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Written by dwight normile    Thursday, 07 June 2018 07:10    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Changing The Culture
(7 votes, average 4.86 out of 5)

Now that changes are on their way to end abuse — sexual, physical, verbal, emotional — it is also high time to realign priorities. A good start would be to ditch the medals-first mentality.

A good friend of mine recently said that kids should be polished, not ground. He’s right. No medal is worth a gymnast’s happiness.

By the very nature of gymnastics, a sport that strives for perfection, coaches constantly tell a gymnast what he/she is doing wrong. Whether it’s warming up at a meet or working out at the gym, the inevitable string of corrections can be discouraging for any gymnast.

Coaches have a tough job, for sure. They need to treat every gymnast differently based on personality, skill level, home life and other circumstances.

There is little time for “The Sandwich Method,” where a coach starts and ends with a positive comment and inserts the critique in the middle. Especially if you’re in a hurry and coaching several gymnasts.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Experienced coaches have learned the value of praise. But young coaches might not understand the psychology of training young gymnasts.

Elites are generally over-trained. Spending more than 30 hours in the gym each week leads to chronic injuries or worse. It would be wise if all elites took a month off from mid-December to mid-January, the only off-season for gymnastics globally. Elites should stay out of the gym completely. This would enable them to heal both physically and emotionally. The break would also help those who are experiencing burnout, and help them to regenerate their passion for the sport.

Following is a list of rules for parents and coaches. It’s about respecting the sport — any sport — and adapted from All of us in the gymnastics community could use a strong dose of positivity right now.


Before the Meet

• Tell your child you are proud of him or her, regardless of how well he or she performs.

• Tell your child to compete hard and have fun. Remind him or her that it’s OK to be nervous (“nervous is normal”).

• Make a commitment to yourself to Honor the Sport no matter what others may do.

During the Meet

• Let the coaches coach. Avoid giving your child (or other gymnasts) advice during the meet.

• Fill your child’s (and teammates’) Emotional Tank.

• Cheer good performances and good efforts by all gymnasts.

• Remember to have fun! Enjoy the day.

After the Meet

• Thank the coaches for their effort.

• Let your child tell you about the meet (avoid giving your post-meet analysis unless asked). Ask open-ended questions: “What was the most/least enjoyable part of the meet?” “What did you learn from the meet?”

• Tell your child again that you are proud of him or her, especially if the meet didn’t go well!


Honoring the Game gets to the ROOTS of positive play.


We refuse to bend the rules to win.


A worthy opponent is a gift that brings out our best.


Show respect even when we disagree.


Never do anything to embarrass our team.


We live up to our own standards even when others don’t.

The Three Themes of Positive Coaching

• Redefining “Winner”: A Positive Coach helps gymnasts redefine what it means to be a “winner” by emphasizing the ELM Tree of Mastery. ELM stands for Effort, Learning and bouncing back from Mistakes.

• Filling Emotional Tanks: A Positive Coach fills gymnasts’ “Emotional Tanks” with encouragement and praise, recognizing that gymnasts need full tanks to compete at their best. A Positive Coach strives to achieve the 5:1 “Magic Ratio”: 5 praises for every 1 criticism.

• Honoring the Game: This gets to the ROOTS of positive play.

This column was in the April 2018 issue of International Gymnast.

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

Written by dwight normile    Friday, 01 June 2018 05:10    PDF Print
Underrated: The Story Of Akash Modi
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Akash Modi’s story is similar to other gymnastics. His parents put him in gymnastics because he was “jumping off the walls” and “climbing onto the refrigerator.” They enrolled him as a 6-year-old at Monmouth Gymnastics in Morganville, New Jersey.

“The very first day the guy who was testing my skills was like, ‘Hey, this kid is good. Let’s put him on the team.’ And so I’ve continued since.”

“I never forced him,” says Yuriy Aminov, a native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who coached Modi for 13 years at Monmouth. “He’s very smart. He made it very, very easy [to coach] him. It was a happy time when I worked with him.”

Then Modi enrolled at Stanford, where he majored in mechanical engineering. He’s currently working on a master’s in the same field.

“Akash is focused, determined, intelligent and very efficient about his training,” says Thom Glielmi, Modi’s coach at Stanford. “He is very calculated when he is working out. He is always thinking but has the trust in the program and confidence in himself to not over-think.”

Modi was born May 9, 1995, in Edison, New Jersey. He won the all-around and parallel bars at the 2013 Junior Olympic Championships. In his four years at the NCAA Championships all-around competition (2014-17), he placed second, first, second, first. In 2017 he also won the coveted Nissen-Emery Award, which honors the top senior student-athlete.

Modi was an alternate to the 2016 Rio Olympics. His most recent competition was the Pacific Rim Championships in Medellin, Colombia, where his team won the gold. He also won parallel bars and placed second all-around.

Read the whole story in the June 2018 issue of International Gymnast.

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

Written by dwight normile    Sunday, 20 May 2018 08:23    PDF Print
Hamm, Liukin, Raducan Gain Entry Into The IGHOF
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

On May 19 at the Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City, Master of Ceremony Bart Conner opened the evening with this statement to more than 200 guests: "We are honoring undeniable excellence tonight!" How true.

The event was live-streamed on the International Gymnast Facebook page.

Alexei Nemov was inducted last year but couldn't come because his mother was ill. But he came this year with his wife and joined Paul Hamm, Nastia Liukin and Andreea Raducan. Now the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame has 98 individuals from 22 countries. Slava Corn of Canada received the International Order of Merit.

All four inductees were Olympics champions, one with an asterisk.

Born May 28, 1976, in Barashevo, Mordovia, Alexei Nemov is from Tolyatti, Russia. The three-time Olympian had a significant impact on each Games. In 1996 he helped his Russian team with the gold, and he won six medals. In 2000 he won the all-around and, again, won six medals. In 2004 in event finals, his exceptional high bar routine scored too low in the eyes of the fans, and they wouldn't stop booing and whistling. His routine ultimately led to the open-ended Code of Points.

Nemov's acceptance speech, both humorous and serious, was translated by Anna Liukin, Nastia Liukin's mother.

"I'm very honored to be here with all you guys," said Nemov, who was coached by Yevgeny Nikolko. "I would love to thank my mom, who brought me to my gymnastics class that started my career."

Born September 30, 1983, in Barlad, Romania, Andreea Raducan was next to speak. What a story she had. If you recall, at the 2000 Sydney Olympic all-around final the vaulting horse was set too low during the first two rotations. The cold pills she took from the Romanian team doctor, however, turned her world upside-down. The pills had a banned substance and the all-around title was awarded to Simona Amanar, Raducan's Romanian teammate, who placed second. Raducan was able to keep the team gold and her silver medal on vault.

Raducan had every reason to turn her back on the sport but didn't. She won five medals at the 2001 World Championships: golds for the team, and on balance beam and floor exercise; and bronze in the all-around and on vault.

And at age 33 she became President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation.

"I'm very honored to share this honor with you guys," she said. "I'm very honored to be among my fellow Romanians."

Paul Hamm and his twin brother, Morgan, were born September 24, 1982, in Washburn, Wisconsin. Both were two-time Olympians (2000, 2004). Paul was the first American male gymnast to win a World Championships all-around gold, which he did in 2003 in Anaheim, California.

Paul was next to speak, and his story is similar to Raducan's, only he got to keep is all-around gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He had to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland to defend himself, however. If you recall, South Korean Yang Tae Young was erroneously docked one tenth on parallel bars. At the CAS hearing, the lead arbitrator asked the top South Korean lawyer that if Yang had received the extra tenth, would he have won? The lawyer said no. (Yang had placed third, less than a tenth from the gold.) After all, every situation affects the next.

The fallout was that Hamm never really got to celebrate that gold medal. Incredulously, FIG President Bruno Grandi asked Hamm if he would be willing to give up the gold medal. And feeling a lack of support from his own federation, Paul retired much too early. He was only 21. He tried to make a comeback for the 2008 Olympics, but a broken hand derailed that dream.

"Thank you for this honor," said Hamm, who earned an accounting degree from Ohio State. "I missed high school functions, I lived with Russian coaches. I was blessed to have my brother through those times. I know I wouldn't have my success if Morgan wasn't there with me. I was coached by some of the best people out there (Stacey Maloney, Miles Avery). "It's a huge honor for me."

Born October 30, 1989, in Moscow, Russia, Nastia Liukin, coached by her father, won the all-around gold at the 2008 Beijing, China. And Shawn Johnson, her roommate at those Games, won the silver.

"It is truly my honor to be here," said Liukin, who brought her fiancé, Matt Lombardi, a former hockey player at Boston College. "I always wanted to grow up to be like my parents. (Anna was a world champion rhythmic gymnast, and Valeri was a gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.) "You were all my biggest idols," she said of Nemov, Hamm and Raducan.

"Finally, to my parents, it's hard to express what you mean to me. This is a great honor to be inducted in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame."

As a child, Slava Corn and her family fled from the communist regime of Czechoslovakia and ended up in Canada. They got involved with Czech activities there and went to the Sokols. Corn was her mother's partner in Sokol Slets in various cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Corn worked for the FIG for decades. She was the media director and was involved with the implementation of the Academy programs, which traveled to various countries that wanted to bolster their gymnastics programs. She was also on a committee to help prevent sexual abuse.

Corn retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics and is an Honorary Vice President at the FIG.

"It's a great honor to receive such a distinguished award," she said. "I have to admit, I was not a very skilled gymnast (the gathered guests laughed). My gymnastics career was modeled around the Sokols. My 24 years at the FIG was a true learning experience."

Read complete coverage of the Hall of Fame induction dinner in the June 2018 issue of International Gymnast magazine.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 11 May 2018 07:55    PDF Print
Chiles On U.S. Team: 'There Is Not Just One Leader'
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

U.S. gymnast Jordan Chiles told IG that her triple gold medal-winning performance at last month’s Pacific Rim Championships in Medellin, Colombia, showed her reliability as a scoring leader and a team leader, as well.

“It was amazing to compete with my teammates and be able to support them,” said Chiles, who placed first on vault, first on floor exercise, first with the U.S. team and third on balance beam in Medellin. “Some of the girls are first-time team members, so it was cool working together to represent the USA.”

Chiles, who placed third all-around at the World Cup of Stuttgart, Germany, in March, said she was pleased with her personal results in Medellin, despite an injury that kept her out of the all-around and a fall from balance beam in the apparatus finals.

“My plan was to compete in the all-around, but in the morning practice before competition, I was training bars and jammed my index finger on a release move,” said Chiles, who turned 17 on April 15. “After discussing the injury with my coaches and the medical staff, it was decided that it was safest for me to not do bars. My routines for the other events went pretty close to what we planned for this early in my season. The goal was to compete clean routines and think of the team, and I think I was able to do that, except my beam in the event final. Why?!”

The 2017 U.S. all-around silver medalist, Chiles said she intends to add content to her routines in time for the U.S. Championships in Boston in August and, should she qualify, the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in October.

“I need to focus on putting all my upgrades in my routines,” said Chiles, who trains at Naydenov Gymnastics Inc. in Vancouver, Washington. “I have been competing watered-down routines this year in Stuttgart and Colombia. To do well at Championships and hopefully make Worlds, I will need to compete my full difficulty.”

The stability, confidence and cooperation that Chiles demonstrated in Stuttgart and Medellin are other key focal points for the coming months, she said.

“I also need to show that I can be consistent and hit routines easily,” Chiles said. “I think I was able to show that I can be counted on. I was able to bring USA a medal in every event I was in this year. But mostly I think I can show that I love my team and that competing as a team is amazing. I love the all-around and event finals, too, but there is something about the team competition. I became close with the girls and the coaches, and that makes the experience so cool.”

A second-year senior, Chiles embraces her new role as one of the U.S. team’s leaders.

“It is crazy to think that I would be considered a veteran since I still look up to many of the girls, but I do feel comfortable in a leadership role,” she told IG. “I have been an elite since I was 11 and on Team USA since I was 12, so I have had a lot of experience. I hope that I can encourage the girls to be the best they can be. It really is a team effort and there is not just one leader, but I can help get our team to achieve their dreams. I think that is what makes the USA great. Anyone can step up at any point and we will listen.”

Read “Amazing Grace,” a four-page profile on Chiles, in the March 2018 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to the print and/or digital editions of IG magazine, or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 09 May 2018 07:00    PDF Print
Romi Kessler: Swiss Vanguard
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

In an era when Eastern-bloc gymnasts ruled the rankings, Switzerland’s Romi Kessler made remarkable and still-memorable strides as one of Western Europe’s top gymnasts of the late 1970s and early ’80s.

She credits her uniqueness and efficiency to her coaches, Urs Straumann and Gabi Schneider, who were public high-school teachers.

“They also gave me other knowledge and values such as art and culture,” says Kessler, who placed ninth all-around and made three event finals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. “They were very respectful, intelligent, creative and strict. We also had courses in jazz dance, modern dance and pantomime.”

Kessler’s novel beam routine and superbly interpreted “West Side Story” floor performance from 1984 perhaps best manifested her clever, dynamic style.

“We didn’t let others influence us much,” she says. “We did our thing. Maybe my disposition and versatility was a reason. And also my naturalness, authenticity, joy and passion for this sport.”

She’s encouraged by the current progress of the Swiss program.

“It’s nice to see that more attention is paid to the team again,” says Kessler of Switzerland’s recent rise. “This results in a win-win situation.”

Kessler and her ex-husband, fellow 1984 Swiss Olympian Marco Piatti, have three adult children and one grandson. She works in human resources for Jaagou Ltd. in Zurich, where, as during her gymnastics career, her sense of wonder and purpose thrive.

“I have a lot of freedom here,” she says. “I can bring in my creativity, knowledge, service orientation, common sense, joy and happiness.”

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

This story was printed in the May 2018 issue of International Gymnast.


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