Written by John Crumlish
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 10:48
| IG Interview: Ava Verdeflor (Philippines)
Following her 12th-place all-around finish at this month's Junior Asian Championships in Tashkent, Ava Verdeflor of the Philippines is preparing to take some of the world's best young gymnasts at this summer's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. Pictured: Coach Wu Guonian, gymnast Tristan Lopez, Gymnastics Association of the Philippines President Cynthia Carrion, Verdeflor and her coach Natasha Boyarskaya.
Following her 12th-place all-around finish at this month's Junior Asian Championships in Tashkent, Ava Verdeflor of the Philippines is preparing to take some of the world's best young gymnasts at this summer's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.
Ava Verdeflor (Philippines)
Verdeflor earned a berth to the Games through her performance at the Junior Asian Championships — held April 10-13 in Tashkent — where she placed 12th despite problems on uneven bars.
Tristan Lopez, another Philippine team member who trains in the United States, also competed in Tashkent in the men's competition. Lopez trains with Chinese legend Wu Guonian at New Hope Gymnastics in California.
Born Jan. 2, 1999, in Tarlac, Philippines, Verdeflor immigrated with her family to Singapore when she was two months old, and then moved to California in 2002. She began taking recreational gymnastics classes at age 6 at Pegasus Gymnastics in Milpitas. Pegasus closed a few months later, at which time she began training at Airborne Gymnastics in Santa Clara.
In 2006 Verdeflor and her family moved to Allen, Texas. There, upon the recommendation of her Airborne coaches, she successfully tried out for World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Plano.
Verdeflor's first coach at WOGA, Natasha Boyarskaya, remains her coach on balance beam and floor exercise. For the past four years Laurent Landi has been coaching her on vault and uneven bars. Nataliya Marakova has choreographed all of her floor exercise routines.
Verdeflor, who placed first all-around in the junior division at last year's Philippines National Games, began competing internationally for the Philippines this year. In this IG Online interview, Verdeflor describes her plans for performing well for her native country, starting with her performance in Tashkent and thinking ahead to the Youth Olympics.
Verdeflor in Taskhent with six-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina
IG: Congratulations on not only your performances in Tashkent, but on qualifying for the Youth Olympic Games. What specifically pleased you about each of these accomplishments?
AV: Competing at the Junior Asian Championships was a learning experience for me. It was not as smooth as I wanted it to be. We were waiting for approval of TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) for my medicine for my back and ankles. We did not receive the approval until April 17, so I was not able to take my medication until after the competition. My back was hurting and my ankles were swollen the night before the competition.
My first event was vault, so we decided to just do one vault instead of two, because if I hurt my ankles further, I might not be able to do the other events. I pulled on my Jaeger and my Achilles' (tendon) got hooked on the bars, so I panicked, lost my rhythm and fell on my overshoot and dismount. But I am very thankful that I was able to recover and did well on my last two events, beam and floor, and still be able to qualify to the Youth Olympic Games despite the mistakes on bars.
IG: The Junior Asian Championships was your biggest test yet, but now you are preparing to take on the world's best young gymnasts in Nanjing this summer. What will your plan be for making your routines as difficult and consistent as they can be?
AV: I went back to my doctor when we got back from Tashkent. I will be doing physical therapy for my ankles, and continue my back exercises. As my back and ankles get better, my coaches will gradually put back the skills we removed from my program, and maybe add a few more. Our priority right now is to keep me healthy for the Youth Olympics.
IG: When and how did you come to the decision to start competing for the Philippines?
AV: My parents are both from the Philippines, and the idea of competing for the Philippines has always been there from the beginning. We first got in touch with GAP (Gymnastics Association of the Philippines) when I was 11 years old. I was still too young to be on the team, but we went to the gym in Manila just to meet with the GAP president and the national team coach. I met the girls team and trained with them for a few days. In May 2013, I participated in the Philippine National Games, which was also the national ranking. I was able to get gold in the all-around and secure my spot on the national team.
IG: How do you view yourself among your Philippines teammates, considering that you train far away from them?
Verdeflor on floor exercise in 2014
AV: I was able to bond with them when I trained with them in May 2013 during the Philippine National Games. We keep in touch through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I'm excited to see them again this May when I go back to the Philippines for this year's Philippine National Games. But I will not be competing at the Philippine National Games this year, because I need to rest my back and ankles. I will be there to cheer my team on.
IG: How are you and your WOGA coaches coordinating your training with the national team coaches in the Philippines?
AV: GAP lets my WOGA coaches decide whatever is best for my program. Whenever I go back to Manila to train with the Philippines team, my WOGA coaches send a plan for my training, and that plan is what we follow.
IG: When and how often will you be traveling to the Philippines to train?
AV: I go there once a year, for about a week, for the Philippine National Games.
IG: The Philippines has not been well known in gymnastics, but you are already giving the country a lot of hope for not only Nanjing, but the big competitions leading to the 2016 Olympics. What is your perspective on the part you are playing for the success of the Philippines gymnastics program?
AV: I am hoping to promote gymnastics in the Philippines. My dream is to be able to win medals for the Philippines and maybe inspire more girls to take on the sport. Right now, the Philippines are not well known for gymnastics, but with the help of my coaches and the support of GAP, I am hoping to change that in the near future.
International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Asian gymnasts includes:
Deng Linlin two-page center poster (April 2013)
He Kexin cover photo (January/February 2010)
Huang Huidan two-page center poster (March 2014)
"Unbelievable" – Li Ning feature (June 2011)
Liu Yang two-page center poster (December 2013)
Tan Sixin cover photo, 14-page photo feature on IG's visit to Chinese national training center (June 2011)
Yao Jinnan on cover photo collage (July/August 2012)
"Ready to Rock" – Wai Hung Shek profile (July/August 2012)
"Hope for Hong Kong" – Angel Wong profile (January/February 2011)
"Routine Maestro" – profile on Code of Points illustrator Koichi Endo (March 2010)
Yuya Kamoto cover photo, 2010 Youth Olympic Games coverage (October 2010)
Natsumi Sasada on cover photo collage (July/August 2010)
"Twist of Fate" – Kenzo Shirai interview (January/February 2014)
"10 Questions with Naoya Tsukahara" – interview (September 2013)
Koko Tsurumi two-page center poster (October 2010)
"Virtuoso!" - Kohei Uchimura profile (April 2010)
Kohei Uchimura cover photo and center poster, 2011 World Championships special issue (December 2011)
"10 Questions with Kohei Uchimura" – interview (April 2012)
"10 Questions with Shuko Uchimura (Kohei's mother)" interview (July/August 2012)
Kohei Uchimura cover photo, 2013 World Championships special issue (November 2013)
"The Next Step" – Yang Hak Seon interview (October 2013)
"Tracie Ang Takes Aim at 2011" – profile (March 2011)
"Desert Oasis" – feature on IG's visit to Qatar national training center (January/February 2012)
"True to Form" – Lim Heem Wei profile (June 2012)
"Catching up with Irina Baraksanova" – profile and small cover photo (July/August 2010)
"Swing Shift" – Anton Fokin profile (January/February 2012)
"Angular Precision" – Elvira Saadi feature (April 2013)
Phan Thi Ha Thanh cover photo and profile, feature on IG's visit to Vietnamese national training center (January/February 2014)
To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.
Written by John Crumlish
Thursday, 17 April 2014 20:20
| IG Interview: Cameron MacKenzie (South Africa)
|Previously a junior hope for Great Britain, South African-born Cameron MacKenzie is eager to represent his home country.
A team gold medalist for Great Britain at the 2010 European Junior Championships, Cameron MacKenzie is eagerly adjusting to the new role, opportunities and challenges he is taking on to represent South Africa, the country of his birth.
MacKenzie was born Nov. 18, 1992, in Humansdorp (close to Jeffreys Bay), but moved to England with his family when he was 9.
MacKenzie helped the British team win gold at the 2010 European Junior Championships in Birmingham, where he finished 10th all-around in qualifications. In British senior all-around competition, MacKenzie placed 12th in 2011, 11th in 2012 and sixth in 2013.
While living in England, MacKenzie trained under coach Paul Hall at Huntingdon Olympic Gymnastics Club, where his training partners included three-time Olympic medalist Louis Smith, 2009 world all-around silver medalist Daniel Keatings and 2012 Olympic team bronze medalist Sam Oldham.
MacKenzie, who was hampered by a wrist injury at last month's African Championships, aims to be at peak form for this summer's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and this fall's world championships in Nanning.
In this IG Online interview, MacKenzie details his expectations as a potential leader of South African gymnastics.
IG: 2014 is going to be a big year for you, representing your "new" country at the Commonwealth Games and hopefully Worlds. Although you have competed in big events such as the 2010 Junior Europeans, how are you preparing to not only compete well for yourself, but also take on the expectations that South Africa has for you?
MacKenzie at the African championships
CM: 2014 will definitely be a big year for me as far as establishing myself as a South African gymnast, both continentally and globally. Commonwealth Games qualification is by no means a given, but it would be fantastic to compete in the Games, as well as the 2014 World Championships. I think many people are expecting great things from me. I can certainly feel the pressure to perform and produce results. Although I had my fair share of experience as a junior, a three-year break from international events has left me a little nervy and unpracticed. I plan on building my competition experience this year to reach a consistent and stable level of performance, where I can set about achieving my goals as well as those of South Africa's.
IG: When and why did you come to the decision to start representing South Africa?
CM: In 2010 I competed in a junior international in South Africa. It was the first time I had been back to my country of birth since emigrating when I was 9 years old. I ended up winning the competition and remember feeling uneasy as the British anthem played for me – it felt wrong to be flying a different flag in my own country.
Since then the idea that I should be competing for South Africa took root, but it wasn't until early 2013 that I began communications. The benefits were obvious in that I would have a much better chance to compete in international events for South Africa than I would for Great Britain. Everyone I spoke to agreed that it was a good decision, including my coaches and parents, although it was certainly not something which I rushed into.
IG: How have you physically transitioned from training in England to living and training in South Africa?
CM: I'm currently living near Pretoria and training at Centurion Gymnastics Club. I made the decision to move back to South Africa to be fully part of the set-up and team. I'm serious about progressing in my gymnastics career, and believe that moving back to South Africa is an important gesture in order for people to get behind me and to achieve the necessary support. The move means I've had to leave behind one of the best clubs and coaches in the world at Huntingdon, as well as my parents and sister. For now I have no set plans for travelling back and forth for training, but I'm sure I will still be spending time in Huntingdon over the coming years.
IG: How much will Paul Hall be involved in coaching you going forward?
MacKenzie with a young South African gymnast
CM: Paul will continue to help with training programs and advice. My coach here in South Africa is Gerhard Ferreira, and we send videos of my training to Paul, who can then comment and help out. Obviously it's been difficult adapting to new circumstances, but I've been overwhelmed by the help and support I've received so far. And not only here in South Africa but also in England, where two great companies (Paul Lancaster Ltd and QAV-ltd) have taken it upon themselves to support me, and have made a tremendous impact on my career.
IG: What do you think you can bring to the South African team, in terms of not only scoring potential but your leadership skills and your international experience?
CM: I don't consider myself a very experienced gymnast, especially on a senior level. A lot of the South African team have already competed in world championships and are older than I, so my experience is not something which I think will make a big difference to the team. I would primarily look at contributing scores on each apparatus, and being the consistent all-arounder who can help hold the team together during competition through my performance. I'm also looking at ways to bring the team together regularly for training, as we are split among four clubs.
IG: What you can take away from your performance at the African Championships in terms of preparing for the bigger competitions to come in 2014?
CM: Unfortunately I injured my right wrist in the build-up to Africans. X-rays showed that an old fracture became inflamed, which resulted in taking a lot of difficulty out of my routines. I managed to fight through the competition and finished fourth all-around, which was quite a disappointing result when I consider the winning score was certainly within my grasp if I had been fit. However, I was pleased that I was able to contribute towards the team result, and have now participated in an African Championships. If anything, the competition has further motivated me to make sure I'm properly prepared for upcoming events in 2014.
Written by John Crumlish
Sunday, 30 March 2014 21:59
| IG Online Interview: Olivia Vivian (Australia)
2008 Australian Olympian Olivia Vivian shared her thoughts on her recent international comeback in Doha, and the challenges she faces in the newest stage of her long career. Pictured: The Australian women's squad in Doha - Lauren Mitchell, Vivian, Alexandra Eade and Mary-Anne Monckton
Vivian at the 2013 Australian Championships
2008 Australian Olympian Olivia Vivian's fourth-place finish on uneven bars at the Doha World Challenger Cup on Friday marked her return to international competition, and represented the latest step in her quest to fulfill her gymnastics potential.
Vivian competed at the World Championships for the first time at the 2005 Worlds in Melbourne, where she placed 13th on uneven bars. She was a member of Australia's sixth-place team at the 2006 World Championships and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and then enrolled at Oregon State University in the U.S.
After competing for Oregon State in the 2009-2012 seasons, Vivian returned to Australia, and placed first on uneven bars at the 2012 and 2013 Australian Championships.
Vivian's fourth-place finish in Doha last weekend reflected what she deemed a "freak mistake," but she still finished 0.05 only shy of the bronze medal. Her score of 12.725 included her Difficulty (D) score of 4.9, which was significantly lower than her D-score of 5.7 in qualifications, where she scored 12.95 to qualify second.
Coached by Martine George and Josh Fabian at the Western Australian Institute of Sport in her hometown of Perth, the 24-year-old Vivian is now aiming for important competitions later this year, including this summer's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and this fall's world championships in Nanning.
Vivian shared her thoughts on Doha, and the challenges she faces in the newest stage of her long career, in this IG Online interview.
IG: What caused the problem you had in the Doha final, and overall, what did your results in Doha show you in terms on your recent progress?
OV: My qualification routine wasn't in any way perfect or to the level I was training at prior the competition, but my D score helped land me a place in finals. In finals I missed my toe-half which lead to me skipping a special requirement. It was a freak mistake that will most likely haunt me for a while! These kinds of mistakes aren't common for me so, it could mean that I might just need a little bit more competition experience, as it's been a while since I've been on the scene. Hopefully I've shaken those rookie nerves and will return to being a solid performer! I can guarantee I won't be missing that same skill in competition again! I might be having nightmares about it for quiet some time!
IG: What led you to return to international competition?
OV: My time at Oregon State University was the best four years of my life, and the coaches and teammates I shared my time with there are the reason I still do it today. They showed me how to love and appreciate this sport for all it is. They taught me to treat competitions like a celebration of all the hard work you put into the gym as an athlete. They are the reason I fell back in love with this sport. I miss them every day and will try to replicate what they taught me in my gymnastics today.
IG: What is your motivation now, as opposed to younger gymnasts who are aiming to make it to their first Olympic Games?
OV: When I was younger my only goal was to be an Olympian. I was naturally talented on the bars but, in all honesty, I wasn't willing to put in 100% in my training and I would just wing it in competition. After Beijing and my time in the States I developed an understanding of hard work and the rewards that come from it, so my goals and the way I approach my training has changed.
I draw my motivation from all areas now instead of one focus to be an Olympian. I do it because I love the uneven bars and I cherish every moment I get to fly, flip and swing like a monkey!
I do it as motivation to others who think there's an age or height limit on gymnastics like I was told. And I do it because it's a sport where you are constantly faced with fears, challenges and opportunities, and I get satisfaction out of overcoming and accomplishing achievements in these areas!
IG: How many hours per week are you training, as compared to while at Oregon State and before Oregon State?
OV: Before I was at OSU I was training 34 hours a week. Then I got to Oregon State and they had a rule of no more than 20 hours a week! I was like "WAHOOOOOO!" I'm now back to 32-34 hours a week but some of those training hours are dedicated to other sorts of training and recovery such as weights, yoga and rehab.
IG: How is gymnastics more challenging for you, and in what ways is it easier for you, in your 20s?
OV: It's easier for me now because I understand the technical side a bit better. I can also stop and appreciate what an amazing sport it really is and the truly incredible things we go through to aim for perfection. It's challenging in ways that I'm not a little skip in this sport anymore, and I have to dedicate more time and importance to recovery and taking care of my body.
IG: What are your specific goals for the rest of 2014, in terms of specific apparatuses and at which competitions?
OV: My passion is the uneven bars, but I would like to get solid, reliable routines on floor and beam for up-and-coming World Cups, Commonwealth Games (in summer) and world championships (in October). With my bars, I want to get an internationally competitive routine that still possesses beautiful quality. We all know that this current Code has forced gymnasts to add extreme difficulty for D scores, but I find it's compromised quality a bit, so I would like to be known for both.
IG: Unlike younger gymnasts you have the challenge of supporting yourself financially while you train. How are you getting by, financially?
OV: I can honestly say I have had extreme difficulty with financial issues in the past couple months, and life got much more complicated after the passing of my father last year. It's extremely stressful and takes focus away from training which then adds further stress, and it ends up being one nasty stress cycle! The Western Australian Institute of Sport and Gymnastics Australia have been working hard to find ways to make things easier, and I give many thanks and gratitude for their support. I work where I can in between training sessions and on the weekends to help support living expenses, but it is hard to get a full-time job because of the required training hours and travel times. I constantly ask myself why I didn't choose a sport like golf or tennis where you get paid to do it, but as all gymnasts know, we do this sport because we love it, and I will continue to try to do so until the day I stop loving it!
International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Australian gymnasts includes:
"10 Questions with Olivia Vivian" - interview (March 2011)
"Golden Surprise" - Lauren Mitchell cover story (January/February 2011)
Georgia Godwin cover photo (March 2014)
"Aussie Long Shot" - Daria Joura profile (July/August 2012)
Coach Peggy Liddick interview (January/February 2011)
"Late Bloomer" - Amelia McGrath profile (October 2010)
Lisa Skinner chat (September 2010)
"10 Questions with Naoya Tsukahara" - interview (September 2013)
To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.
Written by John Crumlish
Sunday, 16 March 2014 23:45
| IG Online Interview: Luke Carson (Ireland)
IG Online's traditional coverage of Irish gymnastics on St. Patrick''s Day continues with this interview with Irish gymnast Luke Carson.
IG Online's traditional coverage of Irish gymnastics on St. Patrick's Day continues with this interview with Irish gymnast Luke Carson, who optimistically aims for 2014's major international competitions less than a year after he suffered a career-threatening leg injury.
The 24-year-old Carson, who hails from Lisburn, Northern Ireland, represents Ireland in FIG competitions and Northern Ireland at events such as the Commonwealth Games. Since January 2010 he has been training under coach Paul Hall at Huntingdon Gymnastics Club in England, where his teammates include three-time Olympic medalist Louis Smith and 2009 World all-around silver medalist Dan Keatings.
Carson's younger sister, Bethany, is a swimmer who has competed at the World University Games, Commonwealth Games and European championships.
After fracturing his left tibia in September 2011, Carson returned to top form by April 2013, when he finished a respectable 34th place all-around in qualifications at the Europeans in Moscow. Last September he again fractured his left tibia, this time on a vaulting take-off.
Doctors advised he might not return to gymnastics, but the defiant Carson is determined to not only prove them wrong but also prove himself anew at the international level. His goals for 2014 include the Europeans in May in May, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in summer and the world championships in Nanning in October.
In this IG Online interview, Carson reveals the challenges he faces as he resumes his international career.
IG: Where exactly are you in terms of competition readiness, and on which apparatuses?
: I am 100 percent ready to rock! I am able to do only pommel horse and parallel bars because of my injury. I also hope to do rings again for the European championships. I have gone from doing all six apparatuses to doing only two, so my goal was to increase difficulty and make those two better than ever before!
IG: What is your realistic target for the upcoming major competitions of 2014, specifically Europeans, Commonwealth Games and worlds?
: For me, making the team for Europeans and worlds will be my first goal. I need to be top scorer on my two pieces to make the team, and also hopefully do rings, too. This is an important Euros for Ireland as it will be a qualifier for the European Games (in Baku) next year. It is also a great opportunity for Team Ireland to have a great run through in a team event in preparation for the world championships, as we need to build on our strategies as a team.
I would also like to use Europeans as my last major international before Commonwealth Games. As for Commonwealth Games, just getting there in itself will be huge for me, considering that only four months ago I was told I wouldn't be able to compete ever again. So I will be very proud of that fact. Furthermore, I believe that, with my upgraded routines being hit, I have a good, realistic shot for finals. And once you're in a final, it is any man's game.
IG: What are your prospects for competing on the "leg" events, floor and vault, in the future?
: With my injury and the metal work I now have in my leg, it is very unlikely I will return to doing all-around again. I don't know what the future holds for me and my all-around prospects, but at the moment I am really focusing on bringing my pommels and p-bars to the next level.
IG: How are you managing your training, financially?
: Paul Lancaster LTD is my only financial sponsor. They are a Scottish electrical company and they have really saved me, as after my injury I had all of my funding cut, and so I had no income at all. I am also product-sponsored by Reflex Nutrition, Machine Fitness, Biltong Man UK and Lucy Bee coconut oil. I am desperately looking for any other sponsors, as I am really struggling to keep in training full-time without proper income, so any help at all would be hugely appreciated.
IG: What factors do you feel have given you the physical and psychological strength to return to competition after a career-threatening leg injury?
: I have a good, positive team around me here in Huntingdon, with my teammates Louis Smith, Dan Keatings and Cameron MacKenzie. They have helped me a lot to stay positive.
It was an extremely hard time for me with my tibia injury and surgery, but if you want something badly enough, very little can stop a man fulfilling his dreams. In terms of psychological factors, I am a fighter, and I will fight until it is physically not possible to do what I want to do in life.
International Gymnast Magazine's coverage of Irish gymnasts includes:
"Beyond Brave" – Kieran Behan profile (August/September 2011)
"Room to Grow" – IG's visit to Salto Gymnastics Club, Northern Ireland (March 2009)
"Shooting Star: Sarah Beck" – profile (January/February 2009)
"International Gymnast" – Rohan Sebastian profile (April 2008)
"Rising Irishman" - Matthew Cosgrave profile (December 2007)
"Pride of Ireland" – Katie Slader profile (March 2005)
"Pressing Her Luck" – Holly Murdock profile (August/September 2001)
To subscribe or order back issues, click here.