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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 21 January 2014 08:55    PDF Print
UCLA's Larson Faces Life After Gymnastics
(20 votes, average 4.75 out of 5)

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 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)

To subscribe or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 14 November 2013 02:09    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Sabrina Gill (Canada)
(6 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

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)

To subscribe or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 22 October 2013 23:51    PDF Print
IG Interview: Christopher Jursch (Germany)
(10 votes, average 4.60 out of 5)

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:

Philipp Boy: interview (May 2011)
Matthias Fahrig: profile (July/August 2007)
Fabian Hambüchen: cover photo (April 2009), cover photo and profile (November 2007), cover photo (June 2007), center poster (April 2007), profile (May 2003)
Sebastian Krimmer: profile (January 2011)
Marcel Nguyen: interview (November 2012), profile (June 2011)
Ronny Ziemser: interview (January 2005)

To subscribe or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 12 September 2013 08:41    PDF Print
IG Interview: Teja Belak (Slovenia)
(4 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

IG chats with Slovenia's Teja Belak, who is hoping to overcome a recent injury and perform credibly at the world championships that will begin in Antwerp on Sept. 30.

A vault finalist at this year's European championships and University Games, Teja Belak of Slovenia is hoping to overcome a recent injury and perform credibly at the world championships that will begin in Antwerp on Sept. 30.

A vault finalist at this year's European championships and University Games, Teja Belak of Slovenia is hoping to overcome a recent injury and perform credibly at the world championships that will begin in Antwerp on Sept. 30.

Born April 22, 1994, in Ljubljana, Belak trains under coach Andrej Mavric at GD Zelena Jama in her hometown.

Belak's vaulting prowess has earned her honors at several competitions over the past three years. She won vault at the 2010 World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia, and the 2012 FIG Challenge Cup that was also held in Maribor.

This year on the apparatus Belak placed fifth at the FIG Challenge Cup of Doha, Qatar; tied for fourth at Europeans in Moscow; placed eighth at the FIG Challenge Cup of Ljubljana; placed sixth at the Mediterranean Games in Mersin, Turkey; and placed seventh at the University Games in Kazan. Her current vaults are a well-executed handspring, tucked front-full; and a 1-1/2-twisting Yurchenko.

Belak is also strong on balance beam, on which she finished sixth at the 2013 FIG Challenge Cup of Doha and eighth at the 2013 FIG Challenge Cup in Ljubljana.

In this IG Online interview, Belak details her recent successes and struggles, and outlines her strategy for qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Teja Belak (Slovenia)

IG: You came very close to winning a medal in Moscow. What do you think of your performance there, and what you think you could have done better to win a medal?

TB: This year I was really prepared for the European championships in Moscow. Before Moscow I had even more competitions. And so, in these competitions, I could practice my new vault. I was able to correct my mistakes, and perform my new vault very well at the European championships. My goal was to make it to the final. My coach and I didn't even think of winning a medal on this competition. At the end I saw that I actually did have some chance to win a medal, but my competitors had more difficult vaults. Their vaults were [worth] half a point higher than mine. To win a medal I think that I would have had to add a half-twist more to my (1-1/2 twisting Yurchenko) vault, and, of course, do it with no mistakes.

IG: In 2013 you have achieved great results on vault and balance beam, but what are your plans for performing in the all-around at the world championships in Antwerp?

TB: I always compete at the world championships on vault and beam. I don't compete on uneven bars and floor because I have too easy routines on those apparatus. At the world championships I will only compete on the beam and bars. That's what my coach and I decided. At the moment I have a lot of problems with my foot. Since the European championships I have not been able to train normally. Now they've given me an injection in my foot so that I don't feel any pain, and also due to this, I couldn't train consistently. But I will still try to be as good and as ready as possible next competition.

IG: What will be the focus of your training between now and Antwerp?

TB: For this competition I don't have any high hopes to achieve a good result because, in such a short of period of time, it is really hard to get prepared and ready to vault as well as possible in the competition. Of course, I still think that, for entering the final, I would have to perform a more difficult vault, like at the European championships. But you never know what might happen, so that's why you never know what to expect. At the moment I'm only focused on not getting injured anymore, and training as well as possible.

IG: We are already a full year into the new Olympic cycle. What do you think you will need to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games?

TB: To qualify for the Olympic Games I would have to perform a harder element on vault, and I would also have to make my routine on the beam much harder. On the uneven bars I would have to start training a harder routine so that I will be able to achieve a good result in the future. This also counts for my routine on floor. Plus, I have to work on my conditioning on floor. The Olympic Games are in three years. You never know what happens in the next few years, but if I stay without injuries in the future, then I think that I'm on the right path to Rio.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 10 September 2013 20:05    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Kevin Lytwyn (Canada)
(4 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

Heading into the world championships in Antwerp at the end of this month, Canadian team veteran Kevin Lytwyn is determined to build on his experience towards the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Born April 21, 1991, in Burlington, Ont., Lytwyn was a member of the Canadian team that finished 14th at the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam and 12th at the 2011 Worlds in Tokyo. He also competed at the 2009 Worlds in London, where no team competition took place.

The top eight teams in Tokyo, along with the top four teams at the Olympic test event held in London in January 2012, qualified for the 2012 Games in London. Canada placed fifth at the test event and therefore did not advance to the Games.

Lytwyn’s top individual international finishes include gold on floor exercise, and bronze on floor exercise and parallel bars, at the 2010 World Cup of Montreal; fourth place on high bar at the 2012 FIG Challenge Cup of Maribor, Slovenia; and 12th on rings and 13th on vault at the 2013 FIG Challenge Cup on Anadia, Portugal.

In domestic competitions, Lytwyn was first on rings at the 2010 Canadian Championships; first on rings and high bar at 2011 Elite Canada; and first (tie) on rings at the 2013 Canadian Championships.

Lytwyn spoke with IG Online about his goals for Antwerp, and his determination to place Canada in contention for an Olympic team berth three years from now in Rio.

IG: Having already competed at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Worlds, how are you approaching this competition in terms of confidence and nerve control?

Kevin Lytwyn (Canada)

KL: Confidence and nerve control really come with practice in the gym during training. I am really trying to focus on doing my daily training plans efficiently without extra turns. Also, mock meets are a great tool to put me in the mindset of a real competition.

IG: What are your specific goals for Antwerp?

KL: My specific goals in Antwerp are completing my routines without major errors and finishing with at least one top-16 finish.

IG: You have been very successful on rings, an apparatus that is particularly crowded with strong specialists. What are you focusing on so you can break into the top international group, and perhaps the apparatus final in Antwerp?

KL: On rings I have been conditioning hard in training with the hope that it will make me strong enough. I want to solidify my holds as well as hopefully replace a swing element with another strength element.

IG: You've also had international success on vault, floor, p-bars and high bar. What is your perspective on remaining an all-arounder versus sticking to the apparatuses on which you have the potential to be a finalist?

KL: Actually I have not competed in all-around for a few years now. I was never very good on pommel horse, and, after I stopped training pommel horse, it took a lot of stress out of my training and let me focus on my better events. This enabled me to help out our team and increase my Start Values so I can be more competitive internationally.

IG: Although Antwerp won't include a team competition, what is your take on the state of the Canadian men's team thus far in the new Olympic cycle?

KL: We will have a much better take on how our team will fare this cycle come next year, but, for now, if everything goes to plan and the team can all stay healthy and motivated, I feel as though we will look good. There are a few new up-and-comers, and everyone else on the team is really working on increasing their level of gymnastics, which will go a long way if we can gain consistency.

IG: As a member of the Canadian team in the build-up to London 2012, what do you think could have made the difference between not qualifying a team and qualifying a team?

KL: Not qualifying for the Olympics was very tough on me and I am sure the rest of the team. We all knew we were better than how we performed that day (the Olympic qualification meets – 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympic test event), and we will be working very hard to ensure that that situation will not happen again.

IG: What is your training situation these days?

KL: I have been training in Calgary for about a year and a half, and I am coached by Jason Woodnick at the University of Calgary Gymnastics Center. As I am from Ontario and started university at McMaster, I have continued my education there by correspondence, taking a few online courses and a few courses at the University of Calgary that transfer.

IG: With Rio three years away, what do you think you will need to push yourself so you can peak in 2016?

KL: In order for me to peak for Rio, the most important thing will be to remain healthy. Getting injured is a waste of time and very frustrating. Staying healthy will allow me to continue good, consistent training, which will go a long way to peaking for Rio.


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