Only nine months after she tore her right Achilles' tendon, British gymnast Becky Downie helped her team place fifth at this month's world championships in Tokyo, thereby earning a team berth to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Downie, who finished 12th all-around at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is eager to return to Olympic form and help her team maintain or better its Tokyo performance next summer in London. IG spoke with the 19-year-old Downie about her speedy comeback and her plans to reach another career milestone at the Olympics in London.
IG: Many people were surprised that you were able to return to form so quickly after such a serious injury. What was the key to your quick comeback?
2008 British Olympian Becky Downie
BD: I guess the key for my quick return was that I was backed 100 percent by a fantastic medical team, and rather than let myself get down about the injury, I just had to keep reminding myself of all the positives that could come from it. I took the opportunity to give my body a break which wouldn't have been possible without the injury, and then everything just moved so quickly. I was making progress every day and it was very exciting to see, and that helped keep me motivated.
IG: Based on your personal performance in Tokyo, what aspects of your program will you focus on between now and the London Olympics?
BD: My main goal is to return to the all-around competition. My preparation leading up to the world championships was a little rushed because of my injury, so I didn't have the numbers behind me to compete well on any apparatus besides bars. I must have only completed 10 beam routines all year, so for me to just compete beam in Tokyo was such a huge achievement that I didn't care too much about the score or result. Bars was the one piece I've been working on for a long period of time, as I was back swinging bars eight weeks post-surgery.
IG: What about upgrading your routines?
BD: I'm really excited to get back to a normal program now, which will include training all four pieces, and we have plans for a few upgrades. Most of the skills we are going to upgrade I have been training for a while, as they were ready before the injury, so it's just a case of getting them all back and getting as fit as possible so I can train with no setbacks as we start the preparations for London.
IG: Your team's fifth-place finish also exceeded many people's expectations. What do you feel contributed to this high ranking?
BD: I think the team just bonded so well together and we all had that same goal of a top-eight finish. None of the team wanted to go back to camp knowing we didn't qualify, and we all wanted a Christmas at home - haha!
After we did qualify in the top eight (for the team final), the pressure was gone and we knew heading into team finals we had nothing to lose. Looking back on the qualifications, we knew as a team we had a few errors and plenty we could improve on for the team final, so we just went out there and gave it our best shot.
IG: Fifth place in the world in the year before the Olympics could put your team in medal contention in London. What are your thoughts on your team's potential to go even high next summer in London?
BD: After we placed fifth we were all so excited at the possibilities for next year, and I think the whole team is just so motivated to try and move to that next level. I think as a team we have so much more we can offer, because this year as a team we did have some setbacks. We lost Nicole Hibbert to injury early in the season, I wasn't fit to compete all four apparatuses and I think all of us have upgrades ready for next year. But these worlds for our team were about staying safe and getting that top-eight finish, which is exactly what we did.
I just can't wait to get back in the gym and start working for myself and the team ready for next summer, and I think if all goes to plan Team GB is going to be an extremely strong team.
Written by Amanda Turner and Christian Ivanov Tuesday, 27 September 2011 22:31
Heading into his 17th world championships, five-time Bulgarian Olympian Jordan Jovtchev talks to IG about the current state of his storied career.
Heading into his 17th world championship, five-time Bulgarian Olympian Jordan Jovtchev talks to IG about the current state of his storied career.
Jovtchev, who turns 39 in February, made his world debut 20 years ago in Indianapolis. Since then he has become a living legend, winning 13 world and four Olympic medals. Most of his medals have come on still rings and floor exercise, but his all-around finesse won him back-to-back world bronze medals in 1999 and 2001.
He heads to the world championships next month in Tokyo in a dual role — as an athlete and the president of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation. After 11 years living and training in the United States, the Plovdiv native moved back to Bulgaria in 2007 to try to revitalize the struggling program.
IG contributor Christian Ivanov, a 2000 Olympian for Bulgaria, sat down to chat with his former teammate recently at the newly remodeled national training center in Sofia.
Jovtchev at the newly remodeled national training center in Sofia, which had its grand re-opening in May.
IG: How many hours a day do you train? Do you train consistently year round, or do you take breaks for weeks/months at a time?
JJ: No, I don't train the entire year. For the most part I prepare a few weeks before the big championships, like Europeans, worlds, etc. I don't really go to World Cup events anymore either. At my position I really can't afford to train full year around. There is a lot of administrative work with the federation and of course at my age I have to be careful and rest my body too. I train when I find time... many times at the end of the business day, on weekends, with my busy schedule that is the only way!
IG: How does your body respond to gymnastics now? Do you have a lot more aches and pains, or do you feel the same as 10 years ago?
JJ: Of course it doesn't feel the same as 10 years ago. But for the most part I feel good, light and healthy. I believe I get in shape fairly quickly. Right now, and for some time now, I have had a problem with my biceps, which is still bothering me. And that is my only health concern. It really bothers me mostly on pommel horse, and that is the event I train the least, but it also affects me to some degree a bit on the other events also.
IG: Are you planning to do the all-around in Tokyo?
JJ: Yes, I am planning to do the all-around in Tokyo, and then hopefully at the test qualifying event in London, where hopefully I can qualify to the Olympics.
Five-time Olympian Jordan Jovtchev at the 2008 World Cup Finals in Spain
IG: Are you able to learn new skills, or do you just train to maintain your old ones?
JJ: For the most part I maintain my older skills. Of course with the new Code, you have to make some modifications — construct the routines differently, get a new skill here and there, etc.
IG: What is your motivation to continue competing? Did you ever imagine you would still be competing, close to 40?
JJ: My main motivational factor is helping Bulgarian men's gymnastics. Although we don't have a very large team, we still have a team. And with me still competing, as a team we have a bigger chance to perhaps qualify more gymnasts to the Olympics. We can qualify one, or two, or in the best-case scenario three gymnasts... and of course the alternative of not qualifying a gymnast exists, too. But I believe that we can at least qualify one person. And I have never thought about competing at this age, but here it is!
IG: What do you feel your chances are for a medal on rings in Tokyo and/or London? Do you need to add more skills?
JJ: I don't know what my chances are. I'd like to handle it in a humble way and say 5-10 percent. I'll be as prepared as I can and I'll do the best routine I can and then it will be what it is meant to be. There is a strong competition on the event; Chinese, Italians, Russians, French, more Asians, etc.
IG: What do you think of Eddie Penev's chances for Olympic qualification? What do you think he needs to do to bring a medal on floor exercise/vault in Tokyo?
JJ: Well, I think Eddie has a difficult routine on floor and it is possible to medal. And of course if he medals he will qualify for the Olympics. But it is very difficult. The key for the top guys on floor is landings. With so many tumbling passes if you manage to stick most of them, you have a good chance. On vault he doesn't have a strong second vault, and I believe the competition is fierce on this event; therefore, his chance is on floor.
IG: Bulgaria has lost so many expert coaches. Do you think Bulgaria could do what Russia did, by bringing back coaches to try to rebuild the program?
JJ: I really don't know if that is a possibility right now. We have a few experts in the gyms around the country. Former Olympian Krasimir Dunev is the head coach of the men's national team, and he also serves as the vice president at the federation. There are a few other experts that have returned from abroad and coach for the top clubs in the country. And we also have a few young coaches, former national team gymnasts who have recently retired and are doing a decent job.
IG: Are you already grooming gymnasts for 2016 and 2020?
JJ: Like I said earlier, we are anticipating it will take some time until we again have strong gymnastics in Bulgaria and internationally, but what I know is we are giving our maximum effort to get there. We have some young talented boys and girls in the gym, but of course we can't predict now where they will be in 2016 or 2020.
IG: What does your role as president of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation involve?
JJ: Everything! The list is really very long. For the last two years I have dealt with the ($2 million) renovation of the national training center, which right now is complete and brand new. It took an enormous amount of effort on my part — sponsorships, establishing various relationships with government, business companies, the cooperation with the actual construction companies, etc. It really was chaotic situation for two years. In addition, as any other federation we organize the junior and senior national teams, coaching staff, we communicate and cooperate with the clubs and this is just a short list of what is going on! Really there are so many responsibilities.
IG: What are things you feel you have achieved already as president of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation, and what goals would you like to achieve in the future?
JJ: I'd say the biggest accomplishment is the new training center. When I arrived three years ago there was really not much left of Bulgarian gymnastics. I feel we are becoming more organized and structured as a federation. And we are able to put on the floor a men's gymnastics team, although not as strong as we would like. Having said that, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. It will take many years to revitalize Bulgarian gymnastics as a whole. But I feel we have made the beginning.
Written by John Crumlish Friday, 23 September 2011 12:44
Mexican star Elsa Garcia of Mexico told IG she is "fully operational" following hand surgery last December, and is primed for a solid performance at next month's world championships in Tokyo.
Eight-time World Cup medalist Elsa Garcia of Mexico told IG she is "fully operational" following hand surgery last December, and is primed for a solid performance at next month's world championships in Tokyo.
The popular 21-year-old Garcia, who had surgery to remove a synovial cyst from her left hand, has regained her form and added skills to her routines with the hope of making one or more finals in Tokyo. She also wants to help Mexico qualify a team for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The top eight teams in Tokyo will qualify for the Games, and four additional teams will earn berths at an Olympic test event in January.
IG recently spoke with Garcia, who shared her thoughts on recovering from injury and working towards the 2012 Olympics.
IG: How close to completely healed is your hand?
EG: It was a rough and slow beginning this year because of the operation; but my hand has been fully operational since May, so I've had the chance to slowly regain and really train all the apparatuses and skills. The only times it hurts a bit is when there is a change of climate or when I do lots of vaults, but nothing serious.
IG: Between spring and now, what kind of progress have you made, in terms of strengthening not only your hand, but all of your routines?
EG: After my hand operation, it took me a lot of out-of-the-gym training to regain all of my body strength. I did a lot of cardiovascular training and weight lifting, and went back to the basics in gymnastics. The skills I do were in my mind, and my body knew how to do them. I just had to regain control of my body.
Talking about my routines, my vault is the same, my bars are the same, and on beam I added a round-off, double pike dismount. And on floor I have four (tumbling) pass lines again because for two years I did three pass lines. I think my routines have reached a consistent level, and in this time we have left until worlds, I am focusing on perfecting the details.
IG: What are your specific plans for Tokyo?
EG: I will be competing all-around. I am really excited that this year's worlds are in Tokyo. I've never been to Asia, and I admire the Japanese sense of perfection. I plan to inspire myself on this country's culture and perform at my best.
IG: On which apparatus or apparatuses do you think you will have your best chances in Tokyo, and why?
EG: I am really looking forward to the all-around final, because I know I can be in it. I just have to perform the routines that I train every day. I hope I can be on a vault and/or floor final - that has always been my dream. For bars and beam, it would be to place the best I can. But I especially have my eyes set on the qualification for London 2012.
IG: Earlier this year, you said you thought Mexico could place among the top 18 in Tokyo. What are your hopes and expectations for the team now, only a month away from Tokyo?
EG: Well, the Mexican team has come a long way since (2000 Olympic vault finalist) Denisse Lopez and (2002 world floor exercise finalist) Brenda Magaña or even me. We know have a team - a team that has good difficulty on most of our routines, and is growing in consistency and the art of making the routines to be pleasant and joyful to look at. We have four girls on our team with past worlds experience and two others that have junior international experience. So I think that, if all goes well, we can place and fight for our spot in the pre-Olympic test event next year. I have faith in our team.
Elsa Garcia is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine: April 2010 – 2010 American Cup coverage, 10 Questions with Antonio Barraza (Garcia's coach)
May 2007 – Garcia on cover, Garcia interview
April 2007 – 2007 American Cup coverage
May 2006 – Garcia profile
To order back issues or subscribe to IG, click here.
Written by Amanda Turner Saturday, 17 September 2011 20:59
2011 national champion Céline van Gerner led the Netherlands to victory Saturday at a tri-meet against Belgium and Spain in the eastern Dutch city of Almelo.
The Netherlands stopped the Spanish women's recent hot streak, defeating Spain and Belgium on Saturday in the eastern Dutch city of Almelo.
2011 national champion Céline van Gerner (56.15) led the Dutch to victory at home. The Netherlands scored 221.35, an improvement over the 219.85 the squad tallied Sept. 3 in a dual meet against Poland in Lekkerkerk. In Almelo, the Dutch had highest team totals on vault, uneven bars and balance beam.
Spain came up short in Almelo after notching three straight victories against Great Britain, France and Italy over the past month. The Spanish women edged their hosts on floor exercise, but noticeably struggled on uneven bars and balance beam.
Van Gerner had the top scores of the meet with a 14.80 on uneven bars (toe-on blind to Jaeger; 6.0 Difficulty score) and 14.70 on balance beam (split jump to switch leap; roundoff two-foot layout; tucked front; front aerial to ff; switch leap full; double tuck; 5.9 D).
Marlies Rijken scored 55.75 for second ahead of Spanish champion Ana María Izurieta (55.10).
Lisa Verschueren was the top Belgian gymnast in seventh. National champion Julie Croket competed balance beam and floor exercise only.
Newly crowned Swiss men's all-around champion Pablo Brägger is preparing to make an international name for himself at next month's world championships in Tokyo.
At the Swiss championships held earlier this month in Bellinzona, the 18-year-old Brägger was the youngest gymnast among the top 12 all-around finishers – and the most successful. Brägger, the 2010 Swiss junior titlist, defeated several veterans, including 2009 champion Niki Böschenstein and 2010 champion Claudio Capelli, to take his first Swiss senior title.
Born Nov. 27, 1992, in Kirchberg, Brägger trains at STV Oberbüren under head coach
Bernhard Fluck, and assistant coaches Frédéric Forrier and Laurent Tricoire. In 2010, he won the all-around bronze at the Junior Europeans in Birmingham and was a member of 15th-place Swiss squad at the worlds in Rotterdam.
Brägger now hopes to help the Swiss earn a team berth to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The top eight teams in Tokyo will qualify for London, and four additional teams will qualify for the Games based on their performance at an Olympic test event in January.
IG recently spoke with the ambitious Brägger, who commented on his victory at home and his aspirations for Tokyo and beyond.
IG: Pablo, congratulations on winning the Swiss all-around title. Going into the competition, how realistic was winning to you?
Brägger at the 2010 Junior Europeans
PB: Thank you very much. In fact I didn't go to the competition to win. My goal was to do a good competition without mistakes and qualify for the worlds team. But sure, there was a little hope in me to earn a podium place with a good competition.
IG: Reflecting on the competition, what could have have done better? And on which apparatuses were you most pleased, and why?
PB: I did a very good competition for me, without falls. But there were some mistakes; for example, on floor, where the landing in the last line wasn't good. And on the other events there are some little things I could have done better. I was most pleased with p-bars because I did a good exercise and it worked better than in training.
IG: How do you feel as a "youngster" performing better than older guys such as Claudio Capelli and Niki Böschenstein?
PB: I feel like before, because I know that the others made some bad mistakes. I know that normally they can beat me. But it feels great just to win! And to show everybody that the young gymnasts are behind them, pushing and training hard to beat them.
IG: What are your expectations and goals for Tokyo, as an individual and for your team?
PB: My goal for Tokyo is to do a great competition and to support the team the best that I can. My goal for the team is to qualify for the Olympic test event in January and to qualify there for the Olympic Games.
I hope that worlds will be an event to benefit from the impressions of the other teams, and to find even more motivation to train harder and more precisely.
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