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Interview: Tasha Schwikert (USA)
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Tasha Schwikert

Now coming to the end of her competitive career, the 23-year-old Schwikert has enjoyed success at the Olympic, World Championship and NCAA levels. Her international elite career flourished under coach Cassie Rice at the Gymcats club in her native Las Vegas.

Schwikert was originally named an alternate on the U.S. team for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, but ended up competing and helped the Americans to a fourth-place finish. In 2001 she won the U.S. national all-around title and placed fifth all-around at the World Championships in Ghent. In 2002 Schwikert earned her second U.S. national all-around title, and finished first all-around at the American Cup and Pacific Alliance Championships.

Schwikert served as captain of the U.S. squad that won the team gold medal at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim, marking the American women's first world team title. Schwikert's efforts to compete at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games were hampered by an injured Achilles' tendon, but she traveled to Athens as an alternate on the American team that won the silver medal.

Following Athens, Schwikert enrolled at UCLA, where during her first three years she won the NCAA all-around title (2005), two Pac-10 conference all-around titles (2005 and 2007), and seven All-American designations. Schwikert is now preparing to help UCLA qualify for the NCAA Championships in April.

Schwikert, a sociology major, has worked as a commentator for IG partner WCSN during the 2005, 2006 and 2007 World Championships. She has also done commentary for UCLA gymnastics broadcasts and will head to Beijing this summer as an intern with NBC during the 2008 Olympics.

Schwikert recently spoke with IG, recalling highlights of her career and offering her opinion of the U.S. Olympic team selection process that she twice negotiated.

IG: Looking back on your career, what are some of moments that stand out in your mind?

TS: I feel like every chapter in my life — elite gymnastics and college gymnastics — has its standout moments. Winning the 2003 Worlds as a team was a fantastic moment in that chapter of my gymnastics life, and in college, winning the NCAA all-around in my freshman year and winning Pac 10s last year stand out. Today, I really embraced this whole atmosphere, more than any other meet this season. I took in the audience and my teammates, and just slowed down my pace. I tried to make every moment as full as possible, because I knew this was my last time competing here at Pauley (Pavilion).

IG: What do think about the selection process for the U.S. Olympic teams in 2000 and 2004? You went to Sydney as an alternate and ended up competing, but you went to Athens as one of the alternates after helping win the world team title in 2003...

TS: I was a complete underdog in 2000, so I went in not expecting anything. I couldn't have told you in a million years that, "Yeah, I'm going to be on the 2000 Olympics team." I can't even explain in words how much that meant to me. I was there in Sydney and I was still the alternate, and when Morgan (White) got hurt, I was aware she was hurt, but it didn't really register that I was going to be competing. So when they told me, I was in shock. I was like, "No, I'm not competing." They were like, "You are competing for the United States in the Olympic Games." I went and did my job. I did the best I could, and I hit.

Tasha Schwikert
2004 was a different year. I was injured with my Achilles' tendon, so I was in a boot for a lot of the time during nationals and Olympic Trials. I'd walk around in a boot, and they'd strap it up when I trained. Training was hard, so I definitely went into nationals and Olympic Trials with watered-down gymnastics, because I couldn't do a lot of things. You know, with the Achilles' tendon, there's a fine line between snapping it and keeping healthy (laughs).

I was 19 in 2004, and I definitely understood the selection better, and why they selected who they selected. I was fine with being an alternate, because of the circumstances and because I came in injured. When we were over there, Annia's (Hatch) foot actually got more injured, so they said, "OK, we might put you in; we'll see." But all in all, I had an amazing experience. Being an alternate may not sound as amazing as being on the team, but we got to do so many things over there. They put us up in a nice place, and we got to go around and see more sites and more events. So from that aspect of things, it was really fun.

IG: From an athlete’s perspective, what recommendations do you have to make the selection process as fair as possible?

TS: (laughs) In 2004, the whole idea of pulling the bench out and making us feel like we were on the reality show "Survivor" was kind of dramatic. The whole idea of them (team officials) going into the office...I mean, if they wanted to, they could have made a show about it! As far as selecting the Olympic team off one competition, how they traditionally did it, I personally don't think that's the right way to do it. I don't think the Olympic team should be selected off one competition, if your top gymnast or top three gymnasts don't do so well in the Olympic Trials. I think taking the last few years before the Olympics into consideration for picking the team is a smarter idea, because if you have one or two of the top athletes in the country injured, they will still be on the team and could be healthy when they get to the Olympics.

I think taking into consideration how the gymnasts compete and train, and how well they come off injuries, is really important. This is something I learned in college. There will be times that I don't train, but sometimes, less is more. I'll go into a competition and do better because I've taken time off. I think that needs to be taken into account with the Olympic team selection.

IG: What do you think of the training system for the U.S. team prior to the 2000 Games, compared to the 2004 Games? What worked and didn't work?

TS: I feel that 2000 was more of a group training, a group assignment. Regardless of how you trained, everyone was instructed to train the same way, with the same amount of routines. I really liked the upgrade they did in 2004, because they considered every athlete and her coach as individuals. One girl might need five routines, but another girl might need only two because she needs to save her body. But two works for her, and five works for the other. So I really think they got better with that system in 2004. This is an individual sport. People's bodies are different. Some people can hit with two perfect routines a day, and some can hit doing seven perfect ones a day. I think that, if the training and assignments are more individualized, that's the better route to take.

IG: What to you is the key to a positive Olympic experience?

TS: My advice is to really shut the political door until it's over. It's stressful because the last thing you want to do after training is be on the phone for three hours with reporters, and this person and that person. They (the gymnast) ought to have a say in it, because the gymnast is putting in the hard work, and once the job is done, you can have all the fun you want.

I know the media are doing their job, and sometimes it's hard when the gymnast is doing her job. I remember when I was an elite, they'd be calling at late hours. I was like, "Listen, if you want me to do my job and win, you have to let me have sleep. We can talk later." I know it's a fine line and they have to get their work done, but I really feel that if the gymnasts try to shut it off, and the coaches help them shut it off by saying "It's OK, don't worry about that," it will all still be there. If you do well, it will always be there. It won't go away. Just do well and have fun. Take in everything, and go outside for some sunshine any chance you get. See other events. Have fun, get a lot of rest, and make it a whole, complete experience.

IG: What advice can you give the gymnasts who will be competing in Beijing, so they can avoid feeling overwhelmed in actual Olympic competition?

TS: I feel that being nervous is inevitable, and if you're not nervous, there's something wrong with you (laughs). What I've learned from college gymnastics is that, in a sense, college gymnastics is harder than elite in that consistency is key. I've been watching elite, and yeah, these girls are throwing big skills, but the execution isn't as precise as in college because we're talking 9.95s and 9.975s (in NCAA scoring), since the scoring is so close. Landings are everything here. That's what I've learned from college that needs to be applied to elite. With the new Code of Points it's very hard, but Miss Val (UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos-Field) is always telling me, "Calm...calm confidence. You need to slow it down." Sometimes you get out there and you're too tight. If I'm loose and slowed-down and just pretend I'm in practice — Miss Val calls it my "happy place" — I feel it's the best way to handle your nerves.

IG: How has it been having your sister Jordan on the team with you at UCLA?

TS: It's been a dream come true. I didn't know if we would get to go to the same college, and it's amazing that Miss Val and Chris (assistant head coach Chris Waller) took both of us. Jordan has been doing an amazing job and has been a huge asset to the team. To finish our career at Pauley going 1-3 in the all-around, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

IG: What's next for you?

TS: I'm going to Beijing (2008 Olympics) as an intern. I'm an actual production assistant, so it's going to be an interesting experience — my third Olympics, but on the other side of things. I'm hoping to do other sports, as well. I want to do sportscasting as a career, and get into football and basketball, so I'm hoping they'll let me be around basketball and get a feel for that. I've always followed basketball more, because my dad played college basketball. But coming to UCLA, we're a basketball school and we also have a great football team, and I've gotten more into both. All of my friends are football and basketball players, so it's a lot of fun.

Tasha Schwikert is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

June/July 2005: cover photo, NCAA Championships coverage
March 2005: "Tasha in Transition" (interview)
October 2003: cover photo collage, World Championships special issue
August/September 2003: cover photo collage, U.S. Championships coverage
October 2002: cover photo, U.S. Championships coverage
August/September 2002: "What are the Odds?" (Schwikert profile)
June/July 2002: Pacific Alliance Championships coverage
April 2002: American Cup coverage
October 2001: cover photo, U.S. Championships coverage

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