As the 2014 USA Gymnastics season gets underway, Classic Gymnastics owner and instructor Jenny Yannessa is more confident than ever that her gymnasts are capable of reaching their highest levels in Junior Olympic competition.
More than 650 young gymnasts train at Classic, mostly in instructional and recreational programs, but 62 of them have progressed to the competitive level. Yannessa, who is going on her ninth year in business in Tracy, expects more gymnasts to reach the top levels of USA Gymnastics competition this year.
The biggest difference is two new coaches, Joshua Ruby and Geza Poszar, who have brought a stricter work ethic and experience in training Olympic champions.
“That has always been my goal, to make it bigger and bigger,” Yannessa said “You can’t just open your doors and have a successful team. It takes years to build.”
Of the 62 competitive gymnasts, 33 are in the entry level for USA Gymnastics competition and 11 of them are in the “optional” group, which puts them on track to compete at the state, regional and national levels.
Ruby, 32, started teaching Classic’s preschool program 2½ years ago while also working with a competitive team out of Pleasanton. The talent he saw at Classic prompted him to urge Yannessa to let him build an elite program.
“From there, we just restructured the entire program, redeveloped the entire culture here at the gym,” Ruby said. “Then Geza showed up on our front door a year ago, and that just helped the program more.”
Pozsar, 63, a native of Romania, brings with him 40 years of experience in training international gymnasts. That experience includes his partnership with former Romanian national team coach Bela Karolyi. Pozsar was the team’s choreographer and worked with Olympic champion Nadia Comaneci, the all-around gold medalist in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Pozsar moved to the U.S. in 1981, a time when Romania was under Soviet influence. He and Bela and Marla Karolyi defected to the U.S. when the “Nadia 1981” exhibition tour passed through New York.
Pozsar opened his own gym in Sacramento in 1982 and continued working with Karolyi as choreographer for the 1984 USA Olympic team, which included Mary Lou Retton, all-around champion that year. He continued working with the USA National team through the 2000 Olympics, including the 1992 USA team that included Michelle Campi, who trained at Poszar’s Gymnastics, and the 1996 Olympic team that won the overall gold medal.
He retired from Poszar’s Gymnastics in 2011, about the time his wife, Maria, took a teaching job at Tracy High School, but he wasn’t ready to give up gymnastics. He divides his time between homes in Sacramento and Tracy and sought out a local gym where he could continue to develop young talent.
“We try to pull out the best talent from the program and, at a very young age, to give them special training, special hours and a special program that will make them develop faster into elite-type gymnasts,” Pozsar said.
He added that girls can reach their maximum potential by age 13, but 16 is now the minimum age for Olympic competition.
“You actually have to slow down the process in order for them to not peak too early, to keep them healthy until they get to the Olympic age,” he said.
Ruby said that girls in the optional program train 30 to 36 hours a week, a routine that requires workouts in the morning, home schooling in the middle of the day and more workouts in the afternoon.
“When I established a new culture in the gym, we lost a lot of kids, because they weren’t used to that kind of training and that mind frame,” Ruby said.
The most advanced gymnast at Classic now is Yannessa’s daughter, Shaylyn Garay, 17, who placed second in the vault and 10th all-around at the USA Gymnastics Region 1 Level 9 championships in April. That qualified her for the 2013 USA Gymnastics Level 9 Western Championships, a step away from the national championships.
“That was the highlight of my career so far, making it to Westerns and competing on the Region 1 team,” Garay said.
She expects the new coaches to push her further this year.
“I couldn’t have gone where I am right now without Josh coming in and Geza coming in to our gym,” she said. “I basically became a whole new athlete. My gymnastics got better, my training got better, competition got better.”
Garay, a senior enrolled in Delta Charter High School’s online program, now competes at USA Gymnastics Level 10, the top level for the optional program, and aims to make the National Junior Olympics this year.
She has her calendar marked for March 21, the Nor Cal Women’s Gymnastics Level 8 to 10 championships in Folsom, and for April 11 to 14, the USA Gymnastics Level 10 Region 1 championships in Long Beach.
Her performance at the Region 1 meet could qualify her for the Level 10 Junior Olympic Nationals in Jackson, Miss., May 7 to 14.
Other members of the optional team who Yannessa expects to compete at the state championships in Folsom, and at the Level 6 and 7 championships March 28 to 30 in Stockton, are Level 8 gymnasts Erika Pulliam, 14, Katelyn Garay, 14, Jada Haynes, 14, and Elena Gillam 12; Level 7 gymnasts Taylor Vu, 13, Romi Tsang, 12, and Analee Gillam, 10; and Level 6 gymnasts Kaiya Panomvana, 9, Valerie Llacuna, 9, and Brielle Magaoay, 8.
Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.