January 28, 2009

Svetlana Khorkina: "It's My Year!"

As many of you undoubtedly know, Svetlana Khorkina turned 30 on January 19, which brought about a flurry of interviews with and articles on the former star in the Russian media. It took us a bit of time to get around to it, but here, finally, is an update on Khorkina - a long but interesting interview made up of two separate Khorkina interviews published just before her birthday by Altapress and Sport Express. The first half of the interview focuses on Khorkina's involvement with politics and gymnastics; the second half focuses on her creative endeavors and family life. Enjoy!


Svetlana Khorkina: "It's My Year!"

The fifth convocation of the State Duma, which was formed one year ago, beat all records as far as the number of "stars" and "starlets" of sport and show business is concerned. Most of them came to legislation on the party lists of "United Russia." On New Year's Eve, Olympic champion Svetlana Khorkina, one of the icons of current Russian politics, shared with our readers her legislative and creative plans.

Q: What drew you to political activity and what does it give to you?

A: I always wanted to take up politics, but first there was sport, then motherhood. But everything worked out well. In the fifth convocation of the State Duma there were quotas for young people, and I was selected to fill one of these quotas. Now I am the Deputy Head of the Parliamentary Commission for Youth Policy in the Russian State Duma. As a deputy [translator's note: members of the Duma are referred to as deputies], I occupy myself with the advance of legislative initiatives concerning youth policy. My colleagues and I are working on setting up a public Youth Chamber, where active young people would have the opportunity to present their interests to Russia's legislative organs. A further important task of our committee is to push through a federal law on state youth policy. All Russian youth is waiting for this.

Q: Do the habits and strengths you acquired during your sporting career help you now in politics?

A: Without a doubt. This is how sport has contributed to my personality, toughness and discipline. I have a plan, and I work on it. It is necessary to understand clearly what you are going to do on any given day, and to rely upon your energy. I dream of there being 48 hours in the day, because besides my basic work in the Duma, there is so much else that needs to be done!

Q: You have been a deputy of the State Duma and Deputy Head of the Parliamentary Commission for Youth Policy for more than a year now. This year must be especially important to you, as it was named the Year of Youth by the President of Russia?

A: I think that it was no coincidence that fate arranged that precisely 2009, such a complicated year, was proclaimed the Year of Youth. Certainly, my colleagues on the committee and I are facing a lot of serious work. This year will be the most significant. We young deputies have enormous responsibility, especially in the legislative plan. Young people should have their own law. This is highly necessary. I can say that the parliamentary hearings apropos this bill will be held already in February, so that work is in full swing.

Work in the Duma is in full swing

Q: Is youth policy now your main occupation?

A: Naturally, this is my main work. But I cannot but note that I have by no means completely left sport. I have my finger on the pulse. I'm in the middle of all things. I will see to what is going on, especially in artistic gymnastics.

Q: You are not only following from the sidelines, but you are also participating in the process. During the Olympics in Beijing, for example, you worked for television as a commentator. Does such an occupation feel right to you?

A: Yes, it was interesting, but... You know, when you are on the other side of the Olympic podium, you often get the impression that things should be done differently than they are. You think: "Well, girls what are you doing?" or "Well, boys what is that supposed to mean?" It's intolerable! But it was a useful experience. I think it really did come in handy. Who knows what the future holds in store for us? Perhaps soon I will be the one doing and not giving the interviews? In any event, this kind of work will not have been in vain.

Q: So you do not exclude the possibility of returning to the position of commentator as an expert?

A: No. I am open to dialog for various kinds of joint projects. I see it like this: who, if not the athletes themselves, can comment clearly and professionally on their own sport?

Q: How do you rate our athletes' performance at the Beijing Olympics?

A: I'm not going to appraise the performance of our athletes, but I think that they all worked with only victory in mind. The Beijing Olympics was a long-awaited holiday for me. My entire sporting life I was on friendly terms with my rivals [editor's note: really?] and there was very often a contest with the Chinese athletes. But in Beijing I took on the role of correspondent and it was very difficult. I was sitting in the commentators' box and understood that our team was having a hard time. It was taking place right in front of my eyes... It was incredibly difficult to observe that struggle, which was wreaking havoc on the Olympic podium, from the outside. I so wanted to get involved in that fight! To work for that victory!

Khorkina in Athens, with Carly Patterson and Zhang Nan
(Photo: Stuart Hannagan/Getty Images)

Q: At the time of the Beijing Olympics we were told that you were thinking about returning to top-level sport. Were they having us on?

A: In my time, we taught everybody that artistic gymnastics is a form of sport where medals are won for Russia. And it really did bring in rewards - gold, silver and bronze medals, and lots of them. It is understandable that now, too, the entire country expected medals of whatever color from our gymnasts. And here, many journalists approached me and asked cautiously: "Well, how is this? Can it be that you will return?" And I joked and laughed and said: "And why not?", although I myself understood that my sporting career, especially the professional part, would remain a thing of the past.

Q: We already discussed our gymnasts' performance in Beijing. Now I will inquire: what results did you yourself expect? Did you assume that everything would turn out just as it did or did you reckon with something more?

A: I was present both during the national team's control trainings and at the Russian Nationals, which are considered as part of the selection process for the national team. So I was able to get a good picture of the situation. Before that, the results had not been bad: the juniors won the European Championships, and one girl [Ksenia Semyonova] became world champion on the uneven bars. And indeed the World Championships is a very significant tournament. The boys were expected to be in the medals. Not gold, of course, but it was expected that there would be medals. It was also hoped that the girls would manage to win a medal on bars, but here you see... Our girls are good, but they are still very young.

I'd like to say that we – Alexei Nemov and I - are former Soviet athletes. We witnessed and experienced the Soviet school of preparation. But Russia has not yet managed to educate its gymnasts. There were too many problems. For instance, the Round Lake Center required a complete makeover. So it came about that first there was one distraction, then another. But that's OK; the situation is righting itself now. I think that we will be better prepared for London than for Beijing. I hope to see our boys and girls making bright appearances in 2012. I want to believe this!


Q: Do you keep up with other kinds of sport, other than gymnastics? Are you a fan of anybody in particular?

A: When I was in Beijing I went to other competitions: tennis, swimming, synchronized swimming, diving. Unfortunately, I did not make it to the rhythmic gymnastics competition. I did not risk the track-and-field events – it was too hot. And I was very tired. Alas, I did not have the strength to do everything. On the whole, I would like to note that the Beijing Olympics was interesting and bright. It was great to be there!

Q: What else do you do, other than your work as a deputy?

A: I enjoy trying out anything new. It was interesting to act on the stage, in Sergey Vinogradov's play "Venus." I played the role of a young actress, lover of the famous 85-year-old dramatist Henry Miller. I also enjoyed participating in various television show ventures. And I wrote a book about my life. I'm going to write some more books about exercises for body and soul, where there will be photographs of the exercises, so that any woman can do them at home. And on top of that I sing - thus far only for myself, but I plan to put out an album soon. And the family is sacred.

Q: In 2001 you acted in the theater. Don't you want to return to the stage?

A: I have had proposals of scripts of plays and cinema films. In theater, certainly, everything is great, everything is interesting. However, my debut play was so powerful that everything that they suggest now doesn't seem very inspiring.

Q: In that case, what are your creative plans?

A: I like to sing. I must confess that I have written six songs. Of course I am not going to release a disc for the general public; for now I am simply going to distribute it among my family and friends, in order to hear their opinion and receive reviews. After that, we will see.

Q: If you permit – a little about your personal life. How is little Svyatoslav?

A: He is already three and a half years old. He is a very energetic, inquisitive, likable chap. He really loves sport – we are inculcating in him a love for a healthy way of life. He adores his parents and grandparents. And we love him.

Q: You are bringing up your child and you are working in the State Duma. You do not reject contact with the press and you participate in a television show. From where do you draw so much energy?

A: A strong family, and on top of that, of course, the feeling of love gives me inspiration, emotions and my strength. I love! I love to improve myself, I love to do interesting things. So all this is only the beginning!

Q: Did your life change significantly with the birth of your son?

A. Of course my life changed with the birth of a child. Now I plan time to spend with my child. I really love being with my little one. Thanks to my child, I am learning to see the world from other perspectives. We go to museums, exhibitions, zoos, dolphinariums together... When the weather is good we spend time outside. At home we play football [soccer], hockey, basketball and skittles. If I take any kind of exercise, my son joins in. My boy is very active.


Q: What style of clothing do you prefer: classical, sporting?

A: Quality is what interests me most. But I select the style depending on the situation. You will agree, for example, that however suitable a sporting style is for some occasions, there are critical situations where it is necessary to wear a business suit. The same applies to other situations where I appear in front of people.

Q: At the moment it is fashionable to have a personal stylist. Do you have one?

A: I try to choose the right style for myself. No one knows better than I myself what suits me best. Although sometimes it is necessary to run to professionals for help.

Q: Who makes up your inner circle? With whom do you spend the most time?

A: Most of all I love to relax with the family! Of course, I have a lot of friends, and we meet up frequently and do things together, but nevertheless family – that is sacred!

Q: You are now 30 years of age. Is this a watershed?

A: Of course. Indeed, it is an anniversary. Perhaps in some sense it is a kind of resume of my life. It has come about that my thirtieth birthday fell in the same year as this critical year for young people, meaning that it really is my year. I think that we should use this alignment only for good, in order to realize serious projects, and at the end of the year to sum up the results.

And a few more tidbits from the Altapress article...

Svetlana Khorkina was born on January 19, 1979 in Belgorod. This famous Russian gymnast was two-time Olympic champion on uneven bars and a multiple European and world champion. She finished her sporting career in the autumn of 2004. She gave birth to a son, Svyatoslav, on July 21, 2005 in Los Angeles. In 2007 they put up a statue to Khorkina in Belgorod. She is a member of the party "United Russia" and is a deputy of the State Duma.

There are 62 women in the fifth convocation of the Duma (eighteen more than in the previous convocation). Among this number are seven businesswomen, three politicians and twelve officials. But there also two former cosmonauts (Yelena Kondakova and Svetlana Savitskaya), one ballerina (Svetlana Zakharova) and five sportswomen: gymnasts Alina Kabayeva and Svetlana Khorkina, speed skater Svetlana Zhurova, figure skater Irina Rodnina and the boxing master of sport, attorney Natalia Karpovich.

Svetlana Khorkina and Alina Kabayeva in the Duma (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

And for Those of You Who Still Don't Believe the Chusovitina Coaching Story...

... here's a little story from Financial Times Deutschland, a German newspaper which is usually very well informed on the goings-on in the German team (we have posted several of their articles before). Aside from some interesting news on the rest of the German team, the article contains a mention of Chusovitina's involvement with the Uzbek team.

Olympic Gymnast Joeline Moebius Must Call Off Training Camp

Around eight weeks before the European Championships in Milan, from 2nd to 5th April, Olympian Joeline Moebius from Chemnitz has had to call off her participation in a training camp with the German national team in the USA. This was confirmed by head coach Ulla Koch. "She has back problems, which it is better to keep treating here," said the 53-year-old coach. The national team will be training in Plano, Texas, from 2nd to 10th February, together with the American Olympic champion, Nastia Liukin.

This means that Anja Brinker from Herkenrath will be the only gymnast from the Beijing Olympic team who is making the trip. Katja Abel from Berlin and Daria Bijak from Salt Lake City have ended their careers. Marie Sophie Hindermann from Tübingen and Olympic silver medalist Oksana Chusovitina from Cologne will both be missing as a result of operations to the Achilles tendon. Chusovitina, originally from Uzbekistan, is currently taking care of the national women's team of the Central Asian country. Six gymnasts from that team are currently spending time at the training center in Bergisch Gladbach.

Joeline Moebius (photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

So there you have it. Abel and Bijak, retired (from FIG gymnastics anyway). Hindermann and Moebius, injured. And Chusovitina, injured and looking after the Uzbek girls.

We think we have enough evidence now that the Chusovitina story is true. Now if someone will please fill us in on the Kozich situation...

Australian Girls to Focus on Training Rather Than Competitions for the Next Few Months

The Australian national women's team is currently attending a training camp at the Australian Institute of Sports in Canberra. Apart from Ashleigh Brennan, who is not sure yet whether to continue in the sport or not, all the usual suspects are there, including stars Dasha Joura and Lauren Mitchell.

Dasha Joura, who sustained an ankle injury in Beijing, is finally back in action
(Photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

One of the goals of the camp is to determine which athlete will attend which competitions this year. According to the Gymnastics Australia website, head coach Peggy Liddick has announced that Australia will not attend the WOGA Classic and the Nadia Comaneci Invitational this year, "as we need to continue work on our new skills and programs." However, Lauren Mitchell will attend the Doha World Cup in April. It is also rumored that Emma Dennis and Amber Fulljames will attend Canada's Gymnix competition, but the GA website makes no mention of this.

Apparently, another camp will be held in April, to select the candidates for the Pre-Olympic Youth Cup (to be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, May 23-25). Meanwhile, the remainder of the team will continue to train for the Australian Championships in Perth in July, where Liddick hopes Australia can also host a friendly with another country, to prepare the gymnasts for the 2009 Worlds in London and other European events held at that time of year (DTB Cup, Massilia Cup, Voronin Cup).

When questioned on the notion of routine/skill upgrades, Liddick only said, "I am very happy with some of the upgrades and there will be a few surprises to be revealed soon."

More information on the Australian girls' training camp can be found on Gymnastics Australia's website.

Spain's Top-Ranked Male Gymnasts All Out With Injuries

A while ago, while checking some Federation sites for news, we found an update on Rafael Martínez on the Spanish Gymnastics Federation's website, detailing the 2005 European all-around champion's recovery from the shoulder surgery he had recently undergone. A few weeks later, we asked our Spanish reader Jordi to translate the article for us, which he kindly agreed to do. He did more than translate though. Not content with providing us with "old" news, Jordi contacted the Spanish Gymnastics Federation for the latest on Martínez. The Federation proved extremely helpful, providing news not just on Martínez, but on Gervasio Deferr and Isaac Botella, both of whom have also gone under the knife recently. It appears, then, that pretty much all of Spain's male stars are currently out of action. None of them is expected to attend this year's Europeans; their earliest possible international appearance is likely to be at the Mediterranean Games in June.

Many thanks to Jordi and the Spanish Gymnastics Federation for providing us with the following update!

Rafael Martínez in Beijing (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Rafael Martínez
Spain's most complete all-arounder of all time, aged 25 and 4th AA at the 2005 Worlds, saw his hopes of Olympic success dashed by a shoulder injury which prevented him from working to 100 per cent of his capacity. Despite his sore shoulder, Rafael Martínez finished 10th in the all-around competition in Beijing, scoring the second-highest score on high bar (15.575). He missed qualification for the floor final (his specialty) by a mere 0.05 points. On October 27, Rafael Martínez underwent surgery to treat the os acromiale and acromioclavicular arthropathy in his left shoulder. He was fully discharged on January 19 and is now working on shoulder rehabilitation and conditioning exercises with physical therapists. He can already do supports and some handstands, and will start training on the apparatus within a month.

View Rafael Martínez on floor at the 2007 Worlds here.

Gervasio Deferr in Beijing (photo: Amy Sancetta/AP Photo)

Gervasio Deferr
Two-time Olympic vault champion and Olympic silver medalist on floor Gervasio Deferr (aged 28) had to withdraw from the World Cup Final due to a neck injury. He is still suffering some discomfort in his neck, but is expected to be back in training in a month's time.

Watch Gervasio Deferr's silver-winning floor exercise at the 2008 Olympics here.

Isaac Botella in Beijing (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Isaac Botella
More recently, Isaac Botella (aged 24) was successfully operated on a tendon in his biceps and a partial tear in his rotator cuffs. The gymnast from Elche (Alicante), who had endured problems with his right shoulder for months, waited until the end of the season and the World Cup Final in Madrid (where he won the bronze medal on vault) before finally going under the knife at the Cemtro clinic in Madrid on January 22. Botella must now stay with his arm immobilized in a sling for six weeks. What happens afterward will depend on how quickly he recovers. Botella has been discharged from the hospital and is currently at home. He hopes to resume training as soon as possible.

Check out Isaac Botella's vaults at the Glasgow Grand Prix here.

Igor Cassina: "If I Don't Win a Medal in 2009, I'm Ready to Retire"

According to Eurosport Italy, 2004 Olympic horizontal bar champion Igor Cassina is determined to win a medal at the upcoming Europeans in Milan. The competition, which Cassina calls “the most important meet of my life,” may end up being his swan song, because if he doesn’t medal, he is ready to leave competitive gymnastics and devote himself to coaching instead. “If I don’t at least win a medal in 2009, I’m ready to retire, commit to my degree in sports science and take up gymnastics coaching,” stated Cassina, with particular reference to the European Championships, which will take place in Milan in late March and early April.

“I’m 31 years old,” said the former Olympic champion, “and knowing I can win is no longer enough. I need to bring home a medal.” And to do that in front of his home crowd (Cassina was born in Seregno and now lives and trains in Meda, near Milan) would be fantastic - the crowning achievement of a very successful career.

Igor Cassina in Beijing (photo: Getty Images)

The new Code of Points has brought Cassina a couple of bittersweet changes. He has decided he will no longer compete his supremely difficult “Cassina 2,” a double-twisting Kovacs, as the additional twist will not be awarded any bonus points (see Cassina perform the skill here). However, his famous other signature skill, the “Cassina” (a laid-out full-twisting Kovacs), formerly an F, now carries a G value, which means the skill will be worth 0.7 from now on (up from 0.6 last year). Cassina hopes the skill will help him defeat rivals such as Hambüchen and Zonderland in Milan.

“I feel the will and pleasure to get to my appointment in Milan in top form, to give a great performance in front of my home crowd, and to postpone the day of my retirement as far as possible,” Cassina told Eurosport.

Here’s hoping Cassina will get his medal and stick around for a bit longer!

(Many thanks to Luisa for providing the translation on which this post was based!)

January 27, 2009

Alina Kozich: "I Have a Very Difficult Nature"

Ukraine's Alina Kozich is currently the subject of some extremely interesting rumors. First there was a rumor that she was retiring from competitive gymnastics in order to join a circus, a rumor she just debunked in the interview included below. And now there's an even more interesting rumor to the effect that Oksana Chusovitina, in her capacity as the new Uzbek national team coach, has asked Kozich to compete for Uzbekistan, and that she has consented to do so. We have no idea whether there is any truth to the rumor; we certainly haven't found anything in the Ukrainian media to suggest there is. But even if Kozich does indeed want to compete for Uzbekistan, there are formalities to be observed which make it unlikely that she will be doing so any time soon. As far as we know, athletes can't just swap nations at the drop of a hat; it takes a while (usually a few years) for them to be allowed to compete for their adopted country. We can't imagine a gymnast who looks like she's headed for the end of her career would go through such a process. Then again, if Ukraine were willing to let Kozich go, and if she could prove that she had some Uzbek blood running through her veins (we have no idea if she does), that might speed up the process considerably.

Let's put it this way: We don't think it's likely that Kozich will compete for Uzbekistan, but it's not inconceivable - no more so than Oksana Chusovitina taking over the reins of the Uzbek national program, and that appears to be true. We'll keep an eye on the situation.

First of all, though, here's an interview with Kozich from Segodnya/Sport, published on January 24. Uzbekistan doesn't get a mention, but that doesn't mean it isn't true...

(Photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

Alina Kozich: "I Have Not Exchanged Gymnastics for the Circus"

The [former] European champion described to Yevgenia Poddubnaya at Segodnya/Sport how she very nearly finished her career and what she will be doing in the future.

Alina Kozich: For a time I was sure that I would leave gymnastics for the circus. I was so enraptured of the idea that I wanted to drop sport. Many well-known athletes are working in the circus. I know from their tales that it is really interesting performing there, and the working conditions aren't bad either! Only it's not the easiest work, even if you come from a professional sports background. Imagine performing five shows in one day! It's crazy! Moreover, if I decide to join the circus, I would be constantly on tour. I would rarely be home, but I can't do that; I need to feel the constant support of my family! So that means that for now, I want to go on training. My health is still good enough, although I don't know whether it will last to the next Olympics. After all, there is my age to consider. (Alina is 21 years old. Ed.)

Q: If not the circus, then what?

A: I will either become a choreographer or a coach. I am really good at thinking up complex exercises and composing routines! It's also simpler, and it is closer to me professionally.

Q: You live in Kiev, but you spend a large part of your time at the center in Koncha-Zaspa. How have you arranged your living area?

A: I have arranged my favorite keepsakes around my room. Earlier, before they redecorated the center, we would stick certificates and diplomas and various photographs on the walls instead of wallpaper. But after they had redecorated, they forbade us to hang anything on the walls. It's a shame, as it would be much cosier that way!

Q: How do you get on with your neighbors? Don't you ever get fed up with each other?

A: In general I have a very difficult nature. Although I am very communicative and know how to talk to people about what interests them, if I have already set my heart on something, then you can't change my mind. I have my own opinion on everything, which I always defend to the end! If I say something is so, then that is how it is. I guess I have been the team leader, the number one, for a long time.

(Photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

Q: Is there really no person who is close to you and to whose opinion you do listen?

A: Certainly there is! My sister Olya. She is also a gymnast, but she now trains for herself. The fact that we no longer compete at the same competitions has drawn us still closer. And, of course, my mother and grandmother – they are very dear to me! And on top of that my coach, Sergey Mikhailovich Butsul. He is the very closest person. We have lived through my victories and defeats together over the last seven years. And unlike my relatives I see him every day. I share everything with him.

January 26, 2009

Andrey Rodionenko: "I Would Call This the Year of Renewal"

On January 20, the Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation posted an interview with head coach Andrey Rodionenko which contains some interesting tidbits. For one thing, it appears that this year's Russian Nationals will feature a team competition despite the fact that neither the 2009 Europeans nor the 2009 Worlds will have a team component, all with an eye to preparing the Russian gymnasts for the Olympic team qualifying process, which will commence next year. We guess this means the Russians are taking the 2012 team competitions very seriously indeed. For another thing, Rodionenko says that all the juniors who are considered good prospects for the 2012 Olympics are now training with the seniors. It seems the Russians are already carrying out the plans Nicolae Forminte recently suggested for the Romanian women's team...

Andrey Rodionenko

Andrey Rodionenko: The Season of Renewal

The new gymnastics season has begun. Andrey Rodionenko, head coach of the Russian national team, tells us about what lies in store for Russian artistic gymnastics this year.

Q: Andrey Fedorovich, let us begin with what is bothering everybody both inside and outside sport – the economic crisis. Has it affected the gymnasts in any way?

A: The crisis has not touched us, but the only reason it has not touched us is because of our Federation. I'm sure you remember that at the recent conference, our President, Andrey Kostin, promised that gymnastics would not suffer. And he is keeping his word! A significant part of our funding is currently coming from the Federation. Even now we are carrying out a training camp with the Federation's money. Although state funding is provided, the money has not yet been transferred. But these are problems faced by all forms of sport, not just by artistic gymnastics. We believe that everything will be OK, thanks to the efforts of both the Ministry of Sport and the Federation. On that point, I will say this to avoid the next question: we will carry out the World Cup competition in Moscow, although there are problems.

Q: With regard to the global crisis, has the International Gymnastics Federation changed its conditions for carrying out World Cup competitions, which stipulate that the party that is running the competition must make all the necessary provisions?

A: I have no such information. This is a question for the FIG. At the moment we are proceeding on the premise that everything is as before.

Q: Then on to purely sports-related questions. The new Olympic cycle has started. What are the main competitions in this first post-Olympic year?

A: As far as the international level is concerned, we will only have individual competitions this year. The European Championships will take place in Milan in April and the World Championships will take place in London in October. However, the Russian Championships (to be held in Bryansk in the first week of March) will take place with the full program, as we call it – team final, individual all-around final and the various individual apparatus finals. Moreover, we will run the team final according to Olympic regulations, meaning three scores count.

Q: Why will the Russian Championships have a team competition if this year's international competitions only have individual competitions?

A: The thing is, this is the preparatory year for team competitions. The pre-Olympic selection will already begin next season. The fact is that the FIG has changed the selection rules for the Olympic Games. From now on, the first eight teams will be selected for the Olympics in the second season after the Games, and an additional selection will be made in the World Championships directly preceding the Games, where four more teams will join the eight teams which are already known. We must qualify for the Games in the first selection, so we consider this a preparatory season. And, now that we're starting our preparation for the Olympic competitions in London, we believe that the teams ought to train with this rule in mind from the very first.

Q: I see that there are many junior gymnasts training with the main team. Why are they training with the main national team and not with their own age group?

A: It's all for the same reasons. We selected the children who can "aim" for 2012, and included them in training with the main team. I would call this year the year of renewal. We have taken girls born between 1994 and 1996 and boys born between 1991 and 1992 for this training.

Q: Does this indicate that the men's team will fall into the famous "demographic hole" of the early 1990s?

A: I wouldn't say that. Happily, there are many fully functional veterans on the men's national team, and thanks to them, we should get over this "hole" relatively painlessly.

Q: Then on to personal issues. The most acute question - has Maxim Devyatovsky been selected for training (with the national team)?

A: He has been selected. He is trying very hard. In principle, I would not want to make a problem out of Devyatovsky. What happened with him is normal in a group which is adapting to each other. These are growing pains. Now he is proving his right to be on the national team just like anybody else.

Maxim Devyatovsky

Q: What about Anton Golotsutskov and Yulia Lozhechko?

A: Anton has started preparations for the all-around. We will give it a try. If God wills, it will work out. After all, he started off as an all-arounder. Then he concentrated on two apparatus. Now we want him to return to six apparatus. Yulia Lozhechko is currently preparing two apparatus: beam and floor exercise. Her challenge is to prepare routines with maximum difficulty on these two apparatus. If it then becomes possible for her to return to the all-around, we will only be glad. For now she is an essential member of the team for these apparatus.

Q: Are Sveta Klyukina and Dasha Yelizarova not taking part in the training camp?

A: They are recovering (from injuries). For now they are preparing by themselves. They will take part in the Russian Championships and then the question of their return to the national team will be resolved. The same applies to Anna Pavlova, Lena Zamolodchikova and Sasha Safoshkin.

Q: Andrei Fedorovich, this is the start of the second Olympic cycle for you as national head coach. What are the differences between the current start and the one three years ago?

A: This time we are starting straight away with the preparations. Then it was necessary to resolve an awful lot of organizational problems, which interfered with the work with the team.

January 25, 2009

Now, on the Chusovitina Coaching Story...

We received remarkably few comments on our most recent entry on Oksana Chusovitina, in which we told you that she was going to coach the Uzbek girls while continuing to compete for Germany herself. Perhaps the lack of comments was due to the fact that you didn't actually believe the story. That wouldn't surprise us. To be honest, we had a hard time believing the news ourselves, despite the fact that it came from a source we consider reliable (Chusovitina's own team).

(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

We have now received a confirmation of sorts. One of our readers posted our story on the WWGym message board, where it was picked up by a poster called SFPFCT10, who is in touch with now former Uzbek national head coach Svetlana Kuznetsova. After reading the news, SFPFCT10 e-mailed Kuznetsova to ask if it was true. She confirmed the story, after which SFPFCT10 posted her e-mail on the message board, apparently with Kuznetsova's consent.

Judging from the e-mail, Kuznetsova does not bear Chusovitina any grudges for replacing her as the national head coach under such unusual circumstances (the e-mail ends with a sincere wish for Chusovitina's well-being). However, she does express bafflement at the new arrangements, which she feels are unworkable, and added that not all the national team members will join the training camp which Chusovitina is supposed to supervise in Germany in early February. According to Kuznetsova, six girls and one acrobat will fly to Germany, without their personal coaches (i.e. without Kuznetsova herself or her assistant, her daughter Elena). Apparently Luiza Galiulina, Uzbekistan's sole representative in Beijing (60th in prelims), will not be among the six girls who will make the trip to Germany. According to Kuznetsova, Galiulina will stay in Tashkent, where Kuznetsova herself will prepare her for the Cottbus Grand Prix.

We can't help sharing some of Kuznetsova's concern at the new situation. We have no idea how Chusovitina is supposed to coach the Uzbek team while representing Germany herself. Unless the Uzbek girls and their personal coaches move to Germany for a longer period of time, the plan doesn't sound feasible to us.

However, one thing is for sure: Chusovitina keeps making history. We don't think any athlete before her has represented one country while coaching another country's team. If you know of any precedents, do let us know!

Finally, Something Akin to a Solution in the Belgian Crisis

It's been a while since we last posted any news from Belgium, where a group of national team members recently left the national training center because they did not want to work under the new head coach, controversial Frenchman Yves Kieffer. The last thing we heard was that 8 rebels were training at Wevelgem (Aagje Vanwalleghem's club) under 3 of their former coaches, and that when Yves Kieffer and his wife Marjorie Heuls finally showed up in Ghent on January 15, only a handful of girls were there to meet them.

Belgian national champion Aagje Vanwalleghem
(Photo: Sing Lo/Comaneci Salto)

Now, finally, more news about the situation has emerged, and from a very reliable source, Sporza.

It seems the rebels' insistence on getting former head coach Gerrit Beltman reinstated has finally paid off, to some extent. Minister of Sport Bert Anciaux is making funds available for the reinstatement of Beltman, who will guide national champion Aagje Vanwalleghem and the other rebels at the Wevelgem club. The girls themselves will have to pay the wages of the other coaches to be employed at the club (presumably the same coaches who were previously fired from the Ghent center for sticking with Beltman). The girls' parents are looking for private sponsors to help them carry the financial burden of employing the coaches. Meanwhile, 6 other national team members will remain at the national training center in Ghent, where they will train under former French head coach Yves Kieffer and his wife Marjorie Heuls. One of the 6 girls remaining in Ghent is Gaëlle Mys, who represented Belgium in Beijing.

Els De Nil, the official representative of the parents whose daughters have moved to Wevelgem, explained the situation to Sporza.

"Two weeks ago, we, along with Aagje and Beltman, spoke to Minister Anciaux. The next day he spoke to the other party," said De Nil. "The Minister established that the 2 parties were irreconcilable, as there is a serious crisis of trust. So elite sports manager Ivo Van Aken proposed this setup, and on Sunday we agreed to it."

De Nil continued, "It was a difficult decision to make, as our children were building up social lives in Ghent. But there was too much injustice in the situation. Basically, what is happening at the moment constitutes a rift in the Flemish Gymnastics Federation. When we had our meeting with Van Aken, a member of the Federation admitted that they had made mistakes, but insisted that management would never step down. Our children have become the victims of a power struggle. But they are prepared to take the risks associated with the move to Wevelgem, to Aagje's club. The club is willing to help us out (financially). We are now looking for host families for the girls."

A happy ending for all parties involved? That remains to be seen. The Ministry of Sport will only pay Gerrit Beltman's wages; the other coaches will have to get their wages elsewhere. It is to be hoped that the 8 rebel girls will find sponsors to help them carry the financial burden. At a time when much more famous athletes than them are losing their sponsorship deals, that may be a tall order.

January 24, 2009

Diego Hypolito: "Flamengo Gymnastics Is a Thing of the Past"

Things continue to be highly unsettled in Rio de Janeiro, where a distraught Diego Hypolito left a meeting with Flamengo President Marcio Braga on Friday saying, "Flamengo gymnastics is a thing of the past. It was a huge blow for me, in a year in which I was supposed to rise from the ashes."

Diego, his sister Daniele and Jade Barbosa met with Braga on Friday to discuss the future of the elite gymnastics program at Flamengo, one of Brazil's foremost multi-sport clubs. According to Globoesporte, the trio were told by Braga that he wasn't telling anyone to leave, but did not have the means to renew contracts. "We have run out of money. We cannot sign contracts that we cannot fulfill," stated Braga, who blames the global economic crisis for the situation. The only solution, he said, would be the arrival of new sponsors or public funds.

Diego Hypolito, Daniele Hypolito, and Jade Barbosa with Marcio Braga
(photo: Globoesporte)

According to other Globoesporte and UOL Esporte articles, Braga once again blamed the Brazilian Olympic Committee (which receives 2 percent of the revenues of the national lottery) for not doing enough to solve the crisis at Flamengo. "We are going through a crisis, but the resources are there," Braga stated, referring to the fortune the Brazilian Olympic Committee recently received to strengthen Rio de Janeiro's candidacy for the 2016 Olympics. "If part of those resources were made available to us, the athletes wouldn't be so unhappy today." He went on to say, "The current system cannot continue. It's a crime against society and the practice of sports."

According to Braga, the directors of Brazil's leading sports clubs (including Pinheiros, where Daiane dos Santos and Lais Souza train) will meet with the Brazilian Minister of Sport on February 4 to find a financial solution to the crisis.

After the meeting with Braga, Daniele Hypolito was quick to point out that the gymnasts still had a month to figure out what to do. However, it was obvious that her brother Diego was not inclined to wait. "I've been cast adrift. Unfortunately, we will have to start looking for a new club. We have places to go, but all I really wanted was to stay here at Flamengo. I don't have much time. I've lost my sponsors. I'm a professional. I don't want things to be like they were in the past, when I didn't have anything to eat," said the double world champion on floor, who reportedly hasn't received his wages for three months and has lost his other sources of income as well.

Apparently Diego told UOL Esporte that he and Daniele had already found a new place to train, but refused to disclose where it was. One of the options would be the new gymnastics club Flamengo's traditional rival Botafogo has offered to set up for the gymnasts in a shed adjacent to the club's stadium. Alternatively it might be an existing top club, like Pinheiros. However, that would require a move from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo, and we are not sure the Hypolitos are prepared to do that.

To be continued...

January 23, 2009

Marian Dragulescu: "I Have Time to Get to the Stage Where I'll Coach the National Junior Team and the National Senior Team"

Quite a few Romanian sites are posting stories about Marian Drăgulescu's new career as a coach. First there was the ProSport story we quickly referred to in our news roundup, whose headline ran, "Kindergarten Cop" (a reference to the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie of that name). Then Adevărul interviewed Drăgulescu about his new career, and finally Confidenţial asked him some questions about life in general. We have translated the Adevărul article for you, as well as a few questions from the Confidenţial interview. Enjoy!

(Photo: ProSport)

"I want to take it to a higher level step by step"

Marian Drăgulescu is working alongside his former teammates, Marius Urzică and Dan Potra. Less than a week after he announced his retirement from competitive gymnastics, the former champion is back in the gym.

Adevărul: How was your first day at work, Marian?

Marian Drăgulescu: It's tiring, because there are a lot of kids and you constantly have to keep your eyes on them, just in case, God forbid, something happens. As you've seen for yourself, there are kids of many different ages, and that's what kids are like. They run, they jump... Other than that, I had a good feeling about it. This is my environment, with the sole exception that I'm not training anymore myself. Yes, I'm still moving around a bit, because you can't just suddenly quit like that, and afterward you have to explain things to them...

Q: Can you remember what it was like when you were their age?

A: I started doing gymnastics when I was seven. I've been an athlete for 21 years... I started at Triumf, as it was called at the time, and I also trained at Lia Manoliu. I was selected at school. That's what we will do too if we don't get enough children. They probably noticed I was energetic and liked getting around, so they took me. As I remember it, it was all a game at first. We did rolls, we jumped, we hang from all the apparatus, we climbed onto the horse, but after a while it became a "systematic game", and we got some compulsory elements, and we played truant...

Q: What was the crucial moment in your career?

A: My happiest moment was when I was selected for the junior team at age 14. Until then I'd been transferred from one group to another, because many groups were being abolished because so many boys were leaving the sport. In 1995 I was selected for the junior team and I felt quite proud, because apparently I was a good gymnast. I don't remember exactly when I won my first medal at a national championship, but I won my first European medal in 1998. [Gold on pommel horse, silver on floor and bronze on floor at the Junior European Championships.]

Q: What did your parents say when you joined a gymnastics club?

A: My Mom was happy, as she had done gymnastics herself. I hail from a sports-loving family. My Dad used to practice several sports: boxing, body-building and wrestling. And that's not all; he was also a musician... My two brothers also practiced sports - gymnastics and soccer - and they were quite talented, but they didn't stick with it. So basically everyone around me supported me when I was young, taking into consideration that I went into an systematic program to practice my sport and had a strict schedule. I didn't spend time anywhere else.

Q: Why did you quit in order to coach children?

A: I didn't quit. Actually, this is just the first stage. If I had gone straight to Mr. Pascu [the new head coach of the national men's team] to help him out with the national team, it would be as if I'd skip a few stages. This is where kids take their first steps. This is where we give them their basics, and we need to do that on a step-by-step basis. Mr. Pascu, too, used to coach much younger boys. I'm starting at the bottom, only to arrive at the top. I've only just begun. I have time to get to the stage where I'll coach the national junior team and the national senior team.

Q: What are your objectives with these kids?

A: I want them to win domestic competitions and medals at international competitions, but what I'd really like and what I'm hoping very much is that they will make the national junior team and then the national team.

Q: What will you miss most?

A: If I had changed my environment, I would have said gymnastics, but this way I'll stay in the gym just like before - just in a different position. We will be able to recreate the atmosphere we had on the national team in this gym, because I'm working alongside Marius Urzică and Dan Potra, who have also been hired to work here. As for competition nerves, I will still have those, but definitely in a different way and probably more intensely than before, because things won't depend on me anymore, but on those I've coached. My work will be seen in their routines.

Together with the rest of the Dinamo team, Marian Drăgulescu will coach 22 boys, aged between 6 and 14. "For the moment we have enough kids to coach. If, at any point, we won't have enough kids, we will start visiting schools. And on top of that there are groups of girls," says the multiple champion.

On his first day on the job (Thursday, January 15), he worked for a good five hours, from 1 to 6pm. "That will be my schedule, more or less, but we'll take it in turns, which means I'll also work on the mornings sometimes."

He would like to be remembered by the world in years to come for his five medals at World Championships and his three Olympic medals. "I hope people will remember I was a gymnastics champion," says the current coach.

(Photo: Adina Blaj/Adevărul)

In addition to the Adevărul interview, Romanian magazine Confidenţial recently published an interview with Marian Drăgulescu. Sadly, we don't have access to the whole interview, but Gazeta Sporturilor kindly reprinted a few questions from it:

- If you could swap lives with anyone, whom would you pick?
I like my life and I wouldn't swap with anyone or anyone in the world.

- What would you like to invent?
I'd like an invention which would help all children to be born healthy.

- What's the heaviest blow you have received?
My daughter's health problems.

- What do you have that you wish you didn't have?
I'm content with everything I've achieved and with everything I have.

We're glad to hear Marian is content...

Tămîrjan Pulled Out of American Cup; Racea to Go Instead

The American Cup news just keeps on coming...

ProSport just announced that Ana Maria Tămîrjan will not be going to Chicago after all. The European bronze medalist on floor will be replaced by a junior who has only been in Deva for a few months, Amelia Racea. Racea was second on beam and third on floor at the 2008 Junior Europeans. She was also Romania's highest AA qualifier after the team competition, placing fourth, well behind Tatiana Nabiyeva, Aliya Mustafina and Youna Dufournet.

Amelia Racea (photo: Iris van den Broek/Gymnasticsphotography)

Head coach Nicolae Forminte had this to say about his decision to send a junior rather than the senior who sacrificed her Christmas break to prepare for the American Cup: "We have decided to spare Ana, who has returned to training after a long break. Ever since she resumed training, she has worked very hard with an eye to going to the American Cup. However, she is now suffering mild discomforts in her tibia and we don't want to take any risks, so we are giving her some rest. Racea will go to see what it's like to compete at a competition of this scope, and to get used to the atmosphere. She is a promising junior and we think she will do well."

We are mildly baffled by the fact that Forminte seems to think the American Cup is a bigger deal than the Junior Europeans, but we guess the competition does attract more spectators and media attention. So in that respect he's right - Racea will be in for something new. It will be interesting to see how she holds up against Jordyn Wieber, the other junior competing in Chicago,

As for Tămîrjan, we guess she should have enjoyed a nice Christmas break after all.

View Racea's performances at the 2008 Junior Europeans: beam and floor.

Lilia Podkopayeva to Get a Divorce

Several Russian and Ukrainian sites (among others, this one) are reporting that 1996 Olympic champion Lilia Podkopayeva is getting a divorce from her husband of four years, Timofey Nagorniy. Apparently, Lilia initiated the divorce, but Timofey made the formal application. The couple's two children, Vadim (adopted) and Karolina (their own), will stay with Lilia, but Timofey will have unlimited access to them. It sounds like the couple are parting on good terms.

Click the above link for a picture of Lilia, Timofey and the children in happier days, and a look at the tabloid headlines their divorce is making...

Lilia in a recent photo shoot (photo: Volodymyr Shuvayev)

Kim Bui to Compete at American Cup

The German Gymnastics Federation, DTB, has named the female gymnast who will represent Germany at the American Cup in February. Apparently it is Kim Bui who will join Fabian Hambüchen on the trip to Chicago. According to German head coach Ulla Koch, the 20-year-old from Tübingen has earned the right to make an appearance at the American Cup: "Kim gave a great performance in our training competition and so more than deserves to go to the US."

Bui was not part of Germany's Olympic squad, but did recently win a bronze medal on floor at the DTB Cup.

Kim Bui (photo: DTB)

January 22, 2009

Jade Barbosa and Hypolito Siblings Lose Club Contracts

It's official: Brazilian sports club Flamengo has axed its elite gymnastics program. According to Globoesporte, Flamengo President Marcio Braga announced on Wednesday that the club, most famous for its highly successful soccer program, will eliminate several of its elite sports programs, keeping only its rowing and basketball programs (and soccer, we presume). The Vice-President of the club, Delair Dumbrosck, has confirmed that the contracts of the club's three most famous gymnasts - Diego Hypolito, Daniele Hypolito and Jade Barbosa - will not be renewed, leaving the trio without a club to train at and largely without an income. Needless to say, the gymnastics-mad Brazilian media are all over the story.

Diego and Daniele Hypolito (photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

Globoesporte reports that Diego Hypolito wants to meet with Flamengo President Marcio Braga to discuss the matter. He is dismayed at having to hear about the club's plans from the media, and has asked for a personal meeting with Flamengo's President. "I want to meet Marcio Braga. In all my years at the club, I've only spoken to him a few times. It's bad to have to hear things from the media."

Hypolito has even thought of a way to help the club raise funds for its gymnastics program. "There are many ways in which Flamengo could market the Diego Hypolito brand name. If they want to make a club doll to sell, that's fine with me. If that's what it takes to keep my sport afloat, I'm obviously willing to help," Hypolito was quoted as saying.

We're not sure whether he is referring to an action figure or a doll, but we assume it's the latter - probably something like this Flamengo merchandise doll, only with his name on it.


The floor specialist also told Globoesporte: "I'm a double world champion and I know I shouldn't have to be worried about such contract matters. I'm doing my bit, but I'm dependent on sponsors. OK, I did not become Olympic champion, but that's not the end of the world, is it? I know that Flamengo's financial situation hasn't been good for years, but I should do better in 2009."

For her part, Diego's sister Daniele laments the fact that the club's officials aren't communicating with the gymnasts. According to Globoesporte, Daniele has yet to hear an official confirmation of her status from the club, having been informed of the non-renewal of her contract by the media rather than by club officials.

"Flamengo will last for years, but officials go by," Daniele was quoted as saying. "I think they should participate more in the active lives of the athletes. You can't make budget cuts without talking to people. They should speak to the athletes before doing these things," Daniele told Globoesporte.

Daniele also feels the club should be more grateful to the gymnasts who have won it acclaim over the last decade, such as Diego, Jade and herself. "I'm grateful to everyone at Flamengo, but I can't work for love alone."

Thankfully, Daniele is not entirely dependent on the club for her income. She also has a personal sponsor who pays her as much as Flamengo does.

Jade Barbosa (left) with the emblem of her club, Flamengo (photo: Globoesporte)

Meanwhile, Jade Barbosa's father, César Barbosa, says that the non-renewal of his daughter's contract indicates "a lack of respect for the athletes" on the part of the Brazilian Olympic Committee.

According to Globoesporte, Mr. Barbosa was quick to remind reporters that the Brazilian Olympic Committee receives 2 percent of the revenues of the federal lotteries. He feels that some of that money should be made available to major multi-sport clubs like Flamengo, which currently receive no support from the Olympic Committee, although they produce a large percentage of Brazil's athletes.

"The Brazilian Olympic Committee is showing a lack of respect for our athletes," said Mr. Barbosa. "Artistic gymnastics has grown over the last few years and the Olympic Committee needs to adopt a more affectionate attitude toward it. It is not right that we, with three world-level gymnasts like Diego, Jade and Daniele, should find ourselves in this position. All the other gymnasts in the world are already training for the London Olympics, but without any incentive to train, [our athletes] will of necessity lag behind," said Mr. Barbosa

He hopes the club will find a way to keep the gymnasts. "Even with its problems, Flamengo is still the ideal club for the gymnasts. It has room, equipment and coaches to provide for the athletes' needs."

Semyonova to Compete at Europeans; Afanasyeva By No Means Certain for American Cup

Some interesting news from Russia today...

Moscow sports club CSKA reports that Ksenia Semyonova is recovering well from her wrist problem. She is back in full training and is slated to compete at both the Russian Nationals and the European Championships in March, albeit on two events rather than four. Meanwhile, Ksenia Afanasyeva is said to have recovered from what sounds like a torn muscle in her side, but according to her coach, it is by no means certain that she will compete at the American Cup. Here's the article...

Ksenia Semyonova (photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

Semyonova and Afanasyeva Train Seven Hours a Day

Let us recall that at the end of last year, world champion Ksenia Semyonova was forced to forego participation in the World Cup Final in Madrid because of painful sensations in her wrists. However, doctors diagnosed nothing dangerous, explaining the pains in her hand as the peculiarity of a young gymnast's growing organism. Ksyusha did not even stop training; she simply reduced the burden on her sore wrist a little.

"Now Ksenia feels considerably better," says Marina Nazarova [Semyonova's coach]. "The painful sensations have practically disappeared, and it is now possible to carry out full training. We hope that by the time of the Russian Championships, which will take place in Bryansk from March 5th to 14th, Ksyusha will be back in good form. Although we will only be preparing two routines for the European Championships in April – bars and floor exercise."

According to Marina Nazarova, the extent of Ksenia Semyonova's participation in the Russian Championships has not yet been determined. Everything will depend on the gymnast's form. For the present Ksyusha is training seven hours a day: a one-hour session in the gym in the morning, and two three-hour sessions in the afternoon and evening.

Ksenia Afanasyeva (photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)

"Ksenia Afanasyeva is carrying out a similar regime," continues Marina Nazarova. "We are preparing her for the European Championships, both for the individual apparatus and for the all-around. Ksyusha's muscular problems in her side are a thing of the past, thank God. She is training intensively, spending sufficient time on all four apparatus of the all-around."

Meanwhile, it is far from settled that Afanasyeva will take part in the American Cup mid-February, although currently Ksenia and yet another CSKA representative, Kristina Goryunova, seem to be the most likely candidates for the trip across the ocean. "Control workouts will show Afanasyeva's degree of readiness for the American Cup," says Marina Nazarova. "But we are inclined not to send Ksyusha to this tournament. Really, the main thing for her at the moment is to prepare successfully for the Russian and European Championships."

So there you have it. Don't be surprised if it's Goryunova rather than Afanasyeva who shows up in Chicago next month.

January 21, 2009

Now with a Link: Liu Xuan's Second Single

A while ago we told you that 2000 Olympic beam champion Liu Xuan was about to release her second single, "Like a Baby." We now have a link for you, courtesy of one of our readers (thanks!). Here it is. In our opinion, Liu doesn't have a truly great voice, and she seems to overenunciate her syllables a bit, but it's pleasant enough music - better than most gymnasts-turned-singers'. We'll be interested to see how the single fares in China.

And for those of you who missed our post at the time: this is Liu Xuan's first single, an infuriatingly catchy rock tune called "Setting Out."


Hambüchen Confirmed for American Cup

Fabian Hambüchen has confirmed that he will compete at the American Cup in February. According to the DTB site, the young German has recovered sufficiently from the little finger surgery he underwent in December to make an appearance in Chicago.

(Photo: Eurosport)

"My finger feels completely normal, and for the last 2 weeks I've put as great a burden on it as I normally would. Training is going very well. As far as that's concerned, I really look forward to [the competition] and will give it my all in Chicago," the horizontal bar world champion told the DTB site.

Germany's female competitor in Chicago will be announced next week.

Oksana Chusovitina Appointed Uzbek National Team Coach

It had been rumored for a while, and now it's been confirmed on the website of Chusovitina's own team, Cologne's Toyota Team: In addition to her own competitive gymnastics career, Oksana Chusovitina has been appointed head coach of the Uzbek national team. The news is somewhat surprising in that Chusovitina recently said in an interview that she didn't want to coach elite gymnasts as she didn't like having to be tough on her pupils. Looks like she has changed her mind...

Oksana Chusovitina is about to embark on a fourth life - as a national team coach
(photo: Marine/Gymnet)

This is what the Toyota Team site had to say on the matter, in an entry about Chusovitina's receiving a major German sports award:

She is currently recovering from two operations on her Achilles tendon and back and is now getting ready for a third operation on her shoulder. [Note: As far as we know, Chusovitina has already had her shoulder surgery and is currently getting ready for back surgery.] She responded in her own characteristic way: "Now all I need is new arms, and then I'll have had a complete overhaul and will be able to compete in a world championships without pain for once." In the meantime, however, some new and important tasks are awaiting her. As of January 1, 2009, she is no longer just a gymnast, but national coach of the female gymnasts of her fatherland, Uzbekistan. She will try to run the program from her adopted home country, Germany, and will get her pupils together for a first training camp in Germany in early February."

We have no idea about the logistics involved in this arrangement - whether the Uzbek girls will travel to Germany on a regular basis (does the Uzbek national program have that kind of money?), whether Chusovitina will travel to Uzbekistan on a regular basis, or what. We hope to find out more soon.

Well, Hello Everyone...

First of all, apologies for getting so dramatic on you all the other day. We didn't mean to scare you. We just reached a point where two of us were getting a bit overwhelmed by all the demands of running a blog and wondering if it was worth it. We have since realized it is worth it, so we'll continue to write Triple Full. We just reserve the right to take a break every now and then, that's all.

So what's happened here over the last few days? Well, we've had an Anti-Triple Full blog named in our honor, we've been compared with Hitler, Stalin, and Castro for our comment moderation policy (which amused us to no end), and last but not least we've had a few discussions about our course of action, which resulted in a decision not to make any drastic changes for the time being.

Firstly, we've decided to keep the competition reports, since they appear to be popular and since we're aware that not all of our readers frequent the message boards where we get much of our information. There is, however, one caveat: in times of great busyness we reserve the right to drop the competition coverage. If, for some reason, we can't cover a certain competition without detriment to other things which matter to us, we simply won't. We're not going to go out of our way to cover every competition. We may even miss out on a big competition on occasion. The emphasis will remain on translated interviews, profiles, and news stories, and meet coverage will be of secondary importance.

Secondly, we will go on posting our stories anonymously for the time being. Personal bylines are definitely an option for the future, but for now we're going to continue to post as a group.

Thirdly, we've decided to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to trolls and people who try to use this blog to further their own agendas. So far we've always given people the benefit of the doubt. We will not do so anymore. If we suspect someone is trolling or otherwise abusing the comment function, we will simply reject their comments - no ifs or buts, and no discussion afterward. If we think people are being overly disrespectful of the gymnasts we're writing about, we will reject their comments too. Criticism (of us or of the gymnasts being discussed) is welcome, but only if it's constructive. We will gladly post any suggestions you may have for the improvement of this blog, so if you have any constructive criticism, by all means let us have it. Also, feel free to point out any factual errors you may come across in our reports - we'll be glad to have our mistakes corrected. And needless to say, any additional information you may possess on any given subject will always be welcome, as long as it's relevant.

Now, as for our wish list...

Several of our readers have written in to express a wish to help us run this blog, which meant a lot to us. Thank you so much, everyone. We've decided to be undignified and take you up on the offer. So...

1. If you're attending an international competition or national championships and would like to share your impressions with our readers, please get in touch with us, either by leaving a comment or by dropping us a line at mightymihaela at gmail dot com. More spies are always welcome. Thanks in advance.

2. If you speak Japanese, Korean, Ukrainian, Slovenian, Spanish or Italian and would like to contribute to the blog, please get in touch with us. We don't actually need anyone to translate entire Spanish or Italian articles for us (we can do that ourselves), but we'd like to have a few native speakers on standby to verify parts of our translations that we may not be entirely sure of, and to point us to any interesting stories we may have missed. Drop us a line if you want to help out in this capacity. A native Ukrainian speaker for helping out with those articles about Ukrainian gymnastics which are written in Ukrainian rather than Russian would also be very welcome. Finally, we'd like to pay much more attention to Japanese, Korean, and Slovenian gymnastics than we have so far, but not being remotely fluent in those languages, we haven't been able to come up with any interesting stories. If you speak Japanese, Korean or Slovenian and can spare the time to do some translating for us every now and then, please get in touch at mightymihaela at gmail dot com. Thank you very much in advance!

3. Finally, we could do with a good North American correspondent - someone who keeps an eye on American/Canadian gymnasts' (male and female) homepages, club sites, and other news sources, and lets us know whenever there's a story that's worth reporting, a video that's worth posting, etc. If you're interested, drop us a line!

And now, back to our scheduled programming...

January 19, 2009

Just So As You Know (Updated)

This blog is on hiatus while we try to figure out a few things. Sorry.

ETA: Just to clarify, we're OK and intending to keep up the blog. We just need a bit of a break and a brainstorming session to decide on our future course of action. We'll probably be back in due course, in some form or another.


The Gym Girls

January 18, 2009

Yernar Yerimbetov: "After Such an Injury It Is Difficult for Any Athlete to Return to Sport"

For years Kazakhstan's Yernar Yerimbetov was a fixture at men's competitions. He finished 6th AA at the 2001 Worlds (after leading the pack at the halfway stage) and 4th AA at the 2003 Worlds. He also made a number of major vault finals over the years, although he seldom medaled in them, mainly because he seemed to have trouble sticking his second vault, a Yurchenko double back (watch Yerimbetov's vaults in the final of the 2006 Worlds here). Then he disappeared, after being sidelined by a serious shoulder injury. Now he's attempting a comeback. Which is to say: he hopes to compete at the World Championships this year.

Recently, a Kazakhstani site, Gazeta, caught up with Yerimbetov, who will turn 29 next month. The interview below was published on January 15.

(photo: Laurent Fievet/Getty Images)

The Return Of Yerimbetov

Yernar Yerimbetov, one of Kazachstan's most experienced gymnasts, is intending to return to his former glory in the coming season. He is as ever the number one in Kazachstan. However, fate has dealt him some surprises. Recently the gymnast has disappeared from view because of a severe injury to the shoulder, which he suffered in Moscow two years ago. He missed the Olympics in Beijing as well as a number of international competitions. But now that the injury has healed, he is again back in circulation. In any case he himself considers himself to be so. What could be more important?

"I was really badly injured," Yernar remembers. "I've already spent a whole year recovering, which is enough to really lose your physical form. I've needed a considerable amount of time to restore my former physical condition. I'm now participating in international competitions. I'm attempting to rebuild the confidence of the Kazachstanis, who had already started to forget about me little by little. The main thing is that I believe in myself and I'm not going to throw in the towel."

Q: Does the injury bother you?

A: Generally it aches a little when the weather is overcast or when it is cold. It hurts particularly in winter. I try not to think about it.

Q: The national coaches, Timur Amirbekov and Alexander Kalish, are constant in their support of you during their interviews with our journalists. They always include you as a member of the national team, so that you will return to form as soon as possible...

A: This flatters me. I think they do this out of fellow-feeling for me. Nevertheless, after such an injury it is difficult for any athlete to return to sport. It is impossible to do without support. Mid-December I competed in Moscow, at the Mikhail Voronin Cup, and many there recognized me: judges, athletes, other people. Everyone is very happy that I have returned to gymnastics. Remember, I sustained my injury in front of them. All the good wishes warm my soul. This is very important for me. It would be important for any athlete. I thank them for everything!

Q: Did your results [at the 2008 Voronin Cup] differ from those which you received prior to the injury?

A: Of course, and noticeably so. Earlier I could compete in four disciplines. Now I'm only competing in vault. Therefore, this could not but affect my results.

(photo: Sing Lo/Comaneci-salto)

Q: What you do expect from the new season?

A: This year I will only take part in one large competition: the World Championships in London, which are scheduled for October. The other tournaments, for example the World Cup competitions, are unfortunately not for me. I will dedicate all of these ten months to preparing for competition in London.

Q: Yernar, what can you tell us about the coming generation?

A: It has come about that we don't have too many gymnasts on the national team. Our young gymnasts (Sado Batsiev, Maxim Petrishko, Stanislav Valiev) obviously do not have enough experience yet. Of course they certainly have enormous potential. They have a great future ahead of them.

Q: And the more experienced ones?

A: We have outstanding lads. And they are good athletes. I am thinking of Timur Kurbanbaev, Eldar Valeev and Stepan Gorbachev. They are constantly taking part in important competitions. That says enough.

Q: Are you training somewhere at the moment?

A: Yes, of course. I can't allow myself to rest too much. I am now conducting daily training sessions in Almaty. I would like to return to my earlier form as soon as possible.

January 17, 2009

Ariella Kaeslin: "I Notice That the Other Girls Now Have Respect for Me"

We have a stack of interviews we'd like to share with you, all waiting to be translated. Many of these interviews will probably have to wait until February, when things will quieten down considerably at the Gym Girl headquarters, but we hope to post a few before that time. Here's a nice chat with Ariella Kaeslin to kick things off. Meet the 21-year-old who is currently one of the top-ranked female vaulters in the world, not to mention Swiss Sportswoman of the Year 2008...

Ariella Kaeslin, Swiss Sportswoman of the Year 2008 (photo: Reuters)

The interview below was published by Neue Zürcher Zeitung (a Zürich-based newspaper) just before Christmas. Enjoy!

"Perhaps We'll Find a Fitness Center"

Gymnast Ariella Kaeslin Has Earned Her Vacation

Q: Ariella Kaeslin, we are happy for you.

A: Why?

Q: At last you can go on vacation.

A: Thanks. I haven't gone on vacation in a whole year. Even after the Olympic Games I only took 3 or 4 days off training. But school was still going, so there was always something to be done. So on the one hand I'm happy to be able to take a rest.

Ariella at the Olympics (photo: Keystone)

Q: And on the other hand?

A: I'm traveling with mixed feelings. Actually I'm happy, I really need to allow myself these 10 days. But I know that afterward it will be really difficult. So I'm doing some training while on vacation.

Q: You are training while on vacation?

A: I'm on vacation with Linda Stämpfli and Danielle Englert, two gymnastics friends [both Swiss national team members]. First we will spend a couple of days in New York. After Christmas we are flying to Florida. There we are going to Disney World and bargain shopping in the factory outlets. Perhaps we'll find a fitness center, but we can also work on our strength and flexibility in the hotel.

Q: But in New York you will restrain yourselves and enjoy the city?

A: Not only. Late at night when the city is asleep... well, it never does sleep, but when it is quieter, we want to go jogging. Nighttime jogging.

Q: How can you relax like that?

A: I don't know any different. Since I was a small child, I have always been on the move when I was on vacation. I couldn't lie around on the beach doing nothing. I need the excitement of New York and I need sport. If I do nothing, I get fidgety and nervous. I wouldn't like that.

Q: Then we have to feel sorry for you?

A: No, perish the thought! I would lose everything really quickly [if I didn't work out]. Two weeks without exercise would really throw me back. Once back in training, it would take a lot of effort to manage even the easiest exercises. I would suffer like a dog. But you know, that's gymnastics for you.

Q: Do you have to bring yourself to go on vacation?

A: Yes, in the past I have needed to. But nowadays I find it a bit easier. I have earned it.

Ariella (left) in Madrid, with Cheng Fei and Aagje Vanwalleghem
(photo: Volker Minkus/FIG)

Q: You were placed fifth on vault at the Olympics, and one week ago you were second in the World Cup Final, winning the first Swiss medal ever in this competition. What is 2009 going to bring?

A: I finally want to make it onto the pedestal at the European Championships.

Q: You are starting training again already on January 3rd. The European Championships are at the end of March. What are you focusing on?

A: In the all-around I want to be in the top 6, which means I have to improve on all 4 apparatus. But the Chusovitina, my first vault, can't be improved upon. It's a very difficult vault. Only two gymnasts perform it.

Q: Can you describe it?

A: It's funny that you should ask that. Since the Olympics I have had to explain my vaults again and again.

Q: And you don't like doing that?

A: That's not the problem. I find it difficult to explain, because most people can't really visualize it. I usually tell them to look the vault up on YouTube. But I can give it a try: I do a handspring and a layout somersault with one and a half twists.

Q: When we phoned earlier during your training and wanted to leave a message, your mailbox was full. Have you had a lot of appointments since Beijing?

A: Everybody wanted something from me - media, colleagues, fans. But I love it.

Q: At the beginning of [2008], you were barely known outside of the gymnastics world. Now you are [Swiss] Sportswoman of the Year. Crazy, isn't it?

A: It's nice that so many people know me now. When young gymnasts write to me that I'm their role model, I'm flattered. Strangers talk to me on the street. I'm happy that people recognize my achievement.

Q: What is admirable about it?

A: You will have to ask someone else that, not me!

Q: While we are on the subject...

A: Well, OK. We have 10 female gymnasts on our national team. The Chinese girls have thousands at the same level. I am proud that I could prevail.

(photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

Q: Does the gymnastics world recognize that?

A: I notice that the other girls now have respect for me. As a new girl you are barely visible, but now everybody greets me. That is important to me.

Q: You are 21. That is relatively old for gymnastics. What is more difficult for you now?

A: Taking a break, and then getting back into form. I notice that I have demanded a lot from my body. It is all still working but the little aches and pains are becoming more frequent.

Q: What are you going to do for Christmas, in the middle of New York, far away from your family?

A: I hope that Linda, Danielle and I will not be sitting under the huge Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center all on our own. But actually, I think that something good will occur to us.

We hope Ariella enjoyed that vacation. We wonder if she bumped into Jade Barbosa and the Hypolito siblings at Disney World...

And since Ariella obviously loves posing, we felt it our duty to include a non-gymnastics photo... (photo: Fabienne Buehler/AP)

External link: Ariella's homepage (some good portraits there... mostly fully clad ones!)

AYOF: Event Finals, Day 1

Day 1 of the event finals finally saw the host nation win some individual medals, with Emily Little and Britt Greeley going 1-2 in the women's vault final and the Australian men picking up three medals on floor and rings. The Chinese men also got a few medals, including the gold on rings, but it was the Brits who were the most successful nation, picking up two golds, one silver, and one bronze to add to their tally. We'd dearly love to see some videos of their performances now...

Vault winner Emily Little (photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)


Chachakid has videos of the women's event finals. Have a look for yourself and see what you think!

The girls had one vault each, and aside from Fu Bo, who did a handspring-piked front, they all chose Yurchenko-entry vaults. Pre-meet favorite Natsumi Sasada threw the only double-twisting Yurchenko in the final, but fell, only to finish fifth. She shared that position with Cui Jie, who sat down on her 1.5-twisting Yurchenko. Cui has a strange twisting technique; she twists very late and very fast. We're not sure whether that is good or bad. Emily Little and Britt Greeley nailed their Yurchenko-1.5s for the gold and silver, respectively. Little is a pretty powerful vaulter; she should be able to upgrade in the future. Japan's Yoshino Taniguchi took the bronze with a clean Yurchenko-full.

1. Emily Little AUS 14.700
2. Britt Greeley AUS 14.450
3. Yoshino Taniguchi JPN 14.150
4. Fu Bo CHN 13.775
5. Cui Jie CHN 13.700
5. Natsumi Sasada JPN 13.700
7. Nicole Hibbert GBR 13.525
8. Lani Hohepa NZL 13.200

Uneven bars
Wu Liufang was easily the most stylish bar worker in the final, with handstands and turns that bear all the hallmarks of the great Chinese school. Unfortunately, her A score was low and she had a problem on her Pak, needing an extra swing to be able to cast to handstand. She ended up finishing fifth. In the end, the gold went to Natsumi Sasada (Tkatchev, jam, full-in dismount), who gave the judges plenty of room for small deductions but not for big ones. Cui Jie finished second with a decent routine that included a Jaeger, Tkatchev and Pak (surprising choice of elements, we know). Nicole Hibbert took the bronze with a routine that was powerful rather than elegant (Tkatchev-Pak combo, big Ray). Hibbert has plenty of difficulty, but will need to work hard on her form.

Apparently this is Natsumi Sasada. Can we have some normal photos now, Mark Nolan of Getty Images?

1. Natsumi Sasada JPN 14.350
2. Cui Jie CHN 13.925
3. Nicole Hibbert GBR 13.775
4. Yoshino Taniguchi JPN 13.675
5. Wu Liufang CHN 13.225
6. Danusia Francis GBR 13.160
7. Emma Collister AUS 12.276
8. Britt Greeley AUS 12.150


As far as we know, no videos of the men's finals have been uploaded yet, so we can only give you the results.

Floor exercise
1. Reiss Beckford GBR 14.000
2. Sean O'Hara AUS 13.850
3. Luke Wadsworth AUS 13.675
4. Wang Yongchao CHN 13.175
5. Ashley Watson GBR 13.150
6. Hairi Zaid Ahmad Saruji MAS 13.050
7. Liu Zhanteng CHN 12.625
8. Chao Wei San MAS 11.700

Gold medalists Reiss Beckford and Max Whitlock with coach Sergey Sizhanov
(photo: British AYOF site)

Pommel horse
1. Max Whitlock GBR 14.325
2. Sam Oldham GBR 14.050
3. Liu Zhanteng CHN 13.400
4. Luke Wadsworth AUS 13.025
5. Michael Mercieca AUS 12.325
6. Hairi Zaid Admad Saruji 10.900

Still rings
1. Liu Zhanteng CHN 14.200
2. Jayden Bull AUS 13.875
3. Zhu Xiaodong CHN 13.700
4. Sam Oldham GBR 13.650
5. Sean O'Hara AUS 13.025
6. Ashley Watson GBR 12.650

The AYOF gymnastics competition will conclude tomorrow with the remaining event finals.