By Off the BlackAthlete Sports Wire By Dana Czapnik
Updated: May 30, 2005

Top Manhattan Gymnast, 10, Qualifies for TOPS National Team

NEW YORK, NY—A new face is about to adorn the billboards that decorate the New York skyline. It seems fitting that this slight 10-year-old in pigtails, with wide hazel eyes set against a dark olive complexion, will be the new poster child for New Balance. The company tag line is “Achieve,” and Beth Yehuday is beginning to do just that.

In most respects, Beth is like many another 5th-grade girl at the Manhattan School for Children. She loves dancing and art class, and she’d be happy to live in a homework-free world.

But she’s unusual, too. She’s the second youngest of eight children, who range in age from 32 to 6. She’s already got advertising gigs and an agent. And she gracefully tumbled her way through competitions in Houston in early October, finishing in the top 1 percent of her age group, to qualify for the Talent Opportunity Programs National Training Program.

USA Gymnastics, the national governing body of the sport, conducts the annual competition among nearly 5,000 gymnasts to find young athletes with the drive and talent to succeed in the sport. TOPS is an elite training program that has graduated such Olympians as Shannon Miller and Kerri Strug.

Over the summer, Beth was one of 300 female gymnasts selected out of the pool of 5,000 to attend the competition in Texas. Of those 300, only the 20 most promising gymnasts in each age group were chosen. Beth and a girl named Rachel De La Torre were the first gymnasts in the 7-through-11 age group who train at Chelsea Piers to qualify for the TOPS National program.

Beth is scheduled to attend her first training camp with the TOPS National team in December, at a camp run by Bela and Martha Karolyi. They’re the husband-and-wife tour de force in the gymnastics community whose pupils have included the Olympic champions Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton.

Although Beth has been participating in gymnastics for the past five years, she “only began training seriously in the past eight months,” noted her coach Wesley Jones.

“Amazingly, she only prepared three months for TOPS National testing in October,” Jones said. “Her family and the coaches here at Chelsea Piers are all very proud of her.”

The dedication of the 4-foot-2-inch athlete impresses everyone who has worked with her.

“Beth trains around 20 to 25 hours per week on top of her schoolwork load,” says Peter Korman, director of the Chelsea Piers Gymnastics Program and an Olympic bronze medallist. “She is dedicated and motivated to succeed, and obviously has a natural talent for gymnastics.”

Beth’s interest in gymnastics began from watching her older brother.

“I saw my brother doing cartwheels and I thought, Wow!,” the animated 5th-grader explained. Her interest grew as she began to compete at schools and programs around the city.

As she started to socialize with the elite athletes of her sport, her fate seemed sealed. She aims to model herself after Dominique Dawes, a TOPS alumna who won an Olympic gold medal, because, in Beth’s words, “she never gives up and she keeps on trying.”

Of course, there are more practical reasons for her passion for gymnastics.

“She told me when she was younger that she wanted to fly,” her mother, a slight and soft-spoken woman named Malca Yehuday, said of her daughter’s affinity for high-flying acrobatics, “and I told her ‘Beth, people don’t really fly.’ Well, she said she wanted to prove her mother wrong, so when she started doing gymnastics she came home and said, ‘Mom, when I’m on the bars I really can fly.'”

This article by Dana Czapnik is reprinted from the Oct. 30, 2003, issue of West Side Spirit with permission.