By Anna Rose Johnson

On May 9th, the University of Georgia women’s gymnastics team acquired a new head coach, former NCAA star Courtney Kupets Carter. A member of the silver medal–winning 2004 U.S. Olympic women’s team, Courtney competed for Georgia from 2006–2009 and took home five gold medals from the 2009 NCAA Championships. Additionally, former Georgia head coach Suzanne Yoculan Leebern will now assume the role of volunteer assistant coach. We recently caught up with Courtney to learn a little more about her new position and what inspired her to pursue coaching at the collegiate level.

Inside Gymnastics: You said you first thought of being head coach in 2010, could you tell us a little more about that?
Courtney Kupets Carter: I was the student coach (at UGA) after I graduated in 2009, and it was a really great experience for me because it was a new level of gymnastics. It’s always difficult for a gymnast to end their career. I loved the fact that I could be part of helping another gymnast reach their goals and their potential in the same way that I was helped by the coaches around me. That’s what really got me going in coaching. I think that my personality fits college gymnastics so well. It’s where my heart is. It’s what I love. It really brought the love of gymnastics back to me, and I really want to help that in student-athletes. [My years in college were] really character-building. It was really rewarding to be part of a team and work day after day with them and achieve our best. To end up getting championships really made that more special, but at the same time just the process and the journey for these athletes is so special and so exciting. That really got my juices flowing, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about it. It ended up working out great, and I can’t wait to start.

Inside: Could you reflect back on your experiences as a Georgia student-athlete?
Courtney: I came in really just about gymnastics. I was an elite gymnast coming off the Olympics. I was all about gymnastics. I had good grades in school, I was fine in school, and was really just looking forward to getting a degree in something to push me past that, but it wasn’t really my focus. To come to Georgia and realize there’s so much support here for student-athletes in terms of study hall and making sure you get your grades up and pursuing more outside of gymnastics was difficult at first, but very exciting. I think having to meet with fans and alumni and start talking a little bit more [was good for me, because] as a gymnast you go to the gym, you do your homework, you go to bed. You go to the gym, you do your homework, you go to bed. And I think college really expanded my horizons just in life, so I’m very grateful for that.

Inside: When did you decide to accept your new position?
Courtney: Right when I was offered. I went through that application process and it really got me thinking hard about what I truly want out of this and what I feel I have to give. It just felt so right, and I can’t wait to get started. I know it’s going to be challenging and I know it’s going to be a tough road ahead, but I think that’s the exciting part. It’s something I have to work hard for and it’s something I have to bring out of the current athletes here and make sure everyone in the future who comes to Georgia understands that it’s going to be a fun ride but there’s going to be work involved. I think every gymnast pretty much knows that. When I was offered I accepted.

Inside: What are your goals as head coach of the program?
Courtney: My goals are: step one—the athlete is first and foremost. My goal for them is to inspire them as people. Step two—just to make sure I do everything I can while they’re an athlete to give them the last bit of gymnastics to the best of their ability. Step three—to push them further than I think they realize they can go. If they’re shy, getting them out of their shell. If they don’t know what they want to do after gymnastics, kind of pushing them in that direction. Setting them up not only for a great collegiate gymnastics career, but setting them up for life. Those are my main goals as a head coach. Obviously down the line, winning [NCAA] Championships is definitely a goal, 100 percent.

Inside: Do you have any specific new coaching methods you’d like to employ?
Courtney: I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re new coaching methods. I’m always open and looking and wanting to learn about different coaching methods, but I think I’m staying true to the ones I know that work right now. I think that’s different for every athlete. There are different methods you have to use for each athlete to get the most out of them and to motivate them. At the same time, if there’s an athlete I come upon that stumps me a little bit, I’m ready to find those methods and go forth. Every time I learn something new as a coach, I just start using it. So I don’t know which one is new to me and which one is not, because I’m constantly learning and trying new things as a coach.

Inside: Do you feel inspired by Suzanne Yoculan Leebern’s legacy as former head coach?
Courtney: Absolutely. She did so much for the program. I think it’s amazing to see a program go from 200 fans to 10,000 fans. That’s not only because of what she did, but also what she brought out of her athletes. It was a collective effort and I’m well aware of that. This is not a one-woman show, this is a team effort in part of the coaching staff, in part the gymnasts, and the entire athletic staff with all of the support. And the fans. Suzanne brings that out of me in the fact that I know it’s not a one-person deal; I know how much work it’s going to take. She inspires me in the fact that she pulled off so much in her career, and that’s something to definitely look up to.

Inside: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Courtney: I would like to add that the University of Georgia is in a great town. For me to be back in Athens, Georgia, it’s fantastic. It’s a great family town. I have a young family and it’ll be great for them. It’s such a safe, fun community. It’s a great town, it has a great downtown; it’s small but is also near Atlanta. It’s such a great location and I’m so glad to be back here for good. It’s also a top university. Not only do we have a great gymnastics program, and one that we want to excel to the top, but it’s also a top university. To get your degree from the University of Georgia is an amazing opportunity and one that I’m so glad that I was able to take advantage of. I’m so excited to be able to lead this program forward.

Check out our recent photo gallery featuring Courtney’s major competitions throughout her career! And don’t forget to subscribe now to receive our fabulous commemorative anniversary issue (including more archival photos)!

Inside Gymnastics is your all-access pass to everything gymnastics! Subscribe/renew today and make sure you don’t miss an issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine!

Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: https://annarosejohnson.contently.com