It takes a special type of athlete to compete on all four of gymnastics‘ apparatuses – vault, balance beam, uneven bars and floor – in one night. And it takes an exceptional athlete to do them all well.
Tanya Ho is one such athlete.
The junior out of St. Francis High School has been a star since setting foot in Davis two years ago. As a freshman, she earned All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honors on vault, balance beam and all-around. Last year, she garnered All-MPSF honors on vault, bars, floor and all-around, as well as capturing the all-around title.
Additionally, Ho qualified for the NCAA West Regional the last two years, first on vault and then in all-around. Ho is currently tied for fourth on the Aggie all-time list in the vault, and tied for third in the all-around, though it shouldn’t surprise anyone if we see her heading at least one of the lists before her career is done.
You’ve been a star gymnast since you’ve been here, but how did you get into the sport in the first place?
I was in ballet first. My mom put me in ballet, but it was too slow for me. I got into gymnastics because of (teammate) Christine Tao. We lived in the same neighborhood when we were little. My first competition was in Davis, with Christine. We were on the same team. But she had to move to Washington when she was 10 or so. She only stayed for her first quarter (at Washington), then called me and asked how I liked the Davis program. Then we ended up at the same college, which is cool.
What’s your take on the season thus far?
I feel good. Our freshmen adjusted really well. It was hard for me to adjust. It’s a different mindset than club. It’s more about the team in college. All in all, I’m really excited we got 190 and better the last two meets. Our problem is getting started well. A lot of times we’ll have a lot of bad meets at the beginning – wasted meets. So starting off strong is always really good.
What are your goals for the season?
Making our [regional qualifying score] higher. We were really low last year. San Jose State and Sac State were the last two spots for regionals, and we’re close to them. The first meet we weren’t that far behind Sac, and this time we weren’t that far behind San Jose. If we’re with them, we’ll be the same ranking as them.
What do you expect to do at regionals this year?
All-around would probably be the easiest way. Freshman year I went as a vault specialist, but for event specialists they only take one person. With all-around, they take five people.
You’re less than 0.200 off the school record in the all-around. Have you given much thought to taking it down?
I want to do that. I have no clue when, but that’s my goal. I like doing all-around, though; it’s another challenge. All-around is hard because being able to have four good routines on all the events and adding another event is so hard. In warm up last week, I was so tired.
You do them all, so what’s your favorite event?
Practicing and competing are way different. Competing, it is vault, because it’s so quick, and you don’t have time to be scared. Working out, it would probably be bars. It’s fun practicing bars, but competing bars is the scariest thing of all for me. Vault is just one thing – you run really fast and do it. But bars – if you mess up one thing, its like a chain reaction. That’s why a lot of us think it’s hard to compete. I like it – it’s my favorite to practice – but it’s the most nerve-wracking.
What does it feel like to fly off one bar to another? Or generally flip and twist in mid-air?
It’s fun. I’m used to it, I guess. I’ve been doing it since I was six. But you still feel a difference when you do a skill bigger than usual. You can tell that you’re going bigger. If you do a double flip on floor, you can tell when one is a lot higher and quicker than normal. We have our average, normal, good skill. But sometimes you do really good ones.
What’s a typical day of training like?
From 1:30 to 2 p.m. is warm up. You run and stretch everything, and then we have three rotations in a day. We do bars and beams every day, and we alternate vault and floor days. They are like 45-minute rotations. You split into three groups, some start on bars, some beam, some floor. Then 4:30 to 5 p.m. is conditioning. Sometimes we have sprints and endurance work, and sometimes we have arms, abs and leg conditioning.
What’s the hardest part of being a gymnast?
Even though we’ve competed for so many years out of our lives, it’s still scary because it’s just you out there. If you’re playing say basketball, there are a lot of people with you. In football, you have a whole team on the field. If you mess up in gymnastics, it’s your fault. You can’t blame it on the quarterback that the pass was off target. That’s what the pressure is, but it’s for the team. Whereas for club if you mess up and fall, it only affects your score. Now if I fall, it affects my team. So it is more pressure. If I look at the score when the team loses, I may think, “If I made it, then we would have won.” So I feel bad.
So what do you do to deal with all this pressure?
We help each other a lot. Moral support is really important. For a lot of us, if we’re scared of a skill we need help. That just means people cheering. Then I’m like, “Okay. Alright, I can do it.” I need someone to tell me sometimes or else I won’t believe it.
Is there anything else people should know about UC Davis gymnastics?
Just that there’s a gymnastics team. A lot of people don’t know that. And I get mad. People only think gymnastics comes around during the Olympics. Or they assume all gymnasts are going to the Olympics. And that’s just dumb.
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.