Gymnasts focus on mentality on beam


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Photo by Edwin Gano |

Freshman Claire Jones competed on the balance beam in all 12 meets this season and scored a 9.85 at the EAGL Championship.


In gymnastics, the balance beam requires a different mentality than the other three events.

Gymnasts flip, jump and spin on an apparatus that is four feet off the ground and is just four inches wide.

It is the event that is considered the most psychologically straining, according to Rutgers head gymnastics coach Louis Levine.

“Of all the events, I think beam is the most mental, because you have the most time to think up there,” Levine said. “Vault is over like this and bars, once you’re up there, it’s nonstop and floor, you’re with your music. [On] beam you’re up there on your own.”

Sophomore Jenna Williams, who earned Second Team All-Balance Beam honors this season, says that the emotion that comes from doing the beam is her biggest challenge.

“The mental side of it [is the hardest],” Williams said. “You physically can do everything on the beam. You do it in practice every day. In competition you get nerves [so] you have to rely on your confidence and knowing you can do it.”

The Scarlet Knights scored a 49.100 on balance beam Saturday at the EAGL Championships. It was the fourth time that Rutgers hit the 49.000 mark this season and tied a season high.

Freshman Claire Jones explained the difficulty of having to hit above a 49.000 to finish in the top three.

“To come in third place, we had to have a 49.200. On beam, that’s extremely hard to get,” Jones said. “That means all your girls have to go 9.800 or better and that’s hard on beam. Beam is four inches [wide]. You have four inches to land flips on. You mess up a little bit and you’re done. Floor or vault you can bring it back on but if you’re a little bit off on four inches, you’re off.”

Assistant coach Kera Bolen, Rutgers’ beam coach, says that controlling the nerves is the biggest challenge in coaching beam but finds ways in practice to give the Knights a meet-like atmosphere.

“We do a lot of pressure sets in the gym,” Bolen said. “We give them scenarios. We’re up last on beam and you have to get a 9.8 to win the meet [or] you have to stick this dismount to qualify for regionals.”

Six gymnasts compete with five of those scores counting, which gives a bit of a cushion if there is a mistake in a routine.

For Williams, who earned EAGL Specialist of the Week honors following a 9.875 on March 1 against Cornell, knowing that her score may have to count helps her to bounce back from a fall.

“I’ve fallen this season and I get up and I finish strong and hit the rest of my routine perfectly, because they may need to count my score,” Williams said. “If someone else falls, they’re going to need my score to count so I [need] to get as high of a score as I can. Knowing that I’m doing it for my team [is] what helps me.”

The acrobatic skills — back handsprings, layouts, tucks and aerials — look like they would be the most challenging skills.

For Jones, it is actually her simplest skill that creates the biggest challenge.

“My most difficult skill would be my full turn because it’s the easiest,” Jones said. “Sometimes I just forget that it’s a part of my routine and sometimes I fall on it at practice. … It’s the easiest skill, but it’s the hardest because it’s the easiest. You want to look over it because you’ve done it so many times but you still have to focus in on it because nerves can get the best of you.”

Jones has been in the beam lineup consistently, competing in all 12 meets this season. She scored a career-high 9.875 on March 1 against Cornell and earned EAGL Rookie of the Week Honors.

The Gaffney, S.C., native has impressed Bolen this season.

“Claire is just a kid who enjoys competing,” Bolen said of Jones’ beam performance this season. “I knew she was going to be a rock on beam, because she loves beam and she’s not intimidated by competition. Every time she competes, right before she salutes, she says, ‘I’m excited, I’m ready for this.’ So she’s the one who reassures me that she’s going to hit her beam routine.”

For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.


By Lauren Green

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