Written by John Crumlish
Thursday, 24 March 2011 22:27
| IG Online Interview: Felix Aronovich (Israel/Penn State)
A native of Ukraine who competes for Israel, Felix Aronovich is gaining confidence and experience as a sophomore gymnast at Penn State University. "I still see myself getting much better," he says.
A native of Ukraine who competes for Israel, Felix Aronovich is gaining confidence and experience as a sophomore gymnast at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa. "I still see myself getting much better," he says.
Born July 18, 1988, in Odessa, Aronovich has lived in Israel since age 2. "We moved mainly because life wasn't good there anymore," he says. "The Soviet Union was collapsing and there was some level of anti-Semitism. My parents didn't want to raise me in that situation."
Aronovich is among several current Israeli national team members who were born in the Soviet Union. He has represented Israel at several European championships, and the 2006 and 2010 World Championships. In Israel he trains under Ukrainian-born coach Sergei Vaisburg in Tel Aviv; at Penn State he trains under head coach Randy Jepson, and assistant coaches Slava Boiko (who competed for the Soviet Union) and 2008 U.S. Olympic team captain Kevin Tan.
While Aronovich is diligently focused on helping Penn State aim for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships (April 14-16 in Columbus), he is keeping an eye on future international success. IG recently spoke with Aronovich about the unique challenges he faces in and out of the gym.
Israel's Felix Aronovich on high bar for Penn State University
IG: How is gymnastics training in the U.S. (at Penn State) different from training in Israel?
FA: At Penn State I work a lot more on strength and conditioning than I did in Israel. I feel much more physically fit when I compete, in comparison with Israel. Also, we have around 12 or 13 meets in a season in the NCAA, whereas in Israel I competed at not more than five meets a year. I feel that the workouts here are much more intense then back home, since we have a meet approximately every week, then you have to work a lot more to make yourself better from one week to another. But the main difference is that, back home, I trained mainly for myself since we had maybe two team meets a year, whereas at Penn State I compete for a team. I have a responsibility to be good in what I do, not just for myself, but also for the team, and that is a really strong motivation boost that I didn't have at home. Another important difference is that at Penn State I have three different coaches. Each has something new to contribute when I am learning a skill or working on a routine. In Israel I had only one coach with only one opinion.
IG: How are you coordinating your training so you can meet the goals for the Penn State team, but also stay on track for what is expected of you for Israel?
FA: For the Israeli team I'm expected to compete in European championships and world championships. Europeans usually fall a week or so before NCAA nationals, so I cannot leave. Worlds are in an off-season for NCAA, so it is possible to do. But it has its downfalls since I'm usually out of routine shape in the off-season, and to get ready for worlds, I have to train routines in the off-season, too. In the long run that takes a big toll on your body because it makes you stay in shape for almost a full year. That is why I'm still not sure about competing for this year's worlds (in Tokyo in October).
IG: How will you manage fulfilling your obligations to Penn State while also being available for important meets for Israel? For example, will you miss the European championships in Berlin (April 6-10) because of the upcoming NCAA Championships (April 14-16 in Columbus)?
FA: Currently my obligations to Penn State are my top priority. Only if it doesn't contradict then I can compete for Israel, too. But, unfortunately, I will not be able to compete in Berlin due to NCAA nationals.
IG: Looking ahead, what is your plan for training for and competing at the world championships in Tokyo, which comes at the beginning of your fall semester at Penn State?
FA: After the previous worlds (2010, in Rotterdam) I was expected to compete in the upcoming worlds as well, but I haven't made up my mind about that. Training for worlds will take a lot of time that I need to work on new skills for the next NCAA season. Plus, it's really difficult to catch up with schoolwork if I miss two weeks for worlds. My classes are starting to get challenging, and missing a full two weeks of them is really bad. Plus, this year's worlds is not going to be a team worlds for Israel since we failed to qualify a full team (by placing among the top 24 teams at the 2010 Worlds). So I don't have that much of an obligation for the Israeli national team, since we can only compete individuals in Tokyo.
IG: Israeli gymnastics has improved a lot in the last few years, mostly because of gymnasts such as you, Alexander Shatilov, Eduard Gholub and others who were born in the former Soviet Union. What do you think you and your coaches can show to Israel-born gymnasts that will help them reach your high level, too?
FA: Israel is a very small country and especially in gymnastics, meaning the gymnastics community is really small and everyone basically trains with each other and there is a lot of cooperation. I, for example, can be called an Israeli-born gymnast since my entire gymnastics career developed in Israel, although I worked only with former Soviet coaches. So in that sense I had the Russian doctrine put into me. But now there is not much difference between us and Israeli-born gymnasts, because we all train under the same coaches and all those coaches are ex-Soviet coaches. That is why we had some really good Israeli-born gymnasts like Noam Shaham, my teammate here at Penn State; Shachar Tal, my clubmate from Israel who finished his eligibility at Ohio State last year; and another gymnast, Assaf Tzur, who goes to Temple University (in Philadelphia).
Israel's Felix Aronovich on still rings for Penn State University
IG: What are your realistic hopes for Israel in Tokyo?
FA: I can't really say about myself since I don't know if I'm going, and we are not sending a full team. But all of our eyes are set upon Shatilov and him winning another medal on floor and going even further this year in the all-around. (At the 2009 Worlds in London, Shatilov won Israel's first world medal, a bronze on floor exercise. Shatilov placed 11th all-around at the 2009 Worlds and 10th all-around at the 2010 Worlds.)
IG: Gymnastics has become very competitive among a large group of teams bunched together. What are the key areas on which you feel Israel would need to focus in order to break into the top 12 teams and qualify a team for the Olympics?
FA: We failed that mission (to qualify to the 2012 Olympics). But looking backward at the 2010 Worlds, we missed our goal on pommel horse. That was a really bad event for us, in which we counted some awful scores, which was the main reason we didn't qualify a team for this year's worlds. It was a very doable mission that stood in front of us, but a bad day on pommel horse was the main cause for us failing. In the future I think pommel horse will always be a weak spot for us. We really don't have much depth in that area, while on other events a lot of new guys are stepping up.
IG: What challenges have you been handling in adapting to the life of an American university student — in terms of academics, social life and the demands placed on you as a student-athlete?
FA: Obviously, in the beginning, language was the main challenge. Although my basic English was really good from school and reading books and such, holding a conversation in English or even taking notes in class is an entirely different case. In terms of academics, I came to the university three years after graduating high school, so I was a little bit rusty in the beginning of the school year. By that I mean I had to get used to the fact that I need to do homework and study for exams again. But I have been successful so far, maintaining a 3.86 GPA (Grade Point Average, out of 4.00) and always aiming at As. In terms of a social life, it was a little bit strange for me since I come from a different mentality and society. So there was the small difference, but I wouldn't say it was too bad. Plus, I had my friend and teammate from back home, Noam Shaham, here, so he helped me a lot in getting into the groove of things. I felt like I wasn't a stranger here since day one. But there are definitely still strong emotions for Israel and my friends back home. I get to see my parents in real life, not on Skype, once a year, which isn't easy. But I have my Israeli group of friends on campus and my girlfriend that all together make me not dwell too much on getting homesick. I can't afford that.
IG: How many years do you feel it will take for you to reach your potential in gymnastics?
FA: I still think I haven't reached my full potential, although I improved a lot the past year and a half since I got here, thanks to Randy, Slava and Kevin. I still see myself getting much better. I hope that in a year or so, towards my junior and senior years, I'll reach my full abilities.
Written by Amanda Turner
Wednesday, 16 March 2011 21:05
| IG Online Interview: Rohan Sebastian (Ireland/Michigan)
IG Online chats with Irish world team member Rohan Sebastian, who had a standout freshman year in 2010 for the University of Michigan. Pictured: U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Sebastian outside the White House during a celebration for the 2010 NCAA champion teams.
IG Online continues its annual St. Patrick's Day tradition of celebrating Irish gymnastics. This year, IG Online catches up with Irish-American gymnast Rohan Sebastian, who had a standout freshman year for Michigan in 2010 and is hoping his luck will continue in 2011.
Born in Ireland to Indian parents, Sebastian grew up in Oklahoma City, training at Dynamo Gymnastics with coach Binh Le and at Bart Conner Gymnastics with Ivan Ivankov. He joined the Irish national team in 2007, placing 14th all-around at the 2008 Junior European Championships and fifth all-around at the 2008 Northern European Championships.
Now a pre-med sophomore, he trains with Michigan coaches Kurt Golder, Xiao Yuan and Geoff Corrigan. He competed for Ireland at the 2009 Worlds in London, but decided to skip the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam in order to prepare for this year.
At the 2010 NCAA Championships in New York, Sebastian contributed on floor exercise, still rings and vault to help Michigan take a surprise team victory. In September, he and his Michigan teammates traveled to the White House for a celebration honoring all the past year's NCAA champion teams. The visit led to a memorable photo opportunity that saw Sebastian shaking hands with U.S. President Barack Obama.
IG Online caught up with Sebastian, who turned 20 on Monday, on his upcoming plans for collegiate and international competition.
IG: How is training going right now?
RS: Training is going very well. The main goal at the moment because of the current time in the collegiate season is becoming consistent on the events that help the team and staying healthy. I injured my wrist quite seriously at our first collegiate competition of the year in Chicago, the Windy City Invitational, and was forced to immobilize and sit out of competition for the following couple of weeks. For the last month I have been back and just been limited on pommel horse, one of my stronger events which I won't be competing this year. The wrist is feeling much better and I have competed five events for the team these last few competitions.
Irish team member Rohan Sebastian on rings for the University of Michigan
IG: When is your next trip to Ireland?
RS: As of right now, I'm not sure when my next visit to Ireland is. Due to competition conflicts with Big 10 Championships and NCAA Championships, I am unable to attend the 2011 European Championships in Berlin which is unfortunate, because last year's Icelandic volcano issues caused me to miss Europeans following the NCAA Championships. I am hoping to find a competition in Europe over the summer and train with the Irish team for a week or two after.
IG: What led to your decision to skip the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam?
RS: It was a tough decision to not compete at 2010 Worlds, but I decided that in order to really do well in future competition, it was necessary for me to upgrade and increase difficultly on my two weaker events. Due to the demands of the NCAA season and the conflict with the international schedule, I have been unable to work difficulty for a long period while having a consistent coach for the last couple of years. The first opportunity to really add the needed difficulty was this past summer, and going to worlds would have forced me to get into routine shape early again and revert back to past routines which I did not want to do. I also took a larger load in school being pre-med, so I could take a little less in my next few years. Ultimately, it was a smart decision in the long run for my career both collegiate wise and internationally.
IG: What are your goals for 2011 Worlds?
RS: My goals for 2011 Worlds are to do well on my stronger events, but mainly to score better on my weaker events now that I have a little more difficulty, but regardless to have much better execution on everything I do. This will lead to a much better all-around score which is my best chance of qualifying to the 2012 Olympics, my ultimate goal. At 2011 Worlds specifically, maybe some individual success on floor and doing whatever I can to help Ireland in the rankings.
IG: You had a very memorable freshman year at Michigan. What was that like?
RS: My freshman year in college was fantastic. Michigan is a fantastic school academically and the tradition and history is incredible. Joining that with the fantastic facilities and great coaching, it had everything I was looking for. Even though I'm not a fan of cold weather, I was pleasantly surprised as I was expecting worse (and have seen worse given the extremes in Oklahoma). The NCAA experience was a blast competing with 20 other guys who are practically my brothers and winning a national championship — can't ask for much more competing on three events as a freshman and contributing to the title.
The White House experience was just icing on the cake as our team traveled to our nation's capital to have a banquet in front of the White House and end with a speech by our president and shaking his hand — I was able to twice!. Being honored both in Michigan upon returning and at the White House was incredible. Standing next to a group of guys and knowing that we all worked very hard day in day out to achieve greatness, motivates me very much to do again this year and every other chance I get!
IG: Any plans for St. Patrick's Day on Thursday?
RS: Definitely wear some of my Irish gear around campus and rep Ireland gymnastics! Then maybe go out and eat with a couple of my teammates and celebrate after workout that night.
Written by John Crumlish
Thursday, 03 March 2011 23:41
| IG Interview: Mélodie Pulgarin (Spain/Denver)
Outspoken Spanish veteran Mélodie Pulgarin is embarking on a new phase of her career as a freshman gymnast at the Univ. of Denver, but she also hopes to play an ongoing part in the rejuvenation of the Spanish national team.
Former Spanish national team member Melodie Pulgarin competes on beam for the University of Denver
Pulgarin, who trained in Barcelona under coach Javier Gómez, competed in two World Championships and three European Championships prior to enrolling at Denver last fall. She placed 51st all-around and eighth with her team at the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus, Denmark, and 49th all-around and 15th with her team at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart, from which the top 12 teams qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Pulgarin competed on three events at the 2002 Junior European Championships in Patras, Greece; and placed 13th all-around, sixth on vault and seventh on floor exercise at the 2004 Junior Europeans in Amsterdam. She finished 15th on vault at the 2010 Europeans in Birmingham, where she also competed on uneven bars.
In World Cup meets, Pulgarin placed second on vault and eighth on floor exercise at the 2008 Joaquim Blume Memorial in Barcelona; and fourth on vault and 12th on uneven bars at the 2010 French International. Last July she placed second all-around, and first on uneven bars and floor exercise, at the Spanish Championships.
Pulgarin is enjoying her cultural, academic and athletic transitions at Denver, where her fellow international teammates include Simona Castro (Chile), Annamari Maaranen (Finland) and Louise Mercer (Great Britain). Her Denver coaches are head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, and assistant coaches Jay Hogue and Carl Leland.
In this IG Online interview, the outspoken Pulgarin comments on the past, present and future of her gymnastics career, at Denver and in Spain.
IG: What and who brought you to Denver?
MP: I was competing at the Joaquim Blume Memorial, a World Cup competition in Barcelona in 2008, and Nilson (Medeiros Savage), an ex-coach from Denver, came with (Venezuelan Olympian and Denver team member) Jessica Lopez. They saw me practice, and saw that I was studying, because I was preparing for the Selectividad (standardized test required for university entrance in Spain). So they asked my coach if I was a good student, and my coach said yes. They offered me a scholarship. It was a really long wait till I was able to come to Denver, because the NCAA had to see if I was eligible. I took the Selectividad in Spain to go to college there, but I also took the SAT (Standard Aptitude Test) for the U.S. I spent a year in university in Spain before I came here. That's because I did my last year of high school in two years, and the NCAA thought that wasn't OK, so they told me that I could do a year of college and then come in as a transfer instead of as a freshman. Because I did that year of college I had to work a lot, because I needed good grades. And then I came in September (2010).
IG: How did you manage to adjust to a different culture, academics and gymnastics all at the same time when you got to Denver?
MP: It was really hard in the beginning. It's not just a different culture, but a different way to see gymnastics and a different way to compete — as well as new teammates and the language. It was everything at the same time. Fall quarter was really, really hard. I had five injuries — really bad injuries — so I just started to train in December. I went home for a week at Thanksgiving (late November), and after Thanksgiving I was ready to do it. I saw it in a different way, as a great opportunity. When I came back, everything just flowed.
IG: Your routines this season seem easy for you, as though you can do more...
MP: I could do more. The thing is that, at the beginning, I was practicing as if I was in Elite (international level) with all my skills. But then I had these five injuries, so I couldn't do everything. Also, what really counts here is to do everything clean. I'm still working on my skills like a full-in and double layout on floor, and all of my beam skills, and I'm doing bars, too. But for competition, I really need to make everything really clean, so I just do what I can do really clean.
IG: It's not a coincidence that you perform your floor routine to (famous Spanish song) "Malagueña", is it?
MP: (smiles) Our choreographer in Spain, Kima Gratacos, always picked our music, and this was supposed to be my music for my last year. I wanted to do it because (1996 Spanish Olympian and 1996 European floor exercise co-bronze medalist) Joana Juarez had it, and she is my role model, and I wanted to have it.
Pulgarin on floor exercise at the 2004 Junior Europeans in Amsterdam
IG: What do you think made the Spanish team stronger in previous years than it has been recently? (The Spanish team placed ninth or higher at every Olympic Games from 1984-2004, but did not qualify for the 2008 Games.)
MP: It was a different time. When I was a junior and senior, we wanted so badly to go to the world championships and the Olympics. We did everything to get there. But now, the gymnasts think it's not worth it to train eight hours every day, not being able to eat almost everything, and coaches yelling bad things at you. So they just quit. We had a lot of gymnasts in Barcelona and (the national team training center in) Madrid, but now gymnasts from Madrid have quit because they don't think it's worth it. And (Spanish team officials) aren't supporting us in Barcelona, where we have a really good team.
IG: What do you suggest to help the team get better results in the future?
MP: I think we need a change, because gymnasts now need another kind of motivation. You go to Worlds, and it's just another competition. We need to train like Italy or France, and have more opportunities to compete at the highest level.
IG: What are your thoughts on competing for Spain in the future?
MP: I would really like to compete again at Worlds and the Europeans and wherever, because I really think I'm not done yet. But it doesn't depend on me. The boss in Spain, (national team head coach) Jesus Carballo (Sr.), doesn't like me too much. They don't like me in Madrid. They never wanted me to be on the team. They just called me when they needed me, which was every team competition, but then when I had to go to World Cups or things like that, they never called me because they didn't want me. I would really like to compete, though. I'm planning to compete in the Catalunya championships this summer, and in the Spanish championships.
IG: What can you do to improve your relationships in Spain?
MP: I had a really good relationship with the last president of the (Spanish gymnastics) federation. He didn't like me at the beginning, either, because I always said no to going to Madrid. I never wanted to go there. I wanted to train with my team. But at the end he saw I was a good competitor and that I said no because I had my reasons. He was good with me. (Recently elected federation president) Jesus Carballo, Jr., and I had a good relationship before, but you know that (Jesus Carballo, Sr.) is his father...
IG: You're older now, and if Spain doesn't have too many gymnasts, you could probably really help the team...
MP: That's what I think, and what almost everyone in Spain thinks. For the 2009 Worlds in London, I told them (officials) I was planning on going to Denver and could train for Worlds in Denver, but I could not go to Madrid for three months because there's no way. They just said it wasn't fair for the other gymnasts, and if I cannot prove I would be OK... you know, just excuses. I'm older now and I have other priorities. For now it's Denver, because they are paying for my education and I'm doing gymnastics for them. They deserve for me to be for them and not for Spain. (Spanish team officials) know that I'm ready to do everything to help make Spain go up again, but they just don't like my way.
IG: Do you see potential for them to change their view of you?
MP: I hope there is, because they really need gymnasts — not just me, but Thais Escolar, Cristiana Mironescu and the other gymnasts who have been competing internationally for a long time. We know what it is like to go to Worlds and we know what we have to do to make it work. I think they really need it, but I cannot do much. I can just keep on talking. That's another thing they don't like — that I always talk (laughs).
IG: In addition to the talk, though, do you think they see your value to the team going forward?
MP: I hope. I really hope so. Not just for me because, as I said, I have other priorities. But I think Spain needs it. I don't want Spain to lose out on another Olympic Games (by not earning a berth), again. Every country has gone down at one point, but they've changed it quickly. They went down and they thought, "We have to change something." They changed and went up again, but we haven't done that.
IG: Do you think you have a chance to compete for Spain at this fall's worlds in Tokyo?
MP: I hope so. I will try... I will try!
International Gymnast Magazine Related Features:
"10 Questions: Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart" — interview (November 2010)
"Viva Venezuela" — Jessica Lopez profile (March 2008)
"Flight of Faith" — Maaranen profile (November 2007)
To order back issues or subscribe to IG Magazine, click here
Written by John Crumlish
Monday, 21 February 2011 18:13
| IG Online Interview: Brittany Rogers (Canada)
Coping with recent surgery and considering her training options, 2009 world vault finalist Brittany Rogers of Canada remains optimistic as she approaches this fall's world championships in Tokyo.
Rogers at the 2009 Worlds in London
Rogers, the 2008 Elite Canada senior champion, broke her left foot at last spring's Pacific Rim Championships in Melbourne. The British Columbia native is determined to regain her form and earn a berth to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She placed 19th all-around and seventh on vault at the 2009 World Championships that also took place in London.
In this IG Online interview, the 17-year-old Rogers offers her thoughts on recovery, returning to competition and her ongoing role in Canada's quest to qualify a full team to the 2012 Olympics.
IG: How close to completely healed is your foot, and when you think you'll be training full-force?
BR: When I broke my foot in April, the doctors didn't want to do surgery on it and wanted to see if it would heal on its own. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, so I had surgery done in November. After seeing the surgeon again recently, he gave me the go-ahead to start increasing my training load with no restrictions, which was pretty exciting news after hearing doctors telling me to hold back and take it easy for nine months. There's no set time or date that I'll be training full-force. I'm just taking it day by day, but I'll be back at it very soon! I have a great physio(therapist) and orthopod (orthopedist) who are working with me with rehab.
IG: After a great year in 2009, you had to sit out most of 2010 with your injury. How have you managed to stay patient and not feel you are missing out too much?
BR: Gymnastics is the biggest part of my life, and it was far from easy missing almost a full season of competitions. I have the best support system behind me, who have helped me tremendously by keeping me focused and in shape, gearing up to get back at it and be the best I can be.
IG: What are your goals for 2011 - regaining your old tricks, learning new tricks and/or going to worlds?
BR: My main goal for 2011 is to maintain a healthy body. If I can do that, I'll be the happiest girl in the world! As far as competitions go, Nationals (in May) will be my main goal for the near future. Depending on how well Nationals go, it will determine if I compete at Worlds or any other upcoming competitions. For skills, I've always been trying to focus on cleaning my routines up and focusing on my E (Execution) scores. I've also started wearing grips on bars, which is super-exciting and a huge change, but I love them!
IG: We noticed on the latest Canadian team listing that your affiliation is "unattached." If this means you are training under different coaches or a different club, when and why you made a change? (Rogers has been training under coaches Vladimir and Svetlana Lashin at Omega Gymnastics Academy in Coquitlam, B.C.)
BR: Due to the length of time my injury has taken to heal, I have used that time to reflect on where I was and where I wanted to go. I am currently evaluating my coaching options and will be making a final decision soon.
IG: 2011 is such an important year not only for you, but the Canadian team trying to qualify for London. Although it's early in the year, what do you think are the key areas on which you personally need to focus, and on which your team needs to focus?
BR: All of the teams looking to qualify for the Olympics are looking for stability and consistency. We need to be sure our team can perform under pressure and put our best routines out there. I'm really making sure that my routines are stable and clean.
Brittany Rogers is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
January/February 2010 – 2009 World Championships photo gallery
July/August 2007 – “"Shooting Star" (Rogers profile)
To order back issues or subscribe to IG, click here.