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Kim: 'Legend' Meet Status Inspiring to Gymnasts
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Five-time Olympic gold medalist Nellie Kim told IG that she hopes her status as one of two designated past stars at this weekend's Gymnastics Legends International in Los Angeles benefited the meet's participants and helped build momentum for future such events.

"I'm really proud and happy that this kind of competition can take place, because there is no future without history," said Kim, who attended the competition hosted by All Olympia Gymnastics Center at Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday evening. "It's very nice and important for the young generation to know the old generations. The old generations always inspire new generations. When I was competing I always had one or two gymnasts in the world who served as examples for me."

Nellie Kim and Artur Akopyan

Kim and former Soviet teammate Artur Akopyan were featured in promotions and on posters for the competition, and also served as award presenters. Akopyan coaches with 1980 Olympic all-around finalist Galina Marinova (Bulgaria) at All Olympia.

Gymnasts from Canada, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Mexico and various U.S. clubs took part in the meet, which included an Elite session dominated by Canadian gymnasts.

Maegan Chant of World Class Gymnastics Academy (Hamilton, Ont.) won the senior all-around title, and Heaven Latimer of Brantford Gymnastics Academy (Brantford, Ont.) won the junior all-around title.

Kim, who serves as president of the Women's Technical Committee of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), said she is enjoying the serendipity that has brought and kept her and former acquaintances together.

"Galina, Artur and I competed at the same time," said Kim, whose husband, parents and sister also attended the meet. "Artur and I were on the same team. I didn't know Galina at the time, but the funny thing is that I was the first gymnast to perform the (forward push-off, half turn to back somersault) dismount from the balance beam, and so far the only one to repeat it has been Galina. It's wonderful."

At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Kim won three gold medals (vault, floor exercise and team) and placed second all-around. At the 1980 Games in Moscow, she tied for gold on floor exercise, won a team gold and placed fifth all-around. Kim also won the 1979 world all-around title.

At the 1981 World Championships in Moscow, Akopyan won a team gold, and silvers on vault and high bar. At the 1983 Worlds in Budapest, he won gold on vault, bronze in the all-around and silver in the team competition.

Prominent All Olympia gymnasts include 2012 Olympic gold and silver medalist McKayla Maroney, who was on hand Saturday to sign autographs, and former U.S. national team members Mattie Larson and Samantha Shapiro. After finishing her NCAA career at UCLA, Mohini Bhardwaj trained at the club and went on to serve as captain of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. Anna Li, a reserve gymnast on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012, also spent time training at the club in 2011.

Kim said competitions such as the Gymnastics Legends International are valuable beyond offering competitive experience.

"The competition is important, but to give it an international status is even more important," said Kim. "Gymnastics most of all is for the young generation to get together, get to know each other, make friends and get to know new cultures. That was the most important part of my gymnastics career, because I loved gymnastics. But in the past and even now, I've loved making new friends, and getting to know new countries and cultures."

Kim said invitational meets at which gymnasts are housed with local families offer even more insight.

"I never stayed anywhere except my house or with other Soviets until 1987, when I went to Belgium and stayed with a local family," she said. "It changed my life -- my mentality, my thinking, my approach to different things. We need to think about competitions from not only the gymnastics aspect, but also the human aspect."

Gymnastics Legends International is among a few international invitationals that were recently hosted by U.S. clubs. Others include the WOGA Classic, Svetlana Boginskaya Invitational and Houston National Invitational held in Texas, and the Nadia Comaneci Invitational in Oklahoma City.

Kim said she supports such U.S.-based competitions that welcome competitors from abroad.

"The problem is that now, especially in non-European areas, there are few international competitions," she said. "So I think this is a trial, and I hope Galina and Artur will be determined to make this competition bigger and stronger. I think information about this competition will spread quickly around the world, and I hope that next year we will have many more participants."

Such competitions provide judges with needed credentials, as well, Kim said.

"Gymnasts need this kind of experience, but so do judges. For judges to upgrade their category they must judge this kind of competition, and they don't have (many) in the United States."

Kim said she not only enjoyed her involvement in Gymnastics Legends International, but that she is optimistic about the future of the competition.

"For me it's a pleasure and an honor," she told IG. "My vision and big goal is that it will become an international event on the American continent. It's fantastic and I'm really happy they decided to do it. Galina is the generator of many things."

Read "Maroney on the Mend," an in-depth interview with McKayla Maroney, in the January/February 2013 issue of International Gymnast magazine.

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features:
"Maroney on the Mend" – McKayla Maroney interview (January/February 2013)
"Valiant Effort" – Anna Li interview (December 2012)
2012 Olympic Games special issue, features Maroney (September 2012)
"Rebounding" – Mattie Larson interview (March 2011)
"It's Showtime!" – Maroney profile (May 2011)
2011 World Championships special issue, features Maroney (December 2011)
Maroney on cover photo collage (September 2010)
"All for One" – All Olympia feature (July/August 2009)
"10 Questions with Nellie Kim" – interview (January//February 2008)
"Style and Substance" – Samantha Shapiro profile (October 2006)
"Meet a Real Show-stopper!" - Larson profile (November 2005)
"Catching Up With...Bulgaria" – features Galina Marinova (October 2002)

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