Jordyn Wieber, who became the first female Olympic champion to coach an athlete at the national championships, is hoping that examples like Margzetta Frazier—whom she's coaching—provide a turning point in gymnastics.
It’s been six years since Jordyn Wieber last competed at the USA Gymnastics national championships. She earned her second national title in 2012 en route to helping the Americans to an Olympic title in London.
This time her role was different.
Rather than preparing for the pressure of competition, Wieber is in Boston as a coach. She is the first female Olympic champion to coach an athlete at the national championships.
“I competed at this competition seven or eight times and it’s been six years since then,” Wieber said Friday before the competition. “I walked in and was like ‘wait, I gotta warm-up, I’ve gotta get going.’ It’s very weird to be on the other side, but it’s actually really interesting. I get to see what it was like for my coaches and have an athlete here and just support her. It’s been really fun this week.”
That athlete is incoming UCLA freshman Margzetta Frazier. Frazier spent much of her career at Parkettes in Allentown, Pa. She decided in June, after fracturing her sternum on her double pike beam dismount, that she was done with elite gymnastics. That is, until she got a call from newly-named nationals team coordinator Tom Forrester asking her to compete at the national championships. Frazier was already out in California training with the Bruins.
“It’s so exciting and if you’d asked me if I’d be here with UCLA two and a half months ago, I’d laugh in your face,” Frazier said following the meet. “I was supposed to be retired. I came out of retirement to come [compete] here, hence my two weeks of training. It’s been a pretty crazy and exciting ride.”
It’s rare on the women’s side for a gymnast to compete representing her college and hasn’t happened since 2010. Like Frazier, Vanessa Zamarripa competed collegiately for UCLA. Zamarripa finished eighth in the all-around and second on vault to earn a place on the national team.
Wieber turned pro before the 2012 Olympics, a decision that ultimately cost her her own collegiate eligibility. She spent three years as a team manager at UCLA before becoming a volunteer assistant coach before the 2017 gymnastics season.
Being in the more individual elite atmosphere is a significant difference from the more team-oriented feel of college gymnastics. Still, the experience is providing Wieber with new insight.
“I love seeing how the girls interact and how they support each other and cheer for each other on through this whole process,” she said. “It’s definitely interesting for me to see the changes that have been made in USA Gymnastics and how that’s all going from an insider’s perspective.”
Wieber and UCLA assistant Chris Waller headed to Boston to coach Frazier after just a week and half working with her in Los Angeles.
“In terms of her training style, we didn’t even know the order of her routines and we have to figure all that out,” Wieber said. “Having Marz here with us it’s been more figuring out who she is as a person and how she trains as an athlete versus all the technical corrections. That’s not what she needs at this point. She just needs to know that she’s supported and feel confident going out there to compete.
“She has told us multiple times this week how much she loves gymnastics. You don’t hear that from athletes very often, outwardly saying they love gymnastics. That’s the reason she’s here and I’m so excited for her because she gets to enjoy that today and just have some fun.”
Among the challenges for Wieber in Boston was understanding the new scoring system, which has changed multiple times since she was a competing athlete. She wouldn’t rule out coaching in the elite world, but says her passion is in the collegiate gymnastics world.
“I love coaching girls that age and seeing the transformation they go through from freshman year to senior year and just being a mentor and a leader for them. That’s where I feel like I can have the most impact,” Wieber said. “They’re all so unique and different and special and helping them figure out their potential and how to motivate them in their individual ways is really cool.
But she’s hoping that Frazier and incoming Florida freshman Trinity Thomas competing in elite gymnastics while in college will be a turning point in the sport. Athletes have often been put in a position of having to choose between going pro or remaining NCAA-eligible.
“It’s starting to bridge that gap. Marz and also Trinity being here, they’re proving that you can do it all if you want to,” she said. “You don’t have to choose one or the other. I really hope the girls don’t feel like they have to make that tough decision between 'if I go to college, I can’t compete in elite.' They’re proving that you actually can. If you love gymnastics and you love being here and you want to compete for the USA, you can do that.”
“In my opinion, I feel like collegiate gymnastics and USA Gymnastics should almost be as one,” Frazier said. “We should all be a team and we should be uplifting each other.”
Frazier sits in 13th after the first day of competition with a 52.350 all-around total. After some initial disappointment, she put it into perspective.
“I was getting a little down on myself because things weren’t going as I expected. But then a gear changed in my head and I [realized] I only had two weeks of practice,” Frazier said. “So I’m pretty proud of myself for what I did [on Friday]. Gymnastics is about consistency and doing the same things every single day. That was probably the second full floor routine since my last competition, I think that was in March. That was probably my third bars routine, 10th beam routine and sixth vault. I feel like I really used my mental capacity to do what I did today. Honestly, it just came down to me believing in myself and trusting in my training.”
Balancing elite and college gymnastics wasn’t a common occurrence when Wieber was competing.
“There’s so many cultural changes happening in this sport right now, especially after the last couple of years,” Wieber said. “This sport is heading in a better direction, I’d like to think, especially culturally with the coaches and the athletes. Everyone is trying to move in a more positive, inclusive direction that this is just one example.”