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Samuel Zakutney: "I Believe We'll Be Ready Sooner Than Expected'
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Canadian gymnast Samuel Zakutney told IG that, although the Canadian men’s team finished only 18th at last year’s World Championships in Doha, it has the potential to earn 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games qualification at this fall’s Worlds in Stuttgart.

“After analyzing our performance in Doha, we could have easily made top 12, if not top 10, with a better pommel horse showing,” said Zakutney, who competed on five apparatuses in Doha. “I don’t believe increasing difficulty is in our greatest interest. The main goal is for everyone to hit well-executed routines. If we do that, I believe we have a decent chance of qualifying a team to Tokyo.”

In qualifications in Doha, the Canadian team ranked 33rd on pommel horse with counting scores of 10.000 and two 11.366s. Despite those low marks, Canada finished 3.375 short of 12th place, indicating its potential for a top-12 ranking there with a better outing on pommel horse alone. The team was seventh on horizontal bar, and 16th-20th on the other four apparatuses.

“We can't afford any major mishaps like what happened in Doha,” said Zakutney, a junior and three-time All-American at Penn State University, where he is majoring in biomedical engineering. “We just need to remain focused and learn to not dwell on little mistakes so larger ones can be easily averted.”

While not excusing Canada’s performance on pommel horse in Doha, Zakutney said he sensed that the apparatus itself was problematic.

“If I'm perfectly honest, it seemed like a lot of countries were struggling on horse in Doha,” he said. “When I was watching some qualification sessions the day after ours, I witnessed many officials — judges and Taishan (apparatus supplier) employees — fiddling around with the equipment to check for structural integrity. Nonetheless, we didn't perform as well as we wanted.”

Zakutney said no single factor contributed to his team’s mistakes on pommel horse in Doha.

“It’s hard to think of one reason as to why since I'm not as familiar with the world competition setting, but I guess we just put too much pressure on ourselves to hit instead of rolling with our incoming momentum and just being confident,” he said. “We tried to be too technical with our gymnastics and ended up overthinking a bit.

Zakutney also said his team can achieve far better results on pommel horse in future competitions.

“I believe Team Canada has a great amount of talent on pommel horse and when the team hits, they score pretty well,” he said. “I think all we can work on is performing more routines in uncomfortable settings. For instance, training horse routines with little to no warm-up and at the end of training sessions in order to build endurance and confidence. Regardless, I believe everyone, including myself, is more motivated than ever to refining and mastering the beast.”

Twelve teams will advance to Tokyo. The top three teams in Doha earned direct berths, and nine more teams from Stuttgart will advance to the Games.

For his part, Zakutney said Canada’s focus heading toward Stuttgart will be on perfecting what they already do, as opposed to taking on substantial new elements.

“I absolutely believe the main goal for this team is just executing,” he said. “We could use a little more difficulty on rings and vault, but overall, Team Canada has good foundation of difficulty. I believe learning and implementing new skills for these Worlds is cutting it a little close. However, they'll definitely be considered for the following year.” Zakutney is also confident in his personal prospects to make the Canadian team for Stuttgart.

“Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend any major competitions until May,” he said. “Luckily, none of the more significant Canadian competitions happens until then. Following the NCAA season, my plan is to attend both the Canadian national championships and then Elite Canada in July. Hopefully, I'll prove myself strong enough to make the Pan Am Games team. From then on, I believe I have a fairly good chance of making it Stuttgart. We'll see what happens.”

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