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Russia's Kekkonen Clicks as Coach in Minnesota
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Since relocating to Minnesota two years ago, former Russian national team member Ksenia Kekkonen told IG she has found professional success and personal fulfillment as a coach to aspiring young U.S. gymnasts.


Russian-born Ksenia Kekkonen shares her expertise with young gymnasts at Elite Gymnastics Academy in Minnesota

Kekkonen, who previously helped coach international-level gymnasts in Russia, is working to develop a base of potential top-level gymnasts, beginning with the Level 3 team she coaches at Elite Gymnastics Academy in Burnsville, Minn.

Kekkonen said she is pleased with her gymnasts' recent achievements, including multiple medal-winning performances at regional invitational competitions over the past year. She also works with the XCel team, another of EGA's competitive programs, on beam and floor exercise. Eventually, Kennonen said, some of her gymnasts can reach the top.

"I'm happy that I work with them from nothing, so to speak, and that I can pass on to them a good gymnastics base for skills from the beginning," said Kekkonen, who earned a coaching degree at Novgorod State University in Russia in 2005. "Already this year they have learned so much. They're excellent, and they are really trying to be champions."

Born Jan. 27, 1983, in Gatchina, Kekkonen trained as a gymnast under coach Olga Yefimova in Novgorod. She competed for Russia at the 1998 Junior European Championships in St. Petersburg, and came close to making Russia's training squad for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Kekkonen began working as a coaching assistant in 1997, while she was still competing. After she retired from competition, she began coaching primary level groups and working as a member of the coaching group for the first-string Novgorod team. Among Kekkonen's students were then-Russian national team member Oksana Vitkova and current Russian team member Kristina Goryunova. Kekkonen also spent time coaching in Finland.

Kekkonen said her ability to relate to her young Minnesota gymnasts on multiple levels serves her well as a coach.

"My previous, personal gymnastics experience is a good primary base," she said. "This helps me in my work as a coach – not many (coaches) can demonstrate the skills personally. I also think that a coach is not only a person who can teach gymnasts how to perform elements, but is also a good psychologist. I really ‘feel' my gymnasts. In each of them I can find just what is necessary, and then allocate that to open up their possibilities."

In addition to coaching gymnastics, Kekkonen worked as chief manager in a network of fitness clubs in St. Petersburg from 2005-11, and competed in fitness competitions. Kekkonen and her husband, Dmitry Mikhalev, got married in 2009. They have twin daughters, Kristina and Sofia.


Kekkonen at the 1998 Junior European Championships

Kekkonen said she is determined to instill in her EGA gymnasts skills that will benefit them in and out of the gym.

"At this club I aspire to help gymnasts of any level realize their potential, learn to take advantage of their talent, gain confidence, learn how to set goals, and learn about teamwork," she said.

Kekkonen credits Yefimova, and the late Yelena Mashinskaya and Anatoly Chistenko from her Novgorod club, for their ongoing influence in her professional career in the U.S.

"I have adopted the coaching experience of my coaches, who developed many gymnasts to the international level," she said. "Everything they have passed on to me – the knowledge and experience – I have retained and am improving upon."

Although Kekkonen reflects with appreciation on the coaching exposure and training she gained in Russia, she is determined to create her own champions in the U.S.

"When I was still a gymnast I helped my coaches in their work with children," she told IG. "At the end of my competitive career I moved into coaching and helped gymnasts who were already at the international level. This has also helped me achieve success, but I want to reach further and improve. I certainly would like to develop gymnasts of the international level."

 

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