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Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 16 March 2017 23:00    PDF Print
Ireland's McClenaghan Living 'Dream Come True' in Baku
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

IG Online's traditional coverage of Irish gymnastics on St. Patrick's Day continues with this update on rising Irish star Rhys McClenaghan, 17, Junior European championships silver medalist on pommel horse.

IG Online's traditional coverage of Irish gymnastics on St. Patrick's Day continues with this update on rising Irish star Rhys McClenaghan, 17, Junior European championships silver medalist on pommel horse.

In Baku for his first World Cup event, Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, 17, will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day on Friday by doing what he perhaps does best.

"St. Patrick's Day will be celebrated by doing my pommel routine! What better way?!" he told IG.

McClenaghan will compete in the pommel horse qualifications on Friday at the AGF Trophy, an FIG World Challenge Cup event. The pommels lineup includes world and Olympic champion Krisztián Berki (Hungary), Olympic silver medalist Filip Ude (Croatia), 2015 European Games champion Sašo Bertoncelj (Slovenia) and Naoto Hayasaka, a member of Japan's gold medal-winning squad at the 2015 World Championships.

McClenaghan found a surprise welcome in Baku in the brilliant emerald green pool at the hotel. (Photo courtesty @rhysmcc1 on Instagram.)

"Andrew Smith, my teammate, is also competing on pommel so we can represent the Irish flag on St. Patrick's Day," McClenaghan said.

McClenaghan, who turns 18 on July 21, was born in Antrim, Northern Ireland. He trains at the Rathgael Gymnastics Club in Bangor, where he is coached by former Irish standout Luke Carson. (McClenaghan, like all Northern Irish citizens, holds both British and Irish citizenship and is eligible to compete for either country in athletic events.)

McClenaghan had an outstanding year in 2016 that boosted his confidence going into 2017. He made history for Irish gymnastics at the Junior European championships in Bern, becoming the first Irish gymnast to qualify for an all-around final at a European championships, and then winning the silver medal on pommel horse – Ireland's first ever medal at a European championships.

McClenaghan competed as a guest gymnast in the junior ranks at the 2016 British Championships, where he qualified for the Master's Final on pommel horse. (The Master's Final features the top gymnasts from both senior and junior age groups competing in one combined event final.) He picked up the bronze medal behind pommel horse giants Max Whitlock and Louis Smith, who went on to take gold and silver, respectively, at the Olympics in Rio last summer.

"2016 was a hugely successful year for me and I gained a huge amount of experience from that year," he recalled. "I finish every year by looking back on what I have achieved or learned throughout the year, and after each year as a gymnast I gain a huge amount of experience, more than I could expect. 2016 certainly opened my eyes, and showed me that I could be the best. I believe that I can be."

Now in 2017, he's joining the senior scene for the first time in Baku.

"It truly is a dream come true for me," he said. "From such a young age I always aspired to be an elite gymnast competing with the best in the world, and I can finally say I am doing that. I don't get to see a lot of senior gymnasts training in Ireland so it's refreshing, and I can learn a lot from the way that they compete and train. I have realised now from being at this world cup in Baku that I still have a lot to learn to progress."

McClenaghan frequently posts training videos on social media, some with jaw-dropping moves on pommel horse. The social media shares are helping get name recognition not just for himself but for Irish gymnastics.

"I like to share videos for everybody in the gymnastics community to see," he said. "It gets my name known and opens people's eyes to what an Irish gymnast can do. Gymnastics in Ireland is progressing very quickly, especially with the new National Indoor Training Centre. This is even more reason for me to share my progress and get my name and country noticed in the world of gymnastics. I am capable of doing one of the most difficult pommel horse routines in the world, although it is not perfected so there is still a lot of work needed to be put into my training."

Pommel horse may be his specialty, but McClenaghan is no pommel horse specialist, and he still has his eyes on the all-around. On Thursday, McClenaghan competed parallel bars in Baku during the first day of qualification.

"Of course pommel horse is still my strongest piece of apparatus, but I will always aim to be an all-around gymnast," he said. "I will compete all six apart throughout this whole year and stand out as an all-around gymnast and not only a pommel worker."

Despite his excitement, McClenaghan is taking a pragmatic approach to his first year as a senior. His goals for next month's European championships in Cluj and October's world championships in Montreal are "simply to gain experience," he said. "No other thoughts are going through my head other than gaining experience from these major competitions."

Gymnastics in Ireland may be booming but the team is not likely to qualify a full team to the next Olympic Games in Tokyo. McClenaghan will be looking to qualify as an individual, a feat accomplished by only two other Irish male gymnasts: Barry McDonald in 1996 and Kieran Behan in 2012 and 2016. With the FIG's new rules, the World Cup series will begin to be included as part of the Olympic qualification process for individuals for 2020. With Rio in the rearview mirror and attention turned to Tokyo, McClenaghan is not counting his luck, but taking it one meet at a time.

"Every gymnast's goal is to get to the 2020 Olympics," he said. "I wouldn't be human if I didn't see the Olympics as a major goal. Although, at the end of the day [Baku] is another competition, which I need to go and do my job at."

Follow McClenaghan on Instagram here and on YouTube here.

Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 16 March 2017 13:05    PDF Print
Penny Resigns as President of USA Gymnastics
(5 votes, average 3.60 out of 5)

Steve Penny has resigned as president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, following allegations that the organization failed to properly protect its athletes from sexual abuse.

Penny's resignation came following significant pressure for him to leave the post he had held since 2005. Last week, the U.S. Olympic Committee notified the board of directors of USAG that it wanted Penny's resignation. A growing number of former athletes and members of the gymnastics community had also sought Penny's resignation, and an online petition was created calling for his departure. Earlier this week, International Gymnastics Camp announced it was pulling its sponsorship of USAG over the scandal.

Steve Penny has resigned as president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, it was announced Thursday.

California attorney John Manly, who is representing more than 70 women currently suing former team doctor Larry Nassar and USAG, sent a letter to the USOC asking it to strip USA Gymnastics of its certification as the national governing body for gymnastics.

During Penny's tenure as president of USAG, the organization attracted numerous high-level corporate sponsors, and the U.S. women's team began dominating the sport. However, an investigation by the Indianapolis Star that began in August last year revealed a troubling pattern in the organization's handling of sexual abuse allegations, including failure to report incidents to the police. Coaches continued to work at USAG-affiliated clubs despite USAG having been notified of their behavior. According to the Star investigation, USAG had received complaints about more than 50 coaches and merely filed the complaints in a drawer, taking no action.

Reports of sexual abuse have long predated Penny's presidency, but some overlapped with him leading the organizations. Allegations that former Olympic coach Don Peters had raped one of his gymnasts in the 1980s was revealed in 2008. Marvin Sharp, coach of 2009 world champion Bridget Sloan and USAG Coach of the Year for 2010, was arrested in 2015 on charges of sexual assault and child pornography; Sharp died in his jail cell in September 2015 in a reported suicide.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the organization, including Penny personally, alleging he had failed to do due diligence regarding allegations of sexual abuse and ignored reports against coaches, including Sharp. The scandal deepened in September 2016 when it was revealed that long-time USAG women's team doctor Larry Nassar had been allegedly masking sexual abuse as treatment, using his ungloved fingers to sexually assault young gymnasts around the country and student-athletes at Michigan State University, where he worked as a team physician and lecturer. As of this week, more than 80 gymnasts have reportedly now come forward to file complaints. Nassar was fired from his position at USAG in 2015, but the allegations against him were not revealed until 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantszcher filed a Jane Doe lawsuit against him and the organization. 1999 World team member Jeanette Antolin and rhythmic gymnastics national champion Jessica Howard have also come forward to publicly discuss their alleged assaults by Nassar many years ago. The three gymnasts spoke to 60 Minutes in February, revealing how they were allowed to be alone during treatment with Nassar, which included alleged assaults taking place in the gymnasts' sleeping quarters at the Karolyi ranch in Texas, the national team training center for the U.S. women.

Nassar's departure from USAG after nearly 30 years was not publicized in 2015. It was later revealed that USAG officials waited five weeks before notifying law enforcement of the allegations against Nassar, who now faces multiple charges of criminal sexual misconduct in Michigan, as well as federal charges of possession and creation of child pornography. He was also fired from Michigan State, which is also facing numerous lawsuits and criticism over its handling regarding complaints against Nassar. Kathie Klages, the longtime Michigan State coach, was forced to resign amid revelations that she had failed to take action after gymnasts on her team had informed her of alleged assaults by Nassar conducting supposed "pelvic manipulation." (Nassar's defense attorney has claimed the treatment is a valid osteopathic treatment.)

The reports by the Star were so troubling that California Senator Dianne Feinstein has sponsored legislation requiring all amateur athletic organizations and its members to be mandatory reporters after hearing any allegations of abuse. Mandatory reporting is already required by law in numerous areas, including schools and hospitals, where employees must immediately contact law enforcement upon any allegation of abuse.

USAG issued a statement on Penny's resignation on Thursday afternoon. Chairman of the Board Paul Parilla said, "We have accepted Steve's resignation and want to thank him for his contributions and dedication to USA Gymnastics over the years. The Board believes this change in leadership will help USA Gymnastics face its current challenges and implement solutions to move the organization forward in promoting a safe environment for its athletes at all levels."

USAG stated it will begin a search for a new president and CEO and that Parilla will take over Penny's roles in the interim.

USAG also issued a statement on behalf of Penny, who has been named as a co-defendant in multiple lawsuits.

"My decision to step aside as CEO is solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics at this time," he said. "We all care deeply about the safety of our athletes, which is fundamental to a rewarding experience at any level of gymnastics. It has been heartbreaking to learn of instances of abuse and it sickens me that young athletes would be exploited in such a manner."

Written by Amanda Turner    Wednesday, 15 March 2017 08:04    PDF Print
Olympic Champion Naimushina Dies at 52
(10 votes, average 3.10 out of 5)

Russian Yelena Naimushina, a member of the gold medal-winning Soviet team at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, died Tuesday in Moscow. She was 52.

Russian Yelena Naimushina, a member of the gold medal-winning Soviet team at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, died Tuesday in Moscow. She was 52.

Naimushina was born on November 19, 1964, in the village of Askiz, in Krasnoyarsk Krai, a large region of Siberia north of Mongolia. Naimushina was born on a train as her mother went to the hospital. She was born with heart issues, and the doctor recommended to Naimushina's mother to bring her to gymnastics for her health. At age 5, Yelena Naimushina was brought to the children's sports school, part of the Krasnoyarsk State University, along with her 8-year-old sister. Within two years, Yelena was winning regional competitions.

Her first coach was Tatiana Tropnikova, who was later joined by Valentin Shevchuk, a Master of Sports in sports acrobatics. Tropnikova and Shevchuk (who eventually married) guided her throughout her career at Dinamo Krasnoyarsk. She emerged on the junior scene in the mid-1970s as a hope for the 1980 Olympics. She later recalled being summoned to the gym to show routines at all hours when any prominent sports official would arrive in Krasnoyarsk, a two-day train trip from Moscow. Once she had to perform at midnight; another time it was 4 a.m. Beam became her forté, despite one disastrous competition in Leningrad where she managed to fall 14 times from the apparatus. At a junior competition in Romania, she was instructed to fall off beam once by a Soviet official to placate their Romanian hosts, but stubbornly refused and won the event. In 1976, she won the Soviet junior championships in the Candidate for Master of Sports category. In 1977, she finished third all-around at the Soviet junior championships. In 1978, she won uneven bars at the Russian SFSR championships.

Remembered especially for her artistry and fan favorite "Kalinka" floor routine, Naimushina first joined the senior leagues in 1978, when she finished third all-around at the Soviet championships and second at the Chunichi Cup. The following year she was sixth all-around at the American Cup and second all-around at Champions All in London. She was a member of the Soviet team that took second at the 1979 World Championships after it was upset by the Romanian team for the first time. In 1980, she finished third all-around, first on beam and second on floor exercise at the Soviet championships.

That summer, the 15-year-old Naimushina helped the Soviet women win team gold at home in Moscow. The youngest member of the Olympic team, she was first up in the all-star lineup with teammates Yelena Davydova, Maria Filatova, Nellie Kim, Natalia Shaposhnikova and Stella Zakharova. She closed out the Olympics by scoring 9.95 for a brilliant floor routine. Later that year she competed at the World Cup in Canada, winning the gold medal on balance beam and silver medal on floor exercise.

Naimushina returned frequently to Krasnoyarsk, where a competition is held in her honor to mark her birthday each November.

Naimushina competed a few times in 1981 but retired in 1982 due to a serious back injury and conflict with the new Soviet coach. She graduated from Krasnoyarsk State Pedagogical Institute in 1986. She moved to Latvia with her husband, world junior cycling champion Andris Zelčs-Ločmelis, with whom she had three children: sons Toma and Filipp, and daughter Linda. The couple later divorced after 15 years and she returned to Krasnoyarsk with her daughter.

She remarried and with her second husband, Sergei Grigoryev, worked in Tula as sports consultant. Despite her background and physical education degree, she did not find much success coaching. She was the only member of the 1980 team who did not move abroad to coach at some point.

"She had three children and decided to focus on the family, and not to think about a career," Shevchuk said. "Later, when the children are grown, it's not easy to find yourself on the coaching path in elite sports."

In a 2011 interview, Naimushina said lingering injuries from her own career prevented her from taking the job of an active coach.

"Of course I can't be a coach myself, thanks to injuries as a kid," she said. "And I'm not getting any younger. Coaches should not only be able to demonstrate an element or explain it on the fingers at least but also help support gymnasts when learning elements. All this is a pretty big physical activity. As a consultant, I can suggest something, of course. But in order to prepare a good gymnast, not to mention even five years of working with her, a lot more is required. Yes, and to focus only on the gym, throwing away everything in the world for it, I find it hard. Nor do I, in any case, have such a desire."

Her death was a shock, Shevchuk told TASS News. He had recently spoken to Naimushina about the possibility of her working at his club, he said. He had expected to see her Wednesday after she returned from Moscow.

"Today will be the autopsy, after which the cause of death will become clear," said Shevchuk, 80. "But this loss was very unexpected for me."

Naimushina returned frequently to Krasnoyarsk, where an All-Russia competition in her honor has been held since 1995. (The competition is held each November to commemorate her birthdate). Despite the fact that she lived in Tula and spent 15 years in Latvia, Naimushina said she still felt herself to be a Siberian at heart, even though her children had all moved abroad (Her eldest son lives in Germany, her second son in London and her daughter returned to Latvia after college.)

"My children, as you can see, are scattered, but I still consider myself a Siberian, a Krasnoyarka," she said in 2013.

Update: A memorial service for Naimushina will be held Saturday at Central Stadium in Krasnoyarsk. She will be buried at Badalyk Cemetery in Krasnoyarsk.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 14 March 2017 09:27    PDF Print
Italy’s Basile: ‘There Is A Lot Of Work To Do’
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Featured in the March issue of International Gymnast magazine, 2016 European junior all-around bronze medalist Martina Basile of Italy does not yet view herself as equal to her country’s previous European junior all-around medalists including Adrian Crisci, Vanessa Ferrari and Enus Mariani.

“I see myself as an athlete that really has a lot to learn before getting to their level,” Basile said. “Honestly, I don't feel unique or special. I’m so young, and there is a lot of work to do.”

Read “La Bella Basile,” a profile on Martina Basile, in the March 2017 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to the print and/or digital editions, or to purchase a back issue, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 10 March 2017 15:33    PDF Print
Polish Partners Invest Big In The Little Gym
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Featured in the March issue of International Gymnast magazine, married Polish Olympians Marta Pihan-Kulesza and Roman Kulesza (pictured here spotting) are enjoying their newest pursuits as instructors at the Szczecin franchise of The Little Gym, a non-competitive gymnastics and activity center in their native country.

“You can learn everything if you really want,” Marta said. “We decided that coaching is not enough. To be on top, you need to focus on your goals and be determined. You know that everything depends on hard work. The rules are the same, no matter whether it is sport or business.

Marta likes the motto of The Little Gym, which is 'Serious Fun.'

"In Poland too many gymnasts, or even before they come to be gymnasts, get discouraged and never come back to the gym," she said. "Based on the Polish system, we notice a lack of a positive way of teaching. Not everyone can be at the top."

Read “Big Dreams in Small Places,” a feature on the Kuleszas’ new business venture, in the March 2017 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to the print and/or digital editions, or to purchase back issues, click here.


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