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Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 27 April 2009 11:34    PDF Print
Johnson Gets in Sync for Samba on 'Dancing'
(130 votes, average 4.90 out of 5)

Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson told IG that she and partner Mark Ballas have been making the most of their divided rehearsal time for their samba dance and a group mambo number on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" Monday.

"We've just been working really hard," said Johnson, who last week danced the cha cha with Ballas to earn their highest judges' total thus far in the season. "The samba is pretty much like the cha cha, but it's a little different. I've caught on quickly, and Mark's been great at teaching me."

Ballas, who partnered with figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi to win the title two seasons ago, said he has been preparing Johnson for the nuances of the samba, as well as the mambo routine that will feature all six of the remaining couples.

"I would say the challenges are the rhythm and bounce that the samba have, and the flirty personality," Ballas said. "In the team dance I am telling Shawn that, when we are all dancing together, we are a team. And when we dance solo, we are dancing for survival. She has a great teamwork ethic!"

Johnson, the 2007 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic balance beam gold medalist, said recent rehearsals have been doubly challenging. Starting with last week's show, all of the couples participate in a group dance as well as their own partnered dance.

"The hardest thing is that we have two dances this week, so that's been hard trying to learn both," said the 17-year-old Johnson. "We're working hard and are going to clean things up, and hopefully we'll be ready."

Although Johnson and Ballas performed Latin dances in three of the first seven shows, Johnson said she is treating the samba as its own style while she masters this week's routine.

"Every week that we get a new dance, we kind of start from zero," Johnson said. "I try to erase from my mind anything I've learned, and start over to learn the new steps. You can't really think about the other dances because it could get really confusing."

Johnson said dancing along with the other contestants in the group number is not difficult, although as a gymnast she is used to blocking out the other competitors when she is performing.

"I don't think it's a disadvantage," Johnson told IG. "You just have to get used to it. Everyone's out of their comfort zone, but it's been fun and I've learned a lot. I hope I can stay for more."

External Link: Dancing with the Stars

Written by Dwight Normile    Wednesday, 22 April 2009 13:50    PDF Print
Spring Retires to Take Over Illinois Men's Team
(29 votes, average 4.34 out of 5)

2008 Olympic medalist Justin Spring and two-time world all-around champion Ivan Ivankov will replace Yoshi Hayasaki, who is retiring after 33 years as Illinois men's head coach.

2008 Olympic medalist Justin Spring and two-time world all-around champion Ivan Ivankov will replace Yoshi Hayasaki, who is retiring after 33 years as Illinois men's head coach.

Spring was promoted from an assistant to associate head coach, and Ivankov will be his full-time assistant.

Hayasaki was a two-time NCAA all-around champion (1970-71) while attending Washington, and he also won four AAU national all-around crowns, one USGF all-around championship and 20 individual event titles. From 1971-73, he worked as a graduate assistant at Illinois and took over as head coach in 1974. Hayasaki shifted to Director of Gymnastics from 1993-97, but returned as head coach in 1997.

Illinois women's head coach Bob Starkell, who qualified his team to the NCAA Championships this year for the first time, was promoted to Director of Gymnastics, a position that will enable him to continuing coaching the women's team while handling various administrative duties for Spring.

Spring, who won a bronze medal with the U.S. team last summer in Beijing, says he will retire from competitive gymnastics.

"I'm going to miss it very much, but sometimes life gets in the way," he told IG. "The way I look at it, with my body, there's no guarantees. My only reservation from retiring was that I did want to get an individual world or Olympic medal.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable taking on this position if I was going to balance my time between training and running the program."

Yoshi Hayasaki is retiring after 33 years as Illinois men's head coach.

As a competitor, Spring helped return the Fighting Illini to national prominence, and he won the Nissen-Emery Award in 2006 as a senior. Illinois has won nine NCAA team titles, its last in 1989.

"I think the hardest thing (about taking over) is going to be my age," said Spring, 25. "I may not have the experience, but I know this program inside and out already."

He'll have help from the 34-year-old Ivankov, a native of Minsk, Belarus, who won the world all-around titles in 1994 and 1997. Ivankov retired from competition following the 2006 World Championships, and joined the staff as a temporary assistant in January.

"Ivan is ridiculous in the gym," Spring said. "He's one of the best things to happen in this program in a long time."

Spring, who got engaged to longtime girlfriend Tori Tanney last fall, says the wedding will be in May 2010. He will also begin graduate school at Illinois in sports management.

"In the last eight months, my life has gone through every imaginable up and down and everything," he said with a laugh. "It's been great, and I'm looking forward to finally settling down."

External Link: Illinois Men's Gymnastics

Written by Amanda Turner    Tuesday, 21 April 2009 12:33    PDF Print
Peszek Commits to UCLA
(34 votes, average 4.29 out of 5)

2008 Olympian Samantha Peszek has verbally committed to attend the University of California-Los Angeles, she announced Tuesday.

2008 Olympian Samantha Peszek has verbally committed to attend the University of California-Los Angeles, she announced Tuesday.

Peszek, 17, will join the UCLA Bruins squad in fall 2010.

"I'm so excited to be a Bruin," said Peszek, who trains at Sharp's Gymnastics in Indiana with coach Marvin Sharp. "I visited several schools and UCLA was just a perfect fit for me. I've wanted to compete for UCLA and live in L.A. for a while, so it's a dream come true."

Previously coached by Peter Zhao, Peszek helped the U.S. team win gold medals in 2007 at the Pan American Games and World Championships. At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, she was a member of the silver medal-winning U.S. squad.

Peszek is currently aiming for the 2009 Visa (U.S.) Championships in August in Dallas, and the 2009 World Championships in London in October.

Her younger sister, Jessica Peszek, is a Level 9 gymnast. She finished first on uneven bars and fifth all-around in her age group at the Region 5 Championships on Sunday in Muncie, Ind., qualifying for the Level 9 Eastern Championships.

The UCLA Bruins have won five national titles. At the recent NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships in Lincoln, Neb., the team tied Utah for third in qualifying, but was unable to advance to the Super Six final due to a tie break.

External Link: UCLA Gymnastics

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 20 April 2009 22:36    PDF Print
Johnson Cha Chas to Perfect Score, Second Place on 'Dancing'
(114 votes, average 4.51 out of 5)

Scoring a perfect 10 from one judge, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson and partner Mark Ballas danced the cha cha to the evening's second-highest total on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" Monday.

"It's my first 10 ever, and it is amazing," said Johnson, the 2007 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist on balance beam.

One of seven remaining couples in the competition, Johnson and Ballas finished with 28 out of 30 points from the three judges. "The Bachelor" contestant Melissa Rycroft and partner Tony Dovolani earned the highest total (29) of the evening for their Argentine tango.

Johnson said this week's performance was particularly stressful, since rehearsal times were limited by her travel to New York and her home state of Iowa to accept awards. Because of the travel, Johnson and Ballas had less time than usual to rehearse the cha cha and a 1960s-themed group number, both of which they performed on Monday's show.

"It was more pressure than I ever imagined, and I thought I was going to lose my mind," Johnson said with a laugh. "But I was so excited to get out there. It was a really fun dance, and it's been my favorite so far. I'm really happy to have it down."

Referring to Johnson as "my cheeky little devil," judge Bruno Tonioli awarded the couple their first 10 of the season. He praised Johnson's technique, and likened her performance quality to two legendary Hollywood dancers.

"What I'm starting to see tonight is like watching a young Debbie Reynolds or Mitzi Gaynor, all flamboyant and vibrant," Tonioli said.

The other two judges — Carrie Ann Inaba and Len Goodman — awarded 9 points to Johnson and Ballas.

"The cha cha is a difficult dance because it's sharp and it's crisp, but at the same time you've got to blend rhythm into that," Goodman said. "I thought you did that exactly."

Ballas, who danced to the title two seasons ago with figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, also praised his 17-year-old partner.

"I'm really proud of Shawn," Ballas said. "I keep telling her to just go out and have fun, and so we did. She did a great job."

UPDATE: Johnson and Ballas survived Tuesday's results show, during which retired football star Lawrence Taylor and partner Edita Sliwinska were eliminated.

External Link: Dancing with the Stars

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 19 April 2009 23:19    PDF Print
Casella: Ferrari's Milan Silver Medal 'Fantastic in Her Condition'
(12 votes, average 4.92 out of 5)

Although 2006 world champion Vanessa Ferrari (Italy) placed ninth all-around at the European Championships in Milan, coach Enrico Casella told IG her silver medal on floor exercise was a satisfying result.

Italy's Vanessa Ferrari waves to the crowd after her floor routine at the 2009 European Gymnastics Championships in Milan.

"For Vanessa I am very happy," Casella said. "The floor silver medal is fantastic in her condition. (Until) the beginning of March we thought she would not compete."

Hampered by injuries in 2007 and 2008, Ferrari was not originally expected to compete in Milan but replaced Serena Licchetta a few days prior to the competition began April 2. She finished ninth all-around, after crashing a double-twisting Yurchenko vault.

Casella said that, rather than have Ferrari perform an easier full-twisting Yurchenko, Ferrari attempted the higher-rated double-twisting version for a chance to place among the top three.

"In the all-around competition, after two rotations, it was clear that we needed at least a 14.50 (score) to reach the medal zone, so we decided with Vanessa to take the risk," Casella said. "With only one twist we were sure to stay off the podium."

Casella said the risk was worth taking for their target of a top-three finish for Ferrari, the 2007 European all-around champion.

"Vanessa strongly wanted a medal and to fight for that," Casella said. "Fourth or ninth position is the same for us."

Ferrari was the final female performer in Milan, anchoring the women's floor exercise. She took the silver medal behind Great Britain's Beth Tweddle and ahead of European all-around champion Ksenia Semyonova of Russia.

Vanessa Ferrari, 2009 European Championships floor exercise finals

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features
"Refueling Ferrari" - Ferrari/Casella interview (January/February 2009)
2007 World Championships special issue (October 2007)
Ferrari on cover, 2007 European Championships coverage, "10 Questions with Enrico Casella" (June 2007)
2006 World Championships special issue (December 2006)
Ferrari on cover photo collage (November 2006)
Ferrari on cover, 2006 Worlds preview (September 2006)
Italian team on cover, 2006 Europeans coverage (June 2006)
"Driving Force" - Ferrari profile (December 2005)

To subscribe to International Gymnast magazine or order back issues, click here.


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