March 19, 2012
By Rich Mhyre, The Weekly Herald, Everett, Washington
EVERETT, Wash. - Brett McClure remembers watching gymnastics at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle and it was, he said, "the one event that sparked my interest in gymnastics and got me started in the sport."
We can only wonder how many youngsters will watch the upcoming Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships in Everett and, as McClure did more than two decades ago, set out to become world-class gymnasts themselves.
It certainly came true for the 31-year-old McClure, who grew up in Mill Creek and attended Jackson High School before heading off at age 16 to train full time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Seven years later, he was a member of the United States squad that captured the silver medal in the team competition at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Having an event that brings world-class gymnasts to Everett "is huge," said McClure, who is today an assistant coach with the Stanford University men's gymnastics team. "For all the countries that are coming to the Pacific Rim Championships, this will be their final preparation before the Olympic Games (in London this summer)."
In addition to strong men's and women's teams from the United States, China and Japan will bring elite squads to Everett. China won both the men's and women's team gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and six of seven individual gold medals in the men's competition. Japan, meanwhile, boasts one of the world's best individual gymnasts, Kohei Uchimura, the all-around men's winner at the World Championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
"Just to have those two countries, and then the other 10-12 countries that are going to be there, and they'll all be sending their best (gymnasts) to gain some competitive experience," said McClure, who hopes to attend as a representative of USA Gymnastics. "So this is just a huge event for Snohomish County and for gymnastics period."
The 31-year-old McClure knows all about top international events, having been a three-time World Championships competitor in addition to his Olympics experience. He also participated in six U.S. Championships and had 12 top-three finishes, including national titles in the pommel horse in 2001 and 2004.
The Olympics, of course, remain one of his favorite competitive memories.
"To go out and represent the greatest country in the world, and to have the privilege of reaching the pinnacle of your sport, it was just phenomenal," he said. "And then to win a silver medal and get to stand on the podium and see our flag get raised, words really can't describe the emotions that go through you.
"It's something that every Olympian will never forget, and to go through it was for me an awesome feeling."
McClure stayed with gymnastics for two more years, but an elbow injury in 2006 prompted his retirement. He immediately became an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he stayed for four years until being hired at Stanford in 2010.
Stanford has one of the pre-eminent gymnastics programs in the nation, so the chance to coach there was a terrific career opportunity for McClure. And his first season could hardly have been better, as the Cardinal won its fifth national team championship and the second in three years.
At Stanford, McClure admits to having pinch-me-I'm-dreaming moments "almost on a daily basis, to be honest with you. This university is known for national championships, international championships and the Olympic Games as well, and that was a big part of my thought process in making the move from the Air Force Academy."
In addition to helping coach the Stanford team, he also works with former Cardinal gymnasts who have current and past experience as members of the U.S. national team.
"It's pretty much a full day for me on a daily basis," he said. "But it's incredible to have the opportunity to help kids who are trying to chase the same dreams that I had when I was the same age."
When he first started coaching, "I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it," McClure admitted. Even today, he added, "I'll go to those big events and I'll start to get that anxiety, that hunger, that drive (that an athlete feels), and I want to get out there and perform.
"But being able to help them accomplish something as a gymnast is so fulfilling to me, and it's grown this new hunger inside of me that's kind of filled that same competitiveness I had as an athlete. Now I'm driven to help these kids achieve the best possible outcome they can, and for me it doesn't matter if they're going to make it to the Olympics or not.
"As long as I can get to know that athlete, and get to know exactly what makes them tick and how far I can take them, that's the best part of the coaching experience," he said.