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Written by Amy E Scherer    Wednesday, 05 September 2012 10:42    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Jordyn Wieber
(11 votes, average 4.27 out of 5)

As the reigning world all-around champion and the focus of much of the media attention leading into the 2012 Olympic Games, Jordyn Wieber had to deal with more pressure and expectation than perhaps any other member of the U.S. women's gymnastics team.

Despite the fact that she placed fourth overall during the team preliminaries, Wieber did not advance to the all-around final because of the much debated rule which allows only the top two gymnasts per country to compete for one of the most coveted titles in our sport.

Rather than crumbling from the weight of that stinging disappointment, Wieber showed her resolve by excelling during the team finals and as a strong member of the first American gymnastics team to win the Olympic gold medal outside of the United States.

The Michigan native is healing from a stress fracture diagnosed after her performances in London, but is set to star in the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions that kicks off Saturday in San Jose.

During this IG Online interview, Wieber reflects on her London experiences and talk about what has allowed her to maintain such a positive attitude, despite the fact that the 2012 Olympics did not go quite as she had anticipated.

IG: The "Fierce Five" seem like an incredibly close-knit group of friends. In what ways did the closeness of this group help or contribute to the collective success of the team on the competition floor?

Wieber during the floor final in the 2012 Olympics

JW: I think the fact that the five of us are close friends definitely played a huge role in our success. There were no distractions related to competitiveness or jealousy that would keep us from performing to the best of our abilities. I think we will always be close after sharing such a huge accomplishment.

IG: When did you begin to experience significant pain in your leg which, upon your return to the United States, was diagnosed as a stress fracture?

JW: My leg started bothering me before we left for London. It started as a heel bruise and then progressed up to my shin in my right leg. While I'm not using this as an excuse in any way, it did affect my training. I could block out the pain for competition, but it was much harder to do this during longer training periods. I can say that I was not at 100 percent during the Games.

IG: While in London, did the pain ever get to the point where you considered watering down some of your skills, particularly on floor and vault?

JW: I did have to scale down my training and hard landings during the Games to preserve my leg for competition. I never considered changing anything for competition.

IG: Were you able to draw from any prior experiences in your gymnastics career to help you regroup so quickly?

JW: I knew that the one thing that would make my Olympic experience better was to be there for my team and win the team gold. One of the benefits of being an elite gymnast for so long is the practice I've had at staying strong mentally. I had to draw upon my experiences of having to pull myself back into the game – like after falling on bars at the [2011] American Cup, and having a form break on bars at the [2011] Worlds and needing to hit my beam on the next event. Those experiences made me stronger mentally.

IG: After the disappointment that you experienced two nights before during the team preliminaries, what was going through your head as you prepared to "set the table" for all that was to follow by performing the very first routine for the U.S. team in the finals?

JW: I just got into my zone and imagined myself hitting the best vault I could. I wanted to get our team off to a great start!

IG: How did the disappointment that you experienced during the team preliminaries impact the emotions you felt following the team finals?

JW: I think it made it that much sweeter to win that team gold after what I had been through at prelims. I literally went from one extreme to the other between those two meets.

IG: If you had to sum up your London 2012 experience in one word, what would it be?

JW: Surreal.

IG: What are you most excited about in terms of the tour? Do you enjoy the media attention that accompanies your status as a world champion and an Olympic gold medalist?

JW: I am excited for the whole experience of touring and performing. It will be so great to be in front of so many fans that provided us with so much support during the past few months.

I like the media attention for the most part. Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming, if I'm tired or something. But I know that it's an honor to be in this position.

IG: How has your hometown of DeWitt reacted upon your return home from the Olympic Games? Have there been any events or celebrations in your honor?

JW: The reception I received in DeWitt when I returned was unbelievable. There were hundreds of people at the airport to greet me. When we drove down my street on the way home from the airport, the whole neighborhood was outside cheering for me (even in the rain) and shooting off fireworks. A couple of days later, I was the grand marshal in our hometown festival parade that drew thousands of people. I was happy to sign autographs after the parade. It was great to see all of the "Wieber Fever" signs up all through DeWitt, and nice messages on store signs etc.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 15 May 2012 08:46    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Ellie Black (Canada)
(10 votes, average 4.40 out of 5)

After winning four international gold medals last month, fast-rising Canadian gymnast Ellie Black is blazing toward a spot on her country's team for the Olympic Games in London this summer.

Black won vault and balance beam at the II Artistic Gymnastics Meeting held April 15 in São Bernardo, Brazil. Two weeks later she won vault and floor exercise at the FIG Challenger Cup in Osijek, Croatia. She is now preparing for the Canadian championships that will take place May 22-26 in Regina, and ultimately the London Games.

The 16-year-old Black trains at Halifax Alta Gymnastics Club, where she is coached by Keiji Yamanaka and two-time Olympian David Kikuchi. Kikuchi's wife, 2000 Olympian Crystal Gilmore Kikuchi, choreographed Black's floor exercise routine.

In this IG Online interview, Black reflects on her recent successes and outlines the meticulous steps she is making to earn an Olympic berth.

Ellie Black (Canada)

IG: You have really come on strong this spring, and unlike some of your teammates, you have not had a lot of international experience prior to the Olympic year. What has enabled you to hit the international scene so solidly, and avoid nervousness that affects many newcomers' performances?

EB: I have been looking forward to competing internationally this season, and I am grateful for the opportunities. I try to go into the competition positive, and go out and show what I have been practicing. Focusing on my own performance is very important, as well as supporting my teammates. I have really appreciated the support and welcome I have received from all of Team Canada at recent international meets. This has really helped me make the adjustment and feel confident.

IG: Your floor is unusual in that you have unique tumbling passes, as well as unique choreography. What do you feel is the key to being able to perform such a "complete" floor routine?

EB: This is a new routine for me this year, choreographed by Crystal Kikuchi, so I feel like I am still working on it. The tumbling is also new, so I'm glad that it looks complete!

IG: What is the process of creating the choreography for your floor routine? How do you and Crystal choose the music and the movements?

EB: Crystal's been a great help and inspiration to my gymnastics. It was great choreographing the routine with her because we have very similar styles. A lot of the dance and movements were from previous routines of Crystal's with a little change to make it fit the routine. We tried to choose music that was energetic and powerful but not overdoing it, and that would match my tumbling.

IG: Who coaches you on which events?

EB: My longtime coach is Keiji Yamanaka, who has coached me since I started competitive gymnastics. He coaches me on all four events. David Kikuchi is my other coach, and he started coaching me within the last few years. He helps coach me on all events and often is the coach who travels with me. My coaches, club and province are really behind me, and that helps a lot.

IG: The competition for spots on the Olympic team is going to be tough. Where do you see yourself fitting into the team? In which ways do you think you can help the team the most?

EB: I think I have a lot to offer the Canadian team, especially on vault, which has always been my strongest event. I have also worked to increase my difficulty and execution on beam and floor. In addition to my routines on these three events, I think my strong personality could also support the team. I am determined, hard working, and competitive, but also sociable and a good teammate.

IG: Between now and the Canadian trials, what is your strategy for not only maintaining the high standard you have set internationally, but assuring that the Canadian team knows you can deliver what they need in London?

EB: My plan is to continue all the aspects of my training that have brought me success this far. The positive results from recent competitions are a strong motivator to keep working hard and improve further. I also intend to use what I have learned at the international meets that I've attended to help me. Hopefully this will prepare me to have a strong performance at Nationals, which is an important competition for the team selection.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 04 May 2012 17:38    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Kirsten Beckett (South Africa)
(12 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although no South African gymnast has qualified for this summer's Olympic Games in London, recent FIG Challenger Cup vault finalist and African championships all-around silver medalist Kirsten Beckett is already aiming to take on the world's best at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Beckett has made a quick and successful leap into senior international competition this spring. She placed fourth on vault at the FIG Challenger Cup of Doha in March, and won five medals (golds on balance beam and floor exercise, silvers in the all-around, team and vault) at the African Championships in Tunis earlier in April.

Born March 5, 1996, in the west Johannesburg suburb of Hamberg, Beckett lives in Risidale, a suburb north of the city. She trains at Johannesburg Gymnastics Centre, where her main coach is Ilse Roets Laing, the 1995 South African all-around champion and two-time world championships competitor. Beckett's other coaches are Glen Hlongwane and Shirley Watson.

Beckett's achievements in 2012 continue the momentum generated by South African teammate Jennifer Khwela earlier in the Olympic cycle. Khwela became the first female African gymnast to win World Cup medals when she placed first on vault and third on balance beam at the 2010 Doha World Cup. Last year Khwela was fourth on vault at the French International (another World Cup meet) and the Cottbus Tournament of Masters, an FIG Challenger Cup meet.

In this IG Online interview, Beckett and Laing shared their perspective on the progress they are making in pursuit of Beckett's Olympic dream.

Kirsten Beckett

South Africa's Kirsten Beckett with coach Ilse Laing

IG: You have quickly achieved success at the senior international level, in just your first two senior international competitions. To what do you attribute not only your success, but your ability to quickly adjust to the pressure of senior competition?

KB: My coach, Ilse Laing, grouped me with our club's seniors during my final junior year in 2011, so I have been training with our seniors for a while. Also, our international trials in South Africa are open, so as a junior I also competed against our seniors. I think this and constant mentoring from my coach helped make the move to senior much easier.

IG: In Doha you came very close to winning a medal on vault. What do you think you will need to push into the medals at the next big FIG competition?

KB: We definitely need to increase the difficulty in both my front and back vaults to be more competitive internationally, as there are so many good vaulters out there. At the moment I am doing a Yurchenko 1-1/2, and my second vault is a basic handspring piked front. I am currently working on a Yurchenko double twist and a Yurchenko half-on, piked front half twist off, and hope to have this ready for next year.

IG: Would you say vault it your favorite event, best event, or perhaps just the one on which you have been the most successful recently?

KB: Vault is definitely my favorite apparatus and is fast becoming my best, as well.

IG: When and why did you start gymnastics?

KB: When I was about 5, my parents introduced me to quite a few sports, such as athletics, swimming and even soccer. They also enrolled me in a program called GYMKIDZ, a program to improve your motor skills. Because of my ability, and upon recommendation from Shirley Watson, the GYMKIDZ owner and also one of my coaches, my parents enrolled me in the Johannesburg Gymnastics Centre, and this is where I have been ever since. You could say that I have developed a natural passion for gymnastics.

IG: You and Jennifer Khwela have given South Africa a great push in the past couple of years. What in your opinion is the reason for your country's recent improvement?

KB: We are being introduced to and are competing in high-profile international competitions, and are constantly learning from them. Seeing world-class gymnasts in action and competing against them gives us the motivation we need to better ourselves. Also, our head coach makes sure that we attend at least one training camp per year to focus on skills development. Our coaches also attend regular courses arranged by the South African Gymnastics Federation, so they are also constantly bringing new techniques to assist us in bettering ourselves. We have both been fortunate to have also had fantastic input from Wesley Jones, who is a coach at Desert Devils in Arizona and an excellent vault coach, as well as a wonderful opportunity to train at the Western Australian Institute of Sport where Lauren Mitchell, Georgia Simpson and Emily Little train. And of course, Jen (Khwela) has set the benchmark in terms of winning medals on the international scene and has shown me that it is possible. This has also pushed me to believe that we can be internationally competitive, even with less exposure and less ideal circumstances, such as very little funding.

IG: 2012 is a difficult year for many gymnasts who have not qualified for Olympic Games, but still have motivation and goals. What are your goals for the rest of the year, and what are your ultimate goals?

KB: We have our national championships on June 1-2 in Pretoria, so my first goal is to become the national champion. After that I really want to take some time out of competition and focus on upgrading my routines. I am also hoping to be selected as one of the South African team members for next year's world championships and to put in a strong challenge for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Scotland. My ultimate goal is to qualify outright for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. For that I will need to increase my difficulty substantially, stay injury-free and continue working hard.

Ilse Roets Laing

IG: How much of a surprise, if at all, has Kirsten's success in Doha and Tunis been for you, as her coach?

IRL: Kirsten's success hasn't really come as a surprise. She is one of the most talented gymnasts I have ever worked with and is extremely powerful. Doha was her first ever senior competition, and I really believe she has the potential to take South African women's gymnastics to a different level.

IG: What do you see as the biggest challenge you face in coaching Kirsten?

IRL: I have been working with Kirsten since her very first forward roll, and I can't say that she faces any abnormal challenges. She is going through puberty, which is always quite tough on a gymnast, but she is extremely strong and in good shape. As long as she can maintain where her body is right now, she should be really competitive by the Olympics in 2016. She has also been quite unlucky over the past few years as she has suffered some nasty growth-related and chronic injuries, such as Osgood-Schlatter disease (inflammation of the tendon below the kneecap), and a torn hamstring in 2010, but she is also fortunate as she recovers quite quickly.

IG: Now that Kirsten is off to a strong senior start, what is your strategy for maintaining and improving her performance level?

IRL: Our strategy is to add difficulty systematically, and as and when she can handle it mentally and physically. She has so many skills in the pipeline, but it is always going to be about doing them at the right time, so as to keep her safe and confident. We have a really good relationship and she has a great deal of input into what she is comfortable with and what she can handle, so this is an important factor to ensure future success. She works extremely hard, so there is really no reason for her not to reach her full potential.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 28 February 2012 21:05    PDF Print
IG Interview: Saša Golob and Lyudmila Korolenko
(10 votes, average 4.80 out of 5)

Carefully but confidently preparing for this summer's Olympic Games, Slovenian gymnast Saša Golob and her Ukrainian coach Lyudmila Korolenko share their Olympic dreams and plans with IG Online.

Saša Golob (Slovenia)

Born Aug, 17, 1991, in Ljubljana, Golob has been a mainstay on the Slovenian team during the past two Olympic cycles. She competed on one apparatus at the 2007 world championships in Stuttgart and on two apparatuses at the 2009 worlds in London, and was her country's top all-arounder at the 2011 worlds in Tokyo. Golob made three apparatus finals at last fall's FIG Challenger Cup in Osijek, Croatia. Her career also included a stint as a student-athlete at Towson University in Maryland during the 2010-11 academic year.

Golob — whose first name is pronounced "Sasha" — was nominated as Slovenia's female competitor for the Olympics based on her performance at the test event that took place in London last month. There, she outscored teammate and 2008 Olympian Adela Šajn, 51.257 to 49.499, to secure her country's sole female artistic gymnastics berth for the Games. Golob is the first Olympian from Siska Gymnastics Club in Ljubljana, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year.

Guiding Golob towards London is Korolenko, who previously coached in her native Ukraine, in Canada and more recently with the Russian national team. Korolenko's former gymnasts include Ukrainians Lyubov Sheremeta and Galina Tyryk, who placed 22nd all-around at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, respectively.

In this IG Online dual interview, Golob and Korolenko describe their shared efforts in helping Golob perform at her best this summer in London.

Saša Golob

IG: When and how were you confirmed as Slovenia's choice for the London Olympics?

SG: Our national federation decided that the better gymnast from the test event would get the ticket to the Olympics. I am happy that I did all my routines without any falls and got higher scores than Adela, and managed to qualify for the Olympics.

IG: What was your strategy for preparing to earn this berth?

SG: Our strategy was to put together routines that I was comfortable with. We didn't add any new skills to my routines because we knew that we couldn't risk a fall. I was also put under stress situations, just like you are in competition, where my coach called everybody in the gym and sometimes even the judges to watch my routines. I think that helped me a lot.

IG: You and Adela have been teammates for a long time. How are you managing to stay competitive for the Olympic spot but also respect your relationship with Adela?

SG: We are teammates on the national team but we practice in different gyms, so we didn't see each other a lot befor this competition. We of course we were together in London, but I don't think that that influenced our relationship. We knew that our national federation set these conditions and that we couldn't do anything about it. We respect each other's wishes to go to the Olympics but at the same time we knew that only one of us will go.

IG: You studied and competed at Towson University last year, and are home in Slovenia this year. What was the reason for your decision? And what plans do you have to return to Towson?

SG: There were few reasons. First of all was that the college there is not compatible with our medical school here in Slovenia, so I wouldn't be able to transfer after college and I would have to start everything all over again. And the second reason was, of course, my wish to go to the Olympics. The scoring system and the rules in college gymnastics are too diffrent from the international ones, so I wouldn't be able to prepare if I would stay and train at Towson. Now I have a plan to stay home and finish med school here.

IG: What specifically do you think you can accomplish for Slovenia and yourself in London?

SG: I know that I won't be in line for the medals but I do want to have agreat competition. I'll have higher difficulty on floor and beam, and I wish to improve the results of the Slovenian girls from the past.

Lyudmila Korolenko

IG: What are the special challenges you face in preparing Saša for London, especially since you have not been coaching her for too long?

Coach Lyudmila Korolenko and gymnast Saša Golob (Slovenia)

LK: At the beginning of March 2011, Ricard Crnjac, who coaches at the Siska gym club, invited me to come and work with his team, especially with Saša and Ivana Kamnikar, who were candidates for the Olympics. I visited for two weeks at the end of April, and since I had already worked with Saša and because I saw the potential in both girls, I decided to return and start working in Slovenia again.

We went step by step, first preparing for the University Games (August 2011), then for nationals and other competitions. Although I had worked with Saša before, when she first started and was just seven, it was a challenge for all of us. But the girls are really hard-working and competitive, and really love gymnastics.

IG: As Saša's coach, what will be the focus of your preparation for her until London? How much of her training will be physical and how much will be psychological?

LK: With Saša, we are concentrating mostly on adding difficulty to beam and floor. Her bars and vault will be the same as at the London test event. The most complicated period is psychological preparation, but I think we overcame that at the meet in January. Now we are in the systematic training phase tailored to an athlete at Saša's level. Saša is a very determined and disciplined gymnast, and handles training and studying at the same time very well. This winter she passed her five exams with very high marks.

IG: You have coached two Olympic all-around finalists, Lyubov Sheremeta and Galina Tyryk. What advice did you give to Lyubov and Galina prior to the Olympics; and what advice are you giving to Saša?

LK: Every athlete is an individual, and I always try to keep that in mind in my work. Lyuba was able to work very, very hard, and her high level of repetitions compensated for some lack of coordination. She could do from three to five full floor exercise routines in one workout, and her tumbling was at a high level. I did not have to prepare her psychologically for competition at all. She'd tell me, "Today is an easy day; I only have to do three bars sets" - one in the training hall, one during the 50-second warm-up on the podium and one for a score. She was always convinced she could do it, since she did so many more routines in training.

Galya prepared for the Sydney Olympics in this same gym in Ljubljana. She was 20, and since she started gymnastics when she was 4, she had a good, solid set of skills which she was very capable of doing. Galya was very coordinated and always confident in her abilities.

The hardest part of training with Lyuba and Galya was making the cut for the Ukrainian team. Once on the team, it was easier for them to compete.

Saša has always gotten clear instructions from me and she has learned to believe in them - results at meets are the result of training at home. Participating in the Olympics is Saša's dream come to life - a dream she has worked hard for for 14 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristyna Palesova (Czech Republic)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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