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Written by Amanda Turner    Friday, 31 January 2014 01:54    PDF Print
Brazilian Olympian Souza Remains Critical As Support Pours In
(13 votes, average 4.38 out of 5)

As friends, family and fans rally around her, two-time Brazilian Olympic gymnast Lais Souza remains in a Utah hospital after a tragic skiing accident earlier this week. Photo: Souza at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing

As friends, family and fans rally around her, two-time Brazilian Olympic gymnast Lais Souza remains paralyzed and on a ventilator in a Utah hospital after a tragic skiing accident earlier this week.

Souza, who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games as a gymnast, was on the verge of competing in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi in aerial skiing. She was training on Monday, however, when she collided with a tree near the track while warming up, dislocating her third cervical vertebra.

"She dislocated a vertebra near the top of her spine," said Dr. Andrew Dailey, a neurosurgeon with the University of Utah hospital. "She remains in critical condition, still using a breathing machine and unable to talk."

Souza shows off her medals won in aerial skiing at Utah Olympic Park in December. She had been set to represent Brazil at the Winter Olympics in Sochi before her accident.

After the accident, the 25-year-old Souza immediately underwent surgery to realign her vertebra and and stabilize her neck with pins. She also had a tracheotomy to help her breathe and had a feeding tube inserted.

Brazilian team doctor Antonio Marttos, who immediately traveled to Salt Lake City from Miami at the request of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, said Souza appears ready to fight for recovery.

"Right now, her spirits are very good," Marttos said. "She is a fighter. Athletes always do better to improve."

Souza initially had no feeling in her arms or legs, but doctors stated it was too soon to know whether or not she will face permanent paralysis. On Thursday, she was able to move her shoulders and keep them lifted, Marttos said. But her condition remains critical.

"Souza is relying on a breathing machine, and it's possible she may have to for the rest of her life," said Dr. Holly Ledyard, who is treating Souza at the hospital's critical care unit.

It wasn't the daredevil acrobatics of aerial skiing that caused the accident, Ledyard emphasized at a press conference.

"It could have been anybody," Ledyard said. "That fact that she’s an Olympic athlete doing what she’s doing, or that she’s from Brazil and is not used to snow, I don't think played a part in her injury. She was just skiing, like people do."

Souza's mother Odette arrived in Salt Lake City on Thursday, and said her daughter made kissing motions as soon as she saw her.

"When I arrived in the room and saw my daughter, she widened her eyes and pouted to ask me for a kiss," Odette said. "I'm very hopeful and hold great faith that she'll recover."

Souza made Brazil's squad to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but a hand injury forced her out of competition. Last May, she set her eyes on a different Olympic opportunity, joining several former gymnasts trying for a chance in the Winter Olympic sport of aerial skiing. In December, she won two medals at the Nor-Am Cup in Utah, and followed her success by competing in three World Cup events in January with the hopes of earning enough points to qualify for the Olympics. She earned 40 points at a competition held Jan. 10 in Deer Valley, Utah, and 80 points at an event Jan. 18 in Val Saint-Côme, Quebec.

At the time of her accident Souza still was waiting to hear if she would earn a berth, as Brazil was an alternate to the competition. But dropouts from other nations gave Brazil its spot. Teammate Joselane (Josi) Santos, another former gymnast who switched to aerial skiing, learned this week she instead will go to Sochi. Santos will be one of 13 Brazilian athletes in Russia, Brazil's largest delegation for a Winter Olympiad. Santos said that she will compete in honor of her friend and teammate, who had been training with her under U.S. coach Ryan Snow.

Pedro Cavazzoni, head of the Brazilian Confederation of Winter Sports (CBDN), said there was some discussion over sending the shaken Santos after Souza's devastating accident.

"Whether or not Josi should participate was a decision taken jointly by everyone who is involved in the sport: the CBDN, the Brazilian Olympic Committee, the coach and Josi herself," Cavazzoni said. "It is very important to clarify that she also earned the berth by her own merits. She met all the qualification criteria and she was the athlete immediately after Lais in the qualifying list. It was decided that she should go to support how far our winter sports program has developed, and also as a way to honor Lais and the power of competing in the Olympic Games, which was the big dream they shared. It is a tribute to Lais and also to Josi's own efforts."

Santos posted a photo on Facebook of herself with Souza and their coach, taken Monday before the accident in Park City, Utah.

"I'm in this fight with you and will be with you together until the end," she wrote. "I'll follow my heart, and we spent all these months training together in this new sport. I will do it for you and for all of us. I love you, and you will go home the same way you entered this adventure with me: walking."

Meanwhile, friends, fans and former teammates have taken to social media to support Souza. Many changed their Facebook photo profiles to one of a smiling Souza, and are using the hashtag #forçalais ("Strength Lais") in support as she faces a difficult recovery.

Andrea João, a gymnastics commentator and analyst for Brazil's SporTV, said the positive messages will help Souza and her family.

"The whole world is sending messages wishing strength to Lais, saying she'll make it, she's gonna make it," João said. "Right now we have to do this: send support. Support her family, which right now is so weak. With this prayer chain that everyone is doing, Lais will recover."

Click here to visit Lais Souza's Official Facebook page.

Josi Santos and Souza pose on Monday with coach Ryan Snow before the accident in Park City. Santos will compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics in place of the injured Souza.
Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 30 January 2014 14:58    PDF Print
Simm Set For New Success In 2014
(6 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

British gymnast Kelly Simm told IG that her 2013 successes have motivated her as she prepares for major events including this spring’s European championship and this fall’s world championships.

“I think 2013 as a whole was a year when I had a lot of competition experience, and it has given me more confidence and self-belief,” said Simm, who trains at Dynamo School of Gymnastics in Hamble, Southampton, England. “I have learned a lot from the experiences and am excited to see how 2014 will go for me.”

At the International Tournament of Pas-de-Calais in Arques, France, last December, Simm finished third all-around, behind gold medallist Tatiana Nabiyeva of Russia and silver medallist Lisa Top of the Netherlands. She tied Nabiyeva for the apparatus title on vault, and placed third on uneven bars and fourth on balance beam.

Simm credits Keith Richardson and Debbie Richardson, the husband-and-wife team that coaches her, for developing her all-around proficiency. In British championships all-around competition, she finished eighth in 2011, ninth in 2012 and seventh in 2013.

“I think it’s definitely a lot to do with my coaches,” Simm said. “My coach (Keith Richardson) believes that you have to build strong foundations so you can survive at high-level gymnastics. We spent a long time preparing physically, so now I can perform big skills. I’m lucky to naturally be quite small and am really motivated to keep improving and to keep increasing my difficulty.”

Simm is also eager to improve on vault, the apparatus on which she placed third at the 2012 British championships and second at the 2013 British championships.

“I am focusing on getting my vaults consistent, and performing them and executing them the best I can,” said Simm, who will turn 19 on April 23. “If I perform my vaults well, I believe I could have a chance, but you can only think about your own performance.”

Simm said she realizes that earning a spot on the talent-laden British team for this year’s major meets will require diligence and confidence.

“I am working on securing my Start Values and trying to ensure that my execution is better than ever,” she told IG. “I think my routines have good difficulty, so I need to make I sure I get them consistent. My coaches believe it is my time, so it’s exciting.”

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of British gymnasts and coaches includes:

"Shooting Star" – Brinn Bevan profile (June 2013)

Imogen Cairns and British men's team on cover photo collage (March 2012)

"No Turning Back Now" – Imogen Cairns profile (January/February 2012)

"10 Questions with Coach Paul Hall" – interview (January/February 2010)

"European Brilliance" - Ruby Harrold interview (September 2013)

Sam Oldham on cover photo collage (July/August 2010)

Sam Oldham interview (June 2010)

"Nervous Purvis" – Daniel Purvis profile (November 2012)

"Pure Purvis" – Daniel Purvis interview (March 2012)

Daniel Purvis cover photo (November 2011)

"Bright for Britain" – Niamh Rippin profile (July/August 2010)

"Sibling Revelry" – Angel and Venus Romaeo profile (September 2010)

"Welsh Wisdom" - Raer Theaker profile (October 2013)

"Divide and Conquer" – Kristian Thomas interview (May 2012)

"The Good Shepherd" – Coach Ed van Hoof interview (April 2013)

"Lord Max" – Max Whitlock interview (June 2013)

"Lilleshall: Backstage in Britain" – cover story on British national program (November 2011)

To subscribe or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 23 January 2014 08:01    PDF Print
Sellathurai Eager to Get Back on the Horse
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Three-time world pommel horse medalist Prashanth Sellathurai (Australia) told IG he remains patient and eager as he recovers from surgery to repair an injured shoulder that hampered him throughout 2013.

World medalist Prashanth Sellathurai

Despite falling to eighth place on his specialty at last fall's world championships in Antwerp, the 27-year-old Sellathurai said the routine he performed in qualifications there was the highlight of his year.

"I had been struggling in training and competition the whole season, so it was a nice surprise to make the routine and qualify for finals," he said. "I have had surgery on my shoulder since then, so hopefully that will improve it. There was not really any other problem. I was just struggling to make skills and routines with my shoulder the way it was."

Sellathurai finished second on pommel horse at the 2006 Worlds, and third on pommel horse at the 2009 and 2010 Worlds. He is the reigning Commonwealth Games champion on pommel horse from the 2010 Games in Sri Lanka, where he also helped the Australian men win team gold.

Sellathurai said he will focus on academics and gymnastics this year. He is studying radiography, and is not likely to resume training for at least six months.

"I don't think there is anything that will help me return," he said. "I don't even think I will be at worlds this year. It depends on how my shoulder recovers. Hopefully by 2015 I will be back to competing at that level."

Almost a month into 2014, Sellathurai is holding off on observing the start of the new year because of Sri Lankan customs. He was born in Australia to parents who emigrated from Sri Lanka.

"Sri Lankan new year is based on a lunar calendar, so that makes New Year's Day the 14th of April for us," he said "I will celebrate it then."

Sellathurai is avoiding new year's resolutions, though.

"I don't really have any, except to have more new years," he told IG.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Australian gymnasts includes:

Alexandra Croak chat (November 2009)
"Aussie Long Shot" - Daria Joura profile (July/August 2012)
Coach Peggy Liddick interview (January/February 2011)
"Late Bloomer" - Amelia McGrath profile (October 2010)
"Golden Surprise" - Lauren Mitchell cover story (January/February 2011)
Lauren Mitchell interview (March 2008)
Lisa Skinner chat (September 2010)
"10 Questions with Naoya Tsukahara" - interview (September 2013)
"10 Questions with Olivia Vivian" - interview (March 2011)

To subscribe or order back issues, click here.

Written by dwight normile    Friday, 17 January 2014 13:33    PDF Print
IG Vault: An Interview With Temple Coach Fred Turoff
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

When Temple announced in December that its men's gymnastics team had only one more season as a varsity sport, I was as blindsided as anyone. I felt connected since my high school coach, the late Frank Yapps, had competed for Temple. We also had just released our December issue of IG, which included a "10 Questions With" interview with Temple Coach Fred Turoff.

Turoff saved his program from that same fate in 1994, the same year UCLA lost its men's team. And now he is faced with that same tall task again.

Turoff was given the bad news at 1:05 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, 40 minutes before his team did. I asked him how he planned to rescue his program one more time.

"Our Board of Trustees already approved the plan," he said. "So now I will make an effort to educate them on what they're losing."

Go to to learn how you can support his mission. In the meantime, here is my interview with Turoff.

10 Questions With Fred Turoff

Fred Turoff is truly one of the “good guys” of American gymnastics. As a Temple Owl gymnast, the Philadelphia native won the 1968 EIGL all-around, and represented the U.S. at the ’69 Maccabiah Games and the ’70 Universiade. He was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2009, and now begins his 38th season as coach of Temple. With four scholarships (the top schools have 6.3), Turoff will try to qualify a full team to NCAAs for the third year in a row. Recently, the wisest Owl of all fielded questions about what he’s learned through the years, the evolution of gymnastics and why he’s always smiling.

You have a physics degree and master’s in biomechanics. Have they come in handy?

Sure, my physics background certainly helps me understand movement, as classical mechanics governs gymnastics. Now, getting gymnasts to apply those principles—that’s a challenge.

The Temple men’s team was on the chopping block in December, 1994. What was your initial emotional reaction and how was the program saved?

I was totally surprised the new AD tried to drop our successful program along with women’s gymnastics and baseball. Fortunately, alumni, fans and media rallied around our counter-effort and we were able to convince our Board of Trustees that the points the AD used to back up his proposal were not all true and that it was better to retain us.

After almost four decades of coaching in the Temple gym, what aspects of your job keep you going?

Since I work in a glorified playroom with youthful, eager students, work is a pleasure, not a chore. There are always challenges—teaching techniques, being a psychologist, an understanding adult, a motivator. This helps keep me young.

What are the most important coaching concepts you have learned through the years?

My first lesson was that not all wanted to be as good and didn’t want to work as hard as I did. Once I accepted that, I found a bit of peace in dealing with those whose goals weren’t as high as mine were, but still wanted to compete well in a collegiate program. The next was that many needed guidance in developing and pursuing goals. And lastly, something I learned from my coach Bill Coco is that it’s important to educate my team members outside of the gym and hotel room, so I try to show them things of interest when I can on away trips.

You were a Temple freshman in 1965. What was your floor exercise routine that year, and what skill(s) were you hoping to add to it?

In late 1965, my big moves were a back layout and a wide-arm press. Of course, we tumbled on the wooden floor or a thin mat sometimes. When I came to Temple, we had a quarter-inch thick floor ex mat. By my junior year, we used the wrestling mat under a vinyl cover for our meets, but tumbled on 1.25 inch-thick Nissen panel mats in practice. By the time I was a junior, I could do a back layout with a full twist and a front handspring tucked front, which were both C-skills at that time. My floor routine had four single-salto passes, two splits and two presses.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the sport?

The constant progress our athletes and coaches make in devising new skills and training techniques amazes me. They often exceed the Code of Points requirements in short order. I’ve always felt that those with higher difficulty should get a higher score than others with lower difficulty — given execution is the same. The current system does reward difficulty in that way. However, I also argued that 10 points for execution wasn’t necessary, as few lose more than 3-4 points in a poor routine, so the scoring system could have been adjusted to allow a final score to be around the 10.0 we had some years back.

What aspects of the Antwerp worlds made the biggest impressions on you?

I was so happy the U.S. did well, both men and women. It shows we are certainly in the mix for top honors both for teams and individuals. I felt the judges picked the correct winners in most cases, but it seems sometimes there are deductions that I can’t see – perhaps because I’m distant from the performer. I was also quite happy that videotaping was allowed, as this enables coaches to bring back videos to study with their students. With the advent of YouTube, all routines are available worldwide anyhow, so it seems silly to prohibit videotaping.

What changes would you make to the Code of Points?

There are still skills that are valued incorrectly. Look at rings. Many young gymnasts can do a Yamawaki, a C-skill, but can’t do a straight arm shoot handstand, also a C-value, and certainly can’t do an inverted cross, another C-value. Where’s the logic? When an inverted cross was devalued to C many years back, I, along with many others, asked “Did the evaluator ever try one?” And pressing out of an inverted was also valued as a C until this recent Code, when it was raised to D. That previous C-value was the most ridiculous value in the Code. What the FIG MTC should do is regularly ask coaches and gymnasts to submit rating change suggestions, then correlate the answers and make changes. So far I believe Steve Butcher is listening, but he has to wade through red tape to effect change.

You always seem to be smiling. To what or whom do you attribute your positive outlook?

There’s enough bad stuff in the world to make anyone get depressed. I choose to look at the brighter side of things and enjoy success of any size, accomplishments, friendships and family. I also make sure to take a vacation regularly to allow me to think of other things and rejuvenate. My other love is underwater photography, in which I indulge yearly.

Looking back on your coaching career, what are you most proud of?

Countering the attempt to drop our program is certainly a source of pride, but more so it’s having success team-wise plus graduating the great majority of gymnasts who joined my program. Seeing them become successful tells me we did well by them here. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to work at something I greatly enjoy, and have never felt I didn’t want to go into the gym.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 16 January 2014 08:42    PDF Print
Leimlehner Honored, Motivated By Seven-Time Austrian Honor
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Despite a shoulder injury that prevented Austrian Olympian Fabian Leimlehner from competing all-around at last fall's world championships, he told IG that recent recognition as his country's male Gymnast of the Year for the seventh time has given him confidence heading into the 2014 competition year.

"The challenge for me mainly was to make a good comeback into competitions after a half-year break," said Leimlehner, who had shoulder surgery shortly after he placed 39th all-around in qualifications at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. "So to be Austria's Gymnast of the Year again is a great honor for me, because people in sports still believe in me and my gymnastics."

On September 12, 2012, Leimlehner underwent surgery on his right shoulder to rebuild his labrum and repair his partially torn biceps. He said the injury restricted his performances throughout 2013, including the European championships in Moscow in April and the Worlds in Antwerp. He competed on only high bar in those two meets.

At the Austrian Championships last November, Leimlehner placed first on pommel horse, vault and parallel bars, and third on high bar. He did not compete on the other two apparatuses.

"Moscow was too early for my shoulder to be strong enough for the all-around," he said. "This is also the reason why I didn't do rings and floor at the Austrian Championships."

Leimlehner said he aims to return to the all-around "as soon as possible," and hopes to compete on all six apparatuses at the Europeans in Sofia in May. He wants to continue to make an international impact on his best apparatus, high bar, as well.

"My goal is to finish in the top five in high bar ranking," Leimlehner said. "For the all-around, it is too early to make a specific goal."

Halfway into the Olympic cycle, Leimlehner said he wants to fortify his all-around so he can contend for a spot at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"I think I still need to improve my skills, especially on floor and pommels," he told IG. "For the other four I think I need to show my routines really clean. So I think to make a really stable all-around is the best way to reach Rio 2016."


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