Sunday, October 03, 2004

Olympians let loose at U.S. Bank Arena Sunday

by Jim Knippenberg

Yeah, "Rock-N-Roll Gymnastics" is about gymnastics, but it's not all about gymnastics, says Cincinnati coach Mary Lee Tracy. It's also about rock 'n' roll, popular culture and top-of-their-game athletes having some fun and letting loose.

She should know. She's traveling with the gold medal tour coming to U.S. Bank Arena Sunday with such hot tickets as Paul and Morgan Hamm, Shannon Miller, Blaine Wilson and former Cincinnatian Dominique Moceanu.

"This is a show," Tracy says, underlining the word show. "It's a full production that never stops or slows. It has current music, a DJ and the gymnasts in costumes themed to the music. One of the really fun things is they choose their own costumes, so you get a glimpse into personalities. Really, it's just such fun."

The show is a combo - gymnastics set to chart topping music, including JoJo, who's on the tour with the troupe doing a nightly mini-concert. "JoJo's phenomenal. She's a natural fit with gymnastics," Tracy says.

Gold medalist (1996) Moceanu agrees with the "fun" angle:.

"I love doing this. It's a performance but not like a performance you'd do in a competition. I miss the competitive angle from those days, but it was so intense. This is just for the fun of it.

"We rehearse or work out one or two hours a day. Back when I was competing, it was six hours a day plus constant dieting and dealing with daily injuries."

In a way, Rock-N-Roll Gymnastics actually is a competition. There are celebrity judges in every city on the tour (Cincinnati is its last stop) who score the performances. At the end of the evening, the two top scorers return to the floor for encores and the audience gets to pick the winner.

"The Hamms are almost always in it at the end," Tracy said, "but the second finalist has been all over the board."

Rock-N-Roll Gymnastics includes only high bar, floor and beam, the three events Tracy calls the most entertaining for mainstream audiences.

It's also entertaining for the athletes because "we get to do what we want," Moceanu says. "I've started using this really rare mount - it's called a Silivas - where you kick your legs over the beam, hold a small pose and go into a shoulder stand. I got plenty bruises getting it down, but by now it's my trademark, and the crowd seems to really love it."

They love the Hamm brothers, too. "You should hear the reaction when they come out," Tracy says. "The audience just goes crazy. They're really good looking, well-built guys.

"Hearing all the cheers has really been good for Paul. Right now they're relaxed and - I hate to keep saying this, but it's so true - having fun." 

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