2006 world balance beam bronze medalist Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (Canada) told IG she continues to thrive as she heads toward the end of her third season of collegiate competition at UCLA.
"Being part of a legacy such as UCLA is something so cool," Hopfner-Hibbs said. "The combination of good athletics and good academics is so important. The gymnastics program isn't just gymnastics. They really focus on you as a person, developing and moving on in your life. That's really important for all of us. The (warm) weather doesn't hurt, either!"
Canadian Olympian Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs on bars for UCLA
Hopfner-Hibbs, who placed 16th all-around at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, said she is in good shape and comfortable with the modified routines she performs to fulfill the NCAA's less-stringent scoring requirements.
"I have a few tweaks here and there," she said. "It's been almost 18 years of gymnastics, but my body's holding up well. My bars routine is about a quarter of my Elite (international) routine, and on floor a couple passes from Beijing are out. These are my routines right now. I'm just trying to make everything as clean and consistent as it can be for the team."
Hopfner-Hibbs said she is especially eager to perfect her double layout dismount from the bars.
"One time last year I did a double front to two straight knees, so we decided to change that," she said. "It's easier to stick a double layout, which is something I haven't done much lately, and it's a safer landing than a double front, which is a blind landing. That dismount (double layout) is the most frustrating part of my program, counting all four events. I just have to keep doing more. That's the only way."
Hopfner-Hibbs said she is enjoying her studies as a Physiological Science major.
"It's a pre-med program," she said. "I'm not planning on going to med school, but that's the closest thing to kinesiology I could get here. It's basically human biology with a little bit of science and math classes."
Hopfner-Hibbs said discipline is the key to managing the academic and athletic demands on her time.
"It's difficult to balance everything, but I'm doing the best I can," said Hopfner-Hibbs, who this quarter is taking classes in genetics, physics and social welfare. "It's been really challenging, especially as the years go by, because the courses get harder and harder. It's about time management. You have to plan your time accordingly and follow through with what you say you're going to do."
Although Hopfner-Hibbs spent last summer studying at UCLA, she plans to spend this summer in Canada. She will train under Lawson Hamer and Lisa Cowan, two of her former coaches at the now-defunct Sport Seneca club in Toronto. Hamer and Cowan coach at Futures Gymnastics Centre in Mississauga, a 1.5-hour commute from Hopfner-Hibbs' home in Toronto.
"I'm definitely going to train, but also relax and spend time with my family," Hopfner-Hibbs said. "The only time I get to go home to Canada is Christmas and summer, so it's going to be fun to see them."
Hopfner-Hibbs on floor exercise for UCLA
Hopfner-Hibbs said she is excited that former Sport Seneca teammate and 2010 Elite Canada champion Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee will be joining the UCLA team in 2012.
"I think that, because (Lee) knows how much I enjoy it here, that probably helped," Hopfner-Hibbs said of her influence on Lee's decision to compete for UCLA. "This is the best school, and I'm so glad I made this decision. I love every minute of it here. I expressed that to her, and she came on her (recruiting) visits, and she loved it, as well."
Former UCLA gymnasts from Sport Seneca include 1989 world all-around finalist Leah Homma, 1992 Guatemalan Olympian Luisa Portocarrero and 2000 Olympian Michelle Conway.
UCLA's current roster includes three other Canadians: 2004 Olympic team alternate Marci Bernholtz (who serves as an undergraduate assistant coach following an injury-induced retirement), 2005 Canadian uneven bars champion Aisha Gerber, and 2009 Canadian national all-around champion Sydney Sawa.
Other Canadians who have competed for UCLA include 1984 Olympian Gigi Zosa, 1992 Olympian Stella Umeh, 1995-1996 Canadian national all-around champion Lena Degteva, two-time Olympians Yvonne Tousek and Kate Richardson, and 2001 world all-around finalist Ashley Peckett.
Hopfner-Hibbs, who helped UCLA win the NCAA title last year, said this year's squad has the potential to win again, despite inconsistencies thus far in the season.
"We've had kind of a rough start, and we're running out of time to get those big scores," Hopfner-Hibbs said. "We have to train more efficiently, get in and get everything done. We need to leave everything out on the floor. Everything we're doing right now is to get the team to be the best we can be."
UCLA will compete at the NCAA regional championships on April 2, where the team will try to qualify for the NCAA national championships that will take place April 15-17 in Cleveland.
Despite Hopfner-Hibbs' fitness level, she said she has not committed to trying for next summer's Olympics in London.
"It's coming up pretty fast, but I still haven't decided," she told IG. "It would be a lot of hard work to get back to that level. I don't know if I'm ready to make those steps yet. I'm just working really hard to make everything consistent for college gymnastics, and go from there."
For an in-depth profile of Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs earlier in her career, read "All in a Day's Work" in the March 2007 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues or subscribe, click here.