Returning to the gym after a post-London break, two-time Venezuelan Olympian Jessica López told IG she plans to take it "one year at a time" as the Olympic focus heads to South America and the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
López was a standout gymnast at the University of Denver, reaching the apparatus finals at the NCAA national championships in both 2007 and 2009. After graduating in 2009, she has remained in Colorado and continues to train with former Denver assistant coach Nilson Medeiros Savage, a native of Brazil.
López at the 2012 Olympic Games
López has been one of the most frequent competitors on the international scene since her Olympic debut in Beijing, where she finished 43rd in qualification. Her many international medals include golds on uneven bars and balance beam at the 2010 Porto World Cup, and the gold on uneven bars at the 2011 Moscow World Cup. At the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam, she made history for Venezuela with her 10th-place in the all-around final.
A strong all-arounder, the Caracas native has dominated continental and regional events as well, winning the all-around and three events titles at the 2010 South American Games in Medellín, Colombia. She also won the all-around and uneven bars titles at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
An untimely injury at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo knocked López out of the 2011 Pan American Games, held shortly after worlds in October. Subsequent injuries nearly cost López the chance to qualify for a second Olympic Games, but she persevered and advanced to London, where she finished 18th in the all-around final.
A fan favorite, gymnastics' own "J Lo" is particularly known for her fluid movement, dynamic variety on uneven bars and an impeccable triple twist on floor exercise.
Her acrobatics also earned her a spot on ESPN's "Sport Science," which broke down the physics of her 2 1/2 twist on floor and Jaeger on bars as part of its 2012 Olympic coverage.
López, who turns 27 in January, recently traveled to Oklahoma to work with visiting choreographer Adriana Pop. After working with Pop on a new floor routine, López sat down with IG to chat about the Olympic year, her role as a Venezuelan role model and her future plans in gymnastics.
IG: What was your impression of the Olympics in London?
JL: I think it was amazing to see all the competitors out there. It was a very strong Olympics especially when you saw the all-around finals and event finals. I was very happy to be there and I think I did a pretty good job overall. It was very impressive to see everyone out there competing.
IG: What was the proudest moment for you in London?
JL: I think for me it was just getting there, because I went through so much the past year with injuries and everything. Just making it to the Olympics and being there and finally putting a good performance all together because the whole year was up and down. And finishing with the strong vault that I did — a double-full Yurchenko that was like the best vault I've done in my career — I think it was just amazing.
IG: Tell us about the injuries you went through before London.
JL: At the world championships in Tokyo, during the all-around finals, my last event was bars and I did the layout Jaeger and I fell. When I fell I injured my elbow and then I kept going, but I think I ended up falling like three mores times [laughs] because my elbow was bothering me. Then after that I couldn't go to the Pan American Games and for a month I couldn't do bars or anything much because of my injury.
Four weeks prior to the test event I had a third-degree sprain on my ankle, so we weren't sure whether or not I was going to make it to the test event. But I pushed through and even though I had to water down all my routines just to make it through, I did and I qualified for the Olympics.
But because I had to push through, I ended up getting a hairline fracture in my ankle so I ended up dealing with that for a long time. By that time it was February and I didn't have time to take off so much because we had to get ready for the Olympics. I was finally getting better and then I kind of tweaked my ankle again in May. Then I had to go back and slow down a little and finally I was healthy enough to put on a good show in London!
IG: What have you been doing since London?
JL: After London I took a month completely off gym, though I've been doing physical therapy and other treatments for my ankle and also my Achilles because I also have a small injury in my Achilles, chronic tendonitis. So we're trying to recover from all those injuries and get back into gymnastics shape.
IG: You're always very fit — is this natural for you? Were you blessed with good genes or do you have to work out a lot to stay so trim?
JL: Both. After London I took a month off but obviously you didn't see a change in my size because this size is natural for me, but at the same time when I get back into training it's different. I felt completely different, so of course I have to take care of it every day and I have to eat healthy and do the conditioning that everyone has to do to be fit.
IG: Do you feel pressure as the top female gymnast for Venezuela, to always have the best possible showing for your country?
JL: Not really. I do it for myself. It's pressure when it's competition time because you want to put the name of the country big and I want to represent my country the best I can at the same time. It's not like pressure but it is a responsibility to be the best.
IG: Do you receive a salary or stipend from the Venezuelan government, to help with training and travel expenses?
JL: They help me with everything they can, especially with the living costs because it can get very expensive here. So the government helps me with everything they can. The federation and the government divide the cost for competitions.
IG: How often do you go home to Venezuela? What does your family do?
Jessica López (Venezuela)
JL: I get to visit about two to three times per year. I have three older sisters. One of them is an oil engineer and now she's in the states learning the language. The other one is a computer engineer and works in Venezuela. The other one has two degrees but because of her husband's job, they live in Curaçao.
My father is retired and mom is a baker. She makes all kind of cakes for weddings and things like that.
IG: Do you have a favorite cake that your mom makes?
JL: When I go home, she'll just make me a plain cake because I like it when it's fresh from the oven. After that I won't eat any more but when it's fresh from the oven, it's so good!
IG: Do you get a lot of recognition from young Venezuelan gymnasts who look up to you?
JL: Sometimes they write me on Facebook, and their parents write me too. It's really nice.
IG: What is your plan right now? Are you thinking at all about the 2016 Olympics in Rio?
JL: Four more years is a long time from now so I'm going to do one year at a time and see how my body reacts and responds to training.
IG: Do you have a little extra motivation to compete in 2016, in the first Olympics in South America?
JL: It is exciting, especially also for my coach, who is Brazilian. I think that would mean a lot to him to get over there. But it's four years from now so I keep that in the back of my mind. Definitely that would be so special to be there and represent my country.
IG: Prior to your injuries, you competed so often, all over the globe. Do you just love to compete?
JL: At the beginning of the Olympic cycle, the first few years we competed a lot. After the Olympics in 2008 when I was competing, nobody really knew me. It's a big deal putting your name out there to be exposed to the judges so they can see who you are and your routines and everything. So that was the plan for me to get experience because I didn't have that much international experience, so we wanted for me to get the feeling of competing internationally.
IG: Some people felt your bars routine in Tokyo deserved to be in the finals, but it seemed very harshly scored. Do you think you are scored fairly?
JL: No, especially in Tokyo. When you see my bar routine and my floor routine I think they were underscored a lot. In that competition in particular, when you compare my scores with other scores especially the execution score it's so low. I want to know all the deductions. I was talking to some judges and some of them can't find more than like 1.3, 1.5 points in deductions, but the judging panel took like 2.3 off and I don't know where they took off so much.
IG: Would you like to be a coach or a judge in the future?
JL: I would like to become a judge. I'm just getting ready to take the test for the Level 9s just to get a feeling and see how it is. Definitely judging is something I have in my mind.
I am coaching two times a week. I like it. With the little kids you have to repeat everything over and over. They are so fun to coach. They are learning and you get that satisfaction that you are teaching them not only gymnastics but in general.
IG: What is it like working with Adriana Pop?
JL: I like her. She's so spontaneous. She's so good at making the routines, she can make like 10 different routines from one piece of music. She works your style - she has her own style but she works it out so it's your routine so you can own it. She's so amazing to work with and so much fun.
IG: Of all the places you've been, where is your favorite?
JL: I think London! I had so many good experiences over there. I had a great time this Olympics. Maybe the all-around finals didn't go the way I wanted to but I was happy. There are no regrets for me. I think I did the best I could under all the circumstances I had throughout the whole year. I was very happy with how I got there and how I finished up. I think that was big for me to finish up with a strong performance on vault.
IG: Do you know when your next competition will be, and when we'll see your new floor routine in action?
JL: No, I have no idea [laughs].
IG: Thank you and good luck!
JL: Thank you!
IG Magazine Related Feature "Viva Venezuela" - López profile (2008)
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