The youngest member of the United States Olympic Gymnastics team (Alternate) and is training in Japan until she is needed in Beijing. is 15 year-old Ivana Hong. Born in the United States, Ivana is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. In 2002, only at 9, Ivana made National Elite. In 2004, at the age of 11, Ivana made the United States Junior National Championships. A year later she became a member of the National team. Not bad for a girl who just happened upon the sport. The youngest member of the United States Olympic Gymnastics team (Alternate) and is training in Japan until she is needed in Beijing. is 15 year-old Ivana Hong. Born in the United States, Ivana is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. In 2002, only at 9, Ivana made National Elite. In 2004, at the age of 11, Ivana made the United States Junior National Championships. A year later she became a member of the National team. Not bad for a girl who just happened upon the sport.
One of the most interesting parts of Ivana’s success is that she stumbled upon gymnastics by accident. According to her mother, Michelle Hong, “I didn’t see any special signs. She wasn’t one of those kids who jumped all over. I just put her in because she was 5 and it was time to go to kindergarten and I figured everyone was doing some kind of sport. I figured I would put her in something. The gym was nearby and we happened to pick that one. I had no clue that she had any talent.”
Ivana and her mom walked into the National Gymnastics Training Center (NGTC) where Mrs. Hong tried to enroll her daughter in a gymnastics class. “She was so tiny. They didn’t think she could concentrate or focus or follow directions. They told me I need to sit in a class with her”, says Michelle. She responded “No. I want to drop her off so I can run my errands.” Ivana’s mom eventually convinced the coach, “Can you just let her try out once to see if she’s any good? If she’s not, then I’ll take her home.” The insistence paid off, as today, Ivana is one of the top Olympians in the nation.
When asked how proud Mrs. Hong is of Ivana she says, “Yes, I am and I still am, although she doesn’t think so because she made only Alternate. And being the youngest on the Team making Alternate at first try should be something she should really be proud of!”
Asians typically have a smaller body type and Ivana is only 4’10”. Do you think Ivana has an advantage? “Being Asian, our body build is definitely different than the Americans. Unfortunately, the system doesn’t recognize or give enough credit for beauty, form and grace, something that she has always been known for. If she stays healthy and still wants to do it, many people believe that she will more than make it next time. In my opinion, another disadvantage that the Asian gymnasts (including Ivana and the Chinese ones) always have is that they don’t exert enough confidence and aggressiveness as the American ones. Coming from our Asian culture, they all seem to be more shy, more reserved and quieter, no matter how good they are, which often is misinterpreted as lack of confidence.”
We were able to ask Ivana Hong a few personal questions on her own and to learn more about Ivana and what she likes to do when she has some free time away from the mat.
ASIANCE: Who is your favorite Asian athlete?
Ivana: Hehe… I don’t know too many but I think Yao Ming is cool!
ASIANCE: When did you know you loved gymnastics?
Ivana: My mom just put me in the class and I just clicked with the sport. It just continued from there.
Watch a video montage of Ivana
Watch Ivana on the Floor at 2008 Nationals. Her mom says: Despite the pain in her right ankle which came back just one day before this competition, she landed beautifully.
Watch Ivana on the Uneven Bars in 2007.
ASIANCE: Who do you admire on your team?
Ivana: Obviously, they are all great gymnasts but Nastia (Liukin) is a very cool gymnast and she has helped me a lot.
ASIANCE: How long will you keep on doing gymnastics?
Ivana: Honestly I haven’t made that choice yet.
ASIANCE: Besides winning a medal is there anything else you want to do in Beijing?
Ivana: Right now as an Alternate I’m not sure if I’ll be competing as a gymnast and don’t know if I’ll be out there with the girls, so I’m not too sure.
Mom: Don’t you want to meet Jackie Chan? Since you said he looks like your dad? (laughs)
ASIANCE: Who is your favorite gymnast of all time?
Ivana: I really like Courtney McCool’s gymnastics
ASIANCE: What is your favorite gymnastic event?
ASIANCE: Where do you want to go to school?
Ivana: I’ve always wanted to go to Stanford.
Mom: A lot of colleges have been recruiting her since she was in the sixth grade.
ASIANCE: If you weren’t a gymnast you would be… ..
Ivana: I did tennis for a little while and I really loved tennis. So I’d probably be a tennis player.
ASIANCE: What do you really like to do on your free time?
Ivana: I don’t have too much free time. When I’m home it’s in between gym workouts so we don’t do too much during the week. On the weekends, I like to relax and be with my family.
Mom: If you have a good book you’ll read it right? (laughs)
ASIANCE: Has your practice increased at all due to the Olympics?
Ivana: No it’s the same. We have two workouts a day. Summer workout is 8-12pm and 4-7pm.
Mom: That means she has to be there at 7:30 and 3:30.
Ivana: During the school year, it’s school and then practice is 1:00-7:30pm
ASIANCE: When you have a chance to watch television, what do you usually watch?
Ivana: So You Think You Can Dance. I like American Idol, especially the auditions.
ASIANCE: Is this your first time in China?
Ivana: No. I was already in China in 2001. When I was with the gym in California.
ASIANCE: Have you ever fallen off the beam?
Ivana: Yes. Plenty of times.
Mom: She comes home a lot of times with bruises. One time it looked like someone scratched all her ribs. It was red and purple. It was peeling off the skin.
ASIANCE: Is there anyone you would love to meet one day?
Ivana: I would really like to meet Oprah Winfrey.
ASIANCE: What do you say to girls who want to be a gymnast?
Ivana: When things get tough don’t give up and always try to find the positive side of it. Your family is always there to support you no matter what.
ASIANCE: And mom, what would you say to families looking to get their child into gymnastics?
Mom: When you pick the gym, do not pick it on the gymnast that they produce. Pick it based on chemistry between the parties, as well as your observation and gut feeling. Watch (as long as you can – not just over a one-two-day visit) how the coach interacts with other gymnasts in his/her gym as well as with your daughter.
Make sure the communication between coach and gymnasts is not intimidating and mutually respectful. Ask the coach how much communication you will have as a parent. Let the coaches know up front that you want the triangle caring for your child. Gymnast, coach, parent working together to help the gymnast reach her goals and dreams. Find out how much and how well the coach listens versus talking. Ask other parents what they like best about the coach and what they dislike most. Hopefully, you will be able to make a good decision in the end..