|Preparing to compete in her first worlds, Canada's Jessica Savona reflects on the struggles and successes she has experienced thus far, and reveals her strategy for reaching her international potential. Pictured: Savona, third from right, stands next to coach Yelena Davydova, 1980 Olympic champion, as Canada accepts the team silver at the 2010 Pan American Championships in Guadalajara.
Preparing to compete in her first world championships next month, Canadian gymnast Jessica Savona says overcoming a torn ACL and winning a team silver medal at the recent Pan American Championships have bolstered her determination to reach top international form.
Savona, who was Canada's team at the world championships Oct. 16-24 in Rotterdam, is steadily returning to full strength following a knee injury she suffered in early 2008. She placed fourth all-around at the Canadian Championships in May, and won a team silver medal at the recent Pan American Championships in Guadalajara.
Prior to her knee injury, Savona achieved solid results in junior competitions in Canada and abroad. She placed first all-around in the Novice division at the 2006 Elite Canada meet; first all-around in the Novice division at the 2007 Canadian Championships; and first all-around in the junior division at the 2007 Elite Canada meet. Savona won a team silver medal and placed eighth all-around at the 2007 Junior Pan American Championships in Guatemala.
Savona, who turned 16 on July 19, trains at Oakville Gymnastics Club in Ontario. She is coached by Kelly and Susan Manjak and 1988 Olympian Lorne Bobkin.
In this IG Online interview, the ambitious Savona reflects on the struggles and successes she has experienced thus far, and reveals her strategy for reaching her international potential.
IG: How are your results from Guadalajara impacting your preparations for Rotterdam, in terms of your personal training program and what you think the team needs to work on?
Savona trains at Oakville Gymnastics in Ontario.
JS: Well, considering I wasn't as pleased with myself too much, it is only making me work twice as hard, because I don't want to second-guess myself at the biggest meet that I have ever been to. And I don't want to let my team down. I as well as the Canadian team pulled together at this meet and we became more of a family, which makes it easier to compete, cheer each other on and feel comfortable with one another.
IG: The Canadian team for Rotterdam will be a relatively untested one. What do you think will be the team's strongest suits in Rotterdam?
JS: I think our team's strongest suits will be our determination to show the world that we are coming back, and that we are all able to do high-level gymnastics compared to the rest of the world.
IG: What are your personal goals for Rotterdam, and what is the team's target ranking?
JS: My goals will be to hit my routines the best possible way I can, and to put forth a full 100 percent effort for my teammates and our overall score as a team. Our target ranking is just to qualify Canada (for the 2011 World Championships) and to be placed with the best of the best.
IG: We understand that you are training with the Manjaks and Lorne Bobkin, but it looks as though Alex Bard was spotting you on bars at the Canadian Championships…
JS: Yes! I moved to Kelly's gym (Oakville Gymnastics) in the summer of 2009 to be with him, Sue and Lorne. Before Oakville I was at Gymnastics Mississauga, and Alex was my coach there. But then I hurt my knee, he retired and hired new coaches, so that was it with us after 12 years of being together. But Alex couldn't stop coaching gymnastics because he loved it too much, so he goes around helping out gymnastics clubs, and just enjoys it with no pressure. So when Oakville needed some help at the recent national championships, due to personal reasons, Alex stepped in and was a coach for us!
IG: How and when did you tear your ACL?
JS: At the end of February 2008, I tore the ACL in my right knee in training a week before a competition. I use to do a triple twist off beam from a round-off. As a warm-up I trained 2 1/2 twists, but landed on straight legs, and I kept twisting once my feet hit the ground after the 2 1/2 twist. I had surgery in May 2008.
IG: As a junior you had great success in 2006 and 2007, and then the injury happened. What gave you the incentive to return to sport at the top level?
JS: I wanted nothing more than to be back to where I was when I had success in 2007. I was the (junior) champion at the 2007 Elite Canada Championships in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and the thrill and excitement of being at the top were what I loved. I would not let anything stop me from coming back, even if it took many tries and practices before I was successful again.
I had my first meet back from surgery at the 2009 Canadian Championships. That did not go so well because I came in 13th, and it was a bad meet. Many people thought I was finished and I couldn't get back to where I was. But I guess my determination, hard work and my mental strength led me to my recent success placing fourth at the recent national championships, making the world championships team and traveling to my first ever worlds competition!
IG: Of all your routines, bars seems to be the one loaded with tough tricks, from start to finish. How much of this is based on extra training to stay off your injured ACL, or has bars always been your strongest event?
JS: Well, not all of it is because of my injury. I was always a powerful person in the legs, but bars has always been my favorite event to do because I love the thrill of swinging. And, it was the event that had always come natural to me — of course, with some exceptions. But I can say that, even with my knee surgery, I am at 100 percent now and I will soon show my power once again.