COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Olympics getting postponed to next year means waiting 12 more months to see Simone Biles and the United States gymnastics team compete for medals.
But gymnastics facilities across Ohio have reopened to start training the next group of Olympic hopefuls and give youngsters a place to burn off some energy.
“We’re excited to be back and just excited to get everyone in the gym,” said Kristy Birchak, one of the executive directors at Integrity Athletics.
The facility, owned by former U.S. Olympian and Ohio State Buckeye Blaine Wilson, has been closed for nine weeks, but the staff hasn’t been idle during that time. Instead, they’ve all been working to contrive a plan for when their doors would be allowed to open.
When those doors opened to team gymnasts this week, the safety measures began before the athletes even walked inside.
“As early as they come into the parking lot they have a procedure on which doors to enter,” said James Wickham, another executive director of the facility. “We have 30 hand sanitizing stations around the facility for our athletes and staff to use as well as our clients who are spectating with their athletes. Each of our coaches does have personal hand sanitizer on them.”
There’s also specific measures for the equipment.
“All of our high-contact surfaces are being wiped down after each group is on the events,” Wickham explained. “Also, any of our high-surface areas within our common areas . . . are being wiped down multiple times per day, three to five times per day. As far as the equipment the athletes are using, that’s being wiped down after each group.”
To emphasize distancing measures, the gymnasts have been split into small groups to move around the facility. This week, only the competitive team gymnasts are training, which includes the women’s artistic team, men’s artistic team, rhythmic team and trampoline-tumbling teams.
Those teams have been on a modified schedule as gymnasts and staff get used to the new guidelines. Modifications have also been made with regards to hands-on coaching.
“Just like we’re opening in phases and bringing groups in we are also phasing in the contact of what our sport is,” Wickham said. “We certainly want to be there for the athletes in any safety scenario where the athlete would need to be spotted for safety reasons. For skill progressions and developments, we are going to hold off on the spotting and the contact as of right now and as we get more comfortable, and as a some of the restrictions are lifted, we’re certainly going to add those back as we are ready. But for right now, we are going at no contact or limited contact with our athletes until we get comfortable in this new environment.”
The challenge really begins June 3 when the recreational classes resume.
“With the younger the children, the harder it’s going to be to keep them in their place,” said Birchak with a smile. “We have spots for the athletes to stand on, we are going to have ropes to hold as we transition from event to event to make sure they are staying far enough apart, and then our stations that they are going to go to on each event are spread out and that’s how they are going to be able to be distanced and still do handstands and forward rolls as much as they want to do.”
Recreational classes are a huge source of income for gymnastics facilities, and usually they see a bump in an Olympic year. With the Games being cancelled this year, that increase in excitement around the sport probably won’t happen, so Integrity Athletics is getting creative. They are able to offer summer day camps for gymnastics, but they are also featuring their new volleyball facility, which offers more space and ability to adhere to distancing requirements. Sign ups have already begun.
“They have started lessons. They are starting beach next week, and they’re doing some volleyball camps throughout the course of the summer as well,” Birchak said.
The staff is even using ultraviolet light cleaning wands on the volleyballs for extra protection.
“We’re taking our time, we’re doing it right, and we’re making sure that we can follow the procedures and follow what the governor has set out for us,” Birchak said. “We are super excited to be back.”