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Rhythmic gymnast moves up quickly

Eight-year-old Dara Leet already has advanced to Level 7 in her short career.

By TERRY JONES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 27, 2001


BRANDON -- Some athletes adapt to a sport quickly.

Such as 8-year-old Dara Leet did with rhythmic gymnastics.

In her first year of competition, Leet worked up to Level 5 and placed fourth in a national competition three weeks ago in Columbus, Ohio.

Although Leet normally trained only two days a week, she and her parents, who live in Brandon, convinced coach Tyana Marlowe to allow her to have a third day. Leet and Marlowe are part of the gymnastics program at the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club.

"Dara is a natural and really loves the sport," Marlowe said. "She would be here training every day if I would allow her. But three days is enough for Level 5. "We told her she could move up to Level 7 if she did well at nationals, and of course, she did. She walked off the mat after her final event there smiling and saying, "I am now Level 7."'

Leet has scored high all year at Level 5, warranting her rise to Level 7, which requires training four days a week. Now she has an opportunity to try out for the U.S. Junior Olympic team next season. Leet has been training at her new level since the national meet and is doing well with her new routines, Marlowe said.

In addition to placing fourth in the all-around at Level 5, Leet also placed third in the hoop event, fourth in the floor and ball, and fifth in the rope. Rhythmic gymnastics does not include many of the events seen in regular gymnastics such as the uneven bars, balance beam and vault. But the floor exercises are similar. "Hand implements such as ropes, hoops, balls, clubs and ribbons are used in the routines," Marlowe said. "Rhythmic gymnastics establishes beauty and grace through the use of flexibility and hand-eye coordination.

"Basic gymnastics and dance movements are combined in the routines."

Leet said she enjoys the ribbons most.

The ribbons are about 16 feet long and attached to handles. The gymnasts make flowing patterns while dancing.

"Ribbons are a lot of fun," she said. "We toss them up in the air and do things like dance and cartwheels underneath them.

"We also do balances, like stand on one foot and hold the other foot above the head. I never took dance lessons, but I am learning to dance with my rhythmic gymnastics."

She said she enjoys her more difficult routines and is working hard to perfect them in time for the fall competition.

"I really worked hard to try to win at the nationals," she said. "I work hard at each practice because it is such fun. I hope to do better with Level 7 at the nationals next year."

As Leet trains and prepares, she has set her goals. "I want to do better at the nationals next year," she said.

"Maybe I can win, but anyway, I am going to work hard. I also plan to go further. I hope to reach Level 10 some day."

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