Valorie Kondos Field remembers Tanya Chaplin’s first season at UCLA very well.
It was 1985. Kondos Field was an assistant coach for the Bruins then and Chaplin an athlete fresh out of elite gymnastics.
“I just was so in awe of her athleticism,” Kondos Field said of Chaplin. “She was this petite, little blond woman who was extremely quick-twitch. And she was super focused and yet she had this humility about her that was undeniable. And so there was no arrogance at all with her. She was just a great athlete.”
Chaplin was a gifted gymnast, having competed in the 1983 World Championship and 1984 Olympic Trials, but the relentless intensity of elite competition had left her worn down psychologically and emotionally.
She also admitted to being stubborn when it came to her gymnastics.
College gymnastics could have been a struggle as well if Kondos Field and a few other gymnastics coaches had not stepped in to help.
“I obviously had a strong relationship with Valorie through my time at UCLA. She brings a lot of positivity to the gym,” Chaplin said. “She’s one of those people that helped me believe in myself again, coming out of the elite world and kind of being a bit shattered and broken at that point in time just from all the stresses that you encounter at that level.”
Kondos Field wasn’t all that much older than Chaplin and was working with the team primarily as a choreographer and dance instructor. She eventually worked her way into the head coach position.
She brings the Bruins to OSU’s Gill Coliseum on Saturday for the final time. She has announced her retirement at the end of the season.
Kondos Field was not overly familiar with elite gymnastics back then and didn’t really understand what the athletes often went through at that level.
“But (Chaplin) would share some stuff with me about just how tough the gymnastics world was and how tough her coaches were and the struggles she had to be perfect,” Kondos Field said. “I think I just remember talking to her about how she had worked so hard (and) she had put in so many hours of training that this was her time of celebration and this was her time to celebrate all that hard work and try to really get her to enjoy where she was.”
Not only did Kondos Field show an ability to bring a different perspective to an issue and reveal positive qualities of a person that might be getting lost in the shuffle, but her talent to connect with people was unusually strong, Chaplin said.
“She doesn’t allow you to second-guess yourself or second-guess your belief system,” Chaplin said. “She’ll challenge you that way, which is a good thing.”
Chaplin was able to thrive in that environment. She rediscovered her love for the sport and success followed.
In 1987 and 1989 she was the Pac-10 gymnast of the year and was a six-time all-American.
“(Kondos Field) really helped me grow and believe in myself and love the sport of gymnastics again and is a big reason why I became a collegiate coach. Because I realized I want athletes to leave the sport remembering why they got into it and not feeling those initial feelings I had when I entered college gymnastics,” Chaplin said.
Chaplin left UCLA in 1990 and joined the staff at Washington and eventually landed in Corvallis as the Oregon State head coach in 1997. She coached the Beavers to Pac-12 titles in 2011 and 2013 and was named conference coach of the year five times.
Kondos Field became UCLA’s head coach in 1990. She has led the Bruins to seven national titles with the most recent coming in 2018.
Kondos Field has noticed how Chaplin has been able to work with young gymnasts on and off the competition floor.
“It’s not easy and we make mistakes along the way, all of us coaches do, and I’ve just been really impressed with how she’s handled all of that,” Kondos Field said. “Being strong, being confident and yet she’s never ever let her ego come into her coaching.”
The college gymnastics world will miss her. Chaplin said Kondos Field never has been one to shy away from the spotlight, especially when there was an important issue at stake.
“She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind and to stand up to people or things when she sees that’s not right,” Chaplin said. “And that is something that she’s kind of a trailblazer in, especially in a sport that had a lot of different things that have come up over the years, from eating disorders to the abuse situations that we’re dealing with, to just looking at the mental health of our athletes, too.
"She wants these athletes to be strong and believing in themselves from start to finish, so I think that’s definitely a gift that she’s given to college gymnastics.”
The decision to retire by a 59-year-old coach might seem early to some, but Kondos Field has a long bucket list to start.
When Kondos Field was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, she was assured by the doctor that chemotherapy would work. It did, but with the healing came the realization that time is going to expire at some point for everyone.
She has an urban “Nutcracker” ballet and a Broadway show about the environment that she is looking to get produced. She already has published a book, said she enjoys speaking engagements and is “bound and determined” to get a course on John Wooden at UCLA.
“I was waiting to retire to do them and I thought, what am I waiting for? And so once I started thinking about that, I realized that I’m very fulfilled. I don’t need to win another championship. I don’t any more celebrity. I don’t need to do any more as a coach to feel that I’ve had a tremendous career as a coach,” she said.
“I want to move on and challenge myself while I still have the inspiration and the energy to do so. And so when I think about what I want to do next, the biggest thing is I want to be challenged in my next career.”