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Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 12 September 2013 08:41    PDF Print
IG Interview: Teja Belak (Slovenia)
(4 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

IG chats with Slovenia's Teja Belak, who is hoping to overcome a recent injury and perform credibly at the world championships that will begin in Antwerp on Sept. 30.

A vault finalist at this year's European championships and University Games, Teja Belak of Slovenia is hoping to overcome a recent injury and perform credibly at the world championships that will begin in Antwerp on Sept. 30.

A vault finalist at this year's European championships and University Games, Teja Belak of Slovenia is hoping to overcome a recent injury and perform credibly at the world championships that will begin in Antwerp on Sept. 30.

Born April 22, 1994, in Ljubljana, Belak trains under coach Andrej Mavric at GD Zelena Jama in her hometown.

Belak's vaulting prowess has earned her honors at several competitions over the past three years. She won vault at the 2010 World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia, and the 2012 FIG Challenge Cup that was also held in Maribor.

This year on the apparatus Belak placed fifth at the FIG Challenge Cup of Doha, Qatar; tied for fourth at Europeans in Moscow; placed eighth at the FIG Challenge Cup of Ljubljana; placed sixth at the Mediterranean Games in Mersin, Turkey; and placed seventh at the University Games in Kazan. Her current vaults are a well-executed handspring, tucked front-full; and a 1-1/2-twisting Yurchenko.

Belak is also strong on balance beam, on which she finished sixth at the 2013 FIG Challenge Cup of Doha and eighth at the 2013 FIG Challenge Cup in Ljubljana.

In this IG Online interview, Belak details her recent successes and struggles, and outlines her strategy for qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Teja Belak (Slovenia)

IG: You came very close to winning a medal in Moscow. What do you think of your performance there, and what you think you could have done better to win a medal?

TB: This year I was really prepared for the European championships in Moscow. Before Moscow I had even more competitions. And so, in these competitions, I could practice my new vault. I was able to correct my mistakes, and perform my new vault very well at the European championships. My goal was to make it to the final. My coach and I didn't even think of winning a medal on this competition. At the end I saw that I actually did have some chance to win a medal, but my competitors had more difficult vaults. Their vaults were [worth] half a point higher than mine. To win a medal I think that I would have had to add a half-twist more to my (1-1/2 twisting Yurchenko) vault, and, of course, do it with no mistakes.

IG: In 2013 you have achieved great results on vault and balance beam, but what are your plans for performing in the all-around at the world championships in Antwerp?

TB: I always compete at the world championships on vault and beam. I don't compete on uneven bars and floor because I have too easy routines on those apparatus. At the world championships I will only compete on the beam and bars. That's what my coach and I decided. At the moment I have a lot of problems with my foot. Since the European championships I have not been able to train normally. Now they've given me an injection in my foot so that I don't feel any pain, and also due to this, I couldn't train consistently. But I will still try to be as good and as ready as possible next competition.

IG: What will be the focus of your training between now and Antwerp?

TB: For this competition I don't have any high hopes to achieve a good result because, in such a short of period of time, it is really hard to get prepared and ready to vault as well as possible in the competition. Of course, I still think that, for entering the final, I would have to perform a more difficult vault, like at the European championships. But you never know what might happen, so that's why you never know what to expect. At the moment I'm only focused on not getting injured anymore, and training as well as possible.

IG: We are already a full year into the new Olympic cycle. What do you think you will need to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games?

TB: To qualify for the Olympic Games I would have to perform a harder element on vault, and I would also have to make my routine on the beam much harder. On the uneven bars I would have to start training a harder routine so that I will be able to achieve a good result in the future. This also counts for my routine on floor. Plus, I have to work on my conditioning on floor. The Olympic Games are in three years. You never know what happens in the next few years, but if I stay without injuries in the future, then I think that I'm on the right path to Rio.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 10 September 2013 20:05    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Kevin Lytwyn (Canada)
(5 votes, average 4.20 out of 5)

Heading into the world championships in Antwerp at the end of this month, Canadian team veteran Kevin Lytwyn is determined to build on his experience towards the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Born April 21, 1991, in Burlington, Ont., Lytwyn was a member of the Canadian team that finished 14th at the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam and 12th at the 2011 Worlds in Tokyo. He also competed at the 2009 Worlds in London, where no team competition took place.

The top eight teams in Tokyo, along with the top four teams at the Olympic test event held in London in January 2012, qualified for the 2012 Games in London. Canada placed fifth at the test event and therefore did not advance to the Games.

Lytwyn’s top individual international finishes include gold on floor exercise, and bronze on floor exercise and parallel bars, at the 2010 World Cup of Montreal; fourth place on high bar at the 2012 FIG Challenge Cup of Maribor, Slovenia; and 12th on rings and 13th on vault at the 2013 FIG Challenge Cup on Anadia, Portugal.

In domestic competitions, Lytwyn was first on rings at the 2010 Canadian Championships; first on rings and high bar at 2011 Elite Canada; and first (tie) on rings at the 2013 Canadian Championships.

Lytwyn spoke with IG Online about his goals for Antwerp, and his determination to place Canada in contention for an Olympic team berth three years from now in Rio.

IG: Having already competed at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Worlds, how are you approaching this competition in terms of confidence and nerve control?

Kevin Lytwyn (Canada)

KL: Confidence and nerve control really come with practice in the gym during training. I am really trying to focus on doing my daily training plans efficiently without extra turns. Also, mock meets are a great tool to put me in the mindset of a real competition.

IG: What are your specific goals for Antwerp?

KL: My specific goals in Antwerp are completing my routines without major errors and finishing with at least one top-16 finish.

IG: You have been very successful on rings, an apparatus that is particularly crowded with strong specialists. What are you focusing on so you can break into the top international group, and perhaps the apparatus final in Antwerp?

KL: On rings I have been conditioning hard in training with the hope that it will make me strong enough. I want to solidify my holds as well as hopefully replace a swing element with another strength element.

IG: You've also had international success on vault, floor, p-bars and high bar. What is your perspective on remaining an all-arounder versus sticking to the apparatuses on which you have the potential to be a finalist?

KL: Actually I have not competed in all-around for a few years now. I was never very good on pommel horse, and, after I stopped training pommel horse, it took a lot of stress out of my training and let me focus on my better events. This enabled me to help out our team and increase my Start Values so I can be more competitive internationally.

IG: Although Antwerp won't include a team competition, what is your take on the state of the Canadian men's team thus far in the new Olympic cycle?

KL: We will have a much better take on how our team will fare this cycle come next year, but, for now, if everything goes to plan and the team can all stay healthy and motivated, I feel as though we will look good. There are a few new up-and-comers, and everyone else on the team is really working on increasing their level of gymnastics, which will go a long way if we can gain consistency.

IG: As a member of the Canadian team in the build-up to London 2012, what do you think could have made the difference between not qualifying a team and qualifying a team?

KL: Not qualifying for the Olympics was very tough on me and I am sure the rest of the team. We all knew we were better than how we performed that day (the Olympic qualification meets – 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympic test event), and we will be working very hard to ensure that that situation will not happen again.

IG: What is your training situation these days?

KL: I have been training in Calgary for about a year and a half, and I am coached by Jason Woodnick at the University of Calgary Gymnastics Center. As I am from Ontario and started university at McMaster, I have continued my education there by correspondence, taking a few online courses and a few courses at the University of Calgary that transfer.

IG: With Rio three years away, what do you think you will need to push yourself so you can peak in 2016?

KL: In order for me to peak for Rio, the most important thing will be to remain healthy. Getting injured is a waste of time and very frustrating. Staying healthy will allow me to continue good, consistent training, which will go a long way to peaking for Rio.

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 22 July 2013 23:47    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Gaelle Mys (Belgium)
(6 votes, average 4.33 out of 5)

After representing Belgium at the past two Olympic Games, Gaelle Mys has her sights set on future competitions including this fall's world championships that the Belgians will host in Antwerp.

The 21-year-old Mys rejuvenated her career at this spring's Belgian championships, where she placed first all-around. Mys finished 24th in the all-around final at the 2008 Games in Beijing and 31st all-around in qualifications at the 2012 Games in London.

In this IG Online interview, Mys assesses her recent performances and explains her incentive for extending her long career.

IG: What was your goal going into the Belgian championships, and what was your impression of your performance?

Gaelle Mys at the 2012 Olympics

GM: My goal was to do a nice and clean competition and to get my points for worlds. Unfortunately I fell on bars and beam, and just came one point short for my qualification [target] for worlds. It was a very difficult competition for me. After bars I started to feel a heavy pain in my back, but I still had to perform on beam and floor. I didn't want to quit the competition because I trained well for it, and I wanted to qualify, so I went on. But I could feel that the pain wasn't just muscular, so after the competition I went to get X-rays and I couldn't do anything for one month.

I think with these circumstances I still did well for myself, but I had hoped to do better.

IG: You have already competed in two Olympic Games, and to many gymnastics followers, it is a nice surprise that you continue your career. What is your motivation for doing gymnastics now, and how is your motivation different from when you were younger?

GM: I found it a great opportunity that worlds will take place in Belgium, and after that we'll see where it goes. I'm just looking at one year at a time now. I'm older, so it depends on my physical condition and my studies. If I get there I'm hoping to get into the all-around final. It was a pity to be second reserve for the final in London, and I want to make that right.

IG: This year's world championships will be a unique opportunity for you to compete in front of your Belgian audience. What are your personal expectations for Antwerp? And what is your plan for managing the public's expectations there?

GM: First of all I still have to qualify for worlds. I missed some competitions because of my back injury. Then when I get there my goal is to get into the finals. During competition I try to stay focused and isolate myself from the crowd. I'm not really thinking about the public's expectations. The most important for me is to achieve my own goals.

IG: How much further would you like to compete in gymnastics?

GM: I have no idea yet. I'm just looking one year at a time, and we'll see how it goes. It depends on my physical condition, my studies, and if I can still improve, all of which are very important for my motivation.

International Gymnast Magazine's coverage of Belgian gymnasts includes:
"Quick Chat: Julie Croket” – interview (December 2012)
"Gaining Confidence” – Julie Croket profile (November 2010)
"Rising Moonen” - Lynn Moonen profile (December 2004)
"Mighty Mys” - Gaelle Mys profile (October 2005)
"Making Her Way” - Aagje Vanwalleghem profile (August/September 2004)

To subscribe or order back issues, click here.

Written by dwight normile    Monday, 15 July 2013 07:50    PDF Print
Legendary Coach Gene Wettstone Turns 100
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

In honor of Gene Wettstone's 100th birthday, we are reprinting an interview IG published in its NCAA issue in May.

Born July 15, 1913, to Swiss parents, Gene Wettstone holds the record for NCAA men's team championships by a single coach (nine). He learned the sport at the Swiss Gymnastics Association in Union City, N.J., and was a Big Ten champion at Iowa. He took over the Penn State Nittany Lions in 1938 and produced 45 individual NCAA champions, 12 Olympians and was head coach of two Olympic teams (1948, '56). Wettstone was master at running competitions, but he is most proud of his work in unseating the AAU as the governing body for U.S. gymnastics. He was honored at the 2013 NCAAs in April, when Penn State named its workout facility the Gene Wettstone Gymnastics Complex. On April 1, he spoke by phone with IG Editor Dwight Normile about his long life in gymnastics.

IG: Did you ever think you would reach 99, and in a few months, 100?

GW: No, I never, never, never, never, never thought I'd reach 99.

IG: How often do you think about your days as a gymnast and coach?

GW: I think [about it] quite a bit, but I think more about ... the '60s when we battled the AAU to take over the sport of gymnastics, because the AAU had full control. And I think more about those years than I do about the success I had in getting 18 gymnasts jobs in different universities of this country.

IG: You retired in 1976, the year you hosted the Olympic trials. What do you remember from that event?

GW: I don't remember the event, but we won the national championship as a team [that year]. I remember that. It was the last of my career. It was a nice way to go out, I think.

IG: What are your impressions of gymnastics now?

GW: I keep interested in what is going on and how the rules keep changing. They don't know exactly what to do. We did the same thing in those years; we kept changing the rules. Now all [scores] count in the scoring. They keep changing all the time, trying to figure out how to make the sport a sport, and that bothers me a little bit.

IG: You were a gymnast at Iowa but a coach at Penn State. Are you loyal to both programs?

GW: No, I'm loyal to Penn State because I've been here over 60 years. When you're [in a place] that long and you have a team like we had, I don't think about my alma mater as much as I do Penn State, of course. That's obvious.

IG: You used music to help involve the crowd at gymnastics competitions. Do you still listen to music today?

GW: Not as much because I don't operate my music machine anymore ... it's a little too complicated. But music is, of course, part of gymnastics, and people ought to think about music, for example, "The Student Prince." I always associate that music and that title to our gymnasts, because in a way, they are student princes. If they don't develop these gymnasts into real wonderful models, then they're missing the boat, because they are, in a way, the prince of sports.

IG: What is your best memory as a competitive gymnast?

GW: Well, I won the Big Ten championships way back in — I don't even remember the year (1935 and '37).

IG: What is your best memory as a Penn State coach?

GW: I came to Penn State in 1939 because they wanted somebody to pep up their major student program so that they would be more eligible for jobs in the state. So when they hired me for $1,800 for nine months, I took over the gym like you wouldn't believe. I had the guts to throw baseball out, because they had no right to be playing baseball in a gym. I pulled down all their nets.

Everybody seemed to let me alone and do what I was supposed to do. Of course, I was too aggressive, but never mind; I was able to accomplish what I wanted. I had the phys. ed. majors, and I bought equipment and I developed in them skills on various things like walking on a ball, walking tight wire, just a lot of interesting things that major students had never done before. And pretty soon I was on the way of really taking over ... when the war broke out...

And after the war ended, we won the national championship, and then we won a couple of times around the '50s (four), and then I got the thought of bringing in some foreign teams so our students could understand what's happening in other countries.

I enjoyed making [my gymnasts] student princes. I wanted them to be examples of a person that's disciplined, nice looking. We practiced walking to be sure they had the right character. People got attached to certain gymnasts, and they would actually go to see their favorite gymnasts — (Mike) Jacobson was one of them. I mean, the ladies liked Jacobson, and they would go to the meets to see him. I wanted our gymnasts to be examples of good Americans and do everything so that it inspires people to duplicate what we were doing.

IG: How would you like to be remembered among the gymnastics community?

GW: I brought 16 teams to the United States, but the thing that I like the best of all was the battle we had with the AAU. I mean, that took 10 years, and it took certain teams that cooperated — for example, the University of Cologne in Germany. They came here and the AAU went to the airport to tell them they were not allowed to go to Penn State, and they told them that nothing was going to stop them.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 24 May 2013 18:42    PDF Print
IG Interview: Katarzyna Jurkowska (Poland)
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Fifth on balance beam at last month's European championships in Moscow, 21-year-old Polish gymnast Katarzyna Jurkowska is coming into her own after medal-winning performances at international competitions over the past four years.

Born Feb. 18, 1992, in Krakow, Jurkowska was previously coached by Beata Bodzon and Valery Kavalenka at TS Wisla Krakow. She now trains under coach Katsiarina Kalmahorova at the Olympic Training Center in Zabrze. Jurkowska's performance in Moscow marked the first time she made a Europeans final, but her versatility has earned her podium finishes at other meets around the world.

Jurkowska won gold on balance beam and silver on floor exercise at the 2012 Vitaly Scherbo Cup in Minsk; silver on balance beam at the 2011 Grand Prix of Ostrava, Czech Republic, and the 2012 FIG Challenge Cup of Maribor, Slovenia; and bronze on vault at the 2009 Toyota Cup in Japan.

A veteran of three world championships, Jurkowska was fifth on balance beam at the 2009 World Cup of Osijek, Croatia; sixth on balance beam at the 2009 World Cup of Moscow; and fourth on floor exercise and seventh on balance beam at the 2010 World Cup of Osijek.

In this IG Online interview, Jurkowska describes the successes and challenges she has met during her lengthy career.

IG: You have won medals in World Cup events but this is your best European final. What gave you the confidence to break into the beam final in Moscow?

Jurkowska on beam at the 2013 Europeans

KJ: I have had a couple of podium finishes in the World Cup (meets) but the final of the European Championships is the biggest surprise for me and the biggest success in my career, especially since it was my first competition after an operation. I had a 9 month break. I was very nervous about the competition.

IG: In your career you have had good results on all four apparatuses, but especially on beam. What makes you so good on beam?

KJ: A few years ago I practiced all-around, but fear of bars and the ankle surgery were the reasons that, at the European championships, I did just beam. This is my crown competition because, from the beginning, it was my favorite apparatus. And so it is today. Routines on the balance beam give me great satisfaction and pleasure. I just love it.

IG: You turned 21 this year, but you are performing better than ever. After doing gymnastics for so many years, what inspires you to continue at age 21?

KJ: I devoted a lot of time to improve my routine on the balance beam, and I think it allowed me to achieve this result at my age. Why do I still train? Hmm...I think gymnastics is my passion. I have spent most of my life in the gym. The support of my family and my coach are the factors that make me continue to train.

IG: What is your relationship with (2008-12 Polish Olympian) Marta Pihan-Kulesza? How does she motivate you?

KJ: My relationship with Marta is very good. Some time ago we trained together and Marta, as an older colleague, always supported me, although now we rarely see each other. At the European Championships I got a nice message from her.

IG: You, Marta and other gymnasts such as Monika Frandofert, Paula Plichta and Joanna Litewka have been the basis of the Polish team for the past several years. What do you think about the future of Polish gymnastics, especially the younger gymnasts who are rising to take your places?

KJ: We were a good team. What do I think about the future of Polish gymnastics? We have some nice juniors, 13 and 14 years old, who may in a few years take our place in the international arena.

IG: What are your goals for the world championships in Antwerp, and what specifically are you working on to achieve them?

KJ: At the qorld championships I want to perform as best I can. Maybe I can make another nice surprise and win a place in the final, and then anything can happen.

IG: How do you and your fiancé, Arek Kowalski, support each other in terms of sports morale?

KJ: I am getting married in July. That is why I will not be competing at the World University Games (in Kazan, Russia). Arek is a handball player in the first league club in Zabrze, and also a youth coach. I can always count on his support and understanding. That also works the other way, too. I support my boyfriend in every game. We know what life is like for athletes – training and frequent trips - but we spend every free moment together and we try to make the most of the time.


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