Katja Abel has been working toward her Olympic opportunity a long time. The daughter of 1972 Olympic team silver medalist Irene Abel (who competed for East Germany), Abel finished 13th all-around at the 1998 European Junior Championships in St. Petersburg. A bad back hampered Abel for the remainder of the 2000 Olympic cycle.
Germany's |Katja Abel
Abel was a member of Germany's eighth-place team at the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, where a unified Germany qualified for the team final for the first time in Worlds history. Abel was also a member of Germany's 13th-place team at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim, where 0.040 separated the Germans from team qualification at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Considered a candidate for one of the two individual Olympic berths that Germany earned in Anaheim, Abel broke both bones in both forearms in a training accident in early 2004. She returned to major competition in 2006, and won the bronze medal on vault at the European Championships in Volos, Greece. She then suffered a foot injury that kept her out of last fall's World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, where Germany placed 16th.
Abel, who last year left her native Berlin to train in Stuttgart, is getting close to her best form in 2007. She placed 20th all-around in preliminaries (with a fall on balance beam) at the European Championships in Amsterdam in April, and made three event finals at World Stars, a World Cup meet held May 25-26 in Moscow. She is now preparing for a World Cup meet to be held June 2-3 in Buenos Aires. Abel's main target for 2007 is the World Championships, Sept. 2-9 in Stuttgart. There, she hopes to help Germany earn a top-12 team finish, and thereby qualify a full team for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.In this interview, the 24-year-old Abel details her plans to make it to the Olympics at long last.
IG: How and why did you decide to leave Berlin and start training in Stuttgart?
KA: After my foot injury last summer, I analyzed the last year and my plans for gymnastics. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to compete at the Worlds and hopefully in Beijing 2008, but for this, I needed to change something. In Berlin I did gymnastics without training partners for years, and I couldn't stand it even one more year. So I decided to leave my lovely home for two years, and moved to Stuttgart after getting in touch with the coaches there.
IG: Who coaches you now? KA: Tamara Khokhlova is the main coach but (1996 Russian Olympic team silver medalist and former Khokhlova pupil) Yelena Dolgopolova helps on the beam and floor. If we need help on the bars especially because of new elements, then Robert Mai supports us. He once did gymnastics, too.
IG: With whom do you train?
KA: Marie-Sophie Hindermann, 16, and Kim Bui, 18, are my training partners. We aren't together constantly, because of school, university, etc., but we are for most of the time, and that's fantastic! I missed it a long time, since (former Berlin training partner) Gritt Hofmann moved to the University of Utah.
IG: You won the bronze medal on vault at last year's Europeans, so why didn't you try to qualify for the vault final at this year's Europeans by performing two vaults in preliminaries?
KA: I didn't try to qualify on vault in Amsterdam because I wasn't able to raise the difficulty, after my injury, and that would have been the requirement to vault two times to get the chance of a final. The team coach fixed the criteria.
IG: Are you completely recovered from your injury?
KA: Everything is OK with the foot. There's nothing bothering me.
IG: What are your goals for the World Cup meet in Buenos Aires?
KA: I'll try to make finals. I'll start on all four apparatus. I don't know who the other participants will be, but I will give everything to be better than place five, six or seven.
IG: How satisfied were you with your performance at Europeans?
KA: I don't like the word "satisfied" because there's always development, even if everything went right. Bars and floor were all right. On vault I could have done better, and you know my fudged performance on beam.
IG: How is the German team looking right now?
KA: In general most of the team who will go for Worlds is in good condition, besides the known small problems. There is no gymnast without those!
IG: How is (2006 European junior all-around bronze medalist) Marie-Sophie Hindermann doing, following her own injury?
KA: I'm very confident that Marie will do well in September. Recent times have been hard for her and sometimes she was desperate, but everything changes for the better and there's time, if only a bit.
IG: What is your team goal for Stuttgart?
KA: I am sure the team will do everything to qualify for the Olympic Games. We work hard, we'll come together one month before and so we'll grow closer together. Every one of us will give her best.
Read "Double Break," an in-depth profile on Abel, in the July/August 2006 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.