What It Means To Go Pro In Gymnastics

Last year, gymnastics has made quite a big name in the Rio Olympics. USA team’s Final Five, carried mostly by AP Athlete of the Year 2016 and World Champion Simone Biles, has turned the spotlight into the sport. But now that the Olympics is done and the new four-year cycle is just beginning, have you ever wondered what gymnastics elites do after the Games?

Elite gymnasts have two options once their peak years have passed: go pro, or go collegiate. Now what does it mean to go pro in gymnastics?

Pro Gymnasts

Going Pro Means What Exactly?

For top football and basketball players, going pro means a chance at signing a profitable contract and competing at the highest level of the sport. Many of these athletes are not finished products but are drafted based only on raw ability that can be molded by professional coaches as they mature.

That is not the case for elite gymnasts. Before we explain the difference of gymnastics with other sports when it comes to going pro, let us define first why they are called elites as this is one of the elements of choosing to go professional.

These athletes are called elites for a reason. They are the best gymnasts in the world, competing for rankings and medals for national and international events. This title is acquired once a gymnast has surpassed level 10 and met the elite requirements. In the United States, elite gymnasts are members of USA Gymnastics and follow the FIG’s Code of Points. However, an elite gymnast doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a member of the national team as it’s a different status.

The qualifications for getting the elite status changes all the time. In 2011, the age qualification for the women’s senior elite program was 16 years while for the men’s senior program was open to gymnasts at least 16 years old as well. For female junior elite, gymnasts had to be ages 11 to 15 and men junior elite could be 12 to 18 years old.

Aside from the age requirements, there are also score qualifications. Gymnasts can qualify through a number of national competitions with a minimum score. As an example, a gymnast could receive elite status with a score of 35.00 at regional qualifiers, national qualifiers or team training camp, or a 53.00 at the previous year’s championships.

Once a gymnast has acquired this status and makes name all over the country, or internationally representing her country in huge competitions like Olympics, a lot of companies would then love to make her a sponsor of their product or feature in their magazines. This is where a gymnast can choose to be a professional, which means that she would start getting paid for her athletic abilities or she would sign up for sponsorships.

Wieber and Sloan

The Pros And Cons

Why is going professional bad, you might ask? One a gymnast has decided to go pro, she is waving all her rights into ever joining a collegiate team or competing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. However, it doesn’t mean a gymnast who’s turned professional means that she can’t represent her country in huge competitions because she still can. There’s money to be made if a gymnast ends up standing atop the podium at the Olympics and her most coveted medal hanging on her neck, the real struggle is figuring out whether it’s worth sacrificing a college scholarship.

Three famous gymnasts has decided to go pro before the Rio Olympics last year, and those are Simone Biles who signed with Octagon with teammate Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez who signed with Shade Global. For elite gymnasts, this is a tough choice, especially for the 2011 world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber.

A few years after signing to go pro, Wieber realized she wanted to compete in NCAA. In her defense, Wieber understood what she was giving up when she opted to turn professional at 17, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she believed it was fair.

"It's kind of a bummer," said Wieber, now a 21-year-old volunteer assistant coach with the Bruins. "Gymnastics should be the exception. It's too bad girls can't do both because gymnastics is so unique."

In the issue of becoming professional, Sheryl Shade of Shade Global has something to say. "When you're No. 1 or No. 2 it's absolutely something you should do. When you're No. 5, the opportunity might not be there."

That is Wieber’s case, as her earnings are not as huge as her former teammates.

Bridget Sloan, on the other hand, had been smart in her choices. She earned a team silver in Beijing when she was 16 and captured the all-around title at the 2009 world championships. Despite the big accomplishments, she’s still not as good as the currently famous Final Five, and she decided to stay amateur by playing in the NCAA. She said turning professional would have been “the biggest mistake of my life.”

Comparing Wieber and Sloan’s cases, the technique into choosing whether a gymnast must turn professional or not still falls on to her skills—is she on the top 1 or top 5?

Going professional might not be for everyone, but is playing for the NCAA for everyone? Follow our social medias to read the next article and find out maybe going collegiate is the choice for you! Looking for a school that offers various kinds of classes and gymnastics for kids? Then you’re on the right path, Bianka Panova Academy is definitely the school for you!

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