The Marcus JCC recently boosted its gymnastics program with the hiring of Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist, Liliya Podkopayeva, as the coach for the MJCCA’s Perimeter Gymnastics competitive teams.
As a teen, she became the all-around winner at both the 1994 Goodwill Games and the 1995 World Championships. A year later, she won the Atlanta Olympic all-around final and became gold medal floor exercise champion. She also won a silver medal on the balance beam.
Originally from Donetsk, she has twice appeared on Ukraine’s “Dancing with the Stars,” winning the competition in 2007. She was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame a year later.
When she was in Atlanta for the Olympics, Podkopayeva found the U.S. a very different place than the Ukraine. “It was like a different planet, especially with all the technology available here. … Now I like Atlanta; it reminds me of Kiev with the hills, trees and different seasons,” she said.
“In addition to my experience as a gymnast, I have coached many different places – from gymnastics camps to a club in Florida. I love working with kids, no matter what level, and help them reach their potential,” said the mother of two. “There is no set age to begin classes. I think it’s a wonderful sport to begin whenever a child wants to learn.”
MJCCA Gymnastics Director Stacey Harris said the center was thrilled to have the new coach on staff. “Liliya was an exceptional gymnast – her routines were artistically beautiful and powerful. She brings years of both competing in gymnastics and coaching experience to our program. We are pleased to welcome a coach with her level of experience and expertise to our MJCCA family.”
Elaborating on the center’s gymnastics program is MJCCA Athletics Director Zak Elfenbein. “We coach gymnasts ranging from 2-year-olds in our Tumbling Twos class to 18-year-old competitive gymnasts on our Perimeter Gymnastics team, to MJCCA adult members in our adult gymnastics sessions,” he said.
“While our program has more female than male participants, the MJCCA places an emphasis on making gymnastics accessible to all genders, ages and experience levels. Annually, we have 500-plus participants in our gymnastics program, both in the recreational and competitive tracks.”
Contributing factors such as television, the popularity of the Olympics, and Russian performers have all elevated gymnastics in the U.S.
For a little historical context, gymnastics evolved from the Greek interpretation “train naked,” preparing men for warfare while competing without clothing. Many today tout gymnastics for building balance, agility, self-discipline and self confidence.
Perimeter Gymnastics is a leader in competitive gymnastics with 7,000 square feet of dedicated space and top-of-the-line Olympic equipment in the Besser Gymnastics Pavilion, where participants train in all four elements – vault, bars, beam, and floor exercise. Elfenbein attributes the program’s success to the tremendous coaching staff developed by Harris, a former gymnast herself.
In addition to the Perimeter Gymnastics competitive teams, the MJCCA provides gymnastics classes for all ages, including crawlers and tots, youth (elementary through high school) and early childhood recreational classes; adult gymnastics; camps; birthday parties; and private lessons.