Famous Mother and Daughter Duos in Gymnastics (Part II)

In the first part of this series I covered examples of famous gymnasts in women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) of famous mother/daughter duos who competed at the Olympic level. In this part I will cover examples where the mother is a famous Olympian while her daughter competed in the NCAA, as well as daughters who are famous junior level prospects. Finally, I will conclude this series with some examples which can be described as “miscellaneous” in nature. I also included a few father/daughter examples.

Mary Lou Retton and the Kelley Sisters

Mary Lou Retton is best known for winning the All-Around (AA) at the 1984 Olympics. She also has four daughters (Shayla, Skyla, McKenna and Emma) who have found varying levels of success in college gymnastics. McKenna recently finished a successful career at LSU while Emma is a freshman at Arkansas and is about to start a college career of her own. Shayla went to Baylor and was a member of their acrobatics & tumbling team. Skyla appears to have little involvement in gymnastics and focused on competitive cheerleading instead.

The Retton/Kelley family sports dynasty is interesting both for its large size relative to other examples on this list, but also for the very different career paths each daughter took.

Joan Moore

Joan Moore and Jeana Rice/Ashleigh Gnat

There is another American Olympian who has multiple daughters who competed NCAA. Joan Moore was a member of the 1972 Olympic team and finished 21st in the AA. Although it should be noted it was the last time an Olympics were held without country limits. Under 1976 rules Moore would have finished 14th, and in modern times she would have finished in 11th place. In an era where the United States wasn’t a WAG power, it was an impressive result.

Jeana Rice made numerous appearances in high profile domestic meets at the elite level. Her best result was a 7th place finish at the 1998 National Championships. Jeana is best known for her accomplishments in college. She competed for Alabama and won the All-Around (AA) title in 2004. Her half-sister Ashleigh Gnat is another example of a gymnast who enjoyed success just below the top level of elite gymnastics. She made multiple appearances at the Nastia Liukin Cup and later competed for LSU.

Ashleigh Gnat would eventually win the prestigious AAI Award, which is given to the nation’s top senior gymnast and was also the 2017 NCAA Champion on Floor Excercise. Joan Moore has not one, but two highly accomplished NCAA daughters.

Missy Marlowe and Milan Clausi

Missy Marlowe was a member of the 1988 USA Olympic team. Her daughter Milan Clausi is currently a junior at UC Berkeley. Milan Clausi didn’t have as many appearances in high profile domestic meets as other examples on this list, but she was a 2x junior national team member. As for her NCAA career, now that Clausi is an upperclassman she will likely receive a larger role on her team in future meets.

Sydney and Brandy

Brandy Johnson and Sydney Johnson-Scharpf

One of the great injustices in WAG history is that Brandy Johnson doesn’t have an Olympic medal. Brandy’s first stolen medal came in the team competition where the East German team controversially took third place over the Americans. During Event Finals Brandy recorded the second highest score on vault, but carry-over scoring demoted her to 5th place.

The following year at the 1989 World Championships, Brandy Johnson found herself in the exact same situation. Under carry-over scoring Brandy Johnson would have finished fourth in Event Finals despite having the second highest score. But fortunately for Brandy, this was the first competition where carry-over scoring had been abolished. This time the silver medal on vault went to Brandy Johnson.

Her daughter Sydney Johnson-Scharpf also competed at the elite level for Team USA. Sydney’s resume includes appearances in Iceland and Jesolo (Italy). Even though she never attended a World Championships or Olympics, Sydney emerged as a widely recognizable member of the national program amongst gymnastics fans. She has a sizable social media following as a result. Sydney Johnson-Scharpf currently competes for the University of Florida.

Natalia Laschenova and Sasha Tsikhanovich

Whereas Brandy Johnson was on the winning end of the 1989 rule change which abolished carry-over scoring, Natalia Laschenova was on the losing end of it. The rule change would ultimately cost Natalia the 1989 AA title. Under carry-over scoring Svetlana Boginskaya would have finished second to Laschenova.

Natalia’s daughter Sasha Tsikhanovich was born in Belarus, but grew up in the United States. Sasha earned a scholarship to Auburn, but an inexplicable ruling on the immigration status/residency status of Laschenova and her family members derailed Sasha’s college plans. The uncertainty over Sasha’s ability to remain in the United States while the case was pending forced Auburn to revoke the scholarship.

Sasha Tsikhanovich competed at the NCAA level for Bridgeport and was quite successful. In her last meet she famously copied the choreography her mother used at the 1989 World Championships. The video of which is linked above.

Valeri Liukin, Nastia Liukin, and Anna Kotcheva

Valeri Liukin/Anna Kotchneva and Nastia Liukin

After so many WAG examples, it is time to throw another curveball. This time the combination involves a father/mother/daughter combination where each member participated in a different gymnastics discipline. The first was Valeri Liukin who won four gold medals at the 1988 Olympics. Amongst his many accomplishments was winning an Olympic gold medal and a silver in the AA.

His daughter Nastia Liukin would also become an Olympic gymnast. Like her father Nastia won multiple Olympic medals, this time five in total including an Olympic AA gold medal. The Nastia/Valeri duo is another example where mother/daughter combinations are relatively rare in artistic gymnastics, but other family combinations are more commonplace.

Nastia’s mother Anna Kotchneva was also a gymnast, she simply wasn’t a WAG. Kotchneva competed in rhythmic gymnastics and won three medals at the 1987 World Championships. The Liukin/Kotchneva family dynamic is unique because all three members have a gold medal in a major elite-level competition. In all three cases, they won a gold medal in an individual event.

The Shirasu-Aihara family are the most successful trifecta when measuring success based on each member winning an Olympic medal. But only one member of the trio has a gold medal at the World Championships/Olympic level. In the case of the Liukin-Kotchneva family, all three of them do. Even though Anna never appeared in an Olympic Games, Nastia and her parents could argue that perhaps they are the most successful trio due to each member having obtained a number-1 ranking in the standings.

Fred Roethlisberger and John Roethlisberger/Marie Roethlisberger

If there is such a thing as gymnastics royalty, the Roethlisberger family is certainly it. At the 1968 Olympics Fred Roethlisberger was a member of the American MAG team. Despite his Olympic credentials, Fred Roethlisberger is best known for being a successful college coach where he coached the Minnesota men’s team for 33 years.

His son John Roethlisberger was a 3x Olympian and is a well known television commentator. Fred also had a daughter named Marie Roethlisberger who was the American alternate at the 1983 World Championships and again at the 1984 Olympics. After two consecutive stints as an alternate, Marie would finally appear in a starting lineup at the 1985 World Championships. Marie Roethlisberger did not officially compete in an Olympics, but from a statistical point of view, she was equally as impressive as her brother and father.

Marie’s 17th place finish in the AA at the 1985 World Championships was equivalent to how her family members performed in most of their AA appearances. Unlike Fred and John, Marie did competed under carry-over scoring rules. Had that rule not been in place, Marie’s 17th place finish in 1985 would have been a 7th place finish. It can’t be overstated that even though she lacks an Olympic appearance, Marie Roethlisberger was every bit as talanted as Fred and John.

Ava and Daniela

Daniela Silivas and Ava Harper

For a time considerable attention was being paid to Ava Harper. Her training videos demonstrated potential, and people were quick to pay attention to Ava due to her mother Daniela Silivas being one of the most successful gymnasts in WAG history. Major gymnastics sources such as Inside Gymnastics and International Gymnast provided insights on how Ava’s career was progressing. For a time she was one of the best known daughters of any former gymnast from the Eastern Bloc.

But in the past year and a half her public presence has waned and it is unknown if Ava will ever aspire to go beyond L10 or compete NCAA. Daniela Silivas has opted to maintain a private lifestyle for her daughter and it remains to be seen if Ava will ever reappear on the gymnastics scene, or continue in a setting away from the public eye.

Camelia and Sabrina

Camelia Voinea and Sabrina Voinea

Daniela Silivas’s Olympic teammate Camelia Voinea also has a daughter who is involved in gymnastics. Sabrina Voinea has been on the scene for a few years now and has already made significant headway in establishing a name for herself. Sabrina has a reputation for training sessions that feature enormous difficulty for such a young age. It is unknown whether her highly ambitious training schedule will lead to future success at the senior-elite level. But Sabrina Voinea has already done enough to qualify as a gymnast that can be considered memorable.

Christina Hardekopf (2nd from the right)

Anita Barwirth and Christina Hardekopf

In this example we have a mother and a daughter who are both Olympians, but only the mother was an Olympian in WAG. Anita Barwirth competed at the 1936 Olympics while her daughter competed at the 1960 Olympics in diving. It has long been a trend for a “crossover” to exist between WAG and diving as both sports require similar acrobatic elements and twisting in the air. In the case of Anita and Christina, this crossover extends to the Olympic Games.

Both athletes have earned high honors at the Olympics. Anita is an Olympic gold medalist while her daughter Christina was the flag bearer for Argentina in 1960. The reason Christina was awarded the honor of carrying the Argentinian flag was an acknowledgement to the sexism she had to overcome in order to appear in an Olympic Games.

At the time Argentina’s track record of providing ample opportunities for women in the Olympic sports was atrocious. Out of the 92 members of the 1960 Olympic team for Argentina, Christina was the only one who was a woman. One year earlier Christina had been barred from traveling with the Argentinian team to the 1959 Pan-American Games. As far as I could tell, not a single woman competed for Argentina at the 1959 Pan-American Games. In contrast, every other major country who participated in this addition of the Pan-American Games had female athletes and most had won medals in a woman’s event.

Christina’s belonging to an Olympic family was most likely invaluable, if not a key factor as to why she managed to find success under these circumstances. But if you are confused as to how certain things don’t add up such as an Argentine diver being the daughter of an Olympic gold medalist in WAG, its because the mother (Anita Barwirth) didn’t compete for Argentina. She won a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics while representing Germany.

Disclaimer: Argentina is widely associated for being the country of choice for Nazi war criminals/party fanatics fleeing Germany in the aftermath of World War II. The Barwirth/Hardekopf family has no association with this trend. The family first moved to Argentina in 1938, prior to the outbreak of World War II. Christina was born in Argentina in 1940. Special thanks to Bill Mallon for tracking down the details of how the family arrived in Argentina.

Linda Metheny

Linda Metheny and Colleen Mulvihill

This is by far the most unusual family dynamic in this series, and readers can debate whether it even counts as a family dynamic due to the retroactive nature of it. Colleen Mulvihill competed for the American WAG team at the 1968 Olympics. She was coached by her father Dick Mulvihill. Dick Mulvihill has the prestige of successfully coaching his daughter to the Olympics, but it was a different gymnast who was his most successful pupil.

In her time Linda Metheny was a legend for the American program. She competed in three Olympics (1964, 1968, and 1972). In 1972 she helped the American program to a fourth place finish in the team standings and in 1968 she finished fourth on the balance beam. In an era where the American program is widely perceived to have been a non-factor, Linda Metheny proves that narrative incorrect. Had things gone differently, Linda Metheny could have been the first American WAG to medal in an individual event at the Olympics.

One year after the 1972 Olympics came to an end, Linda Metheny married her coach Dick Mulvihill. As a result her former 1968 Olympic teammate became her stepdaughter, making this a retroactive stepmother/stepdaughter relationship between two WAGs who served on the same Olympic team. Furthermore, Linda Metheny sometimes has “Mulvihill” in her name in Olympic databases, giving the false impression that the 1968 Olympic team featured a pair of sisters.

It is an unusual dynamic and it must be remembered that romantic involvement between a coach and a gymnast is universally viewed as unacceptable behavior in modern times. But in the early 1970s that wasn’t the case and there simply wasn’t widespread awareness as to why such relationships are problematic and should not be allowed. It should also be stressed that Linda Metheny was 26 years old at the time of her marriage to Dick Mulvihill.

Dick Mulvihill passed away in 2013 and in 2019 his daughter Colleen Mulvihill passed away as well. The Mulvihill family legacy is now being preserved by Linda as she continues to operate the club they founded.

Link to Part I


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