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Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 07 May 2009 02:41    PDF Print
Olympic Champion Yang Announces Retirement
(63 votes, average 4.78 out of 5)

Reigning world and Olympic all-around champion Yang Wei announced his retirement this week, saying injury and age will prevent him from ending his career at China's National Games in October.

2008 Olympic all-around champion Yang Wei (China)

"The longer you have stayed, the harder it is to leave," said Yang, 29.

Yang, a three-time Olympian, has won 14 world and Olympic medals, 10 of them gold.

Yang headlined China's dominating performance at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where the host nation won seven of eight available gold medals in men's gymnastics. With large margins of victory, Yang led China to the team title and won the all-around gold.

He was a member of the Chinese teams that took gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where he finished second all-around. He finished second all-around again at the 2003 World Championships, but left the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens empty-handed.

"I wanted to end my career following the flop in Athens out of concern of injuries and my form, but my coach Huang Yubin persuaded me to hang on," Yang said. "I was so eager to be part of the Beijing Olympic squad, so I said no to the thought of leaving finally."

He rebounded to win back-to-back world all-around titles in 2006 and 2007, when he also led China to team titles.

Following his golden success in Beijing, Yang took time off to enjoy the celebrity spotlight, but planned to return to competition in 2009. The 11th National Games will be held Oct. 11-23 in Shandong.

"It would have been more reasonable to retire at the peak of my career after the Olympics," he told "But I decided to battle on for my home province, Hubei, at this year's National Games and started training at the beginning of the year."

A member of China's national team since 1996, the 29-year-old Yang said he has decided to retire earlier than planned.

"I found I could not do as much as I would like to," he said. "Firstly because of injuries, and secondly because of my age — it's much more difficult for me to recover from injuries than before."

Yang wed 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Yang Yun on Nov. 6.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 06 May 2009 17:26    PDF Print
Patterson in Sync with Singing Career
(163 votes, average 4.51 out of 5)

As 2004 Olympic all-around champion Carly Patterson enjoys the recent release of her second single on iTunes, she told IG that the challenges she faces as a singer are similar to those she overcame in gymnastics.

Carly Patterson

"It takes lots of practice to keep improving and become your best," she said. "You never stop working at it."

Patterson, whose second single titled "Time To Wake Up" was recently released on iTunes, will be shooting the video for the song next month. She is hopeful that her CD titled "Back to the Beginning" will be released in early summer.

"I love all kinds of music, but I am more passionate about performing pop-rock," the 21-year-old Patterson said. "My CD is pop-rock with a little pop-country feel on a couple of songs."

Since winning the all-around gold medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, Patterson has been working on various aspects of her singing career, ranging from vocal training to touring. She said she is pleased with her progress.

"I have definitely become more confident in my music career because of practice, working with a vocal coach, and doing performances," Patterson said. "It's just like gymnastics. It takes lots of practice to keep improving and become your best. You never stop working at it. It's nice because people are now realizing that I have a music career, and I have been getting some very good feedback."

Patterson is currently competing for votes in "Sophie's Challenge," a 12-part promotion on 103.7 FM in San Diego. "After the 12th win, my song will be put into their daily play spin," she said. "So, I need voters to vote every day for the next two weeks."

Outside the recording studio, Patterson has been busy with singing engagements, appearances and philanthropic events. Earlier this year she performed at a mission benefit and sang the national anthem at a Rough Riders (Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers) baseball game.

On Saturday, Patterson co-hosted a black-tie benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in Dallas. On Saturday she will sing the national anthem at the Chicago White Sox vs. Texas Rangers baseball game in Chicago. Patterson may be singing at the Visa (U.S.) Gymnastics Championships in Dallas in August, as well.

"I definitely hope I will be touring by summer," said Patterson, who sang with James Ingram, Lee Ann Womack, Anita Pointer and Jesse McCartney as a contestant on FOX's "Celebrity Duets" in 2006. "We will see, as the CD must be released first. I am still writing and recording. I will be doing some gymnastics events, but have been pretty tied up with trying to release the CD this summer."

Patterson said she is grateful that her gymnastics fan base has remained loyal as she embarks on a career outside of sports.

"I'm really excited about my gym fans and other people supporting my music," she said. "I appreciate the people that are supporting me and realize that you can have more than one dream in life. You can't do gymnastics forever, and especially with a bad back! I don't know if people ever realized my back issue because I never talked about it. The doctor said that, if I continued, I would have major issues as I got older."

In the next few years, Patterson said she plans to pursue music, promote gymnastics and "enjoy my life." She intends to re-enroll in college this summer, and enroll full-time at the University of North Texas or Texas Woman's University in the fall. "I will be pursuing a science career," Patterson said. "Dental hygiene, day at a time."

Patterson said she is happy for other high-profile gymnasts — such as former WOGA teammate and 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson and Alicia Sacramone — who are enjoying success outside the sport.

"I think it's great that Nastia, Shawn and Alicia are finding their niche in other areas since the Olympics," Patterson told IG. "It's always fun, and an important part of growing into the next area of life."

External Link: Vote for Patterson on "Sophie's Challenge"

Written by Amanda Turner    Tuesday, 05 May 2009 18:17    PDF Print
Mexican Gymnastics Frustrated by Flu Crisis
(61 votes, average 4.90 out of 5)

As Mexico celebrated Cinco de Mayo on Tuesday, its gymnastics program remained disrupted along with the rest of the nation by the ongoing flu crisis.

2009 Mexican national champion Yessenia Estrada, pictured at the 2007 World Championships

Many gymnastics clubs, including those in Mexico City, have been closed to avoid the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, said Naomi Valenzo, secretary general of the Mexican Gymnastics Federation.

Mexican health officials have reported at least 29 deaths from the flu strain since April. The nation's schools, closed since April 27, are scheduled to re-open Wednesday.

"This flu affected a lot of activities in Mexico, since our government asked everybody to avoid activities with a lot of people," Valenzo told IG. "This way we could more or less control the spread of the virus."

The flu epidemic also caused the cancellation of the prestigious Olimpiada Nacional, the multisport event originally scheduled for May 1-7 in Baja California.

"Because of this flu, this event was canceled, and we are studying the possibility of rescheduling the event in the next few months," said Valenzo, a member of the FIG Women's Technical Committee.

Mexico has no plans to enter any gymnasts in upcoming World Cup events, Valenzo said, but new national champion Yessenia Estrada is scheduled to compete at the Romanian International in June.

Estrada topped Marisela Arizmendi and Clarissa Gonzalez to win the senior title at the Mexican Championships, held April 5-8 in Monterrey.

"Unfortunately I was not able to attend the National Championships since I was at an international judges course in Guatemala, so I could not see Yessenia's performance," Valenzo said. "Nevertheless, we are happy to know that she wants to continue. She was third place on balance beam at the Pan American Individual Championships last November, and now she is more mature."

Estrada and fellow veterans Elsa Garcia, Maricela Cantu and Ericka Garcia are the main female contenders for the 2009 World Championships in London, Valenzo said.

Mexico's top male gymnast, Daniel Corral, will begin competing next season for the University of Michigan. Corral won the gold medal on vault at the 2008 Pan American Individual Championships in Guatemala.

Despite the current health crisis, the future looks bright for Mexico, Valenzo said. Guadalajara will play host to the 2010 Senior Pan Am Championships and the 2011 Pan American Games.

"We have a good group of juniors that could be part of the Mexican team — besides the experienced ones — for important events during the cycle," she said. "Also, we have young coaches that are working very well such as [2004 Olympian] Brenda Magaña."

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 04 May 2009 23:22    PDF Print
Johnson Ties for Second on Monday's 'Dancing'
(174 votes, average 4.80 out of 5)

Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson and partner Mark Ballas overcame a technical deduction in their first dance to tie for the evening's second-highest total on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" Monday.

Johnson and Ballas scored 27 out of 30 points and earned a standing ovation for their first of two dances, the quickstep, but all three judges noted their rules infraction.

"One of the rules in the quickstep is you can do a little bit on your own at the beginning and at the end," judge Len Goodman told Johnson and Ballas. "The rest of the dance you must remain in hold, and that is the only thing you broke that didn't make it a perfect routine."

Judge Bruno Tonioli complimented Johnson's energy and technique during the quickstep.

"You came out here and danced like Sporty Spice," Tonioli said. "You brought it out of yourself. Great footwork, always precise, great delivery. Yes, you broke the hold, but it was great fun."

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who awarded Johnson and Ballas a perfect 10 last week, matched the other two judges by giving the couple a score of 9 for their quickstep.

"I think this week was your best dance ever, but I have to take the point off because you broke the rules," Inaba said.

Ballas said the couple's interpretation of the quickstep, including the hold break, was designed to appeal to the audience.

"The quickstep is a fun dance, and it's about putting on a show," Ballas said. "We really want to entertain the people at home that have kept us in. We're so grateful for them, and we just wanted to put on a good show."

Johnson said she was mainly concerned with mastering the pace and precision required for the dance.

"It's so fast that it's hard to stay graceful and do the movements at the same time," she said during rehearsals.

Later in the show, Johnson and Ballas earned 29 points (their highest total of the season) and another standing ovation for their second dance, the paso doble.

Johnson said Ballas helped her interpret the serious character of the paso doble.

"I was so out of my element," she said after their performance. "(Ballas) kept trying to make me mad backstage."

During rehearsals, Ballas said the intense, aggressive nature of the paso doble can be a challenge "for someone as sweet as Shawn."

Inaba and Tonioli awarded 10s to Johnson and Ballas for their paso doble.

"You delivered the drama," Inaba said. "You nailed it."

Tonioli praised the "killer instinct" that Johnson demonstrated in both of Monday's dances.

"You were focused and powerful, like a guided missile going for the score," he said. "You scored big."

With a two-dance total of 56 points, Johnson and Ballas tied for second place with actor Gilles Marini and partner Cheryl Burke. "The Bachelor" contestant Melissa Rycroft and partner Tony Dovolani earned 57 points, the highest total of the evening.

Viewers could phone in their votes until 30 minutes after the show ended, and could vote online until noon Eastern time on Tuesday. The couple with the lowest combined judges' total and audience votes will be eliminated during Tuesday's results show.

As the competition narrows from five couples to four, Johnson said Monday's show was particularly stressful.

"This week is make-or-break," she said. "I'm either going to stay or I'm going to go home. I don't want to go home."

UPDATE: Johnson and Ballas surviived Tuesday's results show, during which they and three other couples advanced to next week's semi-finals. Rapper Lil' Kim and partner Derek Hough were eliminated.

External Link: Dancing with the Stars

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 03 May 2009 15:04    PDF Print
Johnson Preps Paso Doble, Quickstep for Monday's 'Dancing'
(142 votes, average 4.87 out of 5)

Rehearsing the paso doble and quickstep for ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" Monday, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson told IG she is taking her hectic agenda of rehearsals, travel and social engagements in calm stride.

Johnson and partner Mark Ballas are among the five remaining couples in the competition, but Johnson insists they are not disadvantaged by the fact that they have one fewer day each week to rehearse. Because the 17-year-old Johnson is a minor, she is not permitted to rehearse seven days per week as can the other couples.

"I take Wednesdays off, and I can't practice more than six hours a day," said Johnson, the 2007 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic balance beam gold medalist. "Most people practice every day. But I think it also helps when we're traveling. I'm used to having that day off, so we work really hard on the days I'm there."

Johnson said all of the contestants have commitments such as travel, touring and other public appearances.

"I don't think it's a disadvantage," Johnson said. "Everybody has little things that hinder their practices, live traveling or going on tour. I can't complain, because we're still working hard on the days that we get to practice."

Johnson noted that the restriction on her rehearsal time, and her travels to New York and her home state of Iowa to accept awards, did not impact her performances of a cha cha solo and 1960s-themed group number on the April 20 show. Johnson and Ballas earned a perfect score of 10 from one judge, and finished with the second-highest total of the evening.

"Mark stayed back in L.A. on Wednesday so he could learn the group dance, and he met up with me in Des Moines on Thursday, so we started practicing," Johnson said. "When we got back here, we rehearsed for hours on end to make sure we had our dance down. We recovered quickly."

Johnson credited Ballas, who won the title two seasons ago, for keeping her focused and enthusiastic as they rehearse new dances despite their busy schedules.

"Mark is great at that," Johnson said. "He teaches me the dances really fast. When we were in Des Moines, we took every second we could to learn the dance. He does a really good job at making sure I'm caught up and that I learn things on time, and that I have a good time."

Ballas said he continues to be impressed by Johnson's adaptability to new dance styles, as well as her ability to adjust from gymnastics to dance techniques.

"I keep Shawn positive by making rehearsals fun and enjoyable, and I like to make sure Shawn is comfortable with her choreography," Ballas said. "I have been working on softening Shawn’s arms, especially in the ballroom dances. She has a tendency to strike everything with extreme power!"

Johnson and Ballas are this season's youngest couple, but Ballas said Johnson's youth is not a challenge as he guides her through rehearsals.

"Shawn and I have a great relationship," he told IG. "We are great friends and trust each other completely when we are on the floor, and I think it has nothing to do with age! I just think it's a great team-up."

External Link: Dancing with the Stars


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