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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.

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 10 May 2009 12:58    PDF Print
Interview: Sydney Sawa (Canada)
(63 votes, average 4.94 out of 5)

Preparing for the upcoming Canadian Championships, 2007 worlds competitor Sydney Sawa talked to IG about her goals and her new role on the rejuvenated Canadian team.

Sawa was a member of the Canadian team that placed 14th at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, where the top 12 teams qualified for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. She now aims to improve her own international ranking as she lends experience to the current group of Canadian gymnasts that include first-year seniors Brittany Rogers, Charlotte Mackie and Peng Peng Lee.

Born June 15, 1992, in Calgary, Sawa trains at Calgary Gymnastics Centre. Her coaches are Janna Ball, Ovidiu Serban and consulting coach David Kenwright. Sawa is a second generation Japanese-Canadian; her grandparents moved from Japan to Canada, where her parents were born.

Sawa tied for third place all-around at the 2007 Canadian Championships, and placed fifth all-around at the 2008 Canadian Championships. She finished second all-around (between Rogers and Mackie) at the 2008 Elite Canada meet, held at the end of the year.

Sawa's best international results include 43rd place all-around in qualifications at the 2007 worlds; eighth place on balance beam at the 2008 DTB Cup in Stuttgart; and third place on uneven bars and floor exercise at the 2009 Gymnix World Cup in Montreal.

As Sawa prepares for the Canadian Championships (May 31-June 7 in Hamilton, Ont.), she shared her thoughts on her expectations for this and future competitions.

IG: How has your gymnastics changed since the 2007 World Championships, and how have you changed in terms of confidence?

SS: These past couple years have probably been hardest to deal with in terms of emotional highs and lows. I would have days where I could do anything my coaches told me to, and other days where I could barely make it through skills. I have definitely changed my training strategy this past season. I've been training more “day by day” and have become more efficient during practices. I have to admit, my confidence after 2007 Worlds wasn't the highest, but I have learned from the experience and have gained huge amounts of confidence in competitions and even in trainings.

IG: What expectations are you placing on yourself, or do you feel are being placed on you by others, in terms of the future of Canadian gymnastics?

SS: I just want to be someone people can come talk to, or give advice. I think if we become closer as a team, we will become a stronger team. If this means that I need to take on the leadership role, then I'll do it.

Sawa at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart

IG: Having been part of the last Olympic cycle, you are in a unique position to help guide the new generation of Canadians, such as Brittany Rogers, Charlotte Mackie and Peng-Peng Lee. How are you handling your recent status as a team veteran?

SS: It's so hard to believe that in just a couple years I have gone from one of the youngest, to being called the veteran! It's pretty crazy. Even though I have been a senior for only an extra year, I still learn from them. They have so much energy all the time which really motivates me to keep up.

IG: What impresses you about the first-year seniors?

SS: These girls are so confident when they compete! This is something that I definitely look up to. They perform their routines with maturity and poise, and have many unique skills that really stand out.

IG: What are your expectations and goals for the Canadian Championships?

SS: I have had some time to rest since my last competition in order to peak at the right time for nationals. I was able to play around with some new skills which upped my motivation. I have struggled a little bit on certain routines this year; however, I expect to handle myself with confidence and show people how hard I've been working all year.

IG: Looking ahead to the 2009 World Championships in London, where do you think the Canadian gymnasts stand, compared to the last worlds in 2007?

SS: This year's team is, no doubt, a lot younger. Even though there is a little less experience in competitions such as World Cups, I think this year's team has the potential to make a great impression.

IG: Although this year's Worlds won't include a team competition, what do you see are the main aspects of Canadian gymnastics that need to be improved for a better finish in future team events than in Stuttgart?

SS: We knew had a lot of pressure going into the 2007 World Championships. One thing we could work on is not only increasing difficulty, but working on consistency. Also, specializing might be a strategy that will keep athletes healthy and stronger on each event.

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features
"Shooting Star" - Rogers profile (July/August 2007)
"A Passion For Performance" - Lee profile (June 2006)
"Pride For Family and Canada" - Mackie profile (November 2006)

To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 11 March 2009 12:16    PDF Print
Interview: Courtney Kupets (U.S.)
(252 votes, average 4.77 out of 5)

Now in her senior year of competition at the University of Georgia, 2002 world uneven bars champion Courtney Kupets describes how courage, humility and faith have sustained her through three serious injuries.

Kupets credits physical, mental and spiritual forces for helping her overcome a torn left Achilles' tendon in 2003, a hip injury that impacted her performances at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, and a torn right Achilles' tendon in 2008. As Kupets' career draws to a close, she is now preparing to help earn Georgia its fourth NCAA team title in as many years.

Born July 27, 1986, Kupets trained during her international career under coaches Kelli Hill and Jen Bundy at Hill's Gymnastics in Gaithersburg, Md. She placed second all-around at the 2002 American Cup, and first on uneven bars at the 2002 World Championships in Debrecen, Hungary. In June 2003 Kupets won the U.S. all-around title, but was unable to compete in the finals at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim after she tore her left Achilles' tendon in a training session.

Kupets' recovery from her 2003 injury was quick and remarkable. In 2004 she tied Carly Patterson for the U.S. all-around title and placed first at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Hampered by an unspoken hip injury at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Kupets still won two medals (silver in the team competition, bronze on uneven bars), and placed fifth on balance beam and ninth all-around.

Following the 2004 Olympics, Kupets embarked on the collegiate phase of her career. As a Georgia freshman in 2006 she won the all-around title, tied for first on uneven bars and balance beam, and led Georgia to the team title at the NCAA Championships. As a sophomore Kupets repeated as the NCAA all-around champion, placed first on vault and again led Georgia to team victory. Kupets tore her right Achilles' tendon in a March 2008 dual meet and was sidelined for the rest of the season. Georgia went on to win the NCAA title that year.

IG Online spoke with Kupets in Los Angeles on March 8, after she placed first all-around at a dual meet against UCLA. In this interview, Kupets recalls the high and low moments of her career, and describes how she has maintained her focus and fitness.

Courtney Kupets (Univ. of Georgia)

IG: What kept you going, after you tore your Achilles' last year? How tempted were you to stop, considering that the injury occurred late in your junior year?

CK: I've done gymnastics my entire life, and I wasn't going to go out on an injury. I wanted to go out doing big gymnastics, having fun and doing all for events, of course. I did the same thing before the 2004 Olympics. I tore my Achilles' tendon and was back in six months. This time, I was back in eight months. I had plenty of time. I wanted to finish out my senior year. I was so thankful that it was my junior year, and not my senior year, when I got injured.

IG: Injuring different Achilles' tendons twice on the same tumbling element (Arabian double front), were you apprehensive at all about competing that skill again, or did you consider switching it out for something safer?

CK: I thought about another pass, but there really wasn't another pass I wanted to do. I had done double layouts before, but it wasn't something as good, when you're competing every week and when you land short. So I thought I'd give it (Arabian double front) another try. It probably didn't turn out as well as it could when I first started doing it again, but it's gotten better in every meet this year. I figure I've torn both of my Achilles', so I'm good to go now (laughs).

IG: Is this attitude what kept you going in 2003, knowing that the Olympics were so close?

CK: I don't like to stop on something bad. I like to push through and show people that, if you persevere, you can do anything you want.

IG: In Athens (2004 Olympics), you really didn't talk to the press about your hip injury or use it as an excuse for your performance.

CK: There is no excuse. Everyone is in pain. We're gymnasts, and we're going to have injuries, so it's just a matter of how headstrong you are to get through them.

IG: Is this really the end of your career, considering that Mohini Bhardwaj made an Olympic team after college?

CK: It's great to see that happen, and it's like, "Wow, if she can do it, anyone can." You have to be motivated, of course, but yes, this will be the end for me. I'll be moving on!

IG: What are you going to do with yourself, based on your major (Housing/Property Management and Consumer Economics)?

CK: I was an interior design major, but I switched. I like development. I'd like to travel around the country designing floor plans, blueprints and things like that. I just love real estate. But I think I'm going to go to grad school or law school first. I don't know if I'll stay in Georgia. It would be nice to go somewhere different if I had the opportunity, but I love Georgia.

IG: Would you consider something like Cirque du Soleil, like your sister (former Hill's and Georgia gymnast Ashley) is doing?

CK: How crazy! But I don't think I'll do that. It's definitely exciting for her, but I think my tour experience after the Olympics is what she's doing now, and it's her taste of it. It's a lot of fun, but I think I'll go into the work force. But I'm always going to be in touch with gymnastics. I can never let it go completely, but I won't be performing myself!

IG: Although this is your last year of NCAA eligibility, will you be graduating this spring?

CK: I have a whole year [left], and it's awesome. I am glad it happened like that. I felt like college was weaning me off gymnastics, taking me out of it without completely dropping it. When you're a high-level athlete, to completely stop is just crazy. You don't know what to do with yourself. You don't know what to do with your life. So college has taught me that gymnastics isn't something you do your entire life. You progressively stop. Next year I'll have school without gymnastics. It will be interesting, and I'm excited for it.

IG: What is the story behind the 15 pairs of boxing gloves you brought into the locker room before a recent meet?

CK: Every year we've done something different. In 2006 we had "Bling It" glasses with sparkles on them, and it was fun because we were going to try to "bling" the championship home. This year, I was like, "We need something." All of us are fighters. When we're down, we fight, and we wanted to start fighting before we were even down - for ourselves and our team. We wanted to bring everyone together, so instead of some cheesy little gift, why not bring real boxing gloves and sort of punch around? I didn't tell anyone before we brought them out, and they were so excited, and I was excited that they were, too. We had some ups and downs in the meets prior to that. We'd have a really great and then a not really great meet. It was like, "We need to get into this. We need to have fun and be energetic and enthusiastic." It was just a gimmick, and gimmicks are fun sometimes. It really did help our competition.

Courtney Kupets (Univ. of Georgia)

IG: What is your motivation for continuing to compete your hardest skills, when with college rules you could probably score well with less?

CK: We've always been told by (Georgia head coach) Suzanne (Yoculan) that we can always go back to easier skills if we're not doing the bigger ones cleanly. But if we're doing the big ones cleanly, there's no need for us to do the smaller skills. College gymnastics is all about hitting those handstands and sticking those landings, so if we can do those big skills, why not have great gymnastics?

IG: Looking back, which moments of your career stand out the most?

CK: There are two things. The first was before college, when I won the gold medal on bars at the 2002 Worlds. It was crazy. I wasn't really expected to win. I was kind of young and immature, and I still had braces! The other was when we won our first (NCAA) championship in my freshman year, just going through the battles with the team. To be in this new experience, and come out at the end of the year with a national championship and getting that (NCAA championship) ring, was the best feeling you could ever have.

IG: How much of an influence does your faith have in your gymnastics?

K: It's definitely a 90 percent faith game. Every meet I'm praying, "Just help me through this." All my routines are God's glory. He gives me the glory to do them, so why not do them to the best of my ability with His help? A couple of us on the team talk to each other about faith, even during the meet. We forget about it sometimes and we struggle, but I think that's what gives us those great moments of performance — when we struggle and still are content. Faith is huge, and without God, I would be nowhere right now! We have a Team United on campus, which is a Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action, together. We have weekly meetings with a lot of different sports teams, so it's great.

IG: How have you been able to maintain your fitness level from your international career, at age 22?

CK: I think I was a little out of shape last summer, because I completely stopped working out. It was kind of hard, but it was interesting. I'd never been like that before. You keep a balanced mentality. You eat normal food, and you have sweets, but you work out. I think it's about maintaining a balance. Some people are too picky, and think they shouldn't eat this or that, but I think if you maintain portions, you can eat anything.

IG: Based on your college training limit of 20 hours per week, and looking back on your elite training, do you still think it's necessary for a developing gymnast to train 40 hours per week?

CK: Getting to that point, you're learning new skills, and you need a lot of hours in the gym. But once you get those skills, you definitely don't need to be in there as long. Like Suzanne says, you can get in and get out if you hit that first routine. We want to hit those routines. We don't want to do more and fall on more. We want to do fewer and hit them.

IG: What do you think is the hardest thing for gymnasts to handle?

CK: There are two things that are the hardest about gymnastics: injury and fear. I've battled both of them. It's just how you get through them. If you believe you can get through an injury and fight back, and you really love gymnastics enough, you can get through it. With fear, you have to go back to the basics. Fear is incredible in gymnastics, because you're throwing yourself around on equipment and you have to land on your feet or you're going to hurt yourself. I think the fear is that you'll hurt yourself. Those two things are so hard in gymnastics. They're not fun at all, but if you can get through them, it makes everything worth it.

Courtney Kupets is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

June 2007: NCAA Championships report
June 2006: NCAA Championships report
October 2004: Athens Olympic Games special issue
August/September 2004: U.S. Championships report, U.S. Olympic Trials report
August/September 2003: Kupets on cover photo collage, U.S. Championships report
February 2003: Kupets in center poster collage
January 2003: Kupets on cover photo collage, 2002 World Championships coverage
April 2002: Kupets on cover, Kupets profile, American Cup report

To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 05 March 2009 12:11    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Raj Bhavsar (USA)
(73 votes, average 4.85 out of 5)

2008 Olympic bronze medalist Raj Bhavsar says joining actor Kal Penn and other honored guests of Indian descent for the Nanubhai Education Foundation benefit, Friday in New York, provides the unique chance to inspire Indian youth.

"I hope my involvement brings me the opportunity to visit with these kids, share my story, perform some 'backyard' gymnastics and get involved for the betterment of rural India," he told IG.

Bhavsar, a first-generation Indian-American, was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He was a member of the silver medal-winning U.S. team at the 2001 and 2003 World Championships, and graduated Ohio State University in 2004 with a degree in business administration and marketing. The 28-year-old Bhavsar will speak at the March 6 benefit for the NEF, which is dedicated to raising funds for the advancement of education in rural India.

Born in Houston, Bhavsar is 100 percent Gujarati; his father hails from Vadadora (Baroda), a city in the small Indian state of Gujarat, near Mumbai. His mother was born in Kampala, Uganda, but was educated in Gujurat. Most of Bhavsar's relatives are Gujarati.

This week IG caught up with Bhavsar, who outlined his participation in the NEF benefit and described his plan to use his Olympian status to motivate others.

IG: Raj, how and why did you get involved in the Nanubhai Education Foundation?

RB: I must first say that training for an Olympic endeavor is a lofty goal but at times can be selfish in nature. For years, an athlete revolves all of his or her choices around the goal of someday being on that team, and all decisions are weighed against achieving that goal. This single-minded purpose can take a toll on the people in the athlete's life. In the athlete's case, major sacrifices are made yet the constant receiving of everyone's best prayers, wishes and full support carries on. People do everything they can to help you realize your dream.

After the thrill of achieving my dream and winning an Olympic medal, I feel a sense of responsibility to give back after the years of taking and pursuing a personal goal. Winning the medal left me wondering how I can share this message with the rest of the world, particularly those who are less fortunate than I. My cousin told me about his involvement with the foundation and the opportunity to be an honored guest at this function. As I learned about the foundation, I realized this would be a perfect opportunity to not only give back, but also to bring awareness to Olympic sports in India.

The Nanubhai Foundation is already well-established and has changed the lives of so many rural Indian kids via the boost in education reform, their area of specialization. As an Olympian, I believe in the overall well-being of these kids, and that's why the promotion of exercise and athletics is imperative in addition to the education reform. I hope my involvement with the foundation brings me the opportunity to visit with these kids, share my story, perform some "backyard" gymnastics and get involved for the betterment of rural India. While this is a small step, it is the first step.

IG: What issues will you be addressing in your speech at the benefit, and what is your goal for its impact?

RB: While I will speak about some of the highlights and accomplishments of the foundation, my hope is to bring awareness to the importance of sports. My involvement in the Olympic movement could have a tremendous effect on planting the importance of sports in the minds of young Indian kids. The Indian standard of education is very high, but I believe sports is an important part for a well-rounded culture. India has many talented athletes, and the Olympics would be a wonderful stage for them to illustrate the values of India and its culture. If I have the opportunity, I will share some insights to my story and what I did to make the Olympic Games. My journey to the Olympics was arduous and long, but I hope it can inspire people to overcome obstacles, reclaim their power in life and never give up on their dreams. If my story and my experience can somehow better the life of another, then it gives a higher purpose to winning an Olympic medal.

IG: What is it like working with Kal Penn for this cause?

RB: I am excited for this opportunity to meet him because I know he is also someone who has prospered by taking the road less traveled. I am hoping I get a chance to talk to him and see where his vision sits in reaching out to rural India.

IG: The recent hit film "Slumdog Millionaire" has made the American public more intrigued with Indian culture. How do you hope to influence Americans' perspective on India?

RB: I hope America already sees India as a prosperous place. While areas of the country need development, as is true with almost every country in the world, I believe India is on the rise to a more shining future. As an American athlete of Indian origin, I believe I am in a unique position, given my recent accomplishments, to do something bigger by somehow merging the benefits of being American with the humbleness and prosperity of the Indian culture. While my path to this endeavor isn't yet clear, I believe that simply taking an interest in doing this is where most people start. After watching "Slumdog Millionaire," and witnessing its sweep at the Oscars, I simply said to myself, "I'm proud to be Indian."

IG: What other organizations are you working with, or would like to work with in the future?

RB: I am working more closely with the National Federation of Indian Americans (NFIA) and was recently awarded honors in the Field of Olympic Sports, and met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am considering a brand ambassador program with them, and am excited about the opportunities it could present. I am also talking with Zeons, a company that works with renewable bio fuel and could have an impact on reducing American dependence on foreign fuel. Right now a lot of my work is exploratory, and I hope that I continue to get the opportunity to not only share my story, but also bring to the forefront the true "gold" in being a gymnast.

External Link: Nanubhai Education Foundation

Raj Bhavsar is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
January/February 2009: "Tour Tales - 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars"
October 2008: Beijing Olympic Games special issue
March 2005: "Double Crossed" - Bhavsar interview
October 2003: World Championships special issue

To subscribe to IG or order back issues, click here.


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