You’ve seen the video, right? If not, treat yourself and give it a watch. Here’s the link. We’ll wait.
Ohashi’s perfect 10 on that beautiful, moving, and joyful routine is the face of a reenergized and red-hot women’s gymnastics team at UCLA. The school has become a haven for young women who want to continue to compete and regain their love of gymnastics while leaving behind the abusive and oppressive system of club training that the U.S. has allowed to continue.
Ohashi is perhaps the most famous face and ambassador for a whole team of athletes who have joined together and found success, happiness, and victory with the Bruins.
A Refuge from Abuse and Scandal
The sex abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser is for many indicative of the unhealthy atmosphere of club gymnastics in the U.S. The fact that more than 150 young women were abused by Nassar under the watch of U.S. Gymnastics is an indication of how little protection the girls in the system have and how much freedom coaches and other officials have to abuse them.
Olympic athlete Shannon Miller, for her part, is on record with PBS recounting an atmosphere in USA Gymnastics that silences young female athletes, or when they speak up, ignores them altogether. Sports training specialist Robert Andrews adds that “there are quite a few gyms out there with horribly abusive coaches running the show…there is a tremendous amount of psychological abuse, shaming, humiliation.”
This is perhaps why Ohashi’s routine struck a chord with so many. It isn’t just that the routine is technically perfect; it’s that the joy in her face and performance is a marked contrast to that of so many gymnasts that we see on television. The infectiousness of her joy, reflected in the teammates who dance along with her on the sidelines, is what makes the current UCLA squad special.
A Dancer-Coach Will Lead Them
Valorie Kondos Field is UCLA’s coach, an unorthodox and upbeat former ballerina who is redefining the environment for this group of athletes and showing remarkable success. Kondos took the coaching job at UCLA in 1991, and in the time since her arrival, UCLA has won seven NCAA championships.
Kondos follows the coaching philosophy of John Wooden and combines it with her personal experience of what it means to be a top female athlete as well as a healthy woman. Kondos, in a manner that presents a polar opposite from the overbearing and abusive male coaches of club gymnastics, seeks to build trust in her athletes. She knows that “you can train champions to the highest level without demeaning them, disrespecting them and taking away their joy.”
Kondos’ gymnasts call her “Miss Val,” and over the years, she has become the leader in this type of coaching and a magnet for super-talented young women who want to compete at the highest levels but are seeking to be able to do so with spirit and joy. Gymnasts come to UCLA “broken in one way or another” says Ohashi, and Kondo “take[s] all the pain away and bring[s] us from the bottom up.” Many refer to Kondo as a healer.
Who is On UCLA’s Team?
The 2018-2o19 Bruins squad has two Olympic gold medalists, Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross, who looked to UCLA as a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Other team members, like Ohashi and freshman Margzetta Frazier, opted out of the punishing world of elite club gymnastics, choosing not to “sell their souls” in the words of Frazier, by continuing to suffer the abuse, sadness, stress, and pain.
The success of Kondos in training champions combined with her reputation as a great coach who builds up instead of breaking down has also earned her other high-profile recruits. This unique (in the sport) combination has allowed Kondo to cultivate greatness in the young women as athletes, but also individuality and personal growth. This has meant success in more than one way.
Kondos has announced that she will retire at the end of the 2019 season, but what she and her gymnasts have built at UCLA will be sure to continue on: a team full of joy. Excellence in athletics with attention to the people that these young women are.
UCLA, with its amazing skills and great atmosphere, is doing the work of changing the landscape of women’s gymnastics.