With chants of “Ivana! Ivana!” ringing inside the walls of the Great American Gymnastic Express, U.S. Olympic gymnastics hopeful Ivana Hong went through a full-scale workout designed by her coaches, Al and Armine Fong.

With chants of “Ivana! Ivana!” ringing inside the walls of the Great American Gymnastic Express, U.S. Olympic gymnastics hopeful Ivana Hong went through a full-scale workout designed by her coaches, Al and Armine Fong.
She was joined by U.S. Junior National team hopeful and GAGE teammate Becca Clark Wednesday afternoon in Blue Springs.
“We wanted to create the type of atmosphere Ivana and Becca Clark can expect when they compete at the Visa Championships (June 5-7) in Boston,” Al Fong said. “We invited teachers, friends of Ivana’s and Becca’s and students from the Blue Springs Freshman Center to give the girls the feel of a real meet.
“We want them to have a few butterflies before they perform and are trying to recreate the pressure they will feel at the championships.”
While Clark is attempting to earn place on the Junior National team, Hong is facing the white-hot heat that comes from competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team that will compete in Beijing, China this summer.
“Before she left for school today, I could tell Ivana was very nervous because her teachers and friends were coming to watch her today,” said Ivana’s mother, Michelle, who was joined by Ivana’s sisters Isabelle, 17, and Isadora, 9, and brother Preston, 6.
“I told her, ‘Ivana, I am very proud of you. Don’t be nervous – the crowd is there to energize you and support you. Go out and enjoy it.’ ”
Hong, who missed a move on the bars and fell twice in her floor routine, seemed to enjoy the support of her classmates and teachers, but was not that thrilled with her overall performance.
“But that’s why we did this,” Hong said a few minutes after the GAGE center had cleared. “Now, I know what I have to work on – and I’m ready to go to work.”
While one of the nation’s elite gymnasts was not pleased with her effort, it wowed those in attendance.
“I now see Ivana in a whole new light,” said Kara Wirth, who teaches both Ivana and Becca in geometry. “I’m used to seeing this A-plus student who is away a lot of time on gymnastic trips, yet she always comes back with all her homework done and handed in on time.
“Now, well, now I see her as a world-class athlete. I still don’t believe what I saw today. It was amazing – just amazing!”
The Fongs set up the elaborate training session much like a world class event, complete with the national anthem.
Hong and Clark put on exhibitions in the vault, the bars, the beam and wrapped up the nearly two-hour event on the floor.
“It went pretty much as I had hoped and anticipated,” Fong said. “It’s much easier to deal with the misses here, than it will be in Boston or Philadelphia.”
Following the Visa Championships in Boston, Hong advances to the U.S. Olympic Trials in Philadelphia June 20-22.
“I really want to thank all the people who came, because we did recreate the atmosphere of a big meet,” Fong added. “I know Ivana was nervous – and now, she got a little bit of those nerves out of her system. She made some mistakes, but now we can really attack those areas that need work.”
While Hong and Fong know there is plenty of work to be done, Ivana’s younger brother and sister lavished praise on their big sister.
“I’m proud of Ivana, even if she falls,” said Preston, a 6-year-old who is wise beyond his years.
While talking about the pride he has for his sister, he added, “Did you know that a giraffe has as many bones in his neck as you have in your body? Or that a tyrannosaurus rex had 6-inch teeth?”
He went on to give the definition of the word bombastic, and show off some kung fu moves.
Isadora simply grinned while Preston was getting some attention.
“I love Ivana’s floor routine, especially the finish,” Isadora said. “Her technique is usually flawless. I just love to watch her compete.”
And Ivana loves to be a part of a loving and caring family.
“I just want to thank everyone – my family and friends and the teachers and kids from the Freshman Center – who came today,” Hong said.
Then, it was back to work.