The Miss Val Show

Miss Val hates gymnastics. At least, that’s what people will tell you. Including Miss Val herself sometimes. She loves coaching. She loves heaping piles of life lessons and perspective upon unsuspecting 18-year-old elites who have never seen outside their own grips before. But watch gymnastics recreationally? She’d rather take a calculus test at a gum-chewing convention. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t come as an inordinate shock today when Valorie Kondos Field announced that she will retire at the end of the 2019 season, after 29 years as the head coach of UCLA gymnastics. She has seemed to be moving in that direction for a while now, and…I mean…she hates gymnastics anyway, right? Well…we’ll get to that. If there can be just one defining characteristic of Miss Val’s UCLA, it’s THE SHOW. It has always been about THE SHOW. For better and for worse. For better, UCLA is exceptionally conscious of how it presents itself to the world as a team, both gymnastically and non-gymnastically. If you go to UCLA, you’re going to be made into a performer, and you’re going to do a floor routine where you engage in battle with a heroin-addicted cocktail waitress only to learn that the cocktail waitress was you the whole time, whether you like it or not. You’re going to be mandatorily entertaining and kind of weird. It’s intrinsic in UCLA’s identity. It’s no coincidence, then, that UCLA is typically the favorite team of international gymnerds who don’t even like NCAA (or claim not to), and the favorite team of olde-tyme purists who believe that nothing useful has happened in the world post-Mostepanova. There’s something quite throwback about UCLA when it walks onto the floor. It’s very put together. You certainly won’t see an insane rat’s nest of a bun or a sloppy temp tattoo slapped on the cheek. A grizzled old 1970s Soviet coach would find the fewest things to murder about the UCLA team. That put-together, pristinely presented identity is pure Miss Val, and it extends to the routine performances themselves. There’s a refined sureness. Dare I even say…the calm confidence to do big beautiful gymnastics? (It’s the Miss Val retirement post. I couldn’t possibly resist.) Most sports laud the ability to win ugly. To find a way to defeat the opponent, even if it’s kind of lame and trashy. What separates gymnastics is that there’s no such thing as winning ugly. Winning ugly is called losing. With its exultation of the virtues of presentation, extension, execution, entertainment, and choreography—never wanting THE SHOW to turn ugly, or worse, boring—Miss Val’s UCLA has understood that central tenet and nostalgically connects itself to what this ridiculous art/sport hybrid is supposed to be. At the same time, there’s modernity in UCLA’s throwback qualities. You won’t see the marching, lifeless robot army that characterized real-life throwback gymnastics (or present gymnastics, cough). Instead, you’ll see actual people behaving like actual people who enjoy what they do, the direction gymnastics is—hopefully—heading. That seeming contradiction between staid past and exuberant future is quite fitting for the era of Miss Val, the gymnastics coach who hates gymnastics. Even her nickname is a clash of styles: Miss Val. It’s half demonic 1940s ballet teacher, half drunk drag queen with six pineapples on her head. And that, somehow, is exactly the mashup you get when you watch a UCLA gymnastics meet. You’ll note, in detailing the admirable qualities of UCLA gymnastics under Miss Val, I’m almost exclusively discussing what might be considered the associated trappings we see during competition—presentation, choreography, style and culture. Heavy focus on those aspects is an equally significant characteristic of the Val years and the UCLA identity. I haven’t even mentioned results or the number of championships yet, which seems quite fitting. Especially in recent years, Miss Val’s UCLA has made a point of trying to tell you that it’s not really about the gymnastics. Or winning. Or hitting. Despite how great the gymnastics usually is. Quite consciously, that is presented as less important than the show, and less important than all the personal growth and team bonding we experienced along the way. Now let’s stand in a circle around this candle. For a cynic like me, that makes UCLA a very easy target. We get that personal mental health and peace of mind is more important than hitting a double pike. But also that double pike. It’s also why, if you talk to a Utah fan, or to the comments on this site, or to me in my more acidic moods, you will meet a coach in Miss Val who is too busy dancing around the floor and trying to be the star to bother coaching her own team on vault, too busy being a self-help guru to notice that her entire lineup fell on floor and the team is ranked 9th for no reason. All while we’re assured it’s totally OK to be ranked 9th because the year was so rewaaaaaaaaaaarding. With 11 a’s. Much life lesson. Many growth. Flash mob. Besides THE SHOW, we must acknowledge the other unavoidable reputation UCLA has developed over the decades—the most frustrating team in college gymnastics. So, so talented. So, so lovely. Not always winning. Oh, the beautiful disasters we have lived through over the years, my friends. The teams that never quite reached their gymnastic potential, somehow even when they won the national championship. That was the 2018 team. Right up until that final routine of the season you were thinking, “Hmmm, so improved, but they never quite got it together, this team…” And then they won anyway. And we still don’t really know what to do with that information. There was a bars rotation last February where UCLA had a 9.300, a 9.525, and two 10.000s, and it should go in the Smithsonian as the exhibit on UCLA gymnastics because it was just SO very UCLA. Painfully beautiful, able to be the best team in the history of time, speckled with perfect, and yet also scream-inducingly infuriating. The life of a UCLA watcher. Until a year or so ago, those qualities—choreography, presentation, dancing, life lessons, frustration—would have been the end of a post called “The Miss Val Show,” but her last act deserves our attention. At a time of massive opportunity in gymnastics to change so many of the things that made “the horrible lives of elite gymnasts” a wildly accurate cliché, we have been met with thunderous silence by so many. I think of all the other college coaches who know the same stories as Miss Val, have seen it firsthand from their own former elites or lived it themselves, and know exactly how bad things have been over the years. But, they won’t ever say anything for fear of rocking the boat and compromising their recruiting streams. Miss Val is the one who has actually been willing to talk and piss people off and (gasp) tell the truth about what everyone needs to do better. Is it still all about the show? Of course it is. But she’s using her show powers for good. For all the aimless, misguided hand-wringing from people who claim to love gymnastics about “the reputation of the sport!” Miss Val seems to be one of the few who’s actually trying to save it. Would that everyone hated gymnastics as much as Miss Val.

23 thoughts on “The Miss Val Show”

  1. I love Miss Val!

    Now that I have that out of the way… I wonder if Miss Val felt free to talk about how the culture of elite gymnastics needs to change based on the fact she knew her days coaching were coming to an end? Also, even when she criticizes USAG it likely doesn’t have the same affect on UCLA recruitment as it would on another school like Washington, Minnesota, NC State, or perhaps an SEC school which are all located in pretty much college towns. UCLA is in Los Angeles and has a stellar reputation academically as well as athletically (not counting 2018 football).

    Is Dana Duckworth the next ‘Miss Val’ in college gymnastics? KJ being the next Suzanne and Grabia the next Greg.

    Has UCLA built a Miss Val statue yet?

    1. That, and honestly after hearing the horror stories of what these elites go through, if I’m an elite and I hear about Miss. Val championing for her athletes I would WANT to go there. Of course, UCLA isn’t the perfect fit for everyone, but for those who might be needing that kind of half crazy environment it just might be perfect. For example, just in the last few years seeing the normally reserved Kocian and Ross come out of their shells have been so heartwarming. And I think her success lies in the fact that she really doesn’t know gymnastics or cares to really coach it, she’s here to guide her athletes towards being the best version of themselves. She leaves the technical coaching to her very capable assistant coaches like Jordyn and Waller.

      1. So is Waller the obvious choice to be the 2020 UCLA head coach? Will Jordyn become a full-time assistant coach, dropping volunteer from her title?

      2. Yes that sounds right. Waller with Weiber stepping into his shoes. And maybe Chris Brooks will come on as a volunteer assistant now that he’s left Nebraska???

      3. Wieber’s SO Chris Brooks was named Assistant Coach of University of Oklahoma men’s gymnastics two months ago.

    2. I like your musings on legacy coaches…

      KJ Kindler is the new Miss Val choreographer. Dana Duckworth herself is a show, and she is way into the personal growth. The Dana vibes seem more cliche and less embodied to me though.
      Is there a single coach building their program and fan base as Greg Marsden did? He, Suzanne, Sarah Patterson, and Miss Val are such legends I can hardly see any future coaches accomplishing what they did.

    3. Miss Val knew for several years she was planning to retire. Many things she did this year were based on that fact. She publicly speaks against certain coaches, while being very good friends with others who are even worse. She is good friends with an enabler. She found ways to get attention in the media this year. Not a fan of her at all.

  2. So, Ohashi likely will be the answer to the trivia question of who was the last UCLA student athlete who had Miss Val as coach for her entire UCLA career.

    Frazier, Flatley, Wright, Taubman become the answer to the trivia question as to the last Freshman class coached by Miss Val.

    Chiles, Malabuyo and many more will be part of the group forever answering “No” to the question: “Was Miss Val ever your coach at UCLA?”

    While I’m sorry to hear about Miss Val’s retirement, I’m very glad to hear that this isn’t health-related and that she is still cancer-free after her treatments of a few years ago.

  3. Those trappings, that presentation, were what finally lured me into NCAA only a few years ago.

  4. I’m hoping Miss Val can come visit the team and tweak the pineapples once in a while.

    1. In an interview of Miss Val yesterday 9/20 (I listened to the archived interview on “Petros And Money on podbay”), Miss Val said there are already requests for her to consider returning just to choreograph floor routines, but she sounded rather hesitant to do that. She also said that the biggest use of time for current NCAA coaches is recruiting–24/7.

  5. This is a beautiful, honest tribute to Miss Val. I truly hope someone reads this in its entirety at her retirement party.

    1. As an Oregon State gymnastics follower it always felt like an accomplishment to best UCLA in a dual or at Pac-12’s BECAUSE VKF’s and her teams were always so classy and never made excuses. Battling Coach Val’s Bruins was always “big time”.

  6. I started watching NCAA mostly because of UCLA. 2 years ago I had no idea what that was (I’m from Europe). I really liked Kyla and Madison so I started watching the UCLA meets on youtube. And I always read about this legend Miss Val. For a whole year I was like – No, all the great stuff cant be true, she is so over the top, she cannot be that great… And after that first year, of course that I finally came to conclusion that she is really that great and unique… So sad to see her leave. She could have pushed to the 30 years mark.

  7. “It’s no coincidence, then, that UCLA is typically the favorite team of international gymnerds” – absolutely so, and I would count myself as one of those.
    It takes “exciting” teams like UCLA for people from other countries to even notice that something like the NCAA exists. In this regard Miss Val has been doing much more for the international recognition of NCAA than you would think.
    I initially got into NCAA because of the UF and especially Bridget Sloan, though 😀

    1. I got into NCAA during the USAG 2009-2012 quad when I would watch (repeatedly) the nationals and the Secret/Cover Girl Classic meets and the commentators mentioned where the gymnasts were going to school or would be going to school. I had to check it out to see more gymnastics… it was around 2011-2012 I started which is probably why I’ll always have a special place in my gymnastics-loving heart for Alabama.

      I also became addicted to UCLA, Stanford and LSU when I first started watching. It wasn’t until 2013 that I started following UGA and UF, among others.

  8. Gymnasts who had emotionally abusive club experiences (most of them) would love to compete at at a college that calls the abuse out. The last thing they’ll do is listen to their club coach trying to steer them away.

  9. Her video saying good bye. Was great. The queen has stepped down. Long live jordyn weiber.

  10. I hope jordyn get a permanent post at UCLA… she deserved it.! well, it’s too bad miss val has to return but it was a fun ride for kyla, kocian and co…

Comments are closed.