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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IG: How and where did you celebrate the holidays?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IG: What were your realistic expectations going into London?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IG: What are your specific plans for London?

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

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

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

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

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

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

IG: Who coaches you on which events?

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

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

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

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


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