For those reading without prior experience as a gymnast, the thought of trying to sit, stand, walk or even breathe on a balance beam that’s four inches wide without stumbling might bring some fear.
How about compiling a routine with acrobatic skills, turns, jumps and dismounts? For most of us, that’s likely far from imaginable. It’s a narrative that gymnasts of all skill levels are told quite often, and most of them laugh it off. They all know of the difficulties, but it gives artistic gymnasts a channel to display their elegance and skills.
Then there’s Rachel Baumann, the Georgia freshman who takes her adoration of a beam routine to the next level for those very reasons. It’s her favorite event, and there was no hesitation in admitting so.
“It’s really challenging, and I like being able to go out there and show off the difficulty I have,” Baumann said. “I like to show it off and do it well. A lot of people think it’s hard, and that makes it even better.”
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Baumann’s craze for her beam routine has become a sign of promise for Georgia this season. She has the third-best beam average on the team at 9.820, but there’s an aura of confidence that leads the GymDogs to envision unwavering dependability from the first-year gymnast out of Texas.
In the months prior to her 2014 season, Baumann’s love for the balance beam soared. She was training at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (better-known as WOGA), and was given a challenge by her then-coach Natasha Boyarskaya. WOGA is known for producing the likes of Nastia Liukin and Madison Kocian, and Boyarskaya is a former coach of the United States national team. Based on those backgrounds, Baumann knew to pay attention to her teaching.
Boyarskaya gave three options for a new skill: a side-aerial layout, a side-aerial back-handspring and a side-aerial Onodi. All of those skills scared a 14-year-old Baumann, so the first she tried was the back-handspring and was later pushed for the layout. It didn’t work.
“We threw it out, then a couple months she wanted to come back to it,” Baumann said. “That time, it clicked.”
And once it worked, it became the signature skill in the routine due to the uniqueness. Welcome to the adventure that is Baumann on the beam.
“I love it because it’s unique. Not a lot of people do it, especially in college,” she said. “I show off my personality in my dance, and it’s a great way to express myself.”
To no surprise, Baumann has brought it with her to Georgia as one of the few to present it collegiately. Before she could show it in front of a packed-out Stegeman Coliseum crowd, there were plenty of adjustments to be made after arriving on campus despite training at such a powerhouse throughout her youth.
The most-evident setback was the need for conditioning and time with strength coach Joshua Rucci. That wasn’t because Baumann was out-of-shape, but it was due to degenerative back injury that will be present throughout the rest of her gymnastics career. During her recruitment, Baumann voiced that concern to her head coach Courtney Kupets Carter.
As a result, Baumann now gets more numbers, as Kupets Carter calls them, which is being able to practice a certain skill or routine more often prior to competition.
“The amount of gymnastics she’s doing is way more than prior to getting here,” Kupets Carter said. “That is because she’s physically capable with the (increased) strength in her back.”
Along with some tips about the beam routine from her head coach, Baumann’s health has led to a surge of confidence. Her routine is now done without “thinking” about other factors, she said, and it has led to production for the GymDogs. Baumann is the only freshman to compete on three events (vault, floor and beam), and Rachael Lukacs is the only other newcomer to appear in multiple.
Baumann has posted a 9.875 in Georgia’s two road meets (Oklahoma and Auburn) as her highest totals.
“As a freshman, you have the nerves,” junior all-around gymnast Rachel Dickson said. “Rachel hasn’t shown any of that on beam, and that’s an amazing quality. She hits her routine every time, and she’s going to continue doing great for the rest of the year.”
There’s a limiting factor for Baumann, however, and it’s not the side-aerial layout — the skill that carries the most difficulty. Oddly enough, it’s the skill that is a requirement for every gymnast that frustrates Kupets Carter (in a lighthearted way).
“It’s the full turn. She overturns it, and we have a joke about it,” she said, indicating that Baumann may need to reduce the frequency of practicing it in order to improve. “I’ll laugh at her after a meet and say ‘of all the skills, that’s the one we struggle with?’ She’s trying to make sure it goes straight.”
Despite the one area for development, Baumann’s beam routine has already caught the leader’s eye. Sabrina Vega, who carries the famed Moonwalk tradition and leads her so-called “beam team” with an abundance of enthusiasm, notices a special quality in the freshman. Vega knows when to encourage certain gymnasts before they step onto the beam but with Baumann, it’s exactly the opposite — Vega makes it a point to leave her alone.
That’s because she knew the freshman had a plan and was in her zone. Vega saw it best in Friday’s meet against Auburn. Georgia has struggled in road environments this season, as most teams do, and there was an opportunity to be rattled after an 9.95 was announced for an opposing gymnast on floor and Auburn Arena was rocking while Baumann was on the beam. It was all composure.
“I see her being an anchor, because she has the technique and came from a gym that is very expressive on beam,” Vega said. “So, imagine her junior or senior year. She can be that rock on beam.”
About that platform with a four-inch width, there’s no fear with Baumann. A confidence exudes from herself, teammates and coaches. So, when she steps up to perform, Georgia knows this freshman can flip with little flaw.
“I know she got it,” Vega said. “Go up, do your job and I’ll see ya for the high-five at the end.”