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Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 30 September 2015 11:23    PDF Print
Kwan, Dickson Eager for Worlds Debut on Behalf of Belarus
(36 votes, average 3.36 out of 5)

American gymnasts Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson describe their unlikely route to next month’s world championships in Glasgow, where they will represent Belarus in their international debuts.

Kwan and Dickson, who train at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in suburban Los Angeles, placed ninth and 11th all-around, respectively, at the U.S. Classic in July. The U.S. Classic served as a qualifying meet for the P&G (U.S.) championships in August.

Following the U.S. Classic, Kwan and Dickson began the process of obtaining dual citizenship, with the aim of competing for Belarus internationally, starting with worlds. Their coaches, Galina Marinova and Artur Akopyan, coordinated the process through Belarusian Gymnastics Federation vice president Nellie Kim. Marinova, a 1980 Bulgarian Olympian, is a former competitor and longtime colleague of Kim, who won five Olympic gold medals. Akopyan, the 1983 world vault champion and all-around bronze medalist, is a former Soviet teammate of Kim.

IG spoke with Kwan and Dickson at last weekend’s grand opening of All Olympia’s new facility in Hawthorne. California, where they detailed their path to Glasgow and what they hope to achieve on behalf of Belarus.

IG: When and how did the idea to compete for Belarus come about?

AK: At (U.S.) Classic we did really well for our first time out. I got ninth all-around, which I was really happy with, and Kylie got 11th. We were really happy with our performance, but in the U.S., that’s not going to cut it. We really do want to represent a country, and we were really hoping it would be the U.S., but obviously they already had their team picked out, and it’s already so intense. Our coaches and we decided to go for a different country, and get the opportunity to go (to worlds).

Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson

KD: I’d always wanted to go Elite (international level), so when I qualified for Elite, I wondered, ‘What’s the next step?’ My dream was always to compete internationally. Galina and Artur had approached Alaina and me about competing for Belarus. At first we were like, ‘Oh, OK…” But they were really serious about it, that they needed us to send in passport pictures and other things. Alaina and I were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really happening!’ It’s so cool to know I can compete internationally, even if it’s for a different country. I’m honored to represent Belarus.

IG: What steps have you taken to get the right to compete for Belarus?

AK: For the past few months since Classic we’ve been going through the procedures. Basically all it is, is that we had to get dual citizenship. We applied for it and, because we are representing in athletics, they expedited the process. We have Belarus passports and U.S. passports. We’re still U.S. citizens. All we needed was a Belarusian passport and to get approved by the Belarus president - of the country and the (gymnastics) federation - which we did months in advance.

IG: What kind of contact have you had with the team itself?

AK: As of right now we don’t have contact because the team is really small, but our coaches have a really good connection with Nellie Kim, who also helps the Belarusian team a lot. So that’s kind of how we got associated with them.

KD: I’ve not had any contact with them. It’s all been through Galina and Artur.

IG: What is your plan for heading over to Glasgow?

AK: We were going to stop in Belarus, but because we’re the only two that are going (to worlds for Belarus), we’re going straight to Glasgow on October 17. Galina is going with us. She will be technically the Belarusian team coach there.

IG: What are your goals for worlds?

AK: Individually we’re hoping we can be consistent, and try not to let the pressure get to us. At the same time we want to have fun and gain experience. That’s what we’re hoping for.

KD: I want to go out there and be who I am, do what I do in practice, stay calm and cool, and enjoy the experience. We’re both doing the all-around, and that can go wherever!

IG: How are you preparing not only for your first worlds, but handling the responsibility of representing Belarus well there?

AK: At first I wasn’t sure, because I’m American. I always had my mind set on competing for America because that’s my country. But once the idea sank in, it showed me how much I can do and see. I can travel the world and experience everything, but just representing a different name. So I’d rather go for the experience than for the name.

KD: It’s really exciting. Even though I’m not from Belarus it’s really cool to represent a country at the world championships, and do the best that you can for that country.

IG: How do you think you can help the Belarusian program in general, not just by competing at worlds?

AK: The U.S. is so dominant right now, which is great. But especially for the European countries, they are losing gymnasts because they think the U.S. is always going to win and they will never meet that expectation. But with us going it’s showing that we want to represent for you, and that you can still do it, but we just need more of you to come out.

KD: I want to show them that their dreams can come true. If they want to be an Elite and represent Belarus, they definitely can. You just have to push through the hard days and the good days. Give it a lot of dedication and time and patience.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 23 September 2015 10:33    PDF Print
Interview: Emma Larsson (Sweden)
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Sweden’s top all-arounder at last year’s world championships and a gold medalist at one of this year’s Challenger Cup meets, Emma Larsson hopes to lead her country to a top-20 team finish at next month’s worlds in Glasgow.

Larsson helped Sweden place 21st at the 2014 world championships in Nanning, thereby advancing to Glasgow. The top eight teams in Glasgow, and four additional teams at a test meet early next year, will qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

A month after the 2014 worlds, where she finished 43rd all-around in qualifications, Larsson underwent foot surgery. Sixth months later she won the gold medal on balance beam at the Challenger Cup of Anadia, Portugal.

The 16-year-old Larsson is in the final stage of preparation for Glasgow. She placed third all-around, and was the top Swedish all-arounder, at a tri-meet among Belgium, Austria and Sweden held earlier this month in Belgium. This past weekend Larsson competed on three apparatuses at a friendly meet between Sweden and the Netherlands that the Dutch hosted.

As Sweden plans to select its team for Glasgow this week, Larsson shared her plans and hopes in this IG Online interview.

IG: How did this your third-place finish prepare you for the upcoming world championships?

EL: This competition was my first all-around competition in a year, and it felt so good to compete. Right know I'm in really good shape, and it feels good to back with my double layout in a competition before worlds. But I also had some mistakes at the competition that I need to fix, so I have more to give!

IG: You were the top Swedish all-arounder in Nanning, and this year, more is expected of you since Jonna Adlerteg has been injured (recovering from torn ACL). How do you view your new role on your team?

EL: It feels really good and I'm willing to take on that role. We are a team so everybody's effort counts, and it's important to not only think on yourself. But I'm going to do my best to help the team in everything that I can do.

IG: Sweden placed 12th on beam and 15th on bars in Nanning, but far lower on vault and floor. What improvements do you think your team has made since Nanning, to help earn a better finish in Glasgow?

EL: Last year we didn’t show our true potential at all on vault and floor. We competed with only four girls on these two apparatuses. Also, I and two of my teammates that competed these two events couldn't do the same skills as usual because of health issues and injuries. And we had to just make sure that we had the requirements at the competition. So for three of the four girls competing on these two events it was a struggle, and therefore there were really low scores. This year will be different.

IG: What do you think of your team's potential for Glasgow?

EL: We know that it's never easy for a small gymnastics nation like ours. We have few girls on the team to choose from. If one is not healthy we almost don't have five gymnasts per apparatus. For a team it’s very, very hard, but also very challenging, and we are very close friends. Seven of the nine gymnasts on the national team train in Eskilstuna together daily, so we know each other very well. Since we were 21st at the last worlds, we want to beat that, so we said top 20 is the official goal but all of us will compete for more.

International Gymnast magazine’s recent coverage of Swedish gymnastics includes:

"Scouting Scandinavia" - IG's visit to Stockholm gym club (March 2011)

“Swinging for Sweden” - Jonna Adlerteg update (May 2015)

"Swedish History-maker" - Adlerteg profile (November 2010)

"Swedish Upswing" – Swedish women's team feature (November 2010)

"Swedish Achiever" - Ida Gustafsson short profile (June 3013)

To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Saturday, 29 August 2015 13:51    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Brittany Rogers (Canada)
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

As 2012 Olympian Brittany Rogers prepares to fight for a spot on the Canadian team at this fall's world championships in Glasgow, she is reveling in the latest challenge of her long career.

As 2012 Olympic vault finalist Brittany Rogers prepares to fight for a spot on the Canadian team at this fall's world championships in Glasgow, she is reveling in the latest challenge of her long career.

"I don't think I have ever trained this many hours in my gymnastics career, but it is definitely paying off," said the 22-year-old Rogers.

Rogers is taking a leave from the University of Georgia in the U.S. so she can train for Glasgow. Since representing Canada at the 2012 London Olympics, the British Columbian has been competing in the NCAA as a member of the university's team.

Rogers also has her sights set on next summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, for which Glasgow will be an important step. She is training at Calgary Gymnastics Center under coaches David Kenwright (vault and uneven bars) and Janna Ball (balance beam and floor exercise).

In this IG Online interview, Rogers outlines her return to international form, and the perspectives she has gained on her quest to return to Olympic competition.

Rogers performs on floor exercise for the University of Georgia.

IG: How have you managed to adapt your routines to the international level, and also adapt to training more hours, versus NCAA?

BR: Transitioning from NCAA to elite has definitely not been a piece a cake; however, I'm enjoying the challenge! I have added several new skills and connections on both bars and beam to obtain a higher D(ifficulty) score. The skills alone are ones that I have worked on before, or have thought about trying, so now I am "waking them up." The biggest challenge for me has been putting them into my routines, and obtaining consistency with them. NCAA routines are shorter than elite routines, so the challenge is not completing them like I do for my elite routines.

However, I feel as though NCAA routines require more precision and perfection. Combining the two qualities into one routine is definitely something that I know will help me in the long run. I don't think I have ever trained this many hours in my gymnastics career, but it is definitely paying off! My days are packed in both college and club gymnastics, but in different ways.

Finding the balance between gymnastics and academics was a challenge for me coming into college, but I believe it has set me up nicely for coming back to elite gymnastics and the real world by preparing me for long days.

Rogers as a first-year senior representing Canada at the 2009 Worlds in London

IG: What has been your biggest challenge in this comeback?

BR: The biggest challenge has probably been accepting the fact that this process is not going to be easy. Some days I forget that I am no longer 13 years old and can flip for endless amounts of hours, but that my body takes a bit more of catering to. I've definitely had to pay more attention to making sure my body gets the recovery it needs in order to be at its best every day. I enjoying challenging myself to new skills and new connections, and I am learning to enjoy how the not-so-good days can in fact help me get to and enjoy the great days.

IG: Of the progress you've made since deciding to go for worlds, what do you feel is your most significant breakthrough?

BR: Bars has definitely been something I am excited about. The new Code (of Points) is all about connections, so pushing myself to connect release moves, and low to high bar skills, has been fun and rewarding. Bars has always been my favorite event, and now that there is an extra challenge to it, it makes me love bars even more. I have also been working hard on cleaning up my vault, and working on upgrading both of my vaults, which is always exciting. Beam has never been a strong event for me. However, I feel my confidence growing every turn I take on beam, and to me that is a huge accomplishment.

IG: What are the next steps in making it to Glasgow?

BR: There is a (Canadian) worlds team selection camp from September 16-21 in Montreal. I am unsure of the actual process that is taking place in making the final decision of the team; however, I am ready to do whatever Canada needs me to do.

IG: From what we saw in the last NCAA season, and the glimpses of your training since you temporarily left Georgia, you seem to be stronger and fitter than ever. To what do you attribute your newfound fitness and confidence level?

BR: Thank you! Everybody progresses at his or her own pace. I feel as though, since coming to college, I have learned all about that, which has helped me develop into who I am today. I have had tremendous support and opportunities to learn about my health and fitness through the nutritionist and strength coach at Georgia, and my own personal interest in health has helped me along the way, as well. I went through some strange transitions and crazy growth spurts growing up, and I believe my body has finally settled into itself.

Georgia has been life-changing in a sense of my confidence. Not only am I competing every weekend to help stabilize my confidence in front of judges and large crowds in the gymnastics world, but I am also gaining independence due to moving away from home into a different country, and that has helped me become more confident in realizing who I am as a person, and not just a gymnast.

I am extremely grateful for the support from UGA and my team, as well as my coaches and teammates in Calgary. Without either of them, this comeback would not have been possible, and for them I will always be appreciative for this amazing opportunity. Also, my family is without a doubt the major reason why I am who I am today, and I could not be happier for them joining me in this stressful but exciting journey again. They'll always be my biggest fans.

International Gymnast magazine first profiled Brittany Rogers in the July/August 2007 issue, and featured an in-depth interview with her in May 2012. To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by Amanda Turner    Friday, 14 August 2015 05:15    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Eddie Penev (USA)
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Almost a year after suffering a torn ACL, former U.S. national vault champion Eddie Penev told IG his forced hiatus has given him a renewed passion and appreciation for the sport of gymnastics. Pictured: Penev at the 2014 Anadia World Challenge Cup in Portugal, where he won two gold medals.

Almost a year after suffering a torn ACL, former U.S. national vault champion Eddie Penev told IG his forced hiatus has given him a renewed passion and appreciation for the sport of gymnastics.

Penev competes Friday on the first of two days of men's competition at the P&G (U.S.) Gymnastics Championships in Indianapolis. He plans to compete all-around for the second time since knee injury — his first major injury in the sport — suffered on vault last August at the 2014 Pan American Championships in Mississauga, Ont., Canada. After surgery and rehab, he made his comeback at the U.S. men's national qualifier last month in Colorado Springs, where he won vault and finished seventh all-around. Additionally, he placed fifth on pommel horse with a solid 14.400 (a significant improvement over his results at the previous two P&G championships, where he averaged 12.75 over the four routines).

Penev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, where both his parents had been national team members in artistic gymnastics. He moved to New York at a young age and grew up at his parent's gym, training under fellow Bulgarian Ivo Grahovski. Penev represented his native country several times at the world championships, making floor exercise finals at the 2010 Worlds. The next year he switched representation to the United States.

He now trains under coach Vitaly Marinitch at the U.S. Olympic Team Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he moved earlier this year after five years training at Stanford University in California. During his four seasons competing for Stanford, Penev won three national titles and became a nine-time All-American. In 2013, he won the the prestigious Nissen-Emery Award, presented annually to the nation's top senior male gymnast for integrity and excellence in both athletics and academics.

Prior to his injury, Penev had one of his most successful seasons in 2014, winning both floor exercise and vault at the Anadia World Challenge Cup in Portugal and the floor silver and vault bronze at the P&G Championships.

Penev, who celebrates his 25th birthday on Sunday, spoke with IG about his injury and comeback, and how being sidelined has shaped his attitude on the sport.

IG: You gave an interview this week and mentioned the new appreciation you feel for gymnastics, now that you're back after time off. Can you expand on this? Growing up in the gym, with both of your parents gymnasts, do you think you just felt like gymnastics was a fact of life for you?

Penev on parallel bars for Stanford University, where he competed from 2010-2013

EP: In many ways I do consider gymnastics as a "fact of my life" but now I have a new appreciation for it. I think that prior to my injury, I kind of took it for granted a little bit.... in the sense that I always assumed I would be able to train with minimal setbacks and only a few bumps and bruises. This time it was not like that, and I had to work harder than I ever have to get back to what I loved to do and back to what defines a huge part of me.

IG: Your recovery has to be one of the quickest comebacks from a torn ACL the sport of gymnastics has ever seen. Do you think sports medicine has improved, or is there something special that helped you come back so soon?

EP: Well, that's a two-part answer. Part of it was my drive, which had never been tested to that extent before. I've never wanted something as bad as this comeback simply because of my love for the sport and I refused to let this stop me. To add even more fuel to the fire I was taken off the National Team at Winter Cup (in February), and that's when I feel like I took it to the next level. The other huge part of this comeback was the medical staff at the Olympic Training Center. They have supported me 100 percent from day one, because they could see how much I wanted to be in physical therapy, and not only be there, but be the best at it. They have done countless extra hours with me and a lot of one-on-one time. I've truly built a relationship with sports medicine and I cannot thank them enough for all they've done for me.

IG: You've not only made a full comeback, you've managed to add upgrades...?

EP: Yes! I have been able to upgrade! In fact, I've upgraded on every event (minus vault). In the first few months of my injury when I couldn't do floor or vault I really pushed my weaker events and perhaps more importantly my overall strength/fitness. I would say that my biggest strides forward have come on pommel horse. I went back to the basics and really hammered them down and the results have been really noticeable. I truly believe that I have a lot to offer team USA on this event in particular as we move forward. I've also also cleaned up and added several tenths of difficulty to rings, p-bars and high bar.

IG: What is it like living at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and training with Vitaly Marinitch?

EP: I love living at the OTC. I truly believe it offers the optimal training environment for elite-level athletics. I mean you have anything you could ever need at your disposal, and that helps to eliminate unnecessary distractions/worries that take away from your training. On top of that we have an outstanding group of guys training at the OTC right now so that really pushes me to be the best gymnast that I can be. As for Vitaly, he is a world-class coach and I feel incredibly fortunate to work with him. He is a master planner who knows how to get his athletes to peak when they need to. He is also great at tailoring our gymnastics and training to fit us as individuals, which is critical for gymnastics at this level.

IG: When you first got injured, did you expect to be back competing in less than a year, much less doing all-around?

EP: Initially I did not know how soon I'd be back, but I knew how badly I wanted it, so when the doctors said nine to 12 months, I said seven to eight months. I sat down with the trainers and basically asked them what I needed to do to have the best and most effective recovery. I took every little thing they said to me to heart and I tried to perfect it like I do in gymnastics. I started to do serious tumbling right around six months and I couldn't believe it. It was the greatest feeling, and I had never felt a greater sense of accomplishment. Now, I can look back on this comeback and honestly say I did absolutely everything I could to get back to doing what I love.

IG: Your birthday is Sunday, the final day of competition in Indianapolis. What would made a great birthday present for you?

EP: The best birthday gift would simply be to finish out the competition happy and healthy. I just want to hit my routines and capitalize on my newfound appreciation for the sport. The rest is irrelevant – this is for me.

Follow IG Online on Facebook or Twitter for our live commentary from Indianapolis!

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 10 July 2015 23:56    PDF Print
Interview: Madison Copiak (Canada)
(4 votes, average 4.25 out of 5)

As Canadian gymnast Madison Copiak prepares for Sunday's team final and qualifications at the Pan American Games in Toronto, she is confident that she and her teammates can perform consistently and successfully.

Born September 17 1998, in Calgary, Copiak began training at age three. She was a member of the fifth-place Canadian team at the 2014 Pan American championships, in Mississauga, and finished fourth all-around at this year's Elite Canada meet and Canadian championships.

Joining Copiak on the Canadian team in Toronto are Olympian Ellie Black, Maegan Chant, Isabela Onyshko and Victoria-Kayen Woo. None of the members of Canada's silver medal-winning team from the 2011 Games in Guadalajara is on the roster in Toronto.

Copiak shared her pre-Games thoughts with IG Online in this interview.

IG: How would you describe the mental and physical condition of the Canadian team as you head towards the start of competition?

MC: As we are heading into the start of the competition our main focus is the consistency of the routines and the execution. The physical preparation not only involves a sufficient amount of routine numbers, but it also involves cleanliness in the routines. And obviously with numbers comes better execution. As one becomes more confident with their routine they can physically and mentally handles the routine so they have the ability to focus on the small details that will help bump the overall team execution. Our mental condition as a team is dependent on being able to handle the routines, in a way that if something were to go wrong you would be able to recover by moving on, and dealing with the situation mentally. Physical and mental preparation and conditioning go hand-in-hand.

IG: What are your personal goals for the Games?

MC: My personal goal here in Toronto, is to have a meet where I'm not only hitting my routines, but to perform them to my full potential, whether that be hitting handstands and executing my routines with great lines or showing off more in artistry on beam and floor.

IG: What about your team goals?

MC: The team goals are to have a strong performance where we are confident, strong and well-prepared; hitting our routines; and having clean execution overall. Making sure we fight for every tenth we can pick up to help our overall score, and enjoying the whole ex-perience. Another important thing will being able to use the energy from the crowd and use that excitement to focus into our routines.

IG: The Canadian team includes an excellent blend of veterans and upcoming talent. In your view what makes this team particularly competitive, especially in terms of going against the U.S., Brazil and other strong teams?

MC: I think what makes this team competitive is that we have a diverse group of talented girls, all with various strong skills that contribute to the overall team. The veterans defi-nitely add experience, which can be reassuring and comforting for the younger ones on the team, me being one of them. To have Ellie (Black) and her calm but huge personality really allows for one to become more comfortable when out on the competition floor. The team has greatly increased its uneven bars difficultly in the past few years, and we are ready to show these polished routines.

IG: What last-minute changes or tweaks are you focusing on, to make yourself as ready as possible for competition?

MC: For me there should not be any huge last-minute changes prior to the Games. Yes, there will always be tweaks, as your body is not the same day in and day out, so you are always adjusting for that. For me to feel completely ready for this competition I need to be consistent with my routines and trust that I have prepared to the best of my ability. When I am calm and let my body do the skills, I have realized that I am much more successful rather than when I over-think my routines.

international Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Canadian gymnasts includes:
"Aiming to Top the Charts" - Maegan Chant interview (October 2013)
"Canadian Promise" - Ellie Black chat and Robert Watson profile (July/August 2014)
"Canadian Diversity" - Ellie Black profile (July/August 2013)
"Black to Business" - Ellie Black interview (November 2012)
"Candid Canadians" - Madeline Gardiner and Jackson Payne interviews (Sep-tember 2011)
Chat with Christine Peng-Peng Lee (April 2015)
Christine Peng-Peng Lee interview (April 2011)
Gael Mackie profile (July/August 2011)
"Sudden Impact" - Victoria Moors interview (January/February 2013)
"Making Tracks" - Scott Morgan profile (December 2013)
Isabela Onyshko profile (July/August 2014)
Megan Roberts profile (April 2015)
"Confident Canadian" - Brittany Rogers interview (May 2012)
"Canadian Diversity" - Hugh Smith profile (July/August 2013)
"Catching up with... Lori Strong Ballard" (June 2012)
Aleeza Yu two-page photo spread (May 2014)

To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital edition of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

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