A Hidden Champion in the Halls of Millennium


Courtesy of Trish Madlangbayan

Goldberg takes the podium as 2021 state champion.

Agatha Ryan, Staff Writer

When one walks into Malaya Goldberg’s room, an array of gleaming medals are proudly displayed on the walls. If you caught a glimpse of the MBHS Junior with stellar grades and a humble attitude walking through the halls, you would not assume that she is a state gymnastics champion. When she is outside the confines of John Jay, however, Goldberg spends much of her free time executing aerial feats–jumps, leaps and tumbles across the floor, on the bar, beam or vault. In June of 20211, the unassuming Goldberg was crowned winner of the 2021 United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs (USAIGC) NY State Championships.

Goldberg’s nerves were a wreck at the championship last June. “I’m always nervous for competitions. A little shaky. I remind myself I’ve done it time and time before. To just focus. Visualize.” Goldberg was feeling the pressure as she watched the girls before her perform their routines, the judges eyeing their every move. Points are awarded not only for the execution of skills but also the artistry of a gymnast’s performance. The judges also assess if competitors appear prepared and professional. Gymnants must combine athletic rigor with purposeful style in their routines, which heightens the difficulty of the sport. For instance, the competitors will get points knocked off their score if they do not salute the judges at both the beginning and the end of the routine by standing proudly, hands raised. Goldberg sets high standards for herself. “When I finish my routine I often think, ‘Oh I could have done this or I should have done that. I’m a little shaky on this.’ It does make me want to work harder sometimes.”

 Flashback to when Goldberg was just eight years old taking her first gymnastics class at Aviator sports center, motivated by a rivalry with her athletic younger brother and wanting to confront her fear about doing a cartwheel. Eight years later the rivalry may have faded, but Goldberg continues to spend her afternoons and weekends at the gym with her team. 

 Of course becoming a state champion doesn’t happen overnight. Junior year is notorious for its heavy workload which Goldberg juggled while she trained. And the transition from a remote COVID academic year to being in school full time was difficult. For Goldberg, this has meant getting home from gymnastics at 9pm and sitting down to complete homework as the hours tick on. Goldberg attests that, “By the end of the day I am mentally and physically exhausted.” At some points in the year, this meant skipping practices in order to catch up on schoolwork. 

Back in early summer of 2021, when it seemed like the pandemic was calming down, Goldberg had months of training under her belt as she entered the State Championship competition. After signing in to the meet, she walked into the gym and frantically looked for her team warming up. The national anthem started playing to announce the beginning of competition and each athlete presented themselves to the judges by saluting and waving. The gymnasts are given a score card with each of their events listed and receive scores for each event as well as the all around. The teams line up at a each apparatus and rotate through routines–so all teams are competing simultaneously. (This process mimics the Olympics where Suni Lee and Simone Biles competed in all the events, such as the uneven bars, the vault, floor exercise, etc.)  

The floor exercise, a combination of dance and tumbling, is Goldberg’s best event. When she strode confidently onto the floor into starting position, an elegant string mashup of the Hunger Games theme song and the Pocahontas soundtrack erupted from the speakers. Goldberg lept into action, flying through the air with balletic grace, landing each round off and back handspring perfectly. The leaps and spins alone were impressive, but Goldberg achieved her high score with her signature artistic flair; each of her movements was executed smoothly and with technically flawlessness. 

Goldberg has an admirable mindset when it comes to competition. “I don’t usually think about placing at all,” she says. “I do think about getting a good score and competing to the best of my ability.” The events are scored out of 10, but points are awarded down to the decimal. (High nines are the goal; 10s are near impossible to achieve.) Goldberg obtained high nines in every event, receiving a medal in each for her team. Her coaches and parents were proud, dispensing hugs, cheers and cries of congratulations at the competition’s close. Later, her mom Trish reflected, “I was just so thrilled for her….she worked really hard and came out on top”

As state champion, Goldberg can rest easy in the knowledge that she could most likely beat the whole Millennium class of ‘23 in a pullup competition.