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Written by Dwight Normile    Friday, 09 April 2010 08:06    PDF Print
Trampoline Inventor George Nissen Passes Away
(19 votes, average 4.58 out of 5)

American gymnastics legend George Nissen passed away on April 7 in San Diego from complications from pneumonia. He was 96.

Born Feb. 1, 1914, in Blairstown, Iowa, Nissen was a gymnast at the University of Iowa. After seeing the safety nets that protected circus trapeze artists, Nissen thought a smaller version could help him with his tumbling training.

In the 1930s, he and Larry Griswold, his coach at Iowa, built the first trampoline in a garage. In 1941, the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company was housed under a bigger roof in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

During World War II the trampoline was used to train pilots. After the war, Nissen continued to promote the trampoline and he also manufactured a complete line of gymnastics apparatus. "Leapin' Larry" Griswold became a successful entertainer with his trampoline act.

Nissen, who trademarked the name "trampoline" from the Spanish word trampolin (meaning "springboard"), took his portable bouncing device all over the world. (The activity was actually called "rebound tumbling" at the time.) He even gave Russia its first trampoline in the 1950s.

The first world championships were won by Americans Dan Millman and Judy Wills, in 1964 in London. Wills won the next four women's titles, and Americans won the next four men's titles, as well.

Nissen continued to promote the trampoline worldwide, and one of his biggest goals was to see it become an Olympic sport. His friends told him he was dreaming. "They said, 'George, it will be the year 2000 before trampoline is ever in the Olympics,'" Nissen told IG 10 years ago.

They may have been joking, but they also proved prophetic. Trampoline indeed became an Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Games, and Nissen proudly made the long trip Down Under. He was even invited to take a ceremonial bounce on the official trampoline used in the competition.

Ironically, Russian athletes won the first Olympic men's and women's gold medals, thanks to Nissen's unselfish promotion half a century earlier. (In the U.S., trampoline had been dropped from NCAA competition in 1970, but the sport is now on an upswing in private clubs.)

Nissen's name will certainly live on. The Nissen Cup is an annual competition in Switzerland, and since 1966 the Nissen Award (now called the Nissen-Emery Award) has been given to the top male senior collegiate gymnast.

"I met George when I was a 12-year-old, just learning the rudiments of jumping on the trampoline," said Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior. "He was then, and remained, a role model for me all these years. His achievements are many, but what I most remember is what a kind man he was. Along with all who knew him, I'll miss him, but he will live long in our hearts and memories."

Nissen is survived by his wife, Annie, and two daughters, Dagmar and Dian.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Thursday, 08 April 2010 08:40    PDF Print
Flashback to 1987 Rotterdam World Championships
(8 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

With the 2010 World Championships returning to Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam in October, the upcoming May issue of International Gymnast magazine includes a flashback to the 1987 Rotterdam Worlds, which were held in the same venue.

The "Who Am I" photo is none other than Rhonda Faehn, whose 19th place in the all-around was tops for the U.S. team, which also included Sabrina Mar, Melissa Marlowe, Kristie Phillips, Phoebe Mills and Kelly Garrison-Steves.

Though 19th place may be well below medal contention, Faehn's performance was remarkable for a few reasons. She was the "table-setter" for her teammates and battling an injury, too. Also, during that time, the U.S. women really weren't medal contenders, at least not as a team. To change strategies, the U.S. Gymnastics Federation even hired a successful collegiate coach, Utah's Greg Marsden, to pilot the squad. It was a novel idea to select a neutral coach, but it didn't really change the fact that the team just wasn't competitive with the Eastern bloc or China.

Faehn is in now her eighth year as head coach at Florida, which just won the SEC Championships. Florida also will play host to the NCAAs later this month. Marsden, meanwhile, is in his 35th year at Utah!

January 1988 Issue

IG asked Faehn to share her memories of Rotterdam 1987. Here are some excerpts:

Rhonda Faehn: "I think I went up first on every event in compulsories and optionals, except vault ... I mainly remember having a torn hamstring prior to heading over there. So each training day, it was challenging to train routines and to do them well. I also remember the bus ride to Rotterdam, seeing all of the beautiful tulips and windmills. I bought a pair of earrings with windmills on them, and wore them for the meet. They became my "meet earrings" throughout college.

Trading a leo with [Ecaterina] Szabo at the banquet after the meet.

Leaving on the bus for the arena to compete compulsories and it was so early it was dark outside. I think we were in the first session.

Sneaking food and treats to the Romanian gymnasts when they were on the bus with us. I absolutely LOVED the Romanian gymnastics at this time. [Aurelia] Dobre and [Daniela] Silivas were stunning!

In all-around finals, I followed [Yelena] Shushunova, and I so badly wanted to watch her compete because of the type of competitor she was. But I had to focus, so I didn't.

Greg Marsden supporting me and putting me in the lineup, even though I was battling the torn hamstring.

Marta [Karolyi] giving me an ice cream sundae after the meet was over ... wow, right?

Last but not least, I remember hearing the cowbells the entire time in the arena. I had never heard anything like that before. Odd and distracting."

IG thanks Faehn for sharing her memories. The Rotterdam feature in the May issue includes numerous vintage photos as well as thoughts from the all-around world champions Dmitry Bilozerchev and Aurelia Dobre, both of whom live in the U.S. and have sons in gymnastics.

If she could have a wish come true, Dobre didn't hesitate. "Wouldn't it be great if both of our sons will be [competing in Rotterdam]," she said with a laugh. "It would bring back good memories."

 
Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 29 March 2010 15:30    PDF Print
Koval Shoulders Injury with Optimism
(9 votes, average 4.89 out of 5)

Despite a shoulder injury that will keep her out of the upcoming European championships, Olympian Anastasia Koval of Ukraine told IG she is confident she will be able to compete at this fall's world championships.

"My left shoulder hurt leading up to the (2009) World Championships in London, but the injury wasn't serious," said Koval, who placed fifth on uneven bars at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. "But in London I pulled the shoulder even more strongly, competing on bars! I ruptured two tendons and still have a fracture."

Koval, a finalist on uneven bars at the past two European Championships, said she is optimistic about her readiness for the 2010 World Championships, to be held Oct. 16-24 in Rotterdam.

"Everything is all right, and I am starting to recover," she told IG this week. "It's true that I will skip the European championships, but at the world championships, I hope that I shall be recovered and in good form!"

Read "Raising the Bar," a profile on Koval, in the March 2010 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

 
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.

 


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