When the gymnastics competition begins Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Jaret Beyer will be glued to the television.
All through next week, during each phase of competition at the Summer Olympics, whether it’s the men or women, he will be recording every competitor, every move.
And for days and weeks and months to come, the State College Area High School junior will be watching every twist and turn, every handstand and vault, picking out details big and small and try to duplicate them.
He won’t be alone. Thousands of other gymnasts with big dreams will be doing the same, like area residents Jared Holmes, Nathaniel Warren and Jessie Bastardi.
All four train at Centre Elite Gymnastics, dedicating better than 20 hours a week to their training, and all four made the Junior Olympic National Championships in the spring.
For them, watching gymnastics at the Olympics is a different experience than for a typical TV viewer. Athletes such as Simone Biles and Sam Mikulak are their heroes.
“You watch them and think, wow, this could be me some day,” Holmes said. “You take the skills they’re doing and wonder, ‘I wonder if I could do that?’ ”
Bastardi will be watching with friends, but she doesn’t always like watching with non-gymnasts.
“I’ll be yelling at someone on bars,” Bastardi said. “’That’s so ugly! Point your toes!’ People are like, ‘What are you talking about? They just flew five feet over the bars.’ I’m like, ‘You don’t understand — this is the Olympics. They should be pointing their toes.’ ”
The Olympics are the pinnacle for gymnastics. Unlike other sports like basketball or tennis, gymnastics gets showcased on primetime national television, and this is its moment.
Bastardi remembers being inspired by Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson at the 2008 games in Beijing. Beyer, Holmes and Warren have fuzzy memories of that year, but distinct recollections of the 2012 London Games. Beyer was working on his conditioning while cheering for the U.S. women on their way to the team gold.
“That was like the greatest moment of the whole year,” Beyer said, “watching them win.”
While they have the inside knowledge of how to do what all those competitors will be performing, they also have a deep appreciation of what it took to get there.
“People don’t understand how political and difficult it is to make it to the Olympics in gymnastics,” Bastardi said. “When you watch them, you know they started on that path when they were super young.”
They also feel the pain.
Three of them were battling injuries. Beyer was recovering from shoulder surgery and just ditched a sling a week ago. Holmes had a cyst on his wrist and was sporting a brace on his right arm. Bastardi was recovering from a concussion after hitting her head from a flip on the uneven bars.
“It’s hard right now on our bodies,” Bastardi said. “I feel like I’m 80 years old.”
They were hitting their peak for the year back in May. Beyer was a regional champion on the floor exercise, high bar and vault, and was seventh in the high bar and 15th in the vault at the national meet in Battle Creek, Mich.
Holmes, a sophomore at Montoursville Area High School, won the state title in the horizontal bar and was second on the rings and parallel bars as well as in the all-around. He was third in regionals in the all-around after winning on the parallel bars, and took 12th in the parallel bars in nationals.
Warren, a sophomore at Penns Valley, was fourth in the all-around at the state meet and took second in the parallel bars at regionals. Holmes and Warren are Level 9 gymnasts, while Bastardi and Beyer are at Level 10.
Bastardi, a senior at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy, won the state title in the uneven bars, taking second in that event at regionals and fourth on the balance beam. She was eighth in the bars at the national meet, held for girls in Fort Worth, Texas. She has athletic roots. Her mother, Jess, was a Penn State gymnast and coach, and her brother, Garrett, is trying to crack the pro tours in golf. She also has her future set, with a full scholarship waiting at West Virginia. Going to a college town similar to State College was appealing, and head coach Travis Doak used to coach at Penn State.
While they have accomplished so much, they also have done so with relative anonymity. Since it is not a sport at their high schools, they don’t get the attention bestowed on sports such as football and basketball.
“You definitely don’t get as much recognition,” Bastardi said.
“Gymnastics has always been perceived to people around me as a girls’ sport,” Holmes said. “I’ve always gotten stuff for that. I don’t care. It’s what I love.”
Holmes loves it so much, he rides 90 minutes each way from Montoursville to train five days a week in the summer, six days a week during the school year. They work out 5 1/2 hours a day. He does homework in the car on the way to practice, then has to wait until he gets home around 10:30 p.m. to finish because it’s too dark in the car on the drive back.
Warren said he gets a little attention for it at Penns Valley.
“A lot of people around me think it’s cool I do that still,” he said.
Like Bastardi, the others have hopes of competing in college and beyond. However, the boys have a much larger window for competition. Male gymnasts can compete well into their 20s, some even into their 30s. Most females are done around the end of college.
“It’s motivating but it’s almost disheartening,” Bastardi said. “I’m almost out of time and I’m only 17.”
Regardless of the difficulty, they are all inspired and determined.
What happens in the coming days in Rio will push them even more.
“I’ll be staring at the TV,” Beyer said. “… It’s the ultimate goal, the make the national team or go to the Olympics.”