Former Olympians hold clinics for young gymnasts at bases across Japan

Stars & Stripes

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Some youngsters at Yokota in western Tokyo jumped at the chance to attend a gymnastics clinic led by Olympic gold medalists Wednesday.

At least 65 young gymnasts leaped, tumbled, flipped and rolled on the mats at the base’s Samurai Fitness Center under the watchful eyes of some of America’s top athletes, including:

Nastia Liukin, all-around women’s champion and three-time silver medalist at the 2008 Summer Olympics; Laurie Hernandez, a gold and silver medalist at the 2016 Summer Olympics and champion of the 23rd season of TV’s “Dancing with the Stars”; and Desiree Sanchez, a veteran coach and the choreographer of Shannon Miller’s gold medal-winning floor exercise routine at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

“We were excited to work with the kids overseas,” Liukin told Stars and Stripes Wednesday.

“It’s an honor to be here teaching military kids,” said Hernandez, whose mother served in the Army Reserve.

The clinic was open to all ages, genders and skill levels. Some ruled the floor with practiced grace while the smallest had just learned to walk. The former Olympians helped them all, whether that meant appraising a floor routine or holding someone’s legs while they attempted a handstand for the first time.

During the 90-minute clinic, Sanchez led a warm-up before dividing the kids into three groups. One group, led by Hernandez, learned to vault using a springboard. Another group learned the basics of floor routines from Liukin. Sanchez taught others to use a balance beam and a single bar, the precursor to the uneven and parallel bars at high-level competition.

For safety, the balance beam remained on the floor and Sanchez stood next to the single bar.

Afterward, the athletes posed for a group photo and signed autographs for the enthusiastic participants.

“With everything going on in the world today, having this moment to touch someone’s life is pretty special,” Liukin said.

“We see their parents working very hard to support our country, and it means a lot to us to be able to come out and inspire these kids,” Hernandez said. “They inspire us too.”

The tour, in partnership with Armed Forces Entertainment, was scheduled to stop at Yokosuka Naval Base on Thursday. A meet and greet is planned for Friday, and further clinics are scheduled Saturday and Sunday, all at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

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