GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A meet such as Friday night’s tilt between SEC rivals Florida and Georgia at the O’Connell Center is as good as it gets in college gymnastics.
The Gators are ranked No. 1 and Georgia enters tied at No. 3 in the country. Both programs are considered among the nation’s finest year in and year out. Think Yankees-Red Sox or Cowboys-Redskins.
“These crowds are huge,’’ Gators freshman Kytra Hunter said. “I remember my first home meet I was pretty surprised. Having thousands of people clapping for you is great.”
Making their high-flying skills look so easy takes much work by the Gator Gymnastics team.
It is our goal to give Gator Gymnastics the opportunity to train to be the best; a new state of the art training facility will help make this a reality. You too can help make this possible by making a charitable gift in support of Gator Gymnastics. For more information contact Gator Boosters, Inc. at 352-375-4683 x5000.
What has separated the Gators from other top programs in recent years is their practice studio.
That is about to change.
The University Athletic Association has approved plans to begin a massive renovation of the gymnastics studio located on the north side of the O’Connell Center starting in April.
The upgraded studio will provide Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn with a facility that will rank among the finest in the country when completed. Current plans call for the project to be finished by the end of 2012.
“From our perspective, it gives Rhonda a chance to practice in a state-of-the-art facility,’’ said Chip Howard, UF’s senior associate athletics director for internal affairs. “Right now she probably has the smallest practice studio in the SEC. It also provides a safety factor. She’ll have about an additional 6,700 square feet to work with.’’
To make room for the expanded space, the outside wall of the O’Connell Center’s north side will be removed and the building extended, marking the first time in the O’Dome’s 31-year history that a structural wall has been knocked down.
Once completed the new facility will feature more than 18,500 square feet and for the first time in the program’s history, the coaching offices and training rooms will be located in the same place.
The coaches currently occupy offices on the O’Connell Center’s lower level which is also the location of the training room.
“Right now everything is kind of spread out,’’ Howard said. “All the support staff is going to be right there for them. It’s going to be one-stop shopping.”
In her 10th season leading the program, Faehn is understandably excited about the prospects of the new practice studio. It will feature high-definition video recorders and monitors at each workout station to allow the coaches and athletes to receive instant feedback on practice routines similar to what the National Training Center features.
The new facility will also have seating and an observation deck for recruits and their parents when on recruiting visits.
“We’re very happy with what we’ve had, but it’s time to get updated and renovated and we need more space,’’ Faehn said. “It’s going to be brought into modern times. It’s going to be one of the largest gyms in the country and one of the most up-to-date.
“We’re of course extremely honored and thrilled and thankful to the UAA and to [athletics director] Jeremy Foley and [senior associate athletics director for women’s sports] Lynda Tealer and everyone who is helping make this happen for us.”
In addition to more space and upgraded technology, the new practice facility will also include:
--A lobby with trophy case, graphics and seating
--An expanded training room, massage room, and nutrition bar for student-athletes
--Three vaults, two with resi-pit landing areas and one with a deep-foam pit
--Four balance beams plus two supplemental practice beams
--Four sets of uneven bars.
--A floor exercise area
--An in-ground trampoline and tramp-bar
--An in-ground tumble trampoline and 60-foot rod floor leading to deep foam pit.
--A channel pit with spotting platforms
--A single bar trainer over foam pit
--Cardio exercise equipment within studio space
Work is expected to begin on the project in April and be completed in time for next season.
“At the end of the day I think it’s really going to help her in recruiting,’’ Howard said. “It shows the commitment that the gymnastics program has at the University of Florida to go along with all the other selling points. Now you put a state-of-the-art facility together and it’s really going to help.”