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Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 09 April 2009 17:17    PDF Print
Carballo: Europe 'Amazed' by Izurieta in Milan
(21 votes, average 4.62 out of 5)

Despite narrowly missing a medal at the recent Europeans in Milan, Spanish newcomer Ana Maria Izurieta and coach Jesus Carballo say they are excited about her results.

Spain's Ana Maria Izurieta in Milan

"In Europe, they are amazed," Carballo told the Spanish media of Izurieta's senior European debut. "She was a big surprise."

In Milan, Izurieta placed fourth all-around and fourth on floor exercise, narrowly missing a medal in both. In Saturday's all-around final, she was in third place behind Russian Olympians Ksenia Semyonova and Ksenia Afanasyeva after three rotations, but dropped to fourth after a strong vault from Ariella Käslin moved the Swiss gymnast up to bronze.

In Sunday's floor exercise final, Izurieta was tied for third place after seven competitors, only to be bumped again to fourth by the final performer, Italy's Vanessa Ferrari.

Izurieta said she was not disappointed with two fourth places. Her all-around placement in Milan matched Esther Moya's fourth place in 2000 as the best showing for a Spanish woman at a European Championships.

"I'm happy," said Izurieta, 16. "The level was very high, and everyone congratulated me."

Izurieta has found herself the new leader for the Spanish team, which is rebuilding after the retirements of 2008 Olympians Lenika de Simone and Laura Campos.

"She is in very good shape and competed easy," he said. "This is the beginning of a good career. She is very complete in all four events."

Izurieta began gymnastics in her native Ecuador before moving to Spain at age 8. Her coach in Ecuador sent with her a letter to Carballo to inform him of her potential. Carballo said he was grateful that Izurieta was allowed to train at the national center in Madrid, even though there is a standard 10-year residency requirement for immigrants seeking Spanish citizenship.

"The Spanish federation allowed her to train in the national center and use the facilities and medical services," he said. "We must recognize that, because no one knew if she was going to get citizenship or what her future would be."

Izurieta placed 10th at the 2007 European Youth Olympic Festival and won the Spanish junior championships in 2008, but Milan was her major competition debut.

"The experience has been great," she said.

External Link: Spanish Gymnastics Federation

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 06 April 2009 15:28    PDF Print
Johnson to Waltz through Week Five of 'Dancing'
(113 votes, average 4.88 out of 5)

Preparing to perform the Viennese waltz on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" Monday, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson told IG that mastering this "totally different" dance style is an enjoyable challenge.

"Every week it seems we're starting from zero again, because they give you the complete opposite of what you did," said Johnson, who is entering the fifth week of competition with her partner, Mark Ballas. "So it's kind of hard to change that fast, but I love it. I love the challenge of learning something new. This week is totally different from the waltz the first week and the foxtrot the third week. It's a totally different style. It's been pretty challenging so far, but we're working really hard at it."

Thus far in the competition, Johnson and Ballas have danced the slow waltz, foxtrot, salsa and Lindy Hop. The differences between the first week's slow waltz and Monday's Viennese waltz are subtle but unique, Johnson said.

"The Viennese waltz is a lot faster, and there are a few different steps," she said. "It's more about picking up the pace and staying in hold, and making sure all of your footwork is in place. It's been pretty hard to do all those controlled movements at a fast pace."

Johnson said she was surprised that the judges did not respond more favorably to the couple's Lindy Hop last Monday, which included a few gymnastics tricks.

"I was a little shocked," said Johnson, the 2007 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic balance beam gold medalist. "Ever since the beginning, everyone's been asking us, 'When are you going to put gymnastics in? When are you going to do tricks and stuff?' This was probably the one opportunity we had to take advantage of that. We had fun with it, and we put in as much as we could. We also did all the basic Lindy steps. We had a great time, and it was the best we had performed it. I wasn't disappointed with the scores. I was just disappointed that they didn't enjoy it, because that is what we work for."

Johnson and Ballas are among nine couples who remain in the competition. Viewers will have until 30 minutes after Monday's show to phone in their votes, and until noon Eastern time on Tuesday to vote online. Johnson's and Ballas's phone line is 800-868-3409. AT&T customers can text votes for Johnson and Ballas to 3409.

When Johnson and Ballas perform the Viennese waltz on Monday, Johnson said she hopes to emotionally engage viewers.

"We try to do something different every week, but our biggest goal this week with the Viennese waltz is trying to incorporate the lyrical side," she told IG. "It's really expressive and you show emotion. Considering that, in gymnastics, you're supposed to keep that in, I want to show the crowd what it is that I actually feel and can express to them."

External Link: Dancing with the Stars

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 30 March 2009 23:00    PDF Print
Johnson Flips to Fourth-Place Tie on 'Dancing'
(95 votes, average 4.91 out of 5)

Performing a few gymnastics moves in their Lindy Hop performance, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson and partner Mark Ballas tied for the judges' fourth-highest total score on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" on Monday.

Johnson and Ballas perform the Lindy Hop

"The Lindy Hop is my dance," Johnson said during rehearsals. "Flips and tricks are right up my alley, and I think that will be my secret weapon to get ahead in this competition."

Dancing last among the 11 couples, Johnson and Ballas performed an athletic, fast-paced routine that included a few front and back flips. They scored 25 out of 30 points, tying them with rodeo champion Ty Murray and partner Chelsie Hightower for the evening's fourth-highest total.

Actor Gilles Marini and partner Cheryl Burke, who performed the Argentine tango, were the top couple with 30 points.

Johnson, the 2008 Olympic balance beam gold medalist and all-around silver medalist, admitted she was anxious during Monday's dance. "I was shaking," she said. "I got this nervous at the Olympics."

All three judges commented favorably on Johnson and Ballas's routine, but two of them said the performance could have benefited from more dancing.

"You've really given us a spectacular feast of tricks and gymnastics," judge Bruno Tonioli said. "You were really flying around like I can't believe, and obviously you're good at it. But remember, you're a good dancer, as well, so sometimes do more dancing....but I did enjoy it."

Another judge, Carrie Ann Inaba, said she did not think the Lindy Hop was the couple's forte, but praised Johnson's precision and charisma. "You're such a polished performer," Inaba said. "When I watch you, I'm completely taken in."

Ballas, who spent time working out with Johnson on gymnastics equipment to prepare for the routine, said Johnson's gymnastics talent was a natural feature to highlight in their dance.

"When we got in the gym, I got to see her do some amazing stuff," Ballas said. "I was inspired and thought I'd throw her a few things in the routine. I'm excited how we did tonight. She did great and I'm proud of her."

Two couples will be eliminated in Tuesday evening's results show.

Johnson said she was not concerned with the prospect of elimination that she and the other couples face on Tuesday.

"Anything can happen," Johnson said. "I had a great time tonight. I did my best, and that's all that matters."

UPDATE: Johnson and Ballas survived Tuesday's results show, during which two couples were eliminated: reality star Holly Madison and partner Dmitry Chaplin; and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and partner Karina Smirnoff.

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 30 March 2009 08:50    PDF Print
Coach Cheers Johnson's 'Dancing' Ability
(84 votes, average 4.85 out of 5)

As Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson prepares to perform the Lindy Hop on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" Monday, coach Liang Chow told IG he has been very impressed by her professional dancing skills.

Johnson and Ballas perform on week three of "Dancing with the Stars"

"I like all of Shawn's performances so far," Chow said. "I am very glad to see not only the wonderful dance, but to see she is enjoying herself so much."

Chow and his wife, Liwen Zhuang, own Chow's Gymnastics and Dance Institute in West Des Moines, Iowa. They coached Johnson to world titles in the all-around and floor exercise in 2007, and the balance beam gold at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

After the first three weeks of the show, Johnson and partner Mark Ballas have emerged as one of the judges' and audiences' favorite couples. They have earned some of the highest scores from the judges, which combined with viewers' votes have kept them safe from elimination.

The couple plans to include tumbling moves, which should appeal to Johnson's gymnastics fans, in the Lindy Hop performance on Monday. Johnson and Ballas previously danced the waltz, the salsa and the foxtrot.

Chow said he and Johnson's teammates are avidly watching "Dancing with the Stars" and just as avidly supporting Johnson.

"I do wish her the very best to finish up on top," Chow told IG. "We all cheer for her all the way."

External Link: Dancing with the Stars

Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 26 March 2009 23:38    PDF Print
Romanians Confident of Medals in Milan
(10 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Despite being beset by injuries, the Romanian women are optimistic for success at next week's European Championships, head coach Nicolae Forminte said.

Gabriela Dragoi (Romania)

"We go to Milan confident and hope that we will achieve our objectives," Forminte said. "Taking into account the difficult situation Romanian sport is going through, the objective of these Europeans is medals."

Romanian team members Gabriela Dragoi, Sandra Izbasa and Anamaria Tamarjan are all struggling with various injuries, Forminte told newspaper "Gazeta Sporturilor."

"Health problems remain and will continue to be the No. 1 challenge of this generation," Forminte said. "There are injuries that cannot be solved by any rest, or by treatments."

The Romanian gymnasts won the women's team title at the 2008 European Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, France. The 2009 European Championships, April 2-5 in Milan, will be for individual all-around and apparatus.

Dragoi, Izbasa and Tamarjan were members of the bronze medal-winning Romanian women's gymnastics team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Izbasa, the 2008 Olympic champion on floor exercise, is also the defending European champion on the event. She is struggling with injuries to both legs, but plans to compete all four apparatus in Milan.

"She wavers between continuing and retiring," Forminte said of the 18-year-old Izbasa, who is aiming for medals on balance beam and floor exercise.

Forminte said 17-year-old Tamarjan is at 50 to 60 percent of her physical potential, and the 16-year-old Dragoi is at just 30 percent. Dragoi traveled to Milan last November for medical treatment of an injury.

The fourth team member, first-year senior Diana Chelaru, shows promise, Forminte said. She won the 2007 junior national title, and on March 14 finished ninth all-around at the international in Jesolo, Italy.

"She is a gymnast with potential, but with large gaps in her basic training," he said. "We have to have patience with her."


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