Gymnastics trade show balances business, pleasure

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Olympic medalists Aly Raisman and Nastia Liukin have probably dusted off their hands thousands of times, sending a cloud of chalk into the air before performing some spectacular feat.

So have multitudes of other gymnasts — from the tiny little girls in sparkly outfits and pony tails to the champions competing at the 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships at the Consol Energy Center this weekend.

Seems this causes a bit of a mess. “In every gym, it’s a little bit of an issue because the chalk gets everywhere,” said John Deary Jr.

He was working the DGS — short for Deary’s Gymnastics Supply — booth at the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Among the bars, the mats and other equipment on display was The Chalk Trap, a white box sitting almost 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide (show price: $549). “It’s different than a chalk eater,” Mr. Deary explained. “It’s a chalk station.”

Right. Well, it was a gymnastics trade show. In addition to piles of chalk, the sport is known for its leotards, balance beams and trampolines — all of which were on display and on sale at the convention center Saturday.

The drama, the danger and the sometimes drudgery of serious gymnastics were all right there in the displays.

A minivan was stuffed with equipment to prove that it was possible to cart the stuff around and set up a gymnastics program. Exhibitors promoted trophies — and insurance services. One booth offered Airbac’s Bling Bags — “the solution to a heavy backpack.” Energym Music, out of Kingston Springs, Tenn., promised “dynamic floor music for the winning edge.”

For the past 50 years, this event has been the quieter sibling of the national championships organized by USA Gymnastics, the U.S. governing body for the sport. Here, professionals get continuing ed while vendors show their wares. And everybody does a little networking.

That first gathering five decades ago might have had a couple of vendors and featured lectures in three rooms, said Lynn Moskovitz-Thompson, managing director of educational and club services for the Indianapolis-based organization. This weekend drew more than 2,000 attendees, more than 100 experts and close to 100 exhibits.

Ms. Moskovitz-Thompson attended a session on concussions Saturday morning. The show brochure also listed programs on working with special-needs gymnasts, dealing with competitive stress and judging, among other topics.

Nobody was confused about the priorities. Everything was scheduled so participants could get over to Consol for the next round of real competition starting at 2 p.m.

Until then, there was time to finger the racks and racks of glittery performance outfits, run into old friends who share a passion for a good landing — and maybe pick up a few tips to lay the groundwork for that eventual Olympic medal.

“Elbows, elbows, elbows,” boomed one instructor as he led a group of girls through different exercises and explained to the people crowded around how to coach their own students. Multiple smartphones made video recordings to be studied back at home gyms later.

Trade show aisles filled with lines of fans waiting to meet superstars of the sport.

Ms. Raisman, who earned individual and team gold medals in the 2012 Olympics and was on TV reality competition “Dancing with the Stars” in 2013, had produced autographs for about 100 fans by midmorning and was working her way through another 100 or so still in line.

A couple of aisles over, Ms. Liukin, who has won multiple Olympic gymnastics medals including the all-around gold in 2008, sat at a table with her father, Valeri Liukin, a medalist in his own right.

In Pittsburgh, it was their hands getting the real workout as they signed everything fans had to offer: a poster, a backpack, a trophy, even a big pink gymnastics mat.

“My daughter’s mad because I’m not getting one,” said Ms. Moskovitz-Thompson, as she watched the parade of autograph hunters move along. “I’ll get one eventually.”

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.

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