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Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 26 March 2020 08:08    PDF Print
Korent on COVID-19: ‘We Will All Need To Get Through Together’
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

As the world struggles in the COVID-19 pandemic and athletes cope with Tuesday’s announcement that the Tokyo Olympic Games scheduled for this summer have been postponed, veteran Croatian gymnast Tijana (Tkalcec) Korent is putting her handiwork to humanitarian use by sewing and distributing face masks in her community.

Korent said she realized the dire need for personal protective equipment in her country upon her return from the World Cup of Baku earlier this month. She had qualified for the vault final in Baku before the government of Azerbaijan announced isolation measures commencing March 14, the day of the vault final.

“When I got home, the bigger crisis started,” said the 30-year-old Korent, who in addition to training works as an accountant and volunteers at a cat shelter. “Everyone was buying face masks and then when pharmacies saw that even hospitals will have issues with masks, they redirected all of their stocks to hospitals in Croatia. Some people managed to buy them, and others didn’t.”

Korent’s dedication to the cat shelter that her friend opened in 2014 inspired her to create her first mask.

“Since it's such an unknown time for all of us, we don't want to risk our health and the health of our loved ones and go out without a mask. And as I said, by now it is impossible to buy them. So I just decided to make them.”

Using her mother’s sewing machine, Korent has been making cotton masks in a variety of colors and patterns. “You can wash them in the washing machine on 90°C so the virus can't survive, and then reuse them,” she said.

Korent, who crafted her first batch of masks for the shelter’s staff, is willing to meet the increased demand for her small but meaningful contribution to the fight against the pandemic.

“I made a few for every girl in the shelter, and myself, and my family when from time to time someone needs to go to the shops,” she said. “Otherwise we all stay at home as our crisis headquarters told us to. But those cats still need to be taken care of, nursed and fed. And now some of my friends asked if I can make some masks for them as well, which I will gladly do. These are the times when we need to help each other in any way possible, and if this is the way I can help people to be safer and stay healthy, I am more than happy to do so.”

Korent said that, although she and her family are well, she is apprehensive about the toll which the disease could eventually take in her town, region and nation.

“We are all safe and healthy for now,” she said. “But we only got the outbreak of virus in my county (this week) with a first confirmed corona patient. Croatia has had it for some time, but just not my region. So I think we will have some more weeks of not knowing what will happen and how many more people are positive for the corona virus.”

Like all athletes worldwide, Korent’s training has been disrupted and her competition agenda placed on hold, but she is optimistic that societal diligence will help restore normalcy in due time.

“I just hope that everyone is taking this seriously and doing according to what their state or county is saying,” she said. “This is the only way we can beat this and get back to normal lives, our jobs, and our trainings and competitions that were canceled and postponed.”

The pandemic-mandated hiatus from gymnastics has given Korent a new perspective on the challenges the all people, not only athletes, face in times of crisis.

“I know how we all worked hard to get in to shape and be ready for the competitions,” she told IG. “Now that everything is postponed, the season will be much longer than usual, but I guess this is just life. We already learned that in sport you have good times and bad times, such as injuries, sickness and bad days, which we usually all try and get through by ourselves. This is one of those bad times that we will all need to get through together, and I think we will get out stronger and a bit more thankful for what we have.”

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

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 16 March 2020 06:26    PDF Print
“I’m Confident Humanity Will Stay Strong,” Says Petrounias
(5 votes, average 3.40 out of 5)

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life around the world, defending Olympic still rings champion Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece told IG he is faithful that the virus will eventually be put under control and his quest to qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo will end successfully.

Petrounias finished first on still rings in the March 12 qualifications at the World Cup of Baku, a qualifying competition for Tokyo which was curtailed prior to finals when the government of Azerbaijan announced isolation measures starting March 14. The rings final and four other men’s and women’s finals were scheduled for March 14, and the remaining five men’s and women’s finals were scheduled for March 15.

In this International Gymnast Online interview, Petrounias shares COVID-19’s impact on his life, his determination to qualify for Tokyo, and his advice for gymnasts and society at large in coping with the pandemic.

IG: How are your processing the impact that the virus has had on the world, and on your training? What changes have you had to make in terms of training?

EP: The virus at the moment already has an impact as we didn’t make the finals of World Cup in Baku. From the day we traveled back to Greece of course we have a few days off, but for now we are not able to go for training because the national center of Greece is closed to protect against the outbreak of the virus. There are some ideas for allowing a few athletes by name only who are preparing for Tokyo and only for that to continue training, but we haven’t had any news about that yet.

IG: You were in a good position to win in Baku before the finals were canceled. What is your perspective on the disappointing circumstances, and especially how they affect your plans to qualify for Tokyo?

EP: Yes, it is true that I am in very good shape and the 15.10 (score in qualifications) isn’t the best score I can get. I really believe I can do better. With a stuck dismount it can be 15.30-plus! I think the FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) has to count this qualification as a final because it was the closest competition to a final. Otherwise they have to organize a new World Cup in order for the athletes who are chasing the Olympic ticket to have the right chance. After that I think it will not impact my plans because we’re still on the road to Tokyo and the dream is alive.

IG: Considering the recent changes to the FIG schedule because of the pandemic, which competitions do you hope to attend in the coming months, and what will you need in terms of points and wins to qualify for Tokyo?

EP: As I said, if Baku counts, I need one more win in Doha (World Cup of Doha, originally set for March 18-21 but rescheduled to June 3-6). I will be there to get what I deserve and have worked for, in order to go to Tokyo and defend my title on rings. I’m ready for it.

IG: What is your message to other gymnasts and people in general who are coping with the uncertainty and fear associated with the virus?

EP: The only thing I want to say is to protect themselves and be careful about the cleaning rules — washing hands all the time, no touching the face including mouth, nose, eyes and ears, keep safe distances and keep doing what they love the most, which is gymnastics. I believe that for every problem there is more than one solution, and we will reach that soon. I’m confident that humanity will stay strong and will get over this. People are stronger than they believe. Difficulties are a chance to prove that to themselves, and at least have some good come from this hard virus which has entered into our lives without asking.

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

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 11 March 2020 08:08    PDF Print
Kocian: ‘This Year Is For All The People That Have Helped Me’
(6 votes, average 3.67 out of 5)

2016 Olympic gold and silver medalist Madison Kocian may be in the waning months of her gymnastics career, but she is still giving her all to her sport and her UCLA team that will be contending for upcoming conference, regional and national collegiate titles.

Kocian’s serviceable strengths, especially on uneven bars, distinguished her throughout her international career. Born June 15, 1997, in Dallas, she trained under coaches Laurent Landi and Cecile Canqueteau-Landi at WOGA in her home state. Kocian was a team gold medalist at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, and shared in a four-way title for gold on uneven bars at the 2015 Worlds. She won gold in the team final and silver on uneven bars at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, after which she enrolled at UCLA along with her 2014 Worlds and 2016 Olympic teammate Kyla Ross.

Despite shoulder injuries that have bookended her four-year stint at UCLA, Kocian has earned All-American status seven times. She was a member of the UCLA team that placed fourth at the 2017 NCAA Championships, first at the 2018 NCAAs and third at the 2019 NCAAs. A psychology major, Kocian is a three-time Scholastic All-American and serves as a team representative for UCLA’s Student-Athlete Mentor program.

The tenacious Kocian spoke with International Gymnast Online at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion after her team’s March 8 meet against the University of California-Berkeley.

IG: What are your hopes or plans for competing all-around by the end of the season?

MK: I definitely can’t with my shoulder, especially vault. I’m hoping that for the Senior Meet (vs. the University of Bridgeport on March 14) I get to go on beam again. We just have to switch my routine around a bit, because I was getting some nerve pain in my shoulder around the tear doing the series. We’d definitely have to switch some skills up if I want to try to compete beam, but for right now, it’s bars and floor. Then we’ll see if Marz (teammate Margzetta Frazier) can get healthy for floor. It’s just about being fluid with the lineups, and whatever is best for the team, that’s what I’ll be there for.

IG: Bars has always been your best event, and with a shoulder injury hindering you perhaps most of all on bars, how have you navigated that situation physically and psychologically?

MK: It’s hard because I felt I managed my body and my health all summer long, and didn’t train too much in the summer, but just enough to feel the skills that I wanted to be able to compete this year. And then an unfortunate thing happened (at the end of September 2019), just doing a dismount and my shoulder slipped out. It’s pretty much torn the same as the left one was, and like how I competed freshman season with the labrum and bicep, so I had to make the decision if I wanted to do surgery or not. But if I would have had surgery, I wouldn’t have been back until probably Pac-12s (conference championships on March 21), so I decided to rehab as much as I can. It’s definitely harder on certain days, because I’ll be doing well a couple days and then the next day I’m in a lot of pain, and reality hits. My coaches and my teammates have been the ones to get me through the hard days. Even today we weren’t sure if I was competing bars or not, and I was scheduled to be the alternate because this week was kind of rough, but I will probably get a little more rest this week. I don’t really train much on bars during the week, and just try to compete. But for how I feel ready, I do a lot of mental sets and mental training in the gym. Since I’ve been doing the skills for so long, honestly what helps more is doing that (mental training) and conditioning with our strength coach, and kind of easing off on the training a little bit.

IG: Where and how have you found the motivation to continue despite the latest injury?

MK: It’s hard on certain days because I know everything I do is going to hurt it, so it’s hard sometimes to push your body to do something when you know it’s going to cause you pain. But for me, this season, I’m trying to cherish every moment since it is my last year of gymnastics. I have a really close relationships with all of my teammates, and everything I’m doing this year is for them, because I’ve pretty much accomplished what I wanted to accomplish — going to the Olympics, winning a national championship and getting All-American. So this year is for all the people that have helped me throughout my career and about trying to give back, and especially enjoying the last year with my teammates.

IG: What are you planning to do with your psychology degree? What’s next for you after you graduate UCLA?

MK: I am looking into graduate school. I want to go to PA (physician’s assistant) school. I’ve always loved working with kids and always wanted to do something with pediatrics. This past summer I got really close with my shoulder surgeon and his family. He asked me to speak on an athlete advocacy panel at an orthopedic conference in Boston. So I think I want to go into orthopedics. I chose psychology because I felt it had a lot to do with the sport and what I’ve been through, and half of the prereqs for PA graduate school overlap with my major, so I’m going to take an extra year and finish some of the other science classes I need and get extra work hours before I apply. I definitely want to stay out in LA (for the next year), and Kyla and I will probably live together, so it will be fun. We’ve been roommates last year and this year.

IG: What is it like rooming with Kyla, considering you were Olympic and World Championships teammates, as well as together a lot at U.S. training camps?

MK: Sometimes people are like, “I could never live with my best friend because it ruins the relationship.” There are four of us (UCLA teammates) — Kyla, Felicia (Hano), Mercedez (Sanchez) and I. Felicia and Mercedez room together, and they’re the more chill ones. Kyla and I are kind of the same person. It’s really funny. Since we have the same schedule and I feel the same mindset and the same underlying foundation, values and upbringing, I think that’s why we get along so well.

IG: How involved in the sport do you plan to stay after you’ve finished competing?

MK: I will follow it for sure. I don’t think I can go from this much to nothing. Even now, when I’m not able to train or compete, that’s what fills me up — if I can help my teammates in any way, even with the slightest corrections, because sometimes they hear it from the coach so many times and it doesn’t register. In the summer I do certain camps. It’s exciting to see how I can have an impact on little girls, because that’s where I was at one time. I will definitely stay involved, especially since Simone (Biles) is still going for the Olympics and previous teammates are as well. I think I will always stay involved with UCLA because they made me feel a part of their Bruin family, and it’s always going to be a special home for me.

Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

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

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 05 March 2020 08:33    PDF Print
Moors on Tokyo 2020: ‘Excited For The Possibilities’
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Canadas’s Brooklyn Moors, who kicked off her Olympic year with a solid second-place all-around finish at last month’s Elite Canada meet, is just ramping up for the valuable competitions ahead that she hopes will lead her to this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Moors, who turned 19 on February 23, earned a two-day total of 106.414 points to ranked second behind Ana Padurariu (106.865) at Elite Canada that took place February 5-9 in Calgary. There she reaffirmed herself as one of Canada’s top all-arounders, having finished 15th all-around at the 2017 World Championships in Montreal, 24th all-around at the 2018 Worlds in Doha and 14th all-around at the 2019 Worlds in Stuttgart.

Passionate choreography and dynamic tumbling have also made Moors an international medal threat on floor exercise, the apparatus on which she finished fifth in Montreal, eighth in Doha and seventh in Stuttgart.

In this International Gymnast Online interview, the meticulous Moors shares her thoughts on her Elite Canada performances and her pre-Olympic preparations.

IG: Your performance at Elite Canada was even more impressive as it required more stamina than usual, with two days of all-around and both counting. To what do you attribute your results there?

BM: I actually had only been training about a month before Elite Canada due to another injury in my back that occurred just after Worlds (in October 2019). I was completely off training for a few months, and in the new year I was able to resume training. It was definitely a tough month prior to the competition to get back into competition shape, knowing we planned to introduce upgrades. But I am extremely lucky to have had the help of my coaches and the support team at GymCan to help me get where I needed to be. Overall, I went into Elite Canada with no expectations for myself, just wanting to try a few upgrades before the next competitions.

IG: Since Stuttgart, what changes did you make to your training so you could produce the performance you delivered at Elite Canada?

BM: My coach Elvira (Saadi) and I had both decided to add a fourth tumbling line on floor, so training on that event was a bit more intense. I had to put extra work into my endurance because adding that fourth line was tough for me, especially having been off for awhile. Otherwise, my training was similar to before, ensuring that I would peak at the right time.

IG: What are your key competitions between now and Tokyo, and what role does each of them play in your preparation for Tokyo?

BM: The current plan for now is Nationals in May, which is an important competition this year. I have to think of each competition as an opportunity to gain experience and perfect all my routines, specifically floor, and additionally work on execution. Meanwhile, Elvira and I are still developing my floor routine to get it to where we'd like it to be in terms of dance and difficulty, but I'm excited for the possibilities.

IG: You are renowned for your amazing floor work, but you also have proven yourself over the past few years as a top all-arounder. Given that your team has several good all-arounders, what will it take for you to earn an all-around spot for Tokyo?

BM: Our plan right now is to just keep working on the same training path, ensuring I stay strong and healthy and take things day by day. Floor is one of my main events, but I have been focusing on improving in the all-around. I've worked really hard to get where I am today, overcoming many obstacles, so I just need to remain focused and do my best in hopes of representing Canada in Tokyo.

Brooklyn Moors and Ana Padurariu are featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

Moors center poster (April 2019)

“Canadian Grace” - four-page Moors interview (December 2017)

Padurariu interview (December 2019)

“Ana Hits Her Stride” - Padurariu cover story/interview (March 2019)

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

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 28 February 2020 09:22    PDF Print
O’Keefe ‘Loving Every Single Second’ of New Life at Utah
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Two-time U.S. junior national all-around champion Maile O’Keefe has found herself at home as a freshman at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and as her first NCAA season progresses, she is finding herself more at ease with the challenges that are unique to collegiate gymnastics.

O’Keefe dominated the 2016 and 2017 U.S. Junior Championships while training under Tammy Salcianu and Sorin Salcianu, her coaches since she began gymnastics at age three, at Salcianu Elite Academy of Gymnastics just outside her hometown of Las Vegas. Her junior international successes included all-around gold at both the 2017 Gymnix International Junior Cup in Montreal and the 2017 Japan Junior Invitational in Yokohama, and all-around silver at the 2017 City of Jesolo Trophy in Italy. She placed third all-around at the 2018 American Cup in her first year at the senior level.

O’Keefe, who turned 18 on February 26, is poised to become just as reliable for the Utah program. Nine weeks into the NCAA season she has already twice won Freshman of the Week honors in the Pacific-12 (Pac-12) conference. She is eager to lend her all-around aptitude to her Utah squad that should contend for the national title at the NCAA Championships in April.

In this International Gymnast Online interview, the enthusiastic and thoughtful O’Keefe share her views on her transition from elite to collegiate gymnastics, the merits of teamwork and her Utah team’s potential.

IG: As the season has progressed, you really seem to have found your groove in terms of performing solidly and confidently. What has been the most challenging part of adapting to collegiate gymnastics, and how have you managed to master this new realm?

MO’K: The most challenging part of adapting to collegiate gymnastics has been the team aspect of things and figuring out how to enjoy things a little more. Elite gymnastics was way more of an individual mindset and it was a lot more serious of an atmosphere. Competing in college makes you rely on your team and do everything you can for your team to be successful.

IG: What has been the most surprising aspect of NCAA gymnastics for you so far?

MO’K: How extremely fun it is! I love being with my teammates!

IG: Having been dominant as a junior elite, and a two-time junior national all-around champion, how are you comparing your individual goals for all-around success with your Utah team goals?

MO’K: I don’t think you can compare the two because they have been two totally different things. My elite success was definitely amazing and so rewarding, but my Utah success so far has been so fulfilling and I am loving every single second of it!

IG: In elite gymnastics, gymnasts compete in big meets far less frequently than in NCAA gymnastics. How are you managing your physical and mental training so you can perform at your peak on practically a weekly basis for Utah?

MO’K: Communication is a big thing for my coaches and me. They realize that I have not competed this often ever before, so they have given me little breaks here and there to rest me. Making sure we are all on the same page has been key and communicating together has made the transition easier. Competing every week has definitely been a big adjustment since coming to college.

IG: Having already achieved so much in your career, how have your goals and perspective on gymnastics changed since you have enrolled at Utah?

MO’K: My goals are no longer based solely on me. My goals are for the team and for the program. One of the things our team says is “All we have is all we need.” This just means we as a team are great and enough, and when we compete we just need to do our thing. Competing on a team has completely changed my perspective of gymnastics.

IG: What classes are you taking this term, and if you are leaning towards a major, what are the top prospects at this point?

MO’K: Right now, I am enrolled in four classes. I am taking Intro to Kinesiology, Writing 2010, Online U.S. History, and a communications class to fill general education requirements. I am leaning towards studying kinesiology as my major.

IG: Given the tight scoring and parity among the top teams in the NCAA, what do you think it will take for Utah to break out of the pack and challenge for the national title in April?

MO’K For Utah to break out of the pack, we just need to keep doing our thing and hit weekend after weekend. We need to focus on settling into the environment on every single event. I don’t think we have hit a full meet yet, and when we do that we will be a very dangerous team. We always seem to have one event that just isn’t what we know we are capable of and have seen in practice. I know once we do that we are challenging the best and we can push for the national title!

Read “Sure Bet,” a five-page cover story on Maile O’Keefe, in the December 2017 issue of International Gymnast magazine.

Photo courtesy to University of Utah.

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

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