Written by John Crumlish
Saturday, 19 January 2013 12:25
| Nansy Damianova (Canada/Univ. of Utah)
Born in Paris to Bulgarian parents, raised in Quebec and now competing for the University of Utah, 2008 Canadian Olympian Nansy Damianova is a truly international gymnast who is enjoying the latest phase of her career as a student-athlete.
Nancy Damianova (Canada/University of Utah)
Damianova's parents, Titomir Damianov and Sophia Tsvetkova, competed for the Bulgarian national team in taekwondo and rowing, respectively. She was born March 30, 1991, in Paris, where her parents had temporarily resided after leaving Bulgaria. When the family moved to Quebec, Damianova began training at the Gymnix club in Montreal. She was coached by Katerine Dussault, Francine Bouffard and Pierre Privé during her international career.
In 2007 Damianova was a member of Canada's 14th-place team at the world championships in Stuttgart, finished fifth on floor exercise at the World Cup of Shanghai, and finished eighth on vault and floor exercise at the Glasgow Grand Prix.
In 2008 Damianova was one of two Canadian female gymnasts to compete at the Olympic Games in Beijing, where her 38th-place all-around ranking in qualifications earned her the position as fourth alternate to the all-around final. Also in 2008 Damianova won bronze medals on vault and floor exercise at the World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia, and finished sixth on vault and floor exercise at the World Cup of Tianjin, China.
Damianova, who speaks Bulgarian, French and English, is thriving in the classroom and gym at the University of Utah. A junior majoring in Communications, she made the Dean's List and Athletic Director's Honor Roll in her freshman and sophomore years. Damianova helped the Utah team place fifth at the NCAA Championships in 2011 and 2012. She tied for first place on vault and floor exercise at the 2011 NCAA Regional Championships, and finished second on floor exercise at the 2012 Pacific 12 Conference Championships.
IG spoke with Damianova in Los Angeles at the conclusion of the Jan. 12 meet between UCLA and the University of Utah.
IG: What gives you the motivation to continue doing gymnastics, after such a long career?
Damianova (University of Utah) competing against UCLA
ND: It's always really fun to perform out there, and after training a while, going out and presenting what you have. Having fun with the crowd keeps me motivated. Also, in gymnastics, there is always something more that you can do, and something better. The fact that I can't really see myself without gymnastics makes me continue, as well as having fun with the whole team.
IG: You seem fitter than ever. How have you been able to improve your fitness level since you began college?
ND: The conditioning in the NCAA is a lot different from what I did back home, and probably the fact that I don't do as many hard skills as I used to do means I do more conditioning. We do a lot of conditioning, and I think that's what keeps everyone on our team pretty fit. I think I probably have a little bit in my genetics. My parents weren't very big, either, so I would guess it's a little bit of everything.
IG: How did you get into gymnastics, versus your parents encouraging you to try their sports?
ND: Apparently when I was very young, about 2 years old, I used to jump a lot on their bed, and my mom told me they didn't want me to break their bed. My parents used to train together, and at the sport center where they trained they saw there was a trampoline and everything, and that was Gymnix. They decided to put me there, in those kindergarten-type gymnastics classes. So since I was put there I've always wanted to continue. My parents never forced me to continue or anything. It was more my will. I just really loved the sport. I fell in love with it and continued.
IG: What circumstances brought your family from Bulgaria to France to Canada?
ND: It mixes people up sometimes! It's funny. When my parents were in Bulgaria, it was pretty communistic, so I think they wanted to leave the country for a better opportunity, so they went to France. They lived there for about two years, which is when I was born. After that we went to Quebec. It just happened that my parents wanted to live in France first, and then they saw that it wasn't the country where they wanted to spend their lives. So that's how I got born there!
IG: Looking back on 2012, what were your impressions of the (fifth-place) Canadian team at the Olympics in London?
ND: I think they really did an incredible job. We didn't really have a national coach for a long time, and I think that, overall, the girls were able to get a really high level of skills like most of the countries had. I was really impressed and really happy that they were able to do so well, and be so stable with hard skills that were more competitive to the FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) level. It was really nice to see them, because I used to compete with some of them, and it was great to see how some of them kept evolving and made their dreams come true. It was really great to watch.
Damianova at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart
IG: You were part of the legacy that helped lead to the success of the 2012 team, so what do you think it will take for Canada to sustain that level of success?
ND: I have been out of the Canadian team for a long time, so I'm not sure how everything is run, but they've definitely been doing a great job so far. I would say they should keep that up and stay healthy and have fun, because obviously they have what it takes. They just have to have fun and believe in themselves. It seems to be working so far. It's hard for me to say what they should be doing, but I think they are on the right track.
IG: Was the fact that you came from French-speaking Canada ever a problem for you in getting along with the gymnasts from English-speaking Canada?
ND: Not at all. It's more history that made it like that, but whenever we competed I remember bonding. No matter what, it never made any cold issues between the gymnasts from French- and English-speaking Canada. It was just with my accent, because at first I had a hard time communicating with everyone. But what's great is that you learn about the other side of Canada. I have friends from every province, and I'm really good friends with (2004 Olympian and former Utah gymnast) Gael Mackie and her sister (2009 and 2010 Worlds competitor) Charlotte Mackie, who live on the west coast, so (the language and cultural difference) doesn't matter.
IG: What do you plan to do with your Communications major?
ND: That's the hard part. I don't have a job that I want in mind, like, “OK, I want to be in marketing” or something. I'm doing Communications because there is a lot of options open with that major. I've been taking a lot of business classes, so I'm trying to get a Business minor, as well. I have a little more to do, but to be honest, I'm not too sure, and that makes me kind of nervous sometimes. I don't really know exactly what I want.
IG: So will you finish university in four years or perhaps take more time?
ND: For now, I think I could finish in four years if I wanted, but I'd have to take five classes each semester, and that has been hard. I've been doing that pretty much every year but it gets harder. I could do it, but I think I might take it a little slower, and take a half-semester to concentrate on every class rather than rushing through. But we'll see. I'm trying to see about that with academic advisors (at Utah), as well.
IG: Your performances have always been so stylish and artistic. How much thought are you giving to performing in something like Cirque du Soleil after you finish with gymnastics?
ND: I thought about it a while ago, and I don't really think so. I've been away from home for a very long time, so I think it would be nice to have a few years to relax and be at the same place. But we never know!
IG: Then how involved in gymnastics do you intend to stay?
ND: Right now I'm coaching a little bit. At the university we have a program for little kids on Wednesdays. There are days when I think I'd like to continue gymnastics after college, but at the same time I have to see how my body is, and how school is going, and the opportunity I would get with school. But I definitely think about either choreographing or helping (coach) at Gymnix. I think I will always have some kind of involvement with gymnastics, because I've loved it.
Written by John Crumlish
Wednesday, 09 January 2013 19:09
| IG Online Interview: Danusia Francis (Great Britain/UCLA)
After her successful Sunday debut as a freshman gymnast at UCLA, veteran British gymnast Danusia Francis said she is enjoying her transition into the newest phase of her gymnastics career.
Danusia Francis on bars for UCLA
Francis, who competed on uneven bars and balance beam during UCLA's winning effort against over Southern Utah University, enrolled at UCLA on an athletic scholarship after serving as a reserve gymnast for the British team at last summer's Olympic Games in London. While Francis has yet to declare her major at UCLA, she is considering a career as a television presenter.
Born May 13, 1994, in Coventry, Francis previously trained under coaches Vincent Walduck, Michele Walduck and 1981 world floor exercise champion Natalia Ilienko-Jarvis at Heathrow Gymnastics Club in London.
Francis represented Great Britain at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, where she placed 34th all-around in qualifications and helped her team place fifth (the country's best world finish in history) in the team final. She finished 16th all-around at the 2011 European Championships in Berlin, and was a member of the fourth-place British team at the 2012 Europeans in Brussels. Earlier in Francis's career she placed 17th all-around at the 2008 European Junior Championships.
In British Championships competition, Francis's best results include third place all-around, and first place on balance beam and floor exercise, in 2010; second place all-around and first place on balance beam in 2011; and sixth place all-around in 2012.
Francis was one of the reserve gymnasts for the British team at last summer's Olympic Games in London, where she had the opportunity to perform exhibition routines on balance beam under spotlights before each competition session.
IG spoke with Francis at UCLA following Sunday's competition, where she positively assessed her transition to academic and athletic life as a U.S. university student.
Francis competing for Great Britain at the 2011 Europeans
IG: What was it like competing in your first U.S. collegiate meet?
DF: It's such a different experience, competing in such a team environment. I hurt my shoulder in warm-up, so that held me back a bit, but it was a lot of fun. There was so much positive energy around.
IG: How did you manage your nerves, competing for the first time since summer and in a new place?
DF: The atmosphere helps you control your nerves a lot, since it's more like having a team right there beside you. It really helps you. Making sure you support your whole team after you perform makes you forget about your own nerves, as well.
IG: After a lengthy international career, what gives you the motivation to continue competing?
DF: Before I was offered the scholarship, I was definitely thinking I would quit after London, whether I made (the British Olympic team) or not. So being here, my motivation is definitely the team. We have so much support, not just in gymnastics but getting a great education and the whole experience so far. I'm sure the next four years are going to be so much fun.
IG: What has been the biggest adjustment for you – the academic demands, the U.S. culture or something else?
DF: I was very homesick when I came here. I was at boarding school since I was nine, but I knew I could always go home because it was only about an hour and a half away. Being so far from home (at UCLA) and knowing I couldn't go home even if I wanted to gave me a slight feeling of being trapped. But having the support I've had has helped me get through that.
IG: What's the biggest difference for you between England and the U.S.?
Danusia Francis (Great Britain/UCLA)
DF: Everything is so different from England. It's been a big adjustment. The weather, for sure, and there are some small differences, like foods that they don't have here, like baked beans (laughs). I was surprised to find that out! The people are slightly different. I'd says that, in England, people are more sarcastic and to-the-point, so at the beginning if I was a bit honest sometimes to the other freshmen, I was like, "Just let me know!" because they're not used to people being as honest as people are in England, I think (laughs).
IG: What is your course load this term?
DF: This quarter I have English, Architecture and German 59, which is like learning about German culture. I don't have a major yet. I'm undeclared, but I will possibly major in communications. I also love to write, so maybe English or sociology. I'm not sure yet.
IG: What are your thoughts about competing internationally in the future?
DF: I want to do the World University Games in Russia (this summer), and then next year we'll see how my body is, and how my mind is. I'm definitely taking it one day, one month, one year at a time.
Written by John Crumlish
Saturday, 05 January 2013 12:29
| IG Online Interview: Lisa Ecker (Austria)
2013 began in honorable style for Lisa Ecker, who on Jan. 1 was voted Austria’s female Gymnast of the Year for 2012. Pictured: Ecker at Austria's national championships in November.
2013 began in honorable style for Lisa Ecker, who on Jan. 1 was voted Austria’s female Gymnast of the Year for 2012. Ecker earned the Austrian national all-around title and her first FIG Challenger Cup medal last fall, and now looks ahead to the challenges she will face in the new year.
Born Sept. 19, 1992, in Linz, Ecker trains under coaches Johanna Gratt, Katharina Wieser and Julia Nica. Ecker, who competed at the past three world championships, placed second on floor exercise and eighth on uneven bars at last November’s FIG Challenge Cup of Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Ecker’s recent achievements have compensated for inconsistency and injury that hampered her in 2010 and 2011, said Austrian Gymnastics Federation Secretary General Robert Labner.
"Lisa totally botched her performance at the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam and also had some mistakes at the 2011 Worlds in Tokyo," Labner said. "Directly following Tokyo she suffered a torn ACL, and therefore she missed the Austrian run for the one available spot at the (2012) Olympics. Lisa started to rebuild her fitness very carefully."
Ecker proved herself anew in November 2012, when she captured two domestic all-around titles and her first FIG Challenger Cup medal.
"Many thought that Lisa would not come back," Labner said. "So the surprise was all the greater when she finished her comeback competition at Upper Austrian regional championships on November 4 with a seriously judged 54.995 all-around total, which was the highest ever by an Austrian gymnast. She won the Austrian championships two weeks later, although she had some mistakes there. The Austrian gymnastics community was very impressed with Lisa‘s comeback. She now seems much more mature and determined than before."
In this IG Online interview, the resolute Ecker reviews her past and assesses her future competitive prospects.
IG: What do you think helped you achieve so much success in 2012?
LE: Concerning my success, there are a couple of things which have to work together. You have to have a lot of discipline and keep your motivation high all the time, and you have to work really hard, giving everything you have! You must be willing to give up most of your spare time in order to achieve things like that. Making sacrifices is very important. But I think the most important thing is to have a real good supporting team - coach, doctor, physiotherapist and especially family.
Ecker and her coach at November's Austrian championships
IG: What are your thoughts on competing at the top level when you are no longer a teenager? What is the benefit to you of doing gymnastics in your 20s?
LE: My benefit of doing gymnastics in my 20s is that I’ve got a lot of experience. Knowing exactly what my body can do and how to deal with injuries give me a big advantage.
IG: How much time away from the gym have you had during the holiday season?
LE: I had one week off. So I had the chance to live a normal life for a couple of days, spending time with friends and going out, but also regenerating my body and mind. I’m looking forward to training again and preparing for the European championships (in Moscow in April).
IG: How, where and with whom did you celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve?
LE: I celebrated in a very traditional way with my family and my boyfriend at home. We had a little Christmas tree and I got a lot of presents. I just love Christmas. On New Year’s Eve I was with my best friend in Linz and some other very good friends. We watched the fireworks and had a lot of fun.
IG: What are your goals and resolutions for 2013 in the gym, and in your outside life?
LE: Well, I would say being good at school is one goal. But on the other hand I will do everything to be part of the European and World Championships. In the gym I will try to avoid any injuries by being very focused. I will try to work even harder, because otherwise my main goal, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, will not be accessible.
Written by John Crumlish
Monday, 03 December 2012 19:42
| IG Online Interview: Peggy Liddick (Australia)
Australian national team coach Peggy Liddick gave an IG an update on the state of her squad of veteran and newcomers as they prepare for 2013 competitions ranging from the Australian Youth Olympic Festival to the world championships. Pictured: Liddick and Lauren Mitchell celebrate her gold medal on floor exercise at the 2010 Worlds, the first world title for the Australian women.
Australian national team coach Peggy Liddick gave an IG an update on the state of her squad of veteran and newcomers as they prepare for 2013 competitions ranging from the Australian Youth Olympic Festival to the world championships.
Liddick, a native of Nebraska, has guided the Australians to a consistent place among the world’s best teams since she took over as head coach following the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
Liddick competed in gymnastics and track-and-field at the University of Nebraska before she embarked on her coaching career. As a coach in the U.S., her most successful gymnast was Shannon Miller, whom she coached with Steve Nunno at Dynamo Gymnastics in Oklahoma. Miller’s accolades included world all-around titles in 1993 and 1994, five medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and gold medals on balance beam and in the team competition at the 1996 Atlanta Games, among others.
Under Liddick’s leadership, the Australian women’s team qualified for the last four Olympic Games, where it placed seventh at the 2000 Sydney Games, eighth at the 2004 Athens Games, sixth at the 2008 Beijing Games and 10th at the 2012 London Games.
The Australian team in London included three members of Australia’s sixth–place team at the Beijing 2008 Games - Lauren Mitchell, Georgia Bonora and Ashley Brennan – along with Emily Little and Larrissa Miller. 2008 Olympians Daria Joura and Olivia Vivian also tried for spots on the squad for London.
In world championships competitions, Australia won its only team medal, a bronze, in 2003. Australia’s other worlds finishes under Liddick include fifth in 1999, sixth in 2006 and 2010, seventh in 2001, eighth in 2011, and 11th in 1997 and 2007. The next world championships will take place in Antwerp, Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2013.
Also on Liddick’s radar for 2013 is the sixth Australian Youth Olympic Festival that will take place Jan. 16-20 in Sydney. Inaugurated in 2001 as a legacy event of the 2000 Sydney Games, the 2013 edition will include 17 sports in which 1,700 athletes from 30 countries will compete. (Though originally held every two years, the competition will now take place every four years.)
IG spoke with Liddick this week to assess the state of her team and forecast its prospects for the coming year.
IG: Your team in London, and the contenders for your team in general, included lots of veteran talent. How difficult was it for you to choose among so many experienced gymnasts who had served the team well in previous Games and other big competitions?
Liddick watches an Aussie gymnast warm up on beam
PL: It was really nice that the returning veterans wanted to still be in their gyms and part of the national team. I felt the selected gymnasts were the ones who completed the needs of our team and showed the most consistency in training and competitions, so that was the main criteria for their selection. It is always difficult come selection time, but I feel the gymnasts and personal coaches are well informed and were aware of their standings at any time.
IG: Of the London squad, which gymnasts will continue in 2013?
PL: I have not yet asked for a full commitment to the national team. I wanted the team to have enough downtime and I have given them the responsibility to let me know when they are ready to begin training again for national team assignments or for the 2013 World Championships and beyond. So I will know more by the January training camp.
IG: Has Daria Joura indicated if she will give 2013 a try? If so, what do you think she could contribute to the team?
PL: Dasha is still in and out of the gym, keeping her feet wet. Again, she has not committed either way and I feel she can always contribute to our team when she is fit.
IG: It's also interesting that Olivia Vivian not only spent four years competing in the NCAA (for Oregon State Univ.) but tried for London, and has since won the Level 10 clubs title. What do you think keeps her going?
PL: It is simple. Olivia is one of those gymnasts who absolutely loves the sport, loves performing and has endless energy. She is always a pleasure to have around and her positive spirit is infectious.
IG: Heading into 2013, who are some of the younger girls, and girls coming back from injury such as Georgia Simpson and Nikki Chung, whom you expect will impact your team?
PL: Georgia is training well and has added some new skills to her program. Nikki is still recovering from ACL knee reconstruction from May and finishing up her Year 12 studies. The new young gymnasts are looking good and are excited to begin their journey. I am not ready to single any one out yet, but we just finished a camp and lots of good work was being produced.
IG: How much do you think or hope the Australian Youth Olympic Festival (in January 2013) will boost the motivation of your younger gymnasts?
PL: The AYOF has provided many young gymnasts a platform to break into the international scene. This one will be no exception.
International Gymnast Magazine Related Features:
"Aussie Long Shot" – Joura profile (July/August 2012)
"The Joy of Joura" – Joura profile (March 2007)
Joura on cover (July/August 2006)
"Golden Surprise" – Mitchell cover story (January/February 2011)
Liddick interview (January/February 2011)
Mitchell interview (March 2008)
"10 Questions with Olivia Vivian" – interview (March 2011)
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