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Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 13 June 2014 00:41    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Camila Ambrosio (Argentina)
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Recently crowned Argentinian national all-around champion Camila Ambrosio hopes to expand her success on the global level at this fall's world championships, and ultimately qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Pictured: Ambrosio with coaches Daniele Conde, Lucas Chiarlo and Antonella Blanco

Camila Ambrosio (Argentina)

Recently crowned Argentinian national all-around champion Camila Ambrosio hopes to expand her success on the global level at this fall's world championships, and ultimately qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Born April 30, 1996, in Buenos Aires, Ambrosio trains at the Vélez Sarsfield club, where her clubmates include 2012 Olympian Valeria Pereyra and 2014 Argentinian junior all-around champion Mayra Vaquie.

Ambrosio placed 11th all-around and first with her team at the 2011 Junior South American Championships in Cúcuta, Colombia. She competed at the FIG Challenger Cups of Ghent, Belgium, and Maribor, Slovenia, in 2012. At the 2014 South American Games in Santiago, Chile, in March, she placed 11th all-around, fifth on vault, sixth on balance beam and seventh on floor exercise.

Argentina has not fielded a team at worlds since 2006, but Ambrosio is eye the 2014 Worlds that will take place Oct. 3-12 in Nanning, China. She also aims to follow Pereyra to Olympic qualification. Pereyra was the only Argentinian female gymnast at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she placed in 51st all-around in qualification.

After placing first all-around at her country's recent national championships, Ambrosio shared her thoughts and expectations with International Gymnast Online.

IG: What do you think helped you to win your first national all-around title? Was it consistent routines, confidence, or some other factor?

CA: Yes, it was a big victory for me. Besides being a national championship it was the first qualification competition for the Pan American Championships (Aug. 27 - Sept. 1 in Toronto) and the world championships. I thought that the training was the most important factor in reaching the goal. I really prepared so well, physically and mentally, to be strong at the competition. Confidence was an important factor, thinking everything is going to be good despite the fact that I was doing new routines, to increase the difficulty of my routines.

Ambrosio with her national all-around gold medal

IG: You also performed very well at the South American Games in March, and now you are preparing to compete against gymnasts from Europe, Asia and North America. What will you need to perform strongly against those gymnasts from outside of your continent?

CA: It is an honor for me to compete with gymnasts at that level. That lets me think that all my effort is paying off. I have to intensify the routines I have been doing and incorporate more difficulty to obtain a higher level.

IG: How old were you when you began training in gymnastics, and why did you choose to become a gymnast?

CA: I have been doing gymnastics since I was five. My older sister started practicing it and I like seeing her training and going to competitions. Since those days that my parents brought me to the gym, I can't get out of it!

IG: Who coaches you, and on which events?

CA: My coaches are Daniela Conde, Lucas Chiarlo and Antonella Blanco. Daniela is the main coach on the four apparatuses. Lucas and Antonella help her morn beam and uneven bars. They are excellent coaches, and they were excellent gymnasts, too. I am so happy training with them. I represent the Vélez Sarsfield club. It is in Buenos Aires, near the center of the city, but we complement training in CeNARD (Centro Nacional de Alto Rendimiento Deportivo), which is a national center where all the elite athletes train.

IG: Gymnastics in Argentina has become stronger, and you had Valeria Pereyra qualify for the Olympic Games in London. Now, people will be looking to you to help push Argentina towards the 2016 Olympics in Rio. What are your thoughts about becoming a leader of gymnastics in Argentina?

CA: It is a pleasure for me to know that my country is considered like this in this sport. We are doing everything possible to push Argentina to the top. I think that being a leader is a consequence of the hard work and effort I give in every training session. Valeria's experience shows that it is not impossible for me and my country to participate in the Olympic Games. Now it is easier for us to practice the discipline because the government helps us, giving money and new equipment.

IG: What are your plans for competitions leading to the world championships in Nanning?

CA: The first next competition I have is Pre Pan American Championships in Canada. My objective is to obtain a good position in the all-around and team competition. We hope we can be closer to Rio. That is my biggest wish!

Read "Ardent Argentine," a profile on Valeria Pereyra, and a chat with 1992 Argentinian Olympian Romina Platatori, in the July/August 2012 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, or subscribe to the digital and/or printed edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by Amanda Turner    Monday, 12 May 2014 10:02    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Lieke and Sanne Wevers (Netherlands)
(11 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Dutch twins Lieke and Sanne Wevers are celebrating sisterhood in Sofia as they prepare to represent the Netherlands for the first time together in major competition as part of the same team. Pictured: The twins pose in Venice Beach, Calif., during a trip to Los Angeles in 2013.

With the 2014 European Gymnastics Championships beginning this week in Bulgaria, Dutch twins Lieke and Sanne Wevers are celebrating sisterhood in Sofia as they prepare to represent the Netherlands for the first time together in major competition as part of the same team.

Born Sept. 17, 1991, in Oldenzaal, the Wevers twins are coached by their father, Vincent Wevers. They have been mainstays in Dutch gymnastics over the past decade, since Sanne made her major international debut at the 2004 Junior European Championships in Amsterdam. Until this year, however, injuries to one or both have prevented them from representing Netherlands together at a major competition.

Both gymnasts are known for their work on balance beam, in particular their excellent turning technique. At the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam, Sanne had the "Wevers" turn named after her on balance beam (double turn with leg held horizontal).

At the end of April, Lieke won the gold medal on beam in an international friendly against Great Britain in Lilleshall, England.

IG Online quickly caught up with the twins on Sunday, after they had arrived in Sofia ready for the 2014 European Championships. The twins chatted about their careers and various injuries, and what it means to support each other through the highs and lows of elite gymnastics.

Sanne Wevers at the 2004 Junior Europeans

IG: You have not been on a team together because of injuries to one or both of you. Can you each tell us about the injuries you have had over the past few years?

LW: Unfortunately I've had a lot of injuries in my career. My big injury was in 2009, when I tore a part of my ACL at the European championships in Milan, Italy. I had surgery and the injury took me out for about two years. My comeback was in 2011, when I was a member of the Dutch team for the world championships in Tokyo, Japan, and then the 2012 Olympic Test Event in London.

After that I got injured again, to both of my wrists. I had to do surgery and once again all the recovery went very slow.

I was not sure if I could come back, but my passion and motivation were great enough to give it a try, andI worked very hard to get in this shape again. I'm very happy to be back and be able to compete on the international field again.

SW: In 2004 I competed at Europeans as a junior, and over the past 10 years I represented the Netherlands in 10 other major competitions (European Youth Olympic Festival, Europeans and world championships). Lieke and I have never been on the team together. When I made the team, she was injured and vice versa. So in 2009 I had an elbow injury, but I was there to watch my sister compete. In 2010 was the highlight of my career, when I got my own skill named on the Worlds (Wevers pirouette). After that I had a really tough time to pass, because I had a shoulder injury. I had surgery, and it toke me a long time to recover.

In 2011 I was ready for the trials for Tokyo, but than I fell on floor and hurt my foot. So that's why I couldn't compete in Tokyo or at the Olympic Test Event. After all of that, I took some time off and decided to start training for the worlds in Antwerp. This January Lieke and I were both fit and started training for the Europeans together.

IG: What does it feel like to be on a team together, representing both your family and the Netherlands?

LW: It feels very special to me. Many times when I was injured I supported my sister when she competed on the big events, and that was nerve-wracking for me. And now to be able to be very close on the competition floor together feels very safe and comfortable with her. We have been in a very good training process with each other, and we can help each other very well. I'm very excited that finally both Wevers are showing the world what we have worked for!

SW: I definitely feel the same, and I'm very proud that we made the team together this time. It feels very nice to have my sister close to me on the floor, instead of her supporting me from the stands. I hope we can help each other a lot, and perform the best we can!

Lieke Wevers at the 2011 Worlds

IG: What are your personal goals for the European championships?

LW: My personal goal is to hit my routines on bars and beam the best I can. I want to be clean and stable, and be a good member of the Dutch team.

SW: I also want to perform the best I can on bars and beam. This week I also want to be there for my teammates, to help and advice them where they need me. This is a team competition, so we have to look after each other.

IG: You are coached by your father. How often do you train together with the national team?

Both: We are coached by our dad at our home club. We only train together with the national team in preparation for the major competitions. Also we have a few meetings/camps a year with Dutch selection team.

IG: What do you think Netherlands needs to do to get back into the top teams?

Both: We think we're on the right road to get back in the top teams again. We are working on our D-scores, to get them higher, and of course we also pay much attention to our presentation, to show clean and beautiful routines.

For the future we really hope the old members of the Dutch team, like Céline van Gerner, Wyomi Masela and Joy Goedkoop, will work very hard to get back and be able to add their good qualities again.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 30 April 2014 20:08    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Alex Naddour (USA)
(8 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

An alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and winner of three consecutive U.S. titles on pommel horse, Alex Naddour is carefully calculating his progress as he advances toward the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

An alternate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and winner of three consecutive U.S. titles on pommel horse, Alex Naddour is carefully calculating his progress as he advances toward the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Naddour, who turned 23 on March 4, placed fourth all-around and first with the U.S. team at this month’s Pacific Rim Championships in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Among his plans between now and Rio are upgrading his routines and marrying his fiancée, 2003 world uneven bars co-champion Hollie Vise.

Naddour has been a medal contender on one or more apparatuses during the past two Olympic cycles. In 2010 he won the silver medal on pommel horse at the Stars of the World meet in Moscow. In 2011 he placed third all-around at the Stella Zakharova Cup in Kiev and won a team bronze at the world championships in Tokyo.

Last spring Naddour won three medals (silver on floor exercise, bronzes on pommel horse and rings) at the Challenger Cup of Ljubljana. He competed on pommel horse and rings at last fall’s Worlds in Antwerp, where he finished 13th in qualifications on both apparatuses.

As Naddour aims for this fall's worlds in Nanning, he is likely to continue to face some of his strongest competitors on native soil. He won pommel horse at the U.S. Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013, as well as the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Verifying his diverse strengths, Naddour placed second all-around and second on rings at the 2013 P&G (U.S.) Championships.

Naddour on still rings

IG: How do you feel your results at the Pacific Rim Championships — where you were second to John Orozco among U.S. gymnasts — positions you for this summer's P&G (U.S.) Championships and this fall's world championships?

AN: I think I am exactly where I want to be. At the Pacific Rim Championships, I didn’t include all of the new skills that I plan to add, because we are still working to perfect them and they were not ready for a team competition. With those additions to my routines and getting to compete this early in the all-around, my coach and I think that I am right where I need to be four months out from the P&G Championships. A lot of good things should come during that time, as well as more consistency.

IG: You have earned your best international results on individual apparatuses, especially pommel horse and rings. What is your perspective on continuing to train and compete all-around, rather than focus on your best apparatuses for a possibly better chance to make the U.S. team for worlds and Olympics?

AN: Like you said, my best two events typically are pommel horse and rings, which is a pretty unique combo in the world. My focus right now is to add one skill on pommels, which I have been working on but have not performed in competition, and changing up my rings set and adding a little difficulty. For the other events, we are looking at adding more on floor and possibly vault. We are trying to maintain on parallel bars and high bar, which could give me the opportunity to be a first-day competitor on those events during team qualification, and then let our heavy hitters on those events perform in the team finals. My coach and I feel that my combined difficulty score for rings and pommel horse, along with where I am on the other events, will carry weight for me when the committee is selecting the six-man Worlds team.

IG: With three U.S. titles on pommel horse, and coming close to making the final at last year's Worlds, what are you doing to boost your D- and E-scores to stay on top in the U.S., as well as challenge for a Worlds medal?

AN: This is always a difficult task, because too much emphasis on difficulty can cause you to not hit or hit with poor form. I’ve revamped my set from Worlds last year by adding another skill to raise my difficulty from last year and eliminated my leg cuts, which gave me a six-tenth deduction. We are also working on an even higher set if I make finals and have to go big, if the guys are putting up some large numbers.

IG: You and (2013 Worlds rings bronze medalist and three-time U.S. rings champion) Brandon Wynn are a formidable pair on rings. What do you think it will take to outscore him at USAs this year?

AN: Brandon Wynn is an animal, I have lived with him on tour and when we traveled to last year’s Worlds. He is all business when it comes to his health and rings. He knows that it could be his ticket into the world championships. When I compete it isn’t about beating one of my teammates, so I definitely do not think like that. I think that anyone who thinks that way is significantly hurting his chances of doing well. I look at how I can beat my best score, which is a 15.6, and myself. To do that, I recently purchased a strength machine I saw in China when I was there for camp. Every rings guy they had was using it. In fact, Chen Yibing - one of the best, if not the best, rings man of all time - has his name on the side of it. I think this machine can help my rings strength and possibly move me up a level on that event.

Naddour and fiancée Hollie Vise

IG: What are your wedding plans?

AN: Hollie and I are officially engaged, which is awesome. With her busy schedule and mine, we would like to get married sometime in May 2015. Since her whole family lives in Dallas and I want her to be the happiest girl on planet Earth, our wedding will be in Dallas! It is a beautiful place, so I am very excited about that. Her family is amazing; they have always been very nice to me. I definitely get along with their whole family. I cannot wait until May when it is official and we are all a family.

IG: Being coached for so long by your father (Mike Naddour), how has your training program shifted since the 2012 Olympics?

AN: Since London we have shifted my training slightly and emphasized more on getting my body in the best shape it can be. We have found that if I am in good shape, I tend to compete and hit my sets more often than not. After leaving OU (Oklahoma University), which was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my whole life, it took a while to get on a training schedule that we knew would work for me. I still miss my friends there. They were like brothers to me, and every chance I get, I tell them how much they mean to me. OU has a phenomenal facility and coaching staff. I hope that many athletes get the same opportunity that I had and really take advantage of everything the University of Oklahoma has to offer. London was a great learning experience for me. To be a part of that team and to know what happens during the Olympics, especially behind the scenes, is something I will always remember and could help me when it comes time for 2016 in Rio.

International Gymnast magazine’s recent coverage of U.S. male gymnasts includes:
Jake Dalton cover photo (April 2013)
"Jacob’s Ladder" – Dalton profile (July/August 2011)
Paul Hamm interview (September 2010)
Quest Hayden profile, Dan and Dennis Hayden update (December 2013)
Jonathan Horton two-page center poster (April 2011)
"Catching up with Steve Hug" – profile (December 2013)
"Like Mother, Like Son" – David Jessen profile (June 2010)
"United State" – Danell Leyva/Yin Alvarez profile (May 2010)
Leyva cover photo (September 2011)
Leyva cover photo (April 2012)
"Back to the Future" – Leyva cover photo and profile (December 2012)
"Sam I Am" – Sam Mikulak cover photo and interview (July/August 2013)
Mikulak two-page center poster (April 2014)
"Ready to Rise Again" – John Orozco center poster and profile (November 2012)
"Bronx Bomber" – Orozco interview (April 2012)
"Athlete Retreat" – visit to U.S. Olympic Training Center (October 2011)

To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 23 April 2014 10:48    PDF Print
IG Interview: Ava Verdeflor (Philippines)
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Following her 12th-place all-around finish at this month's Junior Asian Championships in Tashkent, Ava Verdeflor of the Philippines is preparing to take some of the world's best young gymnasts at this summer's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. Pictured: Coach Wu Guonian, gymnast Tristan Lopez, Gymnastics Association of the Philippines President Cynthia Carrion, Verdeflor and her coach Natasha Boyarskaya.

Following her 12th-place all-around finish at this month's Junior Asian Championships in Tashkent, Ava Verdeflor of the Philippines is preparing to take some of the world's best young gymnasts at this summer's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.

Ava Verdeflor (Philippines)

Verdeflor earned a berth to the Games through her performance at the Junior Asian Championships — held April 10-13 in Tashkent — where she placed 12th despite problems on uneven bars.

Tristan Lopez, another Philippine team member who trains in the United States, also competed in Tashkent in the men's competition. Lopez trains with Chinese legend Wu Guonian at New Hope Gymnastics in California.

Born Jan. 2, 1999, in Tarlac, Philippines, Verdeflor immigrated with her family to Singapore when she was two months old, and then moved to California in 2002. She began taking recreational gymnastics classes at age 6 at Pegasus Gymnastics in Milpitas. Pegasus closed a few months later, at which time she began training at Airborne Gymnastics in Santa Clara.

In 2006 Verdeflor and her family moved to Allen, Texas. There, upon the recommendation of her Airborne coaches, she successfully tried out for World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Plano.

Verdeflor's first coach at WOGA, Natasha Boyarskaya, remains her coach on balance beam and floor exercise. For the past four years Laurent Landi has been coaching her on vault and uneven bars. Nataliya Marakova has choreographed all of her floor exercise routines.

Verdeflor, who placed first all-around in the junior division at last year's Philippines National Games, began competing internationally for the Philippines this year. In this IG Online interview, Verdeflor describes her plans for performing well for her native country, starting with her performance in Tashkent and thinking ahead to the Youth Olympics.

Verdeflor in Taskhent with six-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina

IG: Congratulations on not only your performances in Tashkent, but on qualifying for the Youth Olympic Games. What specifically pleased you about each of these accomplishments?

AV: Competing at the Junior Asian Championships was a learning experience for me. It was not as smooth as I wanted it to be. We were waiting for approval of TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) for my medicine for my back and ankles. We did not receive the approval until April 17, so I was not able to take my medication until after the competition. My back was hurting and my ankles were swollen the night before the competition.

My first event was vault, so we decided to just do one vault instead of two, because if I hurt my ankles further, I might not be able to do the other events. I pulled on my Jaeger and my Achilles' (tendon) got hooked on the bars, so I panicked, lost my rhythm and fell on my overshoot and dismount. But I am very thankful that I was able to recover and did well on my last two events, beam and floor, and still be able to qualify to the Youth Olympic Games despite the mistakes on bars.

IG: The Junior Asian Championships was your biggest test yet, but now you are preparing to take on the world's best young gymnasts in Nanjing this summer. What will your plan be for making your routines as difficult and consistent as they can be?

AV: I went back to my doctor when we got back from Tashkent. I will be doing physical therapy for my ankles, and continue my back exercises. As my back and ankles get better, my coaches will gradually put back the skills we removed from my program, and maybe add a few more. Our priority right now is to keep me healthy for the Youth Olympics.

IG: When and how did you come to the decision to start competing for the Philippines?

AV: My parents are both from the Philippines, and the idea of competing for the Philippines has always been there from the beginning. We first got in touch with GAP (Gymnastics Association of the Philippines) when I was 11 years old. I was still too young to be on the team, but we went to the gym in Manila just to meet with the GAP president and the national team coach. I met the girls team and trained with them for a few days. In May 2013, I participated in the Philippine National Games, which was also the national ranking. I was able to get gold in the all-around and secure my spot on the national team.

IG: How do you view yourself among your Philippines teammates, considering that you train far away from them?

Verdeflor on floor exercise in 2014

AV: I was able to bond with them when I trained with them in May 2013 during the Philippine National Games. We keep in touch through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I'm excited to see them again this May when I go back to the Philippines for this year's Philippine National Games. But I will not be competing at the Philippine National Games this year, because I need to rest my back and ankles. I will be there to cheer my team on.

IG: How are you and your WOGA coaches coordinating your training with the national team coaches in the Philippines?

AV: GAP lets my WOGA coaches decide whatever is best for my program. Whenever I go back to Manila to train with the Philippines team, my WOGA coaches send a plan for my training, and that plan is what we follow.

IG: When and how often will you be traveling to the Philippines to train?

AV: I go there once a year, for about a week, for the Philippine National Games.

IG: The Philippines has not been well known in gymnastics, but you are already giving the country a lot of hope for not only Nanjing, but the big competitions leading to the 2016 Olympics. What is your perspective on the part you are playing for the success of the Philippines gymnastics program?

AV: I am hoping to promote gymnastics in the Philippines. My dream is to be able to win medals for the Philippines and maybe inspire more girls to take on the sport. Right now, the Philippines are not well known for gymnastics, but with the help of my coaches and the support of GAP, I am hoping to change that in the near future.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Asian gymnasts includes:

Deng Linlin two-page center poster (April 2013)
He Kexin cover photo (January/February 2010)
Huang Huidan two-page center poster (March 2014)
"Unbelievable" – Li Ning feature (June 2011)
Liu Yang two-page center poster (December 2013)
Tan Sixin cover photo, 14-page photo feature on IG's visit to Chinese national training center (June 2011)
Yao Jinnan on cover photo collage (July/August 2012)

Hong Kong
"Ready to Rock" – Wai Hung Shek profile (July/August 2012)
"Hope for Hong Kong" – Angel Wong profile (January/February 2011)

"Routine Maestro" – profile on Code of Points illustrator Koichi Endo (March 2010)
Yuya Kamoto cover photo, 2010 Youth Olympic Games coverage (October 2010)
Natsumi Sasada on cover photo collage (July/August 2010)
"Twist of Fate" – Kenzo Shirai interview (January/February 2014)
"10 Questions with Naoya Tsukahara" – interview (September 2013)
Koko Tsurumi two-page center poster (October 2010)
"Virtuoso!" - Kohei Uchimura profile (April 2010)
Kohei Uchimura cover photo and center poster, 2011 World Championships special issue (December 2011)
"10 Questions with Kohei Uchimura" – interview (April 2012)
"10 Questions with Shuko Uchimura (Kohei's mother)" interview (July/August 2012)
Kohei Uchimura cover photo, 2013 World Championships special issue (November 2013)

"The Next Step" – Yang Hak Seon interview (October 2013)

"Tracie Ang Takes Aim at 2011" – profile (March 2011)

"Desert Oasis" – feature on IG's visit to Qatar national training center (January/February 2012)

"True to Form" – Lim Heem Wei profile (June 2012)

"Catching up with Irina Baraksanova" – profile and small cover photo (July/August 2010)
"Swing Shift" – Anton Fokin profile (January/February 2012)
"Angular Precision" – Elvira Saadi feature (April 2013)

Phan Thi Ha Thanh cover photo and profile, feature on IG's visit to Vietnamese national training center (January/February 2014)

To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 17 April 2014 20:20    PDF Print
IG Interview: Cameron MacKenzie (South Africa)
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Previously a junior hope for Great Britain, South African-born Cameron MacKenzie is eager to represent his home country.

A team gold medalist for Great Britain at the 2010 European Junior Championships, Cameron MacKenzie is eagerly adjusting to the new role, opportunities and challenges he is taking on to represent South Africa, the country of his birth.

MacKenzie was born Nov. 18, 1992, in Humansdorp (close to Jeffreys Bay), but moved to England with his family when he was 9.

MacKenzie helped the British team win gold at the 2010 European Junior Championships in Birmingham, where he finished 10th all-around in qualifications. In British senior all-around competition, MacKenzie placed 12th in 2011, 11th in 2012 and sixth in 2013.

While living in England, MacKenzie trained under coach Paul Hall at Huntingdon Olympic Gymnastics Club, where his training partners included three-time Olympic medalist Louis Smith, 2009 world all-around silver medalist Daniel Keatings and 2012 Olympic team bronze medalist Sam Oldham.

MacKenzie, who was hampered by a wrist injury at last month's African Championships, aims to be at peak form for this summer's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and this fall's world championships in Nanning.

In this IG Online interview, MacKenzie details his expectations as a potential leader of South African gymnastics.

IG: 2014 is going to be a big year for you, representing your "new" country at the Commonwealth Games and hopefully Worlds. Although you have competed in big events such as the 2010 Junior Europeans, how are you preparing to not only compete well for yourself, but also take on the expectations that South Africa has for you?

MacKenzie at the African championships

CM: 2014 will definitely be a big year for me as far as establishing myself as a South African gymnast, both continentally and globally. Commonwealth Games qualification is by no means a given, but it would be fantastic to compete in the Games, as well as the 2014 World Championships. I think many people are expecting great things from me. I can certainly feel the pressure to perform and produce results. Although I had my fair share of experience as a junior, a three-year break from international events has left me a little nervy and unpracticed. I plan on building my competition experience this year to reach a consistent and stable level of performance, where I can set about achieving my goals as well as those of South Africa's.

IG: When and why did you come to the decision to start representing South Africa?

CM: In 2010 I competed in a junior international in South Africa. It was the first time I had been back to my country of birth since emigrating when I was 9 years old. I ended up winning the competition and remember feeling uneasy as the British anthem played for me – it felt wrong to be flying a different flag in my own country.

Since then the idea that I should be competing for South Africa took root, but it wasn't until early 2013 that I began communications. The benefits were obvious in that I would have a much better chance to compete in international events for South Africa than I would for Great Britain. Everyone I spoke to agreed that it was a good decision, including my coaches and parents, although it was certainly not something which I rushed into.

IG: How have you physically transitioned from training in England to living and training in South Africa?

CM: I'm currently living near Pretoria and training at Centurion Gymnastics Club. I made the decision to move back to South Africa to be fully part of the set-up and team. I'm serious about progressing in my gymnastics career, and believe that moving back to South Africa is an important gesture in order for people to get behind me and to achieve the necessary support. The move means I've had to leave behind one of the best clubs and coaches in the world at Huntingdon, as well as my parents and sister. For now I have no set plans for travelling back and forth for training, but I'm sure I will still be spending time in Huntingdon over the coming years.

IG: How much will Paul Hall be involved in coaching you going forward?

MacKenzie with a young South African gymnast

CM: Paul will continue to help with training programs and advice. My coach here in South Africa is Gerhard Ferreira, and we send videos of my training to Paul, who can then comment and help out. Obviously it's been difficult adapting to new circumstances, but I've been overwhelmed by the help and support I've received so far. And not only here in South Africa but also in England, where two great companies (Paul Lancaster Ltd and QAV-ltd) have taken it upon themselves to support me, and have made a tremendous impact on my career.

IG: What do you think you can bring to the South African team, in terms of not only scoring potential but your leadership skills and your international experience?

CM: I don't consider myself a very experienced gymnast, especially on a senior level. A lot of the South African team have already competed in world championships and are older than I, so my experience is not something which I think will make a big difference to the team. I would primarily look at contributing scores on each apparatus, and being the consistent all-arounder who can help hold the team together during competition through my performance. I'm also looking at ways to bring the team together regularly for training, as we are split among four clubs.

IG: What you can take away from your performance at the African Championships in terms of preparing for the bigger competitions to come in 2014?

CM: Unfortunately I injured my right wrist in the build-up to Africans. X-rays showed that an old fracture became inflamed, which resulted in taking a lot of difficulty out of my routines. I managed to fight through the competition and finished fourth all-around, which was quite a disappointing result when I consider the winning score was certainly within my grasp if I had been fit. However, I was pleased that I was able to contribute towards the team result, and have now participated in an African Championships. If anything, the competition has further motivated me to make sure I'm properly prepared for upcoming events in 2014.


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