Olympics Made Life-Long Impact On Cyclone Captains
AMES, Iowa - For many young gymnasts the Olympics serves as the first glimpse of the sport at the highest level and moments that go on to inspire for years. Iowa State co-captains Elizabeth Stranahan and Hailey Johnson are no different, but both Cyclones have unique Olympic-related experiences that had an early impact on their gymnastics careers. Those memories still resonate today.
Johnson, a junior from Covina, Calif., shared a training gym with Jamie Dantzscher who was a part of the bronze-medal-winning USA team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Johnson also had 2004 Olympic alternate Allyse Ishino train with her at Gliders Gymnastics in Covina.
"I remember watching Jamie in our gym working out and doing events," Johnson said. "I remember watching her on TV and thinking about how a girl I watched train was on TV. To see how hard she worked and all the effort she put into it made the Olympics special to watch. It was incredibly rewarding to watch (Ishino) grow from an Olympic hopeful and transforming that hard work into her dream. It was really interesting to watch because I had first-hand experience."
For Johnson, watching a pair of Olympians train up close
gave her a great appreciation for the gymnasts she will be watching this summer
"As I grew older, I learned how difficult going to the Olympics was," she said. "I think every gymnast has the dream of being an Olympian. I learned how hard and how much dedication it truly requires. Thousands of gymnasts nationwide train and compete their whole life for a mere chance of representing their country. The Olympic team is handpicked and is the best of the best. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those girls."
Johnson said the Olympics inspire young gymnasts everywhere, but it still provides motivation for her and the Cyclones.
"I definitely think Olympic gymnasts are an inspiration to gymnasts of all ages and levels," she said "There is always a boost in academy classes because of seeing them. For me and my teammates, just watching the Olympic trials, it inspired us even more to get in the gym the next day and work harder."
Stranahan had a different personal perspective of the Olympics. A native of Atlanta, Stranahan attended Olympic gymnastics competition in 1996 and being so close to the last gold-medal-winning USA women's squad left an indelible mark on the future Cyclone.
"In 1996 when the Olympics were in Atlanta, my family went to the competitions which was a great experience although I don't remember a lot about it because I was so young," Stranahan said. "I had a lot of relatives who came with us. I just remember knowing it was a big event and pretending to do floor routines on the carpet while we watched the gymnasts on TV."
Like Johnson, Stranahan grew to not only admire but appreciate the Olympic gymnasts.
"Honestly, I didn't really understand the Olympic selection process very well until high school," Stranahan said. "It was during the Beijing Olympics that I really began to follow not only the games, but the competitions leading up to it. The team was suddenly comprised of girls my age, and that gave me a better appreciation for the skills they were performing and the process as a whole.
"In high school, one of my teammates and I used to have Olympian Days which were days that we pretended to be Olympians during practice," she said. "Shawn Johnson used to wear ribbons in her hair when she competed, so on those days we wore ribbons. If we did a nice routine we'd even wave to a fake crowd. It is funny to look back on, but I think it shows how influential the games are and how much they can impact gymnasts at all levels."
Johnson and Stranahan are both eagerly awaiting the start of the London Games. The Cyclone co-captains have high hopes for this year's team, and they have individuals they will be watching keenly as well.
"I have been watching the buildup a lot," Stranahan said. "I went to Visas last year which was extremely exciting. I am most looking forward to watching McKayla Maroney because her form is impeccable. She is currently considered the best vaulter in the world, so I'm hoping she can provide a big contribution to the team bringing home a gold."
"This group is young, and full of raw talent and are hungry to be the best, especially Gabby Douglas," Johnson said. "I will be watching McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross because they competed in gyms in California. I remember watching them when they were younger, and it will be exciting to see them do what they have worked so hard for, for so many years. I am really looking forward to watching them."