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In traditional media coverage of gymnastics, men’s gymnastics doesn’t get a ton of love. So I figured I would offer some notes on stories I’m watching on the men’s side of this weekend’s P&G National Gymnastics Championships taking place in Anaheim, California.
From the “Kingdom” to Championships
St. Johnsbury, VT. A town of a little less than 8,000 people a few miles from the New Hampshire border. A town best known for building the Fairbanks scale and maple syrup packing. This is not a town a hop, skip and jump away from bustling Burlington. No. This is the county seat and economic center of the region of Vermont known as the “Northeast Kingdom.”
In this small Vermont town trains a two-time Junior Olympic National all-around men’s gymnastics champion.
Nikita Bolotsky of the appropriately named Kingdom Gymnastics will make his first trip to the P&G National Gymnastics Championships this week. He will compete on the Junior 15-16 competition Thursday and Saturday. The two-time Level 9 all-around national champion qualified for his first elite Nationals by finishing sixth in the Junior Elite Level 10 category at this year’s Junior Olympic Nationals.* (See primer below this section for a quick explanation on what that sentance means.)
Sadly, despite him being a two-time national champion on Level 9, there aren’t too many videos of Bolotsky on YouTube. However, recent scores from J.O. Nationals are solid enough to make him someone to watch.
His floor exercise is well-executed. One video that caught my eye was his high bar set, which is not only fun to watch, but showcases solid form (and what can I say, I’m a sucker for release moves.)
Bolotsky also trains at Vitaly Scherbo School of Gymnastics in Las Vegas, which pretty much the exact opposite of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. I’m eager to see how he does this weekend during his first foray on the elite level.
*A quick primer: The Junior Olympics Nationals for men are for Levels 8, 9 and 10. If you wish to compete at the next level – elite – you compete in the Junior Elite division there. You have two days of competition: one where you compete your full-fledged skill filled routines, and another where you compete “technical sequences.” You do well at both and finish in the top 20? Hi P&Gs Championships. If you don’t, you have one last shot: the Elite Qualifier in July.
The New England contingent
New England might not have anyone on the women’s side of the P&G Championships, but as always, the region can be counted on bringing the men.
From Massachusetts, we have Liam Doherty-Herwitz from Bedford competing at the Junior level in the 17-18 age group, and Yan Inhaber-Courchesne of Westborough on the Junior level in the 15-16 age group. Doherty-Herwitz, who trains at Brestyan’s Gymnastics (home of Aly Raisman) was one of the very last gymnasts to earn their spot at Championships, earning sixth place at last month’s National Qualifier. He did finish first after the first day of competition there, which bodes well for what he may be capable of. Doherty-Herwitz is a standout on floor exercise, with some very powerful tumbling.
Inaber-Courchesne has flown under my radar, so, unfortunately, I don’t know much about him. The New England Academy of Gymnastics product has competed at Junior Olympic Nationals twice, finishing ninth in the all-around this past May.
In seniors, Penn State’s Stephen Nedoroscik, originally from Worcester will compete. He captured the NCAA championship on pommel horse this past spring as just a freshman, making him only the third rookie to win a NCAA event title in the last five years. Pommel horse is not exactly every gymnast’s favorite event, so if you can find success in it, there’s opportunity for you on the national level. Nedoroscik is a graduate of Worcester Tech, and during his club career, he trained at Sterling Academy of Gymnastics.
(Sadly, there is no video of Nedoroscik’s NCAA win, so here’s some of his pommels from 2015.)
New Hampshire has a competitor in juniors, Nashua’s Michael Fletcher, also of New England Academy of Gymnastics. And as mentioned previously, Vermont has their first competitor in a while in Bolotsky.
It’s the first P&G Championships in three years without Addison Chung (Medfield, Mass.), who is just back up to full training this summer after a series of injuries. As he told me for his hometown newspaper, he and his University of Iowa coaches hope that he can make a return to the elite level in 2018. His new Hawkeyes teammate is the Junior All-Around favorite, Bennet Huang.
Is This the Year for Eddie?
I was on the bus ride home Monday and read a popular gymnastics website’s men’s P&G Championships preview, and nearly threw my iPhone across the seat.
How do you preview this year’s senior men’s event by not mentioning a gymnast who won a World Cup gold medal on floor exercise this season? Yes, the frustrating preview skipped over Eddie Penev, who may be the U.S.’s best medal hope for this year’s World Championships. (This year’s World Championships are an individual championships, meaning team medals are not at stake, but individual all-around and event medals are.)
It is Penev’s best chance to finally make a Worlds team for the U.S. (he previously represented Bulgaria twice at Worlds, making the floor finals both times.) Penev is not an all-arounder, and still rings, pommel horse and high bar aren’t exactly his cup of tea. But he will even show the occasional high bar update on social media. And in a rebuilding year – where a good portion of last year’s Olympic team has now retired and the National Team is under new leadership – Penev may be exactly what the U.S. needs to have a solid medal showing at Worlds.
“Looking at the results from the (Olympic) Games I can see that I had great medal chances on floor in particular – even gold medal chances by the looks of it – by the scores I’ve gotten over the years in international competitions,” said Penev in an interview last fall.
To me, after an epic Yul Moldauer – Akash Modi duel, fan-favorite Penev doing well could be one of the main men’s stories of these championships.
A Shout-Out to Kiwan
One of my favorites from my years attending P&G Champs, Kiwan Watts, is back after finishing 30th last year in his senior debut. Watts, who is headed to compete for Arizona State (a high level college club team) in the fall, finished first all-around at on the junior level in 2015.
I can’t put my exact finger why he became one of my favorites – I think it might have been because he sometimes has a female coach, somewhat a rarity in men’s gymnastics. But his long lines and great effort kept me paying attention. The years I covered Championships, I always made sure to catch him on high bar, but he is fun to watch on every event.
A Different Vibe at Championships
It will be interesting to hear and read reports about this year’s championships because of the grave issue hanging over USA Gymnastics like a dense fog. With news breaking on the eve of the championships that a California-based victim may have received a settlement from the organization, which may be against California law, it won’t be business as usual in Anaheim.
The actual competition will march forward, and USA Gymnastics will encourage media to focus on the gymnasts competing as much as possible. Where I think this fog might be most felt is at the National Congress and Trade Show held adjacent to the competition. (Side note: Besides watching hours and hours of gymnastics, the Trade Show was always my favorite part of the three Nationals I got to cover.) Coaches come from all over the country to attend Congress, where you can take seminars and classes from some of gymnastics’ best and brightest. There will be discussion there of course of USA Gymnastics’ new SafeSport initiatives and policies, as well as how to prevent dangerous situations from occurring at gyms across the country. I am sure there will be a much different vibe and a few hard discussions taking place in sessions at the Congress, and they are definitely conversations that need to be had if the sport wants to continue forward.