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Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 14 December 2008 19:25    PDF Print
Interview: Kristian Thomas (GBR)
(29 votes, average 4.83 out of 5)

Kristian Thomas (Great Britain)

Aiming for a place in the all-around finals at the 2009 World Championships in London, recently crowned British champion Kristian Thomas told IG his success is "just a matter of continuous hard work."

After a few years of gaining experience and solid international results, Thomas is coming into his own for Great Britain. He won the senior all-around title at the 2008 British Men's Championships, held Oct. 31-Nov. 2 in Goresbrook, England. Thomas is now preparing for major international competitions that will take place in London during the rest of this Olympic cycle: the 2009 World Championships and the 2012 Olympic Games.

Born Feb. 14, 1989, in Wolverhampton, England, Thomas trains under coach Michelle Bradley at Earls Gymnastics Club. He represented England at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where he won a team bronze medal and placed 12th all-around.

Thomas's best results on the World Cup circuit include second place on floor exercise at the 2008 DTB Cup in Stuttgart; third on floor exercise at the 2007 Glasgow Grand Prix; fourth on floor exercise at the 2008 Joachim Blume Memorial in Spain; fourth on high bar at the 2008 Glasgow Grand Prix; seventh on floor exercise and vault at the 2007 DTB Cup in Stuttgart; and eighth on floor exercise at the 2008 Glasgow Grand Prix. He placed eighth on floor exercise at the 2008 European Championships in Lausanne.

Although Great Britain qualified only two male gymnasts for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in August, Thomas says his team's momentum is building towards the 2009 Worlds and the London 2012 Olympics. Great Britain won the team gold medal at the 2008 Junior Europeans, and several of the juniors are expected to compete with - and against - Thomas in the coming years.

Thomas gave IG Online his thoughts on the confidence he has gained since winning the British title, and how he hopes to help lead his team to optimal international results.

Kristian Thomas (Great Britain)

IG: What do you think enabled you to break through and win your first British title?

KT: I think it was a bit of a combination of staying injury-free and having a good competition training plan prior to the championships. Also, at the competition, I was able to be consistent and go cleanly on all apparatus.

IG: At the British Championships, Olympians Daniel Keatings and Louis Smith did not perform on all six events. How do you think you rate against them in the all-around at this point?

KT: I feel that I am definitely in a position now to be competing and challenging amongst them, which will only make the British team stronger.

IG: It seems normal for female gymnasts to have male coaches, but very unique for a male gymnast to have a female coach, as you do. What are the dynamics of your relationship?

KT: I feel that we have a very good and solid relationship in the gym and both know what aims we want, so we are able to push each other on and strive to bigger and better things. I am also trained by (three-time Worlds competitor) Ryan Bradley at Earls Gymnastics Club where I train most of the week, and also by Andrei Popov, who is the men's national coach, twice a week.

IG: Great Britain's juniors have risen to the top of Europe, and are moving to the senior ranks. How much pressure do you feel from them, heading into 2009 and eventually 2012?

KT: There is definitely a lot of talent in the juniors at the minute, which can only bode well for British gymnastics, but as long as the juniors keep coming through and the seniors continue improving, it can only benefit the squad in making it stronger.

Thomas is flanked by coaches Ryan Bradley and Michelle Bradley

IG: Where do you think the British team — which should include Daniel and Louis — can fare at the 2009 Worlds in London?

KT: As the 2009 World Championships are individual only, I would like to think that Britain will have finalists in the all-around and individual apparatus finals. These goals are definitely achievable.

IG: After placing 57th all-around in qualifications at the 2007 Worlds, what are your expectations for the 2009 worlds?

KT: Obviously, first of all, I need to make sure that I continue working hard to make the British team. Then, I would like to think a top-24 placing in the all-around is possible.

IG: You have earned most of your best World Cup rankings on floor and vault. What makes these two events strong for you?

KT: I think being a bit taller than most gymnasts has helped me to generate power to use at my advantage on these apparatus. I also enjoy training floor and vault, which can help.

IG: What have you been doing to improve the other four events, so you could win the British all-around championships?

KT: I have always kept up all six apparatus in order to compete in the all-around so it has just been a matter of continuous hard work.

IG: Heading toward 2012, your team could be loaded with specialists and all-arounders. What do you think you will need to do, to earn and keep your spot on the team as an all-arounder?

KT: I think that I need to continue improving my skills on all six apparatus, and making sure my routines are solid and consistent by the time the trials come for 2012.

Written by Amanda Turner    Saturday, 06 December 2008 05:06    PDF Print
Interview: Stella Zakharova (UKR)
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Stella Zakharova signs autographs at her annual competition, the Zakharova Cup.

Olympic champion Stella Zakharova tells IG her side of the conflict with the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation that has embroiled her annual tournament.

Zakharova, a world championship, World Cup and Olympic gold medalist, received a letter in November that the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation would not sanction the eighth edition of the international Stella Zakharova Cup, scheduled for February 2009.

In the 2008 letter (see box), the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation stated its executive committee had decided to ask the International Gymnastics Federation to include on its international calendar — instead of the Zakharova Cup — a competition held in honor of the late Boris Shakhlin. (There is no limit to the number of international competitions a nation may hold each year.)

After Zakharova complained to the press, the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation responded with a public letter asking her to drop her conflict with the federation. The letter accused her of running an "aggressive" campaign against the federation, and was signed by Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation President Viktor Korzh, as well as multiple champions in artistic and rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline, including Igor Korobchinsky, Valery Goncharov, Oksana Omelianchik, Irina Krasnyanskaya, Anna Bessonova and Yuri Nikitin. Rhythmic gymnastics coaches Irina and Albina Deryugina also signed the letter.

Zakharova, a native of Odessa, was a member of the gold medal-winning Soviet team at the 1980 Olympic Games and 1981 World Championships. Her individual all-around titles included the 1979 American Cup, the 1979 and 1980 Moscow News, and the 1979 and 1980 World Cup. She also won silver medals on vault at both the 1979 and 1981 World Championships.

Zakharova retired in 1982 and married Dynamo Kiev soccer star Viktor Khlus. They moved to Sweden in 1987, where Khlus played and coached. They have a son, Oleg, born in 1983, and a daughter, Kristina, born in 1999.

In 1997, the family moved back to Kiev, where Khlus is now manager of the Arsenal soccer club. In 2002 Zakharova established the Zakharova Cup, which has attracted gymnasts from top nations including China, the U.S. and Russia to Kiev. She founded a charity fund, "Sport and Children," and also organized shows, "Star Parties with Stella Zakharova," to raise money for orphanages and pediatric cancer.

In 2004, Zakharova was elected president of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation by a one-vote margin of victory over incumbent Igor Korobchinsky. Korobchinsky, the 1989 world all-around champion and 1992 Olympic gold medalist, brought a lawsuit against Zakharova, accusing her of corrupting the election.

In this IG Online interview, Zakharova talks to IG about the 2004 election, her Zakharova Cup, and the controversy that has split the Ukrainian gymnastics community.

Letters to Stella Zakharova

Zakharova provided IG with translations of letters she received from the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation regarding its support of her annual tournament. It was the second letter in 2008 that kicked off a public war between Zakharova and the federation.

Excepts from 2006 letter from UGF
Attention: Stella Khlus (Zakharova), President of the International Welfare Fund "Sport and Children"

Dear Mrs. Stella!
The executive committee of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation in all ways supports any initiatives directed at the development, extension and popularization of gymnastics disciplines in Ukraine and in the world. Such approach is dictated by the FIG Statute, Law for Physical Culture and Sport, sports policy of its international gymnastics organizations, of which the UGF is a member.

In accordance with this very approach, being answerable to the state and the society for the development of all six gymnastics disciplines both in Kiev and in the regions of Ukraine, during the meeting of the UGF on May 15, 2006, a unanimous decision was made to support "name tournaments" on the condition that it is guaranteed that their payment is covered by sponsor money.

According to the aforementioned, the executive committee confirms its full readiness to support your honorable efforts to popularize artistic gymnastics - in organization and holding of the VI International Tournament of Artistic Gymnastics "Stella Zakharova Cup" and to plead with the FIG Board concerning the inclusion of your tournament in its international event calendar, only on the condition that it will be financed from its own sources.

President Viktor Korzh

2008 letter from UGF
Attention: Stella Khlus (Zakharova), President of the International Welfare Fund "Sport and Children"

Dear Mrs. Stella!

During the meeting of the executive committee of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation, that took place on Oct. 27, 2008, your request was considered concerning the plea to the International Gymnastics Federation to include the Stella Zakharova Cup in its international event calendar.

At the same time, the executive committee of the UGF received the plea of the technical committees in men's and women's artistic gymnastics, athletes and coaches concerning the organization of the international tournament in memory of Boris Shakhlin.

The executive committee decided to: organize the international tournament in memory of B. Shakhlin and request the FIG include this tournament in its international event calendar.

Taking into consideration the limited budget and sources of financing for international sports events, the executive committee decided to refrain from requesting the FIG include in its calendar the "Stella Zakharova Cup."

At the same time, the executive committee addresses you, Mrs. Stella, as the professional of the highest level and the patriot of Ukrainian gymnastics, to become a co-organizer of the International Tournament in memory of B. Shakhlin.

With respect,
President Viktor Korzh

Source: Stella Zakharova

IG: You moved to Sweden in 1987, and returned to Ukraine in 1997. What was gymnastics like in Soviet Ukraine in 1987, and how did you find it upon your return?

SZ: The first thing I want to say is that in the Soviet Union there was an accurate and professional approach to gymnastics. Gymnasts always received what they needed for high-level training. Each service which worked with athletes was professionally trained for their jobs as masseurs, doctors, choreographers, coaches. Athletes had everything necessary for a successful as possible preparatory process. Everyone gave them the maximum care.

To compare gymnastics in 1980 with what we have now in Ukraine is very hard. I do not wish to give comments about this, because this is the job of head coaches and senior coaching staff. I only wish to note that gymnastics in the Soviet Union was at a high level, and the results attested to this.

IG: Can you tell us about your involvement in gymnastics since your return to Ukraine? Where is the Zakharova Gymnastics School, and how many children train there?

SZ: The Stella Zakharova Club is in Kiev, and is open on the base of the Army sports club. It was opened three years ago without the aid of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation and operated for two years. We worked thanks to the help of people and company sponsors who care about sports and the future of children. For some time we were forced to close the school because of a difficult financial situation. But since September 2008 the Stella Zakharova Club is operating again and accepts all people who are interested in doing artistic gymnastics. Every day we get many calls from people who want to sign their children up at the club.

I put out a maximum effort to popularize gymnastics, sports and a healthy way of life. At the club there are already two big groups of 20 people.

IG: Your election as president of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation in 2004 was challenged in court by Igor Korobchinsky. Can you explain your side of what happened?

SZ: There was a congress following the [2004] Olympic Games. The congress always is prepared by representatives of the Sports Ministry. I did not see the documents concerning the preparation - representatives of rhythmic gymnastics and a part of artistic gymnastics supervised it. My actions for the preparation of the congress were the following - I went to the regional centers, communicated with representatives of gymnastics and coaches, told and showed the program which I had been developing during the previous four years. My opponent Korobchinsky did not assume that I could (with clean hands, without money and only with a worthy program) convince people to vote for me. Right after the congress, under the direction of the leaders of rhythmic gymnastics, which is no secret, a lawsuit was brought against me. This despite I reached out to cooperate with all disciplines, especially rhythmic gymnastics. I was ready to work with them, but, unfortunately, rhythmic gymnastics did not want to hear me.

For a year and a half I was dragged into court - it was a very difficult and unfair process. On my side there were many people, among them Yelena Vitrichenko, Lyudmila Turischeva and many other known gymnasts. The conflict was at a deadlock. After a year and a half I signed a memorandum from the National Olympic Committee to stop these scandals and to give the federation a chance to develop. I have made the independent decision to transcend myself for the good of sports in Ukraine. I left.

FIG President Bruno Grandi, having listened to my side, told me that I had taken a step in the right direction, which was very nice to hear. I thought that at last, we would start to work and develop gymnastics in Ukraine.

Zakharova on the cover of the May 1979 issue of International Gymnast

But, at a special conference, I, the Olympic champion of merited master of sport, was kicked out of the federation for immoral behavior. Tell me what immoral behavior there can be in the case of an Olympic champion devotes her life to sports and has brought the big contribution to gymnastics development through achievements in sport. I couldn't then and I still can't now come up with an answer to this question.

IG: Unlike past presidents of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation like Turischeva, Korobchinsky and yourself, Viktor Korzh is an unfamiliar name in the gymnastics world. Why do you believe he was elected president, without any background or knowledge of gymnastics?

SZ: It's very difficult for me to comment on this. I too would like to ask this question to the management of our federation. I was in a shock when at a special conference Korzh was unanimously elected, and it was unclear who had backed him. At the conference there were people from totally different kinds of sports, like kickboxing, who expressed their opinion and gave an assessment of gymnastics. It was a very complex and scandalous process.

In the past, athletes and coaches, with world-famous names, have provided a very good base for the federation and would be the right people to develop everything, and to popularize gymnastics in Ukraine and the world. It is difficult to me to make comments about who Korzh is, for as I know it he was only a bicyclist (and within the Soviet Union did not reach any ranks nor titles), and that is all I know about him. For me it's not clear who proposed his nomination for president.

IG: The UGF sent you a letter stating they will support only the Shakhlin Cup with the FIG calendar and not the Zakharova Cup. The FIG has a new rule that there can only be one stage of the World Cup in each country per year; however, there can still be other international competitions. We are puzzled as to why Ukraine cannot have both the Zakharova Cup in March and the Shakhlin Cup in May. Is there a worry there is not enough private and government sponsorship for two international artistic gymnastics competitions?

SZ: For the tournament I can answer only on behalf of my partners and the state. From year to year, we hold a tournament with such high-level guests that the mass media (Ukrainian and international) reports on it. Even in a time of strong economic crisis, we can confirm that the tournament will happen. Big companies such as Coca-Cola, Samsung and McDonald's have supported us for seven years and they consider it very prestigious to help Ukrainian sports. The state has helped us for seven years, allocating financial help. The state of Ukraine understands that for the country it is a big plus when its capital holds an international tournament bringing in foreign visitors. I wish to express huge gratitude to the state representatives for their support and understanding the value of the tournament for the country.

Stella Zakharova at the 1980 World Cup

As to the federation, it is a public body which should not interfere with affairs of the state and choose to whom the state can and can't give financing. But the president of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation, in contrast, tries to interfere with this process and does it by every possible method, for example, by not signing a sanction. How can a reasonable person who loves sports do such a thing? It is a shame to me to hear statements from people supervising the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation that such a tournament is not necessary to Ukraine. In the world a large number of competitions take place and people are happy about it. The big companies and national federations are happy to help sports development within the countries. And what do we see in Ukraine? The federation contradicts all rules of the Olympic charter, the charter and on the end to movement, forbidding us to hold the tournament. But, the Cup disturbs only the president of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation. I can say with confidence that behind me there are people who support me and want this tournament to happen, among them are Olympic champions, elite trainers, athletes. This Cup is not for Viktor Korzh, but for the whole world, for gymnasts, for children who can come and watch gymnastics competitions, for people which cannot live without sports.

It is very upsetting to me that our national team will not compete in the tournament, although they took part for the first five years. Well-known gymnasts like Alina Kozich, Valery Goncharov and Alexander Vorobyov have taken part in our Cup. And now this competition is suddenly unimportant for them, though each athlete understands what it means to test the podium at the Kiev Palace of Sports. I cannot understand - what happened?

It's time to use our best efforts so the federation can start to work amicably, to stop these scandals. I am confident that if there would have been no intervention by the rhythmic gymnastics leadership, we would have an amicable, united team in the federation.

IG: What is the status of the 2009 Zakharova Cup? Will you be able to hold it?

SZ: For seven years I have held this competition, and next year will be no exception. Living up to its tradition, it will pass at a high professional level. Regarding funding, we don't need to worry, but what I am concerned about are the barriers set by the federation leadership. We have to think how to stop this mess.

IG: You have said Viktor Korzh is destroying Ukrainian gymnastics. Why do you think so?

Zakharova at the 1979 USSR Display in London

SZ: My opinion is that if the president of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation would unite all the disciplines and resolve all these conflicts and questions, and cease interfering with carrying out of the international tournaments in Ukraine, then he would be worthy of his position. But he does everything to the contrary - he only destroys things and increases the number of scandals exponentially. For a long time it would have been possible to sit down for a roundtable discussion about how to solve problems and how to lift Ukrainian gymnastics. I am ready to make any compromise for the sake of gymnastics, but now I receive only protest instead of letters to work amicably for the good of the Ukrainian and world gymnastics.

IG: The state of Ukrainian gymnastics is clearly in crisis, with weaker and weaker results each year. What do you think must be done to help the gymnasts return to their former glory? How many gymnastics clubs are in Ukraine today?

SZ: In Ukraine there are few private gymnastic clubs. It's possible to safely name my club, and also the well-known Serebryanskaya school [of 1996 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Yekaterina Serebryanskaya]. The others are Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation-sponsored clubs or various youth sports schools which are financed by the state.

As a gymnast and Olympic champion, I understand that to rescue Ukrainian sports we must quickly get everybody connected with sports in line and figure out how we can get out of this situation that has developed. Roll up our sleeves and start working, to prepare for the next Olympic cycle and the big meets. We have to take advantage of every tiny possibility. We must do this for our athletes and coaches. We have to stop all conflicts.

IG: What do you think was the purpose of this recent letter from the federation, asking you to stop your "aggressive" campaign against the federation? What do you think they want from you?

SZ: I would wish to address this question once again to the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation. Nobody can distinctly, accurately, plainly answer. And to write dirt about people, without reasons, is very ugly. I cannot understand, how it's possible to speak, remorselessly, bad things about a person, especially about someone who does a lot not only for gymnastics, but also for Ukrainian sports as a whole. It is very unethical. I always try to get away from conflicts and not to make comments on other people.

IG: The November letter accused you of hurting the image of gymnastics in Ukraine. What is your response?

I wish to ask, how I, having brought merits and medals, a tournament, and various charitable projects to our country, I am hurting the image of Ukraine? Inviting the international visitors and athletes, giving children holidays? Spending bright sports events at high international level? What exactly here is negative, that affects the image of our country?

IG: What is the history of your conflict with Irina and Albina Deryugina? Irina Deryugina, of course has her own problems, being suspended by the FIG through 2012. Why are these rhythmic gymnastics coaches involved in this situation?

Zakharova at the 1979 World Championships in Ft. Worth

SZ: I asked this question to the administrative board of federation. Irina Ivanovna Deryugina receives a lot of state financing for her rhythmic tournament, the Deryugina Cup, and nobody prevents her from working and holding the Deryugina Cup. I cannot understand why we cannot develop artistic gymnastics as a first-rate sport in our country. I invest the maximum effort, sacrifice myself, sometimes even my family life to develop sport in Ukraine and promote healthy lifestyles.

I cannot understand, why the federation has these constant conflicts. For more than 10 years there have been arguments, conflicts and proceedings. It all began with Lyudmila Turischeva, who when establishing the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation fought against the creation of separate national federations rhythmic and artistic gymnastics.

I had just returned from Sweden to Ukraine and was shocked by what was happening, when Serebryanskaya wanted to hold her competition in rhythmic gymnastics, but was not allowed. After that Yelena Vitrichenko [was not allowed], and further [Deryugina's] hand reached to Stella Zakharova. But this year Deryugina's hand survived until the FIG [sanctioned her]. I wish to explain to the whole world that I have not started this conflict. I sometimes extend my hand to stop this conflict, for reconciliation and cooperation. I even signed a memorandum (whose positions were broken by Deryugina's people a week after signing!).

I try to help gymnastics, coaches and athletes. We do business with well-known companies, delivered equipment for the national team at Koncha-Zaspa. I do not wish to start detailing everything that happened, I do not consider it correct and I do not wish to do it. But when Stella Zakharova became an inconvenience to rhythmic gymnastics, for reasons unknown to me, [Deryugina] along with Korobchinsky, my former opponent, took action against me that does not benefit the country and the sport.

I consider that I do a decent job holding the Zakharova Cup, I don't disturb anybody. International tournaments are prestigious for the nation, and the more competitions the better. For seven years, no money was given by the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation to the Zakharova Cup, though it passed under the auspices of the federation. The state allocates money and helps us, and we are extraordinarily grateful for this.

The Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation persistently repeats that in Ukraine the Zakharova Cup is not necessary, that it is superfluous, but that the other tournaments are good and prestigious. The Korobchinsky Cup, the Deryugina Cup,the Shakhlin Cup are held, but only my tournament becomes a source of conflict every year. I cannot understand the reason.

They try to get rid of my work in gymnastics, but I will not surrender. I have devoted my whole life to gymnastics. I'm very insulted and sick that we have come to such a situation, and that the president of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation is making such statements. The most terrible for me is that he does it not by his own hands, but with public hands. On these documents there are signatures of people who cannot say "no" (for fear of losing their jobs). They put their signatures on the documents but outside of the margins, they raise their hands "for" the the Zakharova Cup. They understand that the Cup is very important for our country, federation and athletes.

Zakharova is introduced to the audience during her annual competition

I'm very hurt that I should need to talk about this situation that has been developing for many years in the federation, the world community. I want to say that I am a gymnastics person and will never do anything to the detriment of gymnastics.

IG: We did not see the name of Lilia Podkopayeva on this November "group" letter. What is your relationship with Lilia?

SZ: Lilia is a very famous and honored gymnast. The whole world knows her name. I respect her as a strong person who does a lot for Ukraine. She is very busy with charity work and with her "Golden Lilia" show. I believe that she has a opinion [on this matter], but she will not get involved in any provocations.

IG: Do you think you and the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation will be able to repair this conflict in the future?

SZ: As Mr. Korzh does not understand that we should all come to the negotiating table and decide how to resolve this conflict, we will find it difficult to develop gymnastics in Ukraine and the world.

IG: Your former teammate, Nellie Kim, is now president of the FIG Women's Technical Committee. What is your opinion of how she has done her job?

SZ: She is a very good person and the professional in her work, a famous gymnast with whom I always enjoyed competing. She possesses many positive qualities which help her with her professional career. She is always able to make a decision and find an exit from a difficult situation. I consider she to be worthy of her position and the right choice for the International Gymnastics Federation. Gymnastics is a very popular sport, for eight days of competition at the Olympic Games the arena was filled by spectators. This testifies to good, professional work of the FIG management over the past four years.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 04 December 2008 08:11    PDF Print
Interview: Barbara Gasser (Austria)
(15 votes, average 4.93 out of 5)

Barbara Gasser (Austria)

Recently crowned Austrian champion Barbara Gasser spoke with IG about training in Canada, representing her native country and moving up in the world rankings.

Born Aug. 30, 1989, in Lustenau, Gasser has been training at Bluewater Gymnastics in Sarnia, Ont, Canada, with Dave and Liz Brubaker since 2003. She won the Austrian junior all-around title in 2003 and 2004.

At the Austrian Championships in November, Gasser won the senior all-around, balance beam and floor exercise titles.

Gasser was Austria's top all-arounder at the 2008 Senior Europeans held in Clermont-Ferrand, France, in April, where she finished 19th in team qualifications. (No all-around contest was held.)

Gasser's ranking in Clermont-Ferrand marked a significant improvement from her Europeans results in 2005 (47th place in qualifications), and 2006 (43rd in team qualifications - no all-around contest was held).

As Gasser prepares for major competitions in 2009 - including the Europeans in Milan and the World Championships in London - she gave IG her thoughts on reaching her international potential.

IG: What took you from Austria to Canada?

BG: First of all, I did not move to Canada because of my gymnastics but because of my family. My father always wanted to move to Canada because of family connections and occupational reasons. Both my parents really liked Canada in the whole and they decided to move there in the year 2003.

IG: How did you pick Bluewater Gymnastics as your club?

BG: When we first came to Canada we lived on a farm 45 minutes from Sarnia. Bluewater Gymnastics was the closest club I could train at. I was very lucky, as I found out it was one of the best clubs in Canada.

IG: How do you coordinate your training in Canada with the national team and national coaching staff in Austria?

BG: I basically train in Canada and go to compete in or for Austria. My coaches, Dave and Liz, are very supportive and help me to prepare myself as best as I can. It is not always easy, because I do not know the coaches and teammates in Austria very well. However, everyone has been really welcoming, and even though I train in Canada, I definitely feel like I am part of the team. Austria, just like Canada, does not have a national training center where all the girls train together all year long. Of course there are training camps, but after the camps all the girls go back to their clubs. So therefore I usually go to Austria not to train, but to compete.

IG: How often do you train in Austria? Who coaches you while you are in Austria?

BG: I not really go to Austria to train, but rather to compete. I usually go to Austria one week or two weeks before the competitions - depending on the type of competition. Unless it is a preparation for international competitions, which is done with the national coach at an arranged national center, I usually go to the provincial training center. There I do get supported by my provincial coach if I need to, but I mainly try to focus on what I have been taught by my coaches in Canada.

IG: Austria is not yet known as a top gymnastics country. What challenges does Austria face that seem to have limited its international success so far?

BG: There is a limited cooperation between school, work and gymnastics and therefore leads to limited time and space in the gyms.

Barbara Gasser (Austria)

IG: What differences do you notice between gymnastics in Austria, and gymnastics in Canada?

BG: I believe since there is limited time and space in the gyms, Austrian gymnasts have to learn difficult skills fast and have to spend less time on perfecting techniques and execution. Here in Canada, schools are more supportive and gymnastics can be executed almost professionally. In Canada gymnasts often stay longer in their sport because they have the opportunity to apply for scholarships, which is a huge incentive, as secondary education is not free in Canada as it is in Austria.

IG: At 19 you seem to just be "coming into your own" internationally. In the past, 19 was considered "old." How have you been able to maintain your progress so you could win the Austrian title this year?

BG: I have always believed that the age 16 is too young to be considered a senior internationally! I have always looked up to older gymnasts, such as (three-time Russian Olympian) Svetlana Khorkina for example. You have gained a lot of experience when you are 19 and you are able to really express yourself in your own style. However, at the same time it gets harder, because you do not have the innocent mind anymore, but you know all about accidents and injuries. Preparing myself for the Austrian nationals or any other competitions, I try to keep myself physically and mentally fit as best as possible. As long as you do what you love to do, age does not really play a big role. However, the hardest part is growing up, but once you pass that you appreciate gymnastics even more and it motivates you to keep going.

IG: Internationally, what are your expectations for 2009 and beyond?

BG: I will be supporting my provincial team in Austria for the Austrian National Team Championships. I want to take part in the European Championships in spring and in the World Championships in fall. I usually only set short-term goals because that is the best way to prepare myself for competitions.

IG: What are you specifically working on, or looking to improve, so you can break into the top international group?

BG: I do want to improve my Start Values on all events. It usually takes longer for me to put new skills in my routine because I work on cleaning up my skills as best as I can first - I am a perfectionist. I also want to improve my mindset that every gymnast who works hard, no matter what nationality, is capable of being in the top internationally.

IG: What do you think it will take for Austria to compete against the best teams in Europe, and eventually the world?

BG: I believe it will just take time and of course the right mindset and commitment. We have been working towards getting up higher internationally. If you look back, Austria has improved internationally every year. It is a slow approach, but there is clearly an improvement.

Written by Ayako Murao    Thursday, 06 November 2008 03:46    PDF Print
IG Chat: Takehiro Kashima (Japan)
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Preparing for his final competition, two-time Japanese Olympian Takehiro Kashima, tells his successors to "aim for beautiful gymnastics."

Kashima, 28, is one of six Japanese men on the roster for the Toyota Cup International, to be held Dec. 15-16 in Toyota City.

It will be the swan song for Kashima, a double gold medalist at the 2003 World Championships and member of Japan's golden team at the 2004 Olympics. He competed in four world championships and two Olympics, earning a total of nine medals.

The Osaka native spoke to the press at the 2008 Japanese National Championships, held this past weekend in Niigata.

Takehiro Kashima (Japan)

Q: How did you decide it was the right time for retirement?

TK: After Beijing, I thought, "It's about time" and almost decided. In fact, I was thinking about this during the training camps for Beijing. I really want to train always at the maximum, but it was getting to be impossible for me. I couldn't train how I wanted. That's why I decided to retire. I wanted to go to competitions by being prepared, but I couldn't do enough training. Then it turned out that my body couldn't keep up with the competitions. For gymnastics, every single day is very important and a stack of everyday training sessions lead us to the competition results. Therefore, the fact that I couldn't keep doing enough of those daily training sessions made me decide to retire. I told Tomita after the all-around final at the Beijing Olympics in the Olympic Village that I would retire.

Q: Which were the most memorable moments in your career? Which were the most painful?

TK: I think my gymnastics life itself led me to develop myself as a person. Therefore even the fact that I could take part in gymnastics is enough to make me glad. Among the gold medals I've won, the most impressive and delightful one is the team gold from the Olympics in Athens. The Olympics was my dream and we went through tough training for it and got the gold medal. This is the most joyful one. The painful moment was the 2007 World Championships, where I had to withdraw due to injury.

Q: What is the pommel horse for you?

TK: It was the best apparatus to bring out the best in myself.

Q: What is next on your schedule?

TK: I'm going to take part in the Toyota Cup, although I'm going to do only pommel horse. I'd like to perform with a feeling of gratitude for people who have taken care of me. After that, I'd like to do something related to gymnastics, like being a coach.

Q: Please give a message to the gymnasts coming up after you.

TK: I want them to aim for beautiful gymnastics. Although the current rules require them to do lots of elements, I want them to remember that the basics and the beauty are important for gymnastics.

External Link: Japanese Gymnastics Association

Written by Amanda Turner    Wednesday, 29 October 2008 07:29    PDF Print
Interview: Mike Burg (U.S.)
(2 votes, average 3.00 out of 5)

IG Online talks to Mike Burg, producer and creator of the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars that's midway through its U.S. run.

The tour, which kicked off in September and is currently on the East Coast, combines Olympic gymnastics stars with Disney Records artists Jordan Pruitt and KSM for a musical mix of sports and entertainment. The gymnastics lineup features a multitude of Olympic stars, including Olympic champions Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Paul Hamm and Shannon Miller.

It is the second such tour from Burg, who produced the 2004 Rock 'n' Roll Tour, starring 2004 Olympic champions Hamm and Carly Patterson, and teen singer Jo Jo.

After receiving a degree in government from the University of Virginia, Burg went into the media field in 1982 with a job as an associate producer at CBS. He then moved to Jefferson-Pilot Sports, where he cut his teeth in the figure skating world with made-for-television events including ICE WARS and the Rock & Roll Figure Skating Championships.

In 1996, Burg founded Edge Marketing & Management, which partnered with USA Gymnastics for that year's post-Olympic tour with six of the seven members of the U.S. gold medal-winning women's team from Atlanta.

Berg produced a similar tour with USAG following the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but says creative differences led him to create his own tour following Athens.

Burg, who has survived two bouts with Hodgkin's disease, is now combining his marketing and TV experience to raise awareness for cancer. In 2006 he teamed up with women's cancer advocacy groups and ABC to form Frosted Pink, a two-year campaign featuring musicians and figure skaters. In 2008 he launched Frosted Pink with a Twist, bringing in gymnasts to join the fight for a cancer-free world.

IG Online chats with Burg about his experiences and motivations behind the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars.

Mike Burg, producer of the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars

IG: What is your background? Were you ever a gymnast or figure skater?

MB: No, no, I had been very involved in the world of figure skating. I was working with a company called Jefferson-Pilot Broadcasting that we felt could really capitalize on the area of women's sports. We identified figure skating as one of them. As figure skating did well, we figured we could do a similar thing with gymnastics as one of the few women's sports that actually has a big female audience.

Why did you split with USAG in 2004?

MB: About a year ago, we had reached a partnership with Hollywood Records & Disney Music about trying to put together a show. What we wanted to do was to create a show that was sports and entertainment combined. We felt since the demographic of gymnastics was so heavily toward a younger "tween" [aged 8-14] female, there is no better brand to reach that tween female than Disney. So we did a partnership with them, and I don't believe that at that time USA Gymnastics had the same vision that we did. So we continued to pursue our vision and did our agreement with Disney. You'd have to ask [USAG President] Steve Penny for their reason for deciding not to move forward with their tour. But we continued to move forward and we're fortunate that USAG has agreed to sanction our tour, and they've been a great partner to have since then.

IG: In 2004, you first tested the waters combining musicians and gymnasts...

MB: We had Jo Jo on the tour and it was a start, but we wanted to make it even bigger and better.

IG: What is the difference between the 2008 and 2004 tours?

MB: The production value of this is probably second to none in any gymnastics tour. It's a state-of-the-art lighting system, state-of-the-art sound system. [Former Univ. of Oklahoma gymnast] Mike Rice, who is the creative director of the tour, designed all the rigging and all the flying in the air. He does a lot of the Cirque du Soleil stuff. Plus we have two live music acts from Disney. We have video on the tour that no one's ever had before. We have video screens behind it all. You add all those things together and it's a really high-end, expensive product, and it's a product we're really proud of.

IG: You mentioned the expense. How is the current economy affecting the tour? Some families might not be able to afford for the whole family to go see an expensive show.

MB: What we're doing right now, as a matter of fact, in the remaining dates we're doing a promotion called Recession Busters: We're offering families 2-for-1 ticket sales on some tickets. We realize the economy is really tough right now, so we're not foolish. We're trying to make it affordable for anyone who wants to go, and doing the 2-for-1 promotion we think will be a great one.

IG: How have the crowds been?

MB: The crowds have been up about 40 percent over the similar tour in 2004, so they're really, really strong.

IG: Have you been surprised by the turnout in some cities?

MB: Because we got such a late start, becuase of the disagreements we had with USA Gymnastics, we weren't quite sure what we were going to get. The fact that we're 40 percent over the Olympic tour in 2004 is a very pleasant surprise. [Oct. 26 tour stop] Boston year in, year out is the No. 1 tour market, I'm not sure I understand it. Right behind it are [Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin's] hometowns of Des Moines (Nov. 14) and Dallas (Oct. 11).

IG: Do you go to each tour stop?

MB: If I want to. I go to a number of them but not all of them.

IG: Are you still doing a lot of figure skating events?

MB: With the Winter Olympics coming up in 2010, we're about to get intimately involved in figure skating. Over the past two Olympics you've seen a drop off in the interest in figure skating and we think the opportuntiy to really kind of relaunch the sport is right there, especially with the Games being in Vancouver.

We do a number of big television shows. We're the producers of the Teen Choice Awards on Fox. We had it in August and this was our 10th year. We're the executive producers of the Kids Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. So we do a lot of entertainemnt specials and some philanthropic specials as well. We just finished a show called Frosted Pink with a Twist, which is all about enlightenment with regards to women's cancer. I'm a two-time cancer survivor so I'm pretty close to that.

IG: On the tour you have a wide range in age, with some younger teenaged girls. Are they chaperoned?

MB: Yes. Shawn [Johnson] at 16 has an 18-year-old, her cousin with her. We have two security officers with the tour at all time.

IG: The gymnasts were under so much pressure at the Olympics in Beijing. What do you think it's like for them to be able to perform just for fun?

MB: It's interesting. You have athletes who have done this type of show before, like Paul and Morgan Hamm, Shannon Miller and Blaine Wilson and they kind of knew what to expect, but the other Olympians were — once the tour got going — absolutely thrilled with the ability to be showing their skills without having to look over their shoulders and see who is judging them. I think it's a skill you learn and I'm really impressed with the bunch of kids we have.

IG: So are you already making plans for a post-Olympic tour after London 2012?

MB: We're just trying to get through this right now. (laughs).

External Link: 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars

External Link: Frosted Pink with a Twist

KSM performs the tour theme song, "A Hero in You"


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