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Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 11 March 2009 12:16    PDF Print
Interview: Courtney Kupets (U.S.)
(252 votes, average 4.77 out of 5)

Now in her senior year of competition at the University of Georgia, 2002 world uneven bars champion Courtney Kupets describes how courage, humility and faith have sustained her through three serious injuries.

Kupets credits physical, mental and spiritual forces for helping her overcome a torn left Achilles' tendon in 2003, a hip injury that impacted her performances at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, and a torn right Achilles' tendon in 2008. As Kupets' career draws to a close, she is now preparing to help earn Georgia its fourth NCAA team title in as many years.

Born July 27, 1986, Kupets trained during her international career under coaches Kelli Hill and Jen Bundy at Hill's Gymnastics in Gaithersburg, Md. She placed second all-around at the 2002 American Cup, and first on uneven bars at the 2002 World Championships in Debrecen, Hungary. In June 2003 Kupets won the U.S. all-around title, but was unable to compete in the finals at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim after she tore her left Achilles' tendon in a training session.

Kupets' recovery from her 2003 injury was quick and remarkable. In 2004 she tied Carly Patterson for the U.S. all-around title and placed first at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Hampered by an unspoken hip injury at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Kupets still won two medals (silver in the team competition, bronze on uneven bars), and placed fifth on balance beam and ninth all-around.

Following the 2004 Olympics, Kupets embarked on the collegiate phase of her career. As a Georgia freshman in 2006 she won the all-around title, tied for first on uneven bars and balance beam, and led Georgia to the team title at the NCAA Championships. As a sophomore Kupets repeated as the NCAA all-around champion, placed first on vault and again led Georgia to team victory. Kupets tore her right Achilles' tendon in a March 2008 dual meet and was sidelined for the rest of the season. Georgia went on to win the NCAA title that year.

IG Online spoke with Kupets in Los Angeles on March 8, after she placed first all-around at a dual meet against UCLA. In this interview, Kupets recalls the high and low moments of her career, and describes how she has maintained her focus and fitness.

Courtney Kupets (Univ. of Georgia)

IG: What kept you going, after you tore your Achilles' last year? How tempted were you to stop, considering that the injury occurred late in your junior year?

CK: I've done gymnastics my entire life, and I wasn't going to go out on an injury. I wanted to go out doing big gymnastics, having fun and doing all for events, of course. I did the same thing before the 2004 Olympics. I tore my Achilles' tendon and was back in six months. This time, I was back in eight months. I had plenty of time. I wanted to finish out my senior year. I was so thankful that it was my junior year, and not my senior year, when I got injured.

IG: Injuring different Achilles' tendons twice on the same tumbling element (Arabian double front), were you apprehensive at all about competing that skill again, or did you consider switching it out for something safer?

CK: I thought about another pass, but there really wasn't another pass I wanted to do. I had done double layouts before, but it wasn't something as good, when you're competing every week and when you land short. So I thought I'd give it (Arabian double front) another try. It probably didn't turn out as well as it could when I first started doing it again, but it's gotten better in every meet this year. I figure I've torn both of my Achilles', so I'm good to go now (laughs).

IG: Is this attitude what kept you going in 2003, knowing that the Olympics were so close?

CK: I don't like to stop on something bad. I like to push through and show people that, if you persevere, you can do anything you want.

IG: In Athens (2004 Olympics), you really didn't talk to the press about your hip injury or use it as an excuse for your performance.

CK: There is no excuse. Everyone is in pain. We're gymnasts, and we're going to have injuries, so it's just a matter of how headstrong you are to get through them.

IG: Is this really the end of your career, considering that Mohini Bhardwaj made an Olympic team after college?

CK: It's great to see that happen, and it's like, "Wow, if she can do it, anyone can." You have to be motivated, of course, but yes, this will be the end for me. I'll be moving on!

IG: What are you going to do with yourself, based on your major (Housing/Property Management and Consumer Economics)?

CK: I was an interior design major, but I switched. I like development. I'd like to travel around the country designing floor plans, blueprints and things like that. I just love real estate. But I think I'm going to go to grad school or law school first. I don't know if I'll stay in Georgia. It would be nice to go somewhere different if I had the opportunity, but I love Georgia.

IG: Would you consider something like Cirque du Soleil, like your sister (former Hill's and Georgia gymnast Ashley) is doing?

CK: How crazy! But I don't think I'll do that. It's definitely exciting for her, but I think my tour experience after the Olympics is what she's doing now, and it's her taste of it. It's a lot of fun, but I think I'll go into the work force. But I'm always going to be in touch with gymnastics. I can never let it go completely, but I won't be performing myself!

IG: Although this is your last year of NCAA eligibility, will you be graduating this spring?

CK: I have a whole year [left], and it's awesome. I am glad it happened like that. I felt like college was weaning me off gymnastics, taking me out of it without completely dropping it. When you're a high-level athlete, to completely stop is just crazy. You don't know what to do with yourself. You don't know what to do with your life. So college has taught me that gymnastics isn't something you do your entire life. You progressively stop. Next year I'll have school without gymnastics. It will be interesting, and I'm excited for it.

IG: What is the story behind the 15 pairs of boxing gloves you brought into the locker room before a recent meet?

CK: Every year we've done something different. In 2006 we had "Bling It" glasses with sparkles on them, and it was fun because we were going to try to "bling" the championship home. This year, I was like, "We need something." All of us are fighters. When we're down, we fight, and we wanted to start fighting before we were even down - for ourselves and our team. We wanted to bring everyone together, so instead of some cheesy little gift, why not bring real boxing gloves and sort of punch around? I didn't tell anyone before we brought them out, and they were so excited, and I was excited that they were, too. We had some ups and downs in the meets prior to that. We'd have a really great and then a not really great meet. It was like, "We need to get into this. We need to have fun and be energetic and enthusiastic." It was just a gimmick, and gimmicks are fun sometimes. It really did help our competition.

Courtney Kupets (Univ. of Georgia)

IG: What is your motivation for continuing to compete your hardest skills, when with college rules you could probably score well with less?

CK: We've always been told by (Georgia head coach) Suzanne (Yoculan) that we can always go back to easier skills if we're not doing the bigger ones cleanly. But if we're doing the big ones cleanly, there's no need for us to do the smaller skills. College gymnastics is all about hitting those handstands and sticking those landings, so if we can do those big skills, why not have great gymnastics?

IG: Looking back, which moments of your career stand out the most?

CK: There are two things. The first was before college, when I won the gold medal on bars at the 2002 Worlds. It was crazy. I wasn't really expected to win. I was kind of young and immature, and I still had braces! The other was when we won our first (NCAA) championship in my freshman year, just going through the battles with the team. To be in this new experience, and come out at the end of the year with a national championship and getting that (NCAA championship) ring, was the best feeling you could ever have.

IG: How much of an influence does your faith have in your gymnastics?

K: It's definitely a 90 percent faith game. Every meet I'm praying, "Just help me through this." All my routines are God's glory. He gives me the glory to do them, so why not do them to the best of my ability with His help? A couple of us on the team talk to each other about faith, even during the meet. We forget about it sometimes and we struggle, but I think that's what gives us those great moments of performance — when we struggle and still are content. Faith is huge, and without God, I would be nowhere right now! We have a Team United on campus, which is a Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action, together. We have weekly meetings with a lot of different sports teams, so it's great.

IG: How have you been able to maintain your fitness level from your international career, at age 22?

CK: I think I was a little out of shape last summer, because I completely stopped working out. It was kind of hard, but it was interesting. I'd never been like that before. You keep a balanced mentality. You eat normal food, and you have sweets, but you work out. I think it's about maintaining a balance. Some people are too picky, and think they shouldn't eat this or that, but I think if you maintain portions, you can eat anything.

IG: Based on your college training limit of 20 hours per week, and looking back on your elite training, do you still think it's necessary for a developing gymnast to train 40 hours per week?

CK: Getting to that point, you're learning new skills, and you need a lot of hours in the gym. But once you get those skills, you definitely don't need to be in there as long. Like Suzanne says, you can get in and get out if you hit that first routine. We want to hit those routines. We don't want to do more and fall on more. We want to do fewer and hit them.

IG: What do you think is the hardest thing for gymnasts to handle?

CK: There are two things that are the hardest about gymnastics: injury and fear. I've battled both of them. It's just how you get through them. If you believe you can get through an injury and fight back, and you really love gymnastics enough, you can get through it. With fear, you have to go back to the basics. Fear is incredible in gymnastics, because you're throwing yourself around on equipment and you have to land on your feet or you're going to hurt yourself. I think the fear is that you'll hurt yourself. Those two things are so hard in gymnastics. They're not fun at all, but if you can get through them, it makes everything worth it.

Courtney Kupets is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

June 2007: NCAA Championships report
June 2006: NCAA Championships report
October 2004: Athens Olympic Games special issue
August/September 2004: U.S. Championships report, U.S. Olympic Trials report
August/September 2003: Kupets on cover photo collage, U.S. Championships report
February 2003: Kupets in center poster collage
January 2003: Kupets on cover photo collage, 2002 World Championships coverage
April 2002: Kupets on cover, Kupets profile, American Cup report

To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 05 March 2009 12:11    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Raj Bhavsar (USA)
(73 votes, average 4.85 out of 5)

2008 Olympic bronze medalist Raj Bhavsar says joining actor Kal Penn and other honored guests of Indian descent for the Nanubhai Education Foundation benefit, Friday in New York, provides the unique chance to inspire Indian youth.

"I hope my involvement brings me the opportunity to visit with these kids, share my story, perform some 'backyard' gymnastics and get involved for the betterment of rural India," he told IG.

Bhavsar, a first-generation Indian-American, was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He was a member of the silver medal-winning U.S. team at the 2001 and 2003 World Championships, and graduated Ohio State University in 2004 with a degree in business administration and marketing. The 28-year-old Bhavsar will speak at the March 6 benefit for the NEF, which is dedicated to raising funds for the advancement of education in rural India.

Born in Houston, Bhavsar is 100 percent Gujarati; his father hails from Vadadora (Baroda), a city in the small Indian state of Gujarat, near Mumbai. His mother was born in Kampala, Uganda, but was educated in Gujurat. Most of Bhavsar's relatives are Gujarati.

This week IG caught up with Bhavsar, who outlined his participation in the NEF benefit and described his plan to use his Olympian status to motivate others.

IG: Raj, how and why did you get involved in the Nanubhai Education Foundation?

RB: I must first say that training for an Olympic endeavor is a lofty goal but at times can be selfish in nature. For years, an athlete revolves all of his or her choices around the goal of someday being on that team, and all decisions are weighed against achieving that goal. This single-minded purpose can take a toll on the people in the athlete's life. In the athlete's case, major sacrifices are made yet the constant receiving of everyone's best prayers, wishes and full support carries on. People do everything they can to help you realize your dream.

After the thrill of achieving my dream and winning an Olympic medal, I feel a sense of responsibility to give back after the years of taking and pursuing a personal goal. Winning the medal left me wondering how I can share this message with the rest of the world, particularly those who are less fortunate than I. My cousin told me about his involvement with the foundation and the opportunity to be an honored guest at this function. As I learned about the foundation, I realized this would be a perfect opportunity to not only give back, but also to bring awareness to Olympic sports in India.

The Nanubhai Foundation is already well-established and has changed the lives of so many rural Indian kids via the boost in education reform, their area of specialization. As an Olympian, I believe in the overall well-being of these kids, and that's why the promotion of exercise and athletics is imperative in addition to the education reform. I hope my involvement with the foundation brings me the opportunity to visit with these kids, share my story, perform some "backyard" gymnastics and get involved for the betterment of rural India. While this is a small step, it is the first step.

IG: What issues will you be addressing in your speech at the benefit, and what is your goal for its impact?

RB: While I will speak about some of the highlights and accomplishments of the foundation, my hope is to bring awareness to the importance of sports. My involvement in the Olympic movement could have a tremendous effect on planting the importance of sports in the minds of young Indian kids. The Indian standard of education is very high, but I believe sports is an important part for a well-rounded culture. India has many talented athletes, and the Olympics would be a wonderful stage for them to illustrate the values of India and its culture. If I have the opportunity, I will share some insights to my story and what I did to make the Olympic Games. My journey to the Olympics was arduous and long, but I hope it can inspire people to overcome obstacles, reclaim their power in life and never give up on their dreams. If my story and my experience can somehow better the life of another, then it gives a higher purpose to winning an Olympic medal.

IG: What is it like working with Kal Penn for this cause?

RB: I am excited for this opportunity to meet him because I know he is also someone who has prospered by taking the road less traveled. I am hoping I get a chance to talk to him and see where his vision sits in reaching out to rural India.

IG: The recent hit film "Slumdog Millionaire" has made the American public more intrigued with Indian culture. How do you hope to influence Americans' perspective on India?

RB: I hope America already sees India as a prosperous place. While areas of the country need development, as is true with almost every country in the world, I believe India is on the rise to a more shining future. As an American athlete of Indian origin, I believe I am in a unique position, given my recent accomplishments, to do something bigger by somehow merging the benefits of being American with the humbleness and prosperity of the Indian culture. While my path to this endeavor isn't yet clear, I believe that simply taking an interest in doing this is where most people start. After watching "Slumdog Millionaire," and witnessing its sweep at the Oscars, I simply said to myself, "I'm proud to be Indian."

IG: What other organizations are you working with, or would like to work with in the future?

RB: I am working more closely with the National Federation of Indian Americans (NFIA) and was recently awarded honors in the Field of Olympic Sports, and met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am considering a brand ambassador program with them, and am excited about the opportunities it could present. I am also talking with Zeons, a company that works with renewable bio fuel and could have an impact on reducing American dependence on foreign fuel. Right now a lot of my work is exploratory, and I hope that I continue to get the opportunity to not only share my story, but also bring to the forefront the true "gold" in being a gymnast.

External Link: Nanubhai Education Foundation

Raj Bhavsar is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
January/February 2009: "Tour Tales - 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars"
October 2008: Beijing Olympic Games special issue
March 2005: "Double Crossed" - Bhavsar interview
October 2003: World Championships special issue

To subscribe to IG or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 18 February 2009 23:59    PDF Print
Interview: Aisha Gerber (Canada)
(35 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although Canada's Aisha Gerber did not reach her original goal of competing at the 2008 Olympic Games, she is pursuing new ambitions as a freshman competitor for UCLA. "There is so much more to gymnastics than the Olympics," she told IG.

Aisha Gerber

Born June 21, 1990, in Thunder Bay, Ont., Gerber emerged as a top Canadian prospect while training under coach Elvira Saadi at the Cambridge Kips club. Saadi won team gold medals for the Soviet Union at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, the 1974 World Championships in Varna and the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. As a coach, Saadi's most prominent gymnasts have included Soviet prodigy Tatiana Groshkova and 1996 and 2000 Canadian Olympian Yvonne Tousek. Tousek went on to compete for UCLA from 2001-2004.

Gerber's international successes included third place all-around at the 2006 American Cup in Philadelphia; fourth place (tie) on floor exercise and sixth place on balance beam at the 2006 World Cup of Ghent, Belgium; and sixth place on vault at the 2008 Tournament of Masters, a World Cup meet in Cottbus, Germany.

She won team bronze medals at the 2005 Pan American Championships in Rio de Janeiro and the 2006 Pacific Alliance Championships in Honolulu. In Canadian domestic competition, Gerber's best results included first all-around at the 2005 Elite Canada meet and first place on uneven bars at the 2005 Canadian Championships.

In late 2006, Gerber took a break from gymnastics, and resumed training in early 2007 at Oakville Gymnastics Club, under coaches Kelly and Susan Manjak, Lorne Bobkin and Ashley Sportun. In 2008, Gerber won vault at the Gymnix International in Montreal and competed on two events (vault and floor exercise) at the Canadian Championships, where she finished eighth on floor exercise.

Gerber is now midway through her freshman season at UCLA, where her teammates include 2008 Canadian Olympian Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and 2004 Canadian Olympic team alternate Marci Bernholtz. She has not declared a major, but is interested in a career in athletic therapy or coaching and choreography.

In this IG Online interview, Gerber assesses her career to date, and describes the motivations that now drive her as a collegiate competitor.

Aisha Gerber

IG: We didn't see much of you after 2006. What was the nature of your absence from major competitions from 2006-2008?

AG: Toward the end of 2006 I decided to take a rest from gymnastics. My body was extremely worn down and, subsequently, I had lost all of my passion and drive to compete and train. When I left, I had no intentions of returning to the sport. Thankfully, time was the medicine I needed, and I made the decision to return to training in February 2007 with no laid-out plan of what I wanted in terms of returning to competition. But slowly I realized that I felt I owed it to myself to at least try for the Olympic dream that I had work all my life for.

IG: Looking back, what is your feeling about not reaching the Olympics?

AG: The road was a lot harder than I expected; my body had changed and grown a lot in the time I had taken off, but I feel like I kept pushing for my goal. In hindsight, I feel I did everything in my power and so I have no regrets, even though I didn't make it. Sure there was disappointment, but coming here to UCLA and getting to experience a sense of "team" like I've never felt before helped me to quickly realize the Olympics, though a great dream to have, is not the be-all and the end-all. There is so much more to gymnastics than the Olympics. It's about the privilege of getting to do things very few people can, and having the opportunity to do something that I love, every single day.

IG: Elvira Saadi was known as a tough but excellent coach in Russia, and Yvonne Tousek said she had a good relationship with her. What is your view of Elvira as a coach?

AG: Elvira is an amazing technical coach. Everything I know about the sport, I learned from her. I am so appreciative of everything she taught me.

IG: When and why did you switch clubs from Cambridge Kips to Oakville?

AG: I switched clubs in February 2007. Over the five-month break I took, it gave me the chance to figure out what I really wanted out of my career and who I was. When I decided to return, I felt that Oakville fit my priorities and my goals.

IG: In the past you were a rival with Elyse (Hopfner-Hibbs) for spots on the Canadian team, and now you are UCLA teammates. How has your relationship with Elyse changed since you started training and competing together at UCLA?

AG: Elyse and I have always been friends. Even though there was strong competition between us, I don't think we ever let that get in the way. We are teammates now and we were teammates then, too. Being at UCLA together has only strengthened our friendship, and I'm so glad that we are able to share the experience together.

IG: Some people find it easy to compare your style to Yvonne Tousek's - you are very artistic and have a unique quality of movement. What do you think of this comparison? Do you enjoy it, or can it be frustrating?

AG: I am truly honored by this comparison. Yvonne was a beautiful gymnast. I grew up watching her and wanting to be just like her someday. I think it's pretty cool to be compared to her.

IG: How did you and your former coaches develop your style? And, how are you and (UCLA head coach) Valorie (Kondos Field) working to continue evolving your style?

AG: My coaches and I have always worked hard to make my routines unique, both in artistry and in skill level. We always tried to find at least one thing that no one else was doing and put it in. Miss Val and I have continued with this and make every effort to make my routines, especially floor, stand out from the crowd.

IG: How challenging has it been for you to get all of your skills back as an all-arounder in college competition, rather than focus on your best events?

AG: It hasn't been as difficult as I thought. Even when my focus was on competing my best events, I still took the time to train bars and beam, and I think that it has really helped. Bars has been the biggest challenge, but my coaches and I have worked hard and worked smart, to get me to a place where I'm capable of doing all of the events in competition again.

IG: What is your priority at this point in your career - getting your routines to ultimate difficulty, improving your routines from your Elite days, or something else?

AG: Right now my focus is on my team here at UCLA. It's always in the back of my mind that I might return to elite competition, but time will tell. I'm just focused on building my routines in any which way my team needs me.

IG: After several years training and competing in the Canadian program, what can you suggest so the Canadian team can have better results between now and the 2012 Olympics in London?

AG: My best suggestion is to train smart. Make every effort to stay strong and healthy. With the minimum age at the Olympics being 16 now, girls need to sustain their bodies and make them last until they are old enough. I see so many young girls burning out before they are old enough to have a chance.

IG: Based on your consideration of a career in coaching and choreography, what ideas or changes would you personally like to implement in gymnastics?

AG: It's very frustrating to me to see "artistic" gymnastics losing its artistry. In each new cycle the rules cut further and further into the possibility of individual expression. Gymnastics is no longer about doing something beautiful, it's about cramming in all the skills the judges want to see. I'd like to see a return to uniqueness in the sport.

Gerber on uneven bars for UCLA

Gerber on balance beam for UCLA

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 29 January 2009 05:29    PDF Print
Interview: Nathan Gafuik (Canada)
(24 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

2008 Olympic all-around finalist Nathan Gafuik of Canada told IG he has a fresh mindset for 2009, despite handling a rare autoimmune disease since childhood.

Gafuik at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart

"I have moved into a new stage in my career where I have the experience to be a top all-arounder at international competitions," he said.

Gafuik was the youngest member of the Canadian men's team at last summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, where he placed 17th all-around. He also finished 17th all-around at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, where he helped Canada finish a historical-best sixth place. The Canadian men's team placed ninth in Beijing.

Gafuik won the junior all-around title at the 2003 Canadian national championships, and served as the alternate to the 2004 Olympic team. He is a five-time senior national event champion: floor exercise (2008), vault (2005, 2006, 2008) and parallel bars (2006).

He was a triple medalist at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where he helped Canada win gold in the team competition and picked up silvers in the all-around and on vault.

Born June 12, 1985, in Calgary, Gafuik trains under coach Tony Smith at the University of Calgary Gymnastics Club. His emergence as an international all-around contender is all the more impressive considering that, since childhood, he has been coping with Addison's disease, a rare autoimmune disorder in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol. The disease can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, headache and other symptoms.

In this IG Online interview, Gafuik confirms his intentions to continue competing among the world's best gymnasts, and details his motivations for 2009 and beyond.

IG: Your international career to date is interesting in that you were one of the world's best all-arounders in 2006 and 2008, but a supporting team player in 2007. For 2009, are you focusing on keeping your all-around status intact, or shifting to what the Canadian team might need from you?

NG: Gymnastics in Canada has a very strong team mentality, and I think that is important. Qualifying as a team to the Olympics is very special, so I will always do what I can to help the team perform its best. At the same time I think I have moved into a new stage in my career where I have the experience to be a top all-arounder at international competitions.

With my coach, Tony Smith, I have worked on a plan for the next four years focusing primarily on maximizing scores on my top events — floor, vault, parallel bars and high bar — so that they are in range with the event finalists, and improving my weak events so that they are in range with other top all-arounders. I think that, with this plan, I will improve my chances of being an event finalist as well as an all-around contender. This way, I believe I will be able to help out Canada on all six events and continue to compete as an all-arounder.

IG: Looking back on Beijing, how do you balance the positive moments - your own success - with the disappointing ones such as Brandon O'Neill's (ankle) injury?

NG: Our national coach, Edouard Iarov, prepared our team well for the Games, and going in we were very strong. Unfortunately, with the injury to Brandon, we could not achieve our goals as a team, but I was still very proud of how we pulled together. Brandon was amazing considering how injured he actually was, and the rest of the team was absolutely solid on every event. My personal performances in Beijing were good. I pretty much hit 11 of 12 routines between the team competition and all-around finals. Therefore, the Olympics were very positive, and with the experience gained, I am really looking forward to the next cycle.

IG: Which Canadian gymnasts do you view as your top competitors in the coming years?

NG: Our team is going to go through a bit of a transition with some new guys needed to step into the team over the next few years. We will still have an experienced base with me, Brandon and possibly Adam Wong sticking around from the Beijing team. But as for who will fill the other spots, time will tell. There is a good group of younger guys who have been working together for a few years now, and they are looking quite good. It is difficult to really tell whom I will be competing against over the next couple years, but by our national championships in June it will be clearer.

Actually, there is a 15-year-old from my club, Ian Galvan, who is looking like he will be really good. I have already seen him land a Tsuk double pike and handspring double front (vaults) onto the Resi-Pit at my gym, He is strong on floor, rings and p-bars, as well. He is young and of course still has a few years of work, but it looks like Canada is moving in the right direction.

Gafuik on his way to the bronze medal on floor exercise at the 2008 Cottbus Cup

IG: Among the international gymnasts who might still compete from 2009-2012, which ones inspire you, and which ones do you view as your top international competitors?

NG: I don't think it is entirely clear who will continue to the next Olympics. I think Worlds in 2009 (Oct. 13-18 in London) will be a big indicator of who will be strong contenders. Obviously, guys like Fabian Hambüchen (Germany) and Kohei Uchimura (Japan) are the current and future great all-arounders, and I will be looking forward to meeting them in competition. I also draw inspiration from guys like Fabian obviously, but also Epke Zonderland (the Netherlands) and Yann Cucherat (France) for their technical ability on high bar, where I hope to excel in the future.

IG: What will it take for Canada to challenge and pass the USA, as you did in 2006 at the World Championships?

NG: I think it really comes down to our Start Values. We have always had very clean routines but generally lack in Start Values. Looking around at most of the top teams, that is what it is coming down to. We are going to have to start putting together some more difficult routines in order to challenge teams like the USA in the future.

IG: Besides Worlds, what are you key competitions for 2009?

NG: I am not planning on competing a whole lot before Worlds, but I am really looking forward to the World Cup that is being held in Montreal this year (March). I think the last time a World Cup was held in Canada was back in 1998 (Sagit Cup, Vancouver). I remember being so excited to be able to watch some of my heroes of the time, like (Russia's) Alexei Nemov, compete. It will be great to be able to compete in a high-level competition like a World Cup in my home country.

IG: Has your Addison's condition affected your training in recent times, or is it more or less under control?

NG: Addison's is a complicated condition for someone training at my level. It's a relatively rare auto-immune disorder, and my endocrinologist says that there is no documented experience on treating high-performance athletes with this condition. I am stable at the moment, but I have to stay on top of things to keep it that way. I take steroids twice a day to replace the hormones that the adrenals are not making, but I have learned, particularly in the last year, that that isn't always sufficient. Cortisol is normally produced by the adrenal glands and, according to the specialist, it affects almost every organ and tissue in the body. Its most important job is to help the body respond to stress, but it also helps maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function; helps slow the immune system's inflammatory response; helps balance the effects of insulin in breaking down sugar for energy; and helps regulate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Unfortunately, the replacement just isn't as good as the real thing. When I run into trouble, it's more difficult for me to recover. So, there isn't really any set monitoring or maintenance plan. I make adjustments daily and try to remain diligent with respect to diet, sleep, recovery from training, competition and other daily stresses.

IG: What aspects of your gymnastics are you aiming to improve in 2009 - difficulty, execution, a specific event or events?

NG: I am really aiming to improve difficulty on all my events in 2009. I have worked hard since the Olympics to learn new skills and sequences, and have just started to put routines together. Obviously not every skill will be ready for this year, but I have already improved a lot since Beijing and am getting anxious to start competing again, which I have not done since the Olympics.

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 26 January 2009 23:38    PDF Print
Interview: Nicole Pechanec (Czech Republic)
(44 votes, average 4.89 out of 5)

She well represented the Czech Republic as Nicole Pechancova, but Nicole Pechanec — as she's known in the U.S. — is making a new name for herself as a freshman competitor for Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Pechanec at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart

Born Aug. 17, 1989, to Czech parents in New Jersey, Pechanec was originally coached by her mother, Yvette (Yveta). She spent three years training at Aiken's Gymnastics in South Carolina, where she was coached by Czech natives Drahomira Smolikova Kriz (a 1976 Olympian) and her husband, Radek Kriz. For the past few years prior to enrolling at Stanford, Pechanec trained at Parkettes National Gymnastics Training Center in Allentown, Penn., There she was coached by her mother and Bill and Donna Strauss.

Pechanec competed at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, and the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart, Germany. She made the all-around finals at the 2007 European Championships in Amsterdam, where she finished 21st.

Pechanec's best results in World Cup competitions include first place on balance beam and second place on floor exercise at the World Cup of Ostrava, Czech Republic (2007); second place on floor exercise at the Glasgow Grand Prix (2007); and fifth place on balance beam and sixth place on floor exercise at the World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia (2007).

With performances that show power and finesse, Pechanec is impressing Stanford head coach Kristen Smyth. "She is doing a beautiful job and is a great addition to our team," Smyth says of Pechanec.

IG recently spoke with Pechanec, who reflected on key moments of her international career and described the exciting new phase of her life as a university student-athlete.

IG: Nicole, since enrolling at Stanford, what have been the biggest adjustments you've had to make to your gymnastics and academic habits?

NP: Academics wise, things have changed drastically. During the first quarter, what was most shocking for me was actually going to class and having a professor. Being schooled over the Internet for most of my life, it took me a few weeks to get adjusted to this change. Also, Stanford is one of the best schools in the country, so I'm studying most of the time. My gymnastics habits have also changed quite a bit. First of all, I can't focus solely on gymnastics as I did previously. Balancing life, gymnastics and schoolwork really takes some getting used to. The first quarter turned out pretty well, however, so I must be doing alright!

IG: In Stuttgart (2007 World Championships) you mentioned you were considering other universities. What was the key reason why you chose Stanford?

NP: Although I enjoyed competing internationally, I knew college was fast approaching, and my main priority was getting a good education. What made the decision for me was not only the excellent academics at Stanford, but also the amazing athletics. I still love gymnastics, and, while at college, why not also get the NCAA experience of a lifetime? Also, since I grew up on the East Coast, and spent a few years in South Carolina and Europe, I really wanted to venture out to California.

IG: So far this season, you have not competed all-around. What are your plans for competing on all four events?

Pechanec on the floor for Stanford

NP: I've been focusing on bars, beam and floor. College gymnastics is quite different from international gymnastics in a way that is hard to express. I haven't been training vault this season, in order to stay healthy, but I still have ambitions of getting into the line-up on that event in the future. As for this season, my coaches and I are primarily sticking with focusing on bars, beam and floor.

IG: How did the Czech Republic select its Olympian for Beijing? What are your feelings on being one of the top contenders for this spot, but not being selected?

NP: In women's gymnastics, the Czech Republic had only one Olympic spot. Jana Sikulova, Kristyna Palesova and I were all strong and equal contenders for the spot. The selection was primarily based on how each gymnast performed at the European Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, France (April 2008), and later at the Czech national championships. Depending on placement at these competitions, each gymnast earned a certain amount of points. The gymnast with the most points was chosen for the Olympic spot. The 2008 European Championships were solely a team competition, however. I found it strange competing as a team but also against each of my teammates. I also felt that April was rather early to be contending for the Olympic spot. For this reason did I not compete at the Czech national championships, but instead focused on preparing for Stanford.

IG: What classes are you taking this semester? And, if you are leaning towards a major, what is it?

NP: This semester I am taking Calculus, Economics, an interesting Sleep and Dreams course, and an IHUM course. IHUM, short for Introduction to Humanities, is a course every Stanford student takes their freshman year. Stanford wants its students to have broad, well-rounded knowledge of how to process information, make logical decisions, and also have background knowledge in a variety of humanities courses. There are about 12 IHUM courses to choose from, all focusing on different departments such as philosophy, law, the languages, drama and classics. I am still considerably undecided. Before coming to Stanford I was interested in architecture and, although I still am, I can see myself as an Economics major.

IG: You mention the 2007 Europeans as a career highlight to date. What made that competition so special?

NP: The main reason that this meet was so special to me was the fact that my mom was right there down on the podium with me. Because only two coaches were allowed on the podium, she was usually up in the seating at Worlds and other meets. However, for the all-around final, she was able to be there out on the podium. She has been the driving force being everything that I have done. She has been there whenever I needed something and has also confirmed my theory that moms are always right. Having made it to the all-around finals, I was able to not only fulfill my dream, but hers, too. I don't consider it as athletic success whatsoever, but as pursuing dreams and living life to the fullest. Moments like these remind me that what I have done was worthwhile, anything I am doing is promising, and everything I dream of is possible.

IG: How much thought have you given to continuing to compete for the Czech Republic — perhaps at the World University Games this summer, or the World Championships this fall?

NP: I really enjoyed competing at competitions such as Worlds, Europeans and World Cups, and often find myself thinking about them. Although at the moment I am focused on the NCAA season, I haven't completely pushed aside the thought of competing for the Czech Republic again in the future.

IG: Having achieved international success, what are your new goals, in and out of the gym?

NP: Inside the gym, I'd like to continue with what I'm doing. Competing for Stanford is an amazing experience, and I already feel that time is flying by too fast. Outside the gym, I'm focusing on studying, taking advantage of everything Stanford has to offer, and spending time with my friends. I have amazing roommates that care for me as much as I do for them and that make me laugh to the point my stomach is sore for days. My teammates are always there for me, and we all work towards the goal of being the best we can possibly be. College is an amazing experience, and I already understand why people tell me it will be the best four years of my life.

IG Magazine Related Feature
"Connecting for the Czechs" - Pechanec profile (July/August 2007)

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