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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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 01 May 2009 22:43    PDF Print
Israel's Shatilov Sets Sights on Worlds
(81 votes, average 4.88 out of 5)

A month after winning Israel's first senior medal in European Championships history, Alexander Shatilov told IG he will need to tumble at his best for similar results at this fall's world championships.


Alexander Shatilov (Israel)

"I know that, in the world, gymnasts do difficult combinations," said Shatilov, who tied for the bronze medal on floor exercise at the Europeans, held April 2-5 in Milan. "But I am training well, and I think that at the world championships, my coach and I will prepare good combinations."

Leading up to the Worlds that will take place Oct. 12-18 in London, Shatilov plans to compete in at least three major meets: the Glasgow Grand Prix, a World Cup meet May 17-19; the Moscow World Stars, a World Cup meet from May 29-20; and the 18th Maccabiah Games, the world's largest athletic competition for Jewish athletes, July 12-23 in Israel. Shatilov finished second all-around to teammate Eduard Gholub at the 2005 Games.

Shatilov said he was satisfied with his eighth-place all-around finish in Milan, which he achieved despite a mistake on floor exercise, his best event.

"I am pleased with my performance in the all-around in Milan, but unfortunately not everything worked out," said Shatilov, who is coached by Sergei Vaysburg. "I made a mistake on my first event, floor. I fell on my last landing. I am pleased, though, that I didn't perform too badly on parallel bars and high bar."

Shatilov, who placed eighth on floor exercise at the 2008 Olympics, said his all-around finish at Europeans demonstrated his ability to compete strongly on all six events.

"For me the result in Milan wasn't a surprise," he said. "My coach and I worked well in training, and when we went to Milan I was in good form."

International Gymnast Magazine Related Feature
"Aiming High" - Shatilov profile (January/February 2009)

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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 30 April 2009 13:08    PDF Print
Brinker Aims for More Breakthroughs
(43 votes, average 4.88 out of 5)

Preparing for a Germany vs. U.S. dual meet Saturday in Mülheim, 2009 European uneven bars bronze medalist Anja Brinker told IG she is working hard for continued success through this fall's world championships.


Germany's Anja Brinker at the 2009 Tournament of Masters in Cottbus, where she took the gold medal on uneven bars.

"I am trying to do better not only on uneven bars, but also on the other apparatus," said Brinker of her training for the Worlds that will take place Oct. 12-18 in London. "I want to reach the uneven bars final and also the all-around final. Of course, it's always good if everybody on the team does a good job. That is motivating and contributes to a better result."

Brinker is the only German Olympian scheduled to compete in the dual meet in Mülheim. Other German gymnasts on the roster are 2008 German Olympic team alternate Kim Bui, Desiree BaumertSusann HerbstKatja Roll and Elisabeth Seitz.

The U.S. team selected for Saturday's meet, as well as a May 8 meet in Rouen, France, includes 2008 Olympic team silver medalist Bridget Sloan, Bridgette Caquatto, Mackenzie Caquatto, Olivia Courtney, Kytra Hunter, Mattie Larson, Corrie Lothrop and Sabrina Vega.

Although the 2009 Worlds will not include a team competition, Brinker said the German team is regrouping after placing 12th at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

"I think it's normal that some gymnasts end their careers after the Olympic Games," the 18-year-old Brinker said. "Now we have time to form a new team, and I'm sure that we will have a good team again."

Injuries and retirements have impacted the German team since Beijing, but Brinker said she is confident that her veteran status will contribute to future success.

"I'm not the only veteran of the team," she said. "I think it's good that we have only individual world championships this year and no big team competitions. But now it's important for the younger gymnasts to get great international experience. I'm sure that some veterans will come back."

Brinker said she gained confidence by winning the bronze medal on uneven bars at the European Championships held April 2-5 in Milan. She finished third on the event behind 2006 world champion Beth Tweddle (Great Britain), who placed first, and 2007 world champion Ksenia Semyonova (Russia), who placed second.

"After qualifications I knew that I had good chances for a medal," said Brinker, who finished eighth all-around in Milan. "I made my routine with full risk and now I'm happy about my medal."

With the 2009 Worlds approaching, Brinker said diligence and cooperation will be essential for better results than the Germans achieved in Beijing.

"We all were very nervous at the Olympic Games," she said. "I think we need more practice and, of course, a new good team which is mutually supported and motivated."

Between the meet in Mülheim and the 2009 World Championships, Brinker plans to compete at the German Championships in June. She said academics prevent her from adding too many meets to her agenda.

"More isn't possible for this time, because next year I have to do my school examination," Brinker said. "Because of this, I have to work hard for school."

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features
"Breaking In" - Brinker profile (November 2007)
"Sitting Pretty - Sloan profile (March 2008)
Sloan center poster (March 2008)
"Meet a Real Show-stopper" - Larson profile (November 2005)
"Guided by Romanian Tradition" - Vega profile (July/August 2008)

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

 


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