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Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 15 February 2017 09:46    PDF Print
Interview: David Jessen (Czech Republic)
(3 votes, average 4.67 out of 5)



Czech gymnast David Jessen intends to use the valuable experience he gained at last summer's Olympic Games in Rio to motivate him for future competitions for Czech Republic and Stanford University in California, where he is in the midst of his first NCAA season.

Jessen at the 2015 European Games

Czech gymnast David Jessen intends to use the valuable experience he gained at last summer's Olympic Games in Rio to motivate him for future competitions for Czech Republic and Stanford University in California, where he is in the midst of his first NCAA season.

Born in Brno, Jessen holds dual citizenship with the U.S. He was a member of the U.S. junior national team earlier in his career, and won the Czech national all-around title in 2014 and 2015. Jessen, who finished 47th all-around at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, is the son of 1988 Olympian Hana Říčná Jessen. Říčná Jessen, who competed for then-united Czechoslovakia, won the silver medal on balance beam at the 1983 World Championships and the bronze medal on uneven bars at the 1985 Worlds.

Jessen, who placed 47th all-around in Rio, shared his thoughts on Rio and his plans for the future in this IG Online interview.


IG: After Rio you posted a Facebook message implying that you weren't satisfied with your results. Looking back, what went right and not-so-right?

DJ: Looking back at the Games, my performance was not as bad as it might have seemed at first. Disappointment is the first thing that hits when something doesn't go as well as you hoped, especially when an opportunity such as the Olympic Games comes only once every four years. I think I may have set my ambitions a little too high instead of letting the competition take its course and enjoying it. The experience is what it was really about. Pommel horse was definitely a rough event to start on, but once I got that out of the way, I felt more relaxed for the rest of the meet. If there was one thing I could relive from the Games, it was the feeling of hitting a really clean high bar set. I was most happy about that.

IG: How did your experience in Rio prepare you for the upcoming major international competitions?


Jessen and Australia's Emily Little, with whom he paired to win the 2016 Grno Brand Prix

DJ: The Olympic Games in Rio was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After being a part of that experience, I've felt what it's like to be among the top athletes in the world, and I am extremely grateful. Therefore, going into the upcoming international meets, I do not think I will be as nervous, yet I will always pressure myself into performing to the best of my ability.

IG: So far this NCAA season you have not competed all-around. What is your plan for building back into the all-around, in the NCAA season as well as for international meets?

DJ: Stanford has always been a very competitive team, and making the lineup on an event is not an easy task. As of right now, I help to contribute on my better three events – pommel horse, parallel bars, and high bar – in competitions while still getting to train all six during the week. So I will always be fighting to earn an all-around spot, but at the end of the day, the lineup is determined by what is best for the team. As for representing Czech Republic in international competitions, I would like to pursue competing all-around.

IG: What big meets are on your agenda for Czech Republic this year?

DJ: Sadly, this year's NCAA Championships fall on the same weekend as the European Championships, so I will not be able to go (to Europeans) this time. However, I do plan on competing at Czech Nationals in June if school permits. I also look forward to hopefully competing in this year's University Games in Taipei and World Championships in Montreal.

IG: Although you have not declared a major, towards which if any major are you leaning at this point?

DJ: I am leaning towards a biology degree or a similar degree that may help me get into med school. I have always enjoyed learning about the sciences, particularly biology and chemistry, so I figured that medicine was the way to go.

International Gymnast magazine's coverage of Czech gymnasts includes:
Vera Caslavska tribute (October 2016)
Vera Caslavska/Hall of Fame induction feature (June 2012)
"Rebuilding Phase" - Kristýna Pálešová profile (June 2011)
Říčná/Jessen family update (June 2010)
"Central European Sojourn" - includes IG's visit to Sokol Brno (January/February 2010)
"Shooting Star" - Petra Fialova profile (January/February 2010)
"Central European Sojourn" - includes IG's visit to Sokol Brno club (January/February 2010)
"On the Upswing" - Jana Šikulová profile (July/August 2006)
"Reality Czech" - Jana Komrsková feature (November 2003)
"Catching up with Hana Říčná Jessen" - profile (May 2001)
Komrsková profile (August/September 2000)

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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 10 February 2017 11:19    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Scott Morgan (Canada)
(3 votes, average 4.67 out of 5)



Although 2016 Canadian Olympian Scott Morgan skipped the recent Elite Canada meet, he is readying himself for challenges to come, including this falls's World Championships that his country will host in Montreal.

Although 2016 Canadian Olympian Scott Morgan skipped the recent Elite Canada meet, he is readying himself for challenges to come, including this falls's World Championships that his country will host in Montreal.

The 27-year-old Morgan was the lone Canadian male artistic gymnast at last summer's Olympic Games in Rio, where he was the first competitor on floor exercise in the first subdivision. He competed on three apparatuses, ranking 14th on vault, 18th on floor exercise and 27th on rings. Morgan, who placed eighth on floor exercise at the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, came closest to a Rio final on that event, where his score of 14.966 points was 0.234 points shy of the cut-off for the eight-gymnast final.

Morgan refers to his gymnastics in terms of "we," a consciously chosen pronoun by which he means himself and Valentin Stan, his coach at Flicka Gymnastics Club in North Vancouver. "It certainly wouldn't have been possible to get to where I've gotten without his support, so I look at us as a team," Morgan says.

In this IG Online interview, Morgan details his strategy for skipping Elite Canada, his performances in Rio and how they impacted him, his plans to revise his routines and his goals for Montreal.


IG: Why didn't you compete at Elite Canada?

SM: Following a very busy cycle and a demanding Olympic Games, we (Morgan and Stan) decided to rehab a few injuries this fall and winter that needed attention. Progress has been great so far, and our goal this year is to learn and progress as much as possible. We've decided that more time towards skills was best for our long-term plans of obtaining finals and reaching the podium, so opting out of this year's early competitions just made sense.

IG: You were reasonably close to making the floor final in Rio. Looking back, what do you think cost you a higher score and a better chance at the final?

SM: After qualifying as Canada's representative we knew we had an uphill battle starting off the competition first on floor. Perfection was our only objective and although we hit one of our best great routines, it wasn't enough to keep us in the mix as the competition progressed. It wasn't easy watching the rest of qualifications unfold but, at the end of the day, we were extremely happy with my routine and had a great experience.

IG: What did your experience in Rio teach or show you in terms of the changes or improvements you need to make in your gymnastics?

SM: Our experience certainly taught me that, regardless of competition order, it has zero reflection on how you as an athlete perform. We knew that, come competition day, the pressure to perform first up was going to be huge, and our preparation paid off. Rio was just one of many examples of how deep the the talent pool is in men's gymnastics, which is why we're planning on taking a step back and learn as much as possible. It's difficult to make it with just Start Value or form, so our goal is to maximize both in order to reach our full potential heading into this (2020 Olympic) cycle.

IG: What specific skills or combinations are you training for this season, not only on floor but your other apparatuses?

SM: We're going to try and change up a few things on floor. We want to keep it clean while opening up the door for higher Start Values, and maximizing connections while keeping some big skills in the mix. The same goes for rings and vault. It seems like everyone's pushing the envelope, so we're testing out a few new 5.6 vaults, as well as a couple new rings routine compositions, in hopes of improving our chances on multiple events.

IG: This year's worlds in Montreal present a new challenge for you competitively, compounded by the chance to compete in front of your home audience. How are you preparing for this opportunity, in terms of the extra expectations that may be placed on you there?

SM: We're planning the same as we did for Rio. Although the situation is different, we know the expectation will be just as high, and we're looking forward to showing something new and competitive at home. We expect Montreal's World Championships to be a similar experience to Toronto's 2015 Pan American Games, with loads of energy with immense pressure to do your country proud. Competing on home soil is always a pleasure, and we couldn't be more excited for this event and opportunity.

International Gymnast magazine's coverage of Canadian gymnasts includes:
"Making Tracks" - Scott Morgan profile (December 2013)
"Canadian Pace-setter" - Ana Padurariu profile (December 2016)
Jade Chrobok profile (April 2016)
Jade Chrobok and Meixi Semple cover photo inset (March 2016)
"Canadian Beacon" – Ellie Black interview (September 2015)
Chat with Christine Peng-Peng Lee (April 2015)
Megan Roberts profile (April 2015)
Isabela Onyshko profile (July/August 2014)
"Canadian Promise" - Ellie Black chat and Robert Watson profile (July/August 2014)
"Aiming to Top the Charts" - Maegan Chant interview (October 2013)
"Canadian Diversity" - Ellie Black and Hugh Smith profiles (July/August 2013)
"Sudden Impact" - Victoria Moors interview (January/February 2013)
Aleeza Yu two-page photo spread (May 2014)

Subscribe today and read this entire issue digitally, on your computer!

 
Written by dwight normile    Friday, 16 December 2016 16:00    PDF Print
Dominic Zito Has Found His Dream Job
(5 votes, average 4.20 out of 5)

Dominic Zito has been choreographing gymnastics routines since he was 13. Since 2013, the 34-year-old has been the official choreographer for the U.S. women's national team.

A former gymnast in his native Cleveland, Zito was a competitive dancer from 1991-2004 and a professional dancer for the Cleveland Opera from 2004-06. He got his start in choreography when Kittia Carpenter (Buckeye Gymnastics) was judging the Ohio State 9/10 State Championships in 2001. Zito was head coach at Westside Gymnastics, and she asked him who choreographed his team's routines. Zito did.

"She called me the next day and asked if I would come to Buckeye and choreograph their routines," Zito says.

The floodgates opened from that point. Mary Lee Tracy called, and soon Zito was doing routines for prominent clubs across the U.S. But after he did Jordyn Wieber's routine in 2011, "my career really took off."

Zito was getting calls from Valeri Liukin, Liang Chow, Donna Strauss, Sarah Jantzi, Jenny Liang and Kelli Hill.

"I choreographed many national team members before I ever met Martha Karolyi or attended a training camp," he says.

Zito has done routines for Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, Ragan Smith and a host of others.

Following are excerpts from his lengthy interview in the December issue of International Gymnast.


IG: Ragan Smith's routine to The Addams Family was brilliant. Does that routine rank in your own top three?

DZ: Yes, Ragan Smith's floor routine was one of my top three favorites. Kim Zmeskal-Burdette and I worked together on Ragan's 2015 and 2016 floor routines. [Neither] Kim nor myself have an ego when it comes to choreography, and we both want the best possible routine for the athletes, and I think we are a great choreography team. Kim and I spent endless hours and months working on it to make sure everything was perfect. Kim and I were worried we wouldn't be able to top the West Side Story routine from 2015, but we did! Ragan's routine turned out to be one of the most memorable routines from 2016, and that's exactly what we were going for.

IG: Simone Biles wouldn't be considered balletic, so how do you choreograph for her?

DZ: Correct, Simone Biles is not a classically trained ballerina, but I think she honestly could do anything she puts effort into. I still wish fans and spectators would understand that ballet does not define artistry. The Samba/Latin style Simone has used was perfect for her at the time.

You never know what she will decide to use if she returns. We actually tried several styles and genres in the past three years, including a routine we started to "Malaguena," which Simone actually picked out in our music selection meeting.

IG: How hard is it to get gymnasts to use facial expressions during their floor routines?

DZ: I choreograph many of the gymnast's facial expressions and eye contact/focus. The athletes usually don't know where to look or are not sure what emotion they should display in the various sections of their floor routines, so it is important to pay attention to detailing that during the choreography process and after. Some gymnasts are better than others about adding in their own facial expressions, but a lot of times they are focusing on their skills and lose the engaging interaction that makes routines the full package. I have found that the more comfortable the gymnasts become with their gymnastics skills and dance elements, the more fully they perform.

IG: On constraints posed by the Code of Points...

DZ: I would love if the time limit was raised from the 1:30 maximum to allow more time for the athletes to showcase more choreography/artistry and utilize the entire floor like a stage, instead of dancing close to the corners or around the perimeter. Regardless, the USA is still doing an amazing job, demonstrating both great tumbling, dance elements and choreography.

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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 30 November 2016 11:02    PDF Print
Schmidt 'Fiercer' In Quest For Tokyo 2020
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)



Although Dutch gymnast Casimir Schmidt was not selected for a starting spot on his country's team at this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he has shifted his focus from frustration to optimism as he aims for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Although Dutch gymnast Casimir Schmidt was not selected for a starting spot on his country's team at this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he has shifted his focus from frustration to optimism as he aims for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Schmidt, who turned 21 on October 31, was one of the top Dutch prospects for team and individual success in Rio. He placed 18th all-around at the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, and competed all-around at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, where the Dutch team finished 18th and 11th, respectively. He was a member of the Dutch team that placed third at the April Olympic test event in Rio in April, where the Dutch men qualified their first full team since 1928.

Among Schmidt's best individual achievements, he won gold on floor exercise and bronze on vault at the 2014 Challenge Cup of Ljubljana, bronze on vault at the 2014 European Championships in Sofia and silver on vault at the 2015 European Games, where he placed 13th all-around. He also placed fourth on floor exercise at the Olympic test event.

Schmidt, who finished fourth all-around at the Dutch Olympic trials in July but was named a non-traveling reserve for the team, reflects on his missed opportunity and projects his aspirations for the coming years in this IG Online interview.


IG: How have you been able to cope with, and reconcile with, the fact that you were not selected to compete in Rio?

CS: Of course it's difficult for me. I really felt that I was supposed to be on that team, but I was also happy for my teammates who did earn themselves a spot on the team. I'm very easy in accepting, and that was kind of the only thing I could do. There wasn't anything I could've done about it.


Schmidt won the silver medal on vault at the 2015 European Games.

IG: When you watched the Dutch team's performance in Rio, what do you think they could have done differently for a better result?

CS: I don't know for sure, but of course they took a risk with having only three gymnasts on floor, pommel horse, vault and parallel bars. But you never know if someone else could've done it better.

IG: Also when you watch the team's performance, what do you think you could have contributed that was missing from the team?

CS: I think my best apparatuses are floor and vault, so maybe on those events, but you can't be sure about that. Besides that, the team performed very well, and I'm really proud.

IG: In what ways did your status as non-traveling reserve gymnast for the team, and the team's actual results, motivate you to continue your career?

CS: Of course I think gymnastics is the most beautiful sport there is, and I'm fiercer than I was before on getting to the Olympics. Now that I was so close that I could almost taste it, I want the full dish, if you know what I mean. I don't only want to compete in Tokyo 2020, but I want to surprise everyone.

IG: What upgrades and changes are you working on, to better your chances for success in 2017 and beyond?

CS: The Code of Points is going to change a lot, so we are not sure yet what we are going to change, but at least my high bar has to improve. We're really working on that, and it's coming along very well. And I'm working on some big moves on floor!

IG: With Tokyo still over three years ahead, what is your plan to stay focused and keep a steady pace, so you can be at your best in 2020?

CS: The best is staying healthy and fit, so I'm just trying to do everything I can to be 100% every training and work my tail off. And we will see if that pays off at the end!

International Gymnast magazine's recent features on Dutch gymnasts include:
"Dutch Master" - Eythora Thorsdottir interview (April 2016)
"Marked for Success" - Casimir Schmidt profile (July/August 2014)
"Just Verdict" - Céline van Gerner interview (June/July 2012)
"Ready to Rise for the Netherlands" - Noel van Klaveren profile (June 2013)
"Skilled and Studious" - Epke Zonderland cover story (March 2014)

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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 25 November 2016 07:40    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Jessica Dowling (Canada)
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Absent from competition for the past few years, 22-year-old Canadian gymnast Jessica Dowling is enjoying her return to competition, starting with a satisfying return at the recent Elite Gym Massilia meet in Marseille, France.


Dowling at the recent Elite Gym Massilia in Marseille

"Even with the surgeries and the state of my knee, I knew I would regret my decision later in life if I didn't try to come back," said Dowling, referring to the issues that kept her out of the sport since 2013.

Dowling trains at Dynamo Gymnastics in Cambridge, Ontario, under coaches Elvira Saadi (1972 and '76 Soviet Olympic team gold medalist) and Denis Vachon. Dowling helped Dynamo place ninth in the Open team standings at the Elite Gym Massilia, held November 11-13 in Marseille. She finished 26th in the Open all-around. Eight years ago in Marseille, she placed eighth all-around. Five years ago in Marseille, Dowling finished 16th all-around in the Elite division.

Born September 9, 1994, in Hamilton, Ontario, Dowling was a steady presence on the Canadian scene as a junior and senior earlier in her career. She placed seventh all-around at the 2008 Canadian Junior Championships, 15th all-around at the 2010 Canadian Championships, first all-around in the Open division at the 2011 Canadian Championships, and 11th all-around at the 2012 Canadian Championships.

Dowling, whose mother was born in the Netherlands, has dual citizenship; she placed fourth all-around at the 2011 Dutch Championships.

Dowling describes her past challenges, and reveals her new motivations and plans, in this IG Online interview.



The Dynamo team at the 2016 Elite Gym Massilia: Brooklyn Moors, Jessica Dowling, Madison Hughes and Emma Spence

IG: It's a surprise to many people that you've returned to competition after a few years in the shadows. What was the reason for your absence, and what was your motivation for returning to competition?

JD: In March 2013, I underwent knee surgery for OCD – a cartilage defect – and a partially torn meniscus. I required a level 3 OATS procedure, as the bone on the lateral side of my knee contained two substantial holes and the cartilage was no longer attached. Due to the amount of work done on my knee and the condition my knee was in, I required a second surgery in October 2013. It took a long time to regain strength in my knee, and the surgeon didn't think I would be able to continue gymnastics. It was a tough two years for me, but I couldn't give it up. I simply love the sport of gymnastics and I can't live without it. It has also been a dream of mine to make the national team and compete for Canada at international competitions. Even with the surgeries and the state of my knee, I knew I would regret my decision later in life if I didn't try to come back.

IG: How satisfied were you with your performance in Marseille, in terms of your expectations?

JD: I was satisfied with my floor and vault. These have been the hardest events to get back, and I am happy I was able to land all my tumbling lines and perform a clean vault. Beam was a little shaky and I did not compete my full start value. However, it was the first event of the day, and I am happy I was able to control my nerves and avoid any major mistakes. I had the most expectations for bars, and was very dissatisfied when I didn't hit my routine the way I had been doing in training. More than that, I am disappointed that, after one major mistake, I let my emotions affect the rest of my routine. I will take this as a learning experience for future competitions.

IG: Having been away from competition for so long, how did nerves affect your performance in Marseille?

JD: I found myself more nervous in the days prior to the competition than I have been in the past. This definitely affected my sleep the night before the meet. I definitely need to compete a few more times in order to feel more comfortable in the competition environment again, but overall, I was pretty happy with how I handled my nerves in Marseille.

IG: Based on your performance in Marseille, what improvements or changes do you plan for upcoming competitions?

JD: I definitely have to work on the details and execution of my performances for upcoming competitions. Being my first competition back, I found myself concentrating harder for the bigger skills and thus, lacked focus on the finer details of my routines, including dance, turns, leaps and jumps, which are just as important.

IG: How is gymnastics more challenging for you than when you were younger?

JD: When I was younger, I recovered faster between training sessions and thus was able to handle a high number of repetitions six days a week. Now, I find I have to balance the harder training sessions with some lighter ones, in order to maintain successful, consecutive weeks of training.

IG: Who coaches you and on which events?

JD: Elvira Saadi and Denis Vachon are my main coaches, coaching me on all four events and traveling with me to competitions. Elvira is the head coach who prepares the training plan for each and every day. I also receive coaching by Sarah Rainey and Jonathan Asada, who work alongside Elvira and Denis in the gym. Finally, we work with a dance and ballet teacher every week.


Dowling in 2011

IG: In the past you competed at the Dutch championships and considered getting approval to compete for the Netherlands. Is that still an option for you? (To read IG Online's 2011 feature on Dowling relating to this topic, click here.)

JD: In 2011, when I was injured during the Canadian selection process for the world championships and other international competitions, I considered getting approval to compete for the Netherlands. Unfortunately this is not an option for me anymore. As much as I love the Netherlands, my home is in Canada. I am also completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph and, in order to combine my studies with gymnastics, I have to be in Canada.

IG: How do you balance your university studies with the training demands of gymnastics?

JD: I am studying nutrition and nutraceutical sciences. In order to manage my studies with my training schedule, I take only six courses a year, instead of the usual eight to 10. This way, I am able to maintain high grades so that I can apply to grad school in the future, and continue training at the elite level. I am taking six classes through the entire year – two in the fall term, two in the winter term, and two in the summer. Most students take four to five classes in the fall and winter term and work during the summer. During the week I live in an apartment in Guelph, Ontario, where I go to school. On weekends I go home and spend time with my family in Dundas, a small town outside Hamilton.

IG: What have the last few years away from competition revealed to you, in terms of why you do gymnastics and why you still have unfinished business in the sport?

JD: The gym is my safe haven, and I do gymnastics because I love it. Having the two knee surgeries and being away from the gym for a year and a half was a miserable time for me. Not only did I miss doing gymnastics, but I knew I hadn't gotten everything out of the sport that I wanted.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Canadian gymnasts includes:
"Shooting Star" – 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)
"Shooting Star" – 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.

 
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