Olympic spirit, and dreams, tumble through the minds of young gymnasts

Before there was Olympic medals for members of the U.S. gymnastics team, there was a somersault — a common thread that connects the Olympic heroes like gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Ally Raisman and men's bronze medalist Danell Leyva, to the young gymnasts at the Coppermine Fieldhouse.

Last week, the Coppermine gymnasts were performing at their summer gymnastics camp, and perhaps envisioning themselves on a world stage some day.

"It's nice to see where that drive can take you," said Adam Rogers, a program coordinator at Coppermine who is involved in this summer's gymnastics camps.

"We're not a competitive facility," he said. "Your inner drive is your own competition — the idea that you can reach that level of perfection, or learn that next skill that you can build on."

On Friday afternoon, Aug. 3, the 30 young gymnasts showed what they learned in the two-week session at the Towson sports center to a crowd of parents filming the proceedings on smart phones and camcorders.

Sin Urban, a Towson resident, was in attendance watching his sons, Josh, 12, and Zach, 10, perform. Urban said he signed his boys up when they expressed an interest after seeing a gymnastics commercial during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Soon thereafter, Josh became known as "Gym Josh" for the speed at which he learned flips during his first year. Since then, Urban has seen his children's appreciation for the sport grow.

In fact, their dad said as the family has watched the proceedings in London — including the U.S. women's team gold medal performance and the individual medals for Douglas and Leyva — his sons understood the difficulty of what they were watching.

Said Josh simply, "What they do is a lot better."

Last week, though, it was Josh leading the demonstration, in which each camper performed aerial tricks, a bar routine and a group floor routine. While doing so, he showed off his back hip circle, a move on the uneven bars in which he pumps his legs three times and swings around the bar.

"It took me a while to learn it, but now it's fun to do," he said.

Carrie Riley's 9-year-old daughter, Anna, performed in the event as well. Like many of the young participants, she has enjoyed watching gymnastics at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and getting to know the members of Team USA.

"She absolutely loves it," Riley said. "She comes home absolutely ecstatic."

The children's instructors said it was clear that the Olympic gymnastics programming, which aired in prime time last week and into this week, was influencing the young gymnasts and making it easier for them to learn the basics at camp.

"Since you're in it and these girls are doing it (on TV), they're so excited," said Jackie Schweitzer, a senior instructor at Coppermine. "They relate to it, they get home and watch, ask questions about it and you're so excited to answer."

Schweitzer, a former Towson University gymnast whose own aspirations were spurred by a trip to the 1996 Olympic trials — where she saw the "Magnificent Seven," the U.S. team that captured gold in Atlanta — said the London games made the campers more excited for Friday's show than in any of the previous sessions.

"They can relate to each of those gymnasts," she said. "They'll come in and talk about it."

Schweitzer said the instructors used that interest to point out little tips, like standing up straight or keeping your toes pointed forward.

"We don't drill it into their heads, but we do give them the motivation and inspiration to be like (the Olympic gymnasts)," Schweitzer said. "We're learning. This is a fun atmosphere."

This will be her first autumn after a Summer Olympics at Coppermine, but Schweitzer knows from experience at other gyms that classes might be a big more crowded when the fall session starts — a spillover effect of Olympic fever.

Rogers said 350 young gymnasts have already registered for fall classes, and around 1,200 are expected to enroll by the time they begin. For details on programs at Coppermine, go to http://www.copperminefieldhouse.com.

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