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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 20 March 2012 20:13    PDF Print
Orchard Optimistic for Canada, Britain in 2012
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although longtime Canadian women's coach Carol-Angela Orchard recently took on a unique assignment for the British junior men's team, she told IG she sees medal-winning potential in her former gymnast Christine (Peng Peng) Lee of Canada at this summer's London Olympic Games.

"Peng is right on top of her game," said Orchard of Lee, who placed third all-around at last week's Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Wash., and first all-around in the Challenge division at the Gymnix International in Montreal two weeks ago. "Looking at the Olympics, I think she's a medal shot, definitely, without question. The music and the choreography (of Lee's floor exercise routine) are superb, and then you add the quality of her tumbling, and it's a knockout."

Carol-Angela Orchard

With the London Games approaching, Orchard said she is gratified to see Lee perform as confidently as she is. Orchard was one of Lee's coaches at Sport Seneca in Toronto until she left to work in the U.K. after the 2008 Olympic Games. Lee now trains Oakville Gymnastics with coaches Kelly and Sue Manjak.

"It's perfect to see Peng there," said Orchard, referring to Lee's surge as one of Canada's top prospects for London. "Canada needs her desperately, so this will be a phenomenal Olympic Games for Canada."

Orchard was in California two weeks ago to watch another of her former gymnasts, 2008 Canadian Olympian Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, compete in the final home meet of her UCLA career. Other Olympians whom Orchard coached include Monica Covacci (Canada, 1988), Luisa Portocarrero (Guatemala, 1992) and Michelle Conway (Canada, 2000).

In late 2008 Orchard left Canada and joined the coaching staff of the British women's national team, a position she held through last fall's World Championships in Tokyo. She is now working as a freelance coach and consultant in Great Britain.

Orchard's recent assignment involves consulting for the British junior men's team that is being groomed for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"I'm just starting to work with them, 'packaging' them, which is pretty cool," Orchard said. "They are impressive young men with excellent routine content. They just needed that final touch to enhance what they do to create the 'complete' package. They're beautiful young gymnasts, and we're looking at just putting some artistic line into their work. They're really special, so I'm quite honored to be working with them. This is something quite new."

Orchard said she was asked to work with the young gymnasts by Barry Collie, the British junior national team coach.

"(Collie) is fun to work with, as he has a great attitude and is full of passion in his approach to coaching," she said. "Barry is such a hard worker and is totally committed to increasing the profile of the team."

Orchard said she first gave a multimedia demonstration to the gymnasts, emphasizing the importance of presentation and artistry as demonstrated in videos of former stars including 1992 Olympic all-around champion Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus, 2000 Olympic all-around champion Alexei Nemov of Russia and 2004 Olympic floor exercise champion Kyle Shewfelt of Canada. Also featured in was British gymnast Neil Thomas, who won the country's first world championships medal when he placed second on floor exercise at the 1993 Worlds.

Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee (Canada)

For a direct comparison, Orchard then showed each gymnast a video that she took of them at their last competition.

"It was an-eye opening experience, and then they really applied themselves when we did the one-on-one sessions going through their complete routines," Orchard said. "I was so impressed by their effort, focus and commitment to the team image. They are absolutely brilliant, and I had such fun assisting them. I'm already looking forward to the next session."

Orchard said she is equally enthusiastic about the potential of the British men's team that will compete this summer in London.

Among the top contenders for the five-gymnast British Olympic team are Daniel Keatings, second all-around at the 2009 World Championships in London; Louis Smith, the 2008 Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist; Daniel Purvis, fourth all-around at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo; Kristian Thomas, sixth all-around at the 2009 Worlds in London; Sam Hunter, ninth all-around at the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam; and Sam Oldham and Max Whitlock, first and second all-around respectively, at the 2010 Junior Europeans in Birmingham.

At the Olympic test event in London in January, the British team of Purvis, Thomas, Keatings, Smith, Whitlock and Ruslan Panteleymonov combined to win the team competition and qualify for the London Games.

"The senior team looks absolutely amazing," Orchard said. "I just cheer them on from the sides. That's a beautiful team, as well. They're doing so well. That's going to be a virtually impossible team to quality for. Since (the Olympic team) is only five gymnasts, it's going to be a tough competition to make the team. They're all so good."

Most of all, though, Orchard said she looks forward to watching Lee compete at her best - in person - in London.

"I won't be at all surprised to see Peng standing on the podium," Orchard told IG. "My heart will be bursting, and it will be an amazing moment. I think she's ready."

International Gymnast magazine related features:
"Pure Purvis" – interview (March 2012)
"Backstage in Britain" - British national program feature, Purvis cover photo (November 2011)
"10 Questions with Carol-Angela Orchard" (June 2011)
Christine Lee interview (April 2011)
Sam Oldham interview (June 2010)
"British Invasion" – includes interview with Keating, profiles on Smith and Purvis, and Keatings center poster (June 2009)
"Royal Treatment" - Smith profile (December 2008)
"Quick Chat: Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (December 2008)
"All in a Day's Work" – Hopfner-Hibbs profile (March 2008)
"A Passion for Performing" – Lee profile (June 2006)
"Canada Can" – Canadian team feature including Orchard (January 2001)
"Comfort Zone" – Conway profile (June/July 1998)

To order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 18 March 2012 23:00    PDF Print
Simpson 'Doing Great' After Ankle Injury
(15 votes, average 4.60 out of 5)

Australian gymnast Georgia Simpson is already on the road to mending the ankle she injured during Friday's Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Wash.

Australian gymnast Georgia Simpson is already on the road to mending the ankle she injured during Friday's Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Wash., Australian national team coach Peggy Liddick told IG on Sunday.

"Georgia is doing great," said Liddick of Simpson, who injured her left ankle on landing a full-in on floor exercise during Friday's team competition. "The injury ended up being 'just' a dislocation of the ankle joint. The CT scan revealed only a small bone flake. They removed it and reduced the ankle."

Although Simpson's injury was bloody, Liddick said it was not as serious as it looked. The 17-year-old Simpson was released from the hospital on Sunday and attended Sunday's apparatus finals.

"The blood was from the quick dislocation and stretching of the skin," Liddick said. "She needed no stitches, just butterfly bandages. There were no ligament or cartilage tears. She was lucky for sure."

Liddick said Simpson, who trains under coached Martine George and Nikolai Lapchine at Western Australia Institute of Sport in Perth, should be able to return to training soon.

"She will have two weeks in a boot on crutches, and two weeks in a walking boot," Liddick told IG. "Then she can begin some rehab and walking with no support."

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 16 March 2012 20:43    PDF Print
Hard Work, Not Luck, Yields More Irish Success
(14 votes, average 4.64 out of 5)

Irish gymnasts have special reason to celebrate St. Patrick's Day 2012, as male gymnast Kieran Behan earned an Olympic berth to London.

Irish gymnasts have special reason to celebrate St. Patrick's Day 2012, as male gymnast Kieran Behan earned an Olympic berth to London and female gymnast Sophie McCoo was recently named Junior Female Sportsperson of the Year by the Belfast City Council.

"It's pretty surreal and amazing to be recognized for doing my sport outside of the gymnastics community," the 16-year-old McCoo told IG. "This will motivate me to try harder, and it's great for younger gymnasts to look up to and see what is possible if you work hard."

Irish champion Sophie McCoo

McCoo said winning the Irish senior all-around title earlier this month was particularly meaningful to her.

"It's something I've been working towards," said McCoo, who is coached by Alison McMullan at Abbey Gymnastics Club in Belfast. "I remember going to watch the competition a few years back as a spectator and being really impressed with the standard, and could only dream then of winning something like this. To go to the event now as a competitor and win it is amazing."

Next on McCoo's agenda are the Tournament of Masters in Cottbus, Germany (March 22-25), and the European Championships in Brussels in May.

Also slated for the Irish team in Brussels are fellow seniors Emma Lunn (Excel) and Sarah Buckley (Douglas); and juniors Sarah Strawbridge (Salto), Sarah Beck (Salto) and Ciara Robert (Salto). Lunn placed second all-around to McCoo at the Irish senior championships.

Behan's qualification for this summer's Olympic Games in London is perhaps the most significant international accomplishment for the Irish program, but Irish gymnasts have reached other landmarks in the past decade.

At the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, Northern Ireland's Holly Murdock (representing Great Britain) placed 14th all-around, which was the best British women's all-around result in worlds history to that point. Northern Ireland's Katie Slader won the 2004 Northern European all-around title.

Success in Ireland has boosted McCoo's self-assurance, she said.

"It gives you more confidence because you know you can hit achievements well, and it makes you want to work harder," she told IG. "It's like that saying, 'Coming second is easier because you have something to work towards, whereas keeping number one is harder.' You have to be able to work through the hard days and be able to keep going."

International Gymnast magazine related features:

"Beyond Brave" – Kieran Behan profile (August/September 2011)
"Room to Grow" - Salto club feature (March 2009)
"Shooting Star: Sarah Beck" – profile (January/February 2009)
"International Gymnast" – Rohan Sebastian profile (April 2008)
"Rising Irishman" - Matthew Cosgrave profile (December 2007)
"Pride of Ireland" – Katie Slader profile (March 2005)
"Pressing Her Luck" – Holly Murdock profile (August/September 2001)

To order back issues, click here.

Written by Amanda Turner    Wednesday, 14 March 2012 23:59    PDF Print
Filatova Fights for Right to Visit Russia
(21 votes, average 4.81 out of 5)

One of gymnastics' greatest champions, Soviet legend Maria Filatova owns seven world and Olympic medals, but no passport that will let her travel back to her native Siberia.

Now 50 and a coach in Rochester, New York, Filatova has a U.S. residency card but no passport. She has become what is known as a stateless individual, having no citizenship of any country.

Filatova, retired for three decades, has suddenly found herself back in the spotlight due to the Russian government's denials of her request for citizenship. The bureaucratic snag has snowballed into a political drama in recent weeks, playing itself out in Russian newspapers and news shows. Some of the outrage has stemmed from the denial letter Filatova received in 2006, when the Russian government stated it was rejecting citizenship "due to lack of merit" of the applicant.

Filatova today with one of her gymnasts

After 10 years of frustration, Filatova recently appealed for help to Russia's Ministry of Sport, the Federal Migration Service and the Association of Russian Lawyers.

"I just want to have a passport of the country where I was born," Filatova told IG. "It's so much easier to become an Olympic champion than to get a Russian passport."

Filatova was one of the most popular gymnasts of her era, a star during a time when gymnastics was equal parts elegance and acrobatics. She won gold with the Soviet team at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics and the 1978 and 1981 World Championships. She won back-to-back World Cup titles in 1977 and 1978, the bronze on uneven bars at the 1980 Olympics, and capped off her career with the all-around silver at the 1981 Worlds.

She moved to Minsk in 1981 and married fellow gymnast Alexander Kourbatov in 1986, and had a daughter, Alexandra (Sasha) Kourbatova, in 1987. Filatova had only her Soviet passport when the family emigrated on Jan. 1, 1992, heading to Northern Ireland before settling in the U.S. in 1996.

Filatova is an honored citizen of her hometown of Leninsk-Kuznetsky in the Kuzbass region, which in 2000 recognized her as its best athlete of the 20th century. The gym where she trained is still there, but now features a museum dedicated to her achievements.

Contrary to some media reports, Filatova says she is not trying to move back to Russia, but simply to visit. Her mother, brother and two of her coaches have died over the past few years, and she was unable to attend funerals or lay flowers on their graves.

"Around 2004 and 2005, I thought that there was a chance I might go back, because in America we had been waiting for a green card for more than eight years," she said. "Now it's 2012, and my dream has come true. I need to help my daughter at her own club."

Daughter Sasha, a former gymnast herself, recently opened her own club called Kour Magic Gymnastics Center. Filatova, her husband and Sasha are coaches at Kour Magic.

"'Kour' is the first part of our last name and 'Magic' represents the miracle that people have helped in a very difficult situation for us and believed in us," Filatova explained.

The modest Filatova says she is "embarrassed" by the recent news coverage, which has grown increasingly political. She says she is happy in her new life as a coach and never meant to draw attention to herself.

"I'm far removed from politics and big-time gymnastics," she said. "I find it much more important to raise strong spirits in children who love gymnastics and for the rest their lives will have happy memories of their time in the gym."

Russia's State Duma Committee on Physical Culture, Sport and Youth — which counts rhythmic gymnastics Olympic champion Alina Kabayeva among its members — now is examining the case. Filatova said she remains hopeful — and humble.

"I just hope that after my case it will be easier for others to get a Russian passport," she said.

External Link: Kour Magic Gymnastics Center Website

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 13 March 2012 23:13    PDF Print
Hopfner-Hibbs to 2012 Olympians: 'Enjoy Every Moment'
(10 votes, average 4.40 out of 5)

2008 Canadian Olympian and UCLA senior Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs told IG she treasures her accomplishment in both phases of her career, and has confidence in Canada's 2012 Olympic team. Pictured: Hopfner-Hibbs with former coach Carol-Angela Orchard (left) and mother Dianne Hopfner on Sunday at UCLA

2008 Canadian Olympian and UCLA senior Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs told IG she treasures her accomplishment in both phases of her career, and has confidence in former training partner Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee and other potential members of Canada's 2012 Olympic team.

"There have been so many amazing highlights," said Hopfner-Hibbs after UCLA's final home meet of the 2011-12 season, against the University of Oklahoma, at the John Wooden Center on Sunday.

Hopfner-Hibbs on bars for UCLA

"Winning a medal at (the 2006) Worlds was really fun, and I'm so glad I got to share that with my coach (Sport Seneca's Carol-Angela Orchard)," she said. "Here, when we won the 2010 NCAAs, it was amazing. We didn't even know yet that we had won, and we were freaking out like we'd won. Since I've come here, I've gotten to experience so many amazing things. There's no better experience, and I've just loved every minute of it."

Prior to enrolling at UCLA, Hopfner-Hibbs made Canadian gymnastics history at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, where she won the bronze medal on balance beam. The medal was a first for a Canadian woman in world championship history. She finished 16th all-around at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Hopfner-Hibbs said she plans to finish her degree in psychobiology next year, serving as an undergraduate assistant coach at UCLA. Beyond 2013, she is leaving her options open.

"I haven't thought that far ahead," said Hopfner-Hibbs, whose mother, Dianne Hopfner, traveled to Toronto to attend Sunday's meet. "I'm taking it one day at a time and see where it takes me."

Orchard, who traveled from England to attend the meet, said Hopfner-Hibbs' evolution over the past four years is gratifying.

"I think this is a perfect transition from her elite career," said Orchard, who also coached 1992 Guatemalan Olympian Luisa Portocarrero and 2000 Canadian Olympian Michelle Conway at Sport Seneca before they competed for UCLA. "(UCLA head coach) Val (Kondos) and I are so similar that it was quite effortless to go from Sport Seneca to UCLA. I trust Val so much. All of our top athletes from Sport Seneca have gone to Val, and I think Elyse has blossomed. The team atmosphere is phenomenal here, and Elyse thrives on that."

Orchard said she is especially impressed by Hopfner-Hibbs' expressive qualities that have developed during the past four years.

"When you watch the way Elyse dances now, she's become a young woman," Orchard said. "She's so comfortable with herself. Between Val's choreography and Elyse's growth as a person, when you put those two things together, I absolutely love her floor routine. I like it when gymnasts perform and really feel what they do, and you can see she does that. Elyse absolutely feels what she's doing, and that's a really special quality."

Hopfner-Hibbs said she is happy for former Sport Seneca teammate Lee, who placed first all-around at the Gymnix International in Montreal this weekend. Lee left Sport Seneca after Orchard left Canada to work in England, and now trains at Oakville Gymnastics in Ontario.

At the Olympic test event in London in January, Lee led Canada's successful effort to earn a team berth for this summer's London Olympics. She will compete for UCLA next season.

"Peng has always been one of the most talented gymnasts I've ever known, so we all knew she had the talent, and it was just about whether she was willing enough to get there," Hopfner-Hibbs said. "She's worked so hard to get to where she is now, and she's definitely ready to go. I think she's doing really well and she's right on track to accomplish her Olympic goals, so I'm really excited for her."

Hopfner-Hibbs said she hopes Canada's 2012 Olympians will savor their experience in London, as she did in Beijing four years ago.

"I think they just have to enjoy it," she said. "Seriously, it's gone in a second, so just to be able to go there and have fun and enjoy every moment of it is really important."

Hopfner-Hibbs also encouraged the Canadian Olympians to stay focused and self-confident.

"It's hard, because everywhere you look, there are Olympic rings - on the mat, on the beam..." she told IG. "But you just have to stay in the moment. If I could go back and do it again now, I feel I would do so much better, because the college experience is about learning how to stay in the moment and not get overwhelmed with everything going on around you."

International Gymnast Magazine related features:
"All in a Day's Work" – Hopfner-Hibbs profile (March 2008)
"Quick Chat: Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (December 2008)
"10 Questions with Carol-Angela Orchard" (June 2011)
"Canada Can" – Canadian team feature including Orchard (January 2001)
Christine Lee interview (April 2011)
"A Passion for Performing" – Lee profile (June 2006)
"All in a Day's Work" – Hopfner-Hibbs profile

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


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