Photo courtesy of Stoddard Reynolds
High Performance Highlights
2002 Pacific Alliance Championships, Junior (Exhibition): 4th AA, 5th V, 4th UB, 2nd BB, 3rd FX
2002 Canadian Championships, Junior: 7th AA, 7th V, 9th UB, 1st BB
2002 Elite Canada, Senior: 28th AA (3 events)
2003 Jurassic Classic: 2nd AA, 2nd V, 6th UB, 1st BB, 3rd FX
2003 Canadian Championships, Senior: 13th AA, 2nd UB (tie)
2003 Pan Am/World Trials: 8th AA
2003 Elite Canada: 9th AA, 7th BB, 8th UB
2004 Canadian Championships, Senior: 10th AA, 6th BB
2004 Olympic Trials: 7th AA
2004 Elite Canada: 8th (T), 5th UB (T), 2nd FX
2005 Stella Zakharova Cup: 6th AA, 5th UB
2006 Canadian National Championships: 10th AA, 5th V, 7th FX
2008, 2009 & 2010 Pac-10 All-Academic Second Team
2008 & `09 Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sports Scholar Team Member
2009 All-Pac-10 Second Team, Balance Beam
2010 All-American Second Team, Uneven Bars & Balance Beam
2010 NCAA Columbia Region Champion, Uneven Bars
2010 Pac-10 Champion, Balance Beam
2010 All-Pac-10 First Team, Uneven Bars & Balance Beam
Laura-Ann Chong graduated from Oregon State University in June 2011. She competed four years of NCAA at OSU, and served as the student-assistant coach in her fifth year. During this year, the team became the 2011 PAC-10 Conference Champions, Regional Champions, and placed 8th at the NCAA Championships. Chong recently sat down with Gymn.ca to discuss her experience in the NCAA and her comeback to compete at the London 2012 Olympics.
Gymn.ca: Gymnastics is a tough sport, and many kids often quit during their high school years. Were you ever tempted to quit?
LA Chong: Fortunately, I never truly had an urge to quit the sport of gymnastics. There were definitely times where I wanted a change of lifestyle and have more time to spend with people from school, but then I just kept reminding myself of my goals and that no other student at school was doing what I was doing or attempting to achieve what I wanted to at such a tender age. I also realized that the people I wanted to surround myself with were those that understood what it took to reach the top and would be able to support me from all angles, and those people were the teammates that I trained with everyday.
Competing in the NCAA definitely showed me a light of gymnastics I had never experienced before. I remember my freshman year, I was extremely nervous and put so much extra pressure on myself before competitions. It took a lot of effort from my upperclassmen and coaching staff to help me realize that competitions are just times to showcase my gymnastics and that the fans will appreciate anything you do. I learned to compete for myself and the fans, instead of the judges and other committees that might cause me to put on the extra pressure.
"I just kept reminding myself of my goals and that no other student at school was doing what I was doing or attempting to achieve what I wanted..."
Gymn.ca: What made you choose OSU?
LA Chong: I have always loved the state of Oregon and was comfortable with the environment as my family use to do yearly camping trips on the Oregon coast when we were younger. I knew I wanted to stay on the west coast because...well, if you look on my Oregon State playerbio it says to avoid the likeliness of "big natural disasters like tornados or floods." I don't think I'd be able to adapt to those very well...
Gymnastically, I didn't know anything about the NCAA in terms of which schools were consistently ranked in the top 10 in the nation, or which ones really took care of their student-athletes outside of their competitive fields. I just knew that when I first met Tanya and Michael Chaplin, I felt a sense of belonging and that they really wanted me to succeed in both gymnastics and in my academics. When I went down for my recruiting trip, the team dynamic felt so together and supportive, and I wanted to be a part of it. Weirdly, I also fell in love with the small college-town atmosphere and it was great to find out over the years that gymnastics was the most popular sport next to Football and Men's Basketball, as we averaged 4,000 fans to each home meet. It definitely threw me off at first when people would recognize me grocery shopping or being out and about in the surrounding towns.
Gymn.ca: Do you have any advice for Canada's gymnasts currently navigating the NCAA application process?
LA Chong: The recruiting process is constantly getting faster and faster. It is very rare that schools will have remaining scholarships available for you at the beginning of your grade 12 year. If you are on the National Team or trying to go Elite but are about to enter your junior or senior year of high school, you need to start looking, if not already be signed with the institution of your choice. Most of the time, if you explain to them that you want to still try to compete for Canada, you can either defer a year, or a lot of schools will allow you to train for both agendas. Whatever you do, don't wait until your senior year to start looking for scholarships! Also, don't be afraid to apply and contact schools that may not be ones that you know a lot of. You never know what a school has to offer until you talk to them. Don't close any doors!
Gymn.ca: What are some of the biggest lessons (or benefits) you've experienced in NCAA? Best memories?
LA Chong: Being able to compete in the NCAA and to be a part of a Division I institution allowed me to experience many opportunities that I am grateful for. Besides experiencing an amazing team atmosphere, I was able to be a part of many leadership committees including out Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which is a student-athlete led group that every institution has and is aimed at voicing the student-athlete's opinions and concerns. But one of my favorite experiences from being involved in the NCAA is being able to witness the support that is available. Our fans at Oregon State are amazing and they always made it so fun to compete at home. I think they are a big part of why I was able to change how I approached competitions and rekindled my true inner-love for gymnastics, even during the hard days. My best memories are with my teammates and support staff. It is very important to me to be able to enjoy life and have fun in everything I do, and these people made it so easy to cherish every moment.
Photo courtesy of Stoddard Reynold
Gymn.ca: When did you start think about returning to the HP scene? What are your short term goals? Long term goals?
LA Chong: Honestly, returning to elite had been in my head throughout my entire junior and senior year at Oregon State. However, I knew I wanted to try to focus on other things as well so after my senior year, I took the year to really invest in my academic efforts and pursue the requirements to get into a graduate program for physical therapy. Something was still burning though and after much deliberation, I decided to go for it. Right now, I'm really trying to get my timing & awareness, and strength & flexibility back. As any gymnasts knows, any time off of gym is detrimental to your abilities so taking a complete year off is definitely challenging. My long term goal is to be ready to compete at Elite Canada in December. I am focusing only on bars, beam, and floor, instead of the all-around as I haven't done any vaulting since the middle of my freshman year.
Gymn.ca: How do you feel your NCAA experience will help you compete in your return to HP?
LA Chong: Competing in the NCAA definitely mentally prepared me for competitions in a way that I was not use to prior to my collegiate career. Since we compete around 15 times a year, week after week, I got very comfortable competing my routines. I was able to experiment with what worked for me, and what didn't, and had many chances to try these new things. Every week as season progressed, it was always about challenging myself to improve and regain that 0.1 that would improve my score. I think this will be a huge advantage for when I return to HP as I will no longer have to struggle with the mental aspect of a competition and I can just concentrate on my own skills and what is in my control.
Gymn.ca: What is different this time around?
LA Chong: I definitely have more experience with competitions and feel like I approach them more light-heartedly. Of course, I still take them very seriously, but I am able to enjoy myself during the meets instead of putting on so much pressure that I cannot have fun during the process.
Gymn.ca: How does you feel about working with David again?
LA Chong: I am very excited to work with David again. He was my coach for the majority of my career pre-college, taking me under his wing when I was just 5 years old. Every time I go home, it is always so great to see him and catch up and I know he's going to be the support I need to push me and get me to the place I need to be to be competitive with the rest of the girls. He is such a talented coach and always knows some crazy little trick that can help you work through an obstacle.
Gymn.ca: Are you planning to defer Physio until after the Olympics?
LA Chong: Yes, I am applying to grad programs this coming fall. I would LOVE to get into the University of British Columbia or University of Alberta so I can stay somewhat close to my family. Along with training this upcoming year, I am hoping to also work part-time in a physiotherapy clinic and learn from other therapists.
Links: OSU Player Bio | Official website