The current issue of International Gymnast includes an in-depth interview with Alexander Alexandrov, whose coaching genius has been well documented but often overlooked. But that could be due to his mild manner, which does not lend itself to self-promotion. The success of his gymnasts has always proved a more effective advertisement for his talent.
The photo-collage here comprises a handful of his champions: Dimitry Bilozerchev and Valentin Mogilny in 1983; the 1989 world champion Soviet women's team; 1994 U.S. junior champion Dominique Moceanu; and, of course, 2010 world all-around champion Aliya Mustafina, who won the most women's medals (4) at the 2012 Olympics, including the uneven bars gold.
Under Alexandrov, the 2012 Russian women's Olympic team won six medals in London, more than any other country. But somehow this led to Alexandrov's dismissal as head coach and eventual move to Brazil. Following are notes and excerpts from the interview with the 64-year-old Alexandrov, who candidly answered our questions while visiting his wife, Tatiana, and two children, Sergey and Anastacia (both married), all of whom live in Houston.
How did Alexandrov get involved in gymnastics?
The Central Soviet Army Club (CSKA), which had produced the famous Viktor Klimenko, was looking for potential gymnasts. Alexandrov (around 8 years old at the time) and some buddies, all of whom wanted to be like Klimenko, played hooky from school and went to the club to try out.
"From around five to six kids, the coaches picked me and another boy, so this is how I started gymnastics. I received a Master of Sport designation, and then went to Institute. After graduating, I decided to stay in the sport that I learned to love so much, and went to work as a coach in my club, CSKA, where I was a gymnast for so many years."
What went wrong with the plan to rebuild Russian gymnastics after the 2008 Beijing Olympics?
"One of the main problems Russia has today is the fact that there is practically no reserve. Andrei Rodionenko does not agree with this point of view and these measures, so there is very little retention to this day. I think that as long as the Rodionenkos (Andrei and wife Valentina) are in charge … rebuilding the Russian program will be very problematic."
Why was Alexandrov held accountable for the failures of other gymnasts on the 2012 Olympic team, such as Anastasia Grishina. Did they not have personal coaches?
"Those coaches who supported the Rodionenkos and their criticism toward me unfortunately did not always do their job thoroughly … For example, Sergey Zelikson, who was the personal coach of Grishina … was training by his own program and not necessarily at national training camps. Somehow he was able to convince the Rodionenkos that his way was correct and was promising to 'rip the competition apart' at the London Olympics.
"I think everyone saw what happened at the Olympic Games, but for some reason no one was criticizing Zelikson or the fact that a talented gymnast like Grishina did not compete well … Somehow I ended up the one to be blamed, while Zelikson had the audacity to criticize me at our staff meetings."
How was Alexandrov's relationship with Andrei Rodionenko in the 1980s?
Alexandrov always got along well with Rodionenko, but when Alexandrov was promoted to head women's coach after the 1988 Olympics, he essentially replaced Rodionenko.
"I was very sensitive to this transition between Andrei and I, and I think that I acted like a gentleman trying to ease things as much as possible … Things were fine between us at first, but after some time I started to notice that we stopped seeing eye to eye … Then he and his wife left for Australia, so this is how we parted."
Does the Russian gymnastics program receive the same financial support that it it did in the 1980s?
"There have been several new gyms opening throughout the country with brand new equipment, which is wonderful. The Round Lake training facility is truly one of the best in the world. So it actually feels like, today, Russian gymnastics may have more substantial financing than in the ’80s."
Did Alexandrov consider returning to the U.S. to coach, and what made him choose Brazil?
He says he had several offers from different countries, including the U.S. "My decision was mainly based on the offer that was most interesting to me, work-wise." Alexandrov says that OlegOstapenko, who returned to Brazil after initially joining the rebuilding effort in Russia, was one of the reasons he chose to go to Brazil himself. "Oleg and I worked together during USSR times and during Russian Federation times and always were able to have a good relationship and to find common ground … Oleg had already worked in Brazil for some time … Having a shoulder to lean on when everything around is new is great and very helpful."
Is Rebeca Andrade one of the hopefuls for Rio 2016?
Alexandrov says she "is a talented gymnast and has the potential to be very good" but prefers not to name names just yet.
How will Alexandrov improve the Brazilian team, which barely qualified for the 2012 Olympics?
"The main challenge is to raise the overall discipline and to unite the parties in charge of gymnastics and also the coaching staff." Alexandrov added that a new gym will open in Rio in the spring, and the women's national team will train there.
How does Alexandrov view women's gymnastics today, when most gymnasts are concerned only with raising their difficulty?
"Yes, there are problems today between difficulty and artistry." Alexandrov says he thinks the FIG Women's Technical Committee should meet with working coaches, choreographers, etc., to solicit their ideas on how to improve the Code of Points. "Surely, collectively, we can come up with agreeable solutions that will benefit both the artistry and difficulty."
What are Alexandrov's plans after Rio?
"To be honest, I really don't think about it yet."
To read the full interview in the January/February 2014 issue of IG,subscribe here.
Written by dwight normile Wednesday, 29 January 2014 10:20
To describe Kenzo Shiral's 2013 world title on floor exercise, you will need plenty of superlatives. At 17, he was the youngest men's champion in Antwerp. His 0.4 margin of victory was the largest of all the apparatus finals, men and women. And his 0.60 margin of D-score superiority over the next highest floor finalist (Steven Legendre, 6.8) was the greatest on any event, as well. His floor gold also included the most twists (22.25) and fewest double somersaults (zero).
The January/February issue of International Gymnast includes a candid interview, "Twist of Fate," with Shirai, but following are some interesting tidbits about Japan's talented young star.
1) Was he nervous in the Antwerp world final? Heck no. He said the last time he got nervous in a meet was in elementary school. Once he got to junior high, and competed in more meets, he was never nervous again.
2) How old was he when he learned his now famous quad twist? 14. "I am small and light, so my twisting skill is better than multiple salto skill."
3) How long did it take to learn? Two months. "At first, I didn't imagine a quad twist because my role model … never did one."
4) Who is his role model? Kohei Uchimura.
5) His D-score in Antwerp was 7.4. What is he working on to improve his floor? He says he's focusing on his E-score right now.
6) How did he get involved in gymnastics? He had no choice. His parents are gymnastics coaches and his two older brothers are gymnasts. "It is a gymnastics family," he said.
7) What's his favorite social media platform? Twitter (today, he has 4,450 followers).
8) What is his musical preference? "Turn Me On by David Guetta is my favorite."
9) How does he chill out? By eating chips. "They are cheap so I can eat many … I think the time I use to eat them is relaxing."
10) Can Japan win the team title at the 2014 Nanning World Championships? "I can't think about the result before I become a team member."
Written by John Crumlish Tuesday, 21 January 2014 08:55
Recently retired U.S. gymnast Mattie Larson told IG she is eager for new challenges outside the gym, but plans to stay involved in the sport that defined her for so many years.
During Larson's international career, she trained under coaches Galina Marinova and Artur Akopyan at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in her hometown of Los Angeles. Larson gained global popularity for the finesse and charisma of her performances. She placed first on floor exercise and second all-around at the 2010 Visa (U.S.) Championships, and was a member of the silver medal-winning U.S. team at the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam. NBC News-owned site TheGrio.com named Larson among its list of "100 History Makers in the Making" during Black History Month in February 2011.
Larson left elite competition in 2011 and enrolled at UCLA, where she competed under coaches Valorie Kondos Field and Chris Waller. Last March she dislocated her left knee and suffered a partially broken patella. The injury, Larson says, was one factor which prompted her retirement, but not the only one. In this IG Online interview conducted at UCLA on Jan. 19, Larson details her decision, reflects on her accomplishments and outlines her upcoming agenda.
IG: Why exactly did you decide to retire?
ML: I think it was a whole process since I've been at UCLA. I've known Miss Val (Kondos Field) and Chris since I was about 7, and they've known that, yes, I've had a lot of success in gymnastics, but it's taken an emotional toll. It's not an easy sport. My process here at UCLA made me feel that I could finally have a voice and make decisions for myself. For a while, I think I was ready to move on, and they finally gave me the chance to do so. I couldn't imagine making this decision anywhere else or at any other time. I finally got clarity.
Mattie Larson, who recently retired from competitive gymnastics
IG: How much did last year's knee injury impact your decision to retire?
ML: I didn't plan on retiring at the point of my injury, but I think the injury gave me a very new perspective of the team, and I got to see it as a non-competitor, from someone who helps out and supports people rather than thinking about my gymnastics. That also might have impacted my decision of coming back next year as being a team manager. I love the team so much, but it was competing in gymnastics that I was ready to move on from, not the UCLA gymnastics program.
IG: How much of the decision was based on other factors?
ML: For so long I was the kind of gymnast who kind of had trouble getting "up" for practice and training, but loved performing. I tried to show that through my gymnastics. I think what got me to my point (of deciding to retire) was that, yes, training was the same, but I didn't have that same spark when I was performing and I just didn't look forward to it anymore. That's what brought me joy, and it wasn't (joy) anymore. I made the decision pretty recently - just before winter break, about a month ago.
IG: What is your plan for transitioning from being a gymnast this year?
ML: Miss Val has given me such a great opportunity to not define myself just as a gymnast anymore, because that's what I've been doing my whole life basically. I come and go in the gym all the time. I live with three other gymnasts and two girls on the diving team. I'm still really involved with my friendships but not the actual (doing gymnastics). I'm doing stuff with the team, but not managerial things this year. (Kondos Field) thought it was really important that, if I do retire, that I take this year to see what else is out there and what else I like.
IG: Now that you are thinking about life outside of doing gymnastics, what are you focusing on in terms of life beyond school?
ML: I just got into my major this year – psychology. I'd love to be a psychiatrist, but the whole graduate school thing is not easy (laughs). So I don't know what I want to do after I finish school, but I'm finally taking classes that are more involved with psychology. I love it. My childhood development class is my favorite class right now. I would love to get outside the realm of sports. I would always like to work with things like substance addiction. I'd love to be a psychiatrist. I don't know...there's a lot you can do with psychology.
IG: Have you had any regrets about your decision to retire?
ML: Right now it's very fresh, but definitely not. I still think I'm in the phase that "Wow, I'm actually done with gymnastics. I don't have to go in the gym and warm up..." It's all new right now. I didn't want to make the decision until I was 100 percent sure I wouldn't have regrets, and I think that's why it took me so long. I could have retired last year, or even before coming to UCLA, but there was no clarity. I was very, very sure I wouldn't have regrets, and I'm pretty positive I won't.
Larson on beam for UCLA
IG: How much of a relief is it for you, physically and emotionally?
ML: It's different, like not waking up at a certain time every morning and preparing for practice and meets. Gymnastics is so structured. It's weird not having that structure. I do like structure, so I'll probably find structure in some other way. It's nice. I feel that some weight is off my shoulders, especially because this decision has been weighing on my mind for so long. It feels nice. It feels like I can take a deep breath.
IG: Looking back, what are the most memorable moments of your career?
ML: I think the 2010 nationals (U.S. championships) was a great meet for me. I felt so much joy at that meet. That was the first time that, more on a national-scene level, people got to see that I had worked really hard to get to that level. I'm going to miss all of the silly things with all the girls on the national team. I made best friendships, and I'm going to miss that kind of thing.
IG: What are you taking with you from gymnastics?
ML: I definitely think that, if I hadn't done gymnastics, I wouldn't have become as strong a person. I think that it's shown me that, if I want something, I can work really hard and get it. It's taught me so much. I love that elite (international) gymnastics taught me discipline, and UCLA gymnastics taught me how much I love working with a community.
IG: What do you hope you've left to gymnastics?
ML: I really hope I've left a legacy where I loved to infuse the dance aspect of gymnastics. Every coach I've had, growing up, really enforced artistry. I think that's so important with gymnastics, because it's artistic gymnastics, and sometimes people lose sight of that. I hope people remember that I really liked to put a lot of thought into the little details, and I really cared about my performances.
Like I said, training wasn't where I shined. I loved to shine in performances. I really think it's because of the fans in the audience. If nobody was there, I don't think I would have enjoyed performing. I hope people remember me as a performer, and the fact that, if I didn't have people cheering for me, I don't think I would have enjoyed it for as long as I did.
IG Magazine Related Features: "Rebound" – Larson interview (March 2011) 2010 World Championships special issue (January/February 2011) 2010 U.S. Championships coverage (September 2010) "All for One" – All Olympia team feature (July/August 2009) "Meet a Real Show-stopper" – Larson junior profile (November 2005)
Canadian gymnast Sabrina Gill, who is preparing for the Mexican Open later this month in Acapulco, hopes to finish a challenging year in strong competitive style.
Born June 7, 1996, in Mississauga, Ont., Gill has been a Canadian mainstay for several years. She placed first all-around in the novice division at the 2008 Elite Canada meet, fourth all-around at the 2008 and 2009 Canadian novice championships, first all-around at the 2010 Canadian junior championships, and seventh all-around at the 2011 Canadian Championships. Gill's best international results include silver on uneven bars and bronze on floor exercise at the Toyota Cup in Japan in December 2012.
Gill's achievements in the early part of 2013 showed her potential for further success in domestic and international events. She finished fourth all-around at the Elite Canada meet in February; second all-around, third on uneven bars and third on balance beam at the International Gymnix Senior Challenge in Montreal in March; and fourth on uneven bars at the French International, an FIG World Cup meet in La-Roche-sur-Yon in March.
Hampered by a back injury, Gill competed on only one event (uneven bars) at the Canadian championships in June. She is now healthy and focused on success in 2014 and beyond.
Gill, who trains under 1988 Canadian Olympian Lorne Bobkin and Toni Norman at Futures Gymnastics Club in Mississauga, recently shared her plans with IG Online.
Gill on beam in 2011
IG: 2013 has been an eventful year for you, with international success in the early part of the year, and then only bars at the Canadian championships, and now the upcoming Mexican Open, an all-around competition. What do you hope to show to yourself and others by your performance in Mexico? What are your specific goals for that meet?
SG: Late last year I had some injuries that held me back from performing the way I know I can. The meet in Mexico is a great stepping stone to prove to myself I am on the comeback. I plan on competing a new vault, a new dismount on beam and a couple of other moves on bars. The plan is to compete some new skills.
IG: Why were you not able to compete on all four events at this year's Canadian championships?
SG: I was coming off a slight tear in a back muscle, and the coaches and I decided to at least compete on bars. My timing was not up to snuff on the other events. I am completely healed and looking forward to this upcoming year.
IG: Your style is unique, because your movements are not only graceful but also very dynamic. This shows that you are not only well-trained in dance and technique, but also power. What has helped you develop both sides of gymnastics equally?
SG: Dance was always something that came easy to me. What really helped was the five years of dance I took before I quit and focused my attention on gymnastics. The power aspect is a continual work in progress. The conditioning I do is a big part of my physique and preparation for meets.
IG: When and why did you switch coaches and clubs? And how have your current coaches improved or changed your gymnastics?
SG: The last two years have been a rollercoaster of coaches. Kelly Manjak, Elvira Saadi, and Lawson Hamer and Lisa Cowan are all great coaches, and I have nothing but great things to say about them. There are many factors that I consider very important in a coach and a club. The relationship with the coach, the environment, logistics, stability and familiarity all are important to me. I think I have the best coaching staff going forward. My coaches, Lorne Bobkin and Toni Norman, are both great coaches and my club, Futures, is a great environment to be in.
Gill on floor at the 2012 Elite Gym Massilia
IG: The Canadian team has a lot of rising talent following the great team performance at the London Olympics. In which ways do you feel you can best help the team in 2014 and through 2016?
SG: The best way I can help the Canadian team is to be prepared for whatever the Canadian team needs. That means being consistent on all four events, and staying mentally focused and ready. The Canadian team, especially the younger gymnasts on the team, can lean on me for advice and support.
IG: Speaking of the future, what are your aspirations for competing for a U.S. university?
SG: Over the next few months I will be in the process of selecting a university. From what I hear, university gymnastics is something special and the friendships you gain along the way last a lifetime. I am looking forward to being part of one of these great universities soon.
IG: The 2014 competition season is right around the corner, so what are your aspirations for next year, and what specifically are you doing to reach them?
SG: New skills are definitely part of the 2014 season. My goal for 2014 is to compete the new skills and then repeat them for consistency going forward. The last two years have been difficult, both physically and mentally. I have grown as a person and gymnast and have overcome several obstacles that have made me mentally stronger. The next two years are going to be great.
International Gymnast magazine's coverage of Canadian female gymnasts over the last decade includes: "Gotta Dance!" – Sandra Botnen/Sasha Ivanochko profile (December 2004) "Aiming to Top the Charts" - Maegan Chant interview (October 2013) "Canadian Diversity" - Ellie Black profile (July/August 2013) "Black to Business" - Ellie Black interview (November 2012) Madeline Gardiner, Anysia Unick and Victoria Moors cover photo (March 2011) "Candid Canadians" - Madeline Gardiner interview (September 2011) "A Gymnastics Jet-Setter" – Jordan Harvie (May 2004) "All in a Day's Work" - Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs profile (March 2007) "Catching up with... Larissa Lowing Libby" (August/September 2004) Christine Peng-Peng Lee interview (April 2011) "A Passion for Performing" - Christine Peng-Peng Lee profile (June 2005) Gael Mackie profile (July/August 2011) "Canadian Standout" – Gael Mackie profile (January 2003) "Pride for Family and Canada" – Charlotte Mackie profile (November 2006) "Sudden Impact" - Victoria Moors interview (January/February 2013) "10 Questions with Carol-Angela Orchard" (May 2011) "Pegg Much More Motivated" – Dominique Pegg profile (March 2010) "Plante in Bloom" – Amélie Plante profile (June/July 2003) "Staying Power" – Heather Purnell profile (May 2003) "Uneven Parallels" – Kate Richardson/Yvonne Tousek profile (March 2004) "Confident Canadian" - Brittany Rogers interview (May 2012) "Shooting Star" – Brittany Rogers profile (July/August 2007) "Savona Surges into Recovery" – Jessica Savona short profile (October 2011) "Work in Progress" – Sydney Sawa profile (September 2009) "Holding Pattern" – Richelle Simpson interview (April 2004) Richelle Simpson cover photo (January 2004) Richelle Simpson center poster (June/July 2003) "Catching up with... Lori Strong Ballard" (June 2012) Jennifer Wood update (June/July 2004) "Stage Flight" - Yvonne Tousek update (November 2010) "Veteran Presence" - Kristina Vaculik profile (July/August 2010) Kristina Vaculik cover photo (April 2010) "Canadian Conquerors" – Kristina Vaculik profile (September 2007)
German gymnast Christopher Jursch said the experience he gained at this month's worlds in Antwerp has encouraged him to increase the difficulty of his routines and well prepared him for future competitions.
Reflecting on his recent world championships debut, German gymnast Christopher Jursch said the experience he gained at this month's worlds in Antwerp has encouraged him to increase the difficulty of his routines and well prepared him for future competitions.
Born Sept. 27, 1992, Jursch trains at SC Cottbus, where he is coached by 1996 Olympian Karsten Oelsch. He won the German junior all-around title in 2008.
Jursch placed fourth on high bar and fifth on vault at the 2012 German championships; and fifth all-around, first on high bar and third on parallel bars at the 2013 German Championships. His best international finishes include first place on parallel bars at the 2011 FIG Challenge Cup of Doha, Qatar; and third place on parallel bars and third place on high bar at the 2012 Toyota Cup in Japan.
Jursch competed on three apparatuses in Antwerp, with mixed results. He finished 28th on parallel bars, 55th on pommel horse and 78th on horizontal bar.
In this IG Online interview, Jursch reflects on his preparations for worlds, what his actual performances showed him, and what he learned from competing on the global podium for the first time.
IG: You recently celebrated your 21st birthday followed quickly by your first start in a world championship. How did you stay focused on your expectations for Antwerp, and not the milestones?
CJ: The main goal for these world championships was to learn (from them). I wanted to get accustomed to the competition process and the atmosphere, see how I could cope with being the newcomer and most importantly learn how to deal with the pressure. Of course I tried my best, but unfortunately it does not always work out.
Jursch on high bar in Antwerp
IG: In Antwerp you had a good finish on parallel bars, but some problems on pommel horse and horizontal bar. Looking back, what do you think you could have improved on all three apparatuses?
CJ: On parallel bars I had a good performance but the Difficulty score was simply too low to be among the top gymnasts. With a slightly better performance on the horizontal bar, a chance for the final would have been there. I know I could have had a good showing on this apparatus. Overall it showed that I need to increase the difficulty score to be competitive. A little more stability and a higher output will be needed in order for me to make the jump into the finals or even onto the podium.
IG: What has your experience at the world championships shown you, in terms of how prepared you are, physically and psychologically, to compete against the very best gymnasts
CJ: The fact is that the top athletes such as Fabian Hambüchen and (world high bar champion) Epke Zonderland (Netherlands) have much more experience at these competitions and know how to deal with these high-pressure situations. They have competed against the other world class athletes before, thus to them it is not so special anymore. The whole preparation was very exhausting up to the world championships. This type of preparation was new to me and demanded a lot. Therefore it must be said that my physical shape was perhaps a little worse than I would have liked. But my morale was very high.
IG: What is your perspective on Fabian's all-around success (third place) in Antwerp, and how will it motivate you?
CJ: I don't use someone else's success to motivate myself. For me the motivation coming out of being nominated and competing in world championships alone was incredibly high. Over the course of the competition and with the results achieved, I can say that the shown performances were better than what we expected talking before the competition. Yet seeing what the others do, knowing what is still possible for me, I know that there are hardly any limits for my routines. In the end I can say that being part of the world championships has given me motivation to train even harder in the future.
IG: You competed on three apparatuses in Antwerp, but what are your plans for competing on up to six apparatuses in the future?
CJ: Of course I want to concentrate not only on individual events. My goal is to compete in the all-around competition, but that takes a lot of training and hard work. So in the future I want to be useful for the team not only on three apparatuses, but hopefully be an important part on all events.
IG: The competition to make the German team in 2014, 2015 and ultimately 2016 is going to be tough. What strategy will you use to earn a place on the team?
CJ: I don't think determining a strategy is a good choice. Never will everything go according to plan, and that's why you cannot fully plan ahead. But to remain part of the team for the future, I will have to go far beyond my actual boundaries and provide a higher difficulty score and stable routines. Not only do I want be good on three, but on all six events, which will be helpful for the team, as well.
German male gymnasts are featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
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