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Bits & Pieces: Local gymnasts learn from Russian mentor

When the 2012 London Olympics begin later this week, six local gymnasts will pay particularly close attention to the gymnastics competition. The six — Sophie Bronow, Veronica Cheung, Hannah Miller, Mandie Pierce, Olivia Island and Sami Picciotti, all members of Top Flight Gymnastics — are taking steps along a path that may one day lead them to the United States gymnastics team.

This week the girls have been working with Natasha Matveeva, a former Russian Junior National Team member, who is helping them select their music and work on their choreography.

Natasha, who lives in Lancaster, Pa., has built a national reputation as an instructor. Where once she traveled the country, she is now limiting herself to giving lessons in five gyms — Lancaster, Pa.; Olympia, Wash.; Bloomington, Ill.; Woodbury, Minn. and Columbia. "I had to reduce the number because at some of the gyms, I did not have a good connection with the coaches," she said.

Natasha worked with the Top Flight girls individually, helping Sophie, Veronica, Hannah and Mandie with their Level 7 Optional floor routine choreography. She worked with Olivia, a Level 8 Optional gymnast, on her beam and floor routines, and with Sami, a Level 9 Optional gymnast, with her beam and floor exercises.

Natasha believes strongly that each child is different, with a different body and different ability. "The child has to be comfortable with the music and the routine," she said.

Natasha, who came to our country without knowing the language, will be back at Top Flight in October and February to check on the gymnasts' progress. Top Flight Gymnastics is lucky that it is one of the five gyms she visits regularly.

Changing lanes

Danny Russell, the popular head swimming coach of the Harper's Choice Challenge of the Columbia Neighborhood Swim League for the past 10 years and a former Challenge swimmer for 13 more, will be leaving that team to become a swim coach at Forest Hill Swim Club in Ellicott City. The Challenge honored Danny July 23 at its season-ending awards ceremony and party.

Danny said the Forest Hill pool is closer to his home. He also will earn more money to coach and his family will receive free membership to the Forest Hill pool. "I'm excited by this new challenge and by the opportunity to inspire new swimmers," he said.

I certainly can't argue with any of Danny's reasons. We can only wish him the best and thank him for his many years of devoted service to our community.

Celebrating sports

Howard County will open its annual "Celebration of Sports" event with the fourth annual golf tournament Oct. 5 at the Timbers at Troy Golf Course. The tournament is open to the public. Cost: $340 (team) or $85 (per individual).

The Celebration concludes on Oct. 9 with a dinner at Turf Valley Resort, which will include the induction of seven individuals into the Community Sports Hall of Fame. The seven will be recognized for significant and lasting contributions to recreational sports here in the county. Tickets are $38 per individual or $350 for a table. Call 410-313-1691.

Volunteers needed

The Grand Prix of Baltimore auto race is coming to town for the second straight year this Labor Day weekend, and although locals aren't allowed to get behind the wheel of a race car, race organizers are looking for around 800 volunteers to help run the event.

Anyone interested should go to for more information.

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