Covid-19 Could Impact Competitive Gymnastics For Years

by Phil Cross

The cloud of chalk dust drifts from clapped hands ready for gripping the bar.  The rhythmic sounds of the runs, jumps and spins form the soundtrack to the practice performance.  

Then the controlled chaos of the gym went silent.

“We never have time off.  It is really weird right now actually,” Aaron Davidson, an EPIC junior and competitive gymnast, said.

This is the first real break from the gym Davidson has had since he was five years old.  He fell in love with gymnastics watching the Olympics and currently trains at the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Norman.  

“We are there over 20 hours a week,” Davidson said of his practice schedule.  The demanding pace continues year-round through injury and illness.  

Except this one.

The Covid-19 virus led to the closure of the gym and the cancelation of the rest of the gymnastics season.  That caused a crushing end to Davidson’s team which was performing at its peak.  

“This is the best chance we’ve ever had, a couple of us were shoo-ins for nationals,” he said.

While this season is a bust, the effects of closing gyms could result in a blow to competitive gymnastics for years to come.  

“Just a couple of days off can really mess with you flexibility wise,” Davidson said. He said the process of getting back to the gym after missing just a few of days of practice required nearly twice as long to return to the level he was performing.  

His coaches have provided at-home workout routines and exercises to maintain flexibility, but those are no replacement for a full gym.  

“I can’t imagine how it’s going to be when we get to go back to the gym,” Davidson said.

While the highest level and college gymnasts likely have contingency plans for allowing practice to continue the Covid-19 closures will likely disrupt the supply of the next gymnastic stars.  

“State, regionals and nationals and that’s where college coaches go and watch these girls,” Mira Hume, an EPIC sophomore and gymnastics coach, said.  

Hume was a competitive gymnast until a few years ago when injuries forced her into retirement. She now teaches other girls. Hume said the disruption of the scheduled competition means it will be harder for some girls to get noticed, which could result in them losing out on college scholarships.

“Being scouted is really hard because if you are not competing and putting out videos on social media for colleges to contact you and if you are not competing,” she said.

However, as likely as the pandemic response will be in shaping the future of gymnastics around the world, it will also redirect the paths of many gymnasts.  

University of Oklahoma star gymnast Maggie Nichols saw the final year of her professional gymnastics career cut short.  In an open letter to her fans she wrote that she cried when she learned her career was over without warning.  

Nichols said she is still coming to terms with the end of her own professional career, but she promised fans they will still see her.  

“While I finish my OU degree, you’ll still see me in the Lloyd Noble Center next season as a student coach. Through my whole college education, there have been a few different areas I’ve been interested in for my future, including sports broadcasting and writing a book sometime soon about my story,” Nichols said.

Nichols said she understands the need to shut down athletic events amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hume and Davidson say illness can spread quickly through a gym because everyone is using the same equipment.  They add that because gymnasts are acutely aware of the dangers of missing even a day of practice, it is not uncommon to come to the gym when you are sick.

“If one of us got [Covid-19] I think everyone would get it,” Davidson said.

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