Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates—Part 7


Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson recently caught up with some elite, Level 10, and NCAA gymnasts to discuss their training, future goals, and more.

Alexa Al-Hameed, Becky Downie, Ida Gustafsson, Jessica Howe, Morgan Hurd, Esther Kiseleva, Charlotte Kwong Hing, Abigail Matthews, Tyesha Mattis, Marissa Oakley, Deana Parris, and Megan Skaggs provided us with thoughtful insights into their training.


Alexa Al-Hameed is a U.S. Level 10 gymnast who trains at Triad Gymnastics in Ames, Iowa. “[Training] has been going really good!” Alexa told Full Twist. “Right now, I’m working on putting my skills in combination to prepare for season. I have made upgrades on every event, including a front aerial on beam, a double Arabian dismount on bars, and a Yurchenko full. I’m super excited to show them in competition!”

She explained her goals in gymnastics: “For this year, I want to improve my consistency, and hit four for four at every meet. It would be awesome to compete at the Nastia Cup again, but that isn’t one of my main priorities. I would also like to place in the top four at Nationals, and make the J.O. National Team. Of course, I want to enjoy the year and have a ton of fun with my teammates! Long-term, I would love to compete for a Division 1 college on a full ride scholarship.”

Alexa placed seventh in the junior all-around at the 2014 Nastia Liukin Cup, and followed up her performance there with a gold medal on vault and bronze on bars at the J.O. National Championships. “Nationals were a lot of fun!” said Alexa. “It was my first appearance there, but my teammates and coaches did a good job of telling me what to expect. It was so cool that I was able to represent Region 4, and my gym, Triad. Almost all of my teammates were there, so that made it even more fun! I was pretty disappointed at my beam because I forgot my full turn…that is the same deduction as a fall. But, overall I had a blast and hopefully you will see me there next year!”

When asked if she might try elite gymnastics, Alexa responded, “No, I am just going to focus on Level 10.”


Rebecca “Becky” Downie is an elite artistic gymnast from Great Britain. She finished 12th in the all-around at the 2008 Olympic Games and has competed in five World Championships. “I have just started training again after a short rest period where I was able to relax and put my feet up,” Becky told Full Twist. “The season has been very long and so it was great to have a small break but I’m looking forward to getting back into the gym again and building on my successes this year.”

At the recent World Championships in Nanning, Becky placed fifth in the uneven bars final. “I was really happy with how everything went in Nanning. I was very pleased from a team perspective to have finished 6th as it bodes very well for Team GB going into the Rio Olympics,” Becky noted. “From a personal perspective, although I would have loved to have won a medal, I am very happy with how I performed my routine. 2014 in general has been such a fantastic year for me and there are still areas to work on ahead of Rio where I’ll be aiming to make the bar final and challenge for a medal.”

When asked about her next competition, Becky explained, “I am heading to Belgium just before Christmas for a Gala but I won’t be competing properly again until 2015.”

Becky also revealed her plans for upgrades in 2015: “I have a new element to add to my bar routine that was almost ready for this year’s World Championships but we ran out of time so I’ll definitely be looking to have that ready for 2015. For beam I’ll be focusing on my consistency and perfecting the small details alongside working/deciding some longer term upgrades.”


Ida Gustafsson is a Swedish artistic gymnast. She competed at the 2013 World Championships, placing 32nd in the all-around in qualifications. “Right now I’m in a phase of training where I’m working my way back from a shoulder injury which held me back from competing at Worlds, so my training involves a lot of conditioning, physical preparation and rehabilitation,” Ida told Full Twist.

The 20-year-old explained her goals in gymnastics: “Now at Worlds the Swedish team finished 21st and qualified for the team competition at next year’s World Championships. This brings us one step closer to our goal of being able to send a team for the Olympics in Rio 2016. My long-term goal has always been Rio (which now isn’t that far away actually) and I want for us to compete with a team there and my goal is to be a part of that team. Other individual goals I have is making an all-around final at Worlds as well as an event final. I also want to medal in an international championship.”

Ida commented, “Of course I’m hoping on being able to debut some new skills in 2015, but at the moment my focus is on getting well in my shoulder and getting my old skills back first.”

When asked about her next competition, Ida said, “It’s difficult so say exactly when my next competition will be. It depends on when I’m like ‘back-on-track’ again, but I’m definitely aiming on competing this spring. Though my main goal for next year is being ready for Worlds in Glasgow. That’s when I absolutely want to be fit for fight.”


Jessica Howe is a former U.S. elite gymnast who now competes in NCAA gymnastics at University of California, Berkeley. “Training has been going great for the team and for me,” Jessica told Full Twist. “Everyone is looking strong and ready to tackle this season with confidence. Our focus has revolved a lot around mastering consistency on each event and owning each skill.”

Jessica completed her freshman year at Cal this spring, and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year twice early this year. “My goals this season are to compete in the all-around at every meet and for our team to qualify to Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas—my hometown!” she explained.

On the subject of debuting new skills, Jessica told us, “I’m very excited to debut a new floor routine choreographed by Jeffrey (Langenstein, our volunteer assistant coach) and Liz [Crandall-Howell, associate head coach]! The style of music and dance is different than anything I have ever had before so I’m definitely looking forward to performing it. We Golden Bears have been learning many new skills on each event, and it is fun to see teammates throwing big tricks and sticking them too!

When asked if she might ever return to elite, Jessica said, “It was an honor to compete at the elite level and learn what it is like to perform under pressure at big competitions like Championships. The experiences I had at this level enabled me to learn how to push myself past my limits and be a fierce competitor. However, I will not be returning to this level because my focus is now on helping our team reach our goals and show everyone that we are Cal Gymnastics and we are fired up to have an awesome season.”


Morgan Hurd is a U.S. junior artistic gymnast who trains at First State Gymnastics in Newark, Delaware. “My training has been going good,” Morgan told Full Twist. “I am working on a lot of upgrades on every event.”

She competed at the 2014 P&G Championships, placing 29th in the all-around. “The experience I had was absolutely amazing! I had so much fun and that was pretty much my goal—to have fun and do my best.”

Morgan, who placed 14th at the 2014 Nastia Liukin Cup, explained that “My goal is to upgrade my routines to be competitive with the top juniors in the country. One day I would like to make a National Team.”

Morgan also told us about her next competition: “My next competition will be in December at my home gym and then [I have] qualifiers in February.”


Esther Kiseleva is a U.S. rhythmic gymnast from New Jersey. She trains at Liberty Academy of Rhythmic Gymnastics. “My training been going good,” Esther told Full Twist. “I moved up to Level 7. [I’m] learning new routines [to] get ready for upcoming competition.”

Esther, who is one of the 2014 Rhythmic Future Stars, told us, “My goals in gymnastics [are] to keep moving on and try to be the best at what I know, complete all my routines without mistakes.”

When asked if she might debut any new skills next year, Esther replied, “I’m sure hoping to move up a level for 2015 and learn new things. I’m sure always up for new skills in my training.”

Depending on what her coach decides, Esther’s next competition should be in January in New York or Las Vegas, Nevada.


Charlotte Kwong Hing is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Texas. She trains at Precision Gymnastics. “My training is going really well,” Charlotte told Full Twist. “I am preparing to compete Level 10 this coming season and my skills are coming along really well. Here are the skills that I’m working on and planning to compete: On bars: Jaegar, overshoot, blind change front giant half turn to giant to double back tuck dismount. On beam: back handspring back tuck, side aerial, round off full and a half dismount. On floor: front handspring full twist to front tuck, round off back handspring double full, round off back handspring double back tuck. On vault: Yurchenko half, Yurchenko full.”

Charlotte placed first in the all-around at the 2014 Region 3 Championships with a score of 38.150. She also won the balance beam and took home silver medals on bars and floor. “I am hoping to have a fantastic season starting in January at our first meet, which is The Sand Dollar Invitational in Florida January 23-25, 2015,” explained Charlotte. “I will also be competing at the WOGA Classic, Kurt Thomas Invitational and Metroplex Challenge.”

The sixteen-year-old told us, “My immediate goal in gymnastics is to compete Level 10 and make it to Nationals. My dream is to be part of a Division 1 college gymnastics team and attend one of the top schools in the country.”

Charlotte also mentioned that “elite gymnastics is still on my radar too but I’m going to take one step at a time.”


Abigail Matthews is a U.S. artistic junior elite gymnast. She trains at Cincinnati Gymnastics with her coach Mary Lee Tracy. “Training has been going really well,” Abigail told Full Twist. “I’ve been improving my basics and old skills and upgrading to new skills.”

Abigail placed 34th in the all-around at the 2014 Secret U.S. Classic. She explained some of the new skills she’s been training: “On bars I’m working on stalder hects, toe hect PAC, and upgrading my dismount. On beam I’m working mostly on connections and upgrading my dance and dismount. On floor I’ve been working whip triples, front doubles, and upgraded dance. On vault I am working one and a halves and doubles.”


Tyesha Mattis is a junior elite gymnast from Great Britain. She is the 2013 European Youth Olympic Festival all-around bronze medalist.

“My training has been going very well,” Tyesha told Full Twist. “My rehab is on course and my ankle is getting much better and stronger.”

Tyesha, who trains at East London Gymnastics Club, remarked that she is “working on some new combinations on bars.” The winner of the 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival also commented, “My goals are to come back stronger than I was before [and] ready to compete next year.”

Tyesha told us that “I am hoping to make my comeback competition the British Championships March 2015.”


Marissa Oakley is a U.S. junior elite artistic gymnast who trains at Phenom Gymnastics in Aurora, Illinois. “Training has been going great!” Marissa told Full Twist. “I have been working very hard to improve on my execution and also adding more difficulty to my routines and getting everything consistent. I’m working new combinations to increase my difficulty on all the events and adding a DTY on vault this year. I’m super excited to get the opportunity to train with the best and attend the October National Camp.”

Marissa placed 15th in the all-around at the 2014 P&G Championships. “I had an amazing experience at P&G Championships,” said Marissa. “I loved having the opportunity to compete at the same meet as some of my biggest role models and also to see some friends that I have met at training camps. Overall, it was just a lot of fun and super exciting! I thought it was going to be overwhelming, but I enjoyed taking it all in and I feel great about moving forward after having my first Nationals under my belt. I had a lot of personal bests, and also a lot of areas that I can definitely improve upon. I thought it was really neat to get to sign my first autographs and take pictures. I never thought that would ever happen and realized how much hard work can really pay off.”

When asked about her goals in gymnastics, Marissa replied, “My biggest goal is to make the national team and to hopefully get the opportunity to represent the United States in international competitions. It was my first year as an elite and now I know what it is like and LOVE it!!! I look forward to taking each day as it comes and being the best that I can be with every opportunity that comes my way.”

Marissa commented on her next competition: “I’m not sure when my next competition will be at this point. I will be taking one month at a time, but I may do a couple qualifiers for additional experience in February. My coaches and I are continually reevaluating every opportunity that will help me be successful for the upcoming elite season.”


Deana Parris is a U.S. trampoline gymnast who trains at Fairland Gymnastics and was a member of the 2013 World Championships team. “I am still upset that I tore my ACL in competition, stopping me from competing internationally this season,” Deana told Full Twist. “Still, I am very grateful of the opportunity and ready to be back even stronger next season.”

Deana was the 2014 U.S. synchro champion along with Ivanna Antezana. “I had a wonderful experience at USA Championships overall,” Deana commented. “I loved the atmosphere of having three of the types of gymnastics under one roof. It was amazing having all my friends from the sport come out and support each other. I also feel like everyone respects the other sports even more than before and were in awe seeing the U.S. best competing. It was exhilarating jumping in front of such big crowds. I am so excited and proud that my synchronized trampoline partner, Ivanna Antezana, and I were able to claim the National Synchro title.”

The 19-year-old explained, “Since the ACL surgery in August I have been resting and getting into physical therapy. I am walking now, starting to get back into working out. Pre-injury my training was going great. I was working on a lot of new connections and new skills to pull out during the international competitions and everything felt solid. I was the strongest I have ever been mentally and physically so I have no doubt in my mind that this injury is something I will overcome since I was so strong right before it.”

When asked about her goals for 2014 and beyond, Deana replied, “Unfortunately, my 2014 season is over. I will be rehabbing for the remainder of the year to come back stronger than ever. My goals for the 2015 season are to continue getting stronger and show up strong at World Championships in November with the goal of making finals and earning the USA an Olympic berth. Overall, my goal since around the time I was 11 has been to go to the Olympics, so Rio is my all-time goal. After 2016, learning new skills and combinations has been one of my favorite things in this sport and I would love to see how far I can take it.”


Megan Skaggs is a U.S. elite junior artistic gymnast who trains at Gymnastics Academy of Atlanta. “Training has been going well,” she told Full Twist earlier this month. “I am working on new skills and polishing up existing skills. Right now I am preparing for October National Team Camp.” The camp was held on October 23rd-27th, and Megan will attend the November camp that begins on the 21st.

At the P&G Championships in August, Megan finished 9th in the all-around. “I felt confident and prepared going into P&Gs,” she commented. “I was overall happy with my performance. There are areas where I could have done better especially bars second day. =( I was happy that I could recover from disappointment on bars to finish strong on beam. There were so many younger girls competing this year! I felt so old and big compared to all of them and some of the coaches in our squad started referring to me as the grandma. Of course, my goal was to make Jr. National Team at P&Gs (as 2014 was my last year as a junior), but I hope to make the team through training camp.”

Megan told us, “My goals for the remainder of 2014 and next year would be to get stronger and improve the consistency of my skills. My main goal is to be added to the National Team and represent USA on an international assignment.”

When asked about her next competition, Megan said, “I will begin competing again in December at GAA’s kickoff meet. The goal is to build up my routines with the added upgrades and compete on a smaller level first to be ready for the big meets. In March, I am hoping to be selected to compete in Jesolo.”

Special thanks to all the gymnasts for chatting with us! Stay tuned for Part 8, which will include updates with Alyssa Pritchett, Lauren Mitchell, and others!

Image via Getty Images.

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