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Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 25 March 2010 22:30    PDF Print
Aussie Women Readying for Pacific Rim
(7 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Preparing for the Pacific Rim Championships in Melbourne, Australian national team coach Peggy Liddick told IG that the competition will give her team a valuable chance to hone their skills prior to this fall's world championships in Rotterdam.

Lauren Mitchell (Australia)

"It is early, but it is a good time for the gymnasts to have a hit out and test their competition programs," she said. "The unusual configuration of the team — three seniors and three juniors — makes it interesting for the selection, but the senior gymnasts that are on the team will most likely also be on the worlds team, so it is a good test for them."

Liddick said she will confirm gymnasts for the Pacific Rim Championships and other international assignments following an Australian team training camp and trial to be held March 28-April 2.

The Pacific Rim Championships, taking place April 28-May 2, will feature gymnasts from member nations of the Pacific Alliance of National Gymnastics Federations, including Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, the U.S. and other nations lining the Pacific Ocean.

Liddick said Lauren Mitchell and Larrissa Miller are among the top Australian candidates for the Pacific Rim Championships.

Mitchell, a 2008 Olympian, won silver medals on balance beam and floor exercise and placed fourth all-around at the 2009 World Championships in London. Miller placed seventh on uneven bars at the 2009 Worlds.

"It will be good to see if Lauren and Larrissa can maintain and even surpass last year's performances," Liddick said.

Liddick also said she is eager for some first-year seniors to emerge in 2010.

"There are a couple of new seniors that I am anxious to see out on the floor — how they handle the pressure of being a senior, team environment, travel and other things," she said. "Georgia Wheeler and Emily Little should make a statement and a bid for the worlds team later in the year."

Mitchell is recovering well from recent injuries, Liddick said, but they have impeded her training.

"Unfortunately, on the apparatus that Lauren needed the most work, bars, she has been unable to do much work," Liddick said. "She broke a small bone in her hand in December, tripping over her own feet and falling onto the vaulting board. That is fine now, but a few weeks ago, she landed short on a tumbling pass and sprained her ankle. So, her progress was great, until the minor setbacks."

Despite Mitchell's injuries, Liddick said her motivation and enthusiasm are admirable.

"Lauren has added a few new skills," she said. "She likes to learn new skills, and that impresses me as a senior gymnast."

Liddick said she is confident in Miller's improvement since the 2009 Worlds.

"Larrissa has worked hard on beam, floor and vault, and ensures me that she wants to be an all-arounder this year," Liddick said. "I will see at camp how she has come along."

2008 Olympic all-around finalist Shona Morgan, who dislocated her left knee in vault warm-ups at the 2009 Worlds, could factor as soon as this fall's worlds, Liddick said.

"Shona will be at camp this week, as well," she said. "I saw her last week at her home program, and she has made a good recovery. She is back to doing all of her basics and has started to vault again. I anticipate her making a strong bid for the worlds team."

Although Liddick's current focus is on the Pacific Rim Championships, she has high hopes for her team at worlds this fall. The 2010 Worlds will include team, all-around and individual-event competition; the 2009 Worlds included only all-around and individual-event competitions.

"As for any world championships or other major event, the goal is to put the best-possible, well-prepared team on the floor," she told IG. "It is difficult to compare an individual world championships to a team worlds, as the priorities are different. But the aim would be to make team finals, and get a couple of individuals into apparatus finals and all-around finals."

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features:
Interview: Lauren Mitchell (March 2008)
2009 World Championships special issue (December 2009)
2008 Pacific Rim Championships coverage (May 2008)

To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 15 March 2010 19:10    PDF Print
Hopfner-Hibbs: Sophomore Year '10 Times Better'
(17 votes, average 4.76 out of 5)

Although world medalist and UCLA sophomore Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs of Canada is not ruling out future international meets, she told IG on Sunday that she is enjoying her current focus on collegiate competition.

Canadian Olympian Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs is enjoying her second year at UCLA.

"It's been so much fun," said Hopfner-Hibbs after she tied for first place on vault and won floor exercise at UCLA's tri-meet against Cal State-Fullerton and Michigan State University at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.

"Last year was fun, but this year is 10 times better," she said. "I'm more prepared and I know what it's like. Coming back this year, I knew what I had to do and when I had to do it, and I was just ready."

Prior to enrolling at UCLA, Hopfner-Hibbs made Canadian gymnastics history at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. She won the bronze medal on balance beam in Aarhus, and thereby became the first Canadian female gymnast to win a world championships medal. Hopfner-Hibbs finished 16th all-around at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Hopfner-Hibbs, who as a freshman placed seventh all-around at the 2009 NCAA Championships, said team spirit has helped her relax throughout her sophomore season.

"It's just the difference between elite gymnastics and college gymnastics," said Hopfner-Hibbs, who is majoring in physiological science. "It's two totally different things. Having the team there with you all the time is amazing."

Hopfner-Hibbs said her comfortable adjustment to collegiate gymnastics is evident in the energetic, dance-filled floor exercise she is performing this season.

"It's hard to describe," said Hopfner-Hibbs, who was named Freshman of the Year in the Pacific 10 conference last season. "We just threw a bunch of things in there, and it's really fun." (Click here to view the routine.)

This week Hopfner-Hibbs is taking winter-quarter final exams, and continuing to train for next month's NCAA regional and national championships.

She is also preparing a new dismount on uneven bars (double layout) to replace the double front she previously performed. "I can stick the double layout easier," she explained of the switch.

Hopfner-Hibbs said that, although she is concentrating on collegiate gymnastics, she has not dismissed the idea of competing for Canada again.

"This year I'm leaving that behind, and then... I'm not going to say no, but right now I'm just focused on this," she said.

Hopfner-Hibbs said she has given Canadian gymnastics officials a general indication of her current priorities.

"It's kind of up to me, but I've told them that basically I'm focused on college gymnastics this year, and after that, we'll see," she told IG.

Read "All in a Day's Work," a pre-2008 Olympics profile on Hopfner-Hibbs, in the March 2007 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 08 March 2010 12:58    PDF Print
Laschenova, Lawyer Renew Immigration Quest
(18 votes, average 4.78 out of 5)

Coaching in the U.S. for the past 10 years, Olympic gold medalist Natalia Laschenova said she will continue her quest to earn a green card despite the recent denial letter from immigration officials. Laschenova poses with her husband, Roman, son Anthony and newborn daughter Liliana in February.

Coaching in the U.S. for the past 10 years, Olympic gold medalist Natalia Laschenova said she will continue her quest to earn a green card despite the denial letter she recently received from immigration officials.

"I am not going anywhere," Laschenova told IG.

In January, Laschenova's employer, Integrity Gymnastics in Plain City, Ohio, received a notice from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that her petition for an employment-based immigrant visa was denied, reopened and denied again.

Laschenova demonstrates a proper scale while coaching a young gymnast at Integrity Gymnastics in Ohio.

"For how many years we've been here and what we've done, it's so stressful right now," Laschenova said Saturday. "It's not right. Everyone knows it's not right."

Laschenova said she is hopeful that Gus Shihab, the immigration attorney who last week offered to handle her case pro bono, can succeed in appealing it. An Atlanta law firm handled Laschenova's original case.

"Basically, we're lucky at least once in these 10 years," Laschenova said of her new association with Shihab, of Shihab & Associates in Columbus, Ohio. "He started working very, very quickly."

A native of Latvia, Laschenova was one of the most popular and successful gymnasts of her time. She placed fifth all-around and first with her Soviet team at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, and second all-around and first with her team at the 1989 World Championships in Stuttgart.

Following Laschenova's competitive career, she served as coach and choreographer of the Belarusian women's team and Belarusian men's junior team preparing for the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. She and her husband, Roman Kravchenko, moved to the U.S. on Christmas Day 1999. Prior to moving to Ohio, Laschenova coached at Southern Tier Gymnastics Academy in New York and Camden Gymnastics in Georgia.

Several of Laschenova's gymnasts - including Sasha Tsikhanovich, her daughter from her previous marriage in Belarus - have earned full athletic scholarships to compete in the NCAA. The other gymnasts include Nicolle Ford (University of Utah), Michelle Stout (University of Arkansas), Victoria Aepli (Ohio State University), Lacey Swords (Bowling Green State University) and Aftyn Siemer (Ball State University). Laschenova said another of her gymnasts, high-school junior Megan Walker, plans to compete on scholarship at Auburn when she graduates high school.

Laschenova said the denial of her green card has also put Sasha's scholarship in jeopardy.

"That's the hardest part," Laschenova said. "I talked to the (Auburn) coaches and told them, 'Don't worry, we'll do everything we can.' Sasha needs to renew her student visa, but she'd have to go back to Belarus to renew it, and it's not guaranteed they'd let her come back. We are here 10 years. She did everything for the United States, and I did everything for the United States, and then what? She can lose her scholarship because someone made a mistake? It's totally not right."

Four members of the Level 10 team from Integrity Gymnastics announced their college decisions during a ceremony March 1, including (from left) Victoria Aepli (Ohio State), Lacey Swords (Bowling Green), Aftyn Siemer (Ball State) and Sasha Tsikhanovich (Auburn).

IG also spoke on Saturday with Shihab, who said he offered to help Laschenova last week after a reporter for WBNS-TV in Ohio contacted him while researching a news segment on her immigration plight. (Click here to view the segment.)

"I had known Natalia as a gold medalist, so when I read the letter of denial I was completely taken back and shocked and really upset," Shihab said. "In the course of 17 years I had processed cases with a lot fewer credentials than Natalia, and I got those approved. Natalia being denied invoked a feeling of anger and upset, and I told Natalia, 'I'd love to take your case.' And she accepted."

Shihab said he is continuing to research Laschenova's original case to determine why she was denied a green card.

Among the gymnastics authorities who provided letters in support of Laschenova's petition were International Gymnastics Federation Women's Technical Committee President Nellie Kim, U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi, USA Gymnastics Vice President of Program Kathy Kelly, triple Olympic gold medalist Svetlana Boginskaya, USA Gymnastics Ohio State Administrative Chairwoman Nina Dent, and Yevgeny Marchenko, who coached Carly Patterson to the 2004 Olympic all-around title.

"Perhaps it was a situation where there were some procedural problems, meaning that the way the case was presented was perhaps not the best way possible," Shihab said. "The INS does not believe Natalia is an extraordinary coach. Their argument is that she may have been an extraordinary gymnast in the past, but she's not today, and they're not in agreement that she's an extraordinary coach today."

Shihab said Laschenova presented additional evidence of her outstanding coaching ability in more recent years to an appellate board, but that evidence was not taken into consideration since it was not part of her original case.

"You cannot fault the appeals office for not accepting additional evidence, because you couldn't review whether or not the agency made an error, when in fact the evidence trying to be introduced at a later point was not available," he said.

Laschenova performs on balance beam during a dual meet against in the U.S. in 1988, the same year she helped the Soviet team win gold at the Olympic Games in Seoul.
Shihab said he is considering options for handling the next phase Laschenova's case, one of which is to appeal her case in federal court.

"The legal arguments are very intricate and very narrow, but the bigger picture is what I'm hoping the judges will see," Shihab said. "Another possibility is to re-file the case altogether with the agency. I don't want to leave any door unopened."

Laschenova's plight has also attracted the attention of Reform Immigration for America, a national organization. Shihab said the organization has contacted him to assist in publicizing Laschenovaís case, and the organization is planning a press conference.

"The more noise we can make as a community, the more attention we're going to get from those that are in the decision-making position," Shihab said.

Laschenova and her husband, Roman Kravchenko, have had two children since they moved to the U.S. Their son, Anthony, was born Aug. 11, 2007. Their daughter, Liliana, was born Feb. 18, 2010.

Shihab said Laschenova has much more to offer if given permission to continue working in the U.S.

"Natalia was a gold medalist and as an extraordinary coach has added so much to all of us," he said. "She's been in the U.S. for 10 years and has been a law-abiding citizen. She's contributed tremendously. She's a rare commodity, according to a lot of gymnasts I've spoken with. I think it would be remiss to let such talent go back."

Laschenova said she is puzzled that she has been denied a green card, while other applicants have received them in less time.

"We know a lot of people from Russia and other countries, and they have gotten a green card very quickly," she said. "Why it stopped with me, I honestly don't know what I did, or what I did wrong."

Laschenova said she is determined to stay focused on her coaching work while she awaits the next step of her immigration process.

"I keep calm in front of the parents and kids, but when I'm home, it's totally different," she told IG. "Trust me, there was a lot of tears for about three weeks. I guess I need to go through it. I don't know how good or bad it could be."

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Written by Dwight Normile    Thursday, 04 March 2010 16:00    PDF Print
Motivated Sooners Hope to Top Crimson Tide
(7 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

In any other year, Friday's clash between Oklahoma and Alabama would have had a David-and-Goliath feel. But this year, the second-ranked Sooners are poised to knock off the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide and perhaps regain the top ranking they held earlier in the season.

While some teams might become uncomfortable with the unfamiliarity of being one of the best teams in the country, Sooner coach K.J. Kindler says her squad is enjoying every moment.

"UCLA, Georgia, Alabama, Utah, Florida … this is not unfamiliar territory for them," Kindler told IG. "For us, it is monumental and exciting. Our athletes have embraced the opportunity. They have a vision, and instead of feeling pressure, I believe they feel pride. We have absolutely spoken about it."

On the other hand, Alabama is used to high rankings, having won four NCAA titles to Oklahoma's none. But coach Sarah Patterson isn't surprised by the Sooners recent surge.

"K.J. Kindler has done a great job at Oklahoma, and they have had a very good year to this point," she said. "They have been very consistent and really haven't had a bump in the road this season."

Patterson, in her 32nd season at Alabama, is looking forward to perhaps being the bump Oklahoma hasn't experienced yet.

"I think this is a great opportunity for our ladies to face great competition in a team that we will contend with down the road for a national championship," she told IG. "I think our team will have to make their own energy and excitement without 14,000 fans cheering them on, and this will be the same scenario at the NCAA championships. We have a few challenges to face but feel our ladies will rise to the occasion."

If the Sooner gymnasts are not intimidated by Alabama's presence Friday night, they will have to deal with TV cameras at Lloyd Noble Arena for the first time. The meet will be televised live throughout Oklahoma, a first for the Oklahoma gymnastics program.

Those are welcome growing pains for Oklahoma, and Kindler, who's in her fourth season at OU, is confident in the ability of her team.

"The difference [this year] has been leadership," she said. "Our seniors are doing more events for us than they did their first three years, and they have dedicated themselves 120 percent. Everyone has followed their lead."

While Alabama has two highly ranked all-arounders in Morgan Dennis (3rd) and Ashley Priess (4th), Oklahoma relies on specialists such as Hollie Vise and Megan Ferguson (ranked 2nd and 3rd on beam), and Jackie Flanery (3rd on floor). And while Alabama is the top team in the nation on vault, it shares that ranking with Oklahoma on beam.

"I don't think we have reached our potential yet this year," Patterson said. "I do think we have been tremendously consistent but are still growing and building as a team, and that our best meet is still in front of us."

Kindler, no doubt, is thinking the same about her Sooners.

Written by Dwight Normile    Thursday, 04 March 2010 13:20    PDF Print
Hong Tears ACL, Will Have Season-ending Surgery
(12 votes, average 4.33 out of 5)

2009 world balance beam bronze medalist Ivana Hong sustained a torn ACL in her right knee after landing a vault last Sunday. She was participating in a U.S. national team training camp at the Karolyis' ranch outside of Houston when the injury occurred.

Hong, 17, had an MRI on Monday in Houston and saw another doctor in Dallas after returning home. She is scheduled to have surgery on March 23, and will be out for seven months.

In 2008, Hong was an alternate to the U.S. Olympic team. After the Olympics, she left GAGE in Blue Springs, Mo., to train at WOGA in Plano, Texas. Last summer, she placed second all-around and first on balance beam at the Visa Championships in Dallas. Last October, she competed on uneven bars and balance beam at the world championships in London.

Hong's injury ended her chances of being selected to compete in the 2010 Tyson American Cup on March 6 in Worcester, Mass., which is where she was born.


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