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Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 13 February 2012 00:39    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Kristyna Palesova (CZE)
(12 votes, average 4.33 out of 5)

Although Czech gymnast Kristyna Palesova has not quite fully recovered from a serious knee injury she suffered 2 1/2 years ago, she is confident about her chances of making her second Olympic all-around final at this summer's London Games.

Palesova, who will turn 21 on Feb. 22, placed 21st all-around at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She injured her right knee in podium training at the 2009 World Championships in London, but performed well enough at the Olympic test event in London in January to earn an individual berth for the London Games.

In this IG Online interview, the ambitious Palesova details her plans for this Olympic year, and how she plans to continue infusing her performances with her characteristic creativity and power.


IG: How close to 100 percent healthy do you feel at this point in the Olympic year?

KP: Well, I still don't feel 100 percent healthy for sure, but I guess that I won't feel like that anymore. After the kind of injury I had – a torn ACL - I think it's not even possible, because even though I don't want think about that, it's always coming up into my thoughts. It will never be like before the surgery, but I need to tell that now I feel almost 90 percent better than a year ago. So I am really happy now!


Kristyna Palesova (Czech Republic)

IG: Besides being older, in which ways have you changed since your first Olympic Games in 2008?

KP: One of the main ways I have changed for sure is that now I am much stronger mentally. The injury really knocked me down and I didn't know if I would be able to get back into good shape in gymnastics. I was able to do it, even though I am still not back to where I was in Beijing, but that's what still makes me stronger. And, of course, I am a little bigger and heavier, so I had to learn to work with my body a little differently.

IG: You recently posted a video of yourself training a flip-flop, Arabian on beam. The combination looked solid, but how confident are you with it? And when do you think it will be ready for competition?

KP: I started to do this combination already before the London test event (in January), but I hadn't a lot of time to do it often, so I stopped doing it and started to do it again right after competition. I would love to compete this combination, but it needs a lot of time to be confident with it, so if I will be able to prepare it for a competition, it's going to be for London, probably.

IG: All of your floor routines are uniquely choreographed, but the one you are preparing for London is particularly unique. Where did you find the music, how did you create the choreography, and what you are trying to express in this routine?

KP: I heard this music for the first time when I saw a video on Youtube in which a very great Japanese dancer was dancing to this music. I listened to it over and over, and I definitely fell in love with the music and also with the dance. At the same time I met Jana Burkiewiczova, one of our (Czech) greatest choreographers of modern jazz dance, so I came up with the idea to ask her if she could try to make me a new floor routine.

The main reason was that I wanted to come with something new and totally different from other gymnasts. And this choreographer was the right person to do it. We made this routine to compete with it already in Tokyo (2011 World Championships), but in training I found out that it was harder than I thought. It's really something different, so I am looking forward to preparing it for this year, especially for London!

IG: What advice has your coach, Katerina Janeckova, given you for London, especially since she also prepared you for Beijing?

KP: I am so happy that Katerina is still coaching me. She was the main person who helped me to get back. She gives me advice all the time since she has been my coach. Now it's mostly up to me, what I want to reach, but she always tells me, "I am always here for you to help you reach your goals!" So for me this is the best thing to know right now.

IG: At this point in the year, what do you think is a realistic target for you in London?

KP: I think that, if I improve my routines as I plan, I can make the all-around final as I did in Beijing, and also add the bars final. It's a challenge for me, but I like challenges. And I am ready to do anything to reach my goals!

Read "Rebuilding Phase," a profile on Palesova, in the June 2011 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.

 
Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 30 December 2011 05:42    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Thelma Rut Hermannsdottir (ISL)
(7 votes, average 4.86 out of 5)



IG Online concludes our annual series of holiday-themed features with this interview with Icelandic gymnast Thelma Rut Hermannsdottir. Pictured: Hermannsdottir with the Mexican team at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo.

IG Online concludes our annual series of holiday-themed features with this interview with Icelandic gymnast Thelma Rut Hermannsdottir.

For three-time Icelandic national all-around champion Thelma Rut Hermannsdottir, the holiday season offers time to enjoy with family, reflect on her 2011 successes and project her 2012 dreams.

Although Iceland is not an international gymnastics power, Hermannsdottir is doing her part to elevate the sport in this almost mythical Scandinavian country.

Born June 17, 1993, in the capital of Reykjavik, Hermannsdottir has been one of Iceland's most accomplished gymnasts of the current Olympic cycle. She is coached by Gudmundur Thor Brynjolfsson at Gerpla Gymnastics Club.

In 2009 she placed first on floor exercise and fourth all-around at the Games of the Small States of Europe in Nicosia, Cyprus, and a respectable 26th place on vault at the European championships in Milan. In 2010 she was 10th all-around at the Northern European championships in Turku, Finland.

2011 saw Hermannsdottir compete in her third consecutive world championships and win her third Icelandic national all-around title. She also placed 49th all-around at the European championships in Berlin and fourth on vault at the FIG Challenger Cup in Maribor, Slovenia.

In this IG Online interview, Hermannsdottir shares her perspectives on the challenges and achievements of 2011 and her ambitions for 2012.



Thelma Rut Hermannsdottir (Iceland)

IG: Looking back on 2011, what was your proudest moment in gymnastics?

TRH: When I look back over the past year, I must say I am really proud of my results and achievements. My proudest moment this year was when I was fourth on vault at the FIG Challenger Cup in Maribor, Slovenia, in September. I and one other girl in my club were the first Icelandic girls to compete at a World Cup. In March I became Icelandic champion in the all-around for the third time, and in the same competition, in the apparatus finals, I won vault, placed second on beam and uneven bars, and third on floor.

The competition season ended on very positive note when the Icelandic team finished second in the Northern European championships in Uppsala, Sweden. This is one of the best results for the Icelandic team and it was really great to be a part of that. At this meet I was ninth all-around. So, to sum up, this year was quite a good year.

IG: You have competed in the past three world championships. How has the experience of the past few years helped you prepare for bigger challenges in gymnastics in 2012?

TRH: My first time competing at the world championships was in London in 2009. It was amazing. I was the only girl (from Iceland) going but four boys from my club went also. The best thing about London was that it was held in the O2 Arena, the 2012 Olympic arena. It will be fun to say that you have competed in this very same hall. In London I got injured during warm-up for the bars so I couldn't finish (my routine), but I had already competed on floor and vault. The next year in Rotterdam (2010) was "my year," if I can say that. Everything worked out and I was satisfied with all of my routines.

All the world championships were amazing but the Tokyo trip (in October 2011) was the best. In Tokyo I had really bad shin splints so I could not prepare in the way I would have liked. But I looked on the bright side and said to myself that this is probably the one and only chance to go to Japan, so I just enjoyed my stay in Tokyo.

These trips have helped me grow as a gymnast, and I love to watch the best girls performing their routines and also during warm-ups. Every time I come home from world championships and other big meets, I am filled with ideas that I want to learn and focus better on. I like to watch the American and Russian teams and see how they work, and between years you can see big improvements that makes me want to work harder and increase my difficulty.

IG: What are your gymnastics goals for 2012? For example, learning new skills, improving on some events, specific big competitions on your calendar...?

TRH: In 2012 there are the Nordic championships where I was fourth all-around last time, and my goal is to improve and make it to the top three. Our team would also like to keep our second place in the team standings. Then there are the European championships (in Brussels in May), and my goal there is to improve from last year's results. And I would really like to compete at more World Cup tournaments to get more experience.

I would like to reinstall my toe on-Tkatchev (on bars) which gave me some problems last season. Double Arabian, double layout and/or double front on floor are elements I want to make ready for competition. I performed a double Arabian in London 2009 but haven't been able to do it because of the leg injury. These are the elements that I want keep working on.

Competing in all these big championships is more and more fun each time, and I am always getting to know more and more gymnasts from all over the world, which is amazing. The Mexican team is my favorite team. In Rotterdam they were in our subdivision and then again in Tokyo. We are kind of getting to know each other.

And I would like to use this opportunity to wish them and all of my gymnast friends Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Iceland.

IG: Christmastime in Iceland seems magical. Describe the atmosphere in Reykjavik during the season, and how exactly you spend Christmas and New Year's Eve.

TRH: We have a lot of unique traditions. It all starts four Sundays before Christmas. It is a tradition to have a Christmas wreath with four candles on it, and every Sunday until Christmas, we light one candle. Every candle represents something about Christ's birth.


Thelma Rut Hermannsdottir (Iceland)

Like most countries, we have Santa Claus, but the remarkable thing is that we don't have one Santa. We have 13. Therefore, one by one, they come to town and put small presents in children's shoes until Christmas. Every Santa Claus has a different name, like "Hurðaskellir" which is a Santa who slams doors. The day after he comes to town, every child swears that they heard him come. Another example of Santa is the last Santa, "Kertasníkir," who is a Santa that often steals candles. Some children put a candle in their shoe as a present for him. Our Santas were considered to be thieves and they were thought to know magic. But through the years they have changed and started to give children small presents during the last 13 days before Christmas.

In Iceland we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 24. My family has a tradition to have lunch at my niece's home and then go to the cemetery around 2 o'clock to visit deceased family members. At 6 o'clock my family has dinner and desert, and afterwards we sit down around the Christmas tree and open gifts.

On Christmas Day (Dec. 25) I meet all of my family for a Christmas party. Then on Dec. 26 we have a day named Boxing Day. I go to my grandmother's for smoked meat, but that is a tradition here in Iceland - to eat smoked meat someday around Christmas.

Dec. 31 is similar to Christmas in the way that families gather to have a good time. We go again to my niece's and have lunch and than again to the cemetery. We just have dinner a bit late and then at 11 o'clock there is a TV show that everyone in Iceland watches. It is a sitcom that is making fun of things that have happened in the year. After the show I go out with my dad and little sister and we blast fireworks. Then I will be going to celebrate the New Year with my friends. Everybody blows up a lot of fireworks and they say it's the world's biggest fireworks show.

IG: What are your New Year's resolutions?

TRH: I think that my resolution is to focus both on school and gymnastics. I have almost eight hours of school every day and then training after that, so it is a hard schedule. Concerning gymnastics, I want to learn these new and old skills I talked about earlier and make my routines cleaner. I am a bit impatient person and, when an element is not perfect after maybe a few tries, I get annoyed. But I use that to do better next time I try it, so it often works out. I have one year left at school before university and I am really interested in seeing if I could keep on competing in gymnastics, maybe at a U.S. university. I think that could be really nice.

 
Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 20 October 2011 21:52    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Becky Downie (GBR)
(10 votes, average 4.60 out of 5)

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    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Jordan Jovtchev (Bulgaria)
(12 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)



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    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Elsa Garcia (Mexico)
(5 votes, average 4.20 out of 5)



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.

 


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