Carefully but confidently preparing for this summer's Olympic Games, Slovenian gymnast Saša Golob and her Ukrainian coach Lyudmila Korolenko share their Olympic dreams and plans with IG Online.
Saša Golob (Slovenia)
Born Aug, 17, 1991, in Ljubljana, Golob has been a mainstay on the Slovenian team during the past two Olympic cycles. She competed on one apparatus at the 2007 world championships in Stuttgart and on two apparatuses at the 2009 worlds in London, and was her country's top all-arounder at the 2011 worlds in Tokyo. Golob made three apparatus finals at last fall's FIG Challenger Cup in Osijek, Croatia. Her career also included a stint as a student-athlete at Towson University in Maryland during the 2010-11 academic year.
Golob — whose first name is pronounced "Sasha" — was nominated as Slovenia's female competitor for the Olympics based on her performance at the test event that took place in London last month. There, she outscored teammate and 2008 Olympian Adela Šajn, 51.257 to 49.499, to secure her country's sole female artistic gymnastics berth for the Games. Golob is the first Olympian from Siska Gymnastics Club in Ljubljana, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year.
Guiding Golob towards London is Korolenko, who previously coached in her native Ukraine, in Canada and more recently with the Russian national team. Korolenko's former gymnasts include Ukrainians Lyubov Sheremeta and Galina Tyryk, who placed 22nd all-around at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, respectively.
In this IG Online dual interview, Golob and Korolenko describe their shared efforts in helping Golob perform at her best this summer in London.
IG: When and how were you confirmed as Slovenia's choice for the London Olympics?
SG: Our national federation decided that the better gymnast from the test event would get the ticket to the Olympics. I am happy that I did all my routines without any falls and got higher scores than Adela, and managed to qualify for the Olympics.
IG: What was your strategy for preparing to earn this berth?
SG: Our strategy was to put together routines that I was comfortable with. We didn't add any new skills to my routines because we knew that we couldn't risk a fall. I was also put under stress situations, just like you are in competition, where my coach called everybody in the gym and sometimes even the judges to watch my routines. I think that helped me a lot.
IG: You and Adela have been teammates for a long time. How are you managing to stay competitive for the Olympic spot but also respect your relationship with Adela?
SG: We are teammates on the national team but we practice in different gyms, so we didn't see each other a lot befor this competition. We of course we were together in London, but I don't think that that influenced our relationship. We knew that our national federation set these conditions and that we couldn't do anything about it. We respect each other's wishes to go to the Olympics but at the same time we knew that only one of us will go.
IG: You studied and competed at Towson University last year, and are home in Slovenia this year. What was the reason for your decision? And what plans do you have to return to Towson?
SG: There were few reasons. First of all was that the college there is not compatible with our medical school here in Slovenia, so I wouldn't be able to transfer after college and I would have to start everything all over again. And the second reason was, of course, my wish to go to the Olympics. The scoring system and the rules in college gymnastics are too diffrent from the international ones, so I wouldn't be able to prepare if I would stay and train at Towson. Now I have a plan to stay home and finish med school here.
IG: What specifically do you think you can accomplish for Slovenia and yourself in London?
SG: I know that I won't be in line for the medals but I do want to have agreat competition. I'll have higher difficulty on floor and beam, and I wish to improve the results of the Slovenian girls from the past.
IG: What are the special challenges you face in preparing Saša for London, especially since you have not been coaching her for too long?
Coach Lyudmila Korolenko and gymnast Saša Golob (Slovenia)
LK: At the beginning of March 2011, Ricard Crnjac, who coaches at the Siska gym club, invited me to come and work with his team, especially with Saša and Ivana Kamnikar, who were candidates for the Olympics. I visited for two weeks at the end of April, and since I had already worked with Saša and because I saw the potential in both girls, I decided to return and start working in Slovenia again.
We went step by step, first preparing for the University Games (August 2011), then for nationals and other competitions. Although I had worked with Saša before, when she first started and was just seven, it was a challenge for all of us. But the girls are really hard-working and competitive, and really love gymnastics.
IG: As Saša's coach, what will be the focus of your preparation for her until London? How much of her training will be physical and how much will be psychological?
LK: With Saša, we are concentrating mostly on adding difficulty to beam and floor. Her bars and vault will be the same as at the London test event. The most complicated period is psychological preparation, but I think we overcame that at the meet in January. Now we are in the systematic training phase tailored to an athlete at Saša's level. Saša is a very determined and disciplined gymnast, and handles training and studying at the same time very well. This winter she passed her five exams with very high marks.
IG: You have coached two Olympic all-around finalists, Lyubov Sheremeta and Galina Tyryk. What advice did you give to Lyubov and Galina prior to the Olympics; and what advice are you giving to Saša?
LK: Every athlete is an individual, and I always try to keep that in mind in my work. Lyuba was able to work very, very hard, and her high level of repetitions compensated for some lack of coordination. She could do from three to five full floor exercise routines in one workout, and her tumbling was at a high level. I did not have to prepare her psychologically for competition at all. She'd tell me, "Today is an easy day; I only have to do three bars sets" - one in the training hall, one during the 50-second warm-up on the podium and one for a score. She was always convinced she could do it, since she did so many more routines in training.
Galya prepared for the Sydney Olympics in this same gym in Ljubljana. She was 20, and since she started gymnastics when she was 4, she had a good, solid set of skills which she was very capable of doing. Galya was very coordinated and always confident in her abilities.
The hardest part of training with Lyuba and Galya was making the cut for the Ukrainian team. Once on the team, it was easier for them to compete.
Saša has always gotten clear instructions from me and she has learned to believe in them - results at meets are the result of training at home. Participating in the Olympics is Saša's dream come to life - a dream she has worked hard for for 14 years.