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Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 09 September 2010 16:07    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Maddy Curley
(16 votes, average 4.81 out of 5)

Gymnast-turned-actress Maddy Curley spoke with IG this week about her recent projects, including a gymnastics-themed screenplay she hopes will get produced before the 2012 Olympics.

From the set of NBC's "The Event," gymnast-turned-actress Maddy Curley spoke with IG this week about her recent projects, ranging from parts in "The Office" and an unofficial "Footloose" remake to a gymnastics-themed screenplay she hopes will get produced before the 2012 Olympics.

Curley has enjoyed steady work in Hollywood since she earned a B.F.A. in Drama and International Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she competed in gymnastics from 2000-2004. She made her professional acting debut in 2006 with a co-starring role in "Stick It," Touchstone Pictures' gymnastics-themed film starring Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges.

Among Curley's more recent credits, she played a pivotal role in the two-part season finale of CBS's "Cold Case" last year, and recreated Kevin Bacon's classic dance-and-gymnastics scene for the unofficial "Footloose" remake that premiered in Los Angeles and New York this summer. She is currently shooting an episode of NBC's "The Event," a conspiracy-thriller series that is scheduled to debut on Sept. 20.

In this IG Online interview, Curley details her Hollywood career to date, and outlines her plans to master the arts of acting, writing and directing.

Curley on floor exercise for the University of North Carolina

IG: Can you talk a bit about your role on "The Event"? It's a new show with a lot of buzz...

MC: Actually, I'm a bit sworn to secrecy, but what I can tell you is I play a passenger on the plane that crashes. My character's name is Jackie Granados and so far I only have one line, but hopefully they'll bring me back!

IG: How and why did you get involved with the unofficial "Footloose" remake?

MC: A guy at the gym where I work, CrossFit Hollywood, gave my name to a friend of his that needed someone who could do acrobatics to recreate the warehouse scene. I loved it because it was a combination of comedy, dance and gymnastics!

IG: At both of the screenings I attended, your performance received one of the best reactions from the audience. The dance sequence in the factory was complicated and convincing, as were the giant swings on the high bar. How did you prepare for this scene? Did you study the original choreography from the film, or just improvise?

MC: I watched the dance scene over and over throughout filming, so we could get it as close to the real thing as possible. The director had his iPhone with him and we would watch, film, watch, film. And then we would add in a few spoofy things of our own, as well.

IG: What about your work on the independent film "Turkles."

MC: "Turkles" is a family-friendly movie about a group of kids who set out to stop some bad guys from poaching turtle eggs. I play one of the camp counselors that teach the kids about turtles. It was really fun to film because I had never seen a turtle bigger than the size of my hand, and I got to see two that were huge! One was at least four feet long, and she was making a nest to lay eggs. I don't know when "Turkles" will be released. It was independently financed without a studio behind it. I can only hope a studio snatches it up, because it will certainly be a cute movie.

IG: We understand you had a role on "The Office." Where and when can fans look for you?

Curley and Nastia Liukin in a scene from the 2006 comedy "Stick It."

MC: Unfortunately you will not see me because my scene was deleted. I actually filmed it way back during Season 3 and can be seen in the Deleted Scenes section of the episode called "Product Recall." I got to do a scene with John Krasinski, which was tough because he's so funny that I wanted to laugh.

IG: In addition to your acting roles, you have some interesting writing, directing and producing credits. What are your aspirations in these areas, compared to your acting aspirations?

MC: Writing definitely falls closest in aspirations for my entertainment career. I love writing and I have an amazing writing partner, Brooke Buffington, that I do all my writing with. If I could live off of acting and writing, I would say I had the perfect job. As far as directing and producing go, I'd be much more inclined to direct rather than produce. Producers do a lot of the grunt work that goes unnoticed, and they have to find money. I know from experience that I hate trying to raise and find money. Brooke and I have entered a Disney Fellowship and are hoping to be picked to write for Disney. We've also been working on a mystery screenplay involving Cinderella and a dead Prince Charming.

IG: What other projects or goals are on your horizon?

MC: My goal is to become a series regular on a TV show or a lead in a feature film, and to finish another screenplay by the end of the year. The latter I can control, the former we'll have to see what miracles God has in store!

Curley and Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch.

IG: How involved do you remain in gymnastics?

MC: My gymnastics has now become "playing gymnastics" when I do it. I recently went to a gymnastics camp and found I could still do back handspring layouts on beam and double fulls on floor. I'd say that, if I had to, I could go Level 9. Every now and then I go with friends to an adult gymnastics class.

Besides gymnastics, I've gotten really involved in a thing called CrossFit, and even competed. I got second at sectionals. CrossFit is a combination of Olympic lifting, body weight movements like pull-ups and push-ups, running, etc. It has workouts that range from two to 30 minutes that are super-intense. I'll say a floor routine is still harder, but these workouts come close. I like to say it's good competition for former athletes. For the first time in my life I lift weights. I also coach group classes in between acting jobs.

I still love gymnastics and am still actively trying to get Brooke's and my script, "Chalk It Up," into the hands of an investor. It would be so great to have made before the 2012 Olympics. I think that, with the success of (ABC Family's gymnastics-themes series) "Make It or Break It," making my film is a no-brainer. People love gymnastics! I was so excited to hear about "Make It or Break It," and went to a network test to play the part of Payson. Another girl, Ayla Kell, got the part. Alas, I still watch the show and support anything that brings more notoriety to such a difficult and amazing sport.

External Links:
Maddy Curley at the Internet Movie Database
NBC's "The Event"
The "Footloose" Remake

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 02 September 2010 20:44    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Glen Ishino (USA)
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Currently in Mexico to compete in the Pan American Championships, U.S. gymnast Glen Ishino gave IG his thoughts on his rising gymnastics profile.

Ishino finished sixth all-around at last month's Visa (U.S.) Championships in Hartford, which was a one-rank improvement from his results in the 2009 competition. As a junior gymnast, he finished second all-around in the 16-18 age group at the 2007 U.S. championships; and first all-around and first on four events in the 16-18 age group at the 2008 U.S. Championships.

Born May 10, 1990, in Santa Ana, Calif., Ishino competes for the Univ. of California–Berkeley, where he will be a junior this fall. His older sister, Allyse Ishino, was an alternate on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and then competed for Stanford University.

Ishino was featured in the Aug. 23 issue of "Sports Illustrated." The photo of Ishino's hands gripping the rings ran on a two-page spread in the "Leading Off" photo gallery in the front of the magazine.

This week Ishino is competing at the Pan American Championships in Guadalajara. He placed second all-around and first with the U.S. team at the 2007 Junior Pan American Championships in Guatemala City.

In this IG Online interview, Ishino details his plans to continue his rise in the gymnastics rankings, in the U.S. and abroad.

Glen Ishino (U.S.)

IG: Your results in Hartford were one position better than last year, but are significant in terms of your potential for upcoming international events. To what do you attribute your results in Hartford, and overall improvement since 2009?

GI: I think that having a setback like hurting my back early on in the year made me work twice as hard to catch up. I actually would have liked to progress further as a gymnast this year, but due to my back injury, perfecting my current skills became my main goal rather than learning new ones. It's a definite honor to be a national team member, and it feels great to be considered for major international meets.

IG: What was your reaction to the photo spread in Sports Illustrated? What effect, if any, has that exposure had on your confidence level?

GI: I actually have not seen that edition of Sports Illustrated, but I plan on purchasing a copy when I have the chance. It's really nice to be recognized in such a major magazine. As far as confidence goes, I can't say it has changed much because I think the thing that gives me the most confidence is my ability and skill level. Regardless, it is a huge honor, and I am flattered to have been featured.

IG: How has it been having Tim McNeill as a coach, whereas he was a former Cal teammate? What do you think Tim offers you a coach that perhaps an older coach cannot offer?

GI: Tim has been a great coach. We had him as our assistant coach in my freshman year, so it isn't a huge stretch. However, now with his as head coach, I begin to really appreciate how invested he is in each individual team member, as well as the Cal team as a whole. Tim's school pride is obvious, and it is perfect for him be leading us towards our goal of an NCAA title. The fact that Tim is younger and still competing is pretty refreshing to have in a coach. He understands our difficulties and is able to push us without being overbearing.

IG: What advice has your sister given you, relating to your preparations for the 2012 Olympics?

GI: Allyse has always been very supportive of me in my life, inside and outside of gymnastics. She has always taught me to persevere and work hard for everything I want without losing perspective.

IG: What are the key aspects of your gymnastics on which you plan to focus?

GI: I plan on just maintaining my endurance and concentrating on details of my routines. My style is more aggressive, which requires a certain degree of control, so that's what I plan to focus on.

IG: You list a unique hobby, modifying airsoft guns. Can you relate it to gymnastics at all, or is it a complete departure for you?

GI: Modifying airsoft guns was a hobby of mine a while ago. I think it was just fun to make them and shoot targets when I was a kid. There was less pressure back then, so I don't think I used it as an escape mechanism. As far as hobbies go now, I enjoy biking, outdoor activities and sleeping. They seem like my escape nowadays.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 14 July 2010 01:36    PDF Print
Interview: Isabelle Severino (France)
(13 votes, average 4.69 out of 5)

Two-time French Olympian Isabelle Severino's gymnastics career ended with a painful injury just prior to the 2008 Olympics, but she has moved on and is thriving as a journalist, graphic designer, television personality and French Olympic committee official.

Isabelle Severino (France) at the 2005 Worlds

Born April 9, 1980, in Paris, Severino won the bronze medal on uneven bars at the 1996 World Championships in San Juan and placed 13th all-around at the 1996 Olympic Games. She was 10th all-around at the 1997 World Championships in Lausanne. Severino retired from competition prior to the 2000 Olympics, and embarked on careers as an internationally-ranked aerobics competitor, Cirque du Soleil performing artist and owner of a graphic design firm.

Severino returned to training less than a year before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where she helped France place sixth in the team final. She won the gold medal on floor exercise at the 2005 Europeans in Debrecen, Hungary. She was a bars finalist at the 2005 Worlds in Melbourne and a beam finalist at the 2007 Worlds in Stuttgart. A double injury at the 2008 Europeans in Clermont-Ferrand, France, formally ended her competitive career.

Although Severino's gymnastics career ended in disappointment just a few months prior to the 2008 Olympics, she quickly shifted her focus toward other professional options. She runs Arts et Conception, a graphic design firm in Paris, and also works as a gymnastics journalist and commentator. Last summer she appeared on the popular French game show "Fort Boyard," where and her fellow celebrity teammates completed a series of physical and endurance challenges to win money for the children's charity "Un maillot pour la vie." (She also appeared on the show in 1998.) The episode in which Severino appeared was broadcast again in June. In addition, she holds two high positions in the Comité National Olympique du Sport Français.

Severino recently gave IG her thoughts on her experiences as a gymnast, and the bountiful life since has since been enjoying.

IG: What was your experience like as a competitor on "Fort Boyard"?

IS: I did three events, each of which required an agility that was not very easy, but I carried them out with success. In the past year, we had the team that earned the most money for our charity – over 20,000 Euros. My teammates were Fabien Pelous, the ex-captain of the French rugby team; Élodie Gossuin, former Miss France; Joel Abati, a member of the French handball team; Romain Mesnil, world silver medalist in pole vault; and Nathalie Besançon, an actress on a French television series.

IG: What kind of charity did your group play for on "Un maillot pour la vie," and what is your ongoing involvement with it?

IS: The association comes to the aid of sick children, with all kinds of illnesses. We organize visits in hospitals with children, and we take some of them to sports events and do kick-offs for matches in soccer, rugby, handball and basketball, and other events.

IG: Besides this show, and your work as chief of Art et Conception, what other projects are you currently involved in?

IS: I am also a representive of high-level athletes within the National Olympic Committee as well as vice-chairwoman of the National Olympic Committee of French Sports. As well, I do a radio program every Saturday to speak about sports.

IG: When you were injured in Clermont-Ferrand, you seemed devastated. However, we saw you working behind the scenes at the Olympics in Beijing, and it seemed that your injury quickly opened new doors for you. How were you able to overcome the disappointment of your injury so soon, and find new goals to pursue?

IS: My injury in Clermond-Ferrand was a catastrophe, because I ruptured the Achilles' tendon and displaced the internal malleolus medialis. This injury handicapped me for more than a year, and I knew right away that I was going to have to stop my career because of it. It was very tough! And three months later, the Olympic Games! French television was very nice in that they offered me to work on the commentary, and this allowed me not to be too focused on my sport, since I had to detach myself in the role of journalist. It was a hard summer, but better than if I had stayed in France all alone! And furthermore, we had two medals for the guys (all-around bronze medalist Benoit Caranobe and vault silver medalist Thomas Bouhail). I lived these Games through them!

IG: How do you manage to run a company that is so creative, while pursuing other projects?

IS: I adore my work because we can work with the world and in completely difference circles, the purpose being to emphasize society or people. I confess that high-level sports helped me a lot. It is necessary to be definite, careful, to search for perfection and to be listening while being reactive. I am surrounded by a very good team, and it has been 10 years of hard work. I would like to be able to last for a very long time.

IG: What plans if any do you have to continue in competitive gymnastics?

IS: I'm not training anymore. My injury handicapped me for a long time, and to come back would certainly not have been very reasonable. From time to time I do small exhibitions, but nothing of a high level. I meet with many young gymnasts, I talk with them and sign autographs. I do some fashion photo shoots, and I do a little bit of stunts with friends for small TV movies, but it stops there!

IG: Beyond competitive gymnastics, how involved do you wish to stay in gymnastics?

IS: If one day I am given to become crazy and to dream, I shall like to train in the United States. After the film "Stick It" (in which she was a stunt double), where I had worked with certain American coaches as I was alone for three months, I came to love the manner, ambience and psychology around training. This positive mind, and thinking always that nothing is innaccessible, pleases me tremendously!

But I really believe I am now too old for this type of challenge. Today my challenge is more in the transmission and trying to improve the conditions of all the athletes in France! I want to give back to sports all the beautiful and magnificent things that it has brought to my life.

If I should stay in gymnastics, I prefer to do it as a commentator or journalist. I know that I can transmit my passion to people who don't really know this sport. I like to share, and excite people. This was already the case when I was a gymnast, and therefore I will like to do it if TV asks me to!

External Link: Arts et Conception

Isabelle Severino is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
May 2008: 2008 European Championships coverage
August/September 2005: Severino cover photo, 2005 European Championships coverage
November 2004: Athens Olympic profiles, including Severino

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

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 25 June 2010 02:05    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Nellie Kim (Belarus/FIG)
(21 votes, average 4.57 out of 5)

Five-time Olympic gold medalist and current FIG Women's Technical Committee President Nellie Kim is busy and optimistic as she continues to help guide the sport and plan its future.

Born in Tajikistan and raised in Kazakhstan, Kim was one of the world's most successful and popular gymnasts during the 1976 and 1980 Olympic cycles. She competed at her first world championships in 1974 at Varna, where she and her Soviet teammates won the team title and Kim won the bronze medal on balance beam. At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Kim won three gold medals (vault, floor exercise and team), and the silver medal in the all-around behind Romania's Nadia Comaneci. She placed second all-around at the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, and first all-around at the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth.

Kim finished her competitive career at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where she won a team gold medal, placed fifth all-around and tied Comaneci for the gold medal on floor exercise. She has devoted her entire professional career to the sport, as a coach, judge and official, and in 1999 she was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Kim, who serves as president of the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Technical Committee for the International Gymnastics Federation, divides her time between her homes in Minnesota and Minsk, Belarus.

During a recent visit to California, Kim sat down with IG's John Crumlish to discuss her thoughts, plans and memories of her abundant gymnastics life.

IG: Midway through the 2012 Olympic cycle, what do you think are the main improvements to the Code of Points based on changes that have been made to it?

NK: I don't think we can say there are many changes to the 2009 Code of Points, because there were big changes in 2005, and in 2009 it was just refining the Code. The big thing was the calculation of eight elements instead of 10. The decision was the result of the statistics that the Women's Technical Committee obtained from different competitions, and feedback we got from coaches, judges and gymnasts from all over the world. They were complaining, "Why do we need to calculate 10 skills? We don't want gymnasts who have more A or B elements to win. We can do eight." This way, gymnasts have fewer elements to train, and less impact and less load on their bodies. We want quality of the exercise, and not quantity, number of elements. We have more deductions for insufficient artistry or originality of composition of elements and movements.

The most important part is judges' education, that we are teaching judges practically - using many video materials, conducting judges' workshops, et cetera - to apply those deductions. It's moving very, very slowly, but it's moving.

IG: Artistry can be interpreted in many ways, so how exactly are you teaching judges about deducting for a lack of it?

NK: We are trying to give them objective criteria. For example, there is a deduction for lack of sureness on balance beam. We said one of the criteria for the deduction is the lack of balance. If a gymnast has many lacks of balances or maybe falls, then the exercise was not performed with sureness. We're trying to give this kind of guideline on how to judge artistry or beauty, too.

IG: What examples are you giving for artistry on floor?

NK: We have a deduction at the end of the entire routine for body alignment. What is perfection? It's excellence of the line and body position. There were many cases when a gymnast could have a nice body position in elements, particularly on floor exercise, but between the elements there were simple steps without any value but which were still movements. But the gymnasts didn't pay attention to these movements, and therefore the elements were performed very well but the movements performed between the elements were not performed very well, and it made the exercise look negligent or inaccurate.

Kim performs on floor exercise.

Therefore, we created a deduction at the end of the exercise which would apply if the gymnast didn't have a nice body posture in the movement. We gave a description in the Code on what that is. For example, the gymnasts walking with her feet pointed inward, not out, which is the special walking technique that we learn from ballet. Some gymnasts are not paying attention. For example, the body posture as they stand. It could be dynamic and nice, where all body parts are in alignment. Or it could be loose, relaxed and not dynamic.

Most of the time we give examples on video. We give the judges the possibility to compare good and bad, because it's better to see it one time than to talk about it many times. So this is the principle, to give examples. The problem is that gymnastics is difficult to describe in words. Gymnastics is performance, and you see it. That's why we're trying now to have fewer words and less talking, but more practical examples.

IG: What effort is there to give points to artistry, and not just deduct for a lack of artistry? When you were a gymnast, points were awarded for Risk, Originality and Virtuosity.

NK: The D panel recognizes, or not, the difficulty of elements performed in the exercise and counts the D score. The E panel takes deductions, including deductions for artistry, originality and composition. This is something we should think about for the next Code of Points and probably apply it differently. I don't yet know how. We have to be in many judging situations that are very similar to men's judges. This decision of the FIG Executive Committee was that we should try to have a harmonized Code of Points with the men, and to have as few discrepancies as possible in deductions for the same mistakes between the Codes.

IG: What was the reason for synchronizing some of the deductions between the women's and men's Codes?

NK: It is difficult for media to memorize many deductions and different rules, so therefore, for the media it's better if there are similar deductions. I agree with this. For example, bent legs, insufficient height, legs apart — maybe we should discuss this type of deduction with the men's technical committee for the future Code, and make everyone's life easier, including media (laughs).

IG: What do you think can be done to make gymnastics not only less confusing for media, but more popular to the public, and as popular as it was when you were a gymnast?

NK: I think we are promoting a negative attitude against gymnastics ourselves. I don't say the FIG, but people who are criticizing gymnastics. For example, how can we request our girls the same as in rhythmic gymnastics - choreography, dance, artistry and feminism on floor — if at the same time they have to do power tumbling in the routine? Because, without power tumbling, it becomes a rhythmic gymnastics routine.

Sometimes, instead of saying how good we are and looking for positive moments, we are saying something negative. We should talk more positively and about how strong our sport is. We should bring respect to ourselves, our gymnasts, coaches and judges, and not punish, punish, punish. In Russia there is an expression, "If you don't like yourself, nobody else will." You are the first one who has to respect and love yourself. It's really true in this life. I tested it myself (laughs) and it works.

It's true that our sport has more young people performing at a high level. It's like children and teenagers, and probably in many cases, they depend on coaches. So when you think about many other sports, there are adults or teenagers who are almost mature competing.

I think also we have to work in the marketing aspect to promote our sport better. Even though gymnastics is one of the oldest sports in history, we have to find something positive in it. People blame the Code of Points, or that the judges don't do a very good job. I don't think this is the only reason. Of course partly it's true, but maybe we should be more creative, find other apparatus, and create new apparatus or a new kind of performance. Maybe the age requirement should be different. Maybe we should have competitions for level A and level B — for example, a world championship for level A, and one for level B where they don't have to fulfill the requirements that we'd ask for level A.

There is also the format at the world championships. We have two days of competition, starting at 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. and finishing sometimes after 22:00 (10 p.m.) It's very long, and not many people may watch all competitions for so long. It's also hard for the judges. Maybe we should modify the qualifying process for the world championships. Maybe we should allow, as in the World Cup of soccer, continental qualification.

Kim poses with her five Olympic gold medals.

IG: You finished your competitive career at 23, but nowadays there are few female gymnasts who are active internationally in their 20s. What do you think should be done to keep women in the sport longer, so older gymnasts such as (Great Britain's) Beth Tweddle and (Germany's five-time Olympian) Oksana Chusovitina are not the exceptions?

NK: These people should be encouraged by the FIG, our federations and the media. Now we have heroes, like Beth Tweddle and Oksana Chusovitina. I remember when I was a gymnast, people were telling me, "Oh, you're a veteran, you're already 23..." They politely gave me hints that it was time for me to retire. If someone had encouraged me to continue, maybe I still could have done something more. But since I was a gymnast, the competition format has changed. Now you don't need to do four apparatus. You can do one or two, and you can be good on them. Therefore you can have less training and less of a load, and can live longer in gymnastics. You become almost a professional.

I remember when (three-time Olympian) Svetlana Boginskaya finished gymnastics, she continued for a few years, just performing exhibitions. I asked her, and she said she trained maybe 1-1/2 or two hours daily, just for physical conditioning. She was almost professional, like an actor in a theatre. She performed and went home, and it wasn't difficult for her. She performed at the highest level. Nadia (Comaneci) also performed in shows, and maybe it wasn't at the highest level, but she maintained good physical conditioning and the ability to perform good routines for quite a long time. So we have to encourage women to stay in the sport longer, and the media should also talk about it.

IG: What is the status of the proposal to raise the age requirement for women's gymnastics to 17 or even 18 at the international senior level?

NK: That's (FIG president) Bruno Grandi's goal. That's what he wants - to have women's artistic gymnastics and older gymnasts. I don't know if it will happen or not, because I know that some countries are against this decision. In some countries, girls mature earlier and therefore they quit gymnastics earlier. At this moment I don't know what we will decide.

IG: What is your opinion about raising the age to 17?

NK: At this age I think we will have fewer gymnasts competing at the highest level, but they will be more professional, like Boginskaya, (Russia's) Svetlana Khorkina, Chusovitina and Tweddle. They are or were older than 23, but when you think how they compete, it's beautiful. It was professional, high-level performance, because they were mature gymnasts. I can see a good point of having the limit for participation being 17, but at the same time I can understand the concerns of those continents where girls mature early. And also, maybe the tradition is different. If you are talking about the Middle East, I don't think girls from some of the countries would even show up on the podium in a leotard. I think they can do it to a certain age, 15 or 16, so we wouldn't see girls older than that from those countries.

It's a very, very difficult question to answer. I can hear both sides, and that's why it's difficult. But from my point of view as a gymnast, I would say when you're 19 and 15 it's a big difference in understanding and performance.

IG: Such as...?

NK: It's like a mature person and a teenager competing against each other. As a mature person, you're thinking more and you're considering many things, and you can see the consequences of your performances. The responsibility is a big load. Pressure affects you much more. Girls who are 14 or 15 don't think as far, and therefore, pressure is not as much as it is for a 19-year-old.

IG: If you are thinking more about the consequences, you could be come more fearful.

NK: Exactly, because you can see what the injuries can be if you make a mistake. Also, you are already bigger and weigh more.

IG: How did you cope with fear in your 20s, and what do you suggest to other gymnasts in their 20s?

NK: You can cope with and overcome fear by a quantitative number of repetitions. And of course, with quantity you can obtain confidence. But of course, the most difficult part is to begin to perform the skill, especially when you are the first one in the world to perform it. On vault I was the first to do a Tsukahara full twist. On balance beam I performed two different dismounts. The first one was a gainer-full from the end of the beam. It was a very difficult skill, coordination-wise. Another one was side aerial into back tuck. I was the only one who did it in Moscow (1980 Olympics). It was not even included in the Code of Points, and we included it recently — nobody requested and therefore it was not included (laughs). Of course, when you are the first one, it doesn't mean you are performing it with the best technique. Those who perform it after you can analyze your performance and review video of it, and then can improve the technique.

IG: What are your abiding memories of the Moscow Olympics?

NK: It was a difficult Olympics for me, first of all because it was at home. There was double pressure because everyone was expecting you to win. I was the team captain, the oldest one. I was the one people expected to win the all-around, so it was big pressure. But before that, there was too much politics involved — too much fighting for positions on the team. I was fighting with some coaches and authorities from the Soviet federation. Some of them were not in favor of having me on the team, so I needed to prove that I was strong. Even though I was the most experienced and had the most titles, I still needed to prove that I was one of the best. It was a real competition, but behind that, I needed to win these political things. It was already a game of adults, unfortunately, and I was involved in it. I was an adult already.

Sometimes in a team, you think it's one team, but in reality everyone is fighting with each other. When it comes to the individual finals, nobody helps you. I can tell you that in Moscow, on floor, I started performing, and someone switched off my music in the beginning. Can you imagine? It happened twice — the day of qualifications, and the day of the all-around. It could never happen accidentally twice in a row, so therefore, I know it was done on purpose. It was someone higher than the team, from the federation. They were trying to close my eyes on what was happening, not in the performance but in the political things.

But in the end, I was so happy because I was still OK, and I didn't injure myself. Here, fear rose up because of what happened to (1978 world all-around champion) Yelena Mukhina (who was paralyzed in a training injury in 1980). That was still in my mind. That's what I mean about being an adult — you keep it in your mind. You cannot get rid of it, and you understand that it could happen. This was a mistake, in my opinion, because, a month or two before that, she already gave signals that she better not compete. She was from Moscow, and I think, since the Olympic Games were in Moscow, it was very important to have somebody from Moscow on the team. There was big pressure on this girl.

IG: How did you feel at the end of the Olympic competition, when you won the gold medal on your last event (floor exercise final)?

NK: It was wonderful when I got my gold medal. I was very, very tired. I was really happy that it was my last, last competition. It was a relief to know I did everything I could. The most important thing is when you can say to yourself, “Yes, I have done everything I could” and you have realized yourself. As a gymnast I did realize myself 75-80 percent. I could have done better, but it didn't happen. But I mostly did what I could, and that is why it was with an easy soul, with an ease on my heart, that I finished. I didn't let down those who coached and helped me. Everybody was happy — the people who trusted and believed in me. I didn't let them down.

IG: You didn't let yourself down, either.

NK: No!

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 10 June 2010 16:55    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Rachel Girma
(37 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

After recently wowing the judges on FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance," rhythmic gymnast Rachel Girma is now moving more passionately than ever into her new career as a dancer.

Coached by Olga Putsillo at the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics in Culver City, Calif., Girma placed among the top 12 all-around at the past three U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships. She was featured in the season premiere of "So You Think You Can Dance" that aired last week on FOX, during which she earned rave reviews from judges Nigel Lythgoe, Adam Shankman and Hi Hat for her audition routine. Remarkably, the 18-year-old Girma developed her routine after only two weeks of dance training for the show.

The judging panel unanimously voted Girma a spot in the Las Vegas call-backs based on her rhythmic-influenced routine that included several intricate turns, flexibility moves and leaps.

“Incredible” and “absolutely fabulous” were among the superlatives that Lythgoe used to critique Girma’s audition routine. “I liked the music, the dynamics of your routine, the strength of it, the performance,” Lythgoe told Girma.

Although Girma was eliminated after the choreography round of the call-back episode that also aired last week, her dance life is just taking flight. In this IG Online interview, Girma describes her experience on "So You Think You Can Dance," and her plan to launch a new career that melds her rhythmic gymnastics talents with her passion for dance.

Rachel Girma was featured on FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance"

IG:With only two weeks to prepare a routine for the “So You Think You Can Dance” audition, how exactly did you decide which moves you'd perform?

RG: Because of my extensive rhythmic gymnastics training at the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics, the transition from gymnast to dancer allowed me to make a spur-of-the-moment decision. Due to impending injuries I decided to pursue the opportunity to try out for "So You Think You Can Dance" and received such great response from the judges, primarily with my rhythmic elements. I saw advertisements for the show and the level of performance, and was confident that I could successfully try out. I started attending dance classes diligently, following my decision to try out for the show, and during that time period, I put together two routines combining rhythmic gymnastics and dance.

IG: Who choreographed your routine?

RG: Most of my technical background was through my instruction with coach Olga Putsillo. However, I personally choreographed the routines, combining my knowledge of both rhythmic gymnastics and dance.

IG: All three of the judges said they were impressed with your leaps and turns, which looks as though they were from your rhythmic routines. How challenging was it for you to perform them without apparatus to handle and on a hard surface?

RG: I think the judges were surprised because they've never seen rhythmic gymnastics before. I'm just glad I had the opportunity to familiarize people with the sport! Going from spinning on a carpet to a hardwood floor was definitely a difficult transition. The fact that I didn't have to perform with apparatus made it easier.

IG: In what ways do you think rhythmic gymnasts are particularly suited for careers in dance in general, or unique opportunities such as "So You Think You Can Dance"?

RG: Rhythmic requires you to be passionate, expressive, flexible and coordinated with apparatus. Dance requires passion and expressiveness but not quite as much flexibility. The thing about rhythmic is that there are so many tricks and elements that the dance world hasn't seen. So it's interesting to mix the two and see people's reactions. The only thing about dance is that there are no rules, so you don't have to worry if you don't hold your arabesque balance long enough!

IG: Now that you have been through the audition process, what advice would you offer to gymnasts who want to audition for this or other shows?

RG: Being a rhythmic gymnast can help make dance routines so interesting because you have such a wide range of elements to choose from. I definitely learned my lesson, though. If you want to try out for "So You Think You Can Dance," take lessons for more than two weeks! The choreography on the show is very intricate and if you aren't somewhat experienced, it can get really stressful.

IG: As a gymnast you are used to performing for judges and audiences, but for this show, you also had to handle the pressure of television cameras and knowing that millions of people would be watching. How did you cope with that during your actual performance?

RG: I've always loved performing for large crowds. I would say competing internationally in rhythmic gymnastics was more nerve-wracking than being in front of the camera! How you see yourself is how others see you, so positivism and confidence are key.

IG: Based on your experience on the show, what steps will you take to further adapt your rhythmic training to other opportunities in the entertainment business?

RG: I want to try out for the show again next year! I'm going to start studying all styles of dance so that I can really be prepared for Season Eight of the show. I have considered getting into acting. For now I am just focused on dance and possibly signing with a talent agency.

IG: How have you managed to stay confident about your skills and potential, despite the negative feedback you received for your last performance in Las Vegas?

RG: I told myself that I really wanted to get past the solo round in Vegas, and I achieved that goal. I knew that with only two weeks of training in choreography, it would be a hard week in Vegas. I'm still happy with how far I got.

IG: What are your plans for future involvement in rhythmic? Will you work in coaching or perhaps do choreography for gymnasts?

RG: Choreographing rhythmic gymnastics routines has always been an interest of mine. When I was younger I would always stay after practice and make up routines. L.A. School of Gymnastics has a long history of allowing its former members a unique opportunity to transition from an athlete to a career coach, and it would be an honor to return to the center as a choreographer or coach in the sport.

IG: In what ways have your rhythmic career, and experience on the show, prepared you for your future challenges in the competitive world of performing arts?

RG: Rhythmic gymnastics has given me life experience and new experiences including goal-setting and discipline. Travel, sportsmanship and performing in front of an audience have prepared me for the performing arts. Being on “So You Think You Can Dance” was definitely a positive real-life learning experience. I'm looking forward more opportunities in this field.

External Links
So You Think You Can Dance Official Site
Los Angeles School of Gymnastics Official Site


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