***image1***Years of dedication and an absolute love for the sport are what it takes to qualify for a spot in the German National Championship individual gymnastics competition.
That’s exactly what Michelle Steel, 16, did as the only American on the German Bundesliga gymnastics team, although she was unable to compete in the Saturday and Sunday event because of a hyper-extended knee.
She would have competed against German girls who are going to this year’s summer Olympics in Greece.
“I love gymnastics,” said Michelle, a sophomore at Ramstein American High School. “I get to do fun, cool stuff and I’ve been doing it since I was six years old.”
Michelle began her childhood gymnastics career in nearby Koblenz, Germany, and she quickly moved up to a level seven gymnast at 9 years of age when her family was stationed in Alabama.
Michelle’s father is an active duty U.S. Air Force servicemember.
At age 11, she became a level eight state champion in the state of Virginia and competed in regional and west national competitions while living in Arizona.
In 2002, Michelle returned to Germany and reunited with some of her gymnastics teammates she had practiced with as a child. While here she had the opportunity to be coached by Viktor Klimenko, who was a Russian Olympic gold medalist.
Klimenko helped Michelle reach the status of a level 10 gymnast, which is one step below an elite gymnast from which the U.S. Olympic team is selected.
“It’s difficult and challenging,” said Michelle. “In order to be an elite gymnast you have to train in the mornings and afternoons and be home-schooled. I would love to reach that level, but right now I just want to get better and continue doing gymnastics in college.”
Michelle can also attest to the fact that being a level 10 gymnast isn’t so easy either. In order to stay in top form, she regularly trains for two to three hours three times a week and six hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays.
Michelle said she is moving to Colorado and will continue to do her floor routines, vaults and all of the other gymnastic moves she loves.
“It’s a great sport,” she said. “There’s nothing like doing a double back flip on floor and a double layout from the bars.”