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Interview: Ariella Käslin (Switzerland)
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As the 2007 European Championships began in Amsterdam without the Swiss women, Ariella Käslin spoke to IG about her team's absence from these continental championships.

Ariella Käslin
On April 11, the Swiss Gymnastics Federation, the Schweizerischer Turnverband-Fédération Suisse de Gymnastique (STV-FSG), announced that the Swiss women's team would not be participating in the European Championships because of "tensions" between some of the gymnasts and head coach Eric Demay. The STV-FSG stated that the Swiss team—under the continued guidance of the French-born Demay—would regroup and instead focus on its preparations for the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart.

However, April 18, the STV-FSG held a press conference to announce that Demay and his wife, Cécile Pellerin Demay, were relieved of their duties, effective immediately. Assistant coach Fabien Martin, Hopes coach François De Saint-Martin and Hungarian-born Ferenc Donath have been appointed temporary coaches of the Swiss women's team.

When contacted by IG, DeMay declined to comment about the situation, deferring to Swiss team officials.

Despite the coaching changes, the STV-FSR reiterated that the women's team of Käslin, Danielle Englert, Carina Fürst and Linda Stämpfli would not attend the 2007 European Championships in Amsterdam.

At the 2005 European Championships in Debrecen, Käslin was fourth on vault, 0.037 shy of the bronze medal. Käslin placed sixth on vault at the 2006 Europeans in Volos, Greece, where the Swiss senior team finished 10th. She finished 19th all-around at the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus.

The 19-year-old Käslin shared her side of the scandal that grounded her team's dreams of the 2007 European Championships, and her hopes for the future of the Swiss women's team.

IG: Can you tell us about the events that led to the Swiss women's team being pulled from the European Championships?

AK: Before big competitions the tension would always mount inside the gym. This time the situation was so intense that just a banal exchange of words between Danielle Englert and Cécile Demay became the straw that broke the camel's back.

After this we informed the head of elite sports that we would not be able to go to Europeans with Eric Demay. It was considered a scandal. We had no more training possibilities. The Federation signaled to us that no replacement coaching team would be at our side. Our (independent) physical preparations would not be enough and so withdrawing from Europeans was necessary. But from our point of view, the arguments of the Federation were not sound enough for us to accept this decision in its entirety.

I think from the view of a top athlete, the decision to withdraw is always hard to accept. Particularly with all of us (with the exception of Carina Fürst) being in good physical condition at that point in time. We were all very disappointed about the decision.

IG: Do you think the situation has been adequately resolved?

Ariella Käslin
AK: I don't think that one can already speak about a solution at this point in time. It is now appropriate that all parties now think over by themselves what they can improve on, so that a similar situation cannot emerge again. We athletes have learned to stand by ourselves and to clearly express our condition and our opinions. I would appreciate if the Federation could on its part rethink the structures and critically question interaction with young athletes. I hope that this scandal can cause a process in favor of the sport on different levels.

IG: How long had you worked with the Demays, and do you believe there would have been a way to go on working with them?

AK: I have worked with the Demays for six years. The technical area was covered very well—we all benefited a lot. It was the social competence and the educational/psychological areas which were not acceptable for me anymore. We often tried to clear hurdles through discussion. The successes were short lived, and always when the pressure before competitions got more intense—or I was collapsing with an injury—things escalated. I was accused of making too little effort in training and having a bad attitude. It was hard to improve the communication, because Eric didn't show much willingness for conversations. He often insulted and hurt me verbally. With everything that happened I lost trust; further cooperation from my side was no longer possible.

IG: How has all of this affected your preparation, and do you feel this will affect the team in Stuttgart?

AK: It's hard to say how much these happenings have affected my preparations. I have always been under psychological stress. Surely this is not a good precondition for optimal preparation.

How this is going to affect Stuttgart I can't say yet. It's essential to now handle what happened, to look forward and to make the best out of the situation. Our cooperation inside the team surely has grown, and I have also personally learned a lot from it. I try to take this positive energy over to the preparation for Worlds. I'm aware it takes time to adjust to a new team of coaches.

IG: Is it true some gymnasts would have liked to go on working with the Demays? How is the atmosphere in the gym now?

AK: Yes, there are some young gymnasts who would have liked to go on working with Eric. Eric did not treat everyone in the same way. But there were many athletes who repeatedly suffered psychologically. Also the atmosphere inside the gym was not always good. You know, a group of gymnasts also suffers as a whole when the coach has problems with one athlete. Eric and Cécile often brought private problems into the hall which negatively influenced the mood inside the gym.

IG: How motivated are you and your teammates right now for the upcoming competitions?

AK: During this scandal of course I was clearly confronted with the question: "How important is my sport to myself? Under which conditions can and do I want to go on with gymnastics?" The answer was clear: Gymnastics is my passion! I want to train hard, but fairly! I believe my teammates also went through a similar crucial test. Of course this process is very motivating for upcoming competitions.

IG: Do you think you will be able to train just as well and have the same successes without the Demays?

AK: It's hard to say. I, for one, don't let myself buckle under pressure. I'm aware of the fact that I must take charge of my self-discipline and personal responsibility. I'm looking forward to this challenge, because this was also something I was missing with the Demays.

IG: Who would you like to be the new head coach of the Swiss women?

AK: I don't know if there is one "supercoach." I need a coach who is strict with me, but who at the same time can stay human and fair. I'm certain that a team of coaches who complement one another surely could be a good solution.

IG: Any other comments about this situation?

AK: I am thankful to my family, my advisers, friends, acquaintances and the fans all around the world who are supporting me and my teammates during this time.

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