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Gymnasts Will Soon Be on the Road to China : Or "How I Spent My Summer Vacation Vaulting Over the Great Wall of China"

July 10, 1986|STEVE KRESAL

Pity the poor, unsuspecting teacher who asks 14-year-old Rich Lorenat to write a composition on what he did this summer.

Lorenat's essay won't describe trips to the beach, Disneyland, the movies or even grandma's house. Instead, he'll be able to share memories of the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City.

No, these aren't new lands at a local theme park. Lorenat, a resident of Irvine, is one of five Orange County gymnasts going to China for three weeks starting today.

Also going are James Reynolds, 13, of Laguna Hills; ,Jeffery Simon, 11, of Irvine; Kevin Hall, 15, of Capistrano Beach and and Lance Eagan, 17, of El Toro.

The group will train in the gymnastics center of the Beijing Institute of Physical Education in China near Peking with the national and international Chinese coaches.

The trip was organized as a joint effort between the gymnastics center in China and the one run by Rob Banis in Irvine.

Banis, 26, competed at Cal State Fullerton and coached at area gyms.

But he wanted to run his own center and, with the help of community business interests, opened one in Irvine shortly after the 1984 Summer Olympics.

"It was just something I always wanted to do. And with the groundswell of interest after the success of the men's team in Los Angeles, boys now have heroes in the sport," Banis said.

"I always had an interest in China. At the Olympics I was fascinated by the strength of the Chinese. I'm just interested in everything about the country. From the culture, to the food and, of course, the gymnastics.

"Getting a chance to travel to one of China's national centers and train will be a great opportunity for the kids and me also."

The trip costs each athlete about $2000. Most of the parents are sponsoring their own children.

"We're not taking just anybody over there," Banis said. "They have to have the talent or the potential to go. They also have to be dedicated to the sport and have the mental commitment to want to improve. These are all special gymnasts going."

Said Lorenat: "I don't consider it a vacation at all. I'm really looking forward to working with the Chinese coaches. Sometimes just the way a coach says a word can make the difference in being able to do a trick. The trip should give me more experience and overcome some of my fears I have doing tricks in the events."

Reynolds also sees the trip as a chance to improve his skills.

"It will be like a vacation because you're on the other side of the world," Reynolds said. "But it will really give me the chance to work on my skills and improve as a gymnast."

Lorenat started in gymnastics only three years ago because his sister, who was then 10, was taking a class. She would come home from class and show him some of the tumbling tricks she learned. After finding he was able to do many of the same moves, his interest grew in gymnastics.

He soon enrolled in a class and developed quickly over the next two years. He moved up from Class Four (beginners), to Class Two in two years. He has only two more steps to go, to Class One and then to elite, to be at the top level of the sport.

This year, Lorenat grew four inches to 5-feet-1 and started to fear moves that he could do when he was smaller.

"I used to be able to fall and not worry about getting hurt," he said. "Now, well, since I grew I'm starting to have psychological problems doing tricks. It takes me a long time to learn a trick and now that I'm bigger, I'm having more problems. The trip to China should help me with the mind part and I should also learn some new tricks."

Another reason for the fear Lorenat has is a series of lower leg injuries that he suffered last season. First, he sprained his right ankle, then his left, vaulting. Next, he damaged both Achilles' tendons and was sidelined for most of the season.

The injuries have lessened his love for the vault and he fears the high bar because of the strain it puts on his ankles in landing. But Lorenat still is fascinated by the pommel horse and excels at it.

The injuries and the frustration didn't weaken his drive. Once healthy, he was back in the gym and has made the necessary commitment to move up to the top of the sport in his age group.

"This (gymnastics) is what I want to do," Lorenat said. "I feel lost not being in the gym. This is where my friends are. On weekends I just sit around and wish I was here (the gym). I would like to play school sports and make friends that way, but when people find out I'm a gymnast they think that is pretty special, too. I can do things that not everybody else can do."

Banis said: "Once he came to this gym he (Lorenat) showed he was ready to become a serious gymnast. He is never late and has never missed a day. I think he has made the commitment to the sport and that's the only way he can realize his full potential."

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