With the 2012 London Summer Olympics drawing to a close this Sunday, TV viewership numbers have begun to roll in, and few are surprised that coverage of women’s gymnastics drew some of the largest crowds over the last two weeks. In fact, NBC recently confirmed that Tuesday’s prime-time coverage, which featured Team USA’s Aly Raisman winning Gold on floor exercise and Bronze on balance beam, drew 30.1 million viewers, the best for the second Tuesday for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Count West Virginia University gymnastics coach Jason Butts as one of the millions that watched Raisman win. Coach Butts readily admits that he is an Olympic fanatic, anticipating the Games weeks in advance every four years.
Coach Butts believes that the Summer Olympics raise the nation’s interest in women’s gymnastics, and he hopes that increased exposure and excitement will lure Mountaineer fans to the WVU Coliseum for the 2013 season.
WVUsports.com: What are your thoughts on the coverage of the 2012 London Summer Olympics and the gymnastics competition?
Coach Jason Butts: I think it’s been wonderful. I’ve tried to avoid the internet and Twitter during the days so I can be surprised at night. I think the coverage has been pretty good.
I love sports, and I love watching sports, even sports I don’t understand. I get so nervous for all of the athletes, even if I don’t know them personally. I jump up and down and yell at the TV. It’s been really neat to watch.
Had you seen any of the “Fab Five” gymnasts compete prior to this year’s championships and the Olympics?
Yes, but only during practices when I’ve been at the gyms recruiting. I saw Gabby Douglas down at Virginia Beach. I also saw her compete when she was younger. Also, Jordyn Wieber is from Maci Sump’s gym, and I saw her practice. I’ve seen a few of them train. It’s neat to have some knowledge on them before they arrived in London.
Based on what you knew, did you expect this team to win the Gold medal?
When they announced this team, I knew this was definitely one of the best teams the U.S. has put forth, ever. I didn’t know the team would dominate the competition like it did, but I expected them to win Gold if they hit because they are just a phenomenal group.
When Team USA has a good year at the Olympic Games, how does that positively affect women’s college gymnastics?
It has a huge affect on college gymnasts. There will be a huge uptick in the number of girls joining gymnastics clubs. Thinking of recruiting as a four-year cycle, we always notice that it gets a little harder right before the Olympics. Then, recruiting picks right back up after the Games. It follows that four-year cycle, too.
There’s also the possibility that rules will change. Rules for college and international gymnastics also follow the Olympic cycle, so it will change our rules and the way we approach the sport for the next four years.
Women’s gymnastics is always one of the most talked about and watched sports at the Summer Olympics. How does that interest affect West Virginia gymnastics, and how can you immediately play off that interest?
It’s something we definitely want to capitalize on this year. I was at a golf outing last week, and I had a lot of people come up and talk to me about Team USA and the Gold medal.
Women’s gymnastics in West Virginia doesn’t get a lot of exposure. We have good coverage during our season, but we definitely need to capitalize on the USA’s Gold. Directly and indirectly, this is great exposure for our team and our sport.
Your team watched the Olympic coverage together. Do you like knowing that they took the time to bond over their sport, and do you think they learned anything or were inspired by Team USA?
It was really interesting hearing this team talk about these Games. They all realized that a lot of the skills Team USA competed, they also compete. I think that inspired them to work harder, and while they know they will never be Olympic gymnasts, I think it pushes them all to get better each day inside Cary Gym. It was a confidence boost.
I think the Olympics also got this team excited about gymnastics again. These girls train 20-30 hours a week; this sport is their life. To see other athletes they have either trained with or competed against become so successful really inspires them to get back into the gym and get excited about gymnastics. You have shared these athletes’ joys and heartaches. We’re bringing a whole new motivation into the gym this fall because of these Games.
What was your favorite Olympic moment of the last two weeks?
Watching the floor exercise during the team final. Team USA just had to stay on its feet to win the Gold. I loved seeing the gymnasts so happy as their dreams culminated at that exact moment. As a coach, that’s always the most exciting time – watching your athletes reach their goals.
That’s an experience a lot of people don’t get to see. Seeing them all cry and hug – that was my favorite moment. They were all just so happy. I hope they remember that moment for the rest of their lives!
Are you anxious for Mountaineer fans to carry their excitement for Olympic gymnastics over to WVU gymnastics?
Absolutely. I hope it’s an eye-opener for fans that don’t follow this team on an every-day basis. Hopefully they realize that this is a sport they have right in their own backyard and that they have the opportunity to enjoy a gymnastics meet in Morgantown at least five times every year. Even though the Olympics is a totally different setting, I feel like this squad is still a really exciting team to follow. I hope that the excitement around the sport carries over into our season.
I hope that the Mountaineer fans come out to the WVU Coliseum in 2013 to cheer us on, just as they were cheering on Team USA at these Olympics. We put on a great show, and we thrive off of their support!
WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck is expected to announce the Mountaineers’ 2013 schedule within the next month.
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