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