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IG Interview: Ava Verdeflor (Philippines)
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Following her 12th-place all-around finish at this month's Junior Asian Championships in Tashkent, Ava Verdeflor of the Philippines is preparing to take some of the world's best young gymnasts at this summer's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. Pictured: Coach Wu Guonian, gymnast Tristan Lopez, Gymnastics Association of the Philippines President Cynthia Carrion, Verdeflor and her coach Natasha Boyarskaya.

Following her 12th-place all-around finish at this month's Junior Asian Championships in Tashkent, Ava Verdeflor of the Philippines is preparing to take some of the world's best young gymnasts at this summer's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.


Ava Verdeflor (Philippines)

Verdeflor earned a berth to the Games through her performance at the Junior Asian Championships — held April 10-13 in Tashkent — where she placed 12th despite problems on uneven bars.

Tristan Lopez, another Philippine team member who trains in the United States, also competed in Tashkent in the men's competition. Lopez trains with Chinese legend Wu Guonian at New Hope Gymnastics in California.

Born Jan. 2, 1999, in Tarlac, Philippines, Verdeflor immigrated with her family to Singapore when she was two months old, and then moved to California in 2002. She began taking recreational gymnastics classes at age 6 at Pegasus Gymnastics in Milpitas. Pegasus closed a few months later, at which time she began training at Airborne Gymnastics in Santa Clara.

In 2006 Verdeflor and her family moved to Allen, Texas. There, upon the recommendation of her Airborne coaches, she successfully tried out for World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Plano.

Verdeflor's first coach at WOGA, Natasha Boyarskaya, remains her coach on balance beam and floor exercise. For the past four years Laurent Landi has been coaching her on vault and uneven bars. Nataliya Marakova has choreographed all of her floor exercise routines.

Verdeflor, who placed first all-around in the junior division at last year's Philippines National Games, began competing internationally for the Philippines this year. In this IG Online interview, Verdeflor describes her plans for performing well for her native country, starting with her performance in Tashkent and thinking ahead to the Youth Olympics.



Verdeflor in Taskhent with six-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina

IG: Congratulations on not only your performances in Tashkent, but on qualifying for the Youth Olympic Games. What specifically pleased you about each of these accomplishments?

AV: Competing at the Junior Asian Championships was a learning experience for me. It was not as smooth as I wanted it to be. We were waiting for approval of TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) for my medicine for my back and ankles. We did not receive the approval until April 17, so I was not able to take my medication until after the competition. My back was hurting and my ankles were swollen the night before the competition.

My first event was vault, so we decided to just do one vault instead of two, because if I hurt my ankles further, I might not be able to do the other events. I pulled on my Jaeger and my Achilles' (tendon) got hooked on the bars, so I panicked, lost my rhythm and fell on my overshoot and dismount. But I am very thankful that I was able to recover and did well on my last two events, beam and floor, and still be able to qualify to the Youth Olympic Games despite the mistakes on bars.

IG: The Junior Asian Championships was your biggest test yet, but now you are preparing to take on the world's best young gymnasts in Nanjing this summer. What will your plan be for making your routines as difficult and consistent as they can be?

AV: I went back to my doctor when we got back from Tashkent. I will be doing physical therapy for my ankles, and continue my back exercises. As my back and ankles get better, my coaches will gradually put back the skills we removed from my program, and maybe add a few more. Our priority right now is to keep me healthy for the Youth Olympics.

IG: When and how did you come to the decision to start competing for the Philippines?

AV: My parents are both from the Philippines, and the idea of competing for the Philippines has always been there from the beginning. We first got in touch with GAP (Gymnastics Association of the Philippines) when I was 11 years old. I was still too young to be on the team, but we went to the gym in Manila just to meet with the GAP president and the national team coach. I met the girls team and trained with them for a few days. In May 2013, I participated in the Philippine National Games, which was also the national ranking. I was able to get gold in the all-around and secure my spot on the national team.

IG: How do you view yourself among your Philippines teammates, considering that you train far away from them?


Verdeflor on floor exercise in 2014

AV: I was able to bond with them when I trained with them in May 2013 during the Philippine National Games. We keep in touch through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I'm excited to see them again this May when I go back to the Philippines for this year's Philippine National Games. But I will not be competing at the Philippine National Games this year, because I need to rest my back and ankles. I will be there to cheer my team on.

IG: How are you and your WOGA coaches coordinating your training with the national team coaches in the Philippines?

AV: GAP lets my WOGA coaches decide whatever is best for my program. Whenever I go back to Manila to train with the Philippines team, my WOGA coaches send a plan for my training, and that plan is what we follow.

IG: When and how often will you be traveling to the Philippines to train?

AV: I go there once a year, for about a week, for the Philippine National Games.

IG: The Philippines has not been well known in gymnastics, but you are already giving the country a lot of hope for not only Nanjing, but the big competitions leading to the 2016 Olympics. What is your perspective on the part you are playing for the success of the Philippines gymnastics program?

AV: I am hoping to promote gymnastics in the Philippines. My dream is to be able to win medals for the Philippines and maybe inspire more girls to take on the sport. Right now, the Philippines are not well known for gymnastics, but with the help of my coaches and the support of GAP, I am hoping to change that in the near future.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Asian gymnasts includes:

China
Deng Linlin two-page center poster (April 2013)
He Kexin cover photo (January/February 2010)
Huang Huidan two-page center poster (March 2014)
"Unbelievable" – Li Ning feature (June 2011)
Liu Yang two-page center poster (December 2013)
Tan Sixin cover photo, 14-page photo feature on IG's visit to Chinese national training center (June 2011)
Yao Jinnan on cover photo collage (July/August 2012)

Hong Kong
"Ready to Rock" – Wai Hung Shek profile (July/August 2012)
"Hope for Hong Kong" – Angel Wong profile (January/February 2011)

Japan
"Routine Maestro" – profile on Code of Points illustrator Koichi Endo (March 2010)
Yuya Kamoto cover photo, 2010 Youth Olympic Games coverage (October 2010)
Natsumi Sasada on cover photo collage (July/August 2010)
"Twist of Fate" – Kenzo Shirai interview (January/February 2014)
"10 Questions with Naoya Tsukahara" – interview (September 2013)
Koko Tsurumi two-page center poster (October 2010)
"Virtuoso!" - Kohei Uchimura profile (April 2010)
Kohei Uchimura cover photo and center poster, 2011 World Championships special issue (December 2011)
"10 Questions with Kohei Uchimura" – interview (April 2012)
"10 Questions with Shuko Uchimura (Kohei's mother)" interview (July/August 2012)
Kohei Uchimura cover photo, 2013 World Championships special issue (November 2013)

Korea
"The Next Step" – Yang Hak Seon interview (October 2013)

Malaysia
"Tracie Ang Takes Aim at 2011" – profile (March 2011)

Qatar
"Desert Oasis" – feature on IG's visit to Qatar national training center (January/February 2012)

Singapore
"True to Form" – Lim Heem Wei profile (June 2012)

Uzbekistan
"Catching up with Irina Baraksanova" – profile and small cover photo (July/August 2010)
"Swing Shift" – Anton Fokin profile (January/February 2012)
"Angular Precision" – Elvira Saadi feature (April 2013)

Vietnam
Phan Thi Ha Thanh cover photo and profile, feature on IG's visit to Vietnamese national training center (January/February 2014)

To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

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