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Written by dwight normile    Friday, 12 June 2015 07:08    PDF Print
Mustafina, Komova Set for Return in Baku
(5 votes, average 4.20 out of 5)

The inaugural European Games, a multi-sport event, will begin on Sunday, June 14, in Baku, Azerbaijan. Following is a preview of the artistic gymnastics competition from the European Gymnastics Union.

The first two disciplines to step onto the gymnastics podium are men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics. In these Olympic disciplines up to 88 male gymnasts (26 teams and 10 individuals) and 89 female gymnasts (26 teams and 11 individuals) will compete, from 14 to 20 June, at the National Gymnastics Arena

Competition format:

During qualification (CI) all competitors aim to qualify for the all-around and event finals. Qualification is spread over 2 days with 3 men’s artistic gymnastics (MAG) and 2 women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) events taking place in parallel per day and the results serve as the team standings (CIV). A team consists of 3 gymnasts, all 3 gymnasts can present their routine and the 2 best scores count towards the team total.

In the all-around final the top 18 competitors (max. 1 per country) on all events combined will compete for the title. There will be alternation between men and women. All competitors start from zero in the final.

In event finals the top 6 competitors (max. 1 per country) on each event compete. Men’s floor is followed by women’s vault and men’s pommel horse in alternation, rings together with uneven bars, men’s vault with women’s beam, parallel bars with floor; the finals end with high bar om its own. Scores from qualification don’t carry on to the final.

Alternation explained:

To make the events easier to follow for spectators both in the hall and at home, 1 gymnast will compete at a time. One male gymnast competes and while he waits for his score, a female gymnast competes. While she waits for her score, the next male gymnast performs. This way there is always a gymnast performing.

Men’s and women’s gymnastics will be in alternation during all-around and event finals. During qualifications they will compete in parallel as it would take too long in alternation.

Who to watch in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics:

The field is headlined by newly-crowned European all-around champion Giulia Steingruber (SUI) and will see the return to competition of Russian stars Aliya Mustafina and Viktoria Komova. Many teams have send new names to these Games, to let them gain experience before the important World Championships in Glasgow (GBR) in October, which serve as the first qualifying step towards the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Russia is expected to be strong with Olympics bars champion Mustafina, 2011 world bars champion Komova and Youth Olympic Champion Seda Tutkhalian who recently won the 4 Nations Cup in Italy. Mustafina and Komova have been out for a while and have little competition rhythm. Romania is sending Andreea Iridon, Laura Jurca and Silvia Zarzu. Germany can definitely challenge them, teaming the experienced Elisabeth Seitz up with bars specialist Sophie Scheder and newcomer Leah Griesser. Strong European gymnastics countries like Great Britain and Italy have left their most experienced gymnasts at home so it will be exciting to see how they place. In the all-around Steingruber looks to strengthen her authority on the European scene, after her historic win at the European Championships in Montpellier last April. She has a good chance to qualify for all event finals as well. Kelly Simm (GBR) will challenge her on vault. On beam also look out for the elegant Vasiliki Millousi (GRE) and Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska (POL).

Due to the ‘1 per country’-rule it will be a tough battle within many teams to reach the all-around and event finals.

Who to watch in Men’s Artistic Gymnastics:

Several big names are on the roster! 2015 European champions Oleg Vernyayev (UKR, all-around and parallel bars), Marijo Moznik (CRO, high bar) and Eleftherios Petrounias (GRE, rings) will compete against Fabian Hambüchen (GER), who opted out of the European Championships to focus on this competition, and Azerbaijan’s medal hope Oleg Stepko. Russia sends a strong team of all-arounders: 2013 European Champion and 2015 runner-up David Belyavsky, Nikolai Kuksenkov and Nikita Ignatyev. Great Britain sends a young and very talented team consisting of junior European Champions Frank Baines, Brinn Bevan and Nile Wilson. Competing without a team is Israel’s Alexander Shatilov, always a strong challenger on floor and high bar.

Competition schedule:

14 June: qualification (CI) day 1: men’s floor, pommel horse and rings, women’s vault and uneven bars, 10.00 to 12.30 and 14.30 to 19.00

15 June: qualification (CI) day 2: men’s vault, parallel bars and high bar, women’s beam and floor + Team award ceremonies, 10.00 to 12.30 and 14.30 to 19.30

18 June: all-around finals (CII): men and women in alternation, 17.30 to 20.20

20 June: event finals (CIII): men and women in alternation, 16.00 to 20.15

Follow the gymnastics on YouTube here.

Written by dwight normile    Wednesday, 10 June 2015 12:02    PDF Print
My Story: The British Are Coming
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Following is a "My Story" submission by Samantha Challinor, which appeared in the May 2015 issue of IG.

Much attention has (rightly!) been devoted in recent years to the rapid rise of British gymnastics as a medal prospect on the international stage. Prior to Beijing 2008, Britain had never won an individual Olympic gymnastics medal or successfully qualified full men’s and women’s teams to a non-boycotted Olympics in the modern era. Just one cycle later, following London 2012, two British teams had delivered a total of five medals across two Olympic Games, including men’s team bronze and three individual medals on pommels. Continued progress in this cycle means that the dream of a first Olympic gold remains a hope.

But little attention has been given to the fan experience of this transformation, and of British gymnastics in general. What is it like to be a gymnastics fan in a non-competitive country? What is it like when that country subsequently becomes competitive? This is my story.

As a child gymnast and fan in northern Britain in the early 1990s, I would eagerly flick through my quarterly issue of the British Gymnastics governing body’s magazine, The Gymnast, and marvel at the photographs of mythical creatures scattered throughout: British gymnasts.

Where were they? Why did I never see them anywhere else?

Gymnastics coverage on British television was often an every-other-year event, limited to the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. (Even now, coverage of other events is rare.) Where television coverage could be found, cheering on a home medal hope was not an option for the simple reason that there were none. Even the option to cheer on a home competitor was not guaranteed; if a British gymnast was present, the chance that the television feed would choose to show his or her routine was slim.

Newspaper and news coverage was minimal. The pictures in my quarterly magazine were, for long periods of time, all I had. Until the mid-2000s, when Beth Tweddle appeared on the international scene as a lone realistic medal contender, this was the reality of gymnastics as a fan sport in Britain.

The advent of multiple British medal contenders later in the decade was one highlight of the new century, but even greater for the British fan has been the advent of the Internet. The Internet has been a gateway into a new world in which what I and others love is shared globally. Across oceans and continents, people are watching, talking about and writing about gymnastics. A world of discovery: of International Gymnast, and the ability to digitally subscribe; of YouTube, the cause of many an evening lost to re-watching routines new and old. And if British gymnasts medaling in major competitions has been a surprise, this has been the greater surprise. Access to gymnastics coverage, analyses, competitions, results, tweets, blogs, videos and discussion is something I will never take for granted. There has never been a more exciting time to be a British gymnastics fan, certainly, but more than that, I think, there has never been a more exciting time to be a gymnastics fan.

Do I wish that I had experienced gymnastics as a fan sport in a different country? That I had known, for example, how it felt to be a home supporter at moments like the Magnificent Seven taking home gold in Atlanta? Perhaps. What is most clear, however, in the pages of International Gymnast and beyond, is that gymnastics is simply not that kind of sport.

We don’t watch solely because we want our favorite, our team, our country, to win. We watch because we love the sport. We watch because there is no greater pleasure than watching somebody—anybody—excel at gymnastics. Cheering and applauding success, wherever it comes from, is, in my view, one of the greatest strengths of the gymnastics community. To watch the success of a fellow Brit is a great privilege—but just to watch at all is the greater pleasure. And with gymnastics returning to Britain for the world championships in Glasgow in just five short months, there has never been a better time, as a British fan, to hope to indulge both.

Samantha Challinor is a former gymnast and lifelong fan who lives in Manchester. She intersperses her YouTube addiction with occasional attempts at recreational gymnastics and can next be spotted cheering on Team GB in Glasgow in October.

What’s YOUR story? Share your personal gymnastics experiences in IG. Email your story (500-800 words), along with high resolution JPEGs, to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Subject line: My Story.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 05 June 2015 06:59    PDF Print
'Rio Is Not Over,' Says Germany's Bui
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

German Olympian Kim Bui told IG that, despite suffering a serious knee injury recently, she may still have a shot at next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“Rio is not over,” she told IG. “But first I have to wait for the surgery, and then I will spent all my energy in recovery.”

While training on vault in Frankfurt on May 26, Bui tore her right ACL and suffered a medial collateral ligament tear. She plans to have surgery in Stuttgart within six weeks.

In February 2010 Bui tore her left ACL, and came back to win the bronze medal on uneven bars at the European championships in Berlin in April 2011. She was a member of Germany’s ninth-place team at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and placed first all-around at the 2014 German championships.

The 26-year-old Bui said she cannot yet outline her training plan following this latest setback.

“It is always difficult to say in the case of such an injury,” she told IG. “Also, ‘training’ is a word with different meaning for people, and so I can't give an exact time for being back in ‘training.’”

International Gymnast magazine's recent features on German gymnasts include:

“Shooting Star” - Tabea Alt profile (May 2015)

“Tough Lesson" - Janine Berger interview (October 2012)

Kim Bui interview (April 2013)

Maike Enderle profile (September 2014)

"Renaissance Man" – Fabian Hambüchen cover story (December 2013)

"New View from the Top" - Lisa Katharina Hill profile (July/August 2013)

"Leaps and Bounds for Germany" - Nadine Jarosch profile (January/February 2012)

"Silver Streak" – Marcel Nguyen interview (November 2012)

"Quick Chat: Pauline Schäfer" (January/February 2015)

"Calm, Clean Style" - Sophie Scheder profile (December 2013)

To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 19 May 2015 09:13    PDF Print
Gold in Varna Pulls Käslin Out of Slump
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Swiss gymnast Ilaria Käslin told IG that winning gold and bronze at the recent World Challenger Cup of Varna helped compensate for a recent competitive slump.

“My goals were to make it to the beam, floor and bars finals,” said Käslin, who placed first on floor exercise and third on balance beam at the meet held May 7-9. “In the qualifications on bars it wasn't really good, because I fell on the dismount. I was sad and quite negative, but then with the help from the team I found the positivity and I forgot what I did in the past which wasn't good. In the beam and floor finals, I was more positive, and it was a good thing because I did well.”

Käslin, who finished 22nd in the all-around final at the 2013 world championships in Antwerp, is back on track after mediocre results at last fall’s worlds in Nanning and last month’s European championships in Montpellier.

In Nanning Käslin placed 84th in the all-around qualifications. In Montpellier she was 31st in all-around qualifications – fourth among the four Swiss all-arounders.

“In Nanning and Montpellier I made a lot of mistakes,” Käslin said. “After Nanning I started to be very negative, and it started to be difficult to believe in myself and in what I do. If I think about Nanning I don’t have a positive memory about my performances. In Montpellier I don't know why I performed like that. It was a bad day.”

Käslin said she was not disheartened by her overall experience in Montpellier, where teammate Giulia Steingruber became the first Swiss woman to win the European all-around title.

“Montpellier wasn't good for me, but for the others girls it was really good, and especially for Giulia,” Käslin said. “She did amazing! So when I came back to Switzerland I was really motivated.”

Käslin’s next target is a solid performance at this fall’s worlds in Glasgow, where the top eight teams will earn berths to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Four additional teams will earn berths to the Games at a test event, also in Rio, early next year. At the 2014 worlds, Switzerland finished 19th in team qualifications.

“I will give the best of myself in training to be ready in Glasgow,” Käslin told IG. “The team and I want do better than in Nanning and qualify for the test event, and continue in the Olympic Games qualifications.”

Read about Giulia Steingruber’s historic win at the European championships in the May 2015 issue of International Gymnast magazine, which also features her on the cover.

International Gymnast magazine's coverage of Swiss gymnasts includes:

"No Turning Back" - Claudio Capelli profile (June 2011)

"Swiss Hit" - Ariella Käslin profile (December 2008)

"Swiss Thrill-seeker" - A. Käslin short profile (January/February 2007)

"A New Swiss Standout" - Ilaria Käslin profile (December 2013)

Giulia Steingruber cover photo (May 2015)

"Full Force" - Steingruber interview (June 2013)

"A New Hit for the Swiss" - Steingruber profile (December 2009)

To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by dwight normile    Sunday, 17 May 2015 09:14    PDF Print
Hall of Fame Grows to 87 Members, 22 Nations
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

The week after tornadoes ripped through central Oklahoma, the 19th induction dinner for the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame braced for another round of severe weather on May 16 as five individuals were honored in Oklahoma City. The event was held at the Petroleum club, which sits on the 34th floor of the Chase Tower and offers panoramic views of the region, not to mention any developing weather patterns.

Quipped emcee Bart Conner, whose back faced the windows, "If anyone sees a funnel cloud behind me, let me know."

On this evening, however, even a few dramatic bolts of lightning and heavy rain could not dampen the spirits of the gathered guests, who marveled at the accomplishments of each honoree.

2015 honorees (l-r): Philippe Silacci, Johanna Quaas, Abie Grossfeld, Yelena Zamolodchikova, Valery Belenky

Valery Belenky became the first gymnast from Azerbaijan to be inducted into the Hall, and Yelena Zamolodchikova became the 16th from Russia.

Also honored were Philippe Silacci of Switzerland, retired FIG Media Relations Officer (AAI International Order of Merit); Johanna Quaas of Germany, at 89 the oldest competitive gymnast in the world (Nadia Comaneci Sportsmanship Award); and Abie Grossfeld of the U.S., a two-time Olympian and coach of the gold-medal U.S. men's team at the 1984 Olympics (Frank Bare Award).

The stories of Zamolodchikova and Belenky followed similar paths; both trained at modest gyms as kids and credited their personal coaches for much of their success.

Zamolodchikova won two gold medals, on vault and floor exercise, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. And had she not fallen on floor exercise in the all-around, she probably would have won that gold, too. That she was Olympic champion on vault and floor was ironic, since her gym in Moscow was too small to include a vault runway or a complete floor exercise mat. Her coach, Nadezhda Maslennikova, was also a parental figure and saw the immense potential and toughness in Yelena. The rest is history.

In Oklahoma City, Zamolodchikova's tone was one of humility and gratitude as she joined a Hall of Fame that included so many legends of the sport.

"I became one of them, and I give a big thank you to my coach," she said through translator Rustam Sharipov, the 1996 Olympic champion on parallel bars.

Belenky started gymnastics late, at age 10, when Alexei Orehkov discovered him at his school. And as Belenky improved, he turned down invitations to move to Moscow to practice with other coaches. He remained in Baku with Orehkov.

Belenky was part of the gold-medal 1992 Olympic team, the last time the Soviet Union competed together. In 1993 he competed under the FIG flag at the Birmingham world championships, since Azerbaijan was too small to sponsor a program. Belenky had a second career representing Germany, where he used the training system he grew up with to win the world title on pommel horse in 1997.

He praised the leadership of 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Leonid Arkayev, and how his strict training regimen had produced impressive results.

"What we went through makes us who we are," Belenky said through Sharipov.

Belenky is now a coach in Germany, and groomed Marcel Nguyen to the all-around silver at the 2012 Olympics. When he began coaching Nguyen years earlier, however, he was told by a German official that "not every great gymnast can be a good coach." Belenky's response: "If you don't give me the chance, you'll never know."

Silacci opened his speech with his memory of his first world championships in 1987 in Rotterdam. He recalled sitting through "two full days of compulsory exercises to the same piano music," which made him vow never to return to such an event. But he did, and soon came to appreciate not only artistic gymnastics, but all the disciplines under the vast umbrella of the FIG.

That Silacci was rarely seen or noticed at major events was testament to the efficiency of his work. His behind-the-scenes efforts and attention to detail always made the experience seamless for the media.

"It's a great honor to be recognized by your prestigious institution," Silacci said in English, one of five languages he speaks.

Quaas was an inspiration to everyone at the dinner for her bright smile and boundless energy. Thanks to the Internet, her two exhibition routines at the 2012 Cottbus Tournament of Masters were uploaded to YouTube, and each drew more than 3.5 million views. She has been on a celebrity tour of sorts ever since.

"It was a wonderful surprise when I received the news that I was receiving the Nadia Comaneci Award," she said through translator and IGHOF Board member Lieve Olivera. "I never have been a European or world champion. However, I was the German champion for 11 years," she said.

Throughout the evening, Quaas was grinning ear-to-ear.

"My heart is beating with happiness," she said. "I am having a grand time in Oklahoma City."

To close her acceptance speech, she ended with perhaps the wisest words of all: "You are never too old to learn something new."

Grossfeld, a master story-teller with an endless supply of jokes, closed the evening with an entertaining combination of both. But above that stood his heartfelt comments about his life in gymnastics.

"Gymnastics has provided me with many opportunities and experiences I would otherwise never had," said the two-time Olympian (1956, 1960) and long-time coach at Southern Connecticut State University.

Grossfeld also spoke of his insecurities as a young coach, believing he would never create an Olympian. He did that more than once, and then overachieved as coach the 1984 men's Olympic team, whose victory in Los Angeles "made me a believer in miracles."

Grossfeld ended the night with a fitting charge that revealed a deep love and respect for the sport that has defined his life: "If you love your kids, let them do gymnastics."

Read more on the Hall of Fame dinner and in-depth interviews with the five honorees in the June issue of International Gymnast.


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