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Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 12 January 2020 15:47    PDF Print
‘All-Around Is Always The Main Focus,’ Says World Champion Fraser
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

2019 world parallel bars champion Joe Fraser of Great Britain told IG that his and others’ view of his gymnastics has been altered since his gold medal-winning performance at last fall’s World Championships in Stuttgart.

“I think people maybe look at me differently, being world champion,” said the 19-year-old Fraser, who is only the third British gymnast to win a world title. “I don’t think people can not give you respect for what you’ve done. I also think people now see me as a parallel bars worker when I would always say I’m an all-arounder that’s good on p-bars. Maybe it’s now more a p-bars specialist who’s a good all-arounder, so maybe that perception has changed.”

Fraser’s credentials in the past few years confirm that he is also a contender for international all-around medals. He finished fifth all-around at the 2017 European Championships, fourth all-around at the 2019 Europeans and eighth all-around in Stuttgart.

Considering the robust assortment of strong all-arounders and apparatus specialists on the British team preparing for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, the confident Fraser said he hopes his versatility will earn him his spot on the British team at the Games.

“All-around is always the main focus, and I feel success on individual apparatus comes on the back of all-around development,” said Fraser, who trains under coach Lee Woolls at City of Birmingham Gymnastics Club. “I’m still looking to increase difficulty on all six pieces to get the best scores, but parallel bars is clearly one area I’m looking to make the hardest and cleanest possible.”

Victory on that apparatus in Stuttgart has greatly inspired Fraser as he enters 2020.

“Overall the Worlds has just been a huge motivation and a positive experience to progress in the best way I can this year,” he said.

Fraser said he is adapting well to the potentially disruptive media attention he has received since Stuttgart.

“It’s been very different,” he told IG. “I’d say the first month after the Worlds I was just on the road nonstop. I didn’t really know where home was but after that it's calmed down. I’ve learnt to balance and be more organized in my life and my training. You get used to the busyness and ‘adapt and overcome’ as my coach Lee always says.”

International Gymnast magazine’s recent coverage of British gymnasts includes:

Brinn Bevan interview (May 2018)

Ellie Downie on cover (May 2017)

Claudia Fragapane profile (December 2017)

Joe Fraser short profile (June 2017)

James Hall short profile (June 2017)

Coach Scott Hann interview (September 2017)

Daniel Keatings interview (March 2017)

Alice Kinsella interview (December 2016 and July/August 2019)

Catherine Lyons interview (June 2015)

Lisa Mason interview (May 2015)

Maisie Methuen interview (December 2016)

Amelie Morgan interview (June 2018)

Kelly Simm interview (May 2018)

Louis Smith interview (March 2016)

Amy Tinkler interview (June 2015)

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

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 05 January 2020 18:29    PDF Print
Slovakia’s Mokosova Aims For ‘Personal Maximum’ At Tokyo 2020
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Slovakian Olympian Barbora Mokosova told IG that, although competing at the 2016 Rio Games was a career highlight, she aspires to give an even better performance at this summer’s Tokyo Games.

“We want to add new elements and connections to my routines to have higher difficulty,” said Mokosova, who qualified for her second Olympic Games through her results at last fall’s World Championships in Stuttgart. “I will have to be 100 percent ready to show everything I know, and I believe we will succeed and improve my personal maximum.”

Mokosova said she shifted her focus to Tokyo right after Rio, where she placed 45th all-around in qualifications.

“The Olympics in Rio has always been my biggest dream to come true, and when I came home I knew this was not the end of my career,” said Mokosova, who was born March 10, 1997, in Bratislava. “I wanted to experience that feeling again and get to the Olympics even though I knew it would be very difficult.”

To optimize her chances to qualify for Tokyo, Mokosova and her coach, Martin Zvalo, upgraded her program between Rio and Stuttgart. She gained psychological calmness in the process.

“In my gymnastics we added new elements and changed the routines,” Mokosova said. “I was much quieter in my head and I knew what I wanted. I fulfilled my dream and everything else was just a bonus for me.”

Mokosova, who won a total seven Challenge Cup medals in 2017 and 2018, said she has also become more mature and conscientious since Rio.

“I think I have not changed but I have grown up and understood the things I have to do to qualify for Tokyo,” she said.

While Tokyo was Mokosova’s target, her path leading there was nearly blocked by consecutive injuries. She injured her right ankle in September 2018 and had surgery on it in December 2018. She injured her left heel just prior to the 2019 Worlds.

“The goal was clear for me,” she said. “It is always difficult to keep motivated especially when it is not possible and I have a hard time. Last year was for me very mentally and physically demanding. I got injured (right ankle) and I had to have surgery. This moment was very difficult for me but I knew I could not give up and I fought. A week before Stuttgart, I tore ligaments in my (left) heel and it looked like I wouldn't even start, but I said, ‘This is your one and only chance, and you have to risk it,’ and I succeeded.”

Mokosova’s pre-Tokyo agenda includes a possible training camp in Russia and “above all to keep healthy.”

Beyond Mokosova’s competitive career, she would like to own her own gymnastics academy, and work with the Slovak Olympic and Sports Committee. Tokyo may not be her competitive finale, however.

“I love gymnastics, I love competing, I love training and everything about gymnastics,” Mokosova told IG. “If my health is all right I will continue to do what I love.”

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

Written by John Crumlish    Saturday, 28 December 2019 09:59    PDF Print
Czech Republic’s Sandra Jessen Vows To ‘Make Every Day Count’
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

2019 was a momentous year for Czech gymnast Sandra Jessen (listed internationally as Sandra Jessenova), who vows to make 2020 fulfilling in and out of the gym.

The 17-year-old Jessen, who trains at Parkettes National Training Center in Allentown, Pa., made her debut for the Czech Republic this year. She is coached by her mother, Hana Ricna Jessen, who, representing 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, and competed at the 1988 Olympic Games. Her brother and fellow gymnast, David Jessen, represented the Czech Republic at the 2016 Olympics. Sandra will follow David as a student-athlete at Stanford University next fall.

Jessen’s gymnastics year included a flurry of international competitions in the fall. She competed on all four apparatuses at the World Challenge Cup of Paris in September, with a high of 10th place on vault. She competed on three apparatuses at the World Championships in Stuttgart in October, and teamed with David to finish third at the Sokol Grand Prix, a mixed-pairs meet in Brno, Czech Republic, at the end of November.

Even with her impressive gymnastics pedigree, the ambitious Jessen is determined to forge her own path to success and enjoy the rewards of her own dedication and hard work. She reflects on her year and expresses her aspirations for 2020 in this IG Online interview.

IG: Looking back on your year, what are the most memorable and meaningful moments for you, and why?

SJ: One of the most meaningful experiences for me was competing at the World Challenge Cup in Paris, then at the World Championships in Stuttgart. The World Challenge Cup in Paris was my first international competition, so that will always be a lasting memory for me. To be able to compete at Worlds was such an eye-opening and overall amazing experience, and I am so thankful I got to compete alongside my brother and with my mom as my coach. One of the most exciting moments for me this year was when I found out I got into Stanford. I knew that all of my hard work finally had a purpose. My parents were so excited to find out they will have another child at Stanford, and David was so happy for me as well. I can’t wait to continue my gymnastics career and education at such a prestigious school.

Sandra Jessen with brother David Jessen.

IG: When do you plan to enroll at Stanford, and how will this impact your plans to continue competing internationally?

SJ: I plan to enroll at Stanford next year, in the fall. At the moment I’m not quite sure how this will impact my international competitions, but I am looking forward to competing at the European Championships in May.

IG: With two Olympians in your family, how do you manage to set your own goals and create your own identity in the sport, so you are not always comparing yourself to your mom and David?

SJ: This is definitely something I’ve struggled with throughout my career. I’m frequently asked questions and compared to David and my mom, but I try to focus on myself and do the best I can at whatever I am trying to achieve. I can’t change anything that they have done, only what I can do myself. So I try my best to make every day count whether in the gym or school, even when it gets difficult at times. I am extremely happy for everything they have both accomplished, and I can’t wait to see what else David has in store for him throughout his gymnastics career and more.

IG: How do you and your family celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve? If you have any Czech or other family traditions, please share them.

SJ: We celebrate a Czech Christmas on the 24th, and a more American style Christmas on the 25th. Typically on Christmas Eve we will have some sort of fish — the traditional Czech option is carp — along with a special potato salad my mom makes. Later that night we open half of the presents. Then on Christmas Day we open the rest of the presents in the morning, and spend quality family time we don’t normally get to have. We don’t really have any special plans or traditions for New Year’s Eve, just watching the ball drop (in Times Square in New York) on TV.

IG: What is your New Year's resolution, and what will you do to fulfill it?

SJ: My New Year’s resolution is to have more confidence in myself and stress less overall. When I first arrived in Stuttgart, I wasn’t sure how I fit in. There were so many different gymnasts from all over, many that have competed at multiple Olympics. But after talking to some other girls and making some new friends, I realized everyone was in it to have an amazing shared experience. This helped me be less stressed and more confident, and I hope to build on this in the upcoming year.

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, 18 December 2019 10:06    PDF Print
Norway’s Erichsen Eyes New Skills For Tokyo 2020
(7 votes, average 4.71 out of 5)

As the first Norwegian female gymnast to qualify for the Olympic Games since 1992, Julie Erichsen told IG she intends to polish and upgrade her program by the time she competes at next summer’s Games in Tokyo.

“The main focus is to clean up my routines,” said Erichsen, who earned her berth to Tokyo through her performance at this fall’s World Championships in Stuttgart. “I will add a few new skills which were not stable enough for Stuttgart. We also plan new choreography for floor.”

Erichsen notched her most impressive 2019 international results on vault, on which she placed fifth at the Challenge Cup of Paris and eighth at the Challenge Cup of Osijek. She plans to become even more competitive on that apparatus in 2020.

“The number-one goal is to increase the difficulty of my second vault,” said Erichsen, who was born August 15, 2001, in Bergen. “I’m also working to increase the difficulty of my first vault.”

Erichsen will be the first Norwegian female gymnast to compete at the Olympic Games since compatriot Anita Tomulevski finished 79th all-around in qualifications at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Sofus Heggemsnes has qualified to represent the Norwegian men in Tokyo, following male teammate Stian Skjerahaug who competed at the 2016 Games in Rio.

“I wasn’t really thinking much of it during the preparations for the World Championships,” said Erichsen of her potential to qualify for Tokyo. “I knew there was a chance, but I was more focused on my routines.”

Although Erichsen and her coaches believed her performance in Stuttgart was enough to advance her to Tokyo, the official word came once she returned home to Bergen.

“When the qualifications in Stuttgart were finished, the coaches told me that according to their calculations I had a spot for Tokyo,” she said. “I was at the hotel with my teammates, Julie Soderstrom and Maria Tronrud. Since it was not yet official we tried not to get too excited. We had to wait for a week before the official list from the FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) was published. When it was finally official, my initial reaction was to tell my mom. We were super happy. To reach the Olympic Games has been my main goal.”

Erichsen said she does not feel burdened by her status as Norway’s lone female gymnastics Olympian in Tokyo.

“After the qualification there has been quite a lot of attention from media, which is new for me,” she said. “Right now I don’t really feel a huge amount of pressure. When we are getting closer to summer I will try to keep focused on my routines and not think so much about the things that I can’t control.”

Erichsen’s supporters are helping her manage her nerves and maintain her concentration.

“I get help from people in Olympiatoppen (national sports organization) to cope with the mental part of it,” said Erichsen, who trains under coaches Anatol Ashurkov (vault, uneven bars and floor exercise) and Galyna Gerasymenko (balance beam). “My main coach, Anatol, is also important to me by keeping the focus on gymnastics.”

Erichsen recognizes the recent strides her team has made and its potential to move even higher.

"We have improved tremendously during the last few years, and it looks like we are heading in the right direction," she told IG. "I think we need to continue with what we have been doing lately - work together as a team, clean up our routines, increase the difficulty and have fun. Also important, we need to believe that it is possible for Norwegian gymnasts to perform well internationally.”

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 December 2019 08:56    PDF Print
Third Olympic Berth ‘Biggest Boost Of Motivation’ For Chile’s Castro
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Heading towards her third consecutive Olympic Games, 30-year-old Chilean gymnast Simona Castro intends to make her performance at next summer’s Tokyo Games her strongest yet.

Born January 11, 1989, in Santiago, Castro became Chile’s first female gymnastics Olympian when she competed at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she finished 43rd all-around. She qualified for her second Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio, where she placed placed 52nd all-around in qualifications. Castro earned a berth to next summer’s Tokyo Games through her performance at this fall’s World Championships in Stuttgart.

Castro has enjoyed varied successes beyond her Olympian credentials. Since 2014 she has qualified for 11 Challenge Cup finals, winning the silver medal on balance beam and the bronze medal on floor exercise at the 2016 Challenge Cup of Sao Paulo. Castro placed 15th all-around at the 2018 Senior Pan American Championships and 14th all-around at the 2019 Pan American Games. She is coached by her mother, Isabel Lazo. Her older sister, Martina Castro, competed at the 2009 and 2013 Worlds.

After competing for the University of Denver for four years, Castro earned a degree in business administration from the university in 2013. She serves as an ambassador of the ONU Mujeres (UN Women) program, a United Nations project promoting self-confidence in young women.

In this IG Online interview, the resolute Castro reflects on her past Olympic fortunes and projects her hopes for Tokyo.

IG: Going into Stuttgart, what did you think of your chances to qualify for Tokyo, and after your actual performance in Stuttgart, did you think it was enough?

SC: I believe Stuttgart was our only chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020. We did plan on qualifying and we understood how well we had to do in order to qualify. There was a lot of pressure for me as well as for many other gymnasts, so we planned on having the least amount of mistakes and took out every possible skill that could get punished by the judges. I did believe for a second that I didn't make it. I had a mistake starting on beam, but really focused on making up for it in the next three events. After that, it was just about waiting for everyone else to compete. Competition is competition, and anything could have happened but I was very hopeful I was in.

IG: We know that your performance in London was limited by injuries (chronic pain in her Achilles tendon and an inflamed shoulder muscle, and having just recovered from a torn abdominal muscle), but in Rio you also did not have your best performance. To what do you attribute your performance in Rio?

SC: Overthinking. Rather than focusing on the routine itself, I focused on what I wanted to accomplish. Gymnastics is about taking one thing at a time, one skill at a time, and unfortunately, it affected my performance.

IG: How is your mindset different in this Olympic cycle, compared with your preparations for London and Rio? In terms of physical preparation, how has your training in this Olympic cycle been different from the previous two?

SC: It has been very different compared to the past. I believe it has been more about overcoming my own limitations. I suffered a major injury right after Rio that took me out for almost two years. At one point I really thought I wasn't going to be able to come back. Everything else felt hard after that. Recovery took way too long, as well as getting back in physical shape. Being strong enough to endure throughout routines was a bit harder on my feet, especially on floor and beam. My body felt different, and I had to learn how to deal with different. I learned to adapt, and I got smarter in terms of recovery on how many hours and repetitions I took, as well as mind very much how I had to eat. I have focused on getting physically stronger in order to prevent injuries as well as give my body a little bit more recovery time during the weeks of training. My first goal during these past three years was to get back to my comfort level, which I accomplished at the 2018 Worlds. After that it has been about the Tokyo qualification and earning trust and confidence. Qualifying for the Olympics gave the biggest boost of motivation and certainly paid off all the hard work that it took to come back from the injury, as well as all the not-so-bright days in the middle. I'm I still working on my all-around by trying to get stronger on bars and vault.

IG: At 30, what drives you onward towards another Olympic Games?

SC: Enjoying and improving myself.

IG: With such a lengthy career, what more do you have left to prove to yourself?

SC: I know I can do more, which is what I hope to put into my routines this year. I have been working a couple of skills on the side and I'm hoping I get the chance to compete them this year.

IG: How has your role as ONU Mujeres (UN WOMEN) ambassador inspired you, in and out of the gym?

SC: This role has certainly changed my perspective on what kind of example I want to give to future generations. How to teach children about confidence and self-esteem is a very hard task to accomplish since there are so many factors that affect today's society. Sports is a very good tool, and I hope to do my best to help get rid of stereotypes as well as give them the tools they need to help us become a gender-equal society. I want to help empower women as well as help create new opportunities for women in sports.

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


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