Emily Cypherus, 13, is used to watching elite gymnasts compete on television. The young athlete from Cranberry has been training in the sport for seven years, and she watched eagerly as Gabrielle Douglas won Olympic gold in the all-around just two years ago in London.
But on Thursday, as Emily geared up to perform a routine with her teammates at the opening of this year’s P&G Gymnastics Championships, the star athletes she usually admires from a distance were warming up just a floor below.
Emily was starstruck, much like the other local athletes flocking to Consol Energy Center this week to help kick off the P&G Championships, an elite national competition that brings a number of former Olympians to Pittsburgh. Roughly 300 people will volunteer over the course of the contest, which runs through Sunday.
USA Gymnastics, which runs the competition, is happy to have them — “We couldn’t run an event like this without volunteers,” said Leslie King, a spokeswoman — but for the young local gymnasts pitching in on the floor, the chance to see the world-class athletes they have admired on television compete in person is the real treat.
“It’s amazing getting to watch them practice,” Abbie Antal, 16, of Slippery Rock said as athletes warmed up for competition Thursday. “It’s unreal actually getting to see them in real life.”
“It’s not actually happening,” added the gymnast, who trains at Butler Gymnastics Club and has been competing for 11 years. “It’s kind of a dream.”
Tabitha Corwin, 14, of Castle Shannon said the opportunity to see the gymnasts as they prepare for the next Olympics added to the excitement. One of the athletes Tabitha most looks up to — Kyla Ross, who won Olympic gold with Team USA in the 2012 Games in London — will compete in Pittsburgh this week.
Ross, 17, is the only member of 2012’s “Fierce Five” gold medal-winning team to compete in the championships — “Flying Squirrel” Douglas recently returned to the sport after a break — but a number of other up-and-coming stars will take to the floor, among them Simone Biles, the 2013 world and national champion in the all-around.
Emily, for her part, was at Consol with her peers on Thursday to demonstrate her skills in the sport at the championships’ opening. Wearing gold and white leotards, the girls did line drills, which showcase the fundamentals of the sport. Their coach, X-Cel Gymnastics owner Lindsey Stancil, said performing at the event was a way to increase the girls’ self-confidence.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Ms. Stancil said. “They get to see the level they aspire to be.”
Madeline R. Conway: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1714 or on Twitter @MadelineRConway.