Local gymnast reaches ‘elite’ status

Hard work is paying off for Kristen Ng.

The 17-year-old, who will be a senior at Wiregrass Ranch High School, can lay claim to being one of the nation’s premier rhythmic gymnasts.

Kristen Ng earned Level 10 Elite status at last month’s USA Gymnastics Rhythmic National Qualifier in Lake Placid, New York. She now will compete at the 2017 USA National Gymnastics Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ng, 17, will be a senior at Wiregrass Ranch High School. (Courtesy of Angie Ng)

Last month she earned Level 10 Elite status — the highest level possible — at the USA Gymnastics Rhythmic National Qualifier in Lake Placid, New York.

Only the top 20 senior finishers in the qualifier earn Level 10 Elite status, while the remaining 20 percent of competitors earn Level 10 status.

Ng placed 17th, recording an all-around 44.50 score, earning her a bid to the 2017 USA National Gymnastics Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The national event, which runs from June 27 through July 2, is reserved for the top 20 qualifying seniors and top 25 juniors from rhythmic.

If Ng finishes in the top eight, she’ll be selected to the USA Gymnastics Rhythmic National Team, to compete internationally.

For Ng, reaching elite status was a “life goal” — nearly a decade in the making.

“I was so happy,” said Ng, who lives in Wesley Chapel. “They called up my name, and I started crying; it was just an amazing feeling.”

The achievement was likewise moving for Ng’s longtime instructor, Tyana Marlowe.

“It was a big cry fest of happy tears,” said Marlowe, who owns and operates Tampa Bay Rhythmics in Riverview.

Ng’s journey to the top wasn’t easy.

For years, she’s practiced more than 20 hours a week, in four-hour sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays — all to perfect four, 90-second routines, using a ribbon, a hoop, a ball and clubs.

Ng competed as a Level 4 gymnast at age 9, but began training with Tampa Bay Rhythmics about two years before that.

Her potential was evident early on.

But, first she had to correct some flaws.

For instance, Ng’s hand-eye coordination needed development.

Her turn-out (supination in thigh joints) needed refinement, too.

Kristen Ng performs her club routine during the 2017 Caribbean Star Rhythmic Gymnastics Invitational in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. She was the highest-ranking American all-around.

“She’s come a long way,” Marlowe said. “We saw that she had a lot of natural flexibility, but she had a lot of things we had to work on.”

Her rhythmic expression always stood out, however.
It’s what consistently earns her high marks from judges today.

“She’s very clean,” Marlowe explained. “She has the nice extended legs, pointed toes — those are her two strengths.”

Ng’s ability to be graceful and dramatic also makes her a “well-rounded gymnast,” Marlowe added.
Typically, Ng and other gymnasts at Tampa Bay Rhythmics stretch for an hour then work on their skills, using each rhythmic apparatus.

The ribbon is attached to a stick and must be kept in motion showing patterns, such as spirals, snakes and figure eights. It also is used in the air and on the floor.

In the ball exercise, gymnasts roll, throw, bounce, catch and trap the ball while trying to make it appear to be an extension of their body. The hoop, similar to a Hula-Hoop, is decorated with tape to match the athlete’s leotard. The hoop can be circled, rolled, spun and tossed. A gymnast can pass over or through the hoop. One typical movement is the “boomerang,” rolling the hoop forward with a snap of the wrist to make it roll back.

Gymnasts must be precise, graceful, strong
Routines — and corresponding music — are developed and interchanged each year.

The gymnasts need to be smart, strong and have adequate stamina.

“It’s a high-intensive sport,” Ng said.

“It’s a nice combination of gymnastics and dance,” Marlowe said. “You don’t have the danger of the gymnastics, and you have a little bit more than the dance.”

“It’s not just dance, it’s a little bit more like a challenge to it,” the coach said.

According to Marlowe, the sport is quickly growing, thanks to better USA Olympic performances.

“It’s mostly a Russian-Bulgarian dominated sport, but the USA has really been climbing the ladder,” Marlowe said.

Ng also has noticed the heightened interest.

“In school, a lot more people know it now,” Ng said. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh, rhythmic gymnastics — I know what that is,’ versus before they were like, ‘What?’”

Kristen Ng displays balance, grace and flexibility in her ribbon routine. It is one of four apparatus she uses in rhythmic gymnastics, including hoop, ball and clubs.

Like artistic gymnastics and figure skating, rhythmic gymnasts are judged on their technical skills and artistry.

It’s why countless hours of repetition are required.

Finding ways to stay motivated year-round is a must, too.

“We work a lot on goals, and setting goals,” Marlowe explained. “There’s always something you can make better, so we always try and do little specific things.”

Meanwhile, Ng’s passion for the sport has remained steady.

Her favorite routine is ball-based, which she describes as “upbeat and spunky.”
“You have to be able to enjoy it; that’s why it’s lasted so long,” Ng said.

“The fact that you add one extra (apparatus) makes everything all the more challenging; making these cool tricks with the equipment is like my favorite thing.”

Staying calm while she competes
Her talents have taken her all over North America.

Besides local competitions throughout Florida, Ng has traveled throughout the United States, from New York to California to Las Vegas, and made stops in Canada and Puerto Rico.

Often, she wins.

At the Florida State Championships in March, Ng placed first in the Level 9 Senior division for her hoop routine.

In April, she won first-place all-around at the 2017 Rhythmic Gymnastics Region 6 Championships in Dania Beach, Florida.

She later became the highest-ranking all-around American at the 2017 Caribbean Star Rhythmic Gymnastics Invitational in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

And, wherever she goes, she follows her competition regimen.

Before each event, she makes sure to get a good night’s sleep.
And, immediately before hitting the main stage, she prays and takes calm, deep breaths.

Instead of judging herself against others, she likes to compare herself against her previous achievements.

The formula has worked well.

“Of course, you’re competing against other competitors, but if you look at it that way, you’re going to get way too nervous,” her coach explained. “You have to compete against yourself.”

Despite Ng’s national success, the upcoming 2017-2018 season might be her last, as there are no college scholarships for rhythmic gymnastics.

However, Ng wants to stay involved with the sport, likely as a coach and judge.

She’s also considering a part-time dance career, aiming for premier Cirque de Soleil shows.

Published June 14, 2017

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