By Anna Rose Johnson
Following in the footsteps of her talented coach, 15-year-old Anahit Assadourian hopes to reach her goals and help revolutionize women’s gymnastics in Armenia.
Feature Photo by Anh Viet CHAU
Born in the United States to Armenian parents, Houry Gebeshian grew up competing in club gymnastics in Massachusetts, eventually making the transition to NCAA at the University of Iowa. Upon graduation, Gebeshian set her sights on elite, opting to represent Armenia on the international stage. After competing at the 2011 World Championships, she was named the third reserve for the 2012 Olympic Games—just missing the opportunity to compete in London. But she didn’t let that disappointment deter her from her dream. A few years later, she began gearing up for the 2016 Olympics, working as a physician assistant and delivering babies while training for Rio.
Gebeshian’s hard work paid off. She qualified for the 2016 Olympics, becoming the first female gymnast ever to compete in the Games representing Armenia.
“My all-time favorite moment from Rio was walking out into the arena at the Opening Ceremony,” she remembers. “As athletes, we are corralled outside of the arena for hours! When it started, we could hear everything that was going on, but we couldn’t see anything, so we were just waiting in suspense. Finally, the line started to move toward the center of the arena, and we were shuffled into a dark tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, you could see a small light and you could hear the cheering and excitement. All I wanted to do was get to the end of the tunnel, and once I did, it opened up into this parade of colors and sound and people. I looked around and it was amazing to see the entire arena filled with people there to see us! That moment was when it finally hit me that—wow, I’ve made it. I am here at the Olympic Games, and I deserve to be here. The swell of emotions I felt at that moment I will forever remember.”
Gebeshian also added an eponymous skill to the Code of Points when she debuted her new uneven bars mount in Rio.
“The next best moment was [when] I caught the bar after successfully completing the Gebeshian,” she says. “It was my very first skill on my first event. I was really anxious because I knew I would only have one chance to have it named after me, and it would also determine how the rest of my day would go. Luckily, I caught the bar, and I was instantly relieved. I confidently moved through the rest of my bar routine, stuck my landing, and knew that it was going to be a great day.”
After an extremely successful Olympics, Gebeshian shifted her focus to the world of coaching, where she began to guide another young gymnast—Anahit Assadourian—through her own elite journey.
“It was a pretty easy transition, [because] even before I was done competing as an athlete, I had already started the conversation with Anahit and her parents on what she’ll need to do if she also wants to compete in an Olympic Games representing Armenia,” Gebeshian explains. “Once I returned from the Olympics, we started working toward the new goal of Anahit competing at the next one. There is a little part of me that wishes I could be training alongside Anahit and leading by example, but I have to remind myself that it is time to pass the torch.”
Assadourian’s gymnastics career has mirrored Gebeshian’s in many ways. Competing in U.S. club gymnastics as a junior for Golden State Gymnastics, Assadourian quickly climbed through the ranks before beginning her elite career. Among her highest accolades in J.O. include competing at the prestigious WOGA Classic in 2016 and placing third in the all-around at Chris Waller’s Heart of a Champion meet in 2017. Assadourian advanced into the international spotlight when she competed at the European Youth Olympic Festival—her first competition representing Armenia.
“Being able to compete for Armenia has been an amazing opportunity,” says Assadourian, who maintains dual citizenship with both the U.S. and Armenia. “My elite journey began in 2015, here in the U.S, when I was invited to the national training center for the developmental invite camp. I was so lucky to be able to do that and learned so much about elite gymnastics. In 2015, my former coach, Nicole, introduced me to Houry, [who] was training for the Olympics at the time. That same summer, my family and I took a summer trip to Armenia, [and] during my time there, I was able to meet the national coach and train. It was then that I was given the opportunity to represent Armenia. It has been such a great experience so far!”
Training both Level 10 and elite at Gymnastics Olympica in California, Assadourian is busily adding new skills and cleaner execution to her routines in preparation for next season.
“I am also very excited for some of my upgrades on all of my events,” she tells us. “Some of the skills I’m working on for the upcoming season are [a] Maloney + Pak on bars, a Yurchenko layout on vault, a double tuck, two-and-a-half twist on floor, and adding my front aerial on beam again.”
“Her training is going well,” Gebeshian adds. “She has just come off a significant back injury that kept her out of training and competition during the 2017-2018 season. She wasn’t quite back to full strength for the 2018 European Championships, so currently she is working on upgrading her routines so she can fulfill her minimum requirements.”
Assadourian’s next J.O. season begins in January. “I am training Level 10 to compete this upcoming season, [and] I am also training to represent Armenia in the World Championships in the fall of 2019,” she explains. “I would also like to participate in the 2019-2020 Apparatus World Cup series.”
While Assadourian and Gebeshian are mainly focusing on 2019, they’re also looking ahead to the future—which might include NCAA and the Olympics. “I am looking toward Tokyo 2020 and am working on a plan and setting goals with my coaches in hopes of this becoming a reality,” Assadourian says. “NCAA is definitely one of my [other] goals… There are so many amazing teams I have been following; some of my favorite teams are Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan, LSU, UCLA, Utah, and Georgia, but of course all the teams are amazing.”
Gebeshian shares her protégé’s excitement. “The long-term goals for Anahit are to qualify to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, as well as earn a spot on an NCAA gymnastics team,” she says. “In order to make those happen, her short-term goals include staying healthy, continuing to build her routines to fulfill her minimum requirements, and start seriously recruiting herself for college. The way I made it as far as I did—both in NCAA and elite—were with basic, clean and confident routines, so that will be the goal for Anahit.”
Assadourian already performs with beautiful elegance and artistry, which will serve her well in both avenues of gymnastics. “[While] I do not have a dance background, I have been very lucky to have coaches that have given me great artistry training,” she tells us.
“They have really taught me to extend, feel the music and tell a story. I try to do that when I am on the floor.”
Although Gebeshian says she misses competing in gymnastics “all the time,” she enjoys her life as a coach, and she relishes the task of helping young athletes to reach their dreams.
“What I love best about coaching is the opportunity to share my knowledge of the sport technically—as well [as] emotionally—from my perspective as a recent athlete,” she says. “I have been involved in the sport of gymnastics for over 20 years, and through those years I have learned a lot. Of course I have more to learn, but taking everything [I’ve learned from] the sport—physically [and] technically, [and] now incorporating my emotions, feelings, and personal experiences into the mix—makes coaching such a rewarding experience.”
Coaching Assadourian at the elite level has been “interesting, exciting, anxiety-provoking, stressful, and fun all at the same time,” Gebeshian says. “What is interesting in our coach-athlete relationship is that I am more of a mentor/coordinator than a coach to her. I don’t train with her full-time. She trains at Gymnastics Olympica under head coaches Arsen and Lara Minasyan, [and] they are the ones coaching her day in and day out, preparing her for what is ahead and supporting her in her goals. The hope is for them to start traveling with Anahit at future competitions and me be more of a team manager/coordinator. In the interim, until everything gets figured out, I have been her stand-in coach at these competitions, which has been a really great way to get to know her and see her grow throughout the years.”
The 2018 European Championships in Glasgow was a vital experience for both Assadourian—who competed on all four apparatuses at one of her first major international meets—and Gebeshian, who supported her athlete every step of the way.
“Competing at the European Championships was an experience I will never forget,” says Assadourian, who scored 40.832 in the junior all-around final. “Being there representing Armenia was amazing, and I can’t wait for more competitions to come!”
Gebeshian says that she was proud of Assadourian’s performance and poise throughout Europeans. “It is much more stressful being the coach than being the athlete, so I was very anxious watching her and hoping for her to perform to the best of her ability,” she tells us. “It was also nice to be back in a place I was familiar with and around athletes and coaches I competed alongside. It brought back a lot of memories of when I competed in that same arena three years prior.”
“I have so many great memories from [Europeans],” Assadourian remarks. “Some of my most favorite ones have to be making my beam routine and hitting my release on bars. I really liked the rotation song between events, because it was very positive and uplifting.”
Gebeshian also has a few favorite moments from Europeans. “My first favorite moment was running into so many people that recognized me,” she says. “It was really eye-opening to see that I made a name for myself in the gymnastics community. I was told by many that they loved watching me compete at the Olympic Games, and they could feel the love I have for the sport radiating off of me while they watched. It really meant a lot to me, because we put so much into this sport as athletes, and finally living the dream so many dream of was a celebration that I wanted everyone to feel a part of.”
Another of Gebeshian’s favorite moments was watching Assadourian “blossom out on the competition floor,” she remembers.
“She is such an elegant and poised athlete but also still a young 15-year-old. Even though she had a very watered-down floor routine, I let her go out there and perform it, and when she came off the podium her eyes were sparkling, and she was so grateful to have been able to perform again. It is not always about winning or being the best. Sometimes it’s about enjoying the moment you are in and making the most of a situation.”
2019 will be an important year for Assadourian, who will turn 16 years old and move into the senior ranks. “I can’t believe that I will be a senior next year,” she marvels. “It is super exciting, and I know that I have to work even harder to make sure that my routines have the execution and difficulty. I am also aiming to hit clean routines.”
It will also be a meaningful year for Gebeshian, who is essentially guiding Assadourian through the same journey she experienced as a gymnast—competing for Armenia in quest of Olympic success.
“My ultimate goal is to grow women’s gymnastics in Armenia, so it starts with one,” Gebeshian says. “Anahit will hopefully be number two, and we’ll keep adding as the years go by… [eventually] showing the Armenian federation the value in a women’s program. Competing for Armenia was a really great way for me to reconnect with my heritage and history, so I will always be grateful for the opportunity. I hope for more athletes to be able to experience the things that I have, hopefully with a little smoother of a path.”
“I have gotten so much great advice from Houry,” says Assadourian. “She has taught me to keep calm and stay positive throughout the meet. She has also taught me to enjoy the moment at the competitions and try to make them fun and not stressful. The most important thing she has helped me see is to set high goals, work hard and not be afraid to go for it!”
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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