LEWISTON — Trying to pose for a photograph while holding yourself up on a pair of parallel bars and smile is tough enough. Having to do it in sync with someone else trying to do the exact same thing is another matter.
One gymnast smiled, the other stared straight ahead. One shot his legs into the air at just the right angle, the other struggled, shivered and dropped back to the mat, laughing all the way.
Then they’d flip-flop.
Finally, Dylan Tanguay and Max Soifer got it right. The 15-year-old gymnasts — Tanguay from Lewiston and Soifer of Auburn — have certainly done tougher and far more intricate tricks on those same parallel bars, and on several other apparatuses around the gym, though not to the tune of flashbulbs popping.
Tanguay and Soifer will have one more chance this competitive season to perform those tougher routines in each of six gymnastic disciplines. Both have qualified to compete at the Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., in early May.
“At the beginning of the season, we started to think about how we could prepare ourselves to possibly qualify for nationals,” Tanguay said. “Toward the middle of the season, we started to fade downward as far as our work ethic, and our skills suffered because of that. At the end of the season, we started to really think about it and realized we had to pick it up.”
“We had the best meet of our lives (at regionals), and it worked out for the best,” Soifer said.
First, the pair had to qualify for the regional championships. Then, the hard part.
“The top 14 at regionals make it,” Soifer said. “I got 13th, and (Tanguay) got 10th. He did better than I did.”
“We’re both there, though,” Tanguay interjected quickly.
From a coaching standpoint, watching the young gymnasts execute their routines was one of the easier parts of the whole process.
“The hardest part is knowing the code (for scoring),” coach Josh Chasse said. “Once you understand the code well enough to play your cards right, you’re able to fashion the routines the way you need to give them the best chance to qualify. All year, we basically struggled to meet the requirements they needed to have a score high enough to be able to qualify.”
Chasse has a unique relationship with his star pupils, too. Once a gymnast himself who went on to compete at Springfield College, Chasse was also a teammate of Tanguay’s and Soifer’s at Andy Valley Gymnastics, where they still compete.
“We may not have the best, top-of-the-line equipment, but we have this place, and we have great coaches who know what they’re talking about,” Tanguay said. “We have everything we need.”
Tanguay has a little bit more on the line, too: a shot at redemption.
“I really didn’t work hard at all last season,” Tanguay admitted. “I relied on natural talent to carry me through.”
And then Tanguay broke his arm.
“I missed states and the chance to go to nationals last year,” Tanguay said. “That was pretty much the kick in the butt that I needed.”
This time around, both gymnasts applied themselves. Both made it through.
Now the tough part: surviving the toughest competition to which either of them has ever been.
“When we were training for regionals, our goal was just to get as many of the element groups as we could, and then hit it as cleanly as we could,” Chasse said. “Now we’re trying to fulfill more element groups in the time we have and continuing to focus on hitting the routines with consistency and building a routine so that they can be competitive.”
They’ll have to be, Chasse said. The competition this time around is top-notch.
“They’ll be up against guys that will eventually be competing in the Olympics,” Chasse said. “In order to do that, you have to have all of those element groups filled, and upgrading the difficulty where you can and continue the consistency.”
The boys are taking the preparation in stride. The fact that they’re going to Knoxville at all is reward enough. But, they said, now that they’re going, they might as well make some noise.
“I’m going into this to try and do the cleanest, best job that I can possibly do,” Soifer said. “I’m not going in thinking I’ll be in the top 20 or anything, but if I have a good meet and do the best I can do, I’ll be happy with whatever happens.”
“I want to go in there and hit six-for-six,” Tanguay said. “I want to do what I know I’m capable of and just see what happens.”