For Rhonda Faehn, her gymnastics career has now come full circle.
As an elite level gymnast, Rhonda was trained by legendary coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi at their Texas ranch. Under their guidance, Rhonda was a member of the US Women’s National Team from 1985 – 1988. During this time Rhonda was a member of the ’87 World Championship Team and the alternate for the 1988 Olympic Team in Seoul, Korea.
Fast forward to May 2002 when Rhonda was named the Head Coach for the University of Florida (UF) women’s gymnastics team. During her 13 seasons as Head Coach, Rhonda coached the Florida Gators to 4 Conference (SEC) Championship titles, 10 NCAA Regional Championship titles, 13 NCAA Championship appearances, 10 Super Six appearances, and 3 consecutive NCAA National Championship titles (2013, 2014 & 2015).
Shortly after winning her 3rd consecutive NCAA National Championship, Rhonda announced that she will be stepping down as UF’s head coach and taking a job with USA Gymnastics as the Senior Vice President of Women’s Program.
This is where Rhonda’s gymnastics career comes full circle. Not only will Rhonda be overseeing the women’s elite program where she had many of her own personal gymnastics career highlights, but she will now be taking on this new chapter in her outstanding career working alongside her former coach Marta Karolyi at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center located at the Karolyi ranch in Texas!
GBC: What sparked the interest in transitioning from the top collegiate coach in the country to returning to your roots with USA Gymnastics?
RHONDA: I have always had a passion for elite gymnastics. It is a love of mine and I appreciate all forms of gymnastics whether it be JO, College, elite. I also wanted to take on a new challenge!
GBC: What exactly is your role as Senior Vice President of Women’s Program with USA Gymnastics?
RHONDA: I am responsible for overseeing the strategic development of all aspects of the Women’s Program. I provide leadership, vision, and oversight for the USA Women’s Program that will drive the high performance plan for sustained competitive excellence at the international level and replicate that model of excellence in the execution of all other domestic activities. I additionally facilitate and implement the women’s high performance plan for the National Team and the Athlete Development pipeline activities and oversee all aspects of the USA Women’s judging program.
GBC: When someone takes on a new job they have goals they want to accomplish. What is your vision or goals for the Women’s Program, for both the JO Program and the Elite Program?
RHONDA: I would like to continue to strengthen the bond with all of the athletes and coaches. You also have to understand that I have really only been in this position for a few months… talk to me after the first year and I’ll have greater insight!
GBC: With the recent FIG ruling regarding gymnastics teams being reduced to a 4 member team, how does that affect USA Gymnastics strategy for picking our next Olympic team?
RHONDA: We will continue to work our hardest with the rules that are set before us. Once we have greater detail about the process, I will have a better idea. Obviously strong all around gymnasts would be beneficial.
GBC: Do you think there are changes or adjustments that need to be made to the current JO Program that will better prepare our athletes for the Elite level? If so, what do you think these changes or adjustments are?
RHONDA: The JO program believes in a solid foundation of basic skills and allows the gymnast to advance at her own pace. It is up to the coach, athlete, and parents to determine if the elite program is in their future. The elite path is a challenging and incredible road that should not be taken lightly.
GBC: Do you think the TOPs Program is serving its purpose to identify talented young athletes that can transition to the Elite Program? If not, what do you think needs to be done to improve the TOPs Program?
RHONDA: Yes. I also feel we have great opportunities available for all levels of athletes to progress at their own pace. I myself was a late bloomer and went through the JO Program to become elite. There isn’t one perfect road for everyone.
GBC: After every Olympic Games, there seems to be a dip in the amount of talented young athletes in the Elite Program for USA Gymnastics to work with. What do we need to do now in order to ensure we have a talented pool of athletes waiting to step up?
RHONDA: I feel that Valeri Liukin, our Developmental Program Director has done a wonderful job so far in strengthening our young athletes and providing tremendous education and growth for our coaches as well so that when the time comes, they will be ready to move into the next stage smoothly.
GBC: Now that you are working again with Bela and Marta but now as a peer, how does that compare to being a young gymnast and being coached by them?
RHONDA: My time as an elite gymnast with Bela and Martha was possibly my fondest memories. They have a tireless work ethic that I wanted to emulate. I wanted to be great not only because I loved being a gymnast, but because I felt we shared a special bond as athlete and coach. Now, being able to work side by side with Martha, I feel my life has come full circle and it’s almost as if I’ve come home.
GBC: What are your thoughts on Marta announcing her retirement a few months back?
RHONDA: This was not a surprise to me. Marta has always been very open and honest and I believe she has made the greatest mark on USA Gymnastics. I told her she was never allowed to retire!
GBC: Does USA Gymnastics have a plan in place to replace her? Any ideas on who that might be?
RHONDA: We are currently focused on the year ahead as it is a full calendar with World Championships and then the Olympics. We will not discuss the “after” now as we will keep our eyes on the present.