch gymnastics, you see how mentally and emotionally tough these ladies are.”
While club programs like Tracy’s are already enjoying a spike, local high school coaches are hoping their programs get a boost as well. Local girls’ high school gymnasts had fewer meets last season than the year before. Mason, the top area team during the 2014-2015 school year with a seventh-place finish at state, did not sponsor a team last winter due to low interest and will not this winter, according to Mason Athletic Director Scott Stemple.
“There traditionally is (an increase),” said Gail Maundrell, who has coached at Turpin for more than 40 years. “We practice at a club and I would expect to see a rise. Usually there was. But from my sign-ups from last year’s kids, I have the smallest team I’ve ever had. They’re talented, but we’ll wait and see.”
Maundrell plans to have a meeting after Labor Day with her team and hopes to see more interest for the winter high school season.
“Because you hear everybody talking about it,” Maundrell said. “We had a workout once a week during the summer and that was right after the (Olympic) trials. They were trying some of the stuff.”
High school participation may not increase, but Bone sees a positive effect coming this winter.
“The thing that I think it will boost is the enthusiasm to try new things and not to be happy with a plateau,” Bone said. “If I have a cartwheel on beams, maybe I can try to turn a back handspring or a back walkover. I think they’ll push themselves more this year. That’s the excitement it turns up. It generates an excitement, just to make yourself look better.”