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Gymnastics: Sister act

By Eric Johnson

Jan. 31, 2005 9:00 p.m.

Under the incessant heat of the midday Las Vegas sun stood a
mother and her two young daughters on a concrete tennis court, heat
waves emanating from its green-coated surface.

The mother stood on one side of the net opposite her daughter,
serving tennis balls to the 5-year-old child barely old enough to
wield a racket.

As the young girl, Jordan Schwikert, stood on the court, trying
her best to withstand the high temperature and a barrage of
pointers coming from her one-time professional tennis-playing
mother, her older sister was doing something strange on the

Six-year-old Tasha Schwikert had thrown her racket down and had
begun to do cartwheels as she awaited her turn to get lessons from

“Tasha, pay attention!” her mother, Joy Schwikert,

But the mother’s plea went unheeded. Tasha didn’t
want to play tennis, and neither did Jordan. The two sisters, who
their mother put in the gym merely as a way to occupy them until
they were old enough to play tennis, had been bitten by the
gymnastics bug. Really badly.

Now, in the middle of two long and distinguished gymnastic
careers, Tasha and Jordan Schwikert have arrived at UCLA.

Tasha, now 20 years old, has so far had a somewhat more
illustrious gymnastics career. In addition to earning a spot on the
2000 U.S. Olympic team and an alternate spot on the 2004 team, she
was the 2003 World Championships gold medalist and has won six U.S.
national titles. Her ripe age for a freshman is a result of putting
off college for two years in order to train for the 2004

Jordan, now 18, also comes to UCLA with an impressive resume,
having been a two-time U.S. National team member and having
qualified for the 2002 USA Championships. She had to withdraw from
the meet, however, because of a back injury that later required
surgery, sidelining her for two years.

The prospect of having two incoming freshmen who together have
accomplished such remarkable feats is any coach’s dream.

But when the two are sisters, one of whom has been more
successful than the other, the possibility arises that one will
become overshadowed, resulting in jealousy. It was precisely that
fear that led UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field to be
careful with what she wished for.

“My immediate and biggest concern was that they would come
to the same college, and Tasha would be the “˜it girl,’
and Jordan would be left in the dust,” said Kondos Field, who
recruited both of the gymnasts.

“When I told that to Jordan, she looked at me like I was
crazy. “˜I have never been jealous of Tasha’s
success,’ she said to me.”

The maturity that the younger Schwikert showed impressed Kondos
Field, now in her 15th year coaching for the Bruins.

Contrary to the assumptions of many, things like jealousy and
sibling rivalry have never been an issue for the sisters.

“Luckily, our sport is not like tennis where we’re
competing against each other, because if it was like that,
I’m pretty sure it would be different,” Tasha said.

“In gymnastics, you control what you do. I give her advice
and good luck and tell her I believe in her. It’s her against
the equipment.”

The sisters also cite the fact that they were not competing at
the same level for most of their childhood as a reason for the lack
of rivalry.

“We were never competitive with each other because I was
always the age group up,” Tasha said. “She was a year
younger than me, and so we were staggered until I hit the elite

Indeed, the relationship between the two is not what one would
expect from a pair of sisters. Having spent a majority of their
lives together carpooling, practicing, being in the same classes or
even writing papers with one another, the two have forged a
relationship they describe as having more than just sibling

“We’re really close. We treat each other like a best
friend. Usually sisters don’t hang out, but we hang out like
friends,” Jordan said.

Kondos Field, who recruited the Schwikerts not as a package deal
but because she was impressed by their unique personalities, sees
two different people in the sisters that many mistakenly label as

“Tasha is a drama queen,” Kondos Field said.
“She is very confident, but she doesn’t have an ego.
Jordan is absolutely steady in gymnastics and in character.
It’s not a routine kind of steady; her steady is

The two different personalities, Kondos Field says, can
sometimes be at odds with one another.

“There’s that 5 percent of the time I feel like I
have to break up a dogfight between them,” Kondos Field

“I used to try to deal with it, but I realized I have no
effect. It’s almost like you have to find someone to throw a
bucket of water on them. Five minutes later, they are the best of
friends. They are both very strong women.”

The strength of Tasha and Jordan Schwikert has become very
apparent to the collegiate gymnastics world. Both are all-around
competitors for the No. 1 ranked Bruins.

In just five meets, Tasha has led the team in scoring three
times and has recorded two 10.0s, while Jordan has had the
second-highest all-around score on the team twice. Both find
collegiate gymnastics to be a relief after the pressure of elite

“It’s a lot less stressful and more fun,”
Jordan said. “You realize you’re doing gym for fun now.
Elite was very stressful. You had to keep a serious face and try
not to look at the other athletes. Now it’s more
team-oriented and everybody is cheering for one another.”

When watching Tasha and Jordan Schwikert compete on the
equipment, people are often reminded that they’re not
watching two cutthroat sisters battling against one another.

Instead, they’re two best friends, having fun together
striving for a common goal ““ an NCAA Championship.

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Eric Johnson
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