Kristal Uzelac Back In The Gym: Can the Record-Breaking Junior Phenom Make a Comeback as a Super Senior

Kristal on Balance Beam at finals of the 2001 US Junior National Championships in Philadelphia August 9-11, 2001
Gymnast Kristal Uzelac performing on balance beam at the 2001 US Junior National Gymnastics Championshps, at which she was the all-around champion for a record third year in a row.
Uzalac’s Parkettes teammate Tia Orlando won FX & Kristal settled for second, on her way to her third Junior National All-Around Championship in Philadelphia, August, 2001

The February 2019 issue of Inside Gymnastics contained the surprising news that Kristal Bodenschatz (née Uzelac) is back in the gym in a capacity other than coach: she’s training for an attempted comeback competing in International Elite gymnastics. The story of Kristal’s career is one of unprecedented triumph & seemingly limitless promise at the junior level, followed by a senior career marked by injuries and disappointment, culminating in not even being invited to the 2004 Olympic Trials. She seems an unlikely candidate for a comeback, having retired from competition eleven years ago, and now a mother of three living in Johnstown, Pennsylvania with her husband Brad Bodenschatz. But she seems to feel that with age comes wisdom, maturity, and the importance of not giving up achieving your dreams.

“I feel like I’m closer to maybe making it now,” Kristal told Inside Gymnastics magazine, “[although] I’m nowhere near in shape for making the team [yet]. I just want is so bad. I do miss the sport, but I want to prove to myself that I can do things. I also want to prove to my kids that you don’t have to give up on your dreams if it doesn’t go right the first time.”

A photo I took of Kristal Uzelac competing on balance beam at the 2001 US Junior National Gymnastics Championships, along with Kristal’s autograph on the cover of the 2013 Parkettes Invitational program book. Both hang proudly on my wall.

I had the opportunity to meet Kristal at the 2013 Parkettes Invitational, where she was coaching a team from Uzelac Gymnastics, the gym started by her parents in Johnstown, with another location in Altoona that Kristal owns & runs. She got a sparkle in her eye when I asked about her competitive career, and told her I’d been floored by her performance at the 2001 US Gymnastics Championships, where she won her record-setting third Junior National Title (it was the first big time gymnastics competition I ever attended). It will surprise few of you to hear someone say that the gymnastics community is prone to gossip (as are the online forums and boards frequented by insiders & serious fans), Kristal’s abbreviated foray into NCAA gymnastic had many tongues wagging with speculation on why she had quit gymnastics (again!), something she surely knew. When I told her that I’d heard various rumors, but that it appeared to me simply that the never-ending injuries continued in her college career at Penn State, and then it was the serious concussion she suffered during training prior to her sophomore season that brought her competitive career to an end, she seemed quite pleased that there were fans out there who understood, & didn’t listen to gossip. I had forgotten to bring the print of a photo I’d taken of her competing at the 2001 National Championships for her to autograph, so she instead signed the cover of my Parkettes Invitational program.

Because so many non-fans & casual fans of gymnastics still have this image in their minds of a sport dominated by pre-pubescent girls, I like to root for the veteran gymnasts who are getting a bit long in the tooth but still competing at the highest level. Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekhistan is well into her forties and still a threat to medal on vault in any international competion, and Venezuala’s Jessica López Arrocha is still out there competing, and I think she’s about thirty-three now. So I don’t view Kristal Bodenschatz’s dream as being far-fetched at all. But whether or not it is, I’m still rooting for her. It would make such a great story at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, since you can only do so many profiles of Simone Biles.

I read the article in the paper edition of Inside Gymnastics, but I haven’t been successful in finding the article online, so I can provide a link to the article this post is based on.


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