One of the stars of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics is back in town - this time for good. The winner of the women’s All-around Gold medal in gymnastics, Liliya Podkopayeva, from Ukraine, has decided to make Atlanta her home. And she has joined the coaching staff at Perimeter Gymnastics at the MJCCA (Marcus Jewish Community Center) in Dunwoody.
“Atlanta has always had a special place in my heart since 1996,” said Podkopayeva. “I have very fond memories of the city, and I’m happy to be living here and working at the MJCCA and Perimeter Gymnastics.”
Perimeter Gymnastics might seem an unlikely place for an Olympic champion, as it offers gymnastics training for all ages and abilities - from preschoolers to adults, including recreational and competitive levels. About a third of the students are part of the Perimeter Gymnastics competitive team, many of whom go on to compete at the college level.
“Liliya sent me an email that she was new to the area and was looking for a job,” said Perimeter Gymnastics Director Stacey Harris, a former gymnast, who had met Podkopayeva the year before at a meet. She and her staff were definitely enthusiastic but were worried that their program wouldn’t “be big enough for her.”
But everything clicked when Podkopayeva came to see the facility and meet the people.
“We really liked each other,” said Harris.
“I love the family feel of the MJCCA and Perimeter Gymnastics,” said Podkopayeva. “I’m looking forward to working with all the girls and improving their gymnastics.”
Podkopayeva’s role at Perimeter Gymnastics is to assist the full-time coaches who work with the competitive teams.
Unlike most youth sports, gymnastics competition is ability based, rather than age based. Of the ten levels leading up to college-level competitions, Perimeter Gymnastics teams currently cover levels two through eight, though they have gone higher in previous years.
“We do very well in competition. Most of our teams are usually in the ribbons,” said Harris. “Liliya brings us a lot of knowledge and expertise.”
Podkopayeva’s international resume is extensive. Originally from Donetsk, Ukraine, she competed at the 1993, 1994 and 1995 World Championships as well as the 1994 Goodwill Games. She won the All-Around at both the 1994 Goodwill Games and the 1995 World Championships. At the Atlanta Olympics, in addition to winning the All-Around, she also won the Gold in the floor exercise and the Silver on the balance beam.
Though being named to the Ukrainian team for the 1997 World Championships, she met the fate of many top-level athletes when an injury forced her to sit out the competition and soon retire. After ending her competitive career, she twice appeared on Ukraine’s Dancing with the Stars, winning the competition in 2007, and in 2008 was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Though she herself no longer trains, Podkopayeva still has goals.
“Personally, I want to bring my experience from my many years of competing and coaching to the dedicated gymnasts at MJCCA Perimeter Gymnastics,” she said.
Podkopayeva joins a staff of 15 other coaches, most of whom are also former gymnasts. With 7,000 square feet of dedicated space and top-of-the-line Olympic gymnastics equipment in the Besser Gymnastics Pavilion, participants train on all four events - vault, bars, beam, and floor exercise.
In addition to the competitive teams, the MJCCA provides gymnastics classes for all ages, starting with “Crawlers and Tots” classes and including an adult class. The center also offers gymnastics camps, birthday parties and private lessons.
For more information about classes and training at Perimeter Gymnastics call 678-812-4045 or go to atlantajcc.org/gymnastics.