She well represented the Czech Republic as Nicole Pechancova, but Nicole Pechanec — as she's known in the U.S. — is making a new name for herself as a freshman competitor for Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
Pechanec at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart
Born Aug. 17, 1989, to Czech parents in New Jersey, Pechanec was originally coached by her mother, Yvette (Yveta). She spent three years training at Aiken's Gymnastics in South Carolina, where she was coached by Czech natives Drahomira Smolikova Kriz (a 1976 Olympian) and her husband, Radek Kriz. For the past few years prior to enrolling at Stanford, Pechanec trained at Parkettes National Gymnastics Training Center in Allentown, Penn., There she was coached by her mother and Bill and Donna Strauss.
Pechanec competed at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, and the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart, Germany. She made the all-around finals at the 2007 European Championships in Amsterdam, where she finished 21st.
Pechanec's best results in World Cup competitions include first place on balance beam and second place on floor exercise at the World Cup of Ostrava, Czech Republic (2007); second place on floor exercise at the Glasgow Grand Prix (2007); and fifth place on balance beam and sixth place on floor exercise at the World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia (2007).
With performances that show power and finesse, Pechanec is impressing Stanford head coach Kristen Smyth. "She is doing a beautiful job and is a great addition to our team," Smyth says of Pechanec.
IG recently spoke with Pechanec, who reflected on key moments of her international career and described the exciting new phase of her life as a university student-athlete.
IG: Nicole, since enrolling at Stanford, what have been the biggest adjustments you've had to make to your gymnastics and academic habits?
NP: Academics wise, things have changed drastically. During the first quarter, what was most shocking for me was actually going to class and having a professor. Being schooled over the Internet for most of my life, it took me a few weeks to get adjusted to this change. Also, Stanford is one of the best schools in the country, so I'm studying most of the time. My gymnastics habits have also changed quite a bit. First of all, I can't focus solely on gymnastics as I did previously. Balancing life, gymnastics and schoolwork really takes some getting used to. The first quarter turned out pretty well, however, so I must be doing alright!
IG: In Stuttgart (2007 World Championships) you mentioned you were considering other universities. What was the key reason why you chose Stanford?
NP: Although I enjoyed competing internationally, I knew college was fast approaching, and my main priority was getting a good education. What made the decision for me was not only the excellent academics at Stanford, but also the amazing athletics. I still love gymnastics, and, while at college, why not also get the NCAA experience of a lifetime? Also, since I grew up on the East Coast, and spent a few years in South Carolina and Europe, I really wanted to venture out to California.
IG: So far this season, you have not competed all-around. What are your plans for competing on all four events?
Pechanec on the floor for Stanford
NP: I've been focusing on bars, beam and floor. College gymnastics is quite different from international gymnastics in a way that is hard to express. I haven't been training vault this season, in order to stay healthy, but I still have ambitions of getting into the line-up on that event in the future. As for this season, my coaches and I are primarily sticking with focusing on bars, beam and floor.
IG: How did the Czech Republic select its Olympian for Beijing? What are your feelings on being one of the top contenders for this spot, but not being selected?
NP: In women's gymnastics, the Czech Republic had only one Olympic spot. Jana Sikulova, Kristyna Palesova and I were all strong and equal contenders for the spot. The selection was primarily based on how each gymnast performed at the European Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, France (April 2008), and later at the Czech national championships. Depending on placement at these competitions, each gymnast earned a certain amount of points. The gymnast with the most points was chosen for the Olympic spot. The 2008 European Championships were solely a team competition, however. I found it strange competing as a team but also against each of my teammates. I also felt that April was rather early to be contending for the Olympic spot. For this reason did I not compete at the Czech national championships, but instead focused on preparing for Stanford.
IG: What classes are you taking this semester? And, if you are leaning towards a major, what is it?
NP: This semester I am taking Calculus, Economics, an interesting Sleep and Dreams course, and an IHUM course. IHUM, short for Introduction to Humanities, is a course every Stanford student takes their freshman year. Stanford wants its students to have broad, well-rounded knowledge of how to process information, make logical decisions, and also have background knowledge in a variety of humanities courses. There are about 12 IHUM courses to choose from, all focusing on different departments such as philosophy, law, the languages, drama and classics. I am still considerably undecided. Before coming to Stanford I was interested in architecture and, although I still am, I can see myself as an Economics major.
IG: You mention the 2007 Europeans as a career highlight to date. What made that competition so special?
NP: The main reason that this meet was so special to me was the fact that my mom was right there down on the podium with me. Because only two coaches were allowed on the podium, she was usually up in the seating at Worlds and other meets. However, for the all-around final, she was able to be there out on the podium. She has been the driving force being everything that I have done. She has been there whenever I needed something and has also confirmed my theory that moms are always right. Having made it to the all-around finals, I was able to not only fulfill my dream, but hers, too. I don't consider it as athletic success whatsoever, but as pursuing dreams and living life to the fullest. Moments like these remind me that what I have done was worthwhile, anything I am doing is promising, and everything I dream of is possible.
IG: How much thought have you given to continuing to compete for the Czech Republic — perhaps at the World University Games this summer, or the World Championships this fall?
NP: I really enjoyed competing at competitions such as Worlds, Europeans and World Cups, and often find myself thinking about them. Although at the moment I am focused on the NCAA season, I haven't completely pushed aside the thought of competing for the Czech Republic again in the future.
IG: Having achieved international success, what are your new goals, in and out of the gym?
NP: Inside the gym, I'd like to continue with what I'm doing. Competing for Stanford is an amazing experience, and I already feel that time is flying by too fast. Outside the gym, I'm focusing on studying, taking advantage of everything Stanford has to offer, and spending time with my friends. I have amazing roommates that care for me as much as I do for them and that make me laugh to the point my stomach is sore for days. My teammates are always there for me, and we all work towards the goal of being the best we can possibly be. College is an amazing experience, and I already understand why people tell me it will be the best four years of my life.
IG Magazine Related Feature
"Connecting for the Czechs" - Pechanec profile (July/August 2007)
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