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Columbia gymnastics clubs prepare for ‘Olympic boom'

Sunday, August 5, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:45 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 5, 2012
After the 2012 London Games, the four gymnastics clubs in Columbia expect to see a spike in enrollment, widely known as the "Olympic boom."

COLUMBIA — As she flies through the air, Amara Reichert tucks her legs into her body and wraps her arms around them. She sticks the landing of her floor exercise.

The 10-year-old was focused as she practiced tumbling at Flipz USA Gymnastics in Columbia. Like many, she got her start after seeing a commercial about gymnastics around the time of the 2008 Olympics.

Gymnastics gets the most exposure during the summer Olympics and inspires many young girls to try the sport. After the 2012 London Games, the four gymnastics clubs in Columbia expect to see a spike in enrollment, widely known as the "Olympic boom."

The boom is biggest when the U.S. sees victory, as in 1984 when there was an 18.6 percent increase in enrollment, according to data from USA Gymnastics. That was the year Mary Lou Retton delighted the country with her performances on her way to becoming the first U.S. female to win a gold medal in the Olympic individual all-around competition.

Another big moment for U.S. gymnastics was when the U.S. won the Olympic team competition for the first time in 1996. Gymnastics enrollment after those games increased 8.1 percent.

"We see a huge spike in membership with the Olympic movement, and with the profit and involvement, gyms can ride the spike for almost four years until the next Olympics," said Cheryl Jarrett, vice president of member services at USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics.

Jarrett said the growth occurs for most gyms in the summer and fall of each Olympic year.

All four Columbia gym owners said the biggest increase in enrollment is among girls ages 4 to 10.

"Right after the Olympics, parents sign their kids up to be the next Olympic superstar," said Zina Fudge, owner of Flipz USA Gymnastics.

She expects the spike to be even bigger this year than in 2008 because of the improving economy. Fudge is anticipating the spike by expanding her staff, as well as the number of classes offered.

The biggest problem gyms encounter is the scarcity of trained coaches, Jarrett said. Because of this, she said, USA Gymnastics has been hosting business conferences as well as education and certification programs to help.

Amie Butler, director of Tiger Academy of Gymnastics, said parents have been calling throughout July to enroll their children. One call came from a father whose two children watched the Olympic Trials and wanted to start lessons immediately, Butler said.

"It was their sole motivation for starting gymnastics," she said.

Gymnast Sarah Ellebracht got started a similar way. After watching the 2004 Olympic gymnastics when she was 9, Sarah pointed at a TV and said that was something she wanted to do, mother Rita Ellebracht said. 

This year, USA Gymnastics spent $100,000 on television commercials, which air during the Olympics to promote local clubs.

Authority Gymnastics and Cheer took a different marketing approach and sponsored the MAC swim team at Wilson's Fitness Center this summer. It had towels, T-shirts and water bottles printed with its logo.

"It's a great way to get our name out there in an Olympic year," said owner Shari Mann. She said she expects membership to increase about 25 percent this fall.

Kathy Sanford, owner of Show-Me Gymnastics, said she always plans for a bump in business in an Olympic year and started media campaigns during the summer. She said she sees the greatest spike about six weeks after the Olympics.

"It's like the Super Bowl of gymnastics," Sanford joked.

For young people who are already gymnasts, watching U.S. gymnasts excel gives them pride in what they're doing, said Whitnee Johnson, a gymnast and coach at Show-Me Gymnastics.

"When they win, you feel like you win," Johnson said.

A big draw for parents is the way Olympic gymnasts carry themselves and handle defeat. Seeing Olympians stay positive after letdowns encourages young gymnasts to do the same, said Sara Reichert, mother of Amara.

This year, millions watched as the world-champion gymnast, Jordyn Wieber, failed to qualify for the all-around competition. Although she cried, the 17-year-old from Michigan went on to help the U.S. win gold in the team competition. She cheered on her teammates as they contended for the individual gold medal two nights later — a portrait of good sportsmanship.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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