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Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 25 June 2010 02:05    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Nellie Kim (Belarus/FIG)
(21 votes, average 4.57 out of 5)

Five-time Olympic gold medalist and current FIG Women's Technical Committee President Nellie Kim is busy and optimistic as she continues to help guide the sport and plan its future.

Born in Tajikistan and raised in Kazakhstan, Kim was one of the world's most successful and popular gymnasts during the 1976 and 1980 Olympic cycles. She competed at her first world championships in 1974 at Varna, where she and her Soviet teammates won the team title and Kim won the bronze medal on balance beam. At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Kim won three gold medals (vault, floor exercise and team), and the silver medal in the all-around behind Romania's Nadia Comaneci. She placed second all-around at the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, and first all-around at the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth.

Kim finished her competitive career at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where she won a team gold medal, placed fifth all-around and tied Comaneci for the gold medal on floor exercise. She has devoted her entire professional career to the sport, as a coach, judge and official, and in 1999 she was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Kim, who serves as president of the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Technical Committee for the International Gymnastics Federation, divides her time between her homes in Minnesota and Minsk, Belarus.

During a recent visit to California, Kim sat down with IG's John Crumlish to discuss her thoughts, plans and memories of her abundant gymnastics life.

IG: Midway through the 2012 Olympic cycle, what do you think are the main improvements to the Code of Points based on changes that have been made to it?

NK: I don't think we can say there are many changes to the 2009 Code of Points, because there were big changes in 2005, and in 2009 it was just refining the Code. The big thing was the calculation of eight elements instead of 10. The decision was the result of the statistics that the Women's Technical Committee obtained from different competitions, and feedback we got from coaches, judges and gymnasts from all over the world. They were complaining, "Why do we need to calculate 10 skills? We don't want gymnasts who have more A or B elements to win. We can do eight." This way, gymnasts have fewer elements to train, and less impact and less load on their bodies. We want quality of the exercise, and not quantity, number of elements. We have more deductions for insufficient artistry or originality of composition of elements and movements.

The most important part is judges' education, that we are teaching judges practically - using many video materials, conducting judges' workshops, et cetera - to apply those deductions. It's moving very, very slowly, but it's moving.

IG: Artistry can be interpreted in many ways, so how exactly are you teaching judges about deducting for a lack of it?

NK: We are trying to give them objective criteria. For example, there is a deduction for lack of sureness on balance beam. We said one of the criteria for the deduction is the lack of balance. If a gymnast has many lacks of balances or maybe falls, then the exercise was not performed with sureness. We're trying to give this kind of guideline on how to judge artistry or beauty, too.

IG: What examples are you giving for artistry on floor?

NK: We have a deduction at the end of the entire routine for body alignment. What is perfection? It's excellence of the line and body position. There were many cases when a gymnast could have a nice body position in elements, particularly on floor exercise, but between the elements there were simple steps without any value but which were still movements. But the gymnasts didn't pay attention to these movements, and therefore the elements were performed very well but the movements performed between the elements were not performed very well, and it made the exercise look negligent or inaccurate.

Kim performs on floor exercise.

Therefore, we created a deduction at the end of the exercise which would apply if the gymnast didn't have a nice body posture in the movement. We gave a description in the Code on what that is. For example, the gymnasts walking with her feet pointed inward, not out, which is the special walking technique that we learn from ballet. Some gymnasts are not paying attention. For example, the body posture as they stand. It could be dynamic and nice, where all body parts are in alignment. Or it could be loose, relaxed and not dynamic.

Most of the time we give examples on video. We give the judges the possibility to compare good and bad, because it's better to see it one time than to talk about it many times. So this is the principle, to give examples. The problem is that gymnastics is difficult to describe in words. Gymnastics is performance, and you see it. That's why we're trying now to have fewer words and less talking, but more practical examples.

IG: What effort is there to give points to artistry, and not just deduct for a lack of artistry? When you were a gymnast, points were awarded for Risk, Originality and Virtuosity.

NK: The D panel recognizes, or not, the difficulty of elements performed in the exercise and counts the D score. The E panel takes deductions, including deductions for artistry, originality and composition. This is something we should think about for the next Code of Points and probably apply it differently. I don't yet know how. We have to be in many judging situations that are very similar to men's judges. This decision of the FIG Executive Committee was that we should try to have a harmonized Code of Points with the men, and to have as few discrepancies as possible in deductions for the same mistakes between the Codes.

IG: What was the reason for synchronizing some of the deductions between the women's and men's Codes?

NK: It is difficult for media to memorize many deductions and different rules, so therefore, for the media it's better if there are similar deductions. I agree with this. For example, bent legs, insufficient height, legs apart — maybe we should discuss this type of deduction with the men's technical committee for the future Code, and make everyone's life easier, including media (laughs).

IG: What do you think can be done to make gymnastics not only less confusing for media, but more popular to the public, and as popular as it was when you were a gymnast?

NK: I think we are promoting a negative attitude against gymnastics ourselves. I don't say the FIG, but people who are criticizing gymnastics. For example, how can we request our girls the same as in rhythmic gymnastics - choreography, dance, artistry and feminism on floor — if at the same time they have to do power tumbling in the routine? Because, without power tumbling, it becomes a rhythmic gymnastics routine.

Sometimes, instead of saying how good we are and looking for positive moments, we are saying something negative. We should talk more positively and about how strong our sport is. We should bring respect to ourselves, our gymnasts, coaches and judges, and not punish, punish, punish. In Russia there is an expression, "If you don't like yourself, nobody else will." You are the first one who has to respect and love yourself. It's really true in this life. I tested it myself (laughs) and it works.

It's true that our sport has more young people performing at a high level. It's like children and teenagers, and probably in many cases, they depend on coaches. So when you think about many other sports, there are adults or teenagers who are almost mature competing.

I think also we have to work in the marketing aspect to promote our sport better. Even though gymnastics is one of the oldest sports in history, we have to find something positive in it. People blame the Code of Points, or that the judges don't do a very good job. I don't think this is the only reason. Of course partly it's true, but maybe we should be more creative, find other apparatus, and create new apparatus or a new kind of performance. Maybe the age requirement should be different. Maybe we should have competitions for level A and level B — for example, a world championship for level A, and one for level B where they don't have to fulfill the requirements that we'd ask for level A.

There is also the format at the world championships. We have two days of competition, starting at 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. and finishing sometimes after 22:00 (10 p.m.) It's very long, and not many people may watch all competitions for so long. It's also hard for the judges. Maybe we should modify the qualifying process for the world championships. Maybe we should allow, as in the World Cup of soccer, continental qualification.

Kim poses with her five Olympic gold medals.

IG: You finished your competitive career at 23, but nowadays there are few female gymnasts who are active internationally in their 20s. What do you think should be done to keep women in the sport longer, so older gymnasts such as (Great Britain's) Beth Tweddle and (Germany's five-time Olympian) Oksana Chusovitina are not the exceptions?

NK: These people should be encouraged by the FIG, our federations and the media. Now we have heroes, like Beth Tweddle and Oksana Chusovitina. I remember when I was a gymnast, people were telling me, "Oh, you're a veteran, you're already 23..." They politely gave me hints that it was time for me to retire. If someone had encouraged me to continue, maybe I still could have done something more. But since I was a gymnast, the competition format has changed. Now you don't need to do four apparatus. You can do one or two, and you can be good on them. Therefore you can have less training and less of a load, and can live longer in gymnastics. You become almost a professional.

I remember when (three-time Olympian) Svetlana Boginskaya finished gymnastics, she continued for a few years, just performing exhibitions. I asked her, and she said she trained maybe 1-1/2 or two hours daily, just for physical conditioning. She was almost professional, like an actor in a theatre. She performed and went home, and it wasn't difficult for her. She performed at the highest level. Nadia (Comaneci) also performed in shows, and maybe it wasn't at the highest level, but she maintained good physical conditioning and the ability to perform good routines for quite a long time. So we have to encourage women to stay in the sport longer, and the media should also talk about it.

IG: What is the status of the proposal to raise the age requirement for women's gymnastics to 17 or even 18 at the international senior level?

NK: That's (FIG president) Bruno Grandi's goal. That's what he wants - to have women's artistic gymnastics and older gymnasts. I don't know if it will happen or not, because I know that some countries are against this decision. In some countries, girls mature earlier and therefore they quit gymnastics earlier. At this moment I don't know what we will decide.

IG: What is your opinion about raising the age to 17?

NK: At this age I think we will have fewer gymnasts competing at the highest level, but they will be more professional, like Boginskaya, (Russia's) Svetlana Khorkina, Chusovitina and Tweddle. They are or were older than 23, but when you think how they compete, it's beautiful. It was professional, high-level performance, because they were mature gymnasts. I can see a good point of having the limit for participation being 17, but at the same time I can understand the concerns of those continents where girls mature early. And also, maybe the tradition is different. If you are talking about the Middle East, I don't think girls from some of the countries would even show up on the podium in a leotard. I think they can do it to a certain age, 15 or 16, so we wouldn't see girls older than that from those countries.

It's a very, very difficult question to answer. I can hear both sides, and that's why it's difficult. But from my point of view as a gymnast, I would say when you're 19 and 15 it's a big difference in understanding and performance.

IG: Such as...?

NK: It's like a mature person and a teenager competing against each other. As a mature person, you're thinking more and you're considering many things, and you can see the consequences of your performances. The responsibility is a big load. Pressure affects you much more. Girls who are 14 or 15 don't think as far, and therefore, pressure is not as much as it is for a 19-year-old.

IG: If you are thinking more about the consequences, you could be come more fearful.

NK: Exactly, because you can see what the injuries can be if you make a mistake. Also, you are already bigger and weigh more.

IG: How did you cope with fear in your 20s, and what do you suggest to other gymnasts in their 20s?

NK: You can cope with and overcome fear by a quantitative number of repetitions. And of course, with quantity you can obtain confidence. But of course, the most difficult part is to begin to perform the skill, especially when you are the first one in the world to perform it. On vault I was the first to do a Tsukahara full twist. On balance beam I performed two different dismounts. The first one was a gainer-full from the end of the beam. It was a very difficult skill, coordination-wise. Another one was side aerial into back tuck. I was the only one who did it in Moscow (1980 Olympics). It was not even included in the Code of Points, and we included it recently — nobody requested and therefore it was not included (laughs). Of course, when you are the first one, it doesn't mean you are performing it with the best technique. Those who perform it after you can analyze your performance and review video of it, and then can improve the technique.

IG: What are your abiding memories of the Moscow Olympics?

NK: It was a difficult Olympics for me, first of all because it was at home. There was double pressure because everyone was expecting you to win. I was the team captain, the oldest one. I was the one people expected to win the all-around, so it was big pressure. But before that, there was too much politics involved — too much fighting for positions on the team. I was fighting with some coaches and authorities from the Soviet federation. Some of them were not in favor of having me on the team, so I needed to prove that I was strong. Even though I was the most experienced and had the most titles, I still needed to prove that I was one of the best. It was a real competition, but behind that, I needed to win these political things. It was already a game of adults, unfortunately, and I was involved in it. I was an adult already.

Sometimes in a team, you think it's one team, but in reality everyone is fighting with each other. When it comes to the individual finals, nobody helps you. I can tell you that in Moscow, on floor, I started performing, and someone switched off my music in the beginning. Can you imagine? It happened twice — the day of qualifications, and the day of the all-around. It could never happen accidentally twice in a row, so therefore, I know it was done on purpose. It was someone higher than the team, from the federation. They were trying to close my eyes on what was happening, not in the performance but in the political things.

But in the end, I was so happy because I was still OK, and I didn't injure myself. Here, fear rose up because of what happened to (1978 world all-around champion) Yelena Mukhina (who was paralyzed in a training injury in 1980). That was still in my mind. That's what I mean about being an adult — you keep it in your mind. You cannot get rid of it, and you understand that it could happen. This was a mistake, in my opinion, because, a month or two before that, she already gave signals that she better not compete. She was from Moscow, and I think, since the Olympic Games were in Moscow, it was very important to have somebody from Moscow on the team. There was big pressure on this girl.

IG: How did you feel at the end of the Olympic competition, when you won the gold medal on your last event (floor exercise final)?

NK: It was wonderful when I got my gold medal. I was very, very tired. I was really happy that it was my last, last competition. It was a relief to know I did everything I could. The most important thing is when you can say to yourself, “Yes, I have done everything I could” and you have realized yourself. As a gymnast I did realize myself 75-80 percent. I could have done better, but it didn't happen. But I mostly did what I could, and that is why it was with an easy soul, with an ease on my heart, that I finished. I didn't let down those who coached and helped me. Everybody was happy — the people who trusted and believed in me. I didn't let them down.

IG: You didn't let yourself down, either.

NK: No!

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 10 June 2010 16:55    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Rachel Girma
(37 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

After recently wowing the judges on FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance," rhythmic gymnast Rachel Girma is now moving more passionately than ever into her new career as a dancer.

Coached by Olga Putsillo at the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics in Culver City, Calif., Girma placed among the top 12 all-around at the past three U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships. She was featured in the season premiere of "So You Think You Can Dance" that aired last week on FOX, during which she earned rave reviews from judges Nigel Lythgoe, Adam Shankman and Hi Hat for her audition routine. Remarkably, the 18-year-old Girma developed her routine after only two weeks of dance training for the show.

The judging panel unanimously voted Girma a spot in the Las Vegas call-backs based on her rhythmic-influenced routine that included several intricate turns, flexibility moves and leaps.

“Incredible” and “absolutely fabulous” were among the superlatives that Lythgoe used to critique Girma’s audition routine. “I liked the music, the dynamics of your routine, the strength of it, the performance,” Lythgoe told Girma.

Although Girma was eliminated after the choreography round of the call-back episode that also aired last week, her dance life is just taking flight. In this IG Online interview, Girma describes her experience on "So You Think You Can Dance," and her plan to launch a new career that melds her rhythmic gymnastics talents with her passion for dance.

Rachel Girma was featured on FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance"

IG:With only two weeks to prepare a routine for the “So You Think You Can Dance” audition, how exactly did you decide which moves you'd perform?

RG: Because of my extensive rhythmic gymnastics training at the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics, the transition from gymnast to dancer allowed me to make a spur-of-the-moment decision. Due to impending injuries I decided to pursue the opportunity to try out for "So You Think You Can Dance" and received such great response from the judges, primarily with my rhythmic elements. I saw advertisements for the show and the level of performance, and was confident that I could successfully try out. I started attending dance classes diligently, following my decision to try out for the show, and during that time period, I put together two routines combining rhythmic gymnastics and dance.

IG: Who choreographed your routine?

RG: Most of my technical background was through my instruction with coach Olga Putsillo. However, I personally choreographed the routines, combining my knowledge of both rhythmic gymnastics and dance.

IG: All three of the judges said they were impressed with your leaps and turns, which looks as though they were from your rhythmic routines. How challenging was it for you to perform them without apparatus to handle and on a hard surface?

RG: I think the judges were surprised because they've never seen rhythmic gymnastics before. I'm just glad I had the opportunity to familiarize people with the sport! Going from spinning on a carpet to a hardwood floor was definitely a difficult transition. The fact that I didn't have to perform with apparatus made it easier.

IG: In what ways do you think rhythmic gymnasts are particularly suited for careers in dance in general, or unique opportunities such as "So You Think You Can Dance"?

RG: Rhythmic requires you to be passionate, expressive, flexible and coordinated with apparatus. Dance requires passion and expressiveness but not quite as much flexibility. The thing about rhythmic is that there are so many tricks and elements that the dance world hasn't seen. So it's interesting to mix the two and see people's reactions. The only thing about dance is that there are no rules, so you don't have to worry if you don't hold your arabesque balance long enough!

IG: Now that you have been through the audition process, what advice would you offer to gymnasts who want to audition for this or other shows?

RG: Being a rhythmic gymnast can help make dance routines so interesting because you have such a wide range of elements to choose from. I definitely learned my lesson, though. If you want to try out for "So You Think You Can Dance," take lessons for more than two weeks! The choreography on the show is very intricate and if you aren't somewhat experienced, it can get really stressful.

IG: As a gymnast you are used to performing for judges and audiences, but for this show, you also had to handle the pressure of television cameras and knowing that millions of people would be watching. How did you cope with that during your actual performance?

RG: I've always loved performing for large crowds. I would say competing internationally in rhythmic gymnastics was more nerve-wracking than being in front of the camera! How you see yourself is how others see you, so positivism and confidence are key.

IG: Based on your experience on the show, what steps will you take to further adapt your rhythmic training to other opportunities in the entertainment business?

RG: I want to try out for the show again next year! I'm going to start studying all styles of dance so that I can really be prepared for Season Eight of the show. I have considered getting into acting. For now I am just focused on dance and possibly signing with a talent agency.

IG: How have you managed to stay confident about your skills and potential, despite the negative feedback you received for your last performance in Las Vegas?

RG: I told myself that I really wanted to get past the solo round in Vegas, and I achieved that goal. I knew that with only two weeks of training in choreography, it would be a hard week in Vegas. I'm still happy with how far I got.

IG: What are your plans for future involvement in rhythmic? Will you work in coaching or perhaps do choreography for gymnasts?

RG: Choreographing rhythmic gymnastics routines has always been an interest of mine. When I was younger I would always stay after practice and make up routines. L.A. School of Gymnastics has a long history of allowing its former members a unique opportunity to transition from an athlete to a career coach, and it would be an honor to return to the center as a choreographer or coach in the sport.

IG: In what ways have your rhythmic career, and experience on the show, prepared you for your future challenges in the competitive world of performing arts?

RG: Rhythmic gymnastics has given me life experience and new experiences including goal-setting and discipline. Travel, sportsmanship and performing in front of an audience have prepared me for the performing arts. Being on “So You Think You Can Dance” was definitely a positive real-life learning experience. I'm looking forward more opportunities in this field.

External Links
So You Think You Can Dance Official Site
Los Angeles School of Gymnastics Official Site

Written by John Crumlish    Saturday, 05 June 2010 16:38    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Tim McNeill (USA)
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Seventh all-around at the 2009 World Championships, Tim McNeill of the U.S. told IG that his medal-winning performance at the recent World Cup meet in Moscow has given him confidence for the upcoming U.S. Championships and world championships.

Tim McNeill (U.S.) waves during the all-around final at the 2009 Worlds, where he placed seventh.

McNeill, who turned 24 on May 5, won the bronze medal on parallel bars and tied for fourth place on pommel horse at Stars of the World, a World Cup meet held May 14-16 in Moscow.

A native of Falls Church, Va., McNeill trained at Capital Gymnastics before attending the University of California at Berkeley. With five individual NCAA titles, McNeill is the most decorated male gymnast in Cal history.

Now coached by Vitaly Marinitch at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, McNeill is aiming for more success at the world championships that will take place Oct. 16-24 in Rotterdam. McNeill placed seventh all-around and fifth on pommel horse at the 2009 Worlds in London.

McNeill wants to next prove himself, however, at the Visa (U.S.) Championships that will take place Aug. 11-14 in Hartford.

“My main goal is to win the all-around,” said McNeill, who finished second all-around and first on parallel bars at the 2009 U.S. Championships.

In this IG Online interview, McNeill reflects on Moscow and assesses his progress as he trains toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

IG: In what ways did your performances in Moscow, not only the medal-winning one, prepare you for the upcoming U.S. Championships and world championships?

TM: The World Cup in Moscow was an incredible experience. It was a great opportunity to assess where my gymnastics is and how I stack up against competitors from around the world. At first, I admit, I was a little nervous, because I haven't competed since the world championships, which was more than seven months ago. But as soon as I got there, it was like my mind and body went into autopilot. It was as if I hadn't taken any time off competing whatsoever. Without a doubt, this competition has given me a huge confidence boost for the upcoming meets this summer.

IG: Since last fall's world championships, how do you feel you have changed as a gymnast - skill-wise, confidence-wise, or perhaps with a different approach to the sport?

TM: World championships completely changed me and my gymnastics. It was almost like a wake-up call, telling me that I can compete with the best in the world. I've always known that I had the potential to be competitive in the all-around, but believing in your potential and actually proving yourself with results creates a completely different mindset. I have a lot more confidence now and I feel like a new gymnast. Before I would walk into meets knowing that I could do well. But now I feel like every meet I compete in from here on out, I'll walk into it with the attitude that I know I'm going to do well.

IG: Midway through the Olympic cycle, where do you see yourself in terms of reaching your peak for 2012?

TM: I think I'm on a great track. The routines I competed last year have gotten pretty easy for me. So it is definitely time to make upgrades on most, if not every, event. I plan on competing a lot of these new upgrades at this year's Visa (U.S.) Championships. By Winter Cup (U.S. men’s ranking meet in February) next year, I plan on doing the routines I want to compete in 2012. That way, by the time the Olympics come around, I'll have had plenty of time to polish and become completely comfortable with my routines.

IG: In Moscow you were up against many gymnasts whom you'll face in Rotterdam and future meets. Looking at the performances on the medalists on pommel horse, what do you think you will need to challenge for a medal in Rotterdam, as you did in London last year?

TM: I know exactly what I need to do. Plain and simple, I need to clean up. I just have too much piking and little leg splits. The routine I did in Moscow is fairly new for me, and I think I just haven't quite had the time to perfect it yet. It should look a lot better by the time worlds get here, which I think will put me in contention to win a medal.

IG: What does your bronze medal on parallel bars in Moscow indicate of this event perhaps being your strongest, or one of your strongest?

TM: I've always said that pommel horse is my best event, but when looking at meet results, I think I've been just as successful on parallel bars. They both are good events for me, and starting out at the senior level, every time I made the U.S. national team, it’s been mainly because of those two events. I think in the end, however, pommel horse will be the most important event for me, because it has traditionally been a weaker event for the U.S. and it is where I'll be able to contribute the most to a team score.

IG: What are your expectations for the U.S. Championships, in the all-around and individual events?

TM: My main goal is to win the all-around. I think that, with my Start Value upgrades and my new-found confidence, I have a real chance of doing so. Of course there are lots of incredible all-around competitors and it certainly will not be an easy task.

But I want to go into the meet and hit all of my routines and make it hard for the other athletes to beat me. If I hit all my routines and don't end up winning, then I won't be upset; after all, the only thing I can control is my own gymnastics. It would just mean that I'd get back in the gym and have to work that much harder.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 11 March 2010 16:00    PDF Print
IG Interview: Marissa King (Great Britain)
(9 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

2008 British Olympian Marissa King is enjoying collegiate life in Florida, but has her eye on further international competition.

Marissa King

A native of Cambridge, England, King was a member of the British team that finished a best-ever seventh place at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart. She placed 42nd all-around in qualifications at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where the British team finished ninth. King competed on two events at the 2009 World Championships in London, where she finished 10th on vault in qualifications.

King is a freshman and a member of the gymnastics team at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She is training under head coach Rhonda Faehn, the alternate to the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, and Romanian-born assistant coaches Adrian Burde and Robert Ladanyi. King is competing all four events for the Florida Gators, with highs in February of 9.875 on vault and uneven bars, 9.825 on balance beam and 9.850 on floor exercise.

Together with Adam Folwell and Aneta Desalermos, her coaches at Huntingdon Olympic Gymnastics Club, King also is planning for at least one more international competition.

In this IG Online interview, King details the transitions she is making as she embarks on a new phase of her gymnastics career.

IG: How and when did you decide to compete for the University of Florida?

MK: After the Olympics, I was kind of struggling on what I wanted to do after (I achieved my) biggest dream, and I didn't know what to do after that. I thought (the Olympics) was all I could do. I thought about getting collegiate offers after the Olympics. It initially started after I got approached by Florida and the other universities. I thought it would be a good change and experience. It just took off from there. I came and visited Florida in May (2009). Ever since May, I started getting very interested and decided to go after that. We had our (British) Nationals in July and that's when it was announced to the public that I was going to be competing for Florida.

IG: How have you managed such a quick transition, having competed at the world championships in London in October?

MK: It was really quick. Throughout the first semester, which I missed, I kept in good contact with Rhonda on how I should adjust my routines, what I was getting prepared for and what to expect when I came here. I sent by email some videos on skills I was working on which would be used to compose a routine. The emails from Rhonda helped prepare me to go straight into the competition season. This prior preparation helped make the transition a lot easier. The only new thing I had to compose was a floor routine. Apart from that, I was pretty much already routine-fit. The routines for college were easier, but there is much emphasis on performing the routines with perfection and cleanliness.

The transition was fine and very quick. I came straight in and got busy, which is good because I didn't get very homesick compared to what I expected. My teammates helped me as soon as I got here and directed Liz (Green, fellow freshman) and I to where we needed to go, what buildings we needed to go to and at what times. They were really helpful the first two weeks. We really relied on the other girls, which made it a lot easier. A few of the girls have obviously experienced it before so they knew straight away how to help us.

IG: So far, what are the biggest adjustments you have had to make to your gymnastics?

MK: Learning the college type of gymnastics, like being very clean and hitting your handstands, but not having such difficult routines and making them more simple but just perfected, has been the biggest adjustment.

IG: What is your strategy for balancing the academic demands with your training and competition schedule?

MK: The University of Florida does a lot to help the athletes balance their studies and athletics. There is the Office of Student Life, which is a resource that has academic counselors, computers and tutors. A tutor was assigned straight away and he gave us an academic plan, so he really helped with the organizational side of academics.

For training and competition schedules, that's all taken care of. They give us an itinerary so we know where and when to be somewhere. It's not too bad at all. It's really organized.

I personally figured out my schedule and then I look at where I have free time, and when I can go to the office and do more work. The strategy is about being organized. If you need help, get help so you don't fall behind.

IG: What aspects of U.S. college life do you find most interesting or surprising?

MK: I found surprising the terminology Americans use to be very different. I had a bit of difficulty understanding the gymnastic-skills phrases the U.S. gymnasts say compared to how we say it. For instance they say "double layout" whereas we (British) say "double straight." General vocal terminology was quite surprising because I didn't realize it would be so drastic and so different. It comes with practice and you figure out what they mean.

The most interesting aspect is living with other athletes. It's been really nice and interesting sharing a suite with a pole vaulter and two golfers. Getting to know their routines, and their rules and regulations in their sport, is really cool. I get to meet a lot of people in a lot of areas of sports.

IG: What are your future goals for international competition? Do you plan to try for this spring's Europeans, this fall's worlds, and perhaps the 2012 Olympics in London?

MK: I'm not to sure about 2012 Olympic Games. That's still a while off and a lot can happen in three years. I'd like to try for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in India, that's probably my goal for this year. Unfortunately I won't be able to make the Europeans because I will be competing here in America until then. My main competition will be the Commonwealth Games this coming year.

IG: How are your British coaches coordinating your training plan with Rhonda?

MK: I am actually keeping in touch with my coaches from back home. But Rhonda, Adrian and Robert are helping out a lot with my elite skills that I need to keep up for when I go back home. They are really helping me manage to balance the two in training, to make sure I still keep those skills.

As for my coaches back home, I am the one keeping in contact. I talk to them on Skype, I send them emails about what skills I'm learning, what my routine can possibly be for this year and what adjustments can be made. I'm just here having a good time, enjoying myself and experiencing new culture and new set of floors in life. I think they are happy so far, and they are very proud and pleased for me. I can't wait to get back to see them!

Read "Royal Ambition," a pre-2008 Olympics interview with King, in the April 2008 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 24 January 2010 22:22    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Kristina Vaculik (Canada)
(21 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Hampered by an elbow injury that prevented her from challenging for a spot at the 2008 Olympic Games, 2007 Canadian all-around champion Kristina Vaculik outlines her plans for new success at the collegiate, international and Olympic level.

Vaculik placed second all-around to Dominique Pegg at Elite Canada, a Canadian team ranking meet held last December. In the Elite Canada event finals, she finished first on uneven bars, and tied Pegg for first place on floor exercise. (Read more on Pegg in an upcoming issue of International Gymnast magazine.) The competition marked Vaculik’s return from competition following a long period of rehabilitation following elbow surgery.

Coached by 1980 Olympic all-around champion Yelena Davydova and Valery Yahchybekov at Gemini Gymnastics in Oshawa, Ontario, the 17-year-old Vaculik has great expectations for 2010 and beyond. She intends to enroll at Stanford University in the fall, and continue competing internationally with the goal of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London. In this IG Online interview, Vaculik describes how injury and frustration have given her new incentive to prove herself.

Kristina Vaculik at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart

IG: Congratulations on your excellent performance at Elite Canada last month. What were your goals for that competition, and how close to meeting your expectations did you come?

KV: I didn't have any expectations going into my first major competition after a one-year absence. I just wanted to experience competition again and feel through my routines in a competitive frame of mind. I wanted to prove to myself that I still have what it takes mentally and physically to compete and belong with the best gymnasts in Canada.

IG: What exactly was the injury that kept you from making a stronger bid for the Beijing Olympics?

KV: I was managing a few injuries throughout the Olympic selection process, including a sore elbow. Early in 2008, it was confirmed that I had developed osteochondritis dissecans (a condition in which the blood supply to the area at the end of the bone is cut off) in my right elbow. After the Canadian nationals, it was strongly recommended that I take time off, so I was forced to withdraw from the Olympic team reserve position. After a few months, the injury showed no signs of healing and led to surgery in December of that year. Fortunately, I had an excellent surgeon, Dr. Jason Smith, who is the team orthopedic surgeon for the Toronto Blue Jays. I took the right amount of time to recover which allowed me to return to full training in July 2009.

IG: What was the process that gave you the motivation you needed to return to competition following the Olympics?

KV: The motivation came from within me, from my love of the sport. It has always been there, and it is what has kept me going for close to 14 years. Being off for so long made me realize just how much I missed gymnastics, and this is what gave me the motivation and inspiration to fight my way back.

IG: What suggestions or encouragement did Yelena give you, so you could find the motivation to continue your international career?

KV: Yelena told me that, even though I was out for so long, I still had people around me that would support me and do anything to help me get back to where I was before, and where I want to be in two years. I still have goals and dreams that I want to achieve. Yelena also had several injuries that put her out of competition, so she's been there and can give me encouragement based on her experiences. I also received immense support from my gymnastics club and the Canadian gymnastics community, which I am extremely grateful for.

IG: What are your competitive goals for 2010?

KV: I would like to regain my competitive edge and compete internationally again. I am looking at a couple of opportunities for international exposure including the Pacific Rim Championships and World Cups. These events will serve as good preparation for the 2010 World Championships in the Netherlands.

IG: What thought are you giving to the 2012 Olympics, in relation to perhaps other pursuits? For example, are you looking to compete for a U.S. university? If so, when would you be enrolling, and would you still try for London?

KV: I recently accepted a full scholarship at Stanford University, where I will be joining my former team mate, Alyssa Brown. I am very excited about this opportunity and competing in the NCAA. I am enrolled for the 2010 fall semester and will study for a year. After that, I plan to defer a year and return to Canada to prepare for the 2011 worlds. The goal is to qualify a full team for the 2012 Olympics.

Read "Ready for the World," a profile on Vaculik, in the September 2007 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.


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