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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 02 October 2018 08:31    PDF Print
Austria's Haemmerle On Doha: 'I'm On The Right Track'
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

As veteran Austrian gymnast Elisa Haemmerle prepares for this month’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar, she continues her renewed push towards a berth to the Olympic Games after two tries.

Hämmerle is hopeful that Doha will shift her and her Austrian team one competition closer to qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. She and teammate Barbara Gasser contended for Austria’s one individual spot for the 2012 London Games, which Gasser ultimately earned. In podium training at the Olympic test event in Rio in April 2016, a competition that served as the final qualifying meet for the 2016 Rio Games, Haemmerle ruptured her Achilles tendon.

Recent results indicate that the 22-year-old Haemmerle is on course for 2020. She was Austria’s top scorer on balance beam and uneven bars at the European Championships in Glasgow in August. She won the fourth Challenge Cup medal of her career at last month’s Challenge Cup of Szombathely, where she earned the bronze medal on balance beam and placed fourth on uneven bars. Last weekend she placed 10th on balance beam (0.10 shy of the final) and 15th on uneven bars in qualifications at the French International in Paris.

Haemmerle plans to compete on the same two apparatuses in Doha, where she wants to help her Austrian team advance in the qualification process for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Also slated for Austria in Doha are Bianca Frysak, Jasmin Mader, Marlies Maennersdorfer, Christina Meixner and Alissa Moerz.

IG Online touched base with the resolute Haemmerle for this update on her goals for Doha and beyond.

IG: What motivated you to return to gymnastics at the top level after your injury at the Rio test event?

EH: I never wanted an injury to be the reason to retire from gymnastics. When the time comes to quit, I want it to be my own decision. I don’t want the last thing that I did in gymnastics to be that I injured myself. In 2016 I was in really good shape. My goal would have been to rank near the top 24 in the all-around. At that time, I was physically and mentally at the peak of my career, I was really well prepared and I had regularly obtained good results internationally prior to 2016. I knew I was capable of placing in the first third at the Rio Olympics, but I never got the chance to show everyone. This is especially what motivated me to come back. I felt like I had unfinished business to do, especially concerning Olympic Games. I have missed qualifying to compete at Olympics twice, and in the future, I don’t want to blame myself for not trying one more time. I know that all of my training was not for nothing and will be worth it one day.

IG: As one of your last big tests before Doha, how did your performances in Szombathely compare to the progress you hoped to make at this point prior to the World Championships?

EH: I draw a very positive balance overall from Szombathely. In the qualifications as well as in the final I could show my routines on bars und beam without major mistakes. These results show me that I’m on the right track with my work. Generally, to feel really prepared for a competition, I need many repetitions. Unfortunately, due to some shoulder issues after the European Championships, I was not able to train full bars routines until last week. I guess the many years of competition experience and mental strength helped me to hit my routines.

IG: Between now and Doha, what will be the focus of your training?

EH: For Doha it is planned that I will compete on bars and beam, like I did in Glasgow. We will focus on details in order to increase the Execution score. Furthermore I will especially pay attention on connecting elements in my beam routine, by which I could improve the D-score by 0.5 tenths.

IG: Doha is an important step for you and your team in the process of qualifying for Tokyo. What hopes and expectations do you have, for yourself personally and for your team, in Doha?

EH: Unfortunately, our team has been weakened due to our two strongest all-around teammates, Jasmin Mader and Marlies Maennersdorfer, suffering from injuries. This is going to make our initial goal, to reach the top 24, really difficult. We wanted to reach this goal to be able to send a team to next year’s World Championships (in Stuttgart). For me personally, I want to concentrate to perform well on bars and beam, and be able to perform according to my training achievements. In this way I can strengthen my self-confidence and help our team to score a better result. Until then, I hope our team will be able to prepare well for Doha and I hope we will suffer no more injuries.

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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 11 September 2018 07:01    PDF Print
The Philippines' Bunagan: 'I Am Happy To Join The Mix'
(5 votes, average 4.20 out of 5)

Although Corinne Bunagan of the Philippines is just launching her international career, she told IG she she hopes her success thus far will motivate fellow Filipinos on their own gymnastics ventures.

“I want to inspire other young Filipino gymnasts to reach for the stars,” said Bunagan, who placed 12th all-around at the Asian Games in Jakarta last month. “They can pursue and achieve their dreams just like I am.”

Born October 15, 2002, in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Bunagan was entitled to pursue Filipino citizenship because her father is Filipino. She placed second all-around and tied for first on balance beam in the Junior C age division at last year’s U.S. Junior Olympic national championships.

Bunagan trains at Eastern National Academy of Gymnastics in Paramus, New Jersey. Her main coaches at ENA are Craig and Jen Zappa, with Lou Levine as the assistant coach. Craig coaches her on vault, uneven bars and floor exercise; Jen coaches her on balance beam. Levine, who traveled with her to the Asian Games, generally coaches with Craig but also does strength and conditioning.

In this IG Online interview, Bunagan comments on her performance in Jakarta, the origins of her opportunity to represent the Philippines and her future competitive agenda.

IG: How did you cope with the pressure and dynamics of the Asian Games, especially since it was your first major international competition?

CB: The Asian Games, being the biggest meet I've been to, was very stressful for me at first. However, my coaches had prepared me for everything that was to come. The training days leading up to the meet helped me regain my rhythm, and on competition day I followed my usual routine and treated the meet like any other. I didn't let myself dwell on the pressure put on me and instead tried to focus on the job at hand. When the time came to compete, I relied on my training and the months of preparation behind me. All that was left was for me to enjoy the experience and being up on stage.

IG: What motivated you to pursue competing for the Philippines?

CB: I came to the decision to represent the Philippines about a year ago when I found out that this opportunity was available to me. Because my dad was born in the Philippines, I was able to get naturalized into my citizenship. I ultimately decided that the Philippines was the country I wanted to represent because of the many opportunities it provided me with. Being on their national team has already allowed me to compete internationally and now, go to a world-scale competition.

IG: What is your Filipino lineage?

CB: My grandparents on my dad's side, Lolo and Lola, were born and lived in the Philippines for many years. They went to college, got married and had my dad while still living there. My grandparents moved to America when my dad was about 3 and have lived here ever since. However, many of my cousins and the majority of my extended family still live in the Philippines today. My mom is not a Filipina.

IG: You did not have a full team to support you at the Asian Games, so how did you manage the responsibility of well representing the Philippines as an individual?

CB: Going into Jakarta, I was under the impression that I was competing alone. I didn't realize that I actually had a teammate, Christina Onofre, and was super excited when I found out. Tina has been like a big sister to me and made the trip much less stressful. She was so supportive and by far the loudest cheerer in the crowd. Because of all the love and support I received, even from the other countries, I didn't feel the pressure being put on me individually. I was able to focus on the job at hand and enjoy the experience. Because this was my first time competing for the Philippines, I went into to this meet with the expectations of doing my very best, relying on my training and leaving the results up to God.

IG: What are your plans for the rest of the Olympic cycle and beyond?

CB: I recently committed to the University of Alabama for the class of 2021. Since I'm only a sophomore in high school, I plan to keep competing for the Philippines until I graduate. Between now and then are a couple of big meets including the South East Asian Games, world competitions and the Olympics, which are all competitions I would love to attend given that I obtain the qualifying scores. I will probably be competing in other meets also, to gain more competition time and experience. By the time I graduate high school, I will hopefully be able to spend my last couple years of gymnastics enjoying college competition and exploring opportunities outside of the gym.

IG: In recent years the Philippines team has gained ground through the success of individuals such as 2014 Youth Olympian Ava Verdeflor and 2017 South East Asian Games uneven bars champion Kaitlin De Guzman. What do you see as your potential contribution to the program’s ongoing progress?

CB: I think that I can contribute new blood and competition to the Filipino gymnastics organization.They only have a couple of seniors right now and I am happy to be able to join the mix. I am also generally an all-around gymnast, and I believe I can contribute some strong events and skills into their arsenal. Training at one of the best gyms in the area has given me tons of competition experience and also some of the greatest coaches to help me though my journey. I also have the benefit of tough competition in America to help prepare for international meets. I want to inspire other young Filipino gymnasts to reach for the stars. They can pursue and achieve their dreams just like I am.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Bunagan get to the 2018 World Championships.

To subscribe to International Gymnast, or to order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 05 September 2018 07:13    PDF Print
Sweden's Castles Building For 'Happy Times Ahead'
(8 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although Swedish-British gymnast Jessica Castles is only nine months into her senior career, she told IG she hopes she can continue to add value to the Swedish team heading into this fall’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar, and other upcoming competitions.

Castles, a native of West Surrey, England, who turned 16 on July 16, is the daughter of a Swedish mother and a British father. She placed first all-around, first on balance beam and first on floor exercise at the Nordic Championships in Farum, Denmark, held June 30-July 1; and first all-around, first on balance beam and first on floor exercise at the Swedish Championships held July 6-7. Last month she placed seventh on floor exercise at the European Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.

In this IG Online interview, Castles details the balance she maintains between training and academic obligations in Sweden and England, and the merits she believes she can offer to the Swedish team in the future.

IG: As a first-year senior, how have your achievements so far in 2018 compared to your expectations at this point in your overall career?

JC: I didn't have very high expectations this year as I was doing my GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams and didn't want to put too much pressure on myself. My long-term goals were to become Swedish and Nordic all-around champion and make the Europeans team. So to have met these goals, and to even make a floor final in my first year as a senior is more than I could have asked for.

IG: Now that you have competed directly against the best gymnasts in Europe, what improvements do you plan to make between now and the World Championships in Doha, so you can fare as well as possible against all of the world's best?

JC: I have been working a few upgrades, so we will see if any of them are ready or consistent enough to compete at Worlds.

IG: When and why did you decide to compete for Sweden?

JC: My mum is Swedish and and my dad is British, and I have had dual citizenships my whole life. I decided to start competing for Sweden in March 2017 after competing at one of the trial competitions for the the European Youth Olympic Festival. I found that I got on really well with all the Swedish girls and coaches. I have also been given a lot of support and encouragement from my Swedish club, Eskilstuna Gymnastik Förening. The coaches there are amazing, and I feel I make constant improvements when I train there.

IG: What is your arrangement for training in England, and attending training camps and competitions in Sweden?

JC: In the U.K. I train at Heathrow Gymnastics Club under Vince and Michele Walduck and (1981 world floor exercise champion) Natalia Ilienko-Jarvis. In Sweden I am a member of Eskilstuna Gymnastik Förening where I train under Sebastian Melander and Helena Andersson Melander. My training arrangements vary depending on school, the competitions in hand and time of the year. My competition schedule is set by the Swedish national coaches, and my training in the U.K. supports this schedule.

School has up until last term dictated that the majority of my training is in England. However, I spend as much time as I can in Eskilstuna during the school holidays, together with all the scheduled national squad training sessions and checkpoints before the major competitions. I am currently considering homeschooling for my A-levels (exams) so that I can have additional flexibility and schedule more of my training in Sweden going forward.

IG: How are you are you with the Swedish language, so you can integrate better with the team?

JC: My mum has always spoken Swedish with me ever since I was born so I have always been bilingual. Holidays in Sweden and visiting family there through the years have also been helpful in keeping the Swedish language alive. Recently, with all the time I have been spending with the team in Sweden, my language skills have improved even more. My teammates and coaches have been very supportive in every possible way, and I do not feel language is an issue at all.

IG: What do you think you can offer to the Swedish team, not just in terms of your own gymnastics strengths, but what they might need overall?

JC: I hope that my strong pieces, being floor and beam, will help the team going forward. I also hope that my positive attitude to training and competitions, together with my happy personality, are assets to the team. The Swedish team already includes some great girls and we have all gelled together really well over the last year. I’m really excited for the times ahead of us.

International Gymnast magazine’s coverage of Swedish gymnastics includes:

“Swinging for Success” - Jonna Adlerteg feature (May 2015)

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

"Scouting Scandinavia" - feature on IG's visit to clubs in Sweden and Norway (March 2011)

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

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

"Sweden's Standout" - Mans Stenberg profile (March 2010)

“A Swedish Champ from Argentina” - Marcela Torres profile (October 2015)

Quick Chat: Veronica Wagner (November 2008)

"Veronica's Date: 2008" - Veronica Wagner profile (February 2005)

"Swedish Sojourn" - Karolina Bohman profile (February 2003)

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

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 24 August 2018 08:15    PDF Print
Ryan Sheppard: Hopeful For Hungary
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

U.S.-born gymnast Ryan Sheppard, who competed for Hungary at this month’s European championships in Glasgow, Scotland, told IG that he is feeling confident and at home among his new teammates as they prepare for this fall’s World Championships in Doha.

“It's been a great experience coming here, and the team has welcomed me with open arms,” said Sheppard, who is training in Hungary until late September.

Sheppard and his teammates finished 11th in qualifications in Glasgow, less than three points from advancing to the eight-country team final. Although no all-around competition took place in Glasgow, he earned the sixth highest all-around score among gymnasts who performed on all six apparatuses.

Born Oct. 17, 1995, in Silver Spring, Maryland, Sheppard competed for WOGA in Texas in the U.S. junior ranks and then for Stanford University from 2015-18. He finished fourth all-around and first on parallel bars in the 17-18 age group at the 2014 P&G Championships, and ninth all-around at the 2018 NCAA championships.

Sheppard is the second member of his family to represent the homeland of his maternal grandmother, Anna. His older sister, Austin Sheppard, competed for Hungary at the 2011 European Championships in Berlin, where she placed 13th on vault; and was third reserve for the vault final and 52nd all-around in qualifications at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. She later competed for the University of Michigan.

In this IG Online interview, Sheppard describes the hopes he has for himself and his Hungarian teammates as they aim for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

IG: Having recently transitioned into a role on the Hungarian team, what were your thoughts on how you personally performed in Glasgow, and how the team did overall?

RS: I thought my performance could have been better. I struggled all week in training on pommel horse and high bar, and that showed in the competition. I was happy with the other four events, though. With that said, I was just extremely grateful to be out there competing on the international stage and I had a lot of fun. The team overall did very well. We improved several places in the team rankings compared to the last European Championships (15th in 2016) and were very close to qualifying to the team final. I think it was a great preparation for the World Championships.

IG: How much influence did Austin's international career, and her own decision to represent Hungary, have on your decision to try for a spot on the Hungarian team?

RS: Austin played a huge role in me wanting to compete for Hungary. My older sister and I have a very unique relationship. I treat her more like a younger sibling and joke with her a lot, but in actuality I have the utmost respect for her, and she is someone to whom I look up. I really wanted to follow in her footsteps and try to compete for Hungary.

IG: Having been born and raised in the U.S., how much do you embrace your Hungarian heritage?

RS: My mom is full Hungarian. My grandmother had to leave Hungary during the Cold War due to political persecution. I believe she regained her citizenship in the early 2000s. My grandmother lived with us almost my entire childhood, and I was never fully able to appreciate what she went through until I got older. I have the utmost respect for her.

IG: How are you embracing your Hungarian heritage in terms of gymnastics?

RS: It's been a great experience coming here and the team has welcomed me with open arms. I am trying to improve on every event, but I am desperately trying to tap into my Hungarian heritage to help me with pommel horse. I struggle a lot with pommel horse despite it being my favorite event. When I was younger I had a very nice swing. However, as I've gotten bigger I've lost a ton of flexibility in my shoulders, and my pommel swing has suffered tremendously due to this. It's kind of a running joke I have with my coach here, where we make fun of this.

IG: The Hungarian team has some very talented guys: Adam Babos, David Vecsernyes and others, not to mention (2012 Olympic pommel horse champion) Krisztian Berki. Where do you see yourself fitting into the team in terms of your strengths and what you can contribute to the team?

RS: I think the Hungarian team has a bunch of great gymnasts. Adam Babos, David Vecsernyes, Botond Kardos, Krisztian Boncser, Balazs Kiss and Krisztian Berki are the guys currently on the senior national team, and they all have lots of experience and talent. I just want to help the team in any way I can, whether that be in the all-around or on a few events. At Stanford, I have really learned to put the team before myself, and I view competing for the Hungarian team the same way. The goal is to qualify the country to the next World Championships (2019 in Stuttgart) and the (2020) Olympics in Tokyo. We are working really hard to make that happen.

IG: What is your arrangement with the Hungarian team, in terms of training there and training in the U.S.?

RS: I head back to the United States on September 24, after the Szombathely World Cup in Hungary. I go back to Stanford for the start of classes because I am not finished with school yet. I should be finished with my master's degree next December. My coaches at Stanford are Thom Gliemli, Quazi Syque Caesar and Karl Ziehn. The plan is, if I make the team, I will meet everyone in Doha on October 19. We have not planned anything else beyond Doha in terms of training.

IG: Hungary placed 22nd at the last Worlds in which a team competition took place (2015), and Doha will be an important step for all the teams trying to make it to Tokyo. With so many teams at a similar level these days, what do you think you and your teammates will need in order to advance beyond Doha and eventually to Tokyo?

RS: The main goal is to qualify a team to the Olympics. We need to place in the top 24 in Doha to advance a team to the next World Championships. After seeing our results at Europeans, the team is very optimistic about achieving this result in October. We don't have the highest difficulty, but where the team lacks in difficulty we make up for in our execution. We just need to go out and do our gymnastics.

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

Written by dwight normile    Thursday, 16 August 2018 07:12    PDF Print
Tom Forster: New High-Performance Director For USA Gymnastics
(4 votes, average 3.50 out of 5)

Tom Forster was born in Kansas and grew up in Colorado. He graduated from Penn State with a bachelor of science in physical education and 
health. He and wife Lori Bresciani Forster own Colorado Aerials in Colorado Springs, where they coached Doni Thompson, Kristy Powell, Theresa Kulikowski and many other gymnasts.

Forster replaced Valeri Liukin, who resigned in early 2018.

You were quoted as saying, "I believe in coaching through inspiration, not intimidation." Do you think Bela and Marta Karolyi were intimidating?

TF: In the interview process for this job I was asked a list of questions by athletes and coaches. That quote was in response to some of the questions by athletes. I was not comparing myself to anyone, only answering the question of what I believe is my style of coaching.

How will you choose world and Olympic teams? Competitive results or will a committee still select teams?

TF: The selection of teams will be a combination of both. The hope is that every team is selected on the field of play, but in fairness to every athlete we need the flexibility to select an athlete in an extenuating circumstance.

For example, if one of the top two athletes from the U.S. Championships wakes up with 104 fever the morning of the selection camp—we’re probably making an exception for her in the best interest of the team and fairness to her. Balancing the athletes’ experience with the duty of putting the best team on the field of play will always be my goal.

Will there be trainers at future camps and, if so, which gender?

TF: We have a list of vetted female trainers available for the athletes at every training camp that we can use. It may not be the same trainer each time. We do not use male medical personnel for women’s gymnastics any longer.

Read the complete interview in the September issue of International Gymnast.

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


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