That “D” Word Being Built By Gymnastics Coach Chow

Des Moines Register

Sports talk radio loves, loves, loves to debate whether teams have reached a level of dominance worthy of the dime-a-dozen “dynasty” tag.

Liang Chow, though, has created an indisputable one amid a sea of sequins and taped wrists.

Elite gymnasts Norah Flatley and Rachel Gowey each finished among the top four in their divisions Saturday at the Secret U.S. Classic. The results reinforced the lofty thoughts of many who feel the central Iowa-based duo are prancing, tumbling and leaping down an Olympics-sized road.

“What’s nice is that Chow put in a program,” said Martha Karolyi, USA Gymnastics’ national team coordinator. “He’s not basing everything only on one talented child. He put in a strong, elite program that raises elite gymnasts.”

Wrap your cerebral cortex around this: The number of girls in the sport right now, from grassroots up, is fairly estimated around 425,000. From that group, just five will deck themselves out in red, white and blue gear at the Opening Ceremonies two years from now in Rio de Janeiro.

Consider that two of them — Flatley and Gowey — could gallop out of the same West Des Moines gym. It had the potential to be at least three, but Chow-trained Victoria Nguyen will miss the Olympics’ minimum age requirement, by 21 days.

“We definitely have (Flatley and Gowey) on our list for that,” said Karolyi, whose first name is pronounced MAR-tuh. “… I feel sorry (Nguyen) doesn’t have the age. If she had the age, I think maybe she would have a chance.”

Chow contended Saturday that his stable of contenders still could be three as Alexis Vasquez recovers from a right hip injury.

Gowey made a large leap forward at the Classic, in terms of stoking steam behind her confidence, by taking fourth in the senior division all-around competition.

The three above her read like a gymnastics version of a Hollywood premiere: Defending world champion Simone Biles, Olympic gold medalist Kyla Ross and Maggie Nichols — a third-place all-arounder in Tokyo and Italy this year — were the talented few to pass the Urbandale native.

“It’s really nerve-racking to know that they had all the experience and it was my first time,” said Gowey, the Johnston High School student who ended just six-tenths of a point off the pace of Nichols. “But it was such a good time to compete with them.

“It felt really good to know my skills are good enough to be in the top (group).”

Flatley won U.S. Classic bronze in the junior all-around, dominating her wheelhouse event, the balance beam, with a best-by-a-lot score of 15.100.

“I thought it met my expectations — and a little bit over,” said Flatley, who has lived in Cumming for more than three and a half years as she’s trained with Chow. “I have a lot of room for improvement, but I’m happy with how the outcome was.”

The flood of confidence about Gowey and Flatley continued to flow from Karolyi at the event that drew 7,780.

The sport’s Queen Maker said Gowey is on pace to contend for a spot in this year’s world championships and the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Karolyi confirmed without hesitation, too, that Flatley is the best junior on the balance beam in the United States.

When asked to forecast American contenders for the Olympics, Karolyi — like any polished poker player — declined to reveal how many names reside on the list of legits.

Trust, though, that the rundown is short — and Gowey and Flatley set up shop there in ink rather than pencil.

“Absolutely,” Karolyi said.

Did the crowd on hand at Sears Centre Arena who saw Biles, Ross and Chow’s group see members of the next Olympic team? Undoubtedly. The question: How many did they watch tumble gracefully past?

Whatever the number, there’s little doubt one Iowa gym will claim major-say status in plenty of world-level storylines.

U.S. gymnasts with the same coach have boarded airplanes bound for the Olympics before. It happened in 1996, under the watchful gaze of the Karolyis, with Kerri Strug and Dominique Moceanu. In 2000, it was Dominique Dawes and Elise Ray.

Those teams, though, were made up of six members. The Olympic coaching double didn’t happen in 2012, when a five-team roster including Chow-trained Gabby Douglas won team gold in London.

In today’s five-spot world, landing two sounds crazy-tough aplenty. To sit on the edge of three-fifths of a team, as Chow would be if Vasquez rebounds or Nguyen had landed her talented feet on earth a handful of weeks earlier, is flat-out astounding.

First, Chow guided the four-medal Olympic haul of Shawn Johnson. Then he shaped a pair of golds for Douglas.

For one central Iowa gym, there seems to be almost no medal stand-climbing end in sight. That’s the type of talk that makes a constant-improvement guy like Chow cringe.

“We have to live up to that expectation, I guess,” he said.

Get ready to cringe some more. The two-year Olympic countdown clock just started ticking.

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