Rec & Sports » Rec Features

Let The Games Begin: Idaho's Olympic Dreamers

Gymnasts, swimmers and athletes of every shape and size sharpen their focus

by

Olympic dreams are born every day but, as Rio de Janeiro welcomes the athletes of the world to the 31st Summer Olympics in the coming weeks, more than a few Treasure Valley athletes will be running faster and leaping higher, hoping to turn those dreams into Olympic gold.

"I think for a lot of kids, especially with gymnastics, being an Olympian is their main goal," said Kristie Wilson, recreational gymnastics director and team coach at Bronco Elite Gymnastics. Wilson should know. When she was a young girl, the Olympic flame sparked her interest.

"A lot of us have dreamed of being an Olympian. It always motivated me," she said. "Even once I got older and realized that the chances were very slim, I thought that if the Olympic gymnasts could achieve their goals, I could, too."

Wilson and her colleagues spend their days and many of their nights at the Garden City Bronco Elite gymnastics center, coaching the next generation of Olympic hopefuls—from teenagers all the way down to 15-month-olds in "developmental" activities, the latter which are geared toward building body coordination skills, listening, following directions and interacting with others.

"There is definitely a lot more excitement when it's an Olympic year," Wilson said. "At the beginning of the year, we talk with our gymnasts about who might make the [national] team; and once we find out, it's always very exciting" said Wilson. "We definitely have our fan favorites."

The 2016 Summer Games, which begin Friday, Aug. 5, will comprise 305 different competitions spread among 28 individual and team sports, including a few new additions such as golf, rugby and kitesurfing. Through the years, however, gymnastics have continued to generate record-setting television audiences across the globe.

"Once the Olympics are on, we definitely see a lot more interest. Our sport gets more publicity and we love seeing other people around us being so excited and enthusiastic about our sport," said Wilson. "We are even hoping to do a team viewing. I love watching everything. Everything I can watch, I will watch."

Even though Wilson knows few will make a national gymnastics team, let alone compete for Olympic gold, she believes the journey is the real prize.

"If you ask anybody who has participated in gymnastics, they say the most valuable thing they walked away with was a sense of discipline," she said. "It's much more than a physical competition. They are learning skills that will help them down the road."

While Olympic hopes run high at area gyms, aspirations run just as deep in the swimming pools of the Treasure Valley YMCA.

"Every four years, we tend to see a significant spike in interest" said Mike Kapuscinski, aquatics director at the Treasure Valley Y. "[Local swimmers] all get really focused when the Olympics come around."

Kapuscinski said he has reached out to former U.S. Olympians to come to Boise and help motivate young swimmers.

"Last year, we had a clinic by Olympian Cullen Jones and this year, we had former Olympian Josh Davis," said Kapuscinski.

Jones is a freestyle swimmer who won silver and gold medals in the 2012 London Olympics, and Davis made history for being the only man (in any sport) to win three gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"Our Treasure Valley Y swim team has been around for over 50 years now," said Kapuscinski, adding the Y has even sent some of its best swimmers on to the U.S. Olympic trials. "Our swim teams practice and compete year-round, but there are no cuts. Nobody is left out. Any child that wants to be a part of the swim team experience is absolutely welcome to it."

Kapuscinski said the Olympic flame may burn brightest for young athletes, but the joy of swimming endures well into their senior years.

"It's been a lifelong journey for me, I swam all the way through college," he said. "It's the one sport that has amazing healing qualities. It's the one sport you can do when you are 80 or 90."

While it may be difficult to keep young swimmers in the pool or gymnasts on the high beam when their favorite Olympic sports are broadcast in primetime on NBC in mid-August, Treasure Valley coaches also expect those budding athletes will watch with great optimism and, soon enough, they'll be swimming faster and leaping higher.