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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 12 January 2010 20:43    PDF Print
IG Interview: Matthias Fahrig (Germany)
(27 votes, average 4.81 out of 5)

Left off Germany's 2008 Olympic team as a disciplinary measure, 2004 Olympian Matthias Fahrig is more determined than ever to prove himself.

Left off Germany's 2008 Olympic team as a disciplinary measure, 2004 Olympian and 2009 world championships two-event finalist Matthias Fahrig is more determined than ever to prove himself.

Born Dec. 12, 1985, in Wittenberg, Fahrig was the second-youngest member of Germany's eighth-place team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Solid international results following Athens made him a likely candidate for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, as well. He won gold medals on floor exercise and vault at the 2006 Glasgow Grand Prix, a World Cup meet. He placed third on floor exercise and fourth on vault at the 2007 European Championships in Amsterdam. At the 2008 German Championships, Fahrig was seventh all-around, but was not nominated for the Olympic team.

Based on Fahrig's performances following Beijing, his motivation appears to be stronger than before. Last spring he won two medals (silver on floor exercise, bronze on vault) at the European Championships in Milan. He made two finals at the World Championships in London in October, where he placed sixth on floor exercise and fourth on vault. Fahrig finished his season by winning the silver medal on vault at the DTB Cup, a World Cup meet in Stuttgart in November, where he also placed sixth on floor exercise.

In this IG Online interview, Fahrig discusses his new focus, his role on the German team and his plans to return to the Olympics two years from now in London.

IG: What were the high- and low points of your 2009 season?

MF: In 2009 I participated in a lot of competitions. That is why I have to tell you that it is very difficult for me to tell you what was the highest and the lowest point, but I will try to explain. One of the lowest parts in the year was the same as every year. It's always the preparation for a competition, because the preparation for a great competition like Europeans and worlds is always very, very long and hard. But we all know "No training, no success and no hard training, no great success."

Concerning the highlights of the year, I can tell you that every final on my favorite apparatus is a very high and special moment for me, because I like the triumphs on floor and on vault. It's also a confirmation for my preparations. This triumph is gratification for all the hard work.

IG: You came close to winning medals on two events at the world championships in London in October. What do you think you need to add to your performances so you can challenge for medals at the next worlds (Oct. 17-24, 2010, in Rotterdam)?

MF: I don't think I need a higher Start Value on floor. I think that I only need better presentation in my exercise, and I have to work for a better landing on all tumbling lines. On vault I think it's always like Russian roulette! Because, on vault, the winner will be the one who doesn't make a mistake on the landing.

IG: Why exactly were you not named to the German Olympic team in 2008?

MF: I was not included on the team because I was not able to make gymnastics a top priority. Therefore, it was the right decision of the federation to give me a break. I had the chance to reconsider everything, and I can tell you that I feel better than before.

IG: What key changes have you made in your training, to be a better all-arounder?

MF: I have worked on a lot of basic skills, and have tried to be a gymnast who is able to participate on all six apparatus. You can see that I have big problems on rings and on pommel horse, and that is why I worked on these two problem area more than ever. Now I think it will help me to find my way onto the German team for 2012. I think that I will be a part of the 2012 team if I solve these two "problems."

IG: How and where did you celebrate the holidays?

MF: [I rang] in the year with my family and friends in Wittenberg. Wittenberg is the place where I learned gymnastics, and we had a nice, small party.

IG: How would you describe your relationship with 2007 world high bar champion Fabian Hambüchen? And how are you coping with the extra responsibility you have to the team, since Fabian has been injured lately?

MF: I think Fabian is an awesome gymnast, and I think that he participated in a lot of competitions, so I think that he can't be the best in every competition. I also think that a lot of people want him to win every competition. But we all have to consider that he is only human. So I can tell you that I see my role on the team as not more important than before. Fabian and I are a very great "team" inside the competition and outside the gym, so I'm waiting for him to compete (with me) as a team. I think we could achieve a lot of finals this year and for the rest of our gymnastics careers.

IG: What are your goals for 2010, in and out of the gym?

MF: For 2010 I will try to be a nice gymnast, and, of course, I would like to improve my performance on floor and vault. I would also like to work on my landings and my presentation. For my "other" life, outside the gym, I would like to finish my education.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 17 November 2009 11:36    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Larrissa Miller (Australia)
(16 votes, average 4.38 out of 5)

Larrissa Miller of Australia made a quick transition to world competition and left a positive impression at last month’s world championships in London, where she placed seventh on uneven bars.

Larrissa Miller (Australia) at the 2009 World Championships in London

Born July 12, 1992, in Monanbah, Miller began training at age five. She trains under coaches Sasha and Olga Beloussov at Moreton Bay College in Brisbane. (Sasha coaches her on uneven bars, tumbling and vault; Olga coaches her on balance beam, dance and vault.)

Miller is part of a very athletic family. Her mother, Leonie, is a child care worker who used to compete in swimming. Her father, David, is an underground miner who used to play soccer. Miller has two brothers, Kelvin and Cody, and one sister, Nicole. Kelvin used to play soccer, Cody used to play soccer and trained in high-level gymnastics, and Nicole used to participate in gymnastics and swimming.

IG recently spoke with Miller, who recounted her London performances and revealed her plans for all-around success in 2010.

IG: Larrissa, how did you cope with the pressure of competing in your first world championships? This competition was a big jump from your previous competitions at the national level.

LM: It was actually easier than I had always imagined it would be. When I went out on the podium I didn’t look up at the audience; I just kept to myself and kept focused. Although I was nervous as soon as I jumped on to the apparatus, I just did my routine like I normally would. The hardest thing for me was probably not getting a 30-second touch before I performed, because I had never had to do that before.

IG: What were your realistic expectations going into London?

LM: I didn’t really have any expectation, because it was my first world championships and I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to go out there and compete my routine the best that I could. Just getting into the finals was really exciting for me.

IG: Based on your performance in the final, how close to a maximum performance did you feel you gave? What, if anything, could you have done better?

LM: I think I was a little more nervous going into event finals. I got a higher Execution score but I also missed my shoot-over to handstand which meant the Start Value of my routine went down. I definitely could have done a better shoot-over and also a cleaner dismount landing.

IG: Now that you have competed in a world championships final, what changes or improvements do you feel you need to make in order to challenge for a medal?

LM: I am working on raising the Start Value of my routine, both by skill and connections. I am also working hard to keep my Execution score up. I think if I can get a better Start Value and keep my Execution score as high as I can. I will have a stronger opportunity of medaling.

IG: Bars being your strongest event, what efforts are you making to improve your performances on the other three events?

LM: Before the world championships I wasn’t full training the other three apparatuses because of a foot injury. Now I am just trying really hard to get all my other routines together so I can compete all-around. I can do all my skills on beam and my tumbles on floor. I just have to work at getting them into a routine and getting my fitness up. On vault I am trying to increase my difficulty and do more repetitions.

IG: In London, how did you maintain your personal 'cool' despite the highs and lows faced by your teammates, such as Shona Morgan's knee injury and Lauren Mitchell's close brush with a medal in the all-around)?

LM: I didn’t find out about Shona’s knee until after I competed in qualifications, which was a good thing. I did feel sorry for both Shona and Lauren, but I really just tried not to think about it, and not let it get to me. I just focused on what I had to do in the event finals.

IG: Heading into 2010, in what ways do you think you can help the Australian team, especially since the 2010 Worlds will include a team competition?

LM: I am trying hard to get an all-around program ready for 2010. I think floor and bars will be my strongest events but I am also working hard at getting my other two events together with higher Start Values.

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 04 October 2009 14:42    PDF Print
IG Interview: Wesley Haagensen (USA)
(15 votes, average 4.73 out of 5)

Preparing for his world championships debut this month, 2009 U.S. all-around bronze medalist Wesley Haagensen told IG that comprehensive physical and psychological training has well prepared him to face the world's best gymnasts.

Haagensen, who is slated to compete on pommel horse and still rings at worlds (Oct. 13-18 in London), has emerged to the senior international level after a lengthy career in junior and senior U.S. competitions.

Born Dec. 21, 1985, in Sheridan, Wyo., he lived in Oklahoma until age 16. He resided in Belleville, Ill., until age 18.

At the 2002 U.S. Championships, Haagensen placed fourth all-around in the 14-15 age group. At the 2003 U.S. Championships, he placed fifth all-around in the 16-18 age group. Haagensen competed as a senior at the 2004 U.S. Championships, where he placed 19th all-around. During Haagensen's NCAA career at the University of Illinois from 2005-2008, his best NCAA all-around finishes were fourth place in 2006, and second place (tie) in 2007.

Haagensen's third-place all-around finish at the 2009 Visa (U.S.) Championships marked a 19-rank improvement from his results at the 2008 U.S. Championships. He credits his rise to his relocation to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he has been training under coaches Vitaly Marinitch and Alex Shchennikov since Dec. 31, 2008.

As Haagensen makes final preparations for London, he spoke with IG about the plans and progress he has made as he heads toward the 2012 Olympic Games.

IG: You improved by an impressive 19 positions from last year's U.S. Championships to this year's competition. What specifically contributed to this big leap?

WH: There were several factors that contributed to this season's success. I moved to the Olympic Training Center and started a consistent training plan all the way through to the U.S. Championships. I moved to the OTC on New Year's Eve, and basically rededicated myself to the sport of gymnastics, putting forth all of my efforts into my training, through preparation in and out of the gym. I believed in my head coach, Vitaly Marinitch, and assistant coach, Alex Shchennikov, and followed their training plan precisely. Also, I did various methods of mental preparation, such as visualizations, meditations, and specific breathing and relaxation techniques in order to develop my mental toughness.

The USOTC also caters its athletes with a great nutritional plan, which helped me to stay on a healthy diet. I spent numerous hours in recovery from workouts for my body in order to be prepared for each practice every day by sitting in cold tubs, hot tubs and steam rooms, receiving massages, and rehabbing all injuries. I went into this USAs knowing and believing I could hit my routines, and let everything else fall into place. I feel that the combination of all these tasks helped me to reach the next level.

IG: Although you had four solid years of NCAA competition, we did not see as much of you at U.S. Championships competitions during that four-year period. What were the reasons for not competing at U.S. Championships from 2005-2007?

WH: I always had the desire to compete in the U.S. Championships, but I underwent shoulder surgery in 2005, and was not on a consistent training plan to be prepared for championships the following years. It was very difficult for me to watch these competitions go by without being in the heat of the mix, so I decided to make a change.

IG: What motivated you to continue training and competing, following graduation and the end of the last Olympic cycle?

WH: I just knew that, if I retired after my graduation, that I would regret it for the rest of my life. There was no way I was going to look back and wonder what could have happened, so I decided if I was going to stay in the sport, then I am going to give it everything I have, and then live without any regrets. I know that I have not yet reached my full potential and have many more accomplishments left to achieve.

IG: What are your specific plans for London?

WH: In London, I am competing on pommel horse and still rings. My plan is to stay calm and relaxed, raise my hand, and perform my routines in front of the judges and the crowd. It's as simple as that! It's really all I can do. My main focus is to hit these two events to the best of my capabilities, and everything else that happens is out of my hands.

I will be performing the same pommel horse routine I did at the U.S. Championships, so it will be a great experience to swing some horse with the best in the world.

On rings, I have slightly changed my routine from what I performed at the U.S. Championships. The Start Value remains the same, but I have rearranged the order of my skills to make things flow better and eliminate some deduction. On rings I've been working hard to perfect my Maltese position, so I really want to show that off. I'm focusing on holding my strength, having very smooth swinging skills, solid handstands without any shakes or wobbles, and sticking the dismount. I believe I can open some eyes to the rest of the world on this event, and won't be holding anything back. More than anything in particular, I am focused on hitting, and letting everything else go.

IG: Although you are an experienced gymnast, worlds will be your first major international competition. How are you and your coaches mentally preparing you to face the top international gymnasts?

WH: Indeed I will be competing against the best gymnasts in the world, but I'm not focused on the other gymnasts; I'm only focused on myself. In the sport of gymnastics, I can't control what any of the other athletes do, I can only control myself. With that in mind, Vitaly has been training me very hard to be prepared for this competition. I've been doing so many routines that, by the time the competition comes around, it will be like second nature. While doing routines in practice, we have been working hard to simulate exactly what it will be like at Worlds.

Vitaly has convinced me that I have no pressure, and to just go out and perform my routines, and that's what I plan to do. I've also been training my mind daily through breathing exercise to help control my heart rate during competitions to stay relaxed, meditation techniques to block out any distractions that may occur, and visualizations, so that I have practiced and trained my routines until they become automatic. Although it is World Championships, it's still just another competition. It's going to be a lot of fun.

IG: Who coaches you on which events?

WH: Vitaly and Alex both coach all six events. They do an excellent job of working together, and balancing out their coaching styles in order to give all necessary feedback, spotting, and anything else that may be needed on all the events.

IG: Previously you had a plan to go to law school and become a sports agent. How does this fit into your future competitive plans?

WH: Well, my plans have changed somewhat since then. I don't think I will be going to law school, although it isn't completely out of the question. I really don't know yet of what career I plan to take on after gymnastics. I have been looking into and weighing out different options, such as earning my master's, or looking at other graduate school programs. But honestly, my No. 1 focus as of now is gymnastics, and the 2012 Olympics (also in London). Afterwards, if I were to retire, I definitely want to take on a career that stays involved in sports in some manner. I graduated with an MBA in business, so possibly running a sports team, managing one, starting my own gym, or maybe even pursuing to be a sports agent could all be options. Sports are my passion, and I never want to stray from that. We'll just have to see where that road leads me.

Read about Haagensen's performance at the 2009 U.S. Championships in the October 2009 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

Written by Kaori Miyaura    Tuesday, 21 July 2009 12:48    PDF Print
IG Quick Chat: Aliya Mustafina (Russia)
(22 votes, average 4.95 out of 5)

IG contributor Kaori Miyaura chatted with Russia's Aliya Mustafina during the Japan Cup this weekend in Tokyo.

Aliya Mustafina (Russia) leaps on balance beam at the 2009 Japan Cup in Tokyo.

Mustafina, a junior, helped Russia finish second to China in the team competition on Saturday. On Sunday, she finished second all-around behind China's Huang Quishuang and ahead of teammate Tatiana Nabiyeva.

Born Sept. 30, 1994, Mustafina is one of Russia's top prospects for the 2012 Olympic Games. She finished second all-around behind Nabiyeva at the 2008 Junior European Gymnastics Championships in Clermont-Ferrand.

Mustafina trains at Moscow's Central Sport Army Club (CSKA) with coaches Olga Sikorro and Sergei Zelikson. Her younger sister, Nailia Mustafina, is also a member of Russia's junior team, and won the silver medal on floor exercise at the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships in San Jose.

Following the team competition in Tokyo, Miyaura caught up with Mustafina, who will be eligible for senior competition in 2010.

IG: When is the next competition for you?

AM: The Russian Cup is my next competition. It’s going to be held in the end of August in Penza. After going back home, I’ll be working toward it.

IG: Do you have any gymnasts as your role model?

AM: I like Nastia Liukin (U.S.). I adore her elegant and beautiful performances with difficult elements. I like especially her graceful uneven bars and balance beam.

Among the Russians, I like Ksenia Afanasyeva. I respect her strong and beautiful gymnastics.

IG: Could you tell us your future goals?

AM: To participate in the 2012 Olympics in London. But just participating is not enough. I want to show good enough performances and make a good contribution to lead our team to good results.

IG: Could you give a message to international fans?

AM: Me? To international fans? Is it OK from me?

IG: Yes, of course. You have worldwide fans.

AM: I’d like to say thank you very much to everybody who supports me.

External Link: Japan Cup videos at Aliya Mustafina's Official Web Site

Written by Amanda Turner    Tuesday, 19 May 2009 07:46    PDF Print
IG Interview: Charlotte Mackie (Canada)
(68 votes, average 4.90 out of 5)

Heading into the Canadian Championships, British Columbia's Charlotte Mackie spoke with IG about her immediate and long-term goals, her recent coaching change, older sister Gael and more.

Charlotte Mackie (Canada) at the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships

The 2005 novice national champion, Mackie is a favorite to win her first senior title at the Canadian Championships, which take place June 2-6 in Hamilton, Ont. She is the younger sister of 2003 Canadian champion Gael Mackie, a 2004 Olympian who now competes for the University of Utah.

Charlotte Mackie, who turns 16 on Oct. 6, is already a veteran of international competition, having won medals on four continents. In 2007, she won bronze medals at the Romanian International (all-around, balance beam and floor exercise), the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro (team) and the Japanese Junior International (vault and balance beam).

In 2008, she placed fourth all-around and second with the Canadian team at the Pacific Rim Championships in San Jose, Calif. Competing among the seniors, she was fourth at the Canadian Championships in Calgary and third at Elite Canada in Gatineau, Quebec.

In 2009, Mackie made her move to a new coaching environment. For most of her career, Mackie trained with coaches Vladimir and Svetlana Lashin at Omega Gymnastics. Since Feb. 19, Mackie has been training at Surrey Gymnastics Society with David Kenwright, who coached two-time Olympian Kate Richardson.

In March, Mackie made her senior debut at the Gymnix World Cup in Montreal, earning a complete set of medals: gold on vault, silver on floor exercise and bronze on balance beam. In April, she won another vault gold and floor exercise silver at the Wild Rose International in Edmonton, Alberta.

In this IG Online interview, Mackie opened up about adjusting to her new height, new surroundings and new outlook on the sport.

IG: How are you adjusting to your new gym and coaches?

CM: I'm adjusting really well! I love my new coaches and my new gym so much. It took about a month to adjust to a different atmosphere, conditioning, technique and coaching style. But it's an ongoing process, and I'm still continuously working on adjustments. The hours aren't too different, but I'm doing some early morning training before school, and the afternoon training sessions aren't quite so long.

My coaches really want to work on my athleticism, technical program and developing my potential as a truly artistic gymnast.

IG: Can you tell us what the reasons for the switch were?

CM: I switched clubs because I needed a different approach to coaching and training, a different coaching style. Although every coach who has worked with me has helped me in some way, I want to be able to love gymnastics for all of my life and hope to continue my elite career for another three or more years, or possibly longer.

IG: How was your first World Cup experience in Montreal?

CM: My first World Cup was awesome, I really enjoyed it! This was my first official competition as a senior. It was neat to interact with other gymnasts from other countries. I found the atmosphere at World Cup very friendly and fun!

Charlotte Mackie (Canada) at the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships

IG: Not many gymnasts have the two vaults needed to make finals. How much time do you spend working on your second vault?

CM: I usually spend time every week on my second vault, especially when I was first learning it. I am currently making modifications to it, so I do work on it every week, but not every day. I usually alternate vaults every second day of training.

IG: Where do you feel your current strengths and weaknesses are as a gymnast?

CM: I feel that my current strengths are having flexibility, artistry and pretty good leg strength. But my weakness is definitely upper body strength. Since I have moved to my new gym, I have focused much more on core and upper body strength. David and I are really focusing on conditioning. The other area of weakness was my bars. Since I started training with David, I have switched over to using grips. Previously, I was limited in the amount of bars training I could do, because of sore and ripped hands. I can now train longer hours on bars, and using different technique. It is a really slow process making the adjustment to grips, but it will be worth it in the long run, definitely.

IG: How have you modified your routines this year to go along with the changes to the Code of Points?

CM: I am really focusing on making my skills and routines cleaner. I am continuing to work on improved technique. This will improve my E score. I am also working on some skills with higher difficulty.

IG: Do you have any new skills or routines you're particularly excited about?

CM: I am really excited to perform my new floor routine and new beam routine. It will be really exciting when my new bar routine comes together, after working extremely hard on it! It is basically like I have relearned every skill in my bar routine, and have also learned a new mount, and new release move.

IG: What dream skill would you love to be able to do?

CM: I would love to increase the difficulty on every event, with harder skills. There are so many dream skills I'd love to do — basically any high difficulty skill! We are currently playing around with a few right now, but with this Code of Points, there isn't much benefit competing them until they are done very well.

IG: You're grown a lot since we first saw you as a junior. How tall are you now, and have you had to change any technique for your new height?

CM: Yes, I have grown six inches in less than two years! I had a big growth spurt one year ago, and lost some skills. Last summer and fall I worked really hard to relearn them again. Mostly, I've had to constantly adjust the technique as I grow but it is hardest when there is a big growth spurt. The biggest adjustment to growing for me has been on bars, adjusting the giants and other skills as my swinging length increased. I have long arms for my height, so I swing quite long on bars. With David, I have adjusted my giants technique again. But I think my growth into an "adult" gymnast has helped my vaulting, which has improved in the past couple of years.

IG: Your sister unfortunately struggled quite a bit with injuries during her elite career. Is this something you worry a lot about?

CM: I don't worry about it too much, just try to train carefully and keep strong, and catch little injuries before they become big. And sometimes injuries just happen. Gael worked so, so hard to make the Olympic team, she was on an accelerated training program, and pushed really hard to make the team when she was 15. It was really hard on her body. I haven't had the pressure of going senior and Olympics, so I could train at a more normal pace.

Charlotte Mackie (Canada) at the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships

IG: How often do you talk to your sister? What kind of advice does she give you, and what kind do you give her?

CM: I talk to my sister almost every day on Blackberry Messenger. If I don't hear from her, I know she has exams or a big paper to write! We don't really give each other advice that much, we are really close and like to talk. We are pretty normal outside the gym.

IG: Are you also thinking about doing college gymnastics down the line?

CM: I don't have plans to do college gymnastics, as yet. Right now, I am preparing for university in Canada, and doing well both academically and reaching my gymnastic goals.

IG: You looked very strong in 2008, on par with other gymnasts who competed in Beijing. What is your opinion about the age-limit rule? Do you think 14 or 15 year olds should be allowed to compete at worlds and Olympics?

CM: Of course, last year, in 2008, I wished I could have gone. But now that I really think about it, I would have been too young, and inexperienced. There would have been way more pressure and intense training and competition for the last three or four years. Now I think I'm lucky to be too young for 2008, because I still love gymnastics and still have goals ahead of me. I think the long training hours, constant pain and tiredness is hard on young kids. I had lots of challenges and got lots of experience from the junior meets I did.

Some of my favorite gymnasts competed and looked great at the Olympics when they were older than 19, like Kate Richardson, Svetlana Khorkina and Oksana Chusovitina. I think lowering the age-limit rule would not be good for the gymnasts physically or mentally.

IG: What are your goals for Canadian Nationals? What about the rest of 2009?

CM: My goals for nationals are to be consistent and clean with my routines. I hope to show good technique and artistry. I would love to be able to do my new bar routine, but we're unsure if it'll be ready for nationals. I also have a new floor routine I'm working on. Throughout the summer, I'll continue to work hard on my bars, and will polish my other routines and upgrade where I can.

In the fall, my goal is to make the Worlds team, and to compete my routines internationally to the best of my ability.


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