Friday, August 13, 2004

Participants in the U.S. Gymnastics Training Centers camp are looking forward to the Olympics.

By Ted Ribeiro

SOUTH HADLEY - Dominique Moceanu was only eight years old when she first began to dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast.

It's doubtful that any of the 7 to 18 year-old gymnasts participating in the U.S. Gymnastics Training Centers camp at Mount Holyoke College will ever fulfill that goal, but most are eagerly awaiting this month's summer games in Athens just the same.

The summer games got underway Wednesday with men's and women's soccer, but the opening ceremonies are set for today. Gymnastics and swimming, two of the more popular Olympic sports, begin tomorrow and run through next week.

Moceanu, a 1996 Olympian, and Dmitri Bilozerchev, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner, were the featured instructors at the camp, which attracts mostly beginning and intermediate level gymnasts from all over the United States.

Moceanu, who was 14 when she helped the U.S. squad to a gold medal, will soon be heading to Athens as an athlete ambassador for Sports Illustrated.

Meanwhile, she's passing on her love for the Games to the young children at the camp.

"I'm getting everyone excited," Moceanu said. "I always get excited when the Olympics roll around, so I try to get the young ones excited too. The spirit of the Olympics is amazing, and there's a lot of history, and I like to educate these kids about it. I want them to get involved to watch and learn, so they can love what they watch."

Jesse Jablin of New Jersey had no problem picking out what she liked most about the Olympic Games. "I like to watch the girls that I like stick stuff," said the 9-year-old in reference to a gymnast who has a perfect landing on a vault, or dismount. "I also like figure skating, I think it's like gymnastics on ice."

Kat Chamberlain of Greenfield looks forward to seeing the gymnastics floor exercise, but said she will also watch volleyball and soccer, while Katie Levenger, also of Greenmailed, just likes to see cool tricks.

"You get the watch people do all these tricks, and it's good motivation to work to get up to that level," Levenger said. "I'll watch diving, but it's hard to go from someone doing five flips in the air to someone running around a track. It's not equal."

Daisy Whitcombskelcon of Montague said she will watch gymnastics and swimming.

"I like to watch because I get to see all these people that I've heard off, and I get to see their routines. Sometimes I'll watching swimming with my sister, because she's a swimmer."

Bilozerchev has fond memories of his Olympic experience, and why not, having won three gold medals - including individual gold in the pommel horse and still rings - in 1988.

"I was 15 or 16 when I started trying for the Olympics," said Bilozerchev, who had his legs shattered in 42 places in a car accident three years before the 1988 games in Calgary. "It's a great and interesting sport. People like gymnastics, but in Olympic years, it always seems like people are more excited."

Moceanu likes to relate her experience to her campers, but admits that many are too young to remember the Atlanta games.

"A lot of kids ask me all sorts of different questions, and we sit down and do a Q&A (question and answer) session and it's fun. Some of the kids are really interested in the Olympics, and some are here to have a good time." 

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