Sunday June 16th, 2019 12:50PM

A final bow for 'Miss Val,' UCLA's Kondos Field to retire

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

Valorie Kondos Field nearly quit while she was behind. Nearly.

Her first year as the women's gymnastics coach at UCLA in 1991 didn't go as planned. Neither did the second. Frustrated, she found herself preparing to tell senior associate athletic director Judith Holland that Holland's unusual move to hire a head coach with no background in the sport had backfired — Kondos Field grew up dancing and spent eight years as an assistant coach with the Bruins focusing strictly on choreography.

On her way to Holland's office, Kondos Field stopped at a student bookstore. On one of the shelves she stumbled across legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden's definition of success, which he described as "peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

"I must've read it 20 times and a light bulb went off," Kondos Field said. "I couldn't fake being a gymnastics coach because I didn't know anything about gymnastics. I had to be true to me. Who is me? I know what it's like to work through pain. I know what it's like to set a goal and prepare mentally, emotionally and physically. When I was standing in the wings (before dancing), I was calm and confident. Isn't that what I'm needing to do with these gymnasts?"

Wooden's words gave her a vision she has carried through nearly three decades of sustained excellence.

By 1997, the Bruins were NCAA champions. Six more national titles have followed during Kondos Field's tenure, one which will come to an end next spring. She is retiring following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season to focus on outside projects that range from producing an urban version of the Nutcracker ballet to helping develop a sequel to the gymnastics movie "Full Out" that will be based on the life of former Bruin Christine Peng-Peng Lee.

"There's just so much on my plate," said the 59-year-old Kondos Field, who is releasing a self-help book in early October. "It's time to take the scary plunge and do it without the life preserver."

Kondos Field actually made the decision to step away in 2019 two years ago. The hard part was not telling anyone. She kept the circle small "knowing I could always back out." One of the few she let in was then-sophomore Katelyn Ohashi, who was in the midst of the difficult transition from elite gymnastics to the collegiate level.

"We were talking about living life joyfully, that it's a choice," Kondos Field said. "I knew me trusting her with this secret would mean a lot to her. She didn't tell a soul. It was a badge of honor for her."

And an insight into an approach that has worked so well for more than a generation. The woman known simply as "Miss Val" lets her assistants handle the gymnastics side of things. She handles the dance portion of their routines and the elusive pursuit of life balance inside and outside the gym.

In the process she's created a program that's become a haven for high-profile gymnasts trying to navigate the difficult transition from competing internationally — where the focus is on individual development — to a true team environment. The list of current or former Bruins with Olympic medals tucked away somewhere is long and distinguished and would be even longer if current Olympic champion Simone Biles hadn't opted to turn professional after committing to UCLA.

Kondos Field insists there is no secret. Her message to recruits is largely the same regardless of pedigree: come here and let's have a good time.

"The competing and winning part (of elite gymnastics), the whole thing has gotten turned upside down because of money, because of winning," she said. "Can we flip this back the other way?"

It's a mantra that resonates far beyond the competition floor.

"Val embodies everything you look for in a head coach: she builds genuine relationships with her student-athletes," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "She's a tremendous mentor."

Ohashi considers her journey as proof. She reached out to Kondos Field when her elite career ended due mostly to health issues. Ohashi arrived at UCLA trying to reconcile the difficult end to her Olympic dream while rediscovering her love for the sport. Kondos Field gently helped nudge Ohashi forward.

"When you're a gymnast, you're supposed to fit these standards, fall in line," Ohashi said. "Most gymnasts or elite gymnasts, I feel like they don't have a lot of personality. They give cookie-cutter answers. She pushes us to go out of that boundary and speak our truth."

An ethos that has helped Kondos Field guide the Bruins with style to a 516-120-3 record. Kondos Field regularly develops routines packed with moves pulled right from the latest music videos, an approach designed to embrace the "artistic" side of artistic gymnastics while also drawing spectators to Pauley Pavilion.

"In order to thrive, we have to put butts in seats," she said. "We've got to win and got to be entertaining."

Asked why she chose to reveal her plans before the season instead of after, and Kondos Field pointed to a meet next March that will serve as a homecoming of sorts for the hundreds of women she has coached through the years, "even the ones ticked off at me."

Then the season will end — possibly with an eighth national crown — and Kondos Field, who survived a bout with breast cancer in 2015, will get on with her life's work.

She's been an outspoken critic of USA Gymnastics in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding disgraced former national team doctor Larry Nassar — whose hundreds of victims include current UCLA volunteer assistant coach and 2011 world champion Jordyn Wieber and current Bruins/Olympic gold medalists Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian. But Kondos Field has no intention thrusting herself into consideration to become the embattled organization's next president.

Still, she has every intention to remain connected to the sport she has grown to love and help bridge the painful gulfs that have emerged in Nassar's wake.

"We've lost our royalty, we've lost our history," she said. "We've lost our family. We need to reconnect and need to get back together."

A mission that will continue long after Kondos Field steps away from the program she built, one whose unique approach mirrors that of its unique leader.

"UCLA gymnastics sticks out," she said. "I'm not saying better. Just different."


More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Basketball, College Sports, AP Sports - Men's College Basketball
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
New landslide kills 21, buries houses in Philippines
A massive landslide buried dozens of homes near a central Philippine mountain, killing at least 21 people and sending rescuers scrambling to find survivors after some sent cellphone text messages pleading for help
10:09AM ( 10 minutes ago )
A final bow for 'Miss Val,' UCLA's Kondos Field to retire
Longtime UCLA women's gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field's 29th season with the Bruins will be her last
9:59AM ( 19 minutes ago )
Ugandan pop star vows to fight on after arriving from US
Uganda's pop star politician vows to fight on 'or we shall die trying' after arriving from US
9:38AM ( 40 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
World Anti-Doping Agency reinstates Russia
The World Anti-Doping Agency has reinstated Russia, ending a nearly three-year suspension caused by state-sponsored doping
9:07AM ( 1 hour ago )
UEFA to judge Cristiano Ronaldo red-card case next week
Cristiano Ronaldo should learn next Thursday if he is banned from playing at former club Manchester United in the Champions League
7:47AM ( 2 hours ago )
Too soon? Fans find Red Sox division title banner in street
The Boston Red Sox have not yet clinched this year's American League East division championship yet, but a banner marking the accomplishment has already been accidentally unveiled
7:12AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Sports
Mavs owner Mark Cuban donates $10M after workplace probe
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has agreed to contribute $10 million to women's causes and domestic violence awareness as part of NBA investigation into workplace conditions
5:09PM ( 17 hours ago )
AP source: 76ers name Elton Brand general manager
AP source: Elton Brand hired as general manager of Philadelphia 76ers
7:57PM ( 1 day ago )
Michael Jordan donates $2M for hurricane relief in NC
Michael Jordan, who played high school basketball in Wilmington, North Carolina, is donating $2 million to assist residents of the Carolinas
4:13PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online Basketball
Similar slayings draw vastly different political reaction
Strikingly similar slayings in Iowa draw vastly different political reaction
5:57PM ( 16 hours ago )
OSU assistant Ryan Day gets $487K as fill-in for Urban Meyer
Ohio State assistant Ryan Day got a $487,000 bonus for leading Ohio State through Urban Meyer's absence
3:54PM ( 18 hours ago )
Slain golfer, suspect lived contrasting lives in Iowa city
Slain golfer and suspect lived contrasting lives in the same Iowa college town
12:45PM ( 21 hours ago )
College Sports
Black ex-police chief gets GOP nod for New Hampshire House
A black former police chief backed by the Trump administration wins the Republican nomination in New Hampshire's toss-up congressional district, while Democrats picked experienced, establishment-backed nominees for both that seat and for governor
6:17AM ( 1 week ago )
Maui hunkers down for Tropical Storm Olivia nearing Hawaii
Maui hunkered down for heavy rains and powerful winds as a gradually weakening tropical storm barreled toward the state, while Honolulu hoped it would be spared the worst.
4:09AM ( 1 week ago )
Ex-employees: Doc in sex abuse inquiry aimed ads at students
Two men who worked at an Ohio State University doctor's off-campus clinic says things that seemed odd about it appear more suspicious in light of claims that he sexually abused male athletes and other students
2:43AM ( 1 week ago )
AP Sports - Men's College Basketball
New landslide kills 21, buries houses in Philippines
A massive landslide buried dozens of homes near a central Philippine mountain, killing at least 21 people and sending rescuers scrambling to find survivors after some sent cellphone text messages pleading for help
10:09AM ( 12 minutes ago )
Ugandan pop star vows to fight on after arriving from US
Uganda's pop star politician vows to fight on 'or we shall die trying' after arriving from US
9:38AM ( 42 minutes ago )
The Latest: Tusk says UK Brexit plan 'won't work'
EU Council President Donald Tusk says that key parts of the British proposals to leave the European Union "will not work."
9:37AM ( 43 minutes ago )
Former aide to New York Gov. Cuomo faces corruption sentence
A judge will decide whether a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo receives leniency or a long prison sentence for his conviction on federal bribery and fraud charges
9:34AM ( 46 minutes ago )
The Latest: Uganda's pop star politician vows to fight on
The Latest: Uganda's pop star politician vows to fight on for freedom 'or we shall die trying'
9:24AM ( 57 minutes ago )