Guest Blog: Nicole Angeleen - Little Girls Dream Big

6:26 PM Arabian Punch Front 1 Comments

Today, Nicole Angeleen will tell you about a new gymnastics book that just hit the market. It is called "Little Girls Dream Big" and is inspired by the story of Romanian gymnast Adriana Giurca.

About the book:
Olympic gymnast Trixie Dalca’s world is destroyed the day her sister Ileana falls during training, slips into a coma, and dies. To cope with the loss, Trixie turns to her best friend, American gymnast Shaye Sylvester. Together with Shaye and amateur documentary filmmaker Abby Vicari, the three unlikely investigators question whether Ileana’s death was merely a tragic accident or murder.

I remember the first time I did a flip and landed it cleanly. I was nine-years-old, and even though I had been trying it in practice for quite a while without success, I woke up one Saturday morning feeling like today was the day. The flip was itching in my legs. I knew I could do it.

So I walked out my front door and went to the long expanse of grass between our house and the neighbor’s. I ran a few steps, then roundoff, backhandspring, backflip! Bam. Just like that.

Until that day, I had been afraid to practice without a crash mat. But something switched in my brain that morning, and I knew I could do it. The feeling was amazing. However briefly, knowing you are not confined to the earth, knowing you are strong enough to fly, is empowering. I wasn’t a mere fourth-grader anymore. I was a bird, a rocket, a spirit in flight.

This is why we love gymnastics. For those flashing moments of greatness in ourselves and in the athletes we love so much, moments that we know only come after years of repetition, injuries, and failure. I wasn’t a great gymnast. I never had real dreams outside pretending on the trampoline in my backyard of being in the Olympics. None of that really matters, though, when you finally hit a skill you thought you’d never be able to land or you were too afraid to try until the day where your desire outweighs your fear and you do it anyway.

As an adult, I still find myself with my heart in my throat as I watch the young NCAA and national team gymnasts accomplish what really shouldn’t be humanly possible. That’s what gymnastics is. Gymnastics is not allowing convention to dictate the course of your life and laughing in the face of physics. Long after we have hung up our leotards, we follow the careers of the ones who make it to the top because we want to remember that day when we were nine-years-old and learned to fly.

When you grow up, your dreams get smaller. They become less grand and more tangible because along the way, we start to think maybe we’re not capable of doing something great or bigger than ourselves. I know for me, thinking back to some of the stuff I somehow became brave enough to try when I was so young gives me courage to go after my dreams now, despite the fact that I may fail. Gymnastics teaches us that it’s okay to fall, you have to fall– hard and often– before you succeed. Gymnastics utilizes failure at the beginning of the journey, failure as the great teacher, and failure as a necessary step on the road to success.

I wrote “Little Girls Dream Big” with these themes in mind. Trixie, Shaye, and Abby, the three teenagers in the story, are not so different from you and I. They have heartache and doubts, but where they might be different is they make the conscious decision that they would rather try and live with the failure than never try at all. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that. I think we all do.

And that’s also really why we all love gymnastics. It’s not simply the moments of glory. It’s because we want to honor the child inside, the little voice that can get very quiet as we grow up but never goes away, that tells us we can be great if only we have the courage to try.

- Nicole Angeleen

If you would like to read “Little Girls Dream Big,” the story of two Olympic gymnasts and the search for the truth of what happened to a little girl who died during training, visit or search Amazon or Smashwords.


Simone Biles Upgrades for 2014

4:16 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

The January USA camp videos are starting to be released. The first is from reigning World Champion Simone Biles.

VT: Cheng 6.4 D
This is an upgrade from her Lopez vault which was valued at a 5.6.

UB: Khorkina - E value (free hip Shaposhnikova 1/2)

BB: back handspring - layout stepout - layout stepout; side aerial - straddle jump

FX: 2 1/2 - front full - straddle jump.
Her dismount is a piked full in, according to Scott Bregman, which is an E. A possible upgrade to a full twisting DLO which is an H-value seems entirely possible. Her opening passes are still the double double and double layout half out, named after Biles. However, she is training a triple twisting double tuck which would probably replace the current double double.


NCAA Gymnastics and Social Media

12:02 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments


Social media has become very important to the world of gymnastics, particularly in the NCAA. Schools are now able to live tweet meets that aren't available to watch live. The fans are able to enjoy videos that let them know a team better or learn what skills they're working on competing this season. We've also had the pleasure of enjoying meet recaps and interviews all within a few days of the meet. Twitter, Vine, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube have helped gymnastics fans stay in the know with their favorite teams. Here are a few examples

Danusia Francis sideways side aerial to back layout full.

Leotard reveal featuring senior gymnasts. I thought this was really well done and even though we've seen plenty of these leotard styles before, the color placement was perfect! I also believe this was a great way of recognizing and honoring the seniors.

Stanford did a meet the team feature on Youtube that proved itself to be pretty funny.

Before their recent meet, they posted a clip of their athletes warming up floor.

LSU has done a great job posting post-meet interviews and recaps of their meets. They have two youtube accounts: LSUGymnastics (official) and LSU Gymnastics

Oregon State University
Not all Pac-12 meets are free this season and with the help of Snappy TV, OSU was able to make gifs immediately available of the OSU at UCLA meet last weekend.

Thank you to all the teams that use social media to keep us gymnastics fans involved!


Kirsten Beckett (RSA): Hungry for More

1:34 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

African Gymnastics Championships/
South Africa will host the 12th African Gymnastics Championships featuring both artistic and rhythmic gymnastics from March 24 to April 1. Kirsten Beckett is looking forward to competing for the senior team.

Kirsten Beckett is a South African gymnast making a name for herself and her country in the elite gymnastics world. Beckett became a senior in 2012, where she finished 2nd in the African Championships. Although she was age eligible for the Olympics, she was not chosen as the athlete to represent South Africa. Since then, Beckett has continued to lift the name of her country in gymnastics as she follows in the footsteps of Jennifer Khwela. Beckett has competed in numerous World Cup meets finishing 2nd on vault at the 2013 Ljubljana, Slovenia Challenge Cup and delighting plenty with her floor at the Doha Cup. Beckett made the South African World Championship team and became the first South African gymnast to score above 50 in the all around at the meet with a 50.332 and finishing 27th in vault qualifications with a 1.5 twisting Yurchenko and full twisting Tsukahara.

Could you talk about gymnastics in South Africa?
Gymnastics is a fast growing sport in South Africa and to be an elite gymnast you have to follow the South African Gymnastics Federation high performance programme. This path follows the FIG criteria to be a possible Olympic gymnast.

When did you first realize that you were doing well in gymnastics? 
I first realized I was doing well in gymnastics when I started getting a world ranking, it made me realize how good I could be. That's when my goal of making world champs or Olympics started to become more real. I also knew I was getting better at the African championships in 2012 where I competed as a senior and placed second over all. Being at World Cups and around World Champions and Olympians definitely made me more hungry to fulfill my goals.

What's a typical training day like for you at home?
Well I go to training straight after school and we start at 3pm and finish at 7:15 pm. I train from Monday to Saturday. And when I can, I train 2 hours in the morning before school.

Could you tell us a little about Worlds? What was the qualification process like for you and the other girls? What were your goals for Worlds?
Our qualification was in June through trials where we had to score a minimum of 49. My goal for my first world championships was to have a clean competition. (2013 Worlds UB routine)

You're at Desert Devils now. How did this exchange come to be?
Wesley Jones, originally from South Africa, has been involved with our Federation for a few years and my parents and coach took the opportunity and requested his assistance. He is a very good coach and is helping me along with my parents and coaches in South Africa to make my goal of making the Olympics a reality. I've known him since I was 10 years old and we work well together. [Beckett has been to Desert Devils before.] 2013 was the first time I've ever travelled alone and been away from my family for such a long period of time, 2 months. I got to experience my first Thanksgiving this year in the States and it was so much fun - the food was really good and the spirit of the holiday was so joyful. It's always hard to be away from my family on Christmas but the experience I had in the US was just as fun - very festive and traditional. On New Years, we watched fireworks outside the house and stayed up till midnight. It was all a lot of fun.

I know I saw instagram pictures of you with the Cipra girls and Desert Devils has plenty of girls looking at or currently competing in NCAA. Have you thought about NCAA at all?
It could be a possibility in the future. I haven't given it serious thought as of yet.

Are you working on any new skills? 
Well this year I'm hoping to increase my start value on floor by adding another D jump and E tumble (full-in), a D dismount off beam (double tuck). And upgrading my vault to a Yurchenko double twist. I'm working on the upgrade to a Tsuk 1 1/2 but for now I want to get the Yurchenko double down and solid.

Could you tell us about your old floor routine and if you have any plans right now for a new one?
I've already had a new one done while I'm in the States. I found my old floor music online and I loved it the first time I heard it however it was too common at World Championships. Now I had my floor music done. A coach at Desert Devils named Ashley choreographed it and Wesley Jones compiled the music. It's very different compared to my old one.

Who were your role models growing up?
My parents definitely. I always admired Jordyn Wieber and Shawn Johnson.

What are your goals for 2014 and for the future?
My goals for this year is to make the Commonwealth team and World Championships again. And for the future my main goal is to make the Olympics.

Thank you, Kirsten, for the interview and best of luck to you in the future!


Looking Back: First Year Seniors in 2013

6:46 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

You can find a list of New Seniors here (or in the links just below the header image!). With the start of 2014, will come a new league of seniors for us to be excited for. Let's take a look back at the athletes that joined the senior ranks in 2013.

Senior in 2013 (born in 1997)
Victoria-Kayen Woo

Sophie Scheder
There is a new bar dynasty in Germany! Elizabeth Seitz and Kim Bui have reigned supreme as the 1-2 dynamic duo for Germany on bars but also in the all around. Recently, these 2 lost their title at the German Championships to a new duo of Sophie Scheder and Lisa Katherina Hill. Scheder earned the German title on the uneven bars, finished 4th in the uneven bar finals at the European Championships, and 5th in the bar final at the 2013 World Championships. She's so tall and manages to use the Code of Points to her advantage with Shaposhnikova transitions along with many in-bar stalders. Here she is scoring a 15.2 at the Stuttgart Team Challenge.


GAGE Girls Compete in Paradise

4:51 PM Arabian Punch Front 1 Comments

Sarah Finnegan was one of the alternates for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team. Since then, she has undergone shoulder surgery that kept her out of competition for the entire 2013 season. Although she said she would return, the long wait left many fans questioning if this would indeed happen. This past weekend, Sarah Finnegan, Madison Desch, and Brenna Dowell competed at a meet in Hawaii. @idkmybffrose was kind enough to take video and upload it to youtube.

Sarah's beam looks very impressive. She has kept her triple wolf turn and her triple series - back handspring - back handspring - layout to 2 feet. Of note, she has a switch split to switch half to back tuck. It also looks like she's working a split leap to side aerial to split jump to sissone to side aerial.

Sarah also competes her new floor routine albeit with no tumbling.

There are also videos of Brenna Dowell. Here she is with a nice high (and potentially stuck) double twisting Yurchenko.

Brenna has changed her UB combo to Tweddle (Tkatchev 1/2) to Ezhova!

Check out idk mybffrose for more videos!


Author Interview: Julie Cross Part 2

7:09 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

McKayla Maroney on Hart of Dixie

In case you missed it: Part One

Part Two:

How did you find a way to explain the technical aspects so easily so that non-gym fans could follow along and avid gym fans could appreciate the more technical point of view? (Like explaining the laid out Jaeger or sticking vault)?
I developed the “explaining to the non-gymnastics people” skill from my experience talking to parents of gymnasts. They were paying for/watching their kid perform but didn’t know why they couldn’t move up a level or why they received a certain score or simply to help the parent understand the kid’s excitement with mastering something that might look like nothing. Often with gymnastics, it will take a long time for a kid to have interesting skills they can show-off outside of the gym. Both my daughters are level 3 gymnasts this year (old level 4) and sure they can do a round-off back handspring if provided a leotard and a 40’ spring tumbling strip, but otherwise what can they show grandma in the back yard? Their back pike roll with straight arms? Handstand bridge kick over? It takes talent and practice to do those skills but often they don’t look like much to the average outsider.

So yes, I wanted the technical lingo in the story to make it authentic, but not so much that I alienated non-gymnastics people. Which is why the big skills Karen learns in the book are things that can reach a commercial audience, like a big release move on bars. Everybody knows that release move means you have to let go and then catch the bar again. It has that commercial WOW factor. A big reason why men’s high bar is such a popular event, compared to pommel horse, for example. And with vault, Karen goes from 2.0 twists to 2.5 twists and that is also simple enough for anyone to wrap their head around. Also, getting the emotions behind the skills can help people understand the sport’s complexity. Maybe a reader doesn’t understand the importance of hitting vertical perfectly in uneven bar handstands but they understand that Coach Bentley is angry that Karen isn’t doing this as well as he’d like and that she’s growing more and more frustrated because she’s catching difficult release moves perfectly and he only wants to talk about those stupid handstands.

If the book was to be made into a movie, who do you imagine playing the characters?
Karen has always been a red-headed McKayla Maroney to me. In build and body type plus in power and abilities. Maybe she can act? That would be awesome. I bet she can. For Jordan, I think Connor Jessup from the TNT sci-fi series, Falling Skies would be perfect for Jordan. He played a round faced kid brother kidnapped by the aliens the first season and then he had to get all buff for season two and he totally did. He could hit the gym again and get into that former gymnast shape. He’s the perfect mix of good-looking, yet still boyish and sweet, like Jordan.


Author Interview: Julie Cross Part 1

6:59 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

Julie Cross is the International Bestselling author of the Tempest series, a young adult science fiction trilogy featuring Tempest, Vortex, and Timestorm (St. Martin's Press). She has also released Letters to Nowhere, a mature young adult romance set in the world of elite gymnastics. Julie lives in Central Illinois with her husband and three children. She's a former gymnast, longtime gymnastics fan, coach, and former Gymnastics Program Director with the YMCA meaning she gets it. Everything a gymnastics fan would want in a book, you will find in Letters to Nowhere. You can read my review of Letters to Nowhere here.

Could you tell us a little bit about your gymnastics background?
I did gymnastics on and off throughout my childhood. I attended 11 different schools between pre-school and senior year (we moved a lot) so often I wasn’t near a good program. I did a lot of YMCA gymnastics which follows USA Gymnastics compulsory routines and most J.O. rules but typically isn’t anywhere near as competitive with less hours in the gym and other differences like only needing one judge per event for girls compulsories. I also did competitive swimming (it’s easy to find a swim team everywhere), dance, soccer, softball, and track and field. But gymnastics has always been my favorite. I could never get enough and since age 4 I’ve been turning cartwheels or dropping into the splits in the most random places.

Before my sophomore year of high school, we moved to the Chicago area and most of the schools in the north suburbs have gymnastics teams. My school even had a gym devoted a hundred percent to gymnastics. For me, that was amazing. I joined the JV team that year but later during track, I suffered a stress fracture in my back and did not continue with organized sports at all. Instead, I joined the color guard and my dance and gymnastics work ethic came in handy with that activity as well. In addition, in 10th grade I began coaching recreational and competitive kids at a local YMCA program and there I found where my true talents lay. All my life, I’d never had really good technical coaches and coming from several years of ballet, I knew that skills could be picked apart and made to look perfect and that became an obsession of mine with coaching. I started by working with school-aged recreational classes and competitive girls levels 4 and 5.

Later, after moving with my husband and newborn son to central Illinois (my current residence), I took a coaching position at a YMCA that also competed in USA Gymnastics competitions in addition to YMCA meets. Before quitting to write full time in August of 2011, I worked for the Y for 11 years coaching everything from USTA tumbling and trampoline to preschool gymnastics through girls Level 8s and 9s. My favorite to coach, by far, were the kids [that] myself and another coach trained for TOPs. It was a program that fed my obsession with perfect form and technique and it was such an exciting challenge to train kids for that level.

Was there any motivation or spark moment behind writing Letters to Nowhere?
I’ve always wanted to write a young adult novel featuring a gymnast as a main character. A high level female gymnastics athlete is such a unique and authentic perspective compared to your average teenage girl, plus it would give me the opportunity to incorporate real-life challenges for gymnasts and splash in a fictional world where my characters can perform whatever skills I’d like them to do and wear any color leo and of course win whatever meets I’d like them to win. I wrote a more in depth story behind the story on blog that you can read here

Could you explain a little more about the "NA" category and if fitting into that category versus Young Adult changed the direction of the book?
I think Letters to Nowhere fits right between YA and NA. New Adult (NA) is all about independence, sexual exploration, being an adult and not only how a character will choose to place themselves in society but a more urgent need to do this asap or fail at life. Young Adult (YA) is about many of those things, but often with authority lurking in the background or the “I still technically have to be labeled a kid but someone is expecting adult behavior from me” mindset. In YA, responsibility is always a weight for the character to shoulder and in NA, responsibility is the everyday norm (even when characters choose not to accept it, it’s expected). So with Karen in Letters to Nowhere—she’s an elite gymnast and even though she’s held onto her amateur status for college, she is very much a professional expected to behave as an adult in her world. Her sport is like a full time job. But at the same time, she’s just a girl who misses her parents, is afraid to talk to the boy, and doesn’t know exactly what to do with her life after high school. As the series progresses, it will evolve into a full-blown NA story.

Did you want to write about an elite gymnast or was elite gymnastics something that came later as the character developed in your mind?
Writing an elite gymnast was something I wanted to do from when I first started writing back in 2009, but I held off because I wanted to show that I could write [about] other subjects beside gymnastics. Though I’ve never coached elites, I got a bit of an inside look at the world by coaching kids for TOPs. It took about three years to get a group of young girls hitting those national best scores for TOP testing and to qualify someone to the team. We did this in 2003 and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the TOPs National Training Camp at “the ranch” in Houston. In fact, I shared a cabin with some young ladies who went on to hit the elite scene like Mattie Larson, Sam Shapiro, Randy Lau, and Petra Matthies. Being at that camp gave me such insight into how tiny that percentage of gymnasts is and how enormous that jump from Level 10 to elite truly is. People who tune in for Olympic gymnastics but know little about the sport have no idea what it takes to reach that level. Yes, it’s talent and physical make-up but also time, money, great coaching, technique, technique, and TECHNIQUE plus the personality and patience to do the same thing a thousand times and then a thousand more. I wanted people to have that inside look with the book.

Tell us about your main character, Karen.
Karen has just turned seventeen when the story opens and she’s also just lost her parents in a tragic car accident. After her coach offers to let her live with him and continue training, Karen faces new challenges both in the gym and out, like having a crush on the coach’s seventeen year old son.

Karen Campbell, as a gymnast, is the type that I lived to coach. She’s not the top seat in the gym, not the one who can do any skill, she’s the kid who gets my love of perfection, who looks at me when I give corrections and who, on the very next turn, makes a change even if it’s the wrong change. There is nothing more frustrating to a coach than having gymnasts repeat the same mistake over and over again. I used to tell kids, just do SOMETHING different. Anything. Show me that words are actually falling from my mouth and I’m not going crazy. Karen is also the kid who lives and breathes for gymnastics. She loves it in a way that is extremely rare, in a way that, if given the right coaching, will prevail over those more talented than her. These types of gymnasts, hide in the back at first, make their way to the middle and slowly, after absorbing everything they’ve been taught in their gymnastics career, sneak out front and surprise everyone. On the outside, Karen is quiet and obedient, on the inside she’s had a fire lit under her and is developing a feisty spirit and a level of mental toughness than will rival the very best.

So much of your book is based in fact - the Martha Karolyi of the team, getting international assignments increasing chances of going to Worlds, the difficulty of comebacks in a "young girl's" sport, etc. Was it important for you to keep things in line with the real world of elite gymnastics?
98.5% realistic to the sport of international elite gymnastics is what I was going for. Okay, maybe not that exact figure, but as close as possible without ruining all the awesome potential for fictional fun. You have to stretch a bit for the sake of the story. There are a few skills that Karen begins working on then later performs in competition that probably would require more training time, however I imagine it has been done before. Because I have this knowledge, getting it right was a huge priority. In fact, I don’t think I would have been able to create something watered down. I’ve been too far on the inside to be able to give that type of perspective. But I did really worry that the insertion of Nina Jones (aka – Martha Karolyi) might hit a little too close to home, but I so had to do it after weaving it into the plot in a way that I fell in love with. Hopefully Martha won’t mind. Nina is probably at least 10% caricature Martha. At least.

Check out Part 2

Buy Letters to Nowhere on Amazon - there is both an ebook version and paperback version.
Follow Julie Cross on twitter: @juliecross1980


Montage Monday: January 2014

8:38 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

I won't be able to do the usual Montage Monday since I'll be busier these next 2 months. Like I've done in the past, here's a playlist of my favorite montages. I'll add to it as the month continues.

January 2014 Montage Monday

1. Montage of Gymnastike BTR footage to Lorde's Glory and Gore. This is basically great advertisement for Beyond the Routine since we get an idea of the training clips that are available. I know we always wonder what Kyla is like in training and apparently she cried :O 2:38.
3. Montage of 2013 FX EF to Jai Ho (from Slumdog Millionaire)! I love the beginning where Vanessa Ferrari's choreo perfectly matches the music and, overall, great effort was made to have choreography match the new music.


#goWORLD 2014

12:16 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments


What's a better way for Arabian Punch Front to start 2014 than with some #goWORLD and a montage? I can't think of anything either!

2013 proved to be rather interesting in a non-Olympic year. The Big 4 remained - USA, Russia, Romania, and China. Romania seems to be struggling with their seniors but showed a crop of juniors to get excited about. China had a changing of the guards after a floor of retirements which gave us some fresh faces to admire. Russia also had some troubles but how could it be gymnastics without some Russian drama? (I'm looking at you Valentina Rodionenko!) The USA is starting to have some nice internal battles going - all around AND vault crown.

That's just the Big 4! We continued to see Canadian dominance after their 5th place finish at the 2012 Olympics - Victoria Moors had the laid out double double named after her and Ellie Black made event finals on floor exercise at Worlds. Britain's Espoirs continued to impress and they have seniors that kept catching our eye throughout the year - Gabby Jupp, Ruby Harrold, and Claudia Fragapane just to name a few.

That's not to say 2013 was peachy keen. We had the introduction of the flamingo stand on floor exercise. We added more life threatening vaults to the list. An athlete on the World Championship team was removed just days prior to competing. Our injury list is enormous and we had remarks made by a gymnast and her federation that left a bitter taste in our mouths.

Despite all that, we're here and we continue to be. We are fans of gymnastics - the fiercest and most passionate fans in the world. Here's to an amazing 2014!

Note: My next 2 rotations for school (so the next 2-4 months) are gonna be tough in terms of time. I've been drafting a few blog posts and also have a few interviews lined up so the blog will still be running. I won't have the time to do Montage Monday weekly so I'll just do the playlists and post them near the end of the month. If you're interested in contributing, email me arabianpunchfront[@]gmail[.]com. Thanks!