Athlete Focus: Jana Bieger
posted on 05/01/2007
For U.S. Women’s National Team member Jana Bieger, who is homeschooled and will graduate a year early from high school this spring, competitive gymnastics has given her the opportunity to make friends all over the world and travel at a young age. At just 17 years old, she has already been to such places as Switzerland, Denmark, Brazil and Great Britain. Her favorite?

“Hawaii or Australia,” Jana said. “We normally get one day after competition to go sightseeing.”

Except sightseeing in Hawaii wasn’t a big priority for Jana or her friends on the national team during the trips she made to Honolulu in 2004 and 2006 to compete in the Pacific Alliance Championships.

“We went to the beach,” Jana admitted.
Spending time in the sun is to be expected when you’re a South Florida girl, living only about 45 minutes from Miami. Her parents, Andrea Bieger and Wolfgang Heiden, both natives of Germany, have embraced their adopted Florida culture by owning a boat and having a pool in the backyard of their house.

And like living in constant sunshine makes most Floridians love warm weather, being the daughter of a three-time Olympian in gymnastics makes the sport a natural.

Andrea competed for West Germany in the 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games, and remained around the gym after retiring from competitive gymnastics. After Jana was born in 1989 and began tumbling around the gym in Kiel, Germany, at an early age, it is not a surprise for her to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

When the family moved to Florida in 1996, Jana began competitive gymnastics.  She is now coached by her mother.

“I’ve had different coaches, but I can talk to her about anything,” Jana said. “She’s been through everything and knows what it’s like [to be an elite gymnast].”

Jana trains at Bieger International Gymnastics, her family’s newly-opened gym in Deerfield Beach, Fla., that is about five minutes from her house in Coconut Creek. Although it had always been a dream of her mother’s to open her own gym, the final decision came last year after Jana, who won three silver medals at last year’s World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, couldn’t find a dependable gym to perfect her routines.

“We needed one regular place because we were driving so many times and were always in the car,” Jana said. “It’s great having our own place and we don’t have to travel so much.”

Being in the car for just a short amount of time each day allows her to hang out with her parents and her 15-year-old brother, Nikolai, who takes acting classes in his free time. And with her upcoming graduation, Jana eventually will spend her time somewhere else: in a classroom.

“I’m definitely going to wait one or two years,” Jana said on attending college. “I’ll go to a community college for one or two classes, but I’m not sure for what [major].”

Waiting a few years allows Jana to focus on making the team for this year’s World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, where the United States must qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. The U.S. Team for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing will be announced in mid-June 2008, following the U.S. Olympic Team Trials-Gymnastics in Philadelphia, Pa.

Until then, Jana will spend her time at the gym that’s been her own since March 1 and spending time with the pack of talented gymnasts on the national team, who are her friends in addition to her biggest competitors.

As she and her mom log many miles traveling both domestically and internationally, Jana always brings her grips, music and wrist supporters. And although her music changes and her grips and wrist supporters get replaced, the one thing that remains with her throughout everything is her good-luck animal, a turquoise stuffed dog.

“My mom gave it to me when I started competing,” Jana said. “Her mom gave it to her and she took it to all her competitions.”

All those competitions included three Olympic Games. And, for Jana, hopefully at least one more in China.