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Stephens: Cutting Ties With Past Injury
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A series of flashbacks at the 2018 World Championships in Doha.

For Australian gymnast Clay Stephens, competing in Doha was the chance to literally cut his ties with the serious knee injury that crippled his performance at last year’s Worlds in Montreal.

Stephens was at last able to discard the bright yarn bracelet from his left wrist — an ornamental reminder of the injury he sustained in Montreal, where he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament on his last tumbling pass on floor exercise.

“I put this bracelet on the day I ruptured my ACL, and the plan was to cut it off at my next competition,” said Stephens, who in Doha went on to earn his two highest scores on vault and floor exercise and finish 61st all-around in qualifications. “So one year later, at this Worlds, it’s pretty cool to be able to do that.”

No stranger to challenges, Stephens was born without a right pectoral muscle. He insists his condition has not stifled his success in a sport that counts on every available muscle, and particularly upper-body strength.

“It’s easy to see this as a difficult thing for me to deal with,” said Stephens, who has chauffeured for the visually impaired. “Everyone is going through their own battles, whether mental or physical. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. It’s just that mine is very visible. Success for me is about smart training and picking skills that are going to be easier for me than for other people.”

Stephens, who referred to the training session alongside six-time world all-around champion Kohei Uchimura and his Japanese teammates as “cool,” said persistence and time should close the current scoring gap between the mighty Japanese and the aspiring Australians.

“We’ve been pushing our start values for a long time,” Stephens said. “We’re slowly starting to get there. It’s all about finding the balance between high execution and high difficulty. It’s going to be a long time until we get there, but it’s possible. It’s important for us to train smart and hard, and keep doing what we’re doing. We’re in the right direction. We’re working hard and we’re getting better.”

IG’s John Crumlish served as chief editor/reporter for the organizing committee’s News Service at the 2018 World Championships in Doha.

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