Ask the Expert: Coach Jackie Fain

What is like to be an Olympic gymnast in training?

The Olympics happen once every four years, and only five young women are chosen to represent the United States. Training to become an elite international competitor starts when a girl is very young, often around the age of eight. Developing and honing the skills to compete at the Olympics takes supreme dedication and years of training.

There are stages of competition young gymnasts work their way through to become eligible to compete on the USA International team; they start as young as five years old competing in competitions at lower levels and moving up the ranks as they improve. Most athletes who are talented enough to be considered Olympic level are recognized early and are trained to move towards the elite level.

For Olympic hopefuls, training is their full time job. They will train 35-40 hours per week, usually twice a day, year-round. While some of them continue to attend traditional schools, many of them are home-schooled once they start training that many hours. Many gymnasts will decide to move away from their families to train with a higher level coach and with other athletes who are also elites. There are so few who reach this level they are often the only one in their gym. Our USA team members train primarily at their home gym, and then travel to the National Training Center in Houston, Texas, one weekend a month (with their personal coach), to work with the National coaching staff. While at the Training Center, they are evaluated
and given goals to achieve before the next trip.

Olympic-level training in gymnastics can be very grueling, and the athletes make many sacrifices to have the chance to make an Olympic team. If you ask them or any other gymnast who sacrifices for the sport if it is worth it, you will get a resounding “yes!” The sport of gymnastics develops so many wonderful attributes and life-lessons that in turn help the young women who participate become very successful in life.

Jacqueline Fain is the Head Women’s Gymnastics Coach at Centenary.