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Larson, Shapiro Push Past Injuries Toward Worlds
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Recovering from ankle injuries, World Cup gold medalists Mattie Larson and Samantha Shapiro (U.S.) hope to be candidates for this fall's world championships, their coaches told IG this week. Larson (above) performs a switch ring leap on floor exercise at the U.S.-Germany dual meet held earlier this year in Mülheim.

Recovering from ankle injuries, World Cup gold medalists Mattie Larson and Samantha Shapiro (U.S.) hope to be candidates for this fall's World Championships, their coaches told IG this week.

Larson, who placed seventh all-around at the 2008 U.S. Championships and 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, sprained both ankles on a tumbling pass at a U.S. national team training camp in Texas early last month. Shapiro, a first-year senior who placed second all-around at the 2007 and 2008 U.S. Junior Championships, had surgery June 13 to remove two bone chips from her right ankle.

Galina Marinova and Artur Akopyan, who coach Larson and Shapiro at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in Los Angeles, said both gymnasts are unlikely to compete at the Visa (U.S.) Championships that will take place Aug. 12-15 in Dallas. According to Marinova, however, Larson and Shapiro will train with other U.S. team members in Dallas and try to stay in contention for the World Championships in London in October.

"Both of Mattie's ankles are almost back to normal," Marinova said. "Even in a wheelchair, Mattie came into the gym and got a lot of support from the other girls. Then she came in on crutches, and started all kinds of conditioning while lying on the floor. She started slowly doing exercises wearing athletic shoes, and now she's doing bars with athletic shoes, and getting better and better. She's in great shape, and we're very positive she will be ready for the first (U.S. worlds team) selection camp in early September."

Based on their training in Dallas during the Visa Championships, Marinova said she hopes Larson and Shapiro can petition to the first selection camp.

Samantha Shapiro performs at the 2008 U.S. Junior Gymnastics Championships.

"Anyone who wants to try to get a place on the national team or go to Worlds has to show their mental and physical preparation, and their strength," Marinova said. "I think that, if the girls make a good impression with their preparation, they will be able to petition to the camp."

In addition to gymnastics conditioning and workouts, Marinova said Larson's and Shapiro's physical therapy has included laser treatments, acupuncture and swimming. "Mattie is also doing a lot of toe raises in the water, and other movement in the water for her ankles to get stronger," she said.

While Shapiro's post-surgery training has been limited to uneven bars and balance beam, Marinova said Larson could be ready to compete all-around this fall.

"Mattie has four good events," Marinova said of the 17-year-old Larson, who placed first on balance beam and floor exercise at the Gymnix World Cup in Montreal earlier this year. "We're very positive she will be back on track and in good shape. I believe she will be strong on floor and vault, and even beam, and possibly bars. That's our plan. Step by step we're positive."

As former gymnasts, Marinova said she and Akopyan can relate to the frustration their injured gymnasts feel, but they are working to keep Larson and Shapiro optimistic. Marinova competed for Bulgaria and made the all-around final at the 1979 Worlds, the 1980 Olympic Games and the 1981 Worlds. Akopyan, a native of Armenia who competed for the Soviet Union, finished first on vault and third all-around at the 1983 Worlds.

"We know that injuries happen, but if we take care during the recovery process, Mattie and Sami can be good for the Worlds selection camp in early October," Marinova said.

Marinova said that Shapiro, who placed first on uneven bars at the Gymnix World Cup in Montreal earlier this year, is gradually regaining strength.

"Sami is in almost the same situation as Mattie," Marinova said. "She's just started training bars, and a week ago she started walking without athletic shoes. The plans are to get her strong on bars, her best event, and also on beam. I believe that, after her surgery, she will be ready on bars and beam. Bars is possible for the first selection camp, and we'll work strongly on both of these events. I believe she can be ready if we do the recovery well, and if she feels healthy on her foot."

Akopyan said he, like Marinova, is optimistic about Larson's and Shapiro's prospects.

"I want to be positive, but it's a short time from now till Worlds," Akopyan said. "If they recover fast, I think they can make the team. They have some of the best routines in the country."

Akopyan said he and Marinova have been impressed by their gymnasts' determination.

"Mattie is very strong with her mind," Akopyan said. "I really admire what she's doing and how she's acting. To be injured is a hard process for an athlete. I like her mentality that she is keeping her physical shape. I believe she is going to come back strong. Samantha will take a little longer, but we are in good spirits. She wants to do it, and she will be back. They will both be back."

Akopyan said Larson and Shapiro could be even more impressive when they are completely recovered.

"In this sport, everyone gets injured," he told IG. "Everyone is behind the curtains sometime, and suddenly they show their faces. I believe that, soon, they will show better gymnastics."

Read "All for One," an in-depth profile on Larson, Shapiro and All Olympia Gymnastics Center, in the July/August 2009 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

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