Scenes from Brestyans


This morning I headed over to Brestyans to see Aly Raisman’s triumphant return home.

Brestyan’s was packed, with a line snaking around the parking lot already. Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan bopped around the parking lot. Inside, lower level team kids were practicing. I didn’t see that much, mostly a bunch of handspring vault drills and a few half on half offs, plus a bunch of front tuck-RO-back layout passes on floor. The place was definitely humming with energy, though.

Outside, the media was swarming, pointing cameras and getting quotes from random people. The daycare across the street came out to watch. For some reason there was a pony. Sylvia went over at one point to dance with the kids. Gymnasts posed with Mihai for pictures, which he found amusing–he kept telling them that they could do pictures after practice!

Eventually, all of the Brestyan’s gymansts pulled on their Aly tee shirts and lined the street. Shortly thereafter a police car came peeling down, sirens blaring, followed by a fire truck. Poor Aly was mobbed by cameras as she tried to exit the cop car with cameras staring directly at her face. Then there were speeches, which to be honest I did not listen to eve n a little bit. There were a few people from judges associations etc, which whatever. Then Mihai came up to say a “few words” which turned out to be basically “welcome back, Aly. We are glad to see you. You have practice tomorrow at 6am.”

Apparently Mihai and Silvia gave Aly a good luck pair of earrings before the Games and they gave her a matching necklace; she then presented Silvia with matching jewelry, which was adorable. I am really fascinated by the relationship between athletes and coaches.

Anyway, the press was allowed to ask a few questions, and I made my way up. Most of the questions were the standard stuff and Aly answered in her usual way–it meant everything, it means so much to her, there are no words, etc. She was asked what she planned to do in her hometown of Needham and she just said “welll…I live there, so just what I always do…” I asked her about waiting for the tiebreaker results and she said that it was really stressful, much harder then actually competing because you have no control. I did tell her I was glad that the tiebreaker went her way once!

After that, the line for autographs began and I went home. I was so glad that I went. Aly for me was one of the real MVPs of these Games, and I am so happy for her that she got the welcome home she deserved. 

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Niagara Falls, July 2012

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When All Is Said And Done

So. That was a hell of an Olympic Trials, wasn’t it?

Let’s recap.

The Olympic Team is, as predicted by everyone on the planet:

Jordyn Weiber

Aly Raisman

Gabby Douglas

McKayla Maroney

Kyla Ross

no surprises til you get to the alternates, who are:

Elizabeth Price

Anna Li

Sarah Finnegan

There isn’t a ton to say about the Fab Five. I think the TF line up remains the same: vault will be Weiber, Douglas/Raisman, Maroney, ub will be Weiber, Ross, Douglas, bb will be Ross, Raisman, Weiber, fx will be Douglas/Maroney, Raisman, Weiber. McKayla will win vault gold, of course. I except both Gabby and Jordyn to challenge for the AA title. I would also not be surprised to see a certain Gabby qualify to UB finals and for Aly to qualify to floor finals. Weiber is also a possibility for floor and/or beam.

The surprise is the alternates. I think everyone knew Price would be named, as she can fill in beautifully on vault and floor and possibly beam. Finnegan isn’t a huge surprise either, she’s a lovely worker. Of course she trains with the Fongs, so her chances of remaining healthy are not what I’d call large.

The real surprise is Anna Li. She has an incredible bar routine and I am tremendously glad that she made it–but I think that the only reason she did is because Nastia and Becca both went down. Still, this is fantastic for Anna and for the sport. It’s great to have athletes go back to elite–or go elite in the first place–after college and actually have some success.

Aside from the naming of the team, the big story from Trials was saying goodbye. We said goodbye:

To Alicia Sacramone. I think many were surprised that she did not make the team at least as an alternate, and I’ve heard it said that its a slap in the face. I must disagree; Alicia had her chance at  Olympic glory. I am genuinely sorry–for real–that her O’s experience was not all she wanted. But she did have her chance. And she is also a world champion on vault, which of course no one will ever be able to take away from her. Alicia not swinging bars OR competing floor really did not help her case.

But Alicia went out with a bang; a beautiful, sky high, stuck DTY. What a great way to end a career.

Then there was one Nastia Luikin. Now, Nastia apparently decided to really come back about 8 months ago, and it just wasn’t enough time. Not even close. Over the course of Classics, Nationals and Trials, she never managed to get up her endurance enough to doa  full bar routine with dismount. Either she did a routine plus dismount with mistakes and extremely heavy spotting or she did an OK interior and a layout off. It is insulting that she made it through to Nationals and Chellsie Memmel did not, although this isnt really Nastia’s fault. Anyway, she fell on her Geinger on bars Night 2–a skill I think she has missed once in her career–and to her credit, got back up, finished the routine and then hit a beam routine. And then we said goodbye to Nastia, too. Although she was never my favorite gymnast, you cannot deny that she was one of the best there has ever been, and we will miss her.

Of course we said goodbye to Bridget Sloan before the competition really started, when she sprained her elbow during podium training. I alkways really liked Bridget; she often seemed to just come out of nowhere and kick some ass. She is a World Champion as well as an Olympic silver medalist, and she helped the team in Bejiing with a terrific DTY in TFs. We will miss Bridget, too.

By far the saddest, though, was Becca Bross. You guys know how I feel about Becca. I hate Valeri. I think he’s an asshole who has, consciously or not (probably the latter) been sabotaging Becca. She is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever seen in this very tough sport replete with sad stories. As far as I can tell, Becca has been fairly miserable for years, especially after her mishandled injury–which was caused by bad coaching. (see my post here).  At Trials, Becca fell three times on her bars. Becca used to be a rock solid competitor on all four events and even recently as she has been screwing up beam she has been hitting the hell out of bars. But not at Trials. She peeled off. She peeled off again. Finally she came off on her Pak, and Valeri told her to just salute and be done. It was heartbreaking. She went out well in the end–for the first time in quite awhile she hit her dismount–but really and truly, Becca’s story is just devastating. In my fantasy world Becca goes to a coach with a heart–I want her with Chow–and wins 2013 Worlds as a fuck you to Valeri; but whatever happens, I hope very, very much that Becca finds something that makes her happy. She deserves it.

So. It was an exciting couple of days. We have a team that will definitely challenge for gold. We have three solid alternates. And we have a lot of gymnasts to say goodbye to.

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all photographs copyright Vanessa SV Steck. Do not reproduce without permission.

Way Opens

One of the things that has made me most myself is the fact that I went to Quaker school. 

It was the kindest place I have ever been. There were certainly issues with many of the kids–many, many issues–but I think that it was a fundamentally kind place in a way that I have not experienced again.

Twice a year for four years I went to Catoctin Quaker Camp with my school (and I went three times as a senior). Catoctin is in the mountains, near Camp David, and it is beautiful.

This past week I took my youth group. It was such a strange experience. It was the same Catoctin, but I am a completely different person. Memory hung heavy in the air; here is the bridge where I sat and waited for someone to come and cheer me up, the kitchen where Chris and I had 3am debates, the loft where kids were caught having sex, the lagoon where we jumped in, the smoking bridge, the places where we felt trapped, the places where we felt infinite. 

But I am not the same person, anymore; I am in charge this time. The buck, it stops here. Or over there, whichever.

But Catoctin is the same. There is the same breathing room that I remember, the same mossy stones and quiet paths. I haven’t been able to recreate the fire circles, because kids in Quaker school–real Quaker school, as opposed to faux Quaker school like Sidwell–really do know how to sit in silence, something that UU kids have a bit more trouble with. But we started practicing, and in the meantime, I relearned how to sit in silence.

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Labor Day 2011

Words coming eventually…

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This Summer I Went Swimming

How do I upload a freakin’ slideshow? Here are the pictures though, my favorite from the whole trip!


And now:trip by the numbers

Books read: 17

Average hours/day at the beach: 5-6

Hours swimming/treading water/discussing sharks in the water per day: 1.5

Percentage of games of Egyptian Ratscrew won by my cousin Billy, he of the freakish pattern recognition: 97

Length of our one Settlers of Catan game, in hours: 2.5

Number of ice cream flavors I tried: 8+

Number of relatives I talked to for more than 30 seconds: 16

Number of hugs I received from a woman I didn’t realize I knew until a few minutes later: 1

Number of awards my dog won: 1 (Best Trick)

Number of awards my dog should have won: 3 (Best Trick, Best in Category, Best in Show)

Number of rainy days: 3ish

Number of movies I took my not yet 13 y.o. cousin to that turned out to be waaaay raunchier than I thought: 1 (Change Up)

Number of overly raunchy movies his parents let him see that allowed me to feel less guilty about that choice: 2343

Shark Weeks watched: 5

Number of unplanned side-of-I 95 stops we made on the way home: 2

Number of those stops that were needed because a bike was starting to slip off: 1

Number needed because the dog was freaking.out: 1

Number of accidental detours made: 1, through the Bronx

Lowest personal safety rating in that area, according to N’s iPhone ap: 5% (/100)


Fun had: priceless (um….does that work in this context? Probably not…)

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Oh, Becca.

At last year’s Visa’s, I stopped to chat with Valorie Kondos-Field, head coach at UCLA. She said that although she respects Valeri Liukin and the adversity he’s been through as a coach and a father (I must say that NCAA coaches WAY overuse the word adversity) she does not coach like Valeri, and she does not want to.

Awhile ago I wrote an essay, Who’s The Boss Of Rebecca Bross? in which I discussed Becca’s decision to compete at Worlds on a broken bone. More importantly, her parents, her coaches and Marta Karoyli’s decision to let her.

After the competition last year, I interviewed Becca. She was nice and quiet and shy and seemed utterly…well. She was not disenchanted with gymnastics, exactly, but she did not seem quite as engaged as some of the other girls did. And this year, watching her at Visa’s, I could see very clearly that she was not up to snuff. She looked tired and out of it and sad.

These three things flashed through my head as I watched Becca land badly on her DTY on the second day of Visa National Championships and do something to her knee. Watching Becca crumple to the floor howling in pain and clutching her knee was just stunning. Especially for such a tough cookie. As someone with a high pain threshold, who did nothing but wince when I was landed badly on a simple front tuck and snapped a bone, I cannot imagine how much pain she must have been in to react as strongly as she did. And I think there was more to it than pain. It seemed to me that Becca’s howl had at least as much to do with her anger and frustration and grief as it did with the physical pain.

I can see that going by results alone, Valeri Liukin is a good coach. Hard to argue with Nastia’s success. But I have now lost all respect for him, Obviously, freak injuries occur. This was not a freak injury. Anyone looking at Becca’s demeanor during the competition, at her uncharacteristic falls and mistakes, at her sadness, at the increasing number of injuries that have plagued her, could have guessed that something like this would happen. Obviously, Marta should have told Becca not to throw too much difficulty. Even more obviously, her parents should have stepped in long ago. And yes, Becca is 18 now, and she needs to start taking responsibility for her gymnastics. But Valeri is her coach. The ultimate responsibility lies with him. Even his reaction to her injury was telling: going up to her and saying “shh?” I mean, wtf is that?

I wonder if Valeri is rougher on Becca than he was on Nastia. I would think that he might be mentally tougher on Nastia but physically r tougher on Becca, if that makes sense.

Let’s contrast this to Chellsie Memmel. According to the Terrible Trip, Andy Memmel said that he was not going to push Chellsie to another injury, that he just could not live with himself if he did. Chellsie said that was planning to train smarter, be more careful. If only Beccan had been able to follow that plan, instead of the moronic one that her coach, her parents and her organization set out for her.

I also thought that Chellise’s headshake after Becca’s fall was both knowing and rueful. Everyone looked concerned, but Chellsie’s is the reaction that has stuck with me.

I have to wonder if somewhere inside her Becca is relieved. I am sure she is angry and frustrated and sad: however if I had to guess I would guess that relief is somewhere in there. I’m not sure how much Becca wanted gymnastics glory for herself, and that is the real tragedy of this situation.



Photographs: copyright VSteck/WildPrecious Photography 2010. Visa National Championships.

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