by Anna Rose Johnson

OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN ASTONISHED THE WORLD IN ATLANTA, winning their historic team gold medal in dramatic fashion. Just 16 at the time, Jaycie Phelps and her skill on uneven bars and vault played an instrumental role in the team’s success. “There is no better feeling in sports than to achieve the ultimate goal,” says Phelps. “As I stood on the first-place podium, with my teammates, wearing USA on my back, listening to the national anthem play and watching our flag rise—the overwhelming sense of pride was priceless and so hard to describe, but definitely one of my favorite moments!”

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Today, Phelps and her husband, Dave Marus, are co-owners of the Jaycie Phelps Athletic Center in Greenfield, Indiana. “I am glad I had the experience of competing at every level of the sport when I did,” says Phelps. “I love that I can use my experiences to help the next generations with their journey of gymnastics now as a coach.”

The next generation of top athletes could very well include Jacey Vore, a 14-year-old Level 10 gymnast who has trained at JPAC since 2010. With plenty of amplitude across the board and a nice swing on bars, Vore is also known for her remarkably clean execution. “I started competing when I was about six years old in Level 4,” Vore tells us. “I fell in love and have been competing ever since! Competition is my favorite part of gymnastics because I always have so much fun, and I get to show off what I am so passionate about.”

Vore’s passion shines through her poised performances, just as Phelps’ obvious dedication to the sport enhanced her Olympic routines. “Jacey has always loved gymnastics and I try to help her remember that as the sport gets more challenging, the goals get bigger, the workouts get harder,” Phelps explains. “[And I tell her] to always keep her love for the sport in the back of her mind!”

I love that I can use my experiences to help the next generations with their journey of gymnastics now as a coach.

IN 1996, THE PRESSURE WAS ON TEAM USA TO DELIVER. The U.S. women’s team had finished second in the boycotted L.A. 1984 Games, and they didn’t make the podium in Seoul 1988. The 1992 Barcelona team was strong in the lead-up to the Olympics, but injuries and errors resulted in a gold medal for the Unified Team (the former Soviet Union), leaving the USA to wonder what they could do differently.

But every piece fell into place on the road to Atlanta. Despite significant injuries for Dominique Moceanu and Shannon Miller shortly before the Olympics, the Magnificent Seven rose to the occasion and wowed the world with their brilliant technique and power.

Those Olympics left an indelible mark on Jaycie Phelps’ memory. “Our first time in the arena for podium training, there were 20,000 people watching, and as soon as we walked across the floor in the warm-up gym, the entire arena erupted in USA chants,” remembers Phelps. “Keep in mind, the warm-up gym was in the corner and covered with big curtains. There were four countries out on the competition equipment doing their podium training practice. There was a tiny portion of the arena that could see into the warm-up gym and as soon as they saw us walk in to warm up, they began the chanting.  USA—USA—USA…that’s the moment it got real! We were at the Olympic Games.”

Fast forward 22 years, and Phelps is guiding Vore to glory on the J.O. stage, in preparation of another pressure-filled journey: the quest to secure a college scholarship. Between early recruiting and a limited number of full-on scholarships, Jacey Vore knows it might be difficult to reach her dream, but she’s excited for the challenge.

“Going to the Olympics and competing for my country has always been a dream of mine, but for now I’m looking forward to being able to compete for a school,” says Vore. “I think so highly of many college teams, it would be amazing to compete at any of them. I love watching the National Championships and I would be so ecstatic to be on a team that could get me there!” While Vore says that competing as an elite athlete “would always be awesome,” she’s focused on the NCAA path, where she hopes to someday win a National Championship with her team.

I love watching the National Championships and I would be so ecstatic to be on a team that could get me there!

JACEY VORE SAYS SHE IS BLESSED TO BE COACHED BY JAYCIE PHELPS. “It is something I am grateful for every day,” Vore tells us. “She knows exactly how to get me into my zone, always knows what to tell me, and keeps my love for the sport flowing. She always makes me laugh!”

Coached by the legendary Mary Lee Tracy during her competitive career, Jaycie Phelps has a great role model to emulate. “Mary Lee is the best,” declares Phelps. “She taught me so much—not only about gymnastics, but about life and myself! I learned so many valuable lessons from Mary Lee that I still use every day to be successful in life! I will be forever grateful [for] the influence that Mary Lee had on me.”

During her own time as a gymnast, Phelps had huge tumbling on floor, and her protégé shares that energy. “Jacey’s gymnastics is very dynamic and she makes it look effortless,” says Phelps. “The gym is Jacey’s playground!  That is my favorite kind of gymnastics to watch.” Vore especially loves to train beam, “just because it makes me feel like Supergirl!” she says. “However, my favorite event to compete is the floor exercise because I love performing and getting to show off my personality.”

“Jacey is one of those athletes you wish you could clone,” says Phelps. “She has all the qualities that an athlete needs to be successful and that any coach loves to work with. Her attitude and work ethic are amazing.  She is a leader in every way amongst her team.  I love to see that from one of our youngest in the Level 10 group.  She loves her team and she makes each practice more enjoyable.”

She has all the qualities that an athlete needs to be successful and that any coach loves to work with.

THIS YEAR MARKS THE NINTH ANNUAL NASTIA LIUKIN CUP. Televised by NBC and held on a podium (a rarity for the J.O. level), this competition for Level 10 gymnasts has gained prestige since its first edition in 2010. Past competitors at the Nastia Cup include 2012 Olympic Champion Gabrielle Douglas and 2017 World Champion Morgan Hurd. It’s definitely one of the biggest accomplishments for Level 10 competitors, many of whom are looking forward to an elite transition or a college scholarship.

Jacey Vore qualified to this meet in 2017, placing 12th in the junior all-around, and she and Phelps are excited to return. “This is her second year qualifying, so it will be fun to see her growth as a competitor from last year to this year,” says Phelps. “The Nastia Cup is such an awesome experience for these young girls, and I love to see them have fun on the big stage!” Vore agrees that one of her main goals this year is “to have an amazing time” at the Nastia Cup. “I’m so excited and blessed to be able to participate in such a special event.”

The future is promising for both coach and athlete. There’s a good chance Phelps could become a coach of elite gymnasts, like Mary Lee Tracy. “We currently have a little one that just got her compulsory score for junior international,” says Phelps. “So we are starting the process!”

Meanwhile, Vore is eager to continue her journey on the path to collegiate—and perhaps elite—gymnastics. “I am so excited to be a part of the next generation of Team USA, and I am so thankful to be able to do the sport I adore every day! Gymnastics is such an incredible opportunity for so many young girls and it teaches us so many amazing lessons.”

I am so thankful to be able to do the sport I adore every day!

Jacey Vore images © Lloyd Smith
Inset photo courtesy of Jaycie Phelps

Fun Facts with Jaycie & Jacey

Upgrades in the works for Jacey Vore:
Vault: Yurchenko 1 ½
Uneven Bars: Double layout dismount
Balance Beam: Back handspring layout + layout
Floor Exercise: Arabian double front

Jaycie Phelps on the ’96 post-Olympic tour:
“The post-Olympic tour that my teammates and I got to participate in was such a blast, and we formed such great friendships during that time. We definitely made a lot of memories on that tour that we reminisce about every time we get together.”

Jacey’s hobbies/interests outside of the gym:
“I love to hang out with my friends and family, and I enjoy being outside. I also like photography, baking, traveling, and going to concerts.”

Jacey’s favorite gymnasts/role models:
“I like watching athletes that look like they are enjoying what they are doing while competing. I also like to watch the elite gymnasts, because it takes so much mental and physical strength to reach the level they are at. One of the ladies I look up to is Aly Raisman because she is so strong and powerful, and she seems like an awesome person to be around!”

Jacey’s favorite competition memories:
“Some of my favorite competition memories include making it to the Nastia Liukin Cup two years in a row and winning state with my team. Although my all-time favorite memories from competitions would definitely just be having a wonderful time with my teammates and coaches and seeing our hard work pay off.”

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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