Written by John Crumlish
Saturday, 16 March 2013 20:55
| IG Online Interview: Andrew Smith (Ireland)
IG Online continues its annual tradition of featuring Irish gymnastics on St. Patrick's Day with an interview with rising star Andrew Smith, who hopes his world-class tumbling skills will lead him to a berth at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Andrew Smith (Ireland)
Born March 3, 1991, in Nottingham, England, Smith trains at Notts Gymnastics Academy. Smith's Irish lineage enables him to represent Ireland in major international competitions. He is coached by Bulgarian native Pavel Todorov, who moved to England in 2011 after 14 years in Malaysia. Smith's former coach, two-time British Olympian Barry Winch, serves as an Irish national team coach.
Smith is an all-around gymnast, but his extraordinary tumbling ability has earned him impressive results on floor exercise. Last year he placed 12th on floor exercise at the European championships in Montpelier, France; fourth on floor exercise at the Challenge Cup in Maribor, Slovenia; and eighth on floor exercise at the Challenger Cup in Doha, Qatar.
Smith's strength on floor helped Ireland rank a surprise third as a team on the event — behind only Russia and Great Britain — at the 2012 Europeans. His routine in 2012 included six passes: round-off, layout Thomas salto; round-off, 3-1/2 twist, punch barani; punch front layout, punch double-twisting front; round-off, Thomas salto; round-off, 2-1/2 twist, punch front-full; and round-off, triple twist.
This year Smith has big plans to not only build on his floor exercise credentials, but diversify his competitive success. He placed eighth on floor exercise in Saturday's qualification at the French International in La Roche-sur-Yon, in preparation for next month's Europeans in Moscow. This fall Smith aims for a strong all-around finish at the world championships in Antwerp.
Smith is also excited to be participating in the Pro Gymnastics Challenge, a head-to-head skills competition pitting U.S. gymnasts against an international cast, to be held May 10-11 at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. The event will be broadcast on ESPN2 from May 20-22.
In this IG Online interview, Smith describes his Irish heritage, and the gymnastics legacy he is determined to establish leading to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
IG: Since you were born in England and train there, how are you able to represent Ireland?
AS: I was born in Nottingham and that is where I have trained since I began gymnastics. My Irish roots come from my mum’s parents who were both fully Irish - my grandmother coming from Sligo, and my granddad from County Down. Also, my mum spent a lot of her childhood in Dublin and the west of Ireland, and a lot of my family is still living in Ireland. So I have always had very strong ties to Ireland, and now I'm thrilled to be competing for Ireland.
IG: To what do you attribute your international success on floor over the past year or so?
AS: Floor has always been one of my stronger events, but heavy preparation for each competition was a major factor. 2012 especially was a real breakthrough year for me, but success has come from years of work, so of course I'm happy to see that the hard work is now paying off.
Smith has become a floor exercise standout for Ireland
IG: Although you have been most successful on floor thus far, what are your plans for the all-around?
AS: Though floor is my standout event at the moment, I consider myself an all-around gymnast. I train every event equally, and it is definitely my plan to keep raising the standard of every event up to the 2016 Olympics. I did five events at the 2012 European Championships for Ireland, so of course for the team it is important for me to put up as many events as possible, too.
IG: In all of your tumbling passes on floor, you avoid handsprings altogether. What is your strategy with this approach?
AS: For me it isn't something I was taught. It was simply a technique that came about when I noticed I got a lot more power from my round-off than a back flick (handspring). Also, as I am a taller gymnast it can help me to fit everything into the diagonal by skipping the back flick. I see more and more people using this technique, as it gives you more space on the diagonal.
IG: What is the attitude of the Irish team, especially with the recent success that (2012 Irish Olympian) Kieran Behan and you have had?
AS: There is a great spirit behind the team, and it was great to compete together at the European Championships as it really highlighted this. But also just in training together we're always pushing each other to do more, which is great for us as individuals, but also for the team. We have a great squad now and we're really pushing hard to make the next few years count as we work up to Rio.
IG: What do you think it will take for you to qualify for the floor final in Moscow (Europeans next month), having come close at last year's Europeans?
AS: With the new Code (of Points) coming in, everyone has to modify their routines now. I plan to use the World Cup events before the Europeans to be fully prepared for the new skills I plan to put in. I have a lot of new skills I have been working that I can put in to up my difficulty more. It is just a matter of seeing what fits the best, but making sure the routine goes clean is always the number-one priority.
IG: What is your specific plan for qualifying for Rio?
AS: As the Irish team has come on so much in the last few years, we're trying to get a team to Rio. To do this we have to qualify through the world championships in 2014 and then 2015, so that is the route that we're all thinking of right now. However, we know the (Olympic) test event is another chance to get there, like my teammate Keiran Behan did last year, or a world championships medal at the 2015 Worlds, which, of course, is something that I strive for. But for right now we've planned everything around the team, so that is my main focus.
External Link: Gymnastics Ireland
Written by John Crumlish
Tuesday, 12 March 2013 09:16
| IG Online Interview: Adrian de los Angeles (USA)
A newcomer to the U.S. team, recent Winter Cup Challenge all-around silver medalist Adrian de los Angeles is eager to establish himself internationally in the new Olympic cycle.
The 19-year-old de los Angeles, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, finished second to 2012 Olympian Jake Dalton at the Winter Cup Challenge, a U.S. men’s ranking competition held last month in February. He led Dalton after the first day, but Dalton pulled ahead with a two-day total score of 173.250 points. De los Angeles scored 172.400 for second place, one rank ahead of 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva, who scored 171.950 for third place.
Prior to competing at the Univ. of Michigan, de los Angeles trained under coach Grigor Chalikyan at the SCATS club in southern California. He placed second all-around in the 14-15 age group at the 2010 Visa (U.S.) Championships, and first all-around in the 16-18 age group at the 2011 Visa (U.S.) Championships. Last fall de los Angeles placed sixth all-around at the Japan Junior International.
De los Angeles is thriving at Michigan under head coach Kurt Golder and assistant coaches Geoff Corrigan and Xiao Yuan. As a freshman during the 2011-12 season, he placed 11th all-around at the NCAA Championships and won the Univ. of Michigan Athletic Academic Achievement Award. Michigan is ranked second behind Penn State in the latest NCAA rankings.
In this IG interview, de los Angeles describes his emergence as a contender for U.S. and international titles.
IG: Overall how do you feel about your results at the Winter Cup? Looking back, what were you most pleased with, and what could you have done better?
ADLA: Looking back, I was happy about my overall performance and how I was able to push through mistakes made during the meet. I was most pleased with not losing my focus after the first day of competition. I feel there were many things I could have done better, such as fixing silly mistakes that were made here and there, but with gymnastics, you only have one shot.
Adrian de los Angeles (U.S.)
IG: How did you manage to stay calm, competing against so many veterans, including the 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist?
ADLA: I was able to stay calm competing against veterans by not thinking about that at all. I just kept my head with myself and only focused on controlling what I could control, which was my own gymnastics.
IG: What does finishing in between Jake Dalton and Danell Leyva show you about your potential to challenge for the U.S. title later this year?
ADLA: As early in the season as it was, finishing in between Jake and Leyva gave me a bit more confidence for future competitions, and hopefully I will be able to make the senior national team again at USAs (Visa Championships).
IG: As one of the newcomers in this Olympic cycle, what is your strategy for pacing yourself over the next three years until the 2016 Olympics in Rio?
ADLA: As one of the newcomers for 2016, I plan on stepping up my gymnastics as much as I can. Hopefully I will be able to compete at more international meets and make a World Championships team. As the rest of the world gets better, I need to be doing the same
IG: How do you plan to balance the demands of competing almost weekly at Michigan in the winter and spring, and maintaining your strength for the U.S. championships in the summer and world championships in the fall?
ADLA: With the collegiate season so packed, I will just take it one weekend at a time, and take advantage of any opportunity to rest. Compete, recover, compete, will have to be the cycle.
IG: You haven’t yet declared a major at Michigan. Any thoughts as to where you're leaning at this point?
ADLA: I have been taking many kinesiology courses and I am very interested in movement science. Learning about how the human body is able to perform everyday tasks such as walking or running is amazing. Translating it to how the body acts when playing a sport is even more impressive.
Written by John Crumlish
Thursday, 14 February 2013 22:24
| Interview: Christine Lee (Canada/UCLA)
2012 Canadian Olympic team honorary captain Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee spoke with IG this week about the knee injury that kept her out of the Olympics, the new phase of her career as a UCLA student-athlete, and the prospect of returning to international competition.
Lee, who was named Gymnastics Canada's Women's Gymnastics International Athlete of the Year for 2011-2012, tore her left ACL while training on vault at the Canadian championships last May. She traveled to last summer's London Games as honorary captain of the Canadian team that finished fifth, its best in Olympic history.
Prior to enrolling at UCLA, Lee, who hails from Richmond Hill, Ont., trained at Sport Seneca in Toronto and then at Oakville Gymnastics in Oakville, Ont. Lee's former coaches included Carol-Angela Orchard and Brian McVey (Sport Seneca), and Kelly Manjak, Sue Manjak and Lorne Bobkin (Oakville).
The 19-year-old Lee enrolled at UCLA last fall, and is eager to enter the line-up for collegiate competitions as soon as her knee heals completely. IG spoke with Lee at UCLA this week, to share her thoughts on her injury, academic life and the possibility of trying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Lee competing for Canada at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships
IG: How is your rehab going?
CL: Rehab is going really well. I've been doing a lot of strengthening, and I do rehab basically three times a week. I've started to jog, and we have an anti-gravity machine that I'm jogging on, so I'm not jogging with my full body weight, but I'm getting there. My knee feels really good, and I'm getting a lot stronger every day, so I'm really happy with how everything is going.
IG: How have you adjusted to the training regimen for college gymnastics?
CL: I love it. I love coming to training every day, because the girls are all so nice, and everyone is so supportive. It's just a really nice atmosphere to be in, and it doesn't really feel like I'm going to training sometimes, because I really want to do it, too. I still have that passion and that drive to learn and relearn everything. So even the little things I'm doing, like skipping, I'm enjoying, because I'm allowed to do something. On bars I'm starting to do Jaegers, so I'm doing a lot of those. I'm just having a lot of fun. I love it here.
IG: What is the chance of you competing this season?
CL: I'm not really sure. Right now I'm redshirted, but I haven't gotten cleared to do any running or gymnastics, so it all depends. But I'm not really worried about it. I'm enjoying my experience, and everything will fall into place.
IG: What is your course load this term?
CL: I have Life Science II, English Comp II and a general requirement class, so I'm taking a lot of general requirements this year.
IG: Which major are you leaning toward?
CL: It's really funny, because I was leaning toward the sciences, but then I was thinking that I can't really see myself doing that. So I'm going to switch over and look more on the business side, like marketing or advertising - something involving people, because I love to work with people. I'd like to work in the media. That would be really cool.
But I want to minor in something like theatre.
IG: What was it like singing "Moves Like Jagger" with (American Idol season 11 contestant) Kyle Khou at the UCLA meet last month?
CL: I used to sing when I was younger, but that (duet with Khou) was kind of different for me, because I like the slower songs. It's just a hobby. I have a guitar in my room, and I'll just sing in my room to kind of slow down everything when everything gets to be a little too much.
IG: Being in LA, are you looking into acting at all?
CL: I've done acting before when I was younger, as well, and then when I had my back injury, I went to the same acting school in Toronto as all the Degrassi ("Degrassi: The Next Generation," Canadian television drama) go. Miley Cyrus went there, too. It's something I like to do on the side. Gymnastics is always a big part of my life, so I like to do other things, because I like to keep moving and keep interested.
Lee sings with American Idol contestant Kyle Khou
IG: Overall what do you think of life in LA? Have you been homesick?
CL: I love it. It does get a lot cooler than I thought, though. I didn't think I'd need my winter jacket (laughs), but I was considering pulling it out of my closet. It's funny, because I don't really get homesick that much, but I did miss my friends and the atmosphere at home. It's a lot different, but I've adjusted really well to living on my own. It was just the time when I wanted to move out of the house and start my own journey. I love it here.
IG: How much contact do you have with your Canadian teammates these days?
CL: I talk to some of them. I haven't stayed in touch with everything, competition-wise, but I've been really busy down here so it's hard to keep updated. I still talk to (2012 Canadian Olympian and Stanford Univ. gymnast) Kristina Vaculik. She's one of my really good friends. I talk to Tal (Talia Chiarelli), too. I'll message them once in a while, but not that often.
IG: What are your thoughts about giving the 2016 Olympics in Rio a shot?
CL: I have given it thought, and I would love to go to 2016. It's so far down the road, but I still have that passion, and I love competing internationally and going to international competitions. I just love that atmosphere. I also really want to do the 2015 Pan American Games, because they are in Toronto, so that would be amazing to do. I don't want to go to 2016 just because it's the Olympics, but because I would love to do it, too. I don't think I'm done, yet.
IG: To some of your fans it seems as though you have some unfinished business...
CL: That's what it feels like. I still have that drive and I really want to do it, given the opportunity. I feel that gymnastics gets easier as you get older, because of the mental game, especially in college because you compete every weekend. So it will be a lot of fun to just bring that experience to the Elite level world. I would love to go to 2016. That would be awesome.
Lee is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
April 2011 – Lee interview
June 2006 - "A Passion for Performing" (Lee profile)
To subscribe or order back issues, click here.
Written by Amanda Turner
Tuesday, 05 February 2013 23:23
| IG Online Interview: Jake Dalton (U.S.)
World and Olympic floor exercise finalist Jake Dalton (U.S.) tells IG he's ready for the run to Rio, starting with a return to his home state for this week's Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas.
After playing a major role in the U.S. men's success over the past quadrennium, rising star Jake Dalton (University of Oklahoma) tells IG he's ready for four more years, starting with a return to his home state for this week's Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas.
Born Aug. 19, 1991, in Reno, Dalton was introduced to gymnastics at age 6 through a baseball coach, who suggested he take up the sport to improve his strength. He trained under coach Andrew Pileggi at Gym Nevada before moving to Norman in the fall of 2009 to attend the University of Oklahoma. While competing for the Sooners, Dalton won multiple honors, including NCAA championship titles in the all-around in 2012, and on floor exercise and vault in 2011.
To date Dalton has claimed six gold medals at the U.S. championships, winning vault in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and floor exercise in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Dalton made his world debut at the 2009 World Championships in London, competing as a vault specialist. At the 2011 Worlds in Tokyo he helped the U.S. men win bronze, their first world team medal in a decade, and finished eighth in the floor exercise final. In Tokyo, he successfully competed a new skill on parallel bars (front uprise into back with a half) that has been named for him in the FIG's Code of Points.
More strong performances at the U.S. championships and Olympic Trials landed him on the U.S. men's Olympic squad to London. In London, Dalton helped the U.S. men place first in preliminaries and fifth in the team final. He also finished fifth in the floor exercise final with 15.633, just .3 behind gold medalist Zou Kai of China.
Following the Olympics, Dalton took part in the cross-country Kellogg's Tour of Champions with many of his London teammates, and also launched his own clothing line, Mesomorphic. He returned to Norman to continue training and his education, but his professional contracts have left him ineligible for his senior year of NCAA competition.
Dalton had been scheduled to appear in the Progressive Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular in December, but withdrew after girlfriend Kayla Nowak, a member of the OU women's team, suffered a serious spinal injury in a fall off uneven bars.
IG caught up with Dalton this week to chat about his post-tour training, his competitive plans and his NCAA eligibility, as well as the status of Nowak, who traveled to London last summer to watch him compete in the Olympic Games.
IG: How did you feel coming off the tour and getting back to training? Did you feel refreshed, or a bit tired after the long Olympic year and so many tour performances?
JD: When I got back from tour I felt motivated because I learned a few new skills on tour, and I was excited to come back to show my team and coaches the new skills.
I felt both tired but also refreshed. I was tired from all the stress and competing, but I felt refreshed to have it done for a while and to be able to relax for a few months.
IG: What are your goals for the Winter Cup? How many events do you plan to compete?
Dalton during the 2012 Olympic floor final
JD: My goals for Winter Cup are to go out and do all-around to prepare myself for American Cup soon after. I will be doing all of the events because American Cup is an all-around competition.
IG: Growing up in Nevada, you must have competed in a lot of BlackJack Invitationals (a boys tournament held in conjunction with the Winter Cup) over the years, in addition to the Winter Cup competitions. Is this meet sort of a homecoming for you? Will your family be able to come down and watch?
JD: It usually is in a way a homecoming a little, because usually a lot of family comes since it's closer to home for me. This year it will be a little different, because I am just getting back into competition mode, and it will also in a way be a homecoming to be able to see all my friends that will be at the competition.
IG: How have you had to modify your routines for the updated Code of Points?
JD: I have changed a few things around for the new Code such as strength on rings, since we are only allowed three strength elements in a row now. That has been a big change. Another big change is only having one roll out [element] on floor. These are the two main things I have had to change and either find new passes or adjust the routine so it works with the Code.
IG: Your best events, floor and vault, are probably the most competitive events right now for men. What do you think you need to do to break into the medals internationally?
JD: I think I need to continue on the path I have been on for the last few years. I have been moving up places at each major competition but what I really want to do is get a high start value. I did a 16.6 last year and it was clean but that wasn't enough to contend for a medal. This next go around I want to have the start value and the cleanliness to be a contender.
IG: Are you still planning to compete all-around, or do you think you might become a specialist down the line?
JD: I am planning on staying as an all-around gymnast. I have five decent events. Pommel is my weakness but I have been trying to improve this, especially in the last year. I am continuing to do this more and more.
IG: You skipped your senior year in NCAA to be able to do the tour. Was that a hard decision for you to make?
JD: Yes, that was a very hard decision to make, but it was not just to do the tour. It was to experience the whole Olympic Games. I wanted to be able to compete without the question over my head of making the decision. I made my decision mostly based on the financial reasons from the tour to kick start my life. It still feels like I am selfish for doing that, but being a gymnast we don't make the money a lot of other professional athletes do. I took this as a chance to get ahead and start my life financially.
It was a very hard decision, but I know my [Oklahoma] team understood what I had to do and I could not pass up the opportunity.
IG: Can you tell us how your girlfriend's recovery is going?
JD: She broke her T12 [vertebrae] in her back and tore all the ligaments that held it in place. She had surgery the same day and is now recovering still. She is making progress every day, which I am thankful for. She had to wait for a few days to walk after surgery and once she could she had to wear a full back brace and use a walker to get around. She eventually got rid of the walker and now walks by herself but still has the back brace. She will have it for about four or five more weeks, making it a total of three months. She is slowly starting rehab, being able to do things like squat walks across the floor, and she just got cleared to do a few push ups against the wall standing up.
So she is making progress but it does take a long time for it to heal. She is supposed to be about 100 percent when the one-year mark gets around. I am just thankful she is OK and able to be active one day again. She will recover fully but she will no longer be able to do gymnastics. I am just happy to see her walking.
IG: What are your long-term goals - are you already aiming for 2016, or taking it one year a time?
JD: I am definitely aiming for 2016. That is always a goal in the back of your mind, especially coming off London not accomplishing what we wanted to. But I am also taking it one year at a time. I have other goals in mind for each year, but I know that four years goes by very fast so I always keep 2016 in my mind.