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Young gymnast shows top talent
A 10-year-old will travel to Houston to participate in a programthat identifies gymnasts with international-level potential.
By KELLIE DIXON, Times Staff Writer
Published September 7, 2007
Jacquelin Jacobs, 10, practices some of her moves on the balance beam before training on the uneven bars at Top Contenders in Hudson. She recently qualified for a national seminar at Olympic coach Bela Karolyi's training facility in Houston.
[Keri Wiginton | Times]
[Keri Wiginton | Times]
Jacquelin Jacobs chalks up her hands before training on a practice bar at Top Contenders.
Working with athletes from Hernando and Pasco counties, Top Contenders Gymnastics coach Beth Strazzullo has seen many gifted performers come and go.
She starts working with them as young as age 5 and watches some move on to college. The latest in a string of eye-opening performances came from Jacquelin Jacobs, a 10-year-old who has been practicing with Strazzullo for five years.
Jacobs recently competed in a state qualifying test for the United States Talent Opportunity Program. TOPs is a national seminar held at Olympic coach Bela Karolyi's training facility in Houston.
Taught by Olympic coaching staffers, only the top 50 testers across the country are invited to attend. The program was started by USA Gymnastics, the national governing body, as a way to identify potential for international-level gymnasts at a young age.
While testing at a qualifying run in Cocoa Beach, Jacobs scored a 78. Among more than 3,000 tested, the national average is only a 53, and entrants needed a 65 to advance to the national test on Oct. 6. The best score in the nation so far has been an 86.
In one of the many events she was tested on, Jacobs was measured as having a 23-1/2-inch vertical jump, a national best for her age group. The national average was 16 inches.
Both Bela and Martha Karolyi, the current heads of USA Olympic training, will be on hand to supervise the testing in October. The idea of meeting these two giants of the sport, let alone training with them, seemed beyond reach only a couple of years ago for Jacobs and her coaches. Now, it all seems so close.
"Every once in awhile, I have the pleasure of coaching someone with the potential that Jacquelin has," Strazzullo said. "She'll already be performing at Level 9 during national competitions, an awesome thing for someone so young."
Level 10 is the elite level of national gymnastics, the level right before the girls move on to international competition. Strazzullo expects Jacobs to be at that level by age 13. Last season at the state championships, Jacobs finished fifth overall at Level 7. She competed throughout the meet with a contusion on her knee, an injury that did little to slow her down.
Mike Jacobs, Jacquelin's father, is heavily involved in his daughter's development as a gymnast. He is there for emotional support, but Jacobs takes it a step further as Jacquelin's bar coach. He was as surprised as anyone when he saw his daughter soar toward the top of the sport.
"I got her into it looking to just have some fun, and all of a sudden she was doing some things that really shocked me," said Mike Jacobs, who is a strength and conditioning coach at Top Contenders. "I never expected her to become so motivated or get so skilled."
Jacobs and her family are planning for their trip to Houston in October for the national round of testing. If Jacquelin continues to impress, her meeting with elite athletes will not be her last.