February 24, 2009

And So We Reach the Final Curtain...

Dear readers,

You're probably wondering why we haven't updated for the last few days, while interesting competitions were being held and newsworthy stories were being reported left, right and center. Well, we're sorry to announce that we've reached the end of our journey, and that this will likely be our last entry, because our editor and main contributor, Mihaela, has come to the conclusion that she is too busy to keep up Triple Full. She has decided (not without considerable agonizing) to give up the blog, which will cease to exist without her. Needless to say, we're all very sorry to see things end this way. We were on to something good, and we regret having to give it up like this.

For what it's worth, we're parting as friends and nearly all our regular contributors have expressed a willingness to go on contributing if we ever decide to give it another go. Chances of that happening are limited, but we're not ruling it out entirely. Who knows, when life gets less busy...

We have enjoyed writing this blog and will probably go on contributing the odd translation or news story to the various gymnastics forums out there. We hope you will do the same, because if there's one thing we've learned over the last few months (other than that keeping a blog like this is a tremendous time sink), it is that there's an awful lot of news out there and that people are interested in reading it, given half a chance. So if you have any news about a certain gymnast or competition, be sure to post it on a message board - in English. If you come across an interesting article in a foreign news source, do your fellow fans a favor, translate it into English and post it where it's likely to be read. Don't be discouraged if you don't get any comments at first; chances are you'll find several weeks later that people did in fact read your story and stored the information in it for later use. We've certainly found that to be true on a few occasions. So we hope you'll take our torch and go on shedding light on what's going on in international gymnastics - if not in this particular place, then in several other places.

We thank you for being great and loyal readers and hope to see you again at some point, in some guise or other.

Yours gymnastically,

The Gym Girls

February 17, 2009

Sandra Izbaşa: "I'd Have a Hard Time Retiring"

Gazeta Sporturilor posted an interview with Sandra Izbaşa today. It doesn't contain a lot of new information, but it's a nice read, with some tantalizing tidbits on her new floor routine. Here it is...

(Photo: Gazeta Sporturilor)

"It's like a profession to me"

Sandra Izbaşa explains why she didn't leave Deva after the Olympics
Sandra Izbaşa is still at Deva. This year she will turn nineteen, in June. She is the Olympic champion on floor, as well as a double European champion on the same event. Why hasn't she left the sport she has been doing for fifteen years now?

"Gymnastics has gotten into my blood. I'd find it hard to retire. It's like a profession to me. What would I do at home? Get bored, that's what I'd do!" says Sandra Izbaşa when we catch up with her one evening at the foot of the Deva fortress. She has just finished another one of the thousands of workouts she has had in her career. And the counting is not over yet... No sooner has she finished speaking about boredom than she starts about something else: "At age eighteen female gymnasts begin to mature. What would I do at home? Divide my time between home and school? At least I'm doing something constructive now. This year I'll have to graduate from high school, and then there's a gold medal at the world championships to be won," adds Sandra.

"I'd have a hard time retiring"
The gold medal at the world championships is the only one which has so far eluded her. "World championships are not like the Olympics. If I had screwed up in Beijing, I would have had a problem. But the world championships are held every year," says Sandra. The gymnast from Bucharest has competed in two world championships, where she has won three medals: a silver on beam (2006) and two bronzes, one in the all-around (2006) and one with the team (2007).

The colors of the Olympics
Makeup is part of a female gymnast's job description. Girls made to look older by means of layers of color. Why do gymnasts use makeup? "Ever since I was a child I've been taught to use certain facial expressions and makeup. When I couldn't put on my makeup myself, my female coaches would help me. They taught me that I'm an artist, not on the stage but on four apparatus," explains Sandra. At the Olympics, her colors were black, blue and orange. Sandra would have liked to use white as well, but "I'm quite pale enough as is."

From happiness to sadness
Sandra has taken her Olympic floor routine with her into 2009, even if she is also preparing a new routine. "I've mastered both routines very well. The music is from the same theme I used in Beijing, but it's not happy anymore, but sad," adds the double European champion on floor. [We take this to mean that Sandra is using music from the Bandyta soundtrack by Michal Lorenc again, but a less cheerful part of it this time around.]

(Photo: ProSport)

Even so, what would Sandra like to do once she has retired? "Listen to music, manage to do some sports-like dancing... I would have said handball, but I don't want to have any elbows shoved into my mouth anymore. I had enough of that when I was young. Furthermore, I'd like to take walks and relax," says the gymnast.

But until she gets time for all that, Sandra still has a lot of training ahead of her. Even though she uses makeup, is about to get her driver's license, and will turn nineteen this year, Sandra finishes off our evening chat with the words, "In other respects I'm [still] a child."

The program for 2009
Sandra's first competition of 2009 will take place on February 21, in America, in Oklahoma. Together with Andreea Grigore [nope - Dana Druncea] she will compete in the meet organized by Nadia Comăneci. Before the European Championships in April, Sandra is also scheduled to take part in a friendly against Italy.

Izbaşa and Druncea Leave for Oklahoma; Grigore to Stay at Home Due to Weight Issues

This just in from ProSport:

Sandra Izbaşa (photo: ProSport)

Izbaşa, off to Nadia's show

Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbaşa and teammate Dana Druncea are leaving for the United States today to compete in the Nadia Comăneci International Invitational. The competition, organized by Nadia, will take place in Oklahoma on February 20 [note: as far as we know, the elite portion of the competition is held on the 21st] and will unite over 600 gymnasts from America and another 25 athletes from the rest of the world.

"It's a club competition, and our national team members also have obligations to the clubs where they were raised and which continue to support them. For us, the competition in America will be to verify everything we have learned and rehearsed so far under the new code," we were told by the national head coach, Nicolae Forminte.

Andreea Grigore (photo: Bernhard Schwall/Gymfan)

Although a third representative of Steaua Bucharest, Andreea Grigore, had also been announced as a competitor, the coaches decided not to send her to the United States.

"Grigore is having great weight problems and may jeopardize her health [if she competes]. We have decided that it's better for her to stay in Deva and try to get rid of the excess weight she has gained," said the head coach.

Sounds like a lot of gymnasts are having weight issues at the moment. Recent reports from Italy, Brazil and China indicate that Vanessa Ferrari, Lais Souza and Zhou Zhuoru have all put on significant amounts of weight and are having some trouble shedding it. We'll spare you the details; suffice it to say Grigore is not the only one who has her work cut out for her.

Meanwhile, doesn't Sandra look great in that picture?

A Bit More on the Antonina Koshel Cup

A few days ago we posted a story about the Antonina Koshel Cup in Minsk, Belarus, where the Belorussian athletes appeared to do very well, taking nearly all the medals. Well, the Belorussian federation just posted the detailed results (in Russian), and they confirmed our suspicion that the Koshel Cup was in fact a huge Belorussian intrasquad meet with a handful of foreign athletes on hand to make it seem like an international event. Ukraine only sent two athletes, Anastasia Lunkan (3rd AA) and Natalia Gavrilovich (6th AA), both born in 1994. Israel sent four male gymnasts, three of whom contributed one routine each (one of them was Alexander Shatilov, whose floor exercise is a welcome addition to any meet). That appears to have been the extent of the foreign input in Minsk. No wonder the Belorussians seemed so superior...

Anastasia Marachkovskaya, a contender for the vault gold in Milan
(Photo: Bernhard Schwall/Gymfan)

A look at the scores also confirmed that the women's meet was Anastasia Marachkovskaya's to win or lose. She had the highest start values on three events (5.2 FX, 5.4 BB, 5.8 V - guess she threw the double-twisting Yurchenko then), and scored quite well on all three events, only to lose the gold on bars, where some disaster must have befallen her (2.9 difficulty value, 10.15 total score). Halina Ivanets, who impressed some people at last year's Junior Europeans with her clean lines, also performed fairly difficult routines in Minsk (5.5 UB, 5.4 BB, 5.0 FX), but an 11.20 on floor prevented her from medaling. By contrast, the winner, Viktoria Makshtareva, performed far less difficult routines (three of her difficulty values were in the mid-4s), but stayed mostly error-free, proving that it is still possible in modern gymnastics to win with low-difficulty routines, provided your rivals stuff up.

Generally, the routines performed in Minsk looked quite easy on paper. Seven gymnasts performed bar routines with 5+ difficulty values; on the other events only three or four gymnasts exceeded 5 points.

Sadly, it appears that all the girls on Belarus's promising Junior Europeans squad were born in 1994, which means they're age-ineligible for senior competitions until next year. However, it's safe to say that the future doesn't look too dreary for Belorussian women's gymnastics.

February 16, 2009

Vanessa Ferrari Competes on Three Events in Italian Club Championships

The first Serie A (Italian club championships) competition took place in Pavia last weekend, and the most exciting thing about it would have to be Vanessa Ferrari's return to the scene. The 2006 world champion competed not on one or two events, as expected, but on three (all but floor), and did a pretty solid job for someone who has been out of action for a long time, scoring 14.15 on vault (Yurchenko-full), 13.45 on bars, and 14.50 on beam (the highest score of the competition). In so doing, she led her team, Brixia, to an easy victory in the first competition of the season (main rival Lissone finished second, 5.25 behind Brixia). We'll be interested to see when Ferrari will start competing floor again, and whether she will in fact make the team which will defend Italy's honor at the European Championships in Milan. She certainly outscored a few of her rivals for a spot on the team on Sunday.

Vanessa Ferrari has some reason to smile again
Photo: Sing Lo/Comaneci Salto)

While Ferrari's return to competition was good news for the Italian women's team, there was some bad news as well. European Championships hopeful Andrea La Spada (representing the home team, Pavia) reportedly broke the thumb of her right hand while doing a round-off double twist in training. She will have to wear a cast for 25 days, although she hopes to have it removed before the 25 days are up. La Spada hopes to compete at the Europeans, even if she's not 100% ready. In yesterday's club competition she was replaced by Belgium's Aagje Vanwalleghem, who, interestingly, was not chosen to compete on what is arguably her best event, vault, competing bars and beam only. Even more interestingly, the other foreigner in the women's Serie A (in this case, the A2, i.e. the second league), Romanian Raluca Haidu, only competed on what is generally perceived to be a weak event for Romanian juniors, bars. Huh?

Other noteworthy news from Pavia would have to include the fact that veteran Monica Bergamelli did not compete, thus reinforcing those retirement rumors (Brixia was represented by Ferrari, Galante, Fasana, and Carnessali instead), and that vault specialist Carlotta Giovannini earned the highest B score of the day, 9.25, on her strongest event, albeit for an easy vault: a layout Yurchenko (difficulty 4.4). Is the European silver medalist returning from injury as well?

Carlotta Giovannini vaulted a layout Yurchenko... (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

In the men's competition, Meda (the powerhouse team represented by Igor Cassina, Andrea Coppolino, Matteo Morandi, and Matteo Angioletti) scored an easy victory over Livorno. Highlights included Cassina's somewhat watered-down 15.55 horizontal bar routine (Kovacs instead of Cassina) and two more 15+ scores on rings by Angioletti and Morandi. Other noteworthy scores of the day included Enrico Pozzi's 15.25 on floor and Jordan Jovchev's 15.25 on rings (obviously).

Complete results of Weekend 1 of the Serie A can be found here. Hopefully some YouTube videos will soon surface as well.

February 15, 2009

Behold: Nastia Liukin's Max Azria Campaign (The Whole Shoot!)

Remember the Nastia Liukin fashion shots we posted a while ago, in which the Olympic champion was pictured modeling items from Max Azria's spring line? Well, Max Azria has just posted the whole shoot here, and to our delight, Nastia's flexibility is used to great effect, and her face (well hidden in the previously released images) is visible in many of the shots. Click "IMAGE BOOK" to see the whole shoot, then click "VIDEO" to see the making-of. If you can't watch the video on the Max Azria site, there's a low-res version on YouTube. It's well worth watching for its attempted... moodiness. Yes, let's call it that.


To be honest, we think Nastia looks better without the heavy eye makeup and hair extensions, but there's no doubt she's an interesting model. We can see why the Max Azria people hired her, and we don't think they'll regret their choice!

WOGA Classic: Video Highlights

Gymnastike has uploaded most of the elite routines shown at the WOGA Classic, and we've had some fun watching them, despite the fact that Anne Philips badly needs a better assistant. Having watched all the top gymnasts' routines, we think it's pretty obvious that Ukraine's Yana Demyanchuk would have won the senior competition if it hadn't been for a few falls. Demyanchuk is a solid all-arounder with excellent presentation on floor, and we look forward to seeing more of her on the senior circuit.

Most beautiful gymnast in the field? Without a shadow of a doubt, junior winner Laura Svilpaite, who looks gorgeous no matter what she does. Watch out for this one - she's going to put Lithuania on the gymnastics map!

The Russian girls, Kristina Kruglikova and Anastasia Karpova, were rather underwhelming, proving that not all current Russian juniors are brilliant.

The WOGA girls generally did a good job. We'll be interested to see how they develop over the next few years.

Here are a few more competition highlights to go with the UB highlights we posted earlier:

WOGA's Sophia Lee does a Teza jump on beam!
(Photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)


Laura Svilpaite, BB: Not quite enough difficulty yet, but tons of style. We just love the way Svilpaite moves.

Natalia Kononenko, BB: She falls on the dismount, but the rest of the routine is very easy on the eye. Nice arms.

Lily Hardin, BB: Some huge problems here, but Hardin's good form and grace make this worth watching. We think she should ditch the sheep jump though. A big boo to her coaches for letting her do a jump like that. Ugh.

Sophia Lee, BB: Lee has got guts, attempting a Teza (sideways Yang Bo jump) here. She falls, but major kudos for trying.

Christa Tanella, BB: Solid routine. Good leaps, nice Onodi-sheep jump combo (albeit not entirely connected).

Sarah Persinger, BB: A bit unpolished around the edges, but promising enough. Interesting combination of full turn with one leg at horizontal and gainer layout, sadly not fully connected.

Sydney Sawa, BB: Sawa is solid as usual on beam. Nice double turn.


Yana Demyanchuk, FX: Look, it's an actual attempt at choreography, with good interpretation of the music, a lovely smile and some pretty good tumbling too! We like this girl.

Laura Svilpaite, FX: Svilpaite has some trouble on the landings, but she's obviously had excellent, Soviet-style ballet training. With harder tumbles, a bit more expression and slightly more daring choreography, she'll be gorgeous to watch on floor.

Christa Tanella, FX: Good performance. Her choreography is so-so, but she makes the most of it; she expresses her music quite well. Very decent tumbling too.

Natalia Kononenko, FX: Kononenko has excellent forward tumbling, but her dance needs some work.

Briley Casanova, FX: Mature tumbling and nice presentation, but the choreography could do with some improvement.


Briley Casanova, V: Nice Yurchenko-1.5.


From the Gossip Columns: Lilia Podkopayeva's Divorce Turns Messy

A while ago we reported that 1996 Olympic all-around champion Lilia Podkopayeva was getting a divorce from her husband of four years, Timofey Nagorny. At the time, it sounded like an amiable breakup: the children would stay with Lilia, but Timofey would be granted unlimited access. However, it's increasingly beginning to sound as though things aren't going that smoothly. Lately the Ukrainian press has been full of reports in which Timofey claims Lilia is refusing him access to the children. We've translated one of the articles for you (see below).

It is worth noting that newspaper coverage of the case is very one-sided. Lilia herself is not talking to the press. While her estranged husband seems to grab every opportunity to talk to the media, ofting badmouthing Lilia in very subtle ways, the former champion herself is keeping silent. Her ex-husband says this is because she is waiting for the right amount of money to be offered. Apparently, Moscow journalists have offered Lilia $50,000 for her story; Timofey believes she won't talk until she is offered $100,000. For our part, we hope Lilia is refusing to talk to the press out of dignity. We guess we'll find out soon enough...

Anyhow, here's the story, published by Segodnya on February 13.

Lilia and Timofey in happier days (photo: Segodnya)

Nagorny: "They Are Not Allowing Me Access to My Children"

According to Timofey, a guard is stopping him even entering his own entrance hall. The divorce of one of Ukraine's best-known couples, Olympic champion Lilia Podkopayeva and businessman Timofey Nagorny, has begun to take a scandalous turn.

As Timofey Nagorny related to Segodnya on Thursday (let us recall that the first hearing in the Pechersk Court took place on that day; his wife did not come to court and the next session will take place on March 4), he went to pick up the children from kindergarten, but when he got there, it was explained to him that they were ill, after which Nagorny hurried to call on them at home (the apartment in the Pechersk area that he and Lilia bought together and where he is still officially registered). However, there was an unpleasant surprise awaiting him there.

"Only Lilia's mother was at home with the children. I don't know where Lilia herself was. I hung around in the entrance area for four hours, until nightfall, but Lilia did not turn up. Ludmilla Vladimirovna [Lilia's mother] did not let me in. [The author of the article goes on to explain that Nagorny left his keys with his wife when they decided to divorce.] Lilia's mother explained that this prohibition came from her daughter. The next morning I returned once more to the family home, but the guard wouldn't even allow me into the entrance area, explaining that this was on my wife's orders. I can't fathom the reason behind this. My wife has not returned my calls or text messages for a month now. The only way I can explain her behavior is that someone is influencing her against me and my family. But I will fight for my family, for my children to the end, if I have to – in court. I didn't go to the police yesterday, because I don't want to turn this matter into a drama. On Thursday I stood in front of the door to our apartment and listened to my children crying on the other side. It broke my heart."

Segodnya was unable to find out either Lilia's or her close family and friends' view on these events. Either they are not answering their cell phones or they are out of the access area.

To be continued...

Tanella and Svilpaite Win WOGA Classic

The first American women's elite competition of the year, the WOGA Classic in Frisco, Texas, is over and done with, and 17-year-old Christa Tanella of the home club successfully defended her title, scoring 54.400 to beat Southeastern's Sarah Persinger (53.500) and Ukraine's Yana Demyanchuk (53.050).

AA winner Christa Tanella (photo: Heather Maynez)

Lithuania's 15-year-old Laura Svilpaite, a beautiful and elegant gymnast who we think has a great future ahead of her, won the junior portion of the meet, posting the same all-around score as Tanella and edging out WOGA's Grace McLaughlin and Russia's Kristina Kruglikova for the gold. WOGA promise Briley Casanova only ranked sixth, mainly because of a meltdown on bars (crash on Jaeger and huge trouble on two kips). Russia's young Anastasia Karpova had similar problems on bars, coming off twice (toe-on-full on the low bar, kip) and having great trouble on another kip.

International Gymnast has results.

Upcoming WOGA star Briley Casanova (photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)

Gymnastike is doing a good job covering the meet. So far, the site has only posted videos of the elite gymnasts' UB routines, but we trust the other events will follow soon. To get to the videos, go here and scroll down to the bottom left-hand side of the page. We've picked out a few highlights for you:

Natalia Kononenko, UB: Yes, she falls, but that Tkatchev-half-Jaeger combo is wonderful, and the rest of the routine (Hindorff, Pak and Ray, all with great form) isn't too shabby either. Seems Ukraine has produced yet another great bar worker.

Laura Svilpaite, UB: She slightly arches her back on her handstands, but even so she's amazing to watch. Great form, great extension, great lines, and good skills (inner Stalder-full-Tkatchev, Pak, double layout dismount). It's easy to see why this routine got the highest score of the day (14.750). We can't wait to see more of Svilpaite.

Yana Demyanchuk, UB: Good skills (toe-on Tkatchev, hop-full to Tkatchev, Pak, full-out dismount) combined with good form. Yep, here's another very solid Ukrainian bar worker.

Christa Tanella, UB: Not in the same league as Kononenko, Demyanchuk and Svilpaite, but still, solid stuff from the AA winner.

Sarah Persinger, UB: Ray, straddled Jaeger, full-in dismount. Some form breaks, but nice enough lines.

Anysia Unick, UB: Canada's Unick doesn't have the best form, but her mount (jump to handstand to closed-leg hecht to high bar) is interesting and difficult.

Last but not least, here is a post-meet interview with senior AA winner Christa Tanella, who says she was inspired by Rocky Balboa. Nice!

Keep an eye on Gymnastike for more WOGA Classic videos...

February 14, 2009

Jade Barbosa's Doctor: "We're Going to Think Positive, But Only Time Will Tell."

Cidlover beat us to it, but for the sake of completeness, we'll post our translation of the Globoesporte article that features the latest about Jade Barbosa's hand injury. We don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the story over the last few months that Jade is not in a good way. In fact, it sounds to us like Jade's career is over. We'll think positive, as she herself and her doctor are apparently doing, but it sounds bad. Here's the Globoesporte story...

(Photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

Jade's doctor consults specialists and concludes that there is no treatment for her injury

Brazilian and foreign specialists are unanimous: Problem is serious

After consulting almost one hundred colleagues, Sandro Deodato, Jade Barbosa's doctor, arrived at this conclusion: Only time will tell if the athlete will be able to continue in elite gymnastics.

According to the doctor, the gymnast's injury to her right hand was studied extensively at the Pathology and Total Arthroplasty of the Hand course taught by the Institute of Orthopedics and Traumatology of the São Paulo Academic Medical Center (USP). Brazilian and foreign specialists participated in the event, held last weekend in São Paulo. American Brian Adams of Iowa University, considered one of the world's leading experts in his specialty, held a similar opinion to the rest of his colleagues.

"Almost a hundred doctors were there and they all arrived at the same conclusion. There is no curative treatment for her. All we can do now is think about various ways to make things better for her. For now, we will just wait and see how she does in training," explained Sandro Deodato.

(photo: Reuters)

Gymnast must remain in Brazil

Deodato also got a second opinion from American specialist Alejandro Badia of the Miami Hand Center, who received and analyzed the athlete's examinations in the United States. The doctor invited the athlete and her Brazilian doctor for examinations in the USA, but that possibility has been practically discarded.

"We would like to do it, but it's very expensive. I don't know if it would be worth it," said Deodato.

Jade, who is avoiding using her arms while training at Flamengo, will be regularly reexamined by her doctor. If the gymnast continues to feel pain in her hand, she may undergo surgery to remove the bone fragments. However, such an intervention would only serve to alleviate the injury, not to cure it.

"Our objective is to keep Jade in gymnastics. It's a complicated matter. If she had another profession, it would be easier, but elite gymnastics is a demanding sport. She may turn out fine, and then again she may not. We're going to think positive, but only time will tell."

We read that as an announcement that Jade's career is effectively over, and we're genuinely sorry to hear it.

February 13, 2009

News from the English-Speaking Part of the World

We still can't get over the fact that Shawn Johnson is going to appear on Dancing with the Stars, but for Shawn herself, it's all too real. She has begun rehearsing with partner Mark Ballas, who won the show two years ago with then-partner Kristi Yamaguchi. ABC Medianet has posted some pics of Shawn and Mark practicing (see below). Meanwhile, Shawn reportedly told Inside Gymnastics that she intends to return to gymnastics after Dancing with the Stars. "Definitely," she said of her return to the gym. "After the show, I'll get back in the gym, start with gymnastics again and see where it takes me." The eighth season of the show will premiere on March 9 with a live, two-hour special.


Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas (photos: ABC Medianet)

Great Britain
Last year, Becky Downie was crowned British champion and finished 12th in the Olympic all-around final in her first year as a senior gymnast. Now she will start her competition year earlier than ever in a bid to make 2009 equally successful, competing at the American Cup on February 21. This is what Downie told British Gymnastics about her upcoming assignment: "We’ve been working towards the American Cup since New Year, getting solid routines ready for competition. I think Britain was keen to send somebody to this competition, and Claire (my coach) felt it would be a good competition to get me going and focus my training towards. It will be the first time I’ve competed in America and the first time I’ve competed so early in the year, so it has definitely helped me to get into good shape, ready for the European Championships at the start of April.”

Becky Downie, looking forward to going to America
(Photo: Bernhard Schwall/Gymfan)

Gymnastics Australia reports that 14-year-old Emily Little, who recently won the AYOF vault final, will be Australia's sole representative at the annual Gymnix competition in Montreal, Canada, to be held March 5-8. Little is profiled here. Meanwhile, Little's WAIS club mate Lauren Mitchell will not compete at the Doha World Cup, as previously reported, but at the Salamunov Memorial in Maribor, Slovenia, to be held April 17-19. No news as yet of any upcoming international assignments for Dasha Joura, who hasn't been seen in action since the Olympics.

Emily Little (photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Upcoming competitions
International Gymnast has a list of participants of the WOGA Classic, which will be held in Frisco, Texas, tomorrow. The host club, which has produced the last two Olympic champions in the women's all-around, will be represented by Christa Tanella, Briley Casanova, Sophia Lee, Lily Hardin, Grace McLaughlin and Taylor Spears. We look forward to seeing which of these young ladies will be WOGA's next star (Rebecca Bross and Ivana Hong are not competing). Foreign competitors in Frisco include Canada's Sydney Sawa (a beam finalist at last year's DTB Cup), young Lithuanian standout Laura Svilpaite, Russians Kristina Kruglikova and Anastasia Karpova, and Ukrainians Yana Demyanchuk, Natalia Kononenko and Yevgenia Cherniy. The same Russian and Ukrainian girls will take part in the Nadia Comaneci Invitational the week after, along with Sandra Izbasa and Dana Druncea of Romania (Andreea Grigore appears to have been taken off the list). Nastia Liukin will reportedly be on hand in Oklahoma to commentate the competition.

Exciting newcomer Laura Svilpaite will also start her competitive year in America
(Photo: Bernhard Schwall/Gymfan)

Belorussians Superior at Antonina Koshel Cup

This week an international competition took place in Minsk, Belarus, where gymnasts from the host nation took on guests from Ukraine, Lithuania and Israel. Belorussian sports site Sportpanorama posted a report of sorts, which we have translated for you.

We don't know exactly who the Ukrainian gymnasts competing in Minsk were (the report doesn't pay much attention to them), but it sounds like they were comprehensively defeated by the Belorussians. Of course, the latter had the home turf advantage, and the Ukrainians likely didn't send their best team, but even so, we think these competition results are further proof that Belarus may be on the way back. We're expecting decent results from them this year.

And for those of you who despair of the lack of two-vault gymnasts in women's gymnastics and believe things are better in men's gymnastics: have a look at what the article says about the men's vault final in Minsk. Ouch. Now that's worrying.

Anyhow, here's the article. Results can be found at the bottom. With a bit of luck, some videos will surface on YouTube as well. We'd like to see some videos of the Belorussian girls' new routines...

A Clean Sheet

Traditionally our gymnasts open the new season with the Antonina Koshel International Gymnastics Tournament. In 2009 the competition, which this time is not only the first of the year but also of the Olympic cycle, is taking place for the fifth time already.

Our strongest gymnasts, along with guests from Israel, Ukraine and Lithuania, entered the podium in the sports complex on Kalinovsky Street in Minsk. There could have have been more foreign athletes, but not everyone is ready for competitive activity in February.

This tournament is the opportunity for the Belorussians to test themselves, to try things out and to demonstrate to the viewers the routines with which they will be participating in the major events of the year, the European and World Championships. The gymnasts received good food for thought and could see the condition they are in, what form they were capable of, what worked, what didn't and what they need to work on more seriously.

This time the competition, which usually takes place over three days, was compressed into two. On Wednesday the gymnasts competed in the all-around. Let us remember that for two years in a row, no one was equal to Dimitry Savitsky. Last year he scored 91 points, over 8 points more than his closest persecutor, Alexander Pristavko. That time our best all-arounder went the distance evenly, without any errors. This time he was unable to repeat his success. But how could it have been otherwise when Dimitry started on only 3 out of 6 apparatus! Under those circumstances, it is understandable that you can't expect anything in the all-around.

Dimitry Savitsky (photo: Getty Images)

Alexander Tsarevich competed on three apparatus; Dimitry Kasperovich, Igor Kozlov, Vladimir Yermakov and Denis Savenkov each competed on two. And then Denis, after falling painfully right at the beginning of the floor exercise, did not continue his routine. All this gave second-tier gymnasts the chance to force their way up. Pavel Bulavsky was best able to prove himself, ahead of Alexander Demchichin and Artem Bykov.

Viktoria Makshtareva was first among the women, beating Anastasia Marachkovskaya by the smallest of margins. Let us note the fourth and fifth places of the 15-year-olds, Halina Ivanets and Alena Hurhach.

The apparatus finals took place yesterday. On floor no one was equal to the famous Israeli gymnast Alexander Shatilov. Pavel Bulavsky was second, while third place went to the youngest male participant of the tournament, 15-year-old Aleksey Kusherik.

Alexander Tsarevich performed the best routine on pommel horse. Dimitry Savitsky and Vladimir Yermakov were also raised up on the pedestal of honor. Dimitry won his only gold medal of the tournament for his ring routine, where he received one of the highest scores of the day: 15.050. (Only Alexander Tsarevich earned a higher score, on bars: 15.100.) Vladimir Yermakov was second on bars, Pavel Bulavsky was third. As far as bars was concerned, Dimitry Kasperovich was the toughest competition for Alexander, but the first place went to the Minsk gymnast. Kyrill Gorovets placed third.

Dimitry Kasperovich (photo: Getty Images)

Lastly on high bar,one of the most spectacular apparatus, once more no one was equal to Alexander Tsarevitch. Here Dimitry Savitsky dropped out of the ranks of contenders after two falls in a row during flight elements. As a result, the silver went to Artem Bykov.

There were no medals awarded for vault because on the first day only two gymnasts in all performed the two vaults necessary to reach the final.

In the women's competition Anastasia Marachkovskaya won two of the highest kinds of medals. The Minsk gymnast left all fellow competitors behind in the vault and beam competitions. Second on vault was Anastasia Zaitseva, a gymnast from the 1994 age group. Third was the experienced Nadezhda Visotskaya. Halina Ivanets and the very young 12-year-old Anastasia Ozarshinskaya won places on the pedestal for beam. No one equaled Halina Ivanets on uneven bars, but her toughest competitors were Viktoria Makshtareva and Lilia Hoang. Finally Alina Sotnikova won on floor. Also distinguishing themselves: Nadezhda Visotskaya and Veronika Zhdanovich.

"I liked the second day of the competition better than the first", Antonina Koshel told the SP Correspondent. "The athletes performed in a much more together way. They showed their potential, so that it was impossible not to be happy. Anyway, as this tournament is the first of the year, the gymnasts' execution cannot be ideal. But now the coaches could see all the shortcomings which they need to work on eliminating. There is still time – the closest important event is the European Championships in April."

Vault and beam winner Anastasia Marachkovskaya
(Photo: Bernhard Schwall/Gymfan)


1. P. Bulavsky (Minsk) 81.700
2. A. Demchichin (Gomel) 79.000
3. A. Bykov (Vitebsk) 78.700

Apparatus Finals

Floor Exercise
1. A. Shatilov (Israel) 14.700
2. P. Bulavsky 14.200
3. A. Kushnerik (Brest) 13.850

Pommel Horse
1. A. Tsarevich (Minsk) 14.800
2. D. Savitsky (Gomel) 14.100
3. V. Yermakov (Gomel) 13.500

Still Rings
1. D. Savitsky 15.050
2. V. Yermakov 14.800
3. P. Bulavsky 14.300

Parallel Bars
1. A. Tsarevich 15.100
2. D. Kasperovich (Minsk Region) 14.950
3. K. Gorovets (Minsk) 13.600

High Bar
1. A. Tsarevich 14.200
2. A. Bykov 13.800
3. Y. Izmaidenov (Lithuania) 13.300


1. V. Makshtareva (Vitebsk) 51.800
2. A. Marachkovskaya (Minsk) 51.300
3. A. Lunkan (Ukraine) 50.850

Apparatus Finals
1. A. Marachkovskaya 14.365
2. A. Zaitseva (Vitebsk) 13.488
3. N. Visotskaya (Grodno) 13.400

Uneven Bars
1. H. Ivanets (Baranovichi) 13.475
2. V. Makshtareva 12.575
3. L. Hoang (Pinsk) 12.525

Balance Beam
1. A. Marachkovskaya 13.800
2. H. Ivanets 13.425
3. A. Ozarshinskaya (Baranovichi) 12.875

1. A. Sotnikova (Vitebsk) 13.525
2. N. Visotskaya 13.300
3. V. Zdanovich (Vitebsk) 12.625

Italian News: New Serie A Season About to Start; Bergamelli Retired?

We have some Italian news for you, courtesy of our Italian correspondents, Luisa and Giulia.

Firstly, it has been reported that Italy's WAG team captain, Monica Bergamelli, has retired from competitive gymnastics to take up a coaching position at her own club, Brixia (also home to Vanessa Ferrari, Paola Galante, and promising junior Erika Fasana). Apparently, news of Bergamelli's retirement was published in the print edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport a couple of days ago. Sadly, we have not been able to get hold of the newspaper, nor did an online search result in any confirmation of the news. Interestingly, Bergamelli is still listed on the Italian Gymnastics Federation's website as a competitor in the upcoming Serie A team championships (see below), so either the federation is a bit slow on the uptake or the 24-year-old has retired from international gymnastics but will continue to represent her club team in the Serie A. We guess we'll find out soon enough...

Monica Bergamelli: retired? (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Secondly, rumor has it that Enrico Casella is no longer Italy's WAG technical director. We don't know whether this means Casella has also stepped down as head coach of the national team (they are two separate positions). The Federation's website provides no news either way. We'll keep you posted...

Thirdly, the Italian club championships, collectively known as the Serie A, are about to kick off. Like the German Bundesliga, the Serie A is a series of matches between club teams from all over the country. Most of the competitors are Italian, but clubs are allowed to hire foreigners, and some do. Over the years, several Romanian gymnasts have competed in Italy, including Simona Amânar, Florica Leonida, Sabina Cojocar, and Anamaria Tămîrjan. Dutchwomen Verona van de Leur and Loes Linders and Belgian Aagje Vanwalleghem (who also competes in the German Bundesliga) have also been known to make an appearance in the Serie A. This year, Vanwalleghem and Romanian junior Raluca Haidu will be among the foreign competitors on the women's side, representing Pavia and second-league Ginnic Bologna, respectively, while Bulgarian legend Jordan Jovchev will represent Varese in the men's league. Needless to say, anyone who is anyone in Italian gymnastics will represent his or her club team in the Serie A. All the usual suspects are listed (including Vanessa Ferrari, who is apparently about to make her comeback to competitive gymnastics), except Francesca Benolli, who is reportedly nursing a foot injury, and may or may not be contemplating retirement, depending on which source you believe.

Vanessa Ferrari: soon to make a comeback? (photo: EMPICS)

This year's Serie A competitions will take place on February 14-15 (Pavia), February 28-March 1 (Genova), April 18-19 (CR Emilia), and May 9-10 (Livorno). Our Italian spies have promised to keep us updated on the results.

A full list of Serie A competitors can be found on the Italian Gymnastics Federation's website.

February 11, 2009

Meet China's New Stars (Part 1)

Remember we told you that China would be adding new members to its national teams after Chinese New Year? Well, more news on the recent recruits is steadily trickling in, and our China correspondent JW is right on top of it. Here's Part 1 of her in-depth look at the new girls, some of whom look set to become genuine stars. Enjoy it, all you China fans!

A Brief Introduction to China's New Generation (Part I)

Earlier this week, fifty-seven young gymnasts from all over China reported to the National Training Center in Beijing to begin their quest for world and Olympic gold. Thirty-six of the newcomers are MAG prospects, eighteen of whom will begin training toward the London 2012 Olympics, and eighteen of whom have been selected with an eye to the 2016 Olympics. Nothing like long-term planning!

The other twenty-one athletes are WAG hopefuls for the 2012 Olympics. As we understand it, fifteen of the girls are newcomers to the national team, chosen from the sixty or so youngsters who participated in a December 2008 selection camp. The remaining five seem to be returning members -- juniors who originally joined the National Team in 2006-07, returned to their provincial teams in the summer of 2008, and have now been invited back to Beijing.

Tan Sixin (photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

A complete roster has not been released yet, but recent Chinese news items confirm that the following six girls are among the lucky twenty-one: Tan Sixin and Zhang Yujiao (Shanghai); Chen Shihua (Guangdong); Zeng Siqi (Hunan); and Huang Ying and Zhang Qing (Hubei). Today’s post will introduce the first four girls. Later this week, we’ll profile the two youngsters from Hubei.

Tan Sixin and Zhang Yujiao are already quite well-known to fans around the world. Following an impressive international debut at last month’s Australian Youth Olympic Festival, Tan Sixin needs little introduction. We just hope that her new coaches can improve the technique on her balance beam dismount and help her develop more confidence everywhere. The willowy Zhang Yujiao is an elegant gymnast with considerable potential on bars, beam, and floor. She lacks power, but her artistry is a welcome addition to any competition. Here, we’ve provided three of her routines from the 2008 Massilia Cup:

Zhang Yujiao UB: Her swing is a bit slow, and she misses a LB-HB transition, but oh, the toepoint! The lines!

Zhang Yujiao BB: She’s no Tan Sixin, but it’s still a pretty routine.

Zhang Yujiao FX: The tumbling is less than spectacular, but the choreography and expression are divine. Would that more gymnasts demonstrated such clear evidence of ballet training!

Zhang Yujiao (photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)

The following news clip from CCTV5 shows Zhang and Tan moving into the dormitory at the National Training Center. Zhang appears at 0:13 with a large package of toilet paper in tow. (For those of you who haven’t lived in China: Communal living facilities aren’t always equipped with toilet paper. Evidently, Zhang Yujiao didn’t want to take any chances!) Tan appears briefly here and then again at 0:25, when she gets a hand from Olympic champion He Kexin...

Video: Zhang Yujiao and Tan Sixin move into the National Training Center

A related Sina article appears here.

Tan Sixin said, “Although He Kexin jie jie (big sister) is an Olympic champion, she doesn’t put on any airs! She just helped me make my bed!”

Asked about her new teammates, He Kexin said that the infusion of fresh talent would promote a more competitive environment at the training center. “The newcomers have good conditions for development. We [veterans] have already reached a certain level, and it’s difficult for us to make further progress. They have more room for improvement.”

Chen Shihua, wearing both blue and pink eyeshadow (photo: Loo Winnie)

Guangdong’s Chen Shihua is one of the fifteen girls selected at the December training camp. She won her age group at the 2007 Guangdong Junior Championships, but was unable to defend her title in 2008 when a foot injury limited her to UB. She recovered in time for the December selection camp, where she impressed the coaching staff enough to earn an invitation to join the National Team. According to this Sina article, Chen is a strong all-arounder who excels on the uneven bars. Interestingly, she began her career as a rhythmic gymnast but switched to artistic gymnastics four years ago. Chen is one of at least three or four Guangdong gymnasts joining the National Team this week. (Another one is likely to be AYOF competitor Wu Liufang -- we can’t imagine that the national team staff would bypass her considerable talents.)

Major cuteness alert: He Kexin and Zeng Siqi (photo courtesy of Ling Jie's blog)

Zeng Siqi
, a protégée of 1999 World BB champion Ling Jie (who’s been coaching the Hunan junior team for several years now), is another of the fifteen from the December camp. Based on this article, it seems that she has also been assigned to the Liu Guicheng/He Hua coaching group. After yesterday’s training session, Zeng Siqi shyly told reporters, “So many of the ‘elder brothers and sisters’ [older athletes] that I respect are here [at the National Training Center]. I certainly won’t let Coach Ling lose face.”

At least one other Hunan gymnast joined (or rejoined) the National Team this week, and we’re willing to bet that it’s AYOF all-around champion Cui Jie.

To be continued...

Brazil Names a New National Team

We have another installment in the great Jade Barbosa soap opera, which is beginning to veer from the tragic into the frankly somewhat absurd. Guess what happened to Jade this week, according to Globoesporte? Despite the fact that the gymnastics department of her club, Flamengo, has been saved from perdition, its water and electricity were cut off on Monday, meaning the fans weren't working and Jade, who needs to drink a lot of water because she is passing kidney stones, didn't have any water to drink. Eventually, part of the problem was solved by means of a large cooler with drinks, but still, we couldn't help shaking our heads in disbelief. Jade seems to attract bad luck like no other gymnast on the planet, except perhaps the few truly unlucky ones who are in wheelchairs now due to injuries sustained while practicing the sport. Let's hope Jade is spared that fate.

Anyhow, electricity and water cutoffs are not where Jade's problems end. According to UOL Esporte, she does not enjoy a protected status on the national team. At least, that's what new team coordinator Georgete Vidor says. Off the record, it is assumed that Jade's spot on the team is in fact being kept open for her. UOL Esporte even made that its headline today...

Jade's woes at Flamengo continue... (photo: Globoesporte)

Iryna selects new gymnastics team and keeps spots open for Jade, Daiane, and Laís

This Wednesday [today] Ukrainian coach Iryna Ilyashenko took her first decision as commander-in-chief of the Brazilian WAG team. After three days of work at the Center of Excellency in Curitiba, the coach selected the team that will serve as the basis for the next Olympic cycle.

Iryna selected nine of the twelve athletes she intends to use as the group that will seek to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012. Unofficially, three spots on the team will be kept for Daiane dos Santos, Laís Souza, and Jade Barbosa, who are recovering from injuries and did not take part in the selection camp.

In all, eighteen gymnasts took part in the tests that began on Monday in the capital of Paraná State. After analyzing such aspects as physical fitness and technical prowess, the coaches' committee, headed by Iryna, opted for a group of nine official team members and five alternates.

Of the nine official team members, five were not part of the group that worked with Oleg Ostapenko in the last cycle. They are Anna Carolina Cardoso, Bruna Leal, Nadhine Ourives, Janaina Silva, and Priscila Cobello. Still on the team: Ethiene Franco, Khiuani Dias, Ana Claudia Silva, and Daniele Hypólito, all gymnasts who joined the team last year [or much longer ago in Hypólito's case]. The alternates are Nicole Beltrame, Vitória Sampaio, Caroline Himovski, Letícia da Costa, and Nayara Sobrinho.

Ethiene Franco (photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)

"We're selecting the girls who have major potential and who stand out during the workouts held these three days. But it's clear that this team is still subject to change. We are planning another two or three selection camps where Daiane, Jade, and Laís will also be assessed. So it's not as if a girl won't be part of the team anymore just because she wasn't chosen today," said Iryna.

Juliana Santos, who was the alternate to the team that competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing, was not present at this Wednesday's selection camp either, because she is injured. She will be reassessed to know whether she will join the team. The gymnast's club, Grêmio, sent an official letter to the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation explaining the athlete's absence. Flamengo did the same thing for Jade Barbosa. On the other hand, Pinheiros, where Laís and Daiane train, did not send the Federation any notification [about its gymnasts' absence].

However, the new team coordinator, coach Georgete Vidor, insisted on emphasizing that the famous athletes do not enjoy a protected status. "We are not granting Jade, Laís, or Daiane any privileges. We want to work with twelve gymnasts on the official team and we have chosen nine girls who have shown to us that they have what it takes to be on the team. But just because three out of twelve team members are still missing, doesn't mean that we are privileging some gymnast or other," the director explained.

The technical committee has already established the dates for the next selection camps. The first reevaluation will take place at the end of April. Later, in July, the athletes will once again be subjected to analysis at Curitiba. "But if even after all these tests, we still have doubts as to whether a particular gymnast is fully ready, we will make a new assessment at the Brazilian national championship in August," said Georgete. The intention is to have a complete team for the London world championships, to be held in October.

"I'm very happy to be continuing. Gymnastics is my life and I hope to develop even more in this new cycle, together with these new girls who are joining the team," said Khiuani Dias, aged 16, who was a strong candidate to make Brazil's Olympic team, only to finish outside the group that was sent to China due to an injury to her right hand.

Khiuani Dias (photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)

The new team has a smaller basis than the one that went into the previous Olympic cycle. In 2005, when the last selection camp was held, seventeen gymnasts were invited to join the national team, which at the time was based in Curitiba. At the end of the four-year period, only nine of the seventeen gymnasts were still on the team commanded by Oleg Ostapenko.

Now, in order to try and diminish the "exodus" of athletes, the team will no longer train together in Curitiba. The gymnasts will normally train at their own clubs, and the team will only convene at certain times of the year, just before certain competitions.

Romania Loses Another National Team Member

It had been rumored for a while, and now it has been confirmed by ProSport: Andreea Acatrinei, one of the younger members of Romania's bronze-winning Olympic squad, with a nice layout back somersault on beam and a double layout on floor, has retired. This is what ProSport had to say on the matter:

Andreea Acatrinei in Beijing (photo: Reuters)

Andreea Acatrinei Has Retired

Andreea Acatrinei, a member of the national gymnastics team which won the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics, has announced her retirement from the sport due to medical problems (she has been diagnosed with herniated disks).

"It's a major loss as I was counting on her for the first part of the Olympic cycle. She was very important for the team, but we'll have to make do without her," Nicolae Forminte told us.

Acatrinei is the second athlete to leave the national team in Deva since the Beijing Olympics. Steliana Nistor retired from competitive gymnastics immediately after the Olympics, also due to health problems.

Here's hoping the other injured gymnasts about whom Forminte recently expressed his concern (Cerasela Pătraşcu and Gabriela Drăgoi) won't follow suit...

Andreea Acatrinei on BB
Andreea Acatrinei on FX

February 10, 2009

Instead of News...

... we have three videos for you today. We took some time off from translating stories and scouring the web for news to watch Dutchfan33's videos of the recent Sidijk Tournament in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, and we found three routines we'd like to share with you.

Firstly, we guess you all know Sanne Wevers, who does two double turns in her beam routine - one regular, the other one with one leg up. Well, this is Sanne's twin sister Lieke Wevers (a beautiful, somewhat Nastia-like gymnast) proving that she too can do turns. Lieke has a line in her beam routine where she does three turns on different legs: a full turn with one leg up on her right leg, a regular full turn on her left leg, and a double turn on her right leg. The first two turns are connected; the third one obviously requires some preparation, but follows the other two pretty smoothly and looks very confident. We like!

Secondly, this is veteran Fieke Willems, now aged 26 and studying to be a doctor on top of being a competitive gymnast, doing another combination of which we approve: Shaposhnikova to Gienger between the bars. Nice.

Fieke Willems (photo: De Gelderlander)

And thirdly, this is Youna Dufournet's crazy difficult beam routine, featuring, among other impressive tricks, an Arabian to scale (if she ever learns to hit 180 degrees on that scale, it will be an awesome combination) and an Onodi-switch leap-gainer layout combination. As we've said before, Dufournet badly needs to improve her form, but boy, does she have tricks!


February 9, 2009

Steliana Nistor Turns Down American Offer to Finish Degree in Romania

It never rains but it pours. A while ago, we couldn't find anything on Steliana Nistor, but were swamped with stories about Sandra Izbaşa. Now it appears to be Nistor Time in the Romanian press. A week after the Revista VIP story we posted a few days ago, Adevărul posted a story about the former gymnast. Her health issues do get a mention, but most of the article is about Steliana's new life in her new apartment. Interestingly, the article says that Steliana turned down an offer to become a coach in America in order to finish her degree in Romania. It's probably a good thing she did; we doubt someone who can barely lift a cup of water would make a good coach. However, we do hope the offer will be renewed once Steliana has finished her degree and is feeling a bit better...

This is the Adevărul story. It has a very abrupt ending, but that might be because it's only the first half of a two-part story. It wouldn't be the first time Adevărul cut a story into two without mentioning it.


Steliana Nistor: Life After Gymnastics

The specially designed wall in the new home she received from the Sibiu municipal authorities is equipped with shelves full of trophies, medals and photos spanning her entire career. There are dozens of them. There's a story behind each and every single one of them, but Steliana never gets them mixed up. She remembers every single event and has a thorough recollection of how hard she had to work for each of them, as well as of her nerves she experienced and her happiness whenever she got to step onto the medal rostrum.

She doesn't have time to tell all the stories, because doing so would take all day, and she doesn't have much time, especially now that she is trying to make up for the time she "lost" while training and competing.

"Now I know what time is worth, and I'm doing everything I haven't been able to do over the last nineteen years," says the gymnast who became European champion with the team last year.

"She can't get enough of staying in town with friends and fellow students, and of breathing the free air," says her mother, who shares her daughter's first name, Steliana. At the moment her time is divided between studying, friends and recovery from injuries.

Steliana the student (photo: ProSport)

Studying instead of America

No sooner had she announced her retirement than Steliana received an offer to cross the Atlantic, to become a coach in America. The invitation came from her former junior coach, Livia Ponoran, who now coaches at a gymnastics academy in America. [Last thing we heard, Ponoran had just joined the coaching staff at WOGA.] Knowing her former pupil's ambitions and capacities, and also the state of Romanian gymnastics, especially in relation to young gymnasts who cannot compete anymore, Ponoran decided to invite Steliana to the United States.

"I received an invitation from Livia Ponoran, but first I want to finish the degree I have embarked upon," confirms the European champion, who is in Year 1 of the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport in her place of birth. She would also like to study psychology, being goaded in that direction by her older brother Marian, but first she wishes to see how she'll do with the one course on which she has already embarked.

Her flatmate: Puffy

As a thank-you for her hard work and for the fact that she put Sibiu on the sporting map, Steliana received a rental apartment from the town council last year. The moment you enter the house, or rather the living room, you are greeted by a whole wall full of trophies.

Her bedroom is taken up by a few plush dolls which remind her of her glory days and her fans. "I have many more dolls than these, but I'm still waiting for a few pieces of furniture which I've ordered to put them in," says the bronze medalist of the Beijing Olympics. She has already finished furnishing her kitchen. "There's all sorts of equipment in there, but I can't cook. My Mom cooks my meals," adds Steliana.

And because she is living in her apartment on her own, her fellow students have given her a present: a perfectly white rabbit with reddish eyes, called Puffy, who keeps her entertained. "He's my flatmate," says Steliana, amused.

Steliana with Puffy (photo: Adina Blaj/Adevărul)

Help from Mariana Bitang

Health problems clipped her wings at an age at which she still had plenty to give to the sport. "Physically I can't do it anymore. It's hard, but I just can't," says the champion, who suffered a great deal at her last few competitions because of backaches and pain in her joints. She was an all-arounder, a complete gymnast who competed on all four events, and they all made demands on different parts of her body. After that sacrifice, one thing saddens Steliana.

"After you retire, people who used to receive you with eyes sparkling of joy and a smile around their lips close their door before you've even had a chance to ask something... I still have backaches and now I also have a problem with a joint in my hand. I have physical therapy every day, but nobody has helped me, except Mrs. Mariana Bitang."

It's Official: Shawn Johnson to Appear on "Dancing with the Stars"

It’s official: Shawn Johnson is indeed going to appear on Dancing with the Stars. The 2008 Olympic champion on beam has confirmed the news on her website, saying she is "seriously so thrilled that I’m speechless (haha)." She went on to say: "Dancing with the Stars is by far something that I never imagined myself doing, but is also an experience of a lifetime that I am more then honored to be a part of. I’m actually kind of scared lol. It is going to take me out so far out of my comfort zone! But I’m up for the challenge and ready to take on the world :) and the other competitors. I head to LA this week to meet my partner, start rehearsing and meet the rest of the cast."

(Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

We think Shawn needs some grammar lessons as well as dancing rehearsals, but snarkiness aside, we definitely wish her the best in this new endeavor. Here’s hoping she’s given a partner who is not two heads taller than herself, and that she’ll use her new skills to her advantage if and when she finally remembers she is a gymnast as well as a celebrity!

Lilia Podkopayeva on Dancing with the Stars
Svetlana Khorkina on Dancing with the Stars

If any of you know of any other (former) gymnasts who have appeared on Dancing with the Stars (or whatever the show is called in your country), by all means post links to the videos below!

More Chinese News: Pang Panpan, Yang Yilin, Deng Linlin

Here’s another long overdue update from China...

The Chinese New Year has come and gone, and China’s gymnasts have thrown themselves into preparations for the 2009 competition season. Both the MAG and WAG teams are currently in the midst of winter training, an intensive period devoted to learning new skills, polishing old ones, and making any necessary adjustments for the new Code of Points. Everyone’s top priority this year is undoubtedly the 2009 National Games, to be held in Jinan, Shandong Province, in September (exact dates TBA). The gymnastics portion of this quadrennial multi-sport event is being held a month earlier than other events to avoid scheduling conflicts with the 2009 World Championships in London. A qualifying meet for the National Games will be held in Jinan from May 9-18. (Separate team/AA/EF and individual national championships will also be held this year, dates and locations TBA.)

Pang Panpan
Conspicuously absent from this year’s winter training is perennial fan favorite Pang Panpan, a key member of China’s historic 2006 World Championships team. Reports from China (among other reports, this Sina story) indicate that Pang has returned to the Hebei provincial team, where she is expected to continue preparing for the National Games. The reasons for her dismissal remain somewhat murky; official explanations suggested that she “needs to lose weight,” but since Pang has always been one of the slimmest members of the Chinese team, this rationale seems fishy at best. We think it has more to do with the chronic ankle problems that have hindered her career since late 2006. Whatever the case, we wish Pang Panpan all the best in her future endeavors, gymnastic or otherwise.

Pang Panpan, slender as a willow (photo: Xinhua)

Yang Yilin
We also have a small update on Yang Yilin, whose condition has been the subject of much speculation since she withdrew from the World Cup Final in December. Fans of the Olympic AA bronze medalist will be relieved to learn that, according to Sohu, she has resumed light training after undergoing treatment for what appears to have been a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. If she makes a full recovery, Yang will certainly be a force to be reckoned with at both the National Games and Worlds later this year.

Photographic evidence that Yang Yilin is alive and kicking: Yang and Li Shanshan at a celebration for Guangdong Olympians last month (photo: Nanfang Daily)

Deng Linlin
Also easing off the injured list is Olympian Deng Linlin, who underwent knee surgery in November. According to Ifeng, Deng told Chinese reporters last week that the knee is now pain-free and she’s training hard in the hope of achieving a “major breakthrough” on vault and balance beam, her two strongest events. She also voiced her intention to continue through the 2012 Olympics.

Despite rumors on several message boards, it does not appear that Deng Linlin will compete at the American Cup on February 21. Her name has not been mentioned in any official announcements from either USAG or the Chinese Gymnastics Association.

Deng Linlin in Beijing (photo: Sina)

February 8, 2009

Wyomi Masela Wins Sidijk Tournament

Eight Dutch gymnasts and two up-and-coming French stars competed in the top division of the Sidijk Tournament in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, which was being judged under the new code despite the fact that many Dutch judges aren't too familiar with the code yet. New senior Wyomi Masela, who recently won vault at both Massilia and Arques, continued to impress in Heerenveen, holding off the French favorite, double European junior champ Youna Dufournet, by .365: 53-965-53.600.

New senior Wyomi Masela got off to a good start to the new year
(Photo: Iris van den Broek/Gymnasticsphotography)

Dufournet easily had the most difficult routines in the competition, but big mistakes on 3 out of 4 events cost her the title. The French trickster, who seriously needs to start working on her form, was especially disappointing on floor, where she landed her double Arabian on her derrière and took several big steps backward on her double pike dismount, going well out of bounds. Her teammate Chloé Stanic (like Dufournet a member of France's silver-medal-winning team at the 2008 Junior Europeans) had problems with the same two elements, sitting down a double Arabian and putting her hands down on her double pike (view her floor routine here). By contrast, Wyomi Masela avoided great mistakes, hitting her energetic routines for what they were worth (check out her floor routine here). Masela is a very solid gymnast; with slightly more difficulty than she showed in Heerenveen she'll be a great asset to the Dutch team.

France's Youna Dufournet came second in Heerenveen (photo: Gymcat)

Making a comeback after a lengthy absence, Mayra Kroonen placed third in the competition. Kroonen is a very expressive gymnast whose floor exercise to Andes music is well worth watching. Veteran Fieke Willems (well-presented floor exercise), new star Lieke Wevers (great lines on uneven bars), and Chloé Stanic rounded out the top-6. Suzanne Harmes, Sanne Wevers, Lichelle Wong, and Tahnee Masela did not compete.

Detailed results of the competition can be found here. (Note that the scores listed under the heading "B score" denote deductions rather than actual scores. In other words, deduct the number listed from 10.000 and that's your B score. Or E score. Whatever it's called these days.)

YouTube user Dutchfan33 is uploading videos of both the junior and senior divisions of the competition. More videos will undoubtedly follow later.

Holland's Lieke Wevers has great lines (photo: Gymcat)

Over the next few weeks, 13 Dutch gymnasts will vie for the country's four berths at the European Championships at two qualifying meets in Amsterdam, to be held on February 22 and March 8. The Dutch Gymnastics Federation intends to send three all-arounders and one specialist to Milan.

American News: Johnson, Hagerty, Goryunova

Rumored: Shawn Johnson to take part in Dancing with the Stars
Rumor has it that Shawn Johnson will appear on celebrity dancing show Dancing with the Stars, Season 8 of which will kick off on March 9. Johnson is listed among 13 celebrities slated to participate in the show in a press release leaked on JJB. If the news is true, Johnson will be the youngest competitor on the show to date... and her return to competitive gymnastics will be deferred even further. However, if her participation in the show ends up improving her dancing chops, which may very well be the case, we are not complaining. We're just wondering if the organizers will be able to find her a partner who is roughly her height...

Shawn Johnson, a dancer?
(Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Confirmed: Goryunova to go to American Cup
It now seems more or less certain that Kristina Goryunova rather than Ksenia Afanasyeva will be Russia's representative at the upcoming American Cup. We were just informed by Alan, who maintains Goryunova's official website, that Goryunova herself has told him that she is going to compete in Chicago. We guess that settles it, then. Thanks, Alan!

Kristina Goryunova, slated to compete in Chicago
(Photo: Stefan Wurzer/Gymnasticsunited)

Joey Hagerty wins Winter Cup Challenge
Joseph Hagerty won the all-around at the 2009 Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas. Two days after posting the highest all-around score in prelims, Hagerty repeated the feat in the final, posting a total score of 177.900 points. Danell Leyva, aged just 17, and Sho Nakamori came in second and third with scores of 176.350 and 176.100, respectively. Complete results (courtesy of USAG) can be found here.

Following the Winter Cup Challenge, seven gymnasts were named to the US men's team: Guillermo Alvarez, Chris Brooks, Chris Cameron, Steven Legendre, Danell Leyva, Sho Nakamori, and David Sender. 2008 Olympians Joey Hagerty and Jonathan Horton were placed on the national team by petition. Six additional gymnasts will be named later to the team.

Joey Hagerty soared above the rest of the field in Las Vegas
(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)