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Interview: Mattie Larson (USA)
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Larson on floor at the U.S. Olympic Trials

Seventh at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, first-year senior Mattie Larson spoke with IG about her chance to make the U.S. team to the Olympics next month in Beijing.

Larson's lack of senior international experience has not affected her thus far in 2008. She placed seventh all-around at the Visa [U.S.] Championships in Boston and the U.S. Olympic Trials in Philadelphia, both held in June. Based on Larson's performances in Philadelphia and Boston, she earned a spot on the 12-woman U.S. Olympic training squad.

Following a final selection camp that will take place July 16-20 at the Karolyi ranch in Texas, the U.S. Olympic team will be named. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, who finished first and second at the trials, have already been appointed to the team. Larson is one of 10 candidates for the remaining spots.

Born May 20, 1992, in Los Angeles, Larson trains at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in her hometown. She is coached by 1980 Olympic all-around finalist Galina Marinova (Bulgaria) and 1983 world vault champion Artur Akopyan (Armenia/Soviet Union).

Larson's success at the junior level included three gold medals (all-around, floor exercise and team) at the 2007 Junior Pan American Championships in Guatemala; and sixth place all-around at the 2007 U.S. Junior Championships.

In the IG Online interview, Larson describes her preparations for the final U.S. team training camp, and where she hopes her 2008 results will lead her.

IG: You seemed to have gained a lot of confidence and consistency since competing as a junior. What do you think has made you more solid as a senior?

ML: Being put in the situation kind of makes you hit your routines flawlessly, and show everyone what you came for.

IG: What skills or routines did you pay special attention to, going into the Olympic year?

ML: There weren't any specific skills or routines, but we definitely emphasized doing a lot of routines and trying to get through them, and after that, concentrating on the small details.

IG: Most of the gymnasts in contention for the Olympic team have at least one year of senior experience, but you are a first-year senior. How have been able to adjust so quickly to what's expected of you as a senior?

ML: I don't really feel a difference between junior and senior, other than the fact that, in senior, we are closer. We have been with each other more, so I actually like it a little better in senior. Competition-wise, it's exactly the same. I'm doing some of the same routines - just adding some a few new skills. I don't really think there's a big difference.

IG: Have you felt more nervous during the actual competitions of 2008?

ML: I usually feel a little bit of nerves, but not any different from before.

IG: Do you feel you have more to prove to the selection committee, who sees your talent but doesn't know how you hold up in world competition? Or, do you just "do your thing?"

ML: I just do my thing. I want to show that it doesn't matter if you're just coming out of juniors, or if you have already been a senior. What matters is that people can trust you and can count on you to hit your routines.

Larson on beam at the 2008 U.S. Championships

IG: At trials, you seemed to run out of steam on your final floor pass (double pike) on both nights. What was the issue there?

ML: It wasn't that much of an issue, because it doesn't happen that often. I think it was endurance and technique. I was a little slow on the back handspring, Artur was saying. I've been working on it at the gym, and it's back to normal.

IG: How much of the crowd's involvement did you feed off?

ML: I really think they helped me finish that routine, because I was really tired! They were so loud. It was the loudest crowd I've even competed in front of. Even some of the girls who've been on Worlds teams were saying it was one of the most active and loudest crowds they've ever performed in front of. The crowd was really, really supportive. They didn't cheer softly for anyone. They were louder for some, but they were just a really good crowd.

IG: With two coaches — Galina Marinova and Artur Akopyan — who works with you on which events?

ML: I would say they are both my main coaches. They fuel each other to be the best coaches they can be. One will say something, and help the other, and learn something new. Artur coaches me mainly on vault and bars. Galina does beam and floor dance, and Artur does floor tumbling.

I've been working with Galina since I turned 7. I've been with her since the day she opened the All Olympia gym. One other girl and I are the only ones left, the original ones, who were there the day the gym opened - even before they put the equipment in.

IG: Since trials, what have Galina and Artur been focusing on in your training?

ML: I have been working on finishing my routines, but concentrating more on vault and floor, because that's where Galina and Artur think I can contribute most to the team. They're giving me tips on the mental stuff, as well as doing as many successful routines as possible. After I get through those routines, I can focus on the details and cleaning things up. They also give me tips, like not to put too much pressure on myself because it's not like my last chance ever. It's just going to be a great experience, whether I make the team or I don't. The next time around, I'll have this Olympics experience — going through trials and training camp. They're just trying to keep me positive.

IG: What improvements are you making on vault (double-twisting Yurchenko)?

ML: I'm trying to do higher vaults, and not pike down, because that's where the deductions come in.

IG: How realistic were your expectations to be in this position? Were you hoping, or more expecting, to be in the top group that is being considered for Beijing?

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    There is so much media attention, because it's the Olympic year. It's like three years worth of competing, all put together into one year."

ML: I was definitely hoping. I didn't expect myself to do it. I wouldn't expect it of anyone in their first year as a senior. It was more like a hope and desire to get this far. I got this far and I'm going to keep hoping to get on the team, but I'm not going to expect too much from myself. The main people get nervous is themselves getting in the way, rather than other people making them nervous.

IG: How do you think you'll handle both possibilities — making the team, or not making the team?

ML: Galina and Artur have been talking with me about it, and getting me through this time by saying that, either way, it's going to be a great experience for me. If I don't make the team, and can stay away from bad injuries, then I'm definitely going to try for the next Olympics. So much has happened in one year. There is so much media attention, because it's the Olympic year. It's like three years worth of competing, all put together into one year. It's going to help me a lot, because it forces you to know what's going on, and I think that's a good thing. If I don't make the team, I think I will handle it really well. I was hoping just to make it to this point. I want to go in and see what happens, and hopefully, my parents and coaches will be proud of me.

IG: Competitively, how has the trials experience benefited you for future meets?

ML: It's helped me a lot, because I'm competing with the best in this country, and the best in this country are definitely the best in the world. It can show me where I'm standing, and this gives me more confidence.


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