P:It is September 26, 1996. I am interviewing Elfi Schlegel and we are in the Oral History office.
Elfi, give me your full name, your birth date, and where you were born. It is in Ontario, and
you will have to pronounce it for me.
S:Actually, the full name is Elfi. There is no middle name. The correct spelling is Elfi, and the last
name Schlegel. I was born in Toronto, the city of Toronto, on May 17, 1964. Ontario is the
province. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
P:So where is Etobicoke.
S:Etobicoke is where I resided for a number of years. It is a city outside of metropolitan Toronto.
P:So it is part of Toronto.
S:It is part of metropolitan Toronto, but it is about a twenty minute commute outside the city.
P:Do you have some information that you can give me about high school--where you went and when
S:My high school was Silver Thorn Collegiate. I graduated in 1982, which was the same year that
I came down to the University of Florida. I graduated after grade twelve. High schools in
Ontario go through grade thirteen. I graduated in grade twelve so that I could be the same
age as the students that were freshman students here at the University of Florida. So I got
my grade twelve diploma, and then came down to the University of Florida.
P:This is a separate question because what I would like to do is go through your early life and then
later talk about gymnastics. Why did you pick the University of Florida?
S:A number of reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to find a program that would complement both
the academic and athletic side. I found that the University of Florida had a balance of both.
Academically, I knew coming into the University that I wanted to study broadcasting, in
particular television and radio. So I found that the college offered everything that I wanted
in that program. Along with that, the athletic side of things was mainly because of Ernestine
Weaver, her background as a coach, an athlete, and what she had accomplished as a gymnast
herself. She made it very comfortable for me to choose the University of Florida. It was
really her background, her resume, the great program, and the fact that the University of
Florida was within the top six, but they were not the number one school that all drew me to
the University of Florida. I wanted to be part of a program that was striving to be number
P:So you wanted to go to the United States rather than stay in Canada?
S:Yes. There were no athletic scholarships as we know them here in the United States offered in
Canada. At that time, I still wanted to compete as an athlete, and I still wanted to compete at
a very high level. I did not want to slip away. Then to find that balance and that blend could
only be found here in the United States. So an athletic scholarship was something that I had
been looking into for the last couple years, from 1980 after the boycott of the Olympic
Games. I was a member of the team that did not compete in Moscow. From 1980 to 1982
was really when I seriously looked for a scholarship in the United States.
P:How much did your scholarship pay then?
S:At the time I do not know value wise what it amounted to, but they pretty much covered the tuition
and the books.
P:So it would be a full scholarship?
S:At that time, it was known as a full scholarship, but it was a year by year agreement. The intention
was a four year scholarship from 1982 to 1986, but it was done each year.
P:Your major was?
S:Specifically production of television and radio.
P:How has that helped you in your career?
S:Tremendously. When I first came down to the University of Florida, I had very limited
experience. I had an opportunity to commentate as a television analyst in the sport of
gymnastics. I had an opportunity to be a color analyst for a gymnastics show back in
Toronto. I wanted to further my education since I was going to have a chance to be doing
more shows like this, [and] to be in front of the camera, as they say, getting that experience
firsthand to really understand the background of television, how it all works, and how it all
comes together. My education was extremely valuable in the sense that I learned all the
different aspects of the business and more importantly the people behind the scenes and how
a show comes together. So really all the roles that people play in the making of a television
P:What was your grade point average?
S:I cannot be specific on that, but it was in the 3.5 range.
P:I am impressed by you and Tracy Caulkins. Both of you are world class athletes but come to the
University and do extremely well academically. How do you balance that, presumably
social activities, and all that sort of thing? It is very difficult I understand. How did you do
S:It is difficult, but it is all what you want. I believe that you have to put priorities in your life--make
priorities I should say. I suppose I learnt this sort of lifestyle as an athlete back when I was
twelve years old when I first made the Canadian National Team. Obviously school back
then was a whole lot easier, but you learned the tricks of the trade back then and how to deal
with combining academics and an athletic career. As things got more serious for me in the
sport of gymnastics, the pressures, the stress of keeping up with day to day school activities,
and maintaining a certain level in my sport were tremendous. You really find that balance
because you just do it. I do not know how else to explain it. You find the pockets of time
during your day of accomplishing homework, whether that would be at 6:00 in the morning
and 10:00 at night. You just find ways of finishing what you need to get done. So it was
important in my life to make sure that academically I did not slip, and to maintain a healthy
P:It is called discipline and organization.
S:Discipline, motivation, perseverance, just knowing what you want, and setting goals. I suppose
that is really what it is all about. You want to accomplish this result and how are you going
to get there. These are the stepping stones. It is really basically like being an athlete. You
do not just dive into things--you have to learn from scratch. You just start very slowly and
build your way up to the top. Discipline really is the key word. You just make it happen. If
you want it badly enough, you will just make it happen.
P:Did you enjoy the experience? Was it difficult for you? Was it hard or was it just challenging and
fun? What is your overall assessment?
S:Of [the] University?
P:No, just your experience as an athlete and a scholar.
S:I think it has been absolutely rewarding. I cannot imagine my life without gymnastics. I cannot
imagine my life having not been a University of Florida athlete and a graduate. I enjoyed the
experience, but you have to remember it is what I know. It is what I have known since I was
seven years old. So I really do not know what life is like as a normal person, if I can say
that. I knew one thing, but I recognized at an early age that the sport of gymnastics could
take me places that I have never been. It could teach me things, and I could meet people.
Whatever it was, it lead me down a path that very few people have an opportunity to
experience. When I look back at my career, I have had that opportunity to travel the world,
to meet people, and to experience the cultures that the world has to offer. I remember high
school, with my geography teacher for instance, going back and doing presentations to my
class. [I remember] how special that was to be able to share my experiences of Russia and
China in the form of a very short presentation, pictures, and videos with this class. I was
bringing back a little something of the world to them which they may never have the
opportunity to see. So I was smart enough to realize back then that this was a good thing. I
was going to hang onto it, work very hard at it, and not let it go. I think when you find
something like this in life you just have to grab hold, and you have to take it to wherever it is
going to let you go. It is all about hard work, just challenging yourself, and sometimes
taking some risks.
P:When did you receive your degree and the degree was?
S:My degree was a bachelor of science in telecommunications. I received it in May of 1986. Ten
years ago. [Laughter] Oh, that is a scary thought.
P:So you graduated on time?
S:Yes, I did graduate on time. I thought after it was all said and done, now what did I go and do that
for? I could have hung around for five years. I graduated in four years. That is all part of
my makeup. That is what I understood coming from Canada--I have four years, I have to get
it done, and I pushed and challenged myself. I probably took course overload in certain
semesters, but just made it happen, made it work.
P:If you look back ten years later, what are your fondest memories of your experience at the
University of Florida?
S:Oh, gosh. I think there are so many memories, and it is hard to really pinpoint any one. Obviously
I think it is just having had the opportunity of experiencing life as a student athlete. I think
for any student when you enter a university it is a scary thing and you have to find your
niche. I am glad that I had that already coming down to the University of Florida. It was a
real awakening for me because I had lead such a sheltered life, but not in a bad way. I had
very little free time to do things that a normal teenager would do, but what I was doing were
things that, as I said before, most teenagers would not have an opportunity to do, like
traveling the world. I think it is just having had the overall experience and a very healthy
one, of accomplishing a goal, which was attaining a degree at University, having the
fulfillment of a very successful athletic career, and being able to maintain that high standard
on both levels, academically and athletically.
P:Let us look at your gymnastics career. When did you first get interested in gymnastics and why?
S:I had watched it on television in 1972. I remember Olga Korbut [Russian gymnast, won two gold
medals, 1972 Olympics]. That name stuck out from the Munich Olympics. Of course, I was
only seven. I remember Saturday mornings. My sister, my older brother, and I would attend
an arts and crafts facility which also housed many other sports. I was in an arts and crafts
class, very bored. I walked outside and opened up two double doors. There was the
gymnasium. It was right towards the end of their session. I joined one of the groups and just
sat down and started doing the warm-down exercises with this particular group. I think that
the coach noticed when things wrapped up that I did not really belong in this group, but she
was impressed that I could almost do the splits. So back then that was really all it took--[if
you] could you do the splits, you were great. When can you join our club?
P:How old were you?
S:I was seven years old. That is my first recollection of being in gymnastics. I did not know what it
was. All I remember is being with my friends in the park and turning cart-wheels, forward
rolls, and whatever normal little kids would do in the park. From that point on is really when
it all started. I joined a club, trained once a week for one hour a day.
P:How long did you do that? Take your career up. You made the Olympic team at age twelve?
S:Actually, I was fifteen, just turning sixteen in 1980. From age seven things really moved quite
rapidly. I had no idea that they would move as quickly as they did. I look back now and it is
somewhat of a blur. My first competition was at age seven. It was a recreational event at the
lowest level possible. They do not even have the same levels here in the United States, so
they are not comparable. I was seven years old, and I was probably doing the once a week,
one hour a day of training for a good six months. Then things progressed to twice a week,
three times a week, two hours for each practice at three times a week, and then finally four
times a week. This was all during the school week as well, between Mondays and Fridays.
At age ten is when things really turned around. We started practicing five days a week. We
moved into our gymnastic facility. [We] moved out of two high schools where we used to
set up the equipment. That meant the wrestling mats and all the circles had to match and
what not. We moved into our own warehouse facility which was built by our parents. The
thrill about this was the gymnastic equipment did not have to be set up and torn down each
and every day. It was left in this one and only, beautiful, huge facility, which at the time was
the largest in Canada. So that was at age ten. My training had quickly advanced to five days
a week, about twenty-five hours a week. At the peak of my career, I was probably training
five to six times a week about thirty hours a week. That would have carried me through just
before I came down to the University of Florida. The ages from twelve, thirteen, fourteen,
fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen were the intense part of my international career.
P:Who built that facility?
S:This facility was actually founded by our gymnastic club at the time so it was a non-profit
organization. Our club was called the XOCES Eagle School of Gymnastics. The coaches
were all volunteers. Many of them were high school phys. ed. teachers. As I said most of
our training was done right after high school. I did carry a full load of academic courses. I
never cut back on any of my courses. In grade seven and eight, for instance, my principal
was very accommodating and helped me in every which way. I missed things like my final
grade eight banquet because I was in China competing for my country. They were very
accommodating all through high school as well. My classes would typically end at about
2:00 in the afternoon. I would race home and then off to gymnastic practice at about 4:00
until 9:30 to 10:00. The coaches, as I said, were volunteer coaches. We were both learning
together back in the days when I first started at age ten. It was really quite a young sport in
Canada. We did not know a lot back then. This facility, the warehouse, was about twenty-
five minutes from my home. We would car-pool with other athletes in the general area
together to the gym.
P:When did you first start having professional training or professional coaching?
S:I would say at about age nine. I left the recreational coaches that really helped me when I first
started at age seven probably through to my eighth year. When I was nine, I moved on to a
pair of coaches who were far advanced in their field. My recreational coach recognized that
she did not have the expertise to take me any further. What made her such a great coach was
that she recognized I had a lot more talent that she could provide, and was able to send me
off to a group of coaches that could help me advance my career.
P:How much of this talent is really innate and how much is developed?
S:That is a very good question. What I have to show for at age seven was the fact that I had a drive
and a will to learn. I think sometimes we miss some of those people or those young people
who really have that. I would like to think that is 90 percent of a successful athlete--what
they have to give inside. The gymnastics can be learned, taught, and perfected down the
way, but I think too often we want them to do so much at an early age. I really believe that
there has got to be more of that will to win or to want to learn. That has to be there. The
coach cannot [create] that motivational side for you. The athlete has to want it more than the
coaches or the parents for that matter. There should be an equal blend I suppose, but talent
obviously does have a large part to do with it. At the level of the sport today, 1996, as we
know it, it is very competitive.
P:But you must have had a certain amount of physical talent.
S:I think when I look back now physically, I fit the bill. I was tiny. I was powerful. I had the right
definition. I was not very flexible, but as I said before, that is something that can be
practiced and worked on. My flexibility, which is an important part of gymnastics, grew in
time. I became more flexible as an athlete. So certainly with the hours that I spent specific
to that area I had to focus on a weakness, which was my flexibility. That was certainly
something that we worked on and it did improve over time.
P:Talk about your relationship with Ernestine Weaver. She had a record at Florida of a 169-40 (169
wins, 40 losses). What made her such a good coach?
S:You have to realize we all change. This is coming from the perspective of a university athlete
now. I was eighteen years old. What did she provide for me then? I had just come from that
international scene where the coaches are very tough and there is a lot of stress. It is intense
at international events. Ernestine gets those athletes after they have been through those
abusive years, so to speak. I do not mean that in a bad way. I just mean that the number of
years that you spend day to day in the gym and the hours that you have spent. Of course,
you get down to University and you slash those numbers [in] half. You are not training as
many hours because [you] have to combine it with academics. What made Ernie a great
coach was that she treated each and every one of her athletes as individuals. She did not
lump us all together. It is amazing because we were still the University of Florida Gators.
We were a team in every sense of the word, but we were very much individuals. We had our
own ways of doing things in the gym. What she recognized [was] she was taking us from
such a long term affair with our coaches and our private clubs at home where we did things a
certain way. There was this ritual. Now we were coming to Florida to become a team
because many of us had not experienced that side of the sport. She just made the transition
very easy for each and every one of us. It may have taken a full year, but she allowed us to
work around our own schedule. She was very accommodating. She listened to our
concerns, and she treated us as young women because at that point in time we were. I think
that she was more interested in each and every one of us having that experience of a lifetime,
leaving the University of Florida fulfilled both academically and athletically, feeling good
about ourselves, and being able to conquer the world and whatever would lay ahead.
P:The newspaper designated you as the top recruit of the 1982 class and that was because you had
already had so much international experience. Tell me a little about your visit to China and
what other international experiences you had before you came to University of Florida.
S:I had pretty much traveled the world. I had eleven years of international competition before I even
stepped foot on the campus of the University of Florida. Those experiences meant the world
to me. [I was] obviously able to experience the way countries work in their own way. China
[and] Russia are two of my fondest memories. I have been to Russia three times actually.
The first time when I was twelve. When I was younger I [would] always say that, oh yes, we
were primadonnas back then. We had our ways of doing things. I did not always want to
experience the food that they offered. I was set in my ways because my focus was strictly on
the competition. I did not want to let too many distractions get in the way of what I was
trying to accomplish every time I traveled. Sure, you take the little trips to the subway
system and you notice things that are different from home like the chandeliers, the marble
floors, and the paintings in the subways of Moscow.
You go to China. I went to the city of Shanghai where there are fourteen million people. We did not
have hotel keys, for instance, at the hotel where we stayed. Everybody followed us in and
out of stores. Just the warmth of the country, the people always wanting to share. It was
great being in China because they remembered Dr. Bethune [Norman Bethune, Canadian
surgeon, served as front-line physician during World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and the
Chinese Revolution], who was a Canadian doctor who helped in the revolution in China. He
actually died during that time. When you said you were from Canada, it was like every
Chinese person knew the history immediately. They all knew of this Dr. Bethune. They
were right there. They were kissing your hand. It was just an amazing thing.
I think sometimes in our countries we forget some of our greats and we forget the history. It is nice
to remember those people. Just the experience of it all, whether it was the person, the
athletic competition, the land, or the sites that we toured makes me feel very worldly. I feel
like I have been out in the world. I have been able to see what I have read about. I have
been able to share that with my family and friends back home. So having said that, coming
down to the University of Florida, there was not anything that I had not really experienced
even gymnastically. I had competed in Russia, China, all over Europe, and New Zealand. I
was not afraid to come here. All these experiences enhanced what I was about to do.
Actually, this was just another chapter in my book. It was time to experience life as a
university athlete. Maybe I prepared myself well because when I actually finished, retired,
and graduated from UF I was prepared for it, mentally and physically. Before I stepped foot
into Gainesville, I knew that in four years time I would end my career as an athlete and have
a degree in my hand. Who knows where I [would] go after that. Those were the two things
that I wanted to accomplish, yet there I was again setting more goals for myself. In four
years time I knew that a very big part of my life would come to an end and that was my
P:How well did you do in the international competition?
S:Very well. I think as Canadians, we are young in that scene. We were still, at that time, trying to
make a name for ourselves. I think I helped Canada break some ground. I won the first
World Cup Medal ever in 1980. That was on an individual apparatus, the vault. So that was
something that helped put Canadians on the map or in the history books of gymnastics. I
competed on four World Championship teams for Canada, which is almost unheard of today
in this day and age of the sport--to be able to hang on during so many years at that level. I
think internationally my name was known throughout the world. The 1978 Commonwealth
Games was a tremendous help for me. That was held in Edmonton, Canada, and I was a
double gold medalist there. That was something that brought notice to a lot of international
countries around the world. You need that in the sport of gymnastics because it is about
judging. Judges need to know who you are and what your history is. The more they know
about you, the better you will fare in other competitions. It was nice that I had accomplished
so many things. When you walk by that panel of judges, they give you the little nod and that
is pretty special.
P:Sometimes that may help just a few percentage points, do you think?
S:Sometimes. I guess there might be a couple of tenths here and there, or hundreds-of-tenths maybe.
It is all about recognition in this sport. When no-names come on to the scene, that is the
first thing you need to do--get to know them. Find out what their gymnastics is all about.
That is what I do as a commentator. When I am familiar with a name, all I am doing is really
seeing if there is anything new. Otherwise, I could sit and talk about her all night.
P:How did you win the vault and where did you win it?
S:It was in Toronto, Canada. It was the 1980 World Cup Event, which is different from a world
championship because you have to place in the top twenty in the world to advance to the
world cup which is another final event. I competed at this World Cup in 1980. The nice
thing [was] that it was after the boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. Many times I get
questions of how would you have done in Moscow? I do not know. I could tell you I could
have won a medal, who knows? It would be nice to think that that was a possibility, and of
course it always is because you never know what will happen. I think what the world cup
did for me was to establish me at that level. I can compete with the best in the world. I am
on par with many of the great gymnasts in the world. It gives you a little bit more
confidence in your gymnastics and your abilities.
P:Do you remember the Chunichi Cup in Japan?
S:Yes. I competed there a number of times. The first time I competed was in 1977. For Canadians,
I was fourth in that competition. I still believe that was the highest a Canadian had ever
placed at the Chunichi Cup. I also competed there [during] my first year at the University of
Florida. I went over in the fall or November of 1982 back to [the] Chunichi Cup. It is one of
the more prestigious events that takes place every year. There is always an international
event in Japan [and] in Russia. The Americans have what is called the American Cup and
that is their event that they host every year.
P:Now during your years at the University of Florida, the whole time you were here Ernestine
Weaver was your coach. I wanted to follow up on your relationship. She was a very
successful gymnast herself. Does that help in coaching?
S:Absolutely. When you have been there, seen it, done it, there was not anything I could tell Ernie
that she did not experience herself as an athlete. I think that makes the relationship much
stronger and easier. When I spoke earlier about Ernie listening to her athletes, she really did.
She really wanted to help you as an athlete, to get the most out of your career and your time
at Florida. She could relate to everything you had to say. I think nine times out of ten, she
would be a set of ears and a shoulder to cry on if you needed that. She is a wonderful
person. For me, she was like a second mom because as I said, I came from a fairly sheltered
existence at home which simply meant I had no time to do anything else. My life was pretty
much gymnastics, going to the gym, and school because those were my priorities. When I
came down to Florida, Ernie really helped ease the way to introduce me to campus life. No,
I did not rush out and go to every single party that was available. I took my time with that
and slowly made the transition work for me on my time. She knew how important
gymnastics was to me and all those labels that you had spoke about earlier, being one of the
great recruits of the 1982 class. That was tough coming down and being expected to
perform. I was the Canadian Olympian. I was Canada's best, blah, blah, blah. All those
titles just kept piling up. I did not come down here as a no-name. I came down here with
some pretty hefty expectations from the University to deliver. More importantly, I put those
expectations on myself and wanted to deliver. I did not want to slip in my gymnastic level. I
knew that Ernie would help me be there because [during] my first two years at the University
of Florida, I still competed internationally for Canada as well. Not only was I juggling
university life, athletics, and academics, I was also racing back home (flying) to compete at
world championship events for Canada.
P:Was she a strict disciplinarian?
S:She was not as strict as my previous coaches, but those were different years. Ernie treated us as
young adults. Really, she was not there to tell us what to do, she was there to ask us what we
wanted to do, to help guide us. Certainly, she had a plan of attack. She knew what worked
for her and what would make a team successful. That is the master behind the whole plan.
That is why she was such a great coach in being able to choreograph everything and ten
athletes at one time. She very much gave us a lot of say in what we were doing day in and
day out in the gym. She understood the pressures of school. Sometimes you had a class you
had to race off to at 5:00 in the afternoon. No, that was not always the most convenient time
to go to a class once a week because that was gymnastic time, but she would accommodate
those times. If it was important and something that absolutely had to be done, she was there
P:How did she recruit you?
S:This is an interesting story actually. Ernie was the 1980 Olympic coach. She was also the 1978
World Championship coach for the United States. My first world championships (not hers
obviously, but as a coach) [Explain] was in Strasbourg, France in 1978. I was competing
for Canada. I was fourteen years old and Ernie was, as I said, coaching the U.S. team. We
went to France. She knew of me prior to the world championship because her mother owned
a ballet school in Canada when she was growing up. Of course, Ernie was a Canadian
gymnast early in her career, before she moved to the United States. After she moved to the
United States, she was coaching at Clarion State College in Pennsylvania. Her mother used
to inform her of the gymnasts and what was going on in the Canadian scene. She told her of
a young gymnast named Elfi Schlegel who looked exactly like her. Ernie could not believe
it. She used to come up to Canada for coaching congresses and what not. I was of course
demonstrator many times. The judges would take certain courses over a weekend, and I
would go there to perform certain skills. That was the first time that I saw her. That was
probably back in 1975. She remembered me from that point on because she said that it was
unbelievable how much I looked like her when she was an athlete in Canada. Anyhow, back
in 1978 we finally ran into one another. Of course she was not allowed to speak with me
because she was a coach at the University of Florida. I am not quite certain when she
actually made it down here. It was not in 1978. I think it was in 1979 or 1980. She was at
Clarion State, Pennsylvania, and called my gymnastics club after the world championship in
October of 1978. She asked if I would be a special guest at their Meet the Team at Clarion.
I agreed to go down. It was in December. I was one of their special guests along with Kurt
Thomas [U.S. gymnast; first American male to win gold medal in world gymnastic
competition, 1978] who I was in absolute awe of. I had to drive in the same van as him from
the airport. We were at the Meet the Team in December of 1978. The next time I heard
from Ernie or Jim Weaver, who was helping her recruit at the time, was the year that they
were allowed to call me, the year before college. So that is when she got in touch with me.
She kept tabs on how old I was, and when I would be graduating from high school.
P:Any other options for you? Did you consider any other universities?
S:Sure. There were plenty of options, and I probably could have written to many other schools. At
the time, I was still very intense in the Canadian program. I was still competing
internationally. I had very little time for recruiting trips. I think when the University of
Florida called, specifically Ernie Weaver and Jim Weaver, I felt very comfortable from
everything they had to say from day one. There were other options, California State
University-Fullerton, Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, and numerous other schools. The one
and only recruiting trip that I took was here in Gainesville.
P:She [Ernestine Weaver] said about the 1984 team, "Mental toughness and togetherness that's
what this team has over any other team I've coached at [the University of] Florida [Lady
Gators, 120]." How do you get that as a team? Because as you mentioned, you had
competed so long individually. I presume even when you are competing, you are still
competing individually in individual events.
S:Sure you are. You are up there on the apparatus by yourself, but that score helps the overall team
score. I had never experienced that team unity as much as I did at the University of Florida.
Of course, that comes with time. That first year, it was a little bit intimidating. I did not
know what Gator crowds were all about, let alone football crowds. Everything was so new
for me. All I knew was that I had to do my job and that would contribute to the overall
success of the team. When she talked about that 1984 team, obviously two years later we
had grown together and we knew one another. It is about traveling together, being together,
training together, and knowing everybody's quirks. We all felt like sisters, I guess. We were
extremely close, and we were very close in the standings. We knew that we had the
opportunity of winning an NCAA Championship. Although we did not, we placed third in
my junior year, which was the 1984-1985 season. We were on top. We were on that
podium. It is just coming together as a team and deciding what is important, what are the
goals with this team, and what do we want to accomplish for the year? We were always very
good about sitting down and talking about that. I think the team was very open. We worked
well in the gym together. We helped one another out. I do not think there were any
individual standouts, as much as the press wants to do that to you. They want to pull people
out. Certainly, I was asked for many interviews. The other team members would see that
Elfi was being pulled away, so and so wanted to talk to her, and the television station wanted
to talk to her. They always saw that as the good of the entire team, and that is exactly how I
treated it. If somebody wanted an interview, I was always sure to include my teammates. It
was not just about me because six athletes make up the team, and six scores contribute.
P:So there was no jealousy?
S:I do not think so. Not that I can remember, not at all. I really believe that in my four years, that
was the year [1984-85] that I felt closest to my teammates. We just clicked. Some years you
have it, and some years you do not. That was certainly a year where we were all on, in sync.
P:When you look back at your career, in 1984 and 1985 you were third at the NCAA's. In 1982 and
1983, you had a 17-0 dual meet record. How do you relate that to your individual
accomplishments? When you look back on the career, are you more proud of all-around?
S:It is interesting because when I look back at my statistics from the University of Florida, I think
that I would rather see the team results. I think the third place at the NCAA's is really the
highlight for me. I look back and say, yes, that is what we were working towards. That is as
close as we got but it felt great. It felt great to be on the podium. Certainly there are
individual results that I am very proud of. One of them being the regional championships,
where I won the all around and then I swept all events. That is something that I think it is
very difficult to do today. It is something that I am very proud of. I look back and again it
was the team behind you. I will always be the first one to tell you that it does not happen
alone. It is like working in broadcasting. You are out there and you are in front of the
camera, but it is all those individuals behind the cameras that are really making it happen.
They are helping you be the best that you can, and that is really the same idea in the
gymnastic field. You watch your teammates go up and hand out those scores. When you are
on a roll, that is the absolute greatest feeling, especially in the O'Connell Center [Stephen C.
O'Connell Activities Center, University of Florida]. Then they say, you are sixth place [last
gymnast to compete]. That is the position I was in many, many times. I was the last up for
the Gators. I tell you there is a pressure, but there is also this feeling like we can make it a
sweep. We can make it happen. I think your teammates, the encouragement, and the
coaching staff makes everyone pull together.
P:How hard is it to be an all-arounder?
S:It is very difficult, if you look at how many events that you actually compete in on a yearly basis.
I think I estimated that I competed in approximately sixty-four or sixty-five all-around
competitions. That is what I would pride myself on--competing all-around. I did not come
down to the University of Florida to compete on one apparatus alone. I came down here to
help the team. The best way I could help the team was to be an all-around gymnast, and to
be the person that they recruited me for. That meant competing all-around because I knew I
was strong on all four events, and could contribute on all four events. Being placed last up in
the line-up obviously says something as well. They are expecting you to come through. The
way gymnastics works is those scores escalate. Hopefully, by the time that sixth routine
comes around, that will be the highest score on the team. It is difficult because there is a lot
of pressure on the body. There is a lot of pounding. I had just spent eleven years of my
career on the international stage. To come down to university life and compete in a
semester, with competitions every single weekend with a couple of weekends off and
traveling on top of that, makes it very difficult to keep up with school. You enjoy it. You set
your sights on each weekend and figure out what you want to accomplish at each gymnastic
event, let it go, and move on to the next. So you take each weekend as it comes.
P:What was your best event?
S:I would say in college my best event was floor exercise. It used to be the vaulting internationally.
I think the reason it turned into a floor exercise was because there was something funny
about the Gator audience. They absolutely love the music. They love floor. It is exciting. It
really is the event in women's gymnastics. It is the one that everybody waits for. When you
have dual competitions, the home team always ends on floor exercise. So it is absolutely the
thrill of the night. I think also the Gator audiences looked forward to what selection of
music, what you chose for the year. We would do a different routine every single year. No
way you would have the same floor exercise music two years in a row. We put a lot into it.
It was a chance for you to really express to the crowd, and to let another side of your
personality shine through, which I never did in international competition. We would spend a
lot of time on the choreography. So definitely floor.
P:How did you pick the music and the choreography?
S:Along with the coaches, we actually [had] a choreographer. I worked with a number of
choreographers a couple of times. Floor exercise was very important to the team, and
Ernestine recognized that and would bring in great choreographers to help with the floor
exercise routines. Professionals in their field who would often chose music for us or suggest
music. It was always a decision with the group, the choreographer, the coach, and myself.
P:It seems to me the most difficult apparatus is the beam. How do you get confidence because it
seems that when people tend to fail, they tend to fail badly on the beam?
S:Yes. Sixteen feet long, four feet off the ground, and four inches wide. I know those stats well. I
guess it starts when you are seven years old. I opened those doors to that gym. When I
walked into that recreational gym, saw one big playground. The balance beam was one of
the props. I think when you are seven years old, you have no fear. You start running up and
down that little piece of equipment, and it just becomes a part of you. I think that is the
uniqueness about the sport of gymnastics--fooling all of you guys and making it look easy.
When I was up there, I was not expressing my fear. I was trying to show confidence in that I
was taking command of that apparatus. So the balance beam became my friend. It is just
ours. It is like anything. You just have to stick to it and just keep repeating the moves and
routines. I never felt so confident as an athlete as when I competed my four years at college.
That was because Ernie's philosophy was if you could not do it upstairs in the practice gym,
you sure as heck were not going to perform it downstairs on the competition floor. So
anytime I was downstairs in that competition arena, when I was raising my hands to the
judges about [to] mount the balance beam for instance, I was so confident in that routine, I
could do it in my sleep.
P:Another thing about the beam, now it seems to be much more sophisticated. People are doing
double flips on the beam.
S:That is the trend. The trends change over time. Even I am amazed. When I sat in Atlanta this
summer, watching the combinations of skills that we used to do, but in a different way. It is
part of the growth of the sport. Where can we go now? What can we do with this move and
how can we combine it to make it look more daring? You are right. It is risky at times, but
again these are athletes that have not just arrived and jumped on the balance beam and said,
okay I think I will throw this. This is time consuming stuff. This takes many years in some
cases to perfect certain skills and that is what these athletes are doing. They are taking their
time to make it worth their while in the long run.
P:In 1983 Ernie Weaver said and I quote, "Elfi's unusual in that she's got a lot of things in her back
pocket [Ladv Gators, 118]." What did she mean by that?
S:I would like to think she was talking about gymnastics. 1983 was my first season with the Gators.
I think what Ernie meant was whatever I was going to unveil in my freshman year, there
would be more to come. She was exactly right. She knew it then. I may not have known it,
but I certainly agree with that comment. One great thing about my college experience was
not only did I do what I intended to do, which was come down with the international level
routines that I knew I was capable of performing, but I also learned skills while I was here.
So I actually improved as an athlete. I did not lower my standards; I increased them. I think
that is what Ernie meant. At any given moment, I could pull something out of my back
pocket, whether it was in the form of another skill or what not, which is what I am sure she
meant. I could incorporate that in my routines. I would think very quickly during a
competition. If I was having trouble with something, I could improvise well.
P:Do you feel satisfied with your accomplishments as a gymnast at the University?
S:Absolutely. I always think things happen for a reason. If there was something that did not pan out
on one given evening of competition, it was for a reason. It was to teach me a lesson, to
make me work a little bit harder, or focus a little bit more on another event. During my
experience here, I really did not have set plans at the time. I wanted to win the national title,
this event, or that event. The way I approached competition when I was competing at
University was if I felt good at the end of the evening and gave everything that I had, I could
walk away and say okay, that was a great event. I was pretty satisfied. I would have loved
to have won a team national title, I think, more than any individual title. I would have loved
the University of Florida to have won, but of course that is a team effort. That is not
something that I can accomplish on my own.
P:I want to take you back to the 1980 Olympics. When did you realize you would be on the
Canadian team? When were you selected?
S:We actually had the Olympic trials very late. This was interesting because the Canadians went
back and forth, and could not figure out whether we should go through the process of
Olympic trials or not, or if they should put the athletes through it. We did, and we had it
very, very late. We actually had it prior the start of the Moscow games. When we knew we
were not traveling to Moscow, we did not go to the Olympics. So they decided to postpone
the Olympic trials, and would have it at a little later date before the start of the games. The
reason they decided to have the trials in Canada is they really wanted to name a team. They
wanted something to be written in the history books for those athletes to be remembered
because they would have been the team had we traveled. It was probably in the early part of
the summer that we had our Olympic trials that named the team. We got wind of the
possibility of a boycott, I think, at the turn of 1980, sometime in January. At first, I did not
take it to seriously and never thought that anything like this could possibly happen. When it
has been a dream of yours for so long, you do not want to believe that something like this
could or would happen.
P:What is it like just to be named to an Olympic team to represent your country?
S:To make it that much better, obviously it would have been the experience of being there and to
actually have competed in the stadium, having marched out as an athlete with your team and
your flag into the track stadium for the opening ceremony. Certainly, I would be lying to
you if I did not say that that would have been the ultimate experience, but I feel satisfied that
was my time and that would have been my Olympic games. I qualified first on my Canadian
team. I knew I would have been there if others had let us. That is just the way the world
works. As I said, things happen for a reason. I still do not understand the boycott. I still do
not understand what was accomplished, which in my mind, I do not think anything was. It
was a lesson. Unfortunately, timing is everything, and it was my time that this happened.
As an athlete, I remember being extremely devastated to say the least. It is something that
you cannot explain to a sixteen year old at the time, why they are doing what they are doing.
You do not want to hear it. You do not want to believe it because this has been something
that you have worked long and hard at. [It was] a goal that will never be realized. I think
that was the hard part, knowing that it is just not going to happen. At that time I said that I
would get to an Olympic games, but I did not know in what capacity. Obviously, years later
(1988), I broadcast my first Olympics with the Canadian network. So having experienced
the Olympics has been very rewarding. I have experienced four now as a broadcaster. I am
glad that I have had the chance to experience it in a different capacity on another level. I do
not know if it is just as fulfilling, but in my line of work with what I do, that is sort of my
superbowl. That is what I live for, the Olympic games.
P:Was 1984 too late for you?
S:No. 1984 was actually another year that I could have competed for the Canadians. Unfortunately,
there were some politics that were going on in Canada. I was still competing here at the
University of Florida. I think there was a little bit of bitterness in Canada that I had chosen
to take a scholarship to the United States. They were upset that I was leaving. What I tried
to make them understand was that I was not leaving the system. The University of Florida
would be just as accommodating if they would work with them. In 1984, I again should
have been on that team. It was another boycotted games. There were some politics that
were mixed in with the decision of the team. They decided to use a different set of rules or
what not. I am trying to simplify this for you. In any case, I was kept off the team and never
really told why. There are many people, including myself, who felt I should have been on
that 1984 team. For some reasons, which I will probably never know, there were certain
individuals that made that decision and that is what they went with.
P:But Canada did not boycott the 1984 Olympics?
S:No, they did not. They competed in Los Angeles and did not compete very well as a team. In my
case, gymnastically speaking, ifI was not good enough to make the team I would be the first
to say. It was a situation where I was [boycotted?], and I should have been on the team.
Unfortunately, there were certain people who prevented me from being on the team and I
think a lot of that could have been in the form of jealousy, having spent much of my time in
the United States on a scholarship at the University of Florida. They probably did not feel
that I was in shape or able to fulfill that placement on the team as an Olympic team person. I
felt that I should have been there. It is just one of those things in life that you go on and set
new goals. Again, [it was] another bad time. The first time it was politics and we could not
physically go. This time I felt that I should have been there, but [there was] some red tape in
P:What was the reaction in Canada to the decision to boycott?
S:I would think very much like here in the United States. I chose not to read a whole lot about it.
Once I found out, I obviously voiced my opinion, which was we should be going. Why
should the athletes be made to suffer? What does politics [have to do with] athletics?
Unfortunately, we were their stage. The Olympics was the perfect time [to boycott]. They
used us [Specify]. I think the reaction in Canada was a sour one. They would have liked to
have seen the athletes go to the Moscow Olympics. I do not think that there was a great deal
of support, but it happened anyway [Explain more fully].
P:As you look back, without thinking about your individual participation, do you think Carter's
[James (Jimmy) W. Carter, U.S. president, 1976-1980] decision was correct?
S:It is a tough one because I was caught right in the middle. Of course I would have loved to have
gone, but those are selfish reasons. I guess no. I do not think his decision was correct. It is
hard when you see other countries. I think one of the most difficult things was going to an
international event two weeks after the games were over, and seeing those athletes coming
directly from Moscow with all their Olympic paraphernalia, knowing that you could have
been there but it is gone. It is lost. I in some ways wish that our country would have stood
up and decided for themselves what is the best thing to do. It probably still would have
been, no we are not going. I think there was a heavy influence [Explain--from the U.S.?],
and that is probably why we chose to boycott along with many others. I guess just because
now I look back at the result. I do not believe that there was anything accomplished.
Unfortunately in 1984, it was just sour grapes on the other side. Once we got through all of
that childlessness, it was just let us get on to the real reason why we are competing at
Olympics and what they are all about.
P:I guess the only impact is that it did provide some world opinion against the Russian invasion of
Afghanistan. It did cost them [the Russians] some hard currency that they would have gotten
obviously by holding the Olympics. Other than that, you see no other impact?
S:I guess not. I really do not. I am not one of the bitter athletes, by the way, who looks back and
sees a black cloud in my life. I am able to talk about it. I accept it. I may not like the
decision, or I did not like the decision at the time, but I accept it because as I said it happened
for a reason. I am a firm believer in moving on. Many athletes that I know were so
devastated by that decision that their lives just have not been the same. I think that is very
sad that you cannot pick up and make something more of you life and just move on
basically. It happened and there is no overturning that decision.
P:Let me move on now to a discussion of your life after UF. What did you do first? Tell me about
your broadcasting career.
S:During my time at the University of Florida, in the summertime if there was an occasional event to
cover, I would. In 1985, I went up to Montreal to cover the World Gymnastics
Championships. That again was work that I was doing on and off. It was occasional. It did
not amount to much more that one or two events a year. So I was continuing to keep up with
the commentating and learning as I went along even though the events were few and far
between. When I graduated in 1986, I actually stayed at the University of Florida for
another year. I was an assistant, sort of the manager of the team. I took some post
baccalaureate courses. I worked with the gymnastic team. I coached. I did administrative
work as well, and that took me through the 1986-1987 season. I then went back home to
Canada, and basically just continued working free-lance, contract jobs with the networks in
Canada. At the time, it was the CTV [Full name] network which had a contract for many of
the gymnastic shows that were going on in Canada both internationally and nationally. For
the next three years, I worked in broadcasting. I did the occasional jobs. I also worked at the
National Ballet School of Canada, which was a feeder program. I worked with young
students and taught them basic gymnastics to help complement their ballet training. I also
worked for a large city called Mississauga. I worked in their gymnastics parks and
recreations area where I oversaw the teaching of young coaches who were teaching a
number of classes in gymnastics. I was working in three different areas. I returned back to
the University of Florida in the 1990-1991 season, and worked with Ernestine as an assistant
coach during that season. In 1991, I got a full time job with CBC (Canadian Broadcasting
Network) Sports in Toronto, which is nationwide but the base is Toronto. That is when I
really started my broadcasting career on a full-time basis.
P:Tell me how you got the job with CBC Sports.
S:I suppose I had done a couple of free-lance jobs with CBC Sports prior to signing on full-time in
the summer of 1991 as their gymnastic analyst. I suppose at that time I was working with
another network in Canada, really sharing the duties between two networks. It is like
working for ABC Sports down here and NBC Sports. That is almost unheard of. You do
not work between two networks. You are exclusive usually to one. So I think CBC Sports
recognized that they wanted me just with them, and [wanted] to groom me as their gymnastic
analyst specifically to CBC Sports. Having worked the 1988 Olympic games for them in
Seoul, Korea, I think they saw a place for me at their network and felt that they could
broaden my horizons not just in gymnastics, but beyond in some other sports. [They felt
they could] groom me to be a little bit more than a color commentator in the sport of
P:So you did four Olympics?
S:I have to this date worked on four Olympic games--the 1988 Seoul Olympics with CBC Sports;
the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville with CBC Sports; the Summer Olympics again in
1992 in Barcelona with NBC Sports; and just now the 1996 Atlanta Games with NBC
P:What did you do in the winter games?
S:I covered a sport that I had worked on for three years with CBC called freestyle skiing. I was the
play-by-play person, playing a different role. I would set up the color commentator who I
worked with. She was the one who was actually the freestyle skier, so I learned a different
role in the world of broadcasting, which is a play-by-play analyst. [It is] different from being
the color person as I am in gymnastics, where I am expected to give all the technical
expertise and the color of the sport.
P:Discuss how you prepare for an Olympic broadcast.
S:Actually, I do not think I ever really let it go. Because gymnastics is my sport, it is what I have
been doing for so many years and trying to educate people on. It is something that I never let
go. I really do not put it down for a month and take a break from it. I continue to talk to my
contacts around the world, subscriptions, articles, or whatever. I have friends that send
interesting interviews to me. So I really never put it aside. Preparing for the Olympics
games becomes a little more intense in that you have to know the individual athletes
Really their entire history. Their biographies are so important. Of course, we
focus on the key athletes or the key countries, the ones that are going to make the impact or
go for the gold as they say. Countries in the sport of gymnastics who are dominant are
Romania, Russia, China, the United States obviously, and some of the Soviet Republics.
Preparing is just really adding to an existing list or profile that you would have on an athlete,
continuing to update her profile with any events that she would be competing in prior to the
Olympic games, knowing her actual gymnastic routines, and comparing those to
competitions as you get closer to the games. In January 1996, I took old tapes, old VHS
copies of competitions that took place in the last couple years, [and reviewed them]. I went
through the Barcelona Olympics and watched highlights of Barcelona just to refresh my
memory because there were athletes from Barcelona that actually competed in Atlanta. It
[involves] pulling out the material from the archives, and going over the events. Most of my
research comes from being there, seeing the event live for myself, [and] not relying on too
many other people to tell me how an individual athlete looked. I spent most of 1996, prior to
Atlanta, traveling. I went to the World Championships this past year. I went to training
camps two weeks before the Olympics began. I was in the Carolinas visiting the Chinese
team and the U.S. team getting my information down and having an opportunity to talk in a
more relaxed atmosphere with the athletes. That is the other key. Anytime you are at an
event, when you can find some quiet time that is not too close to the competition, you try to
set up one-on-one interview times where you can just sit with the athletes and talk about
anything. Anything that I can get to know from that athlete that I can share or feel that might
be interesting to share with the public is what I try to look for.
P:How much of this was personal? Seems to me this Olympics made a great emphasis on these
human interest stories. Is that part of your responsibility?
S:Yes it is. There is a greater responsibility on us not just to know the gymnastics and the technical
side of the sport. Our producers really want us to tell stories. With this Olympic games, the
theme was storytelling. We were told that at our seminar for NBC Sports in Atlanta in April.
We had a three day conference and that was reiterated every day. It was about storytelling.
We find that this is really the only true event where a family will sit down and watch
television together. I cannot think of a show or anything else where a complete family will
sit and watch for hours on end. The Olympics is probably the last real family event, so you
are really trying to reach out to all the mothers, daughters, and the fathers for that matter. It
is just about sharing the real side of an athlete. Sure, it is easy to talk about what they do, but
just how did they get to do that? What got them to that level? You find that some of these
athletes stories are absolutely incredible. [We look at] the process, what it took, whether
there were injuries, and just how they persevered. To share those types of stories might
inspire people at home to do a little bit more. They are just overall very interesting. It is
amazing. I am always amazed at the gymnasts, of course, because they are the youngest
ones at the Olympic games. I think the one question that I get asked is they cannot possibly
just be fourteen or fifteen because they have such a world of experience. It is amazing how
they handle themselves at that level, the pressure when thousands of people are watching,
and how they keep themselves together. Knowing them as I do and having been able to
travel with them and talk to them, they are some of the most dedicated and most focused
athletes that I have ever met.
P:Some TV critics said there was too much of this human interest and courageous stories and that
they sort of over did it.
S:They are the facts. How can you deny the facts when the facts speak for themselves? It is
sometimes unbelievable to hear some of the incredible stories that drove athletes to the
Olympic games. I guess that is what makes them very special people. They persevered and
worked through some incredible hard times in life to get to that level. To actually win an
Olympic gold medal it is quite a remarkable accomplishment. I personally, if I ever get a
chance to sit and watch an Olympic games and not talk about the Olympics, would love to
hear some of these stories because I am so sad that I do not really get to hear about all the
other sports. I know the gymnastics side. I do like to hear that side. I like to know that they
are real people with real problems like you and I, and [that] they are able to overcome them.
It is nice when you see that intense focused look of Shannon Miller [U.S. gymnast, gold
medalist], for instance, on the U.S. team. You see a beautiful feature of her and her family,
where she is laughing and playing. She is going to a normal university. She really is just an
average, everyday teenager. This is the only time we really take an in-depth look at their
lives because they are so substantial. There is so much to talk about.
P:How did you get the job with NBC?
S:In 1991, I was at the World Championships in Indianapolis. I had run into and executive producer
at NBC Sports, who at the time was still searching for a gymnastic commentator for the
Barcelona Olympics. I did not know it. At the time, I was working for CBC Sports.
Ironically, the network in Canada that I worked for (CBC) did not have the rights on the
Canadian side to the Barcelona Olympics. It [NBC??] was our competitor. So a few
months later, my boss at CBC Sports called me into his office, and said that NBC Sports had
called and would like to use my expertise at the Barcelona Olympics. The relationship
started in 1991. The first event that I did for NBC Sports was March of 1992. That was sort
of my test event. When they found that worked and they were happy, we moved on to the
National Championships in June, the Olympic trials, and finally the Barcelona Olympics.
The relationship continued after the 1992 Olympics.
P:Talk about how you deal with the problem in the booth of three people sharing time.
S:It is a unique situation because when you have three people, you have to be very careful and very
choosy with your words. My philosophy is if I have something to say I will say it. If I do
not, I will not. I think that one thing that I have learned from the American network, NBC
Sports (this is the second time that I have worked for them) is there are true Olympic
moments. There are Olympic moments that need absolutely no commentary. I have learned
to recognize what those moments are. I will never try to overload the shows by yapping
away and just saying things that you can see for yourself. What I try to offer is real technical
expertise, and to make you as a viewer understand what was good, if that was better, and
why that was deducted. [I try to explain] the little things with the sport of gymnastics that
people may not otherwise understand, and also share the personal stories of the athletes.
What I have learned in all my years of broadcasting (it really came together this summer)
was finding my niche and what I needed to do to support the partnership among the three of
P:Talk about the gold medal that the American gymnasts won.
S:The gold medal was obviously the most exciting night for everybody. In all the Olympics that I
have covered, I cannot remember a night unfolding as dramatically as it did that evening. I
think in years to come, everybody will be chit-chatting about where were you when Kerri
Strug did her second vault. It certainly will go down in history. I think my comments on
that Olympic team [would be] they did everything right and they prepared themselves right.
They were a true team. I know that because I have traveled with them. I have watched these
young ladies perform over the last two years. When I went to their training camp just prior
to their arrival into Atlanta, I really saw this togetherness. [When I was in] Greensboro,
North Carolina, two weeks before the games, I felt that this was a team that was actually
going to win a gold medal. I would not have said that a year ago. I would have felt that the
Russians had the better chance or the upper hand, or the Romanians, being two time world
champions, would have captured the gold again. Of course I have the advantage of a
monitor right in front of me and I can see the closeups of these girls. When they marched
onto the floor, it did not matter that there were 35,000 crazy American fans cheering for their
team. I do not think they heard anything. They were so focused and so determined. When
they hit that first event, I knew it was going to happen because the confidence that each one
of them had was unbelievable. I was even speechless. I did not know what more to say
because you just knew that something very special was going to happen. At the very
conclusion of the competition, when Kerri ended up doing that vault and securing the gold
medal, it [the gold medal] was not actually secured right at that point in time. They did all
that they could do. I was not the least bit surprised that she performed that second vault
when she was hurting as she was. It just proved to me the mental toughness that particular
gymnast had, and the will of what that team was all about. That number one goal was to win
the gold medal and she was not going to let that slip by.
P:In physical terms, was that a foolish thing to do?
S:No, not at all. I do not believe so. Obviously in hindsight we look at the actual injury. It is a third
degree sprain, and she will recover with no problem. Everything is fine. I do not know if it
would have been better for her to break her ankle. I am not comparing injuries. I know that
young lady. I know how determined she is. This was an athlete who competed in the 1992
Olympic games, wanted another chance at it, and actually wanted to compete in the
individual all-around competition, which she did not have a chance to do because of the
injury after the team event. This is someone who is so focused and determined. How else
could you accomplish that goal? If you look at her history in the last four years between the
two games, it is just incredible how many gyms she has been to, the injuries that she has had,
and yet she has persevered. It came together for her that night. That really summed up the
type of character that Kerri Strug has. I was not surprised, nor do I think it was a foolish
decision on any of their part. Actually, it was her decision when it was all said and done. I
guarantee you one thing--if she could not vault, she would not have vaulted. If she
physically could not have run down the runway, hit that beat board, and landed, [she would
not have done so]. I guess it is just amazing. There is a lot to be said about adrenaline and
35,000 people screaming for you. So who knows what is really going on.
P:How much influence did Bela Karolyi [Romanian coach of Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou
Retton] have on her performance and that decision?
S:Bela is a great motivator. Bela is a great discipliner. Bela is one of the greatest coaches. From
my experience, I think that if anyone can get the job done it is obviously Bela Karolyi. But I
think also the relationship had changed somewhat. I had a chance to speak to Bela and Kerri
separately during those four years. He had said to me that Kerri was just a little girl in 1992.
She did not say a whole lot. She needed direction. [He said], I needed to tell her what to do.
I needed to pace her career. 1996 was a totally different story. She was a young woman, a
young adult who knew what she wanted. She wanted to make a second Olympic games, and
she knew how to get the job done. She just needed his guidance and the program. She
wanted him there by her side. Kerri said one thing to me that I will always remember. She
said, I have never felt so prepared for any competition as I was with Bela Karolyi. That was
the one reason why she went back to him in 1996. She did not want to be afraid of not being
ready for any competition. Obviously, the Olympic games was so important to her that
number one, she wanted to make the team, but also number two, she wanted to help that
team accomplish their goal of a gold medal. So I think their relationship is a very strong
relationship. I think when Kerri looked into his eyes when he was standing behind the
restricted zone, and he said you can do it, she believed that and she would not have done it if
she did not believe it herself. I truly believe that because I know the kind of athlete that she
is and what makes her tick.
P:Some people do not like Bela Karolyi because they think a lot of his histrionics are designed to get
him attention, rather than the athletes he trains.
S:Bela Karolyi is one of the greatest people of the sport. When he left for two years the talk was,
where is Bela, where is Bela? Even though there were other coaches like Steve Nono,
Shannon Miller's coach who came to the forefront and was loud and visible, he was not Bela
Karolyi. I think Bela accomplished something that no other coach will ever, ever come close
to accomplishing, and that is making an Olympic champion back in his homeland, Romania,
and bringing that system to the United States and making it work for Mary Lou Retton [U.S.
gymnast, first American woman to win individual medal in gymnastics, 1984 Olympics]. He
is an instrumental reason why they won that team gold medal, and [also] because of the
program he brought back to the United States. It is his hard work, and his dedication. He
knows the system. He knows what works. He understands athletes. Yes, he is tough, but
you do not get anywhere without a little bit of hard work and he realizes that. I think the
people that lash out at Bela are the ones that are so frustrated with not knowing how to get
the job done. They look at someone like him and say man, the limelight is on him again.
First of all, he is a very big person, and he is very visible. He will always be the story
because Nadia [Nadia Comaneci, Romanian gymnast, won three Olympic gold medals,
1976, and received seven perfect scores] is to this day his greatest athlete. She is really the
name of the sport. She put Romania on the map. She was the athlete to score the first
perfect ten. Nobody can ever take that away from her. He accomplished something that was
very special back in Romania. He is a smart man, and he knows basically a very simple way
of accomplishing these goals. He has been able to make it work. I think that is perhaps why
people are so jealous, so they will often say things that are not totally true.
P:Let us get away from Olympic athletes for a minute. There was a big argument after the Olympics
that the gymnasts were too young, there was too much pressure, and the training was too
rigid or too harsh. Now we are talking about young ladies like you were, who are ten years
old and start out in a small town. Everybody wants them to be Olympic gymnasts and of
course very few can make it. Give me some of your insight about how you view that
S:Had the U.S. not won a gold medal, I think we would have been back to square one and everybody
would have been talking about it again. In light of the gold medal, they [Expand] are the
greatest thing since peanut butter. Now people might be rethinking this whole scenario and
just what it is. Why do we always dump on the sport of gymnastics? I think the way I look
at it is they are young people. As I said, they are the youngest at the Olympic games. I think
it is just hard for people to fathom how these young people can have such focus and
determination, and how they are able to physically and mentally balance what they do in
their lives. I hear it everyday in the stands. I hear the questions every single day of my life
when I am working in thisjob. How do they do that? Just how do they make their bodies do
that? It is hard for people to understand that the process starts at age seven or age six. It
takes considerable time to develop an Olympic level gymnast. That is the key word; it just
takes time. I think that the criticism is too harsh because having been there, I know the
demands I put on myself and the expectations. I know how hard I wanted to work to
accomplish things. I knew it was not going to happen without my working that much harder
and doing a little bit more than the average gymnast. I think it [the criticism?] is unfair.
Meeting these people you might think twice. If those critics would actually sit down and talk
to any one of those individuals, they might be pleasantly surprised at just how intelligent
they are, what there make-up is, and what they are all about. They are perfectionists in some
ways. They excel in academics as well as in their athletic career. You know what, there is
nothing wrong with wanting something out of life, setting goals, and going after it. I really
believe it is those people that do not have that kind of focus, determination, or drive in their
own lives that are very quick to judge. They are very quick to judge these athletes by telling
them this is not good for you. Frankly, I would not be sitting here talking to you if I did not
do what I did in my gymnastic career. I feel like my life has been enhanced by the sport.
[Consider] the places that I visited, the friends I have made, the contacts, and the job
opportunities. Of course, you have to continue to work hard. You cannot rest on your
laurels, but you have to continue to work hard. It is a formula that will always be there. You
just know what it takes.
P:The athletes you mention, of course, are world class. [They are] the best in the world. What about
young children age ten, eleven, or twelve, who fail, are pressured by parents, or become
anorexic? We are dealing with a different level here.
S:I do not believe it is the sport that turns athletes into those things. I think that you have to be a
very weak person to succumb to any of those problems like anorexia or the eating disorders.
It depends what you want out of the sport. You have to make that decision as to what level
you want to rise to. Then you have to pay the consequences. You are not going to have a
whole lot of free time. You are going to have to put in some heavy duty hours. There are
certain books that came out prior to the Olympic games, slamming the sport of gymnastics
and figure skating, the two sports that have been Cinderella sports in their given years of
Olympic games. I think those people do not know, first of all, what it takes to reach that
level. It is an incredible amount of time. The parents that are mentioned, the ones that push
their children, many times live their lives through their children, and they want things for
their children more than that child themselves. I think it is very sad. A lot of times it is not
the coaches. The problem starts at home. The question that I probably ask myself more
times today is just how functional is the family? I came from a very functional family. I had
parents who allowed me to do what I wanted to do, and to stop at any given time. So, the
question in the 1990s is, is there disfunction? Where is it coming from and why are we
having these problems? When I mentioned that it is not the sport itself that is causing these
problems, I believe that a sport like gymnastics can only enhance your life by the things that
you learn about yourself and the development of your body through a training process like
gymnastics. I just think that it is the society that we live in. You cannot pass a magazine
rack without picking up articles on models who are eighty pounds. It is there for every
young woman to read and to see. So it is not just being in gymnastics. It is all around us,
and it is just the pressures that we put on ourselves.
P:Although, you did mention earlier to me that the age for Olympic participants would be raised to
S:It will be raised. After the 1996 Olympic games, they decided to raise the minimum age for
Olympics and World Championships to sixteen from fifteen. I think it is a smart move.
What this Olympic games proved was there were a number of athletes who were there for
their second Olympic games, and some for their third Olympic games. I think it is great. It
is nice to see some of the old-timers hang on to the sport, especially when they are still very
competitive. Personally, it is a thrill to see someone who has been to three Olympic games.
The maturity level is so different from some of the young athletes that are just stepping onto
the stage today. I think that there is a lot that the younger athletes can learn obviously, from
the older athletes from the experience of competition, but just the maturity level of the
gymnastics itself. They do not necessarily have to do some of the high tech skills that are
required today, but they can choreograph their routines into other ways that are just as
exciting which might work for them and their body types. I think it is a smart move because
I think it will force a lot of the older athletes to hang in a little bit longer. Especially, because
they want to. They want to stay in the sport that has been good to them and they want to
continue competing. So it holds back the younger athletes for a little more time.
P:Were the Olympics too commercial? We now see the Wheaties box top with the Olympic gold
medal team. Did you see that as a problem?
S:That changed back in 1984, obviously with Mary Lou Retton, when the Olympics were held in the
United States. That was the trend. That is when it all changed. I do not really think it is
going to go away. It is there, and it is there to stay. I would like to think that most athletes
are training today because first and foremost, they want to accomplish their dreams of being
an Olympic medalist. If that is what their goal is--to win a gold medal or maybe just to
compete at the Olympic games. That is a personal choice. It is there. It is highly
commercialized. I do not know. I sort of sit on both sides of the fence because I know what
it takes to train the number of years and to reach that level. You really are sacrificing quite a
bit. Especially for older athletes in other sports who could otherwise be out in the work force
and making some money. You do not always make money when you are an athlete when
you are in that heavy duty training time. Sometimes it takes ten years at least, that is a
minimum amount of time where you are living like a student. There is not a whole lot there
except your training and wanting to go to the Olympic games. All the power to them, I
suppose. If they are a great role model, why not? Why not aspire to be like the Olympic
gymnasts? I think that they are a pretty great group of young ladies. I certainly would want
them going to any school to do motivational speaking or whatever. Why not look at that
Wheaties box and say yes, look what these girls accomplished. So if that is going to inspire
a youngster, than great.
P:But you think they compete not for the endorsements, but for the medals?
S:I really believe that there are key individuals like Shannon Miller who did not win a gold medal in
Barcelona, and wanted to win a gold medal in Atlanta. I really believe that is why she held
on as long as she did. Also, simply because she liked the sport and she did not feel ready to
retire. The hard part for Shannon is she let everyone know in 1992 that she was going to
compete in 1996. At least that was her goal. Unfortunately, it is strange when you think
about it, but everybody was harping on her for four years. You are too old. You are getting
too heavy. You are getting too this. It seems quite strange that we would not want her to
succeed. Why is it that we are trying to push her out of the sport when she is one of the all-
time greatest athletes that ever competed in the sport of gymnastics in this country. Maybe
that is just trying to figure out just how tough she is and obviously with two gold medals, she
is a very tough young lady. She proved a lot of those people wrong.
P:How should Olympic athletes be subsidized?
S:It is different in many countries. I know some countries where athletes are given a salary. I think
that is the best situation to really be able to concentrate fully on your athletics. It depends
[on] the goals of the country. If gold medals are important as they were in Russia years ago
when we knew it as the Soviet Union, they did everything to accommodate their athletes.
They had sports schools. They had the best food, the best training facilities, at least as they
knew it in their country. They were well taken care of. That is why they produced
champions. If a system like that could work here, why not? If we are in the habit of turning
out gold medalists and that is important in this country and that is something that we want,
then you have to be prepared to help pay those costs because it can get tremendously
expensive. The one thing that most any athlete will tell you is, if I could only concentrate on
my career, I could give it everything, and I know that I can accomplish [my goals].
P:How do you feel about the subsidizing of Olympic athletes?
S:I suppose that should be in the hands of the government. I think sports has become such a big
business in this country. As I said, it appears that winning Olympic medals and gold medals
for that is very important in the United States. There have been many athlete who have been
such great role models for kids and have really done wonders with commercialism and other
companies that have given them bigger names, so to speak, with lending their names. There
should be some kind of program in place where you can help athletes train year round like
training facilities. Whether it is one site, two sites, or three sites throughout the country, they
could get the best possible training for their sport. Medical opportunities [Expand] [might
help]. Just anything to help make the training process, as I said for the Olympic games and
the big picture, a little bit easier where they do not have to worry about working from nine to
five, and then practicing in their sport for how many hours they have to give after that.
P:How do you feel about large corporations contributing both to the training and the Olympics?
S:If large corporations can give, I think that they should. Often, we see their names associated with
one athlete and one athlete only. It is just the recognition thing. When you have a big name,
they want to capitalize and have them as their spokesperson and what not. It would be great
because there could be so many more athletes in that position if more money was allocated
to others. I think that you would see a greater number of champions. If the big corporations
can dish out the money, I think that they should. I am just saying the government can
provide training centers like they have in Colorado Springs. Maybe it is not convenient for
everyone to go to the training center in Colorado to train. They may not want to, but if there
could be a number of [training centers], maybe that is the answer.
P:But if we had corporate sponsors, would not they tend to give money to Shannon Miller and not
develop the younger gymnasts?
S:I think the development of your feeder programs into the national stream programs is extremely
important. You need the money at the lower levels. That is where it all starts. What could
potentially happen, and it has not in this point in time, is there is a great number of athletes
coming up behind this Olympic team. At some point in time, if the money is not there in the
developmental stages of the sport, then you are going to find a drought. At some point in
time, there will be an Olympic games where nothing is going to happen. That would be very
sad because the expertise is there. Obviously the history is there, and the ability to win
medals at that level of the sport. The opportunity is there to do that. These athletes have
proven that, and they have proven with a lot of hard work and proper funding, they [have
the] ability to do what they need to do to get the job done. That means not only training in
this country, but having the chance to train outside the country to compare yourself with the
rest of the world. There needs to be something in place. The continued support needs to be
P:From your perspective, did the Atlanta committee do a good job with the Olympics?
S:That is a difficult question because I was wrapped up pretty much in my own world with NBC
Sports and the job that I needed to focus on. There are a number of things that the Atlanta
committee tried to accomplish. I know one department which would interest me is research.
I have been to a number of Olympic games where I have tapped into their system, and there
was absolutely no information on the athletes. I think one thing that this Atlanta Olympic
committee was able to do was give the rest of the world a little bit more information on
athletes. Of course that is important when you are talking about storytelling, and trying to
provide as much information to the world about these athletes. One thing that we had at
NBC Sports was our own research staff. These people have actually traveled the last couple
of years to world events, and have had an opportunity to talk one-on-one with teams and
individuals to help gather important information for commentators who were off doing their
jobs at different times. With the Atlanta Olympic Committee, that is one area that I do know
that they provided much more than has ever been provided at an Olympic games.
P:How did the bombing affect you or the Olympics?
S:It was sad. I remember going to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, being a little bit afraid of what might
happen there. Of course, students would riot in Seoul. The crazy thing was they would call
up the media, and say, meet us at such and such place at this time; we are going to do
something. The Olympics is not a stage for political actions. It is a chance for the world to
come together, to live and breathe, and just take a peek at what athletes have to give. It is an
amazing feeling. I sure hope that everybody gets a chance at some point in their life to
experience an Olympics, whether as an athlete, a spectator, or whatever capacity. You really
forget about what is outside. I think what happened with the bombing in Atlanta is that it
brought us back to reality. It brought us back to things that happen outside of this country.
This happens on a daily basis in some countries throughout the world. It was just sad that it
disrupted the flow of things. Of course, it was the first day. We move on. I think everybody
waited with batted breath to find out whether or not things were going to continue. It put a
damper on things for a little while. It made you stop to really think about what we were
doing and what is really important in life. Are the Olympics that important that we are
taking the chance of sacrificing some lives here? I would say for a short while, it certainly
was a shock. I was very close physically to where the bombing occurred. In fact, I was in
the park hours before, and heard the sirens that night not knowing what was going on. I did
not find out until the early part of the morning.
P:Do you have any more comments you want to make about the gymnasts Shannon Miller,
Dominique Dawes, or any of the athletes in terms of their individual performances?
S:We talked about expectations. When I arrived in Atlanta, I had really done all my homework. I
knew everything about these athletes, all their great athletic accomplishments, and things
about their personal lives. You really never know what will unfold when the games actually
start. For me, it was a tremendous experience to watch these young ladies grow up from
1992 to 1996. I have a great deal of respect for each and everyone of them because it is a
very difficult thing to compete in an arena in front of 35,000 screaming fans and to be at
your absolute best. I have a great deal of respect for them because they have persevered and
been able to hang on in a very difficult sport. They have been the target of criticisms like
you are too old, and how can you possible do this anymore. They really took charge. I think
that they really proved to everybody that they had a dream, they knew that they could
accomplish that dream, and they did it. I have learned a lot from them as people, and they
have inspired me. When I sat back in the broadcasting booth with my headsets on and
watched their performances unfold, as much as it was their Olympic moment, I felt like it
was mine as well. I felt very honored to be able to talk about them because they were such
great athletes. Of course, it was history. What they did that evening of the final team
competition was history. It was a moment I will not forget. They are a very special group of
young ladies. It has been quite an experience to get that close to them. I feel, as I said, very
honored to know them.
P:I guess that is what makes the Olympics so exciting, the thrill of victory from someone that is not
expected to do well, or when someone is expected to do well. It is sort of ecstatic or tragic.
You get that kind of feeling.
S:I have something to say about that. With the American team, the media hype was on Dominique
Moceanu [U.S. gymnast; member of 1996 gold medal team], the fourteen year old from Bela
Karolyi. Unfortunately, Dominique had some stress fractures in her leg. A lot of people will
again jump on the fact that she is too young and that she could not handle the pressure. That
is not necessarily true. Yes, she is very young, but she is a very tough young lady. She
certainly knows how to compete at that level. I think what stood in her way was the fact that
she had those injuries. It was so close to the Olympic games that she really did not have the
time to prepare as she would have if she were perfectly healthy. As I said, you walk into the
arena, and if you are not feeling a 100 percent confident about your performance or your
health, then something is going to give. She proved that she is human, and she does make
mistakes. When you are not prepared as you would like to be, mentally and physically, then
it is not going to go necessarily the way you want it to, as much as you want it. I think these
games turned around. Shannon Miller ended up winning a gold medal on the balance beam
on the final day of competition when she did not have the best all-around competition. You
thought the team was so great and that they won their gold medal and then they did not have
anything more to give. Yet she was able to come back four days later and cap off her career
with a gold medal for herself. That was very special to watch unfold.
Kerri Strug is the least unlikely athlete for this media thing. Of all people, she is the shyest and the
quietest on the team. She does not like the limelight. She does not even like to talk to you as
a reporter. She would just rather go about her business and do her thing. She is the first
person you see put her bag down, warm up, do her routine, and rush over to her bag. It is
like, I have got to go; I have got some place to go. It was really wonderful to watch Kerri
shine. This was her moment. How ironic when all the pressure was put on Moceanu
[Dominique] and Shannon Miller. Kerri Strug was totally unexpected; it was her moment.
With everything that happened to her in 1992, when she was overshadowed by every other
teammate on that team and she did not make the individual all-around competition, for her to
shine in this way was something else. Those are just a couple things that I will remember--
the expectations and how things can change in a heartbeat.
P:Then we are talking about hundredths of a point and hundredths of a second literally, so it can be
so devastating to come that close.
S:There are no second chances in this sport. There are absolutely no second chances. You go out
there, and it is a one shot deal. It does not matter how many years you have put in, how
many hours, or how many routines you have trained. That is your only time. You have to
make it work. You have to be so well prepared mentally and physically for it to all come
together at that time. If it does not, it is the reality of the sport. There are not too many
second chances for some of these young ladies.
P:Let me ask another question away from Olympics. Since this is the twenty-fifth anniversary of
women's sports at the University of Florida.
S:I have not been here that long.
P:[Laughter]. That is good. [Laughter]
S:I want to make that point. It is not my twenty-fifth anniversary; it is only my tenth. That is long
P:How were you treated by the athletic association when you were here because women's athletics
were really just about ten years old.
S:My experience at the University of Florida, and I mean this sincerely, was so positive that
sometimes I look back, and I cannot believe that it really was the way that it was or how it
unfolded. Maybe I was ready for university life. I was ready to compete as an NCAA
athlete. I may have had a little bit more to give because of my gymnastic career, having
spent eleven years on the scene. They were truly four of the greatest years. I felt a new life
as an athlete in the sport of gymnastics. Just when I thought I was too old, I was a little burnt
out, and I did not have much more to give, I did. I was able to dig down a little bit more to
enjoy the whole university experience, to really let go of what I once was, an international
gymnast, and to really thoroughly enjoy university life. I did not know that I had this streak
inside me to be such a team player. When you are put in the position, it comes by you
naturally. You are around the right people and supportive staff, from the coaching staff, the
administrative staff, to the medical staff. I felt like I was the most important person to them.
For me, I treated this as a job. I wanted to deliver. I was recruited for a reason, and I
wanted to produce. This experience was an incredible one. In fact, Jim Weaver asked me [a
question] after I graduated (after my fourth year). He said, Elf, did the University of Florida
deliver? I remember all the things he told me on the telephone during the recruiting process.
Of course, they are just words. It is like yea, yea, yea, great, and wonderful, but will that
actually happen? I told him, yes, you delivered, Florida delivered, and so much more. So
the experience was so positive. When I finally left the University of Florida after my fifth
year and went home for three years, it was sad in a sense because it was such a fulfilling
experience. I felt good having been the first one in my family to accomplish a university
degree, combining that with athletics, and being able to compete in my twenties in a sport
that has been my passion. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It is
right up there with the Olympic experiences and what I do today as a broadcaster.
P:So you did not feel as a female athlete in any way in an inferior position?
S:No, not at all. I never felt that way. I never allowed myself to feel that way. If it was out there, I
did not let it in. I suppose my father taught me one thing, and that is it does not matter if you
are male or female, whatever you do you just work hard at any given job. At that point in
time when I was at Florida, I was a student, I was an athlete, and I was here to do a job. I
was here to do it [to] the best of my abilities. I had every opportunity in the world here and
every resource to help me be all that I could be. Think about how many universities would
go out of their way to help you maintain a status, at that point in time, in my country as an
international athlete. Most universities would say, it is all or nothing. You are either a Gator
through and through or not. I think they recognized that was something that was still very
important in my life. They were going to do everything in their power to help me see that
through to get some closure to my international career, and yet maintain my level here at the
university level. There was every opportunity for me in every aspect of being a student
P:How do you think Title IX has changed women's athletics, particularly in the last few years?
S:In the last few years, [I have] obviously [been] trying to keep up with what is going on down here
and the increase in the sport. I think it is a positive message. I really do. I do enough
speaking at home, in Canada, where I am asked to speak to many young women to try to
encourage them. Of course, I have to talk about what I know, and what I know is sports and
participating in something that women may otherwise not [know about]. It is okay to sweat.
It is okay to look a little grungy, and to get out there and be physical. I think it is an
important message for women in particular. Whether it is a men's sport or not, you just do
what you want to do and go after it. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity
that is given. Obviously, something like this is making it more feasible for women to
participate and to be part of a bigger picture.
P:What about the issue of the fact that football and basketball are the revenue sports? Women's
softball and that sort of thing do not generate much money. Should the women's coaches be
paid the same as the men's coaches? How is that equity developed?
S:I think we have to be realistic in where the money is coming from. During my time at the
University of Florida, I think gymnastics was the third largest revenue making sport on
campus. That is amazing when you think about it. I think I have learned enough in the
American system to understand that football is first and foremost. That is just the way that it
is. There is tradition, and that is a big part of university life. That is where your money is
being generated. Obviously if football coaches are being paid more, [it is because] there is
more sponsorship there, and there is a professional outlet for football players after their years
of college football and basketball. To compare it to my sport, gymnastics, well you know
there really is not a professional outlet. There is not a lot of money to be made [in] life after
[my?] sport. There is not that avenue. I think we have to be realistic in where the money is
coming from and the numbers. We would draw about 6,000 people on average to our home
gymnastic meets during my time here. I am sure that the numbers are equally as good today.
That does not compare to 85,000. I am not quite sure where I stand on that exactly. Just
coming off of the Olympic games and understanding a little bit about ratings, I know that
during the Olympic time gymnastics is a big deal. It is the Cinderella sport at the Olympic
games. I am very proud that I am able to work on a sport, and that is my sport. We are
getting tons of air time and the ratings are right up there, but I also understand that after the
Olympic games, it is back to professional sports because that is what the masses want. They
want to watch the NFL [National Football League], NBA [National Basketball Association],
and hockey in my country. That is what the masses really dictate.
P:How do you see college gymnastics as changing since you left?
S:I think Olympic level competition has been a major influence on college gymnasts. It changed
even when I got to [the] University. I do not remember it being quite as good when I looked
into it a couple of years before I became a NCAA gymnast. I used to think that, well the
level is really somewhat lower than international. Sure, that may be the case but it is a little
different in that you are not expected to compete all-around. Maybe there are athletes that
just do one or two events, and they excel. They are specialists on their events. I think that
the international level has really influenced your getting a greater number of athletes who
have been at that level. Therefore you are recruiting athletes who have much more
experience at an international level. They are not just coming from a very strong high school
program. They are also recruiting outside the country too. International athletes that are
coming from teams where they have represented their own country. So you are getting top
quality athletes and athletes who have had experience around the world in competing in
many countries, like I did before I came to the University of Florida.
P:So you think the competition is a higher level?
S:Yes. The competition is a lot higher level. Obviously, you know it is all relative to time. What
we did back in our time, 1982-1986 season, was very difficult gymnastics. I think today, yes
you have very difficult gymnastics, but the trends have followed. The trends that we see
internationally have spilled into the collegiate scene as well. There are still rule changes that
are not exactly the same as international competition. The NCAA athletes do not follow
quite as strict rules as the international athletes do. Therefore, it makes it somewhat easier
on certain events when you are scoring. They are not expected to do as much, let us say, on
the vaulting exercise, for instance. They do not want certain trends to carry over in NCAA
competition, as I understand it. Therefore, there are not quite the same risks that
international athletes might take because of a certain trend. They will not allow that in
collegiate competition, but overall the level is very difficult. Quite frankly, you could take
any NCAA athlete who is at the top of her pack, place her in an international event, and she
will fare quite well.
P:Do you think somebody like Dominique Dawes or Shannon Miller would ever be on a college
S:First of all, those athletes from the 1996 Olympic team will never compete collegiately because
the have accepted money for endorsements and whatever. That is the new trend in
gymnastics. That is the professional outlet for these athletes now. I think those days are
gone. I really do. I do not think you will see too many Olympic level athletes in the sport of
gymnastics ever compete for a college team. You have to think about it. Having just come
off that incredible win in Atlanta, it might be a little difficult to bring yourself down to a
college level. I do not mean that in a negative way. I think personally that experience was
wonderful, but then again I did not win an Olympic gold medal. With the pressures of your
time and expectations, you may not want to go through all that. I think most of these athletes
will attend college, but they will never do gymnastics for any of the teams.
P:Do you still do gymnastics?
S:Let us see. What do we consider gymnastics these days? I believe in working out. I do not
believe that it has to be gymnastics, so to speak, but I do believe in visiting the gym
regularly, keeping up with cardiovascular types of exercises, and stretching. Many of the
things that I learned in gymnastics, I apply to my everyday life. That is because in my line
of work and the traveling that is involved, you are always trying to find your outlets. I do
some of my best thinking on the Stairmaster, whether I am thinking about the following days
on camera or what we can talk about. I think it is important to look the part and to be able to
understand what the athletes are going through. Certainly, I have been there, but that was a
long time ago. In my mind, it is important to be physically and mentally fit. It is just my
lifestyle. That is what I know and what I have known since I was seven.
P:So when you are in a gym you have no desire to go do a vault?
S:I do not have a desire to vault. This line of work is a lot easier on the body these days, but it is not
a certain apparatus that will attract me anymore. It is just maybe one or two skills. I will
jump up on the balance beam and certainly throw a few things. The trampoline is a lot of
fun, but of course that is not an Olympic event. Yes, occasionally I will have a weak
moment, and I will run out there and do something. I am fairly healthy and I would like to
stay that way.
P:You can do floor exercises.
S:Yes, actually one of my fondest memories is when I was in Athens. After the artistic gymnastics,
we were covering rhythmic, and my producer, John Tesh, and myself grabbed some
rhythmic equipment. We started playing around out on the floor, tossing the hoops and the
ribbons, and being quite silly actually, doing our version of Olympic gymnastics. We
needed a little bit of a release. The pressures had been building so much that we just wanted
to have some fun.
P:How do you see rhythmic gymnastics as compared to the gymnastics you trained to do?
S:Rhythmic will never have the same appeal as artistic gymnastics. That is because the audience in
artistic gymnastics gets a chance to go ooh, ah, wow. Rhythmic does not quite have that
same flavor because you do not see the dare devil skills. Rhythmic is more of an art form. It
is more like going to a ballet. It is a very calming sport to watch. When I finished covering
the artistic gymnastics in Atlanta, I went on to cover four days of rhythmic. I sort of sat back
in my chair and relaxed. I was not biting my nails. You really just enjoy the performance
and the creativity because it is all set to music. They are one minute, thirty second
performances, and they are done with different pieces of apparatus. The colors are
important. There is a lot of glitz and glamour in that sport. I think presentation is a key part
of rhythmic gymnastics. So it is more of a performance. The athlete that performed and
really stole the hearts of the audience was the athlete that won the gold medal.
P:What was your reaction to the delayed coverage of gymnastics?
S:I knew about it. That was something that we were all informed about. In my mind we were able
to bring more gymnastics to the audience because of the delay. I am not bothered by it
because what we did in Atlanta was call it live to tape. We called it as it happened. So the
fact that it was merely delayed did not alter what we did. We sat down, we came prepared,
and what you saw is what we delivered on the spot. That did not bother me in the least bit
because you were able to see a maximum number of hours or minutes of gymnastics. We
were able to bring as much as we could possibly present.
P:Although in some cases, some viewers did not know whether it was live or taped.
S:I do not think that really makes a difference. I do not know. When I am watching a live or taped
event, the fact that I am seeing it, especially an Olympic games, [does not matter]. It is
happening every single day and if you can say, at 8:00 we are going to sit down [and watch
the Olympics] and not listen to the radio to find out what happened, it should not matter. It is
the performance. If you can just sit back and enjoy, and not worry about it being live, then it
should not really take away from what they are doing.
P:What does the future hold for you Elfi?
S:Oh, good question. A lot of the same I hope. What I realized is that it took me a while to figure
this one out. I think after my experience in Atlanta, I realized that the Olympic games is
really what I live for as a broadcaster. I love the amateur side of sports. I hope to cover
many more Olympics from here on in. The experience was so overwhelming that I
recognized that I would do it again in a heartbeat. The amount of work that is involved is
incredible, but it is the experience that you have while you are at an event like this that
makes it all worth while. It is sort of like your own gymnastic performance when it is all
said and done. You forget about the number of hours and some of the aches and pains that
go along with getting there. I love amateur sports. I would like to get myself back into other
sports as well. The last eighteen months have been strictly focused on gymnastics. That is
okay because when it is your niche, you know the amount of work that is required, you see
the big picture (the Olympics), and what you are going to have to put into it, you almost need
to focus in on one thing and one thing only. The Olympics is the greatest sporting event. I
absolutely love going to the events and covering them as they happen. Hopefully more
amateur sports, more coverage of the Olympic games, and hopefully working on some
winter Olympics. I do a lot of speaking in between trying to motivate young kids and
continue a career in broadcasting.
P:Is there enough work between Olympics for you?
S:Yes. It depends what you want. It is the type of business where you can be busy 365 days of the
year or you can do contract work. What I enjoy doing is covering the amateur side.
Obviously with gymnastics, there are only a select number of events that a network like
NBC will want to cover. They could pick up many more events, but in their agenda,
professional sports is still a very large part of their coverage. If I could continue with
gymnastic events and then tag on other sports, some winter sports for instance, then that
would pretty much cover a full year of television events. In between that time, I keep myself
busy with speaking engagements, companies, schools, and what not. It is really what you
want to make of it, and how much time do you want to put into each one of those areas?
That is a personal decision.
P:So you are going back to work for CBC now?
S:No, not at the moment. My goal is to go back and work with NBC Sports and to continue on. The
next Olympics are obviously are Sydney [Australia in the year 2000] 2000. NBC Sports has
the rights to every Olympic games from 2000 on right through to 2008. So as an American
network, they are the ones to be with, and I have already established that relationship and
have worked two Olympic games with them. It is something that I like to take in cycles. I
would look towards the next four years, stop there, and then re-evaluate once again. Where
am I? What do I want to do? There are so many things in this business that you can get into.
You can get into producing and directing. The types of shows that you can create are
endless. Whether they are in the form of a gymnastic show or something educational in
nature is something that I could see myself getting into. For the time being, I love the
Olympics. I love working towards the Olympics. This is my training time. It has got to start
tomorrow again. There is enough that you can talk about in off years really to make it work.
When 1998 rolls around, you are already building up again to 2000 because it takes that
much time to build the characters.
P:Interested at all in coaching?
S:I had coached early on when I went home for those three years after I coached at the University of
Florida. I enjoyed that experience. I think what I enjoyed is working with a mature level of
athlete, an athlete that has already put her time in the sport and really knows what to do.
You were sort of there for guidance and just the little tidbits that you could offer, creating
together a floor routine or a balance beam routine. The coaching is always something that I
can go back to doing. My coaches, for instance, were there every single day. They put in
five days a week, thirty hours a week. There needs to be consistency. You need to depend
on a coach. You need to establish a relationship. To just be there for two weeks and then to
leave it is not really the best situation. So until I decide that I will be planted in one city and
this is where I am staying for x number of years, I would not consider coaching as a serious
full time profession.
P:Where are you living now?
S:At the moment, I live in Toronto. I live just outside in a city called Oakville, Ontario.
P:And you commute to New York when you need to?
S:Basically my job has not really changed too drastically working with an American network. All it
means is simply getting on an airplane, and going to wherever the event takes you. Whether
the event is live or if it is an event that I have to go back and revoice would take me to either
New York or California. [End of tape]