All eyes on Beijing: Olympics will have a particularly attentive audience in Carson Valley |

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All eyes on Beijing: Olympics will have a particularly attentive audience in Carson Valley

As the 2008 Summer Olympic Games open Friday night in Beijing, a select group of local athletes will be paying particular attention to the gymnastics events, which begin with qualifying rounds this weekend.

The season ended for the competitive team at Tumbleweeds Gymnastics several months ago, but local athletes are already hard at work perfecting their routines for the upcoming year.

The next few weeks will provide a bit of a refresher from the daily grind of the intense workout schedule as gymnastics are expected to be a showcase event at this year’s Olympics.

“I’ll be watching,” said Maizey Parodi, 12, who has been working out at Tumbleweeds for the past five years. “There are the athletes I like to see. It’s something to work toward, watching how well they do things.”

For some, seeing the Games on television serve as somewhat of a dream but others see it as an honest goal to aim for down the road.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever make it that far, but it’s fun to think about sometimes,” said Baylee Robinson, 12.

Robinson has been involved in gymnastics for seven years and is heading into her fourth year of competition.

She and teammate Aryana Petrosky are the team’s most tenured athletes. Both will be competing at Level 7 this year, meaning that they have optional skills in the routines as opposed to a strict set of compulsory skills in each event.

“The summer is kind of the time to work on your overall skills,” Robinson said. “I have to get my giants (an advanced uneven bar skill where the body is fully-extended while moving 360 degrees around the bar) down still. It’s hard work.”

Some of the Tumbleweeds gymnasts have a more personal link with the U.S. Olympians.

“I got my picture taken with (U.S. men’s team gymnast) Johnathan Horton at a meet last year,” said 11-year-old Mason Parodi. “I’ll be cheering for him. I want to be in the Olympics some day.”

Parodi was one of two Tumbleweeds athletes to qualify for the U.S. Regional Championships last season. Teammate Malik DePasquale, 12, won the Level 5 all-around state championship and had a strong performance at regionals last year.

“That was exciting, going to regionals,” Parodi said. “There were a lot of people there. I didn’t really get nervous, but it was weird competing against so many people. I just tried my best and it worked out.”

Both Parodi and DePasquale said they would be cheering for Horton and Paul Hamm during the Games, although Hamm later pulled out due to an injured arm.

For the Tumbleweeds girls’ team, almost uniformly they identified Shawn Johnson and Nastia Luken as their favorites.

“I like Shawn Johnson a little better,” Robinson said. “One of my other favorites got hurt, but Shawn and Nastia are the main ones you see. The other girls on the team don’t get a lot of attention. Shawn is more fun, Nastia is more serious.”

It seems Johnson was preferred across the board.

“Shawn Johnson is my favorite,” Katarina Vondruska, 11, said. “She makes you want to watch her. I don’t really know all of the Olympians.

“It’s easy to find ones I like. They smile a lot in the floor routine, not a forced smile but a natural smile. You want them to be exact but not too tight. The good ones, you can tell they feel good about how they are doing ” They don’t look nervous.”

Aside from the athletes, there are events that are more fun to watch than others.

“Vault is my favorite,” Leah Frankiewich, 11, said. “Watching them run really quick and fly through the air. It’s fun to do too.”

“I like the beam,” Mackenzie Robinson said. “I like watching them do flips on it. I like the bars too.”

Every time the Olympics come around, interest in gymnastics spikes.

“Every four years we see a bump in sign-ups,” said Casie Warren, who helps coach the team in the summer. “People see it on television and get excited about it.

“We get a couple that stay forever. It’s a long-term sport, it’s not seasonal, so there really isn’t an off-season if you want to move to a higher level some day.”

Indeed, the Olympics provide some extra inspiration for a team that has already experienced a lot of success in recent years.

Keaton Peters, Cole Petrosky and Casey Connolly each won gold medals at the state championships last season.

Torreyana Sanguinetti, 10, recently returned from the Woodward Gymnastics Camp where she was tapped to return for an all-star camp later this summer.

“I was pretty nervous going to my first competition,” Kailey Jacobs, 9, said. “I had fun though and now I am used to it.”

Tumbleweeds competitive team members include Branden Basche, Mowgli McKeon, Keaton Peters, Jarod Pieller, Corly Jo Raper, Kori Dunning, Bryanna McKeon, Hunter Celio, Lauryn Delprete, Emma Morgan, Talyn Jackson, Connolly, Jacobs, Sanguinetti, Frankiewich, Vondruska, Zennon Chatwin, DePasquale, Cole Petrosky, Aryana Petrosky, Mason Parodi, Maizey Parodi, Baylee Robinson and Mackenzie Robinson.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the competitive team can call Tumbleweeds at 782-4496.