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Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 23 October 2016 12:39    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Emily Little (Australia)

2012 Olympic all-around finalist Emily Little of Australia said her most recent medal-winning international performances have rejuvenated her as she continues to upgrade and improve.

2012 Olympic all-around finalist Emily Little of Australia said her most recent medal-winning international performances have rejuvenated her as she continues to upgrade and improve.

The 22-year-old Little tied for the gold medal on balance beam and won the silver medal on vault at the Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, held October 7-9.

A veteran of three world championships, Little placed 15th all-around at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and third on vault at the 2016 Olympic test event held in Rio de Janeiro in April. She finished third all-around, first on vault, and third on balance beam and floor exercise at the Australian Championships in May.

Little did not get the opportunity to compete at the Rio Games in August since after Australia placed fifth at the test event, from which the top four teams advanced to the Games. Larrissa Miller, one of Little's teammates at the 2012 Games, was the lone Australian artistic gymnast in Rio.

In this IG Online interview, Little reflects on Szombathely and Rio, and projects her ambitions for the coming years.

IG: What were your goals for Szombathely, and how do you assess your performance in terms of your goals?

Little at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

EL: My goals for this competition were to make both my beam and vaults cleanly. I added a new mount and a new connection on beam, with the new Code in mind, so I wanted to make both of those skills, which I managed to do. Vault was another chance to practice competing, and I feel confident that I am ready to upgrade on vault.

IG: 2016 might be considered a difficult year for the Australian team. What has given you the motivation to continue, even after your team qualified only one gymnast for Rio?

EL: If anything I hope that this year has made the team stronger and more motivated to do better in the next (Olympic) cycle. We haven't had the best team outcomes but I think that when someone has the most difficult times is when we learn the most about ourselves. I have been lucky enough to gain a sponsor and I have a good team of supportive people around me, so I feel as though the next couple of years can be the best of my career if I put in the hard work.

IG: What were your impressions of Larrissa's performance in Rio, especially having competed many times with her on the team?

EL: I think she had a lot of pressure on her as the only gymnast competing from Australia.  Her bars routine was very nice and she was going for difficulty on floor. She is a good competitor on teams, and I believe not having a team in Rio left her at a disadvantage.

IG: Although you were an all-around finalist in London, there is a trend for the more veteran gymnasts to end up specializing in one or more apparatuses. Does your success on beam and vault in Hungary indicate that these might become your specialties? Or if that is just a coincidence, what are your plans for continuing as an all-arounder?

EL: I plan to continue as an all-arounder. I am able to do all four events and I enjoy them all. Most of my focus will be put into vault, and I'll be looking to upgrade on floor and beam. Bars is not my best apparatus but I'll be competing a clean, safe routine.

IG: Looking ahead to 2017, what are your plans in terms of international gymnastics and life outside the gym?

EL: I would like to do the World Cup circuit. I have already met so many amazing gymnasts and I would like to practice competing new skills. I want to start studying. I feel as though I'm getting old as a gymnast and need to start planning for my future outside of the gym. Personal training or massage will be on my agenda for next year.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Australian gymnastics includes:
Alysha Djuric profile (July/August 2014)
Georgia Godwin interview (October 2015)
Peggy Liddick interview (October 2015)
"The Lowdown from Liddick" – comments from Liddick (June 2014)
"Catching up with Allana Slater" – profile (April 2014)
Georgia Godwin cover photo (March 2014)

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

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 08 June 2016 08:41    PDF Print
Russian-Born Sazonova Realizes Olympic Dream In Iceland
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

After a lengthy career competing in and for her native Russia, Irina Sazonova of Iceland has reached the highest destination of her gymnastics journey — a berth to this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Sazonova, who began competing for Iceland last year, earned her spot for the Rio Games through her performance at the Olympic test event in Rio in April, which served as the second and final qualifying meet for the Games. She will be the first female artistic gymnast to represent Iceland in Olympic competition.

Born September 2, 1991, in Vologda, Sazonova competed steadily for her native country earlier this decade. She placed 12th all-around at the 2010 Russian Cup, 13th all-around at the 2011 Russian Championships and 14th all-around at the 2012 Russian Championships. Among Sazonova’s international credentials for Russia, she placed sixth on floor exercise at the 2010 DTB Cup in Stuttgart; and seventh all-around, sixth on uneven bars and third with the Russian team at the 2011 University Games in Shenzhen.

Sazonova’s career has flourished since she relocated to Iceland and subsequently received Icelandic citizenship. She placed fourth all-around (50.950), first on uneven bars and third on floor exercise at the Northern European Championships in Limerick in September 2015; and 98th all-around in qualifications (50.398) at the World Championships in Glasgow in October. This spring she finished 39th all-around (52.931) at the Olympic test event, and 19th all-around in qualifications (52.057) at the European Championships in Bern.

In this IG Online interview, Sazonova details her journey from Russia to Rio, via her adoptive country of Iceland.

IG: When did you realize you qualified for Rio, and what emotions were you feeling at that moment?

IS: I knew about my advancement to the Olympic Games right after the performances at the test event, when they showed the final results. Even now I cannot believe that I will compete on the Olympic podium and compete with the best gymnasts in the world. This was my dream since childhood.

IG: Between Bern and Rio, what will be the focus of your training?

IS: Bern was one more test of my possibilities. In general I am pleased with my performances, but there is still work to do, to finish my program and bring it up to the necessary level for the Games. This month I will go to a training camp in Stuttgart, where I can concentrate only on training and make my program more difficult. It will be, in its own way, a dress rehearsal before the Olympic Games!

IG: How, when and why did you decide to compete for Iceland?

IS: I began my career in Vologda, at the Children’s/Youth Specialized Sport School of Olympic Reserve No. 1, with coach Olga Kovalyova. Then, when I was 15, I left for Saint Petersburg, in order to continue my training there at the School of Olympic Reserve No. 1. There, spouses Svetlana Kolomenskaya and Yury Kolomensky coached me. In Iceland I am coached by my compatriot Vladimir Antonov.

My coach from Saint Petersburg, Svetlana Kolomenskaya, was working in Iceland, and took me there with her. I simply wanted to try something new. Soon she left to return home, and I decided to remain. I liked this country so much that I did not want to leave. Iceland became my home. At first I competed only for the club “Armann,” but having received citizenship on August 13, 2015, there was for me the possibility of representing the country on the big podium.

IG: Your life in Iceland must be quite different from your life in Russia. How are you doing with the transition, in terms of lifestyle, culture and language?

IS: I cannot compare how I lived in Russia with how I live now. Everything is different. I was a child, and here I have plunged into adult life. In Iceland I not only continued my sports career, but I also began my coaching activities, and for the first time began to work as a coach, precisely in Iceland. The Icelandic language is hard, but I think that soon I can grasp it.

IG: To what do you attribute your betterment as a gymnast since you moved to Iceland?

IS: I’m better probably because I became more adult, and of course have gained experience. Now I can allocate my time adequately so that everything I do goes to my advantage.

IG: What are your post-Rio plans?

IS: Rio will be my first Olympic Games, but I hope not my last. I am going to continue training and prepare for the next Games in 2020.

Read “Icelandic Warm-up,” a feature on IG’s visit to gym clubs in Iceland, in the November 2012 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues or subscribe, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 07 April 2016 12:41    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Samuel Zakutney (Canada)
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although Canada's Samuel Zakutney, 17, is new to senior international competition, he is eager to take on the important task of Olympic qualification as he prepares for the upcoming Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro. Pictured: Zakutney with coach Oleksandr Zavadych

Although Canada's Samuel Zakutney is new to senior international competition, he is eager to take on the important task of Olympic qualification as he prepares for the upcoming Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro.

Zakutney placed sixth all-around at the RD76I International Junior Team Cup in Texas in January, and fifth all-around and first on parallel bars in the senior division at the Elite Canada meet in February. Based on his recent results, including third place on high bar at the Calgary International Cup in March, he was named to the Canadian squad for the test event.

Canada finished 15th at last fall's World Championships in Glasgow, where the top eight teams earned automatic berths to this summer's Olympic Games in Rio. The next eight teams advanced to the test event taking place April 16-18, from which the top four teams will move on to the Games.

Born October 6, 1998, in Saint John, New Brunswick. Zakutney trains at Ottawa Gymnastics Center under coach Oleksandr Zavadych, former coach of the Ukrainian junior men's team. Zakutney, a Franco-Ontarian, is a senior at l'École Secondaire Catholique Franco-Cité in Ottawa. His father, Tim Zakutney, was a member of Canada's bronze medal-winning team at the 2000 World Ultimate Frisbee Championships. Zakutney's younger sisters, Alexandra and Sydney, are also athletic.

Zakutney earned solid results at the junior level earlier in the current Olympic quadrennium.

He placed 15th all-around in the 1997-98 age group at the 2013 International Junior Team Cup in Berlin; 12th all-around at the 2014 Junior Pan American Championships in Aracaju, Brazil; and 11th all-around and third on high bar at the 2015 Japan Junior Invitational in Yokohama.

In domestic competition, Zakutney finished third all-around, first on vault and first on parallel bars at the 2014 Canadian Junior Championships; first all-around, first on floor exercise and first on high bar in the junior division at the 2015 Elite Canada meet; and third all-around and second on high bar at the 2015 Canadian Junior Championships.

Zakutney shares his plans and goals for the test event in this IG Online interview.

Zakutney on parallel bars

IG: You haven't had much time to adjust to major senior competition, so what is your mindset heading into the test event?

SZ: Since this is my first major international senior competition, I'm just hoping to approach it with the most confidence possible. If I trust my training and not worry about scores, I should be cool as a cucumber.

However, there will be seven Canadian gymnasts going, and the final line-up will be made after podium training. Hopefully my self-confidence will also give me the chance to compete.

IG: What exactly do you think Canada will need to do at the test event to earn one of the four spots for the Games?

SZ: If the Canadian team wishes to qualify to the Olympic Games, we need to pull off near-perfect routines. We need to focus on executing our routines to the max.

IG: What do you think makes the composition of this team uniquely strong and cohesive?

SZ: Unfortunately, the Canadian team faced a few injuries which resulted in a couple of our best gymnasts being put out for the rest of this year. However, the rest of the team, including me, has remained determined to not let this year get the better of us. It's through our resilience and our perseverance that I believe we will challenge for one of the top four spots.

IG: What do you feel you can offer to your team at the test event, in terms of your particular strengths and also your sense of team spirit?

SZ: I believe I can offer the team consistency on most of the events, more specifically on floor, p-bars and high bar. Those events are the ones with the highest Difficulty scores and they remain remarkably consistent.

Since I am the only senior national team member from Ottawa, I always make the most of the time together with the team. I will offer as much support and encouragement to all of the teammates from the moment we enter the arena.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Canadian gymnastics includes:
Jade Chrobok profile (April 2016)
Chrobok and Meixi Semple cover photo inset (March 2016)
"Aiming to Top the Charts" – Maegan Chant interview (October 2013)
"Canadian Beacon" – Ellie Black interview (September 2015)
"Canadian Promise" – Black chat and Robert Watson profile (July/August 2014)
"Canadian Diversity" – Black and Hugh Smith profiles (July/August 2013)
Chat with Christine Peng-Peng Lee (April 2015)
"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)
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.

Written by Amanda Turner    Saturday, 02 April 2016 13:01    PDF Print
Five Champions Crowned on First Day of Cottbus Finals
(4 votes, average 4.25 out of 5)

Five gymnasts won titles on the first day of finals as the 40th Tournament of Masters continued Saturday at the Lausitz Arena in Cottbus, Germany. Pictured: Still rings champion Igor Radivilov (Ukraine

Five gymnasts won titles on the first day of finals as the 40th Tournament of Masters continued Saturday at the Lausitz Arena in Cottbus, Germany.

Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who made her debut at the Tournament of Masters back in 1989, added yet another Cottbus title with the vault gold. Clad in a lovely purple ombré leotard, she nearly stuck her layout Rudi and took a large hop on an otherwise clean 1 1/2-twisting Tsukahara for a 14.700 average.

China's Wu Jing had better success with her double-twisting Tsukahara and layout Rudi than in qualification, but execution deductions kept her from challenging for gold. Slovenia's Tjaša Kysselef, a mainstain on the World Cup circuit, added another medal with the bronze.

Germany's Sophie Scheder won uneven bars with a spectacular, truly artistic routine. Scheder's strength is her tight, beautiful form accentuated by her long lines (inside-Stalder full, Komova transition, bail, toe-on full, toe-shoot to high; inside Stalder, insider Stalder blind to Jaeger; kip, cast, pirouette, giants to full-twisting double tuck).

Runner-up Zhu Xiaofang had a high-flying routine also worth 6.6 in Difficulty but of a completely different style (Maloney to Pak; Maloneye-half; healy to Ling to Jaeger; full-twisting double) but a low landing on her dismount might have been enough to bump her to second.

In the men's competition, Ukrainian Oleg Vernyayev, the only gymnast to qualify to every event final, won the bronze medal on floor exercise and silver on pommel horse. He fell on his dismount on still rings, where he was the top qualifier.

Brazilian Diego Hypólito topped Slovenia's Rok Klavora on men's floor exercise, in the same finish as last weekend's Doha World Cup Challenge.

Two-time British Olympian Louis Smith rebounded from his mistake in qualification to win the pommel horse final. Daniel Corral tied Slovenia's Sašo Bertoncelj for the bronze despite a fall late in his routine.

Ukrainian Igor Radivilov, the 2013 co-European still rings champion, won rings over Brazilian Henrique Flores and Dennis Goossens.

The best finish for the German men on Saturday two fourth-place finishes for Marcel Nguyen on floor exercise and still rings.

Competition concludes Sunday with the remaining apparatus finals.

External Link: Official Website

40th Tournament of Masters/FIG World Challenge Cup
April 2, 2016, Cottbus, Germany

Women's Vault FinalDENDScoreAverage
1.Oksana Chusovitina6.28.80015.00014.700
2.Wu Jing6.08.3000.114.20014.350
3.Tjaša Kysselef5.38.76614.06613.966
4.Gabriela Janik5.38.93314.23313.949
5.Lisa Top5.38.6660.113.86613.933
6.Antonia Alicke5.28.60013.80013.666
7.Teja Belak5.37.73313.03313.599
8.Liu Jinru6.28.3330.314.2337.116

Uneven Bars FinalDENDScore
1.Sophie Scheder6.48.50014.900
2.Zhu Xiaofang6.48.33314.733
3.Gabriela Janik5.77.56613.266
4.Simona Castro4.98.20013.100
5.Nora Fernández5.37.66612.966
6.Oksana Chusovitina5.17.66612.766
7.Lisa Top5.17.26612.366
8.Sanne Wevers4.46.36610.766

Men's Floor Exercise FinalDENDScore
1.Diego Hypólito6.88.66615.466
2.Rok Klavora6.28.66614.866
3.Oleg Vernyayev6.58.33314.833
4.Tomas Kuzmickas6.67.83314.433
4.Marcel Nguyen6.08.43314.433
6.Dominick Cunningham6.48.1000.114.400
7.Angelo Assumpção6.77.36614.066
8.Pablo Brägger6.66.4330.112.933

Pommel Horse FinalDENDScore
1.Louis Smith7.27.90015.100
2.Oleg Vernyayev6.78.30015.000
3.Sašo Bertoncelj6.18.60014.700
3.Daniel Corral7.07.70014.700
5.Levente Vagner6.28.46614.666
5.Weng Hao7.07.66614.666
7.Wang Bo6.58.00014.500
8.Stian Skjerahaug6.08.30014.300

Still Rings FinalDENDScore
1.Igor Radivilov6.88.70015.500
2.Henrique Flores6.98.46615.366
3.Dennis Goossens6.68.43315.033
4.Marcel Nguyen6.48.60015.000
4.Vinzenz Höck6.68.40015.000
6.Oleg Vernyayev6.67.76614.366
7.Fellipe Arakawa5.88.23314.033
8.Andreas Toba6.57.43313.933
Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 17 March 2016 13:03    PDF Print
Lee Looking Ahead After Latest Surgery
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although recent knee surgery will keep Canadian 2012 Olympic gymnastics team honorary captain Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee out of contention for this summer's Games in Rio de Janeiro, she told IG she is eager for the new opportunities that lie ahead after she recovers.

Lee on beam for UCLA in February 2016

"I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I know my left knee was clicking and popping, and it seemed really abnormal," said Lee, a UCLA sociology major from Richmond Hill, Ont. "So I got an MRI and we realized it was a torn meniscus. I just got a scope and they took out the tear. It was a really small tear, so the healing process should be a lot quicker, but I'm still trying to get the swelling down. It's a little more difficult since I've had knee issues, but I'm just trying to everything we can do."

Lee, whose two previous ACL surgeries on the same knee included one that kept her from competing at the 2012 Olympics, said she is unsure how her latest injury occurred.

"It could have been some wear and tear," she said. "I remember landing a vault, and it popped a bit, but it didn't seem like a big issue because sometimes it would pop and sometimes it wouldn't. It was a mysterious thing that was happening, and I was just trying to keep positive, but it came to the point where I needed an MRI to clear my conscience."

Following her surgery three weeks ago, Lee hopes to return to competition in time for the NCAA Regional Championships on April 2.

"It was good that they found something, because then I could move forward and do everything in my will to get my knee really healthy," she said. "For Regionals, I'm looking at competing on bars, because it's not a heavy landing, and hopefully beam. But we're just trying to make sure the swelling is all out and my muscle is firing properly, to make sure it's safe and my knee is super healthy."

Prior to enrolling at UCLA, Lee was one of Canada's leading international competitors. She was the Canadian women's top all-arounder at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, where she placed 19th in the all-around final. Earlier in 2011 she placed fourth all-around at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara.

Lee led Canada to a Games-winning team berth at the Olympic test event in London in January 2012, where she was sixth all-around in qualifications. She placed third all-around at the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Wash., in March 2012; and first on uneven bars and fourth on floor exercise at the Challenge Cup of Osijek, Croatia, in April 2012.

During training at the Canadian championships in May 2012, Lee tore her left ACL on vault. She traveled to the London Olympics that summer as the Canadian team's honorary captain, after which she enrolled at UCLA.

Lee missed the 2012-13 NCAA season while rehabilitating from the injury, and missed the 2013-14 season after she underwent revision ACL surgery in November 2013.

Although Lee initially planned to try for the Rio Games, her latest injury forced her to reconsider. Last November she underwent thumb surgery.

"I've opted out of the Olympics," she said. "It was a really hard decision, but I realized that I've had two surgeries this year and it's not worth it to put my body at risk. I am getting older and my health is a little more important to me now, because I need my body for the rest of my life."

Despite missing the chance to compete in the 2012 and 2016 Games, Lee said she is realistic about her expectations.

"I love the Olympics, and it was such an honor to go in 2012," she said. "I'm still rooting for Team Canada and I'm sure they will do amazingly, but I think it's the best decision to me. I've definitely put a lot of thought into it. My body is telling me that this isn't my time."

Lee said she anticipates future competitions for UCLA.

"I do have two more years of eligibility," she said. "However, I am only going to use one more year of it to stay for a fifth year."

The 22-year-old Lee said she is optimistic about upcoming experiences in and out of the gym.

"I'm looking forward to other, new things in my life," she told IG. "I'm excited for the future. Rio would have been an amazing opportunity, but the Olympics isn't something that's going to define me. I'm really looking forward to everything else in life. I've learned a lot about myself, especially being in college. There's so much more to life."

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