Far from the roar of the vuvuzelas and World Cup mania in South Africa, the country's top gymnast is training at a U.S. club in hopes of more historic results this fall.
South Africa's Jennifer Khwela trains Wednesday at the Desert Devils club in Arizona.
Jennifer Khwela and three teammates are training at the Desert Devils in Arizona, with eyes on a strong showing at October's Commonwealth Games and world championships.
Khwela, 18, made history and headlines for South African gymnastics in March by winning the vault gold medal at the Doha World Cup in Qatar, where she also added the bronze medal on balance beam. Khwela's World Cup medal was the first for a female African gymnast.
Khwela and coach Julie Adamson have been in Arizona since June 6, working with coaches Wesley Jones, a South Africa native, and Kristin Fanning. Fellow South African gymnasts Ashleigh Heldsinger, 15, Nicole Szabo, 15, and Claudia Cummins, 14, arrived with coach Glen Hlongwane on June 11 to take part in the training camp.
"Training is going very well, as we are making use of the facilities at Desert Devils to try and upgrade Jennifer's skill level in preparation for Commonwealth Games and worlds," Adamson told IG. "The training is tough, but I believe it will take Jennifer to another level. She is being exposed to good gymnasts working on good equipment and is no longer the best, so she has something to work for."
Khwela, who trains at Thekwini Gymnastics Academy in Durban on South Africa's East coast, said she is enjoying her first trip to the U.S.
"It is exciting to see how other girls train, the gym is a lot louder and busier than I am used to," she said. "The girls are very friendly and willing to help. I am learning a new vault (Yurchenko half on, layout half off), double Arabian and double layout on floor. I am trying to clean up my execution on bars and beam."
Khwela is aiming for more history for South Africa at this fall's big events: the 19th Commonwealth Games, Oct. 3-14 in Delhi, India, and the 2010 World Championships, Oct. 16-24 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. To date, Francki Van Rooyen's bronze on floor exercise at the 2006 Commonwealth Games is the only medal for a female South African gymnast at the quadrennial event, while no South African gymnast has qualified for a world championships final.
"I would like to get at least one medal at Commonwealth Games and to at least make finals for vault, beam, floor and all-around," Khwela said. "I would also like to improve my marks. At worlds I would like to make vault and all-around finals."
Khwela returns home June 27, giving her some time to enjoy the largest sporting event ever held in South Africa. The 2010 FIFA World Cup began June 11 and concludes July 11.
"We are not huge soccer fans, but it is impossible not to be swept up in all the hype and vibe in the country," Adamson said. "When we left it was absolutely manic at the airport, and I am sure everyone is having a super time! It makes us proud that our country is hosting such a prestigious event like the World Cup."
External Link: Jennifer Khwela's Facebook Fan Page