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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 24 July 2018 09:13    PDF Print
Health Issues Won't Discourage Croatia's Tkalcec
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although veteran Croatian gymnast Tijana Tkalcec will skip next month’s European championships and this fall’s world championships, she told IG she is pleased with her current international Challenge Cup ranking after a year-long absence due to health issues.

“So far I am very satisfied, since I just came back,” said the 29-year-old Tkalcec. “It was a long and hard journey to come back, but it was worth it. At the end of this part of the season, I'm first in the world ranking list on vault, and my goal for this year is to stay in the top three.”

Tkalcec said she will not attend Europeans in Glasgow and worlds in Doha, but has additional Challenge Cup meets on her agenda later in 2018. Thus far this year she placed fifth on vault at the Challenge Cups of Osijek, Koper and Guimaraes.

“It's still too soon for me, and my vaults are not as good as they should be, so I will sit these ones out,” she said of Europeans and worlds. “I will go to Challenge Cups in Hungary and France in September, and then try to improve my vaults for next year.”

Tkalcec, a vault finalist at the 2013 Europeans in Moscow, trains under coaches Igor Krijaimskii (all apparatuses) and Tatjana Goverdovskaja (balance beam and floor exercise choreographer) at the Marijan Zadravec Macan club in her hometown of Cakovec. Away from competition from 2015 until May 2017, she competed at the 2017 Challenge Cups of Koper and Osijek before pausing again to tend to her ongoing kidney problems.

“When that hits, my blood results are bad, and my whole body is sore from the toxins that my kidneys don't refine as well as any healthy kidney would,” she said. “I just need to have a break so everything comes back to normal again.”

Despite her medical setbacks and her 30th birthday looming in nine months, Tkalcec said she is ultimately motivated by her ageless passion for gymnastics, the camaraderie that she enjoys with her international rivals and steady encouragement from loved ones.

“It's kind of hard to answer that question the right way,” she said of why she continues. “But I guess that love for the sport and the feeling you get when you come to the competition and perform, and see all your good friends, is what keeps me going. I have all the support at home from my family and my fiancé, so that makes everything easier.”

Tkalcec’s longevity has also yielded longterm friendships among her fellow gymnasts, including two-time Czech Olympian Kristyna Palesova.

“We were very good friends when she was competing and we were big supporters of each other at every competition,” Tkalcec said. “We had great times, and were there for each other through good and bad times. I guess that is what has kept our friendship going even now. We speak to each other almost every day, and also visit one another as often as we can.”

Although Palesova has retired, her influence on Tkalcec is still apparent since Tkalcec now wears leotards that Palesova designs.

“I chose to wear Kristyna’s designs because I saw how well she makes them, and since she was a gymnast she knows exactly how to make perfect leos for us,” Tkalcec said. “She even has her own line—her first collection came out in May—and I hope I will be able to represent her leos many times more.”

Tkalcec’s summer activities included cheering for the Croatian soccer team as it advanced through this summer’s World Cup in Russia. She watched the final match against France with friends in Novi Sad, where she was vacationing at the time.

“There was an organized FIFA corner next to the river, and around 300 people watched the game there and everyone cheered for Croatia,” Tkalcec said. “That was a special feeling, knowing that in sport there are no religious, skin-color or ethnic differences.”

Despite Croatia’s loss to France in the final, Tkalcec said she was thrilled to be part of the national excitement and sense of honor.

“I think that, since I'm an athlete, I wasn't as nervous as other people watching the game,” she told IG. “We are kind of used to all that. But at the penalty shots it was nerve-racking every time. I can say that I am proud to be a part of such a small and very successful country.”

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Written by Admin    Friday, 13 July 2018 07:05    PDF Print
Szabo, My Hero
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

By Charles Lo Sin Yee

One night in 1984, while watching a televised coverage of the Los Angeles Olympics at a neighbor’s house, I realized that there was such a sport as artistic gymnastics in the world, something I could not have imagined before.

The first time I saw Ekaterina Szabo of Romania performing on bars, there was some fierceness in her eyes, setting her apart from the rest. During the optional phase, she clipped an ankle on her Jaeger and fell on her double back dismount for a score of 9.30 after posting a 10.0 on her previous event, vault.

Seemingly unfazed, she posted 9.95s on balance beam and floor exercise. The uncharacteristic fall, unfortunately, was the main reason why she lost to Mary Lou Retton in the end. My heart ached for her, but she was able to redeem herself. She won vault, tied for first on beam with her teammate Simona Pauca, and she also won floor.

A nerve-testing drama happened during the floor final. Due to a power outage, Szabo had to wait a long time for her turn. When the lights returned, the scoreboard flashed Julianne McNamara’s score, a perfect 10.0. Cheers rose like a deafening thunder. A floor champion in the 1983 Budapest World Championships, Szabo had the required stocks of mental toughness that helped her rise to the occasion, nailing all her tumbling passes, and equaling McNamara’s score. With a 0.025 lead carried over from the preliminaries, Szabo obtained her fourth gold.

Every day at school after the Olympics, I imagined myself replicating every routine of Szabo, particularly that of the bars. Despite being a boy and somewhat klutzy, I tried without success to lift myself over any railings or arm rests I could lay my hands on. At the time, there was no equipment for the sport in my neighborhood. I had more than my fair share of falls from attempted handstands, and was laughed at by my much more athletic younger brother. I was stricken with jealousy at the sight of him hitting a tumbling pass. One time on a visit to Sabah, he spotted a high bar in a park and did some giant swings around it. Limited by frail, untrained arms, I grasped the bar in a dead hang, unable to perform the same feat and my face was red with shame.

To compensate for my lack of agility, I produced my own gymnastics magazine, creating news of Szabo’s winning streaks in competitions, including those of her beating Mary Lou Retton, who by then had retired. I did a few comic books, too, the main character being a hardy female gymnast, who defied the odds by emerging as an Olympic bars champion.

To this day, at the age of 48, the quirky habit is still going strong, and I can regularly be seen scribbling away in a little book some imaginary news of different sports meets. One time, possibly in the year 1999, I wrote about the rise of a black American gymnast, and her name happened to be Douglas!

For the sake of gymnastics, I have lifted some weights, trying to beef myself up. One day the efforts paid off. At a gym, I was strong enough to swing myself several times around a high bar before crashing onto the floor from a botched twisting element. Despite some injuries to my head, the temporary airborne experience is a prized memory. Szabo had never come to the depicted heights in my ‘magazine’. From 1985 to 1987, although overshadowed by Yelena Shushunova and Daniela Silivas and a few East German gymnasts, she was still able to earn some medals. She was well-respected by all, and one of the few at the time to have a longer competitive career. She may not have achieved the same stardom as Nadia Comaneci, but her grit and tenacity shone through. I always tell myself to be like her, picking myself up with courage after each fall.

In Miri, a small town in Malaysia where artistic gymnastics is almost unheard of, friends tend to tease me for watching gymnastics videos on YouTube. I take their mockery in stride and deep down, I am proud of myself for being able to appreciate the aesthetics of this sport. A love able to stand the test of time, all because of Ekaterina Szabo, one of the greats in the 1980s.

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 July 2018 07:57    PDF Print
Slovenia's Kysselef: 'I Never Underestimate Anyone, Not Even Myself'
(4 votes, average 4.75 out of 5)

Winner of five World or Challenge Cup medals thus far in 2018, veteran Slovenian gymnast Tjasa Kysselef told IG that pride and determination keep her vaulting toward new goals at age 25.

“I'm always motivated by representing myself and my country as best as I can,” said Kysselef, whose World or Challenge Cup medal tally this year includes one gold (vault in Melbourne), one silver (vault in Osijek) and three bronze (floor exercise in Melbourne, vault in Koper, vault in Baku). “I never underestimate anyone, not even myself. I always say to myself that you have to compete like it's your last chance, your last competition.”

Kysselef, who placed second on vault and sixth on floor exercise at last month’s Mediterranean Games in Tarragona, Spain, is in the process of upgrading her vaults. She is confident she has the potential to make the vault final at next month’s European Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, and this fall’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

“I planned [to] upgrade my first vault from D-score 4.8 to 5.4 but so far I couldn't manage successfully yet, and for sure I don't want to take any risks of falling,” said Kysselef, who trains at GD Zelena Jama in Ljubljana, where she has been coached by Andrej Mavric since age 7. “So I might show that in Doha.”

One spot shy of qualifying for the vault final at the 2016 Europeans in Bern, Switzerland, Kysselef said she hopes her current standard is enough to finish among the top eight in Glasgow.

“I'm sure that, with D-scores of 5.4 and 5.0, I would have a great chance to make it into the final at Europeans,” she said. “But so far I'll have to make it with 4.8 and 5.0, and I’m willing to do perfect vaults. I'm also stressed a little because last time, with the same vaults, I ended up in ninth place, and I assure you that I did those pretty much perfectly. I hope I do the same, and with a little luck, you never know. For Worlds I think you need to make both vaults with a D-score of 5.4 to have a chance for the final.”

While Kysselef is not a vault specialist, she credits her innate power for her success on this apparatus. “I would say it's because of my legs,” she said. “They are the strongest part of my body and I can make the most of it. Also, there might be a bit of natural vaulting talent, as well.”

Kysselef, who turned 25 on April 27, said ambition and grit guide her through this mature phase of her career.

“The key is motivation, to dream big and set up your goals,” she said. “Give all your dreams a chance to make it happen. Yes, we have to stay realistic about achieving goals, but for dreams there is no limit. If you're ready to work and give every single part of yourself for it, then you will make it. Maybe not on the first try, and here is when many quit.”

Above all, Kysselef said, tenacity is critical to persevering in tough situations.

“Being persistent is the main thing,” Kysselef told IG. “Don’t give up when the day is not perfect, or training, competition or even a season. Injuries are especially the toughest part to go through. Fight for it and keep your head up. That is my key.”

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

Written by dwight normile    Monday, 02 July 2018 14:12    PDF Print
Averie Mitchell Is Going Places
(8 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Averie Mitchell is special. When she was 2 years old she had to have her left leg amputated, and was fitted with a prosthetic limb. Said Kim Mitchell, Averie’s mother: “I was determined that she was not going to be labeled as disabled.”

Her parents enrolled 4-year-old Averie in a gymnastics class. Now she’s a Level 5 at Hugo Gymnastics in Hugo, Oklahoma.

Averie, 11, recently placed sixth in the state and will compete in the nationals with her team.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that she would be as great as she is,” Mitchell told NBC News.

Averie continues to push herself in a sport she loves.

“I’m not only helping myself, I’m helping other people (overcome) their fears,” said Averie, who’s an all-around gymnast. “I would just accomplish a skill, and the other girls are scared to do it. And my coach, Mandy, she’ll say, ‘A one-legged girl can do it, you can do it. You’ve got two legs.’”

Averie was able to perform an exhibition balance beam routine at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Olympic Trials in San Jose, California. She also has her sights set on attending the University of Oklahoma as well as the Olympics.

“This is how it’s gonna be, so I just have to deal with it,” she said.

Sounds like she’s dealing with it quite well.

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, 14 June 2018 14:09    PDF Print
Parkettes To Celebrate 50th Anniversary
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

In 1964 Donna Strauss began teaching physical education in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, school district. On the side she formed a modest gymnastics club with some of her high school students.

The was one problem, however. Neither Donna nor her husband, Bill Strauss, knew anything about gymnastics. Donna’s principal at the time was Carroll Parks, who provided inspiration to the Strausses, so they named their gym after him.

The Parkettes are celebrating its 50th anniversary on June 23, 2018. They’ve come a long way from their first gym, which was on the second floor of a fire company. (Could you rewind my music? I couldn’t hear it because of the siren.)

"It was very tiny,” Donna recalls.

The Parkettes broke ground in March 2002, and they now have a 32,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

The Parkettes have produced five Olympians, 10 World Championship team members and 159 gymnasts who have received college scholarships. Donna said that Kristen Maloney, Hope Spivey, Jodi Yocum and Elizabeth Price are among the former gymnasts who plan to attend.

"We just feel so fortunate that we’ve had such a wonderful group of gymnasts throughout the entire 50 years," Donna told IG. "We still both enjoy working with the gymnasts.

And what about retirement?

"We’re taking it month by month,” Donna said. “When we feel like we’re ready to move on, that’s when we’re going to do it.”

Read the complete story in the July/August 2018 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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