Virtual gymnastics meets provide a travel-free way to compete

 

The row of acrobatic gymnastics judges sat down in front of an empty floor on a Saturday morning. Instead of judging a live meet like they usually would, they would be starting the day by evaluating videos of routines. A pandemic innovation, virtual competitions have allowed some sports, including acrobatic gymnastics, to reduce travel this year while continuing to train and compete.

The May 1 Acro State Championships demonstrated an easing back into live competitions. Acro — as the sport is commonly known — is a type of gymnastics that involves pairs and trios of athletes who lift each other into the air for dramatic balance skills and flips. Much of the training requires contact and figuring out how to practice proved difficult early in the pandemic. The sport’s governing authorities decided to allow for some extra flexibility this season, including multiple ways of participating at the state championships. Some teams chose to send in videos from their home gyms, while others competed in person later in the day in front of a limited number of audience members.

Marie Annonson, owner of West Coast Training Center, which hosted the May 1competition, said that she was pleased to receive videos that were in high-definition and easily downloadable.

“I think the coaches want to give their athletes the best chance to get the best score they possibly can, so they’re doing a very good job of recording,” Annonson said.

For the sake of fairness, athletes who competed virtually were compared to other virtual competitors, while live performances were compared to each other.

Other events, however, have taken place entirely remotely, with athletes spread out across their own gyms and judges in their homes. Meet organizer Leslie Douglas, who is also an acro judge, has evaluated fully virtual events.

In those cases, “Just to be safe, we all wear [suit] jackets,” Douglas said.

At the May 1 meet, judges dressed in their full suits since the competition included one virtual and eleven live rotations. Douglas said the 267 total athletes represented 85 or 90% of the amount they would expect in a typical year.

Only two spectators could attend per athlete, and competition organizers cleared the gym to sanitize all of the seats between groups. Coaches, judges and audience members also had to remain masked throughout the event. Athletes were allowed to remove their masks during their competition routines in order to breathe normally, but some chose to keep them on anyway.

After months without access to training and competitions for many teams, Annonson said she thought many participants appreciated the multiple options they had for ways to participate.