Yamaoka a gymnast on the rise

Gymnast Colette Yamaoka

When Colette Yamaoka was 2 ½ or 3, her parents, Craig and Monica, put her into some basic activity classes.
“It was just those little mommy and me classes, diaper dashes,” Craig said. “It was both of our ideas. We were thinking of something else to help our kid with her coordination.”
Unbeknownst to them, Craig and Monica had jump-started their daughter’s path to potential gymnastics stardom. A level 9 gymnast—level 10 is the highest in junior club competition—Yamaoka is the premier gymnast for USA Sports, a competitive gymnastics club with training facilities in Gilroy and Hollister.
A 15-year-old sophomore at San Benito High, Yamaoka won the all-around competition in the club’s first meet of the season on Feb. 1 in Fremont. Yamaoka, who finished with 36.525 points, followed that performance with a solid second-place finish at the Winter Invitational in San Mateo on Feb. 8.
From an early age, Yamaoka caught the eye of coaches who marveled at her talent.
“Coaches would tell us certain things, but my wife and I didn’t know how good she was,” Craig said. “We never pushed her into gymnastics. Colette deserves all the credit for being so determined all these years.”
Craig and Monica deserve credit for fostering an environment in which their daughter could grow and nurture her immense talent. The 5-foot-2 Yamaoka carries herself with a humble attitude, even though she might have plenty to brag about.
“I’ve never really thought of myself as being good,” she said. “I just have so much fun in practice and in competitions, and that’s why I keep on doing it.”
USA Sports optional coach Danielle Bunel, who is also Yamaoka’s personal coach, said her protégé has what it takes to earn a scholarship from a Division I program.
“It’s more than attainable for her,” Bunel said. “Colette will be ready for level 10 in a year or two, and if she keeps on progressing, I don’t see any issue with her getting a full-ride scholarship at all. She’s knows how to keep herself cool under pressure and she’s fearless. That’s a pretty good combination to have.”
Despite all of Yamaoka’s accomplishments in gymnastics—two years ago as a level 8 competitor, she had a top-10 showing in the regionals—Yamaoka counts her work in the classroom as her greatest achievement.
Yamaoka carries a 4.0 GPA and is taking two honors classes and two advanced placement classes this year.
“School is a lot more important than gymnastics,” said Yamaoka, who trains 15 hours a week in a sport that tends to wipe out even the fittest of athletes. “I get mad when I get a B.”
The top junior gymnasts train year-round, make a number of sacrifices and possess tremendous mental toughness.
“If Colette has a decision to hang out with her friends or to be training in the gym, she doesn’t think twice about it,” Bunell said. “She’ll be in the gym, because she understands the sacrifices that have to be made to reach the highest level.”
In order to compete for a Division I program, Yamaoka said she’ll have to “get smoother on the bars” and make her tumbling passes higher on the scale of degree of difficulty.
Yamaoka’s favorite event is the balance beam, which is 16 feet in length but just four inches wide.
“The beam is one of the harder events, so that’s why it’s my favorite event,” she said. Although Yamaoka has been described as fearless and cool under pressure, her first memory of gymnastics didn’t offer a preview of someone who would become a level nine gymnast.
“I used to be really shy and didn’t like going out in front of people,” she said. “When I was around 5, we had this showing at the gym, where all the gymnasts would perform in front of the crowd. But I was so scared I ended up just standing there and crying the whole time.”
To this day, Yamaoka said she still gets a bit nervous performing in front of big crowds. That’s why Yamaoka never looks into the audience while she’s doing a routine. The shy girl has developed the mentality of a champion.
“Everyday is pretty much a good day, especially when there’s a good gymnastics practice day,” Yamaoka said.
Yamaoka credited her previous coach, Donna Evans, and Bunel for knowing how far she could take a particular skill.
“Whenever we’re learning something new, the coaches have to know that you could do it and get over the fear of doing that skill,” Yamaoka said. “Gymnastics is such a mental sport, and that’s what makes the sport so challenging.”

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