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Church Hopeful for 2007 Comeback
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Nearly recovered from a torn ACL, Commonwealth Games silver medalist Shavahn Church of Great Britain is eager for this year's European and World Championships. "She's looking great," coach Chris Waller told IG.
Church at the 2006 Commonwealth Games

The 17-year-old Church, who holds dual citizenship in Great Britain and the U.S., placed 20th all-around at the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne. She was coached by Don Peters and Yu Feng at SCATS in Huntington Beach, Calif., and began training under Waller in December 2005. Church finished second with the English team, fifth all-around and second on uneven bars at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, held in March in Melbourne.

Last spring, Church injured her knee on floor exercise at the European Championships in Volos, Greece.

Waller, a 1992 U.S. Olympian, said the injury was particularly frustrating because Church had torn the ACL in her other knee in 2004.

"It's taken Shavahn much longer to come back from this one," said Waller, who with his wife, Cindy, owns Wallers' GymJam Academy in Santa Clarita, Calif. "There's no real reason why, so she started getting kind of down about that. But we've been very pragmatic about coming back steady and stable, doing tons of landing drills. She's been strong enough for the last month to go ahead and do stuff, but the confidence hasn't been there to use both legs the same."

Waller said he noticed a rise in Church's confidence about two weeks ago.

"She made a huge breakthrough," he said. "Mentally, she's like, 'OK, I guess my leg's good to go.'" She's doing great now."

Church plans to travel to England for an April 1 competition that will serve as a British team trial for the European Championships, which will take place April 26-30 in Amsterdam.

Waller said he is also grateful to Heathrow Gymnastics Club, where Church trains when she is in England. At Heathrow, Church's coaches include 1981 world floor exercise champion Natalia Ilienko, and Vincent and Michele Walduck. Last year, Church trained at Heathrow from January through April. Waller said Church will spend six weeks based at Heathrow, beginning March 26.

As a warm-up, Church competed in the Friendship Challenge, a club meet held last weekend in Burbank, Calif.

Waller said Church performed impressively in Burbank, although she performed watered-down routines. To protect her leg, Church did not compete her recently learned double layout on floor exercise, and did a simple layout Yurchenko vault.

"If we had had another week, she probably would have been doing real tumbling, or something close to it, and a real beam routine," Waller said.

On uneven bars, Church performed full difficulty, with the exception of a simple dismount. Waller said Church's new routine includes a toe-on, layout Tkatchev; layout Jaeger; Shaposhnikova, back uprise to free hip; and a toe-on, full turn on the low bar.

"We're going to see what dismount she's going to do—either a double front, or a piked double front-half," Waller said. "Shavahn actually does that (latter dismount) better, but that's a big dismount to do after a routine with 10 crazy, hard skills."

Waller said he believes Church will be ready to compete at the Europeans on at least uneven bars and balance beam. "The goal at the end of this week is to do landings on the regular floor, and be ready for two to four events at elite level by the time she goes back to England," he said.

Waller said Church, who will turn 18 on May 3, will be ready for all four events at the 2007 World Championships, to be held in Stuttgart in September. He noted the new strength that she is showing on vault and floor exercise.

"Her vault is better than I've ever seen it, as far as technique and power go," said Waller, who also serves as an assistant coach at UCLA. "It's just a matter of what vault we're going to do. We want to make sure Shavahn has safe landings. She could do a Yurchenko double full and make it, but I'm not sure we want to go that route."

On floor exercise, Waller said Church has been training various skills including a double layout, a piked full-in and a piked Arabian double front. "I'd like to keep Shavahn away from front landings as much as possible," Waller explained. "Back landings are easier to stick, and landing a double layout is safer than landing an Arabian double front. We've been working a variety of skills so she has more in her toolbox. Plus it's good for her training. We're trying to get her fully rounded, but her double layout is stellar. She has a long body and long legs, and when she takes off, it's a gorgeous skill."

Although Church trains most of the time in California, Waller and British national team coaches keep one another apprised of Church's progress via e-mail. "I give them updates as to what she's training and what skills she's working on," Waller said. "They have their opinion on what skills they want her to do, so we converse back and forth."

Waller said he believes Church has the determination and talent to successfully return to world-class competition.

"Shavahn's an amazing person," Waller said. "She's hard-working and humble. She's great, and I'm wishing the best for her. She's what every athlete should be."

Shavahn Church is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

May 2006 - Commonwealth Games coverage
March 2006 - "New British Royalty" (short profile)

To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

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