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Rio Olympics: Young LI gymnasts root for their Team USA idols

Young future Olympic hopefuls gathered at Infiniti Elite

Young future Olympic hopefuls gathered at Infiniti Elite Gymnastics in Syosset, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, to watch Team USA compete at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

At Infiniti Elite Gymnastics in Syosset, Varvara Diakakis and about 30 of her teammates watched their idols flip, vault and leap toward Olympic gold.

“They’re amazing,” said Diakakis, 16, of Dix Hills. “It [the Olympics] opens your eyes to how much competition is out there and how hard you have to work.”

In a small room right off Infiniti’s entrance, the gymnasts at Tuesday’s Olympic viewing party buzzed with excitement, looking up pictures of Team USA and checking previous scores while waiting for the live stream to appear on a large, flat-screen TV. Each wore a leotard with varying mixtures of red, white and blue in support of the gymnasts they revere.

The young gymnasts, ranging in age from 11 to 19, were riveted as Team USA competed in the women’s team all-around event, the first of the medaling events in women’s gymnastics. The event features three athletes per country, who compete on each apparatus and contribute their score to a team total.

While Diakakis plans to start performing in national competitions next year, many of her teammates already have reached that level.

Jayden McDonnell, an Infiniti gymnast, was the first Long Islander to compete in the Secret U.S. Classic, an annual national competition that functions as an Olympic qualifier. The 11-year-old Northport resident competed in the junior division; all five members of Team USA competed in the senior division. At least one of current Olympians medaled in every event at that competition in June, and Team USA captain Aly Raisman took all-around gold.

Most of the Infiniti gymnasts have met one or two of the athletes, making it all the more exciting to watch them compete in the games, said Christie Tini, 15, of East Northport.

Northport resident Farah Lipetz, 11, agreed. “When we watch them in training it makes us push harder to be like them,” said Lipetz, who is a Level 10 gymnast — the highest Junior Olympic Program level.

All of the young athletes have Olympic aspirations, encouraged by their coach Tammy Marshall. She was acclaimed during her own career, competing nationally and representing the United States in a number of international meets. While on an athletic scholarship at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, she was NCAA champion in vault in 1992 and scored a perfect 10 in floor exercise in 1993.

Marshall said she opened Infiniti Elite Gymnastics on July 15 to allow young Long Island gymnasts to realize their potential.

“Having them together in their own gym and being able to start from scratch . . . I think will really, really be inspirational for them,” she said.

She considered taking some of the girls to Rio de Janeiro to watch the games, but decided against it because of the Zika virus outbreak. Instead, she decided to host Olympic “watch parties” at the new gym, as she has in the past at locations where she worked.

“It absolutely motivates them,” Marshall said. “Watching the team is amazing.”

As the athletes in Rio sailed through the air, the Infiniti girls chanted their names.

And when Team USA secured the gold medal, Sarah Goldman and her teammates said it was a “meaningful” win both for them and for future generations of young gymnasts.

Said Goldman, 17, of Port Washington: “It definitely inspires everyone to work a little harder.”

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