2008 British Olympian Marissa King is enjoying collegiate life in Florida, but has her eye on further international competition.
A native of Cambridge, England, King was a member of the British team that finished a best-ever seventh place at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart. She placed 42nd all-around in qualifications at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where the British team finished ninth. King competed on two events at the 2009 World Championships in London, where she finished 10th on vault in qualifications.
King is a freshman and a member of the gymnastics team at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She is training under head coach Rhonda Faehn, the alternate to the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, and Romanian-born assistant coaches Adrian Burde and Robert Ladanyi. King is competing all four events for the Florida Gators, with highs in February of 9.875 on vault and uneven bars, 9.825 on balance beam and 9.850 on floor exercise.
Together with Adam Folwell and Aneta Desalermos, her coaches at Huntingdon Olympic Gymnastics Club, King also is planning for at least one more international competition.
In this IG Online interview, King details the transitions she is making as she embarks on a new phase of her gymnastics career.
IG: How and when did you decide to compete for the University of Florida?
MK: After the Olympics, I was kind of struggling on what I wanted to do after (I achieved my) biggest dream, and I didn't know what to do after that. I thought (the Olympics) was all I could do. I thought about getting collegiate offers after the Olympics. It initially started after I got approached by Florida and the other universities. I thought it would be a good change and experience. It just took off from there. I came and visited Florida in May (2009). Ever since May, I started getting very interested and decided to go after that. We had our (British) Nationals in July and that's when it was announced to the public that I was going to be competing for Florida.
IG: How have you managed such a quick transition, having competed at the world championships in London in October?
MK: It was really quick. Throughout the first semester, which I missed, I kept in good contact with Rhonda on how I should adjust my routines, what I was getting prepared for and what to expect when I came here. I sent by email some videos on skills I was working on which would be used to compose a routine. The emails from Rhonda helped prepare me to go straight into the competition season. This prior preparation helped make the transition a lot easier. The only new thing I had to compose was a floor routine. Apart from that, I was pretty much already routine-fit. The routines for college were easier, but there is much emphasis on performing the routines with perfection and cleanliness.
The transition was fine and very quick. I came straight in and got busy, which is good because I didn't get very homesick compared to what I expected. My teammates helped me as soon as I got here and directed Liz (Green, fellow freshman) and I to where we needed to go, what buildings we needed to go to and at what times. They were really helpful the first two weeks. We really relied on the other girls, which made it a lot easier. A few of the girls have obviously experienced it before so they knew straight away how to help us.
IG: So far, what are the biggest adjustments you have had to make to your gymnastics?
MK: Learning the college type of gymnastics, like being very clean and hitting your handstands, but not having such difficult routines and making them more simple but just perfected, has been the biggest adjustment.
IG: What is your strategy for balancing the academic demands with your training and competition schedule?
MK: The University of Florida does a lot to help the athletes balance their studies and athletics. There is the Office of Student Life, which is a resource that has academic counselors, computers and tutors. A tutor was assigned straight away and he gave us an academic plan, so he really helped with the organizational side of academics.
For training and competition schedules, that's all taken care of. They give us an itinerary so we know where and when to be somewhere. It's not too bad at all. It's really organized.
I personally figured out my schedule and then I look at where I have free time, and when I can go to the office and do more work. The strategy is about being organized. If you need help, get help so you don't fall behind.
IG: What aspects of U.S. college life do you find most interesting or surprising?
MK: I found surprising the terminology Americans use to be very different. I had a bit of difficulty understanding the gymnastic-skills phrases the U.S. gymnasts say compared to how we say it. For instance they say "double layout" whereas we (British) say "double straight." General vocal terminology was quite surprising because I didn't realize it would be so drastic and so different. It comes with practice and you figure out what they mean.
The most interesting aspect is living with other athletes. It's been really nice and interesting sharing a suite with a pole vaulter and two golfers. Getting to know their routines, and their rules and regulations in their sport, is really cool. I get to meet a lot of people in a lot of areas of sports.
IG: What are your future goals for international competition? Do you plan to try for this spring's Europeans, this fall's worlds, and perhaps the 2012 Olympics in London?
MK: I'm not to sure about 2012 Olympic Games. That's still a while off and a lot can happen in three years. I'd like to try for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in India, that's probably my goal for this year. Unfortunately I won't be able to make the Europeans because I will be competing here in America until then. My main competition will be the Commonwealth Games this coming year.
IG: How are your British coaches coordinating your training plan with Rhonda?
MK: I am actually keeping in touch with my coaches from back home. But Rhonda, Adrian and Robert are helping out a lot with my elite skills that I need to keep up for when I go back home. They are really helping me manage to balance the two in training, to make sure I still keep those skills.
As for my coaches back home, I am the one keeping in contact. I talk to them on Skype, I send them emails about what skills I'm learning, what my routine can possibly be for this year and what adjustments can be made. I'm just here having a good time, enjoying myself and experiencing new culture and new set of floors in life. I think they are happy so far, and they are very proud and pleased for me. I can't wait to get back to see them!
Read "Royal Ambition," a pre-2008 Olympics interview with King, in the April 2008 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.