Engaged US gymnasts seeking spots in Olympics
TULSA, Okla. (AP)
Gymnasts Alaina Williams and Steven Legendre can only dream of what it would be like if they're able to make it to the London Olympics this summer.
Both are trying to represent the U.S. in separate gymnastics disciplines, and Legendre also serves as Williams' coach. On top of that, try to add in the time it would take to plan their upcoming wedding.
''That's a lot to do,'' Williams said. ''We put it off.''
First, it's London calling.
Williams is trying to become the lone representative at the Olympics for the U.S. women's trampoline program. The relatively new Olympic sport involves bouncing at heights of up to 30 feet while executing twists and flips, some standard for all competitors and some left up to the gymnast to decide what level of difficulty to attempt.
Legendre is attempting to make the more mainstream gymnastics team, competing on familiar events such as the rings, floor exercise and high bar.
''We both know what each other is going through. If she's having a rough day, I understand and try and help her maybe with something that would help me, and I think she does the same,'' Legendre said. ''It's definitely nice. Sometimes it can be frustrating being around people that don't know what you're going through just because maybe they don't understand the mental and physical energy that you have to put forward for it.''
Williams' quest for the Olympics began in earnest this weekend in Tulsa, with the first of three qualifying legs. The second qualifying event is in Cleveland in May, and the last one will be in San Jose, Calif., in late June.
She recorded a score of 50.845 to finish third, behind Savannah Vinsant (52.710) and Dakota Earnest (51.440), and will have to make up ground in the remaining two qualifying events.
Only the gymnasts' best two performances will count, and the final event holds the most weight by offering higher point totals to the best finishers.
''You really have to want to do this,'' Williams said. ''You can't want to have such a social life and everything. It's dedication.''
That includes waiting until next April to get married. In the meantime, Legendre is serving as his fiancee's coach even though he has no history with trampoline specifically. Legendre finished sixth in the all-around at last year's U.S. Gymnastics Championships and was the national champion on vault the year before. He also won the NCAA all-around title in 2009 at Oklahoma.
''I have a background in gymnastics,'' he said. ''It's very similar as far as technicality. I don't obviously know the way every single skill feels. I can feel it in my head but I would need to get up on the (trampoline) and do it ... but a lot of it is very similar as far as takeoff angles, body positions and things like that.''
Williams and Legendre first met five years ago when she was living at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and he came to town for a meet. Legendre first caught her eye when he went off the vault and ended up slamming into a wall.
''So, when he first started kind of talking to me, I was like, `Are you that guy who ran into the wall?''' she said. ''He was like, `Yeah, that's me.'''
A little over a year ago, Williams moved to join Legendre in Norman, where they're able to train at the gym where Legendre used to practice with the Sooners - who have national contenders in both men's and women's gymnastics.
''It's fun. I like to be around him because he's really motivational for me,'' Williams said. ''I don't know if I'm so motivational for him. It's nice having someone who's there with you. If I get stressed out, he understands. It makes it a lot easier.''
When Williams is bouncing on the trampoline, Legendre is 20 or 30 feet below holding a mat to slide under in case she ends up off target.
''It works good most days. Some days, it's a little rougher - just like any coach and athlete relationship,'' Legendre said. ''We try and keep the relationship, our personal relationship, outside of the gym obviously. We try and keep the gym outside of our personal relationship.
''I'd definitely be lying if I didn't say it was hard because it is. It's just human nature to act like you normally act towards each other.''
If both are able to get through an exciting but stressful few months and make the Olympics, there's one last problem: Who's going to take care of their dogs while they're in London?
''It would be incredible. I don't think either of us will know until we are actually ... there, how cool it would be,'' Legendre said.
''But we're not counting our chickens before they hatch. We've still got both a lot of work to do.''