Young gymnasts had a golden opportunity last week to learn from Olympic gymnastics gold medalist and world champion Svetlana Boguinskaia during a four-day gymnastics camp at Downriver Gymnastics in Southgate.
She is a three-time Olympic champion, and competed in 1988 in Seoul, representing the Soviet Union; in 1992 in Barcelona as part of the Commonwealth of Independent States; and in 1996 in Atlanta, representing Belarus. She is a five-time world champion and an eight-time European champion.
Boguinskaia, who was born in Minsk, Belarus, which was then part of the Soviet Union, is now an American citizen living in Houston with her husband and two children.
She said she started offering her Olympia Gymnastics Camp in 2000, and was even able to adapt it to continue safely during the peak of the pandemic.
Boguinskaia said there are advantages for children to work with someone who has competed at the highest level of gymnastics.
“We know what hard work is, and we know what dedication is,” she said. “We know the proper progression in the sport, and we teach children not only correct gymnastic skills but life skills.”
Boguinskaia said they teach the young gymnasts to be kind, to help and respect each other, to support each other, to be on time and to practice good sportsmanship.
“It is so much more than just correct gymnastics,” she said. “It is total, full-blown life skills.”
Boguinskaia said she also emphasizes that her gymnastics camp is a no bullying environment.
“We want them to grow into kind individuals who help each other,” she said. “We don’t need any more anger in the world.”
Boguinskaia said building the participants’ confidence is one of the best aspects of the camp.
“Confidence to do something in front of people, confidence to not be afraid to make mistakes,” she said. “In life, mistakes are going to happen, and you learn from them.
“The best lesson is to get up, and try again, or walk away with a smile on your face, knowing that you did your best, and today was just not your best day.”
Boguinskaia said she urges them to treat each day as a new opportunity to try again.
“So, confidence, determination, and never giving up are what they are taking back home with them,” she said.
Boguinskaia said body image is entrenched in our culture, not just in dance and gymnastics, and it is human to be self-critical of one’s image.
“We see children shorter, taller, smaller and bigger,” she said. “It doesn’t matter – there is acceptance for everybody.”
Boguinskaia said that when she was a girl in gymnastics in the former Soviet Union, only short and tiny gymnastics were trained for competition.
“What I love about the United States is everybody – it doesn’t matter how tall or short, how small or big – everybody can attend gymnastics classes – there is room for everybody,” she said. “We would like everybody to be physically fit, because it helps every child to stay healthy.”
Boguinskaia said she hopes her students leave camp having learned skills while having fun and making friends.
“We have kids here from different gyms, and they are all becoming friends,” she said. “I want them to make lifelong friends through gymnastics.”
Boguinskaia said the children who work the hardest when no one is watching them are the ones who will be the most successful.
“There are the kids who are the silent workers, who do their assignments, and I am very proud of those who are being rewarded by winning placements, because they work and dedicate themselves,” she said. “They dedicate themselves to the sport, knowing that they have school, homework, friends — and they are sometimes missing birthday parties — just to dedicate themselves to being the best that they can be.”
Logan Cook, 20, of Wyandotte, whose mother, Kelli Cook, owns and operates Downriver Gymnastics, said it is interesting to experience Boguinskaia while assisting as a coach, having been a gymnast in one of her camps when she was younger.
She said it brings back memories to see the young gymnasts work with Boguinskaia.
“I love seeing it, because that was me a couple years ago,” she said. “It’s a good experience for the kids, it is interesting and fun and it makes me happy to see other kids experience that. It is different being on the other side of the towel, though.”
“Being on the other side of the towel” refers to being a servant leader.
Stephanie Barry, Downriver Gymnastics program director and office manager, said the camp, which ran from June 17 to 20, has been great, and Boguinskaia, who was an amazing gymnast, is also an amazing coach, and Downriver Gymnastics students have worked with her in the past at other locations.
“Once the opportunity arose to have one of her camps at our gym, we jumped on it, because we knew how amazing it was going to be,” she said. “The kids are having a great time, with lots of individual attention.”
Barry said Downriver Gymnastics brings camps to their gym to motivate their students, help build their love for gymnastics and provide an opportunity for them to learn new things.
She said about a quarter of the attendees, who ranged in age from seven to 14, were from either Lansing or the Oakland County area.
Barry said the students not only learned about Boguinskaia’s experiences as an Olympian, they gain some insight into what it was like for her to compete in a different country, with a different way of thinking.
“They get a different mindset, and because she has been doing this for so many years, the way she is able to teach them and tell them how to do things is always unique,” she said. “You hear things from a different perspective, and you never know what is going to be effective for each child.”
Barry said it was great to see how excited the participants were about the sport of gymnastics and learning new things, as well as seeing how hard the young gymnasts worked each day.
“They are here because they love it, and we are fortunate to be able to provide that,” she said.