Black Diamond Gymnastics’ competitive team takes time to focus before Winter Classic
February 23, 2018
This weekend marks the 17th annual Winter Classic gymnastic competition in Park City, hosted by Black Diamond Gymnastics. The meet — billed as the largest invitational in Utah — was expected to draw about 900 athletes, who would compete largely for bragging rights as routines proceeded in The Basin Recreation Fieldhouse in Kimball Junction.
For athletes, that means facing old opponents from around the state, seeing new ones for the first time, and likely competing in front of their family and friends. All that translates to stress, which is why, on the day before they were scheduled to compete, a group of upper-level athletes went through a casual practice at the Black Diamond gym.
It's a day to build confidence, relax and prepare for the wave of activity that accompanies a massive competition.
"Pretty much we are just doing routines on every event," said Sedona Murdock, a Level 6 Black Diamond gymnast. "Doing whatever you feel like you need. … By now we have all our stuff and we know how to do it, we are just making sure we're prepared, so we think we're ready."
As the gym's sound system worked through a 90s playlist, Murdock's teammate, Genet Dahl, said she had a couple skills to perform before competing.
"I'm a little bit nervous for my kip cast handstand to fly-away on the high bar," she said, adding that usually head coach Wendy Hamilton doesn't let athletes compete with new skills until they have performed them for two weeks.
"But she thought I had them really well, so she wanted me to compete with them," Dahl said. "I'm a little bit nervous, but I hope I get it."
Dahl and other Black Diamond gymnasts that have reached Level 6 or higher spend around 20 hours a week practicing, Hamilton said, so expectations are high and going into a competition in the right mindset is crucial.
"That's probably as much if not more important as being physically prepared," she said, as she stood by the bars and spotted the athletes through their routines. "I like them to come in and do what they feel they need to do so they feel like they can do their best. I have suggestions, but they are pretty responsible."
Added Dahl: "I like to relax and have fun before my competition, just to get all the stress out. I just kind of like to sit around and try to do as many handstands as I want, just to relax."
Hamilton said one of her goals as a coach is to instill the gymnasts with a sense of responsibility – which is almost inevitable given the workload that the combination of school and gymnastics puts on the athletes – but she knows she is doing her job when they come in with specific goals, especially before a big meet.
"Hips up!" she said as Dahl swung through a routine. "Hips! Hips! Hips!"
"Are you looking for the low bar?" Hamilton asked when Dahl had landed. "That will help you know where you are and make the release a little bit easier, too. Remember you just need float, not flip."
Between routines, the girls congregated by the chalk fountain, powdering the leather straps that cover their palms.
"I always say 'No talking while chalking,' but it never works," Hamilton said. "I think they use twice as much chalk just because they put it on while they're talking. But you pick and choose your battles with teenagers."
She will, however, fight to eradicate nervous tics.
"Most kids have something that they do or think that they need," Hamilton said. "I really discourage them to not do things like that, because they get kind of compulsive about it. There's good rituals — mental preparation and visualization — but sometimes they wipe their legs too much, or feel like they have to fidget, and I really try to discourage that."
Instead she tells them to trust their training and themselves.
But Dahl and Murdock do have something of a tradition for meets — they bring stuffed animals that they received after last year's Level-4 state meet.
"Mine's an elephant and hers is a giraffe," Sedona said. "It was like the last meet of the season that they gave it to us, just as a 'good job.'"
Murdock said her elephant, Jimmy, and Dahl's giraffe, Gigi, accompany them to competitions.
"We like to bring them because our old coach, she moved to a different job, so we like to remember her and our team that year," Dahl said. "We decided, since we are the smallest group — just us two — to bring them along because that's a memory of our whole team and our coach and all the good times that we had."
Over the following days, Gigi, Jimmy and the athletes would check in at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse and do their best to perform up to their potential, but on Thursday, with Avril Lavigne playing in the background, the team basked in its free day.
"If you don't have the skills today, you're not going to have them, so we don't want to put that added stress on them," Hamilton said. "I try to let them lead the show a little bit and right now I think it's working."