By Dedra Cordle
As an athlete, the goal is to compete at the highest level of your sport and Joey Smith has done just that.
The 16-year-old gymnast has made it all the way to the national championships three times so far, which, under normal circumstances would be considered a tremendous feat, but the self-admitted perfectionist is none too pleased with the results.
“I haven’t placed,” he said with a grimace.
Trying to look on the bright side, he said he has seen some improvement in each of his appearances.
“The first two were so bad, but the third was better.”
Nyika White, his coach at Integrity Gymnastics and Cheerleading, thinks he is too hard on himself.
“It’s a tough competition,” he said of the event that draws over 400 athletes from around the county. “It’s the only national championship for boys in USA gymnastics so you’re going to get the best of the best competing.”
Smith said he doesn’t expect to win the all-around at the national championships, which will be held in Long Beach, Calif. May 7-11, but he is expecting a better result than his previous outings.
“I hope to at least place this year,” he said.
But before he gets there, he has to do well at the Ohio Boys State Championship (which will be held March 22 and 23 in Cleveland) and the Regional Championships (which will be held April 11-13 in Ann Arbor, Mich.). White said that should not be a problem for Smith.
“Joey is certainly capable of making it (to the national championships again),” he said.
He just has to work on his landings, he added.
“He’s as good as an athlete a coach can find but one of the things that he could do better is to land on his feet,” White said with a laugh.
White said that Smith often takes a step to the side or has a slight stumble after a landing but he mainly chalks that up to Smith’s height (he is 5’ 9) which can impede on certain apparatuses.
White said where Smith’s height helps is on the high bar (the apparatus that White says Smith has the most potential) and the pommel. In fact, it was Smith’s score on the pommel that propelled him to the top of his age division at the Blaine Wilson Sportsfest in February.
Hoping to build off that confidence-boosting win, Smith has been working hard to perfect tricky new skills such as the front-flipping release move on the high bar called the Jager and the Double Back on the floor.
Smith’s mother, Ann said watching some of these moves make her nervous.
“Watching him on the high bar is the hardest for me,” she said. “If he misses, he…”
“Goes splat,” Smith finished.
He mentioned he has done that a few times – one incident left him with a third degree sprain and out of commission for several months – but said each fall only makes him want to get back up and work harder.
White said he is amazed by Smith’s dedication to the sport.
“He’s taking a bunch of AP classes at school, he’s an Eagle Scout, he volunteers with the Special Olympics and he’s here six days of the week for hours at a time,” White said. “His plate is never empty, but he somehow manages to keep it all together and do it well.”
Smith said as long as he stays healthy he wants to keep competing at the highest level, even if the results do not always go the way he wants them to.
“I want to go as far as I can in this sport,” he said.