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Written by Amanda Turner    Wednesday, 31 August 2016 01:01    PDF Print
Gymnastics Legend Věra Čáslavská Dies
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Two-time Olympic all-around champion Věra Čáslavská has died Tuesday after a fight with pancreatic cancer, Czech media reported Wednesday. She was 74.

Two-time Olympic all-around champion Věra Čáslavská has died, Czech media reported Wednesday. She was 74.

Čáslavská, the 1964 and 1968 Olympic all-around champion, died Tuesday after fight with pancreatic cancer, according to reports.

A native of Prague, Čáslavská was one of gymnastics' greatest heroes. Along with Larisa Latynina, she is one of only two women to win two Olympic all-around titles. From 1958 to 1968, she won 11 Olympics medals (seven golds and four silvers), 10 world championship medals (four golds, five silvers, one bronze) and 13 European championship medals (11 golds, one silver, one bronze). She is the only gymnast, male or female, to have won an Olympic gold medal in the all-around and every event. She is the most decorated Czech athlete in Olympic history.

Věra Čáslavská

Čáslavská made her Olympic debut at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, where she won silver with her team. She placed second all-around at the 1962 World Championships held in her hometown. She won three gold medals at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo: all-around, vault and balance beam. At the next world championships in 1966 (when worlds were held every four years), she led a major upset as Czechoslovakia defeated the Soviet Union in the team event, and she added gold medals in the all-around and vault.

Her final competition was at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Prior to the Olympics, Čáslavská's training had suffered after the Soviet Army invaded Czechoslovakia, and she was unable to train in her gym.

In Mexico City, she charmed the audience with her performances, particularly her floor routine to "Jarabe Tapatío" ("The Mexican Hat Dance"). She won her second all-around title as well as gold on vault, uneven bars and floor exercise.

However, Čáslavská felt wronged in the apparatus finals where she finished second on balance beam to Soviet Natalia Kuchinskaya, and then again in the floor exercise finals, where judges bizarrely upgraded the preliminary score of Larisa Petrik to put her in a tie with Čáslavská for the gold medal. During the two medal ceremonies, Čáslavská put her head down and to the right in silent but visible protest when the Soviet anthem was played.

Though Čáslavská's actions made her a hero with her countrymen, her protest against the Soviets and open support for the "Prague Spring" democratization efforts led to her being outcast by the communist government in Prague. She was forced into retirement and denied the right to travel or even coach. Only in the 1980s was she allowed to return to gymnastics as a coach and judge.

After the fall of communism, Čáslavská was allowed to fully rejoin Czech life. In 1989, she was awarded the International Olympic Committee's Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Medal. She was elected president of the Czech Olympic Committee and a member of the IOC, and in later years was honorary president of the Czech Olympic Committee.

Shortly after she returned from the 1968 Olympic Games, Čáslavská married athlete Josef Odložil, who won the silver medal at the 1964 Olympics in the 1500 meters. In 1993, Odložil was killed during an altercation with their son, Martin, who was convicted of his father's murder. Depressed, Čáslavská again withdrew from public view for many years while she grieved. In 1997, Czech president Václav Havel issued a pardon for her son, who was released from prison.

In recent years, she has been more visible, granting interviews about her storied life and career. Čáslavská was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1998, but was not able to attend the ceremony until 2012.

Written by Amanda Turner    Sunday, 28 August 2016 06:58    PDF Print
Gymnast Fragapane to Star on 'Strictly'
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

British Olympian Claudia Fragapane will soon take her moves to Strictly Come Dancing, the popular BBC reality show set for its 14th season in September.

Claudia Fragapane in Rio

"I am a really big fan of Strictly Come Dancing and am so excited to be chosen to take part this year," said Fragapane, who turns 19 in October. "I am used to performing in front of big crowds but this is going to be so different to my floor routines in gymnastics – but I love a challenge and performing! I also love dressing up and wearing sparkly costumes!"

Fragapane, who finished fifth with the British team at the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, shot to fame after winning four gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She is a two-time world finalist on floor exercise and won the silver medal on floor at the 2015 European Championships. At last year's world championships, she helped the British women win the team bronze, their first ever team world medal.

On the 14th series of Strictly, she will be competing against a diverse cast that includes fellow Olympian Greg Rutherford (track and field), singer-songwriters Anastacia and Will Young, politician Ed Balls, comedian Melvin Odoom, actor Danny Mac, actresses Lesley Joseph and Tameka Empson, model Daisy Lowe, journalist Naga Munchetty, television judge Robert Rinder, and television presenters Ore Oduba and Laura Whitmore.

Fragapane is only the second gymnast to star on Strictly. Three-time Olympian Louis Smith won the 10th series following the 2012 Olympics.

Two-time Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez (United States) is also joining the upcoming cast of Dancing With the Stars, which begins on September 12 on ABC.

The new season of Strictly Come Dancing begins September 3 on BBC One.

Written by Amanda Turner    Saturday, 27 August 2016 14:36    PDF Print
Hernandez to Join 'Dancing With the Stars'
(5 votes, average 4.60 out of 5)

Two-time Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez (United States) is set to join the new cast of Dancing With the Stars, it was reported Saturday.

Two-time Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez (United States) is set to join the new cast of Dancing With the Stars, it was reported Saturday.

The official cast will not be revealed until August 30, but Hernandez reportedly is will star alongside Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, actresses Maureen McCormick and Emma Samms, actor Jake T. Austin, singer-songwriter Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, and model Amber Rose on the dance floor for the ABC show.

Hernandez, 16, was the youngest member of the "Final Five" U.S. women's gymnastics team that won the gold medal at the Olympic Games earlier this month. She also won the silver medal on balance beam behind Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands.

The New Jersey native, long praised for her artistry and dance ability, should be an early favorite to take home the coveted mirror ball prize. Three fellow gymnasts have previously starred on the show: Shawn Johnson, who won in 2009 with partner Mark Ballas; Aly Raisman, who finished fourth with Ballas in 2013, and Nastia Liukin, who finished fourth with Derek Hough in 2015.

During the Olympics, Ballas gushed over Hernandez, tweeting "I absolutely adore @lzhernandez02 just gorgeous #starpower #needadanceteacher? #RioOlympics2016" on August 10.

Hernandez is not the only gymnast ready to try on dancing shoes: British Olympian Claudia Fragapane has joined the new cast of Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC. Fellow British Olympian Louis Smith won the series after the 2012 Olympics.

The new series of Dancing With the Stars is set to begin on September 12.

Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 25 August 2016 02:29    PDF Print
Ponor, Drăgulescu to Continue as Romania Hosts Europeans in 2017
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Despite a disappointing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Romanian veterans Cătălina Ponor and Marian Drăgulescu aren't planning on retiring any time soon. Pictured: Ponor and Drăgulescu watch the event finals on August 16 in Rio.

Despite a disappointing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Romanian veterans Cătălina Ponor and Marian Drăgulescu aren't planning on retiring any time soon. Their immediate goal is next year's European Championships, taking place April 19-23 in Cluj-Napoca.

The duo told Romanian media they have their sights set on continuing toward the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which would be Ponor's fourth Olympic appearance and Drăgulescu's sixth. In Rio, Ponor finished seventh on balance beam in the final. Drăgulescu finished fourth in the vault final, losing the bronze medal via a controversial tie-break procedure. It was the first time since 1972 that Romania did not medal at the Olympic Games.

Ponor, who turned 29 on August 20, was emotional after her mistakes in the beam final, and said the pressure got to her.

"Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be," the five-time Olympic medalist told Agrepres on Wednesday. "I tried to pull myself together and perform well. It was not how I wanted it to be. If I had managed to concentrate, if I weren't more nervous than I've ever been before in my life and just performed my routine like I did in qualifying, I likely would have a medal around my neck right now."

Ponor went through a challenging Olympic preparation. She missed the 2015 World Championships after tearing her calf muscle and underwent surgery. Romania failed to qualify a full team for the first time since 1968. Romania was only able to send one female gymnast to Rio, and it came down to Ponor and Larisa Iordache, who had suffered a hand injury earlier this year. Iordache underwent surgeries on her hand and missed months of crucial training time. She returned, albeit not at full strength, and won the all-around at the national championships in July, where Ponor won balance beam and floor exercise. Ponor was ultimately selected to compete as the better medal chance in Rio, but Iordache was invited to travel to Rio as an alternate.

After the balance beam final in Rio, Ponor broke down and revealed the tense situation she had endured in the build up to the Olympics. Reports surfaced that Ponor was shunned in the gym by some of the younger gymnasts and was even harassed online and through text messages by fans of Iordache, telling her to withdraw and give Iordache the spot. She also experienced insults on Instagram. Ponor's coach, Lucian Sandu, said he was also the recipient of similar messages and that it drove him to reconsider remaining as a coach in Romania. In an open letter posted on Facebook after the beam final, Ponor vented her frustration at the hate she has received. (Her Instagram account has since been deactivated.)

"I'd say I felt in better shape than I was when I was 16!" she wrote. "And I could have made it if I didn't feel all the negative comments and vibes coming at me like a hand trying to push me off the apparatus! I wanted it too much and it broke my heart. I cried all night. It hasn't been easy for me to ignore everything I heard around me, on social media and in the press!" I wanted it too much and it broke my heart. I cried all night, it hasn’t been easy for me to ignore everything I heard around me, on social media and in the press!

Nevertheless, Ponor said she is not turning her back on her team and hopes to help Romania qualify a full team again to the next Olympic Games.

"I'm already thinking about a new Olympics," Ponor said. "It's important to be healthy and then say I will get there. But first, I'm thinking about the 2017 Europeans. I will try to in one way or another get revenge for what happened now. I want to get the team to Tokyo, because from my point of view the team medal is the most important."

Drăgulescu, on the other hand, said he received a lot of support after losing the medal in the vault final, and said he is hoping the Romanian Olympic Committee will recognize his placement in the vault final as the rightful third place.

"It was a very strong final," he said. "I'm glad I was able to do my vaults. I finished third in the scores, but unfortunately the Olympic Games doesn't allow ties [in gymnastics], but I received many messages on Facebook from the world. They told me 'you won the bronze medal, you came in third,' so even I would be happy for the Romanian state to reward me as though I got third. I'm happy to be home, I'm happy the Romanians are supportive, both those at home and those at the competition. At least they gave me positive energy and I felt really good. In the end you're never relaxed, the emotions are high, but we managed to control them and make them constructive emotions."

Drăgulescu, who turns 36 in December, said his goal is still to win the one medal he does not have: Olympic gold.

"Certainly, my main motivation remains a gold medal at the Olympic Games," he said. "I set a long-term objective for Tokyo, but I will take it step by step. Next year we will hold the Europeans in Cluj. The public will expect a lot, so we will not retire and we will bring more good results and make us proud."

Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 21 July 2016 05:57    PDF Print
Afanasyeva Forced into Retirement by Illness
(9 votes, average 3.22 out of 5)

Two-time Olympian Ksenia Afanasyeva is retiring from competition because of a kidney disease, Russian media reported Thursday.

Two-time Olympian Ksenia Afanasyeva is retiring from competition after suffering from a kidney disease, Russian media reported Thursday.

The world and European champion is hospitalized with kidney stones and is facing weeks of recovery, said team coach Valentina Rodionenko, ruining any chances of Afanasyeva competing in a third Olympic Games. As late as Wednesday, the 24 year old had been listed as an alternate for this summer's Olympic Games, with a chronic ankle injury still a question.

Known for her exceptional grace and power, Afanasyeva was a member of Russia's fourth-place team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where she qualified to the final on balance beam. She helped lead Russia to its first world team title two years later in Rotterdam, and in 2011 became world champion on floor exercise. She was the captain of Russia's team that won the silver at the 2012 Olympics in London. She won floor exercise at both the 2013 and 2015 European championships, and won vault and floor at the 2013 University Games.

Afanasyeva was plagued the past several years by an ankle injury, missing the 2013 and 2014 world championships, and underwent multiple surgeries. She returned to the world championships in 2015 and won a silver medal on floor exercise.

She competed on vault only at this spring's European championships in Bern, where she helped Russia win the team title and captured the individual bronze medal on vault.

Afanasyeva, who turns 25 in September, traveled to Germany in June to have scar tissue removed. She and Russia's coaches had hoped she would be able to return in time to compete at the Olympic Games, which begin August 5.

The Russian delegation plans to depart on Sunday for Brazil. Yevgenia Shelgunova has moved into the alternate position for Russia in place of Afanasyeva, with Natalia Kapitanova the second alternate.

External Link: Russian Gymnastics Federation


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