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Stars Prepare to Collide at Pro Gymnastics Challenge
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As the cast of more than 100 gymnasts from around the world prepares for the Pro Gymnastics Challenge on Friday and Saturday in Bethlehem, Pa., competitor Kylee Botterman Kolarik offered IG Online insight into the unique format and ambitious goals of the event.

The PGC will feature mixed teams of female and male gymnasts who will compete skill-for-skill in a "No Barriers Challenge" on Friday and "USA vs. the World" on Saturday. The event, which is taking place at Lehigh University's Stabler Arena, will be televised on ESPN2 on May 20, 21 and 22.

Among the international Olympians on the roster are Catalina Ponor (Romania), Anna Pavlova (Russia), Oksana Chusovitina (Uzbekistan), Lisa Mason, Marissa King and Sam Oldham (Great Britain), Nathan Gafuik (Canada), Tommy Ramos (Puerto Rico), Jade Barbosa (Brazil), Jessica Lopez (Venezuela), and Nathalia Sanchez and Jessica Gil Ortiz (Colombia).

U.S. Olympians on the roster include Danell Leyva, Jonathan Horton, Jake Dalton, Chellsie Memmel, Justin Spring and Sean Townsend.

Botterman Kolarik, the 2011 NCAA all-around champion, shared with IG Online her thoughts on the PGC, and what awaits the event's competitors and audiences.

IG: The Pro Gymnastics Challenge differs from other competitions, not only in format but in appeal. In which ways do you think the event will appeal to expert fans who know the stars and skills they're capable of, and general audiences who are curious to see what gymnastics is all about?

KBK: For gymnastics fans, this event is more exciting because of the format. The format gives the athletes the capability to be creative and showcase all different skills they may not be able to put into competition, normal-format routines. The fans love this because there are no requirements and they get to see spontaneous skills that they may have never seen an athlete do before. The fans are drawn to this event because of the big-name competitors. There are Olympians, world champions and former NCAA superstars involved. This event keeps the competition atmosphere that everyone knows gymnastics to be, but at a single-skill level, the most difficult single skills athletes know how to do.

For non-gymnastics followers, the entertainment value is priceless. These are all adult, professional athletes. The women are competing in two-piece costumes and the men are shirtless. They are all extremely in shape. The non-traditional format is also appealing to the regular audience because it is easier to follow. There is no scoring, which is a key point that is usually hard to follow if you don't know anything about gymnastics. And, the winning point is not only going to the athlete that does it better but also because that athlete had more showmanship and attitude and sold the skill.

IG: What kind of feedback are you getting from the gymnasts? What do they seem most excited about, and what do they seem to be most anxious about?

Botterman Kolarik during the 2011 "Evolution" event

KBK: Most importantly, all of these athletes are so excited to be hanging out with this caliber of gymnasts. Most only have ever seen each other on the competition floor, so spending the week hanging out socially and getting to know each other has been phenomenal. In the gym, it has been super competitive. Both teams obviously want to be the best in our "mock" competitions. Also, most of these athletes are used to competing for themselves, so competing for your team is something different and exciting, and maybe a little nerve-wracking. You don't want to make a mistake because it affects the team.

IG: What is your role in the PGC?

KBK: I competed in "Evolution" which was the first professional gymnastics challenge that International Gymnastics Camp hosted in August 2011. I have experience in a similar competition so (PGC creator) Brent (Klaus) has been asking me a million questions about how we can improve from last time. I have been helping athletes and coaches develop strategies and helping production and IGC figure out how to make this event more appealing to an audience. I have done everything I can so far and will continue to help make this event run as smoothly as possible.

IG: How is the PGC designed so that TV viewers will feel as close to the action as those in the arena?

KBK: This challenge is designed so TV viewers feel like they are a part of the action. There is going to be so much fan interaction at the actual live event that viewers at home are going to feel like they are a part of the audience. When a tie happens and the judges disagree, the tie-breaker goes straight to the audience, where they will have 30 seconds to text their vote, and a winner is determined. One entire event of the competition is the "Audience All-Around" where the audience decides which skill they want two athletes to compete against each other. Even though the TV audience won't be able to text and vote, because it's tape-delayed, they will still enjoy the fact that if they were there, they could have been a part of it and helped determine which skill was going to be performed.

Cameras are going to be everywhere. There are so many cameras involved with PGC so the TV audience will have up-close-and-personal interaction with the athletes. Cameras will be in the dugout listening in on the strategy of the athletes between each turn. Producers have been at IGC all week with the athletes to get behind the scenes and to get to know the athletes outside the gym. We think this is important because their true personalities will come through the TV for the audience to see.

IG: There have been several attempts to make gymnastics more popular to the general public between Olympic Games. In which ways do you think the PGC will be able to capture new audiences, and get them interested in following the sport between the Olympics?

KBK: We think PGC will be attractive to new audiences between the Olympics because the intent is to be an entire "season" of challenges, like football, basketball and hockey – not just once every four years. Fans can follow the progress of athletes and learn the big names involved throughout the season. This event includes former college athletes who have a huge fan base, and an audience member may like a specific NCAA school that is represented. The majority of gymnasts are forced to quit gymnastics after college, unless they do Cirque du Soleil or something of that sort, and this allows them to continue and pursue a career in their sport - like any other professional sport. Olympians build a huge fan base once they reach the Olympics so having them compete in these challenges brings those fans to a new gymnastics format.

When I say that ideally this would be a seasonal sport, that's in the future. All depends on how this weekend goes, of course, but that would be the most ideal situation - to have several professional gymnastics competitions in a season.

External Link: Pro Gymnastics Challenge

PGC competitors featured in International Gymnast magazine include:

Jade Barbosa: "Another Milestone for Brazil" (cover photo and profile) - December 2007
Jana Bieger: "Daughter Dearest" (profile) – November 2005; center poster – March 2007
Oksana Chusovitina: cover photo – June/July 2001
Jake Dalton: "Jacob's Ladder" (profile) – July/August 2011; cover photo – April 2013
Nathan Gafuik: "Team is the Theme" (profile) – November 2007; interview – July/August 2010
Jonathan Horton: cover photo – May 2006; "Lessons Learned" (profile) – July/August 2007; "American Idol" (cover photo and interview) – December 2008; cover photo - October 2009; center poster - April 2011
Marissa King: "Royal Ambitions" (interview) – April 2008
Steve Legendre: "Sooner Star" (profile) – July/August 2009
Danell Leyva: "A Winning Team" (profile) – January/February 2008; cover photo - September 2011; cover photo - April 2012; "Back to the Future" (cover photo and profile) – December 2012
Jessica Lopez: "Viva Venezuela" (profile) – March 2008
Lisa Mason: "Bridging the Gap" (interview) – February 1998; "Quick Chat" (short interview) - October 2001
Chellsie Memmel: cover photo - October 2002; "Memmel's Magic" (profile) – November 2002; cover photo – May 2003; cover photo collage – October 2003; center poster – January 2004; "On the Mend" (profile) – April 2008
Sam Oldham: interview - June 2010
Anna Pavlova: cover photo – March 2001; cover photo collage - June/July 2002; center poster – April 2003; cover photo collage – August/September 2003; "Still a Stunner" (profile) – December 2012
Catalina Ponor: "The Presence of Ponor" (profile) – December 2003; cover photo collage – October 2004; "Poised for Greatness" (cover photo and interview) – December 2004; cover photo collage - June 2006; "10 Questions" (interview) – January/February 2011; cover photo - June 2012
Nathalia Sanchez: "Two Cheers for Colombia" (profile) – June 2008
Justin Spring: "Spring Loaded" (profile) – February 2005
Sean Townsend: "Quiet and Clear" (profile) – March 2002; "Back on Track" (profile) – December 2003; interview – April 2007
Hollie Vise: "Silent Mite" (profile) – October 2001; cover photo collage -October 2002; cover photo collage – October 2003; "The Ups and Downs of Vise" (profile) – November 2003
Shayla Worley: "Model Gymnast" (profile) – November 2004; center poster – July/August 2006; "Back in Focus" (cover photo and profile) – July/August 2007; cover photo collage – October 2007
Also read a four-page review of "Evolution" in the October 2011 issue.

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