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Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 09 May 2018 07:00    PDF Print
Romi Kessler: Swiss Vanguard
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

In an era when Eastern-bloc gymnasts ruled the rankings, Switzerland’s Romi Kessler made remarkable and still-memorable strides as one of Western Europe’s top gymnasts of the late 1970s and early ’80s.

She credits her uniqueness and efficiency to her coaches, Urs Straumann and Gabi Schneider, who were public high-school teachers.

“They also gave me other knowledge and values such as art and culture,” says Kessler, who placed ninth all-around and made three event finals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. “They were very respectful, intelligent, creative and strict. We also had courses in jazz dance, modern dance and pantomime.”

Kessler’s novel beam routine and superbly interpreted “West Side Story” floor performance from 1984 perhaps best manifested her clever, dynamic style.

“We didn’t let others influence us much,” she says. “We did our thing. Maybe my disposition and versatility was a reason. And also my naturalness, authenticity, joy and passion for this sport.”

She’s encouraged by the current progress of the Swiss program.

“It’s nice to see that more attention is paid to the team again,” says Kessler of Switzerland’s recent rise. “This results in a win-win situation.”

Kessler and her ex-husband, fellow 1984 Swiss Olympian Marco Piatti, have three adult children and one grandson. She works in human resources for Jaagou Ltd. in Zurich, where, as during her gymnastics career, her sense of wonder and purpose thrive.

“I have a lot of freedom here,” she says. “I can bring in my creativity, knowledge, service orientation, common sense, joy and happiness.”

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This story was printed in the May 2018 issue of International Gymnast.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 02 May 2018 07:05    PDF Print
Australia's Tone Set For Further Success
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Australian gymnast Michael Tone told IG that, following a long absence from all-around competitions, his all-around finish at the recent Commonwealth Games marked a promising return and a solid step towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“I was quite pleased with my all-around performance, especially considering that I only started training all six events again within the last 18 months and this was my first all-around competition since 2013,” said Tone, who placed eighth all-around, fifth on high bar and seventh on pommel horse at the Games that his country hosted in Gold Coast from April 4-15. “I was also very happy receiving a solid score on pommel during the first two days to help the team score and my individual all-around.”

Tone credits his success in Gold Coast to the experience he has gained since making his international debut at the 2017 World Cup of Melbourne. He competed in four World Cup meets and the University Games last year, and made two finals at the World Cup of Melbourne in February.

“Those events helped me to fast-track learning the skills that are needed to compete at a high level, such as handling the pressure of an international competition while still being able to enjoy myself on the competition floor,” said Tone, who placed first on pommel horse and second on rings at the 2017 Australia Championships. “This, in addition to all the support I received from my coach, Sean Wilson, helped me to refine my gymnastics within the last 18 months.”

Tone said his training strategy between now and this fall’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar, will include a combination of increasing his difficulty and improving his execution, as well as a “major focus” on consistency.

“There are several changes to my routines that I will be looking to implement for Worlds,” he said. “But the key areas for increasing my difficulty will be some additions to my pommel horse routine as well as upgrading my vault to a Dragulescu.”

With Doha serving as the first qualification meet for the 2020 Olympics, Tone said he has reasonable prospects for Tokyo.

“Tokyo 2020 has been a major goal of mine for a number of years, and I think I’m on the right track to making it a reality,” Tone told IG. “Individually, my best chance will be qualifying through one of the all-around positions with the hope to also take one of the three spots on pommel at next year’s Worlds. I know that my teammates have similar aspirations.”

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Written by dwight normile    Monday, 30 April 2018 07:20    PDF Print
Streak Snapped: At Age 29, Can Kohei Uchimura Win Another World All-around Title?
(4 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

Kohei Uchimura’s goal has always been to perform beautiful gymnastics. He simply wants to entertain the audience with complex and beautiful gymnastics. The judges are merely an afterthought. That’s probably why he’s been so successful. “I think the performance that touches people’s hearts is beautiful,” he says.

So when he injured his left ankle on vault, his second event during the qualifications at the 2017 World Championships in Montreal, he was devastated. Uchimura had won an unprecedented six world all-around titles, starting in 2009 and ending in 2015. He was going for his seventh.

“I am very frustrated with myself that I could not compete in all six events,” he says. Uchimura competed on three events in Montreal: rings (14.000); vault (15.166); and parallel bars (14.033). He landed his vault a little low (Li Xiaopeng: roundoff half-onto the table, front layout-21/2 twists). He had only a small hop forward, his left ankle absorbing most of the force of the landing. When he turned to leave the podium, however, he lifted his tender left ankle and leaned over to rub the outside of it. (After an MRI and X-ray, he was diagnosed with an incomplete tear of the anterior talofibular ligament.)

After competing a somewhat loose parallel bars routine, he limped off the podium after his double pike dismount. He tried warming up high bar but was forced to withdraw from the competition.

“My ankle is recovering well,” says Uchimura, who competed on four events at the Doha (Qatar) World Cup in March: pommel horse (where he fell), rings, vault and high bar. He did not make any finals.

But competing in Doha will enable him to get a feel for the Aspire Dome, since the 2018 World Championships will also be held in Doha in October. And will he compete in the all-around at those Worlds? “Yes, of course,” he says.

Japan was still represented on the podium at the 2017 Worlds, with Kenzo Shirai winning the all-around bronze. He was .017 shy of the silver. Uchimura said that if his teammate had stuck more landings, he might have won the gold.

Uchimura was born Jan. 3, 1989, near Nagasaki, where his parents, Kazuhisa (father) and Shuko (mother) owned a gym. His younger sister, Haruhi, is also a gymnast. Little Kohei grew up in that gym. “[My father] just told me to enjoy the sport, and if I can’t enjoy it, it means nothing,” he says. “I think this was very good for me.”

When Uchimura was 15 he left his parents’ gym to train in Tokyo with is role model, Naoya Tsukahara, son of the great Mitsuo Tsukahara. “At first [my parents] were against me, but I was a child that never listens to somebody once I made up my mind firmly,” he says. “So in the end, they said OK, reluctantly.”

Asked what he liked most about his streak, Uchimura says, “My proudest competition was the 2011 Tokyo World Championships.” Uchimura won the all-around by more than 3.0, and he also won the gold on floor exercise and the bronze on high bar. It’s interesting that he would name those Worlds. After Japan dominated the team competition in qualifications, his team placed second to China in the team finals.

The majority of Uchimura’s career has been under the open-ended Code of Points. Given how it has been constantly changed since it was implemented at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, Uchimura does not want to return to the 10.0 judging system. “I personally believe that the current rules are good for me, because I have won a number of titles using this system,” he says.

Since only one component of the Code of Points is open ended (Difficulty), would he like to see the Execution deductions also subtracted from the Difficulty score? “It would be great if beautiful execution were rewarded in this way,” he says.

And if he could change the Code? “I’d like to bring back the bonus for virtuosity,” he says. “I would like to see excellent scores for excellent performances that nobody can equal.”

Few gymnasts can match Uchimura in terms of pure technique, perfect form and virtuosity. In that respect, he’s a tuxedo in a rack of tweeds.

Uchimura was married after the 2012 London Olympics, where he won his first Olympic all-around title. (He placed second at the 2008 Olympics.) His wife, Chiho, is a former gymnast, and the couple have two daughters, born in 2013 and 2015.

With regard to having two kids, Uchimura says, “I feel a greater sense of responsibility. It positively affects my performance.”

Even at 29, Uchimura says he is not training fewer hours than he did when he was younger. “It hasn’t changed much,” he says. But the aches and pains are always a factor. “As a gymnast, everyone has nagging injuries. In my case, it’s back pain.”

He’s also working on a few new skills, such as a Bretschneider (double-twisting Kovacs). He may need it. In April 2017 he won his 10th straight All-Japan Championships, but he beat runner-up Yusuke Tanaka by only .05. He defeated bronze medalist Kenzo Shirai by .25.

It may seem odd that Uchimura has won zero event titles over three Olympics, and only three event titles at World Championships: floor exercise, 2011 (Tokyo); parallel bars, 2013 (Antwerp); and high bar, 2015 (Glasgow). But it is really a testament of his balance as an all-around gymnast.

The 2016 Rio Olympics must have been satisfying for Uchimura. He won his second Olympic all-around title, but more importantly, Japan won its first team title since the 2004 Athens Games.

As Uchimura looks ahead to the new year, he understands his ultimate goal. “The serious part is the (2018) World Championships,” he says. “I have to consider what kind of routines I’ll do at Worlds. The things I’m hoping for are fairly big. That’s a battle against myself. I do it to battle on the world stage, after all. It’s not about what happened last year. More than reclaiming a title or getting revenge. I just want to get back out there; I’ve kept everyone waiting.”

Regardless of what aspirations Uchimura has, or what his future goals are, he has already written his chapter in the history of gymnastics. Until some other amazing gymnast comes along — and one day that may happen — he will always be considered the greatest gymnast the sport has ever seen.

Father time remains undefeated, but he’s definitely given Kohei Uchimura a few years more to work his magic.

This story was printed in the April 2018 issue.

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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 17 April 2018 08:33    PDF Print
Rogers: 'I'm Going To Let The Wind Take Me'
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Two-time Canadian Olympian Brittany Rogers told IG that, despite intimations of her imminent retirement, her medal-winning performances at this month’s Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, have her eying the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.

“My performances in Australia could honestly go either way,” said the 24-year-old Rogers, who won gold in the team competition and silver on uneven bars in Gold Coast. “It could seal the deal and give me satisfaction and closure on my career, or it could motivate me to continue on. Considering I’ve been pushing back my retirement for a few years now, all signs would point to me continuing on to Tokyo.”

As fans reveled in the Canadian women’s first Commonwealth Games team victory in 28 years, Rogers, who competed for the University of Georgia, said teamwork and confidence assured her of their potential for gold in Gold Coast.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a surprise that we won the gold, due to the amount of talent and experience within the team,” said Rogers, who competed at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. “I think the key this time was the unity and bond we developed throughout the week that really made us trust each other and step up when it mattered the most. I had no doubts that this team was going to have a successful Games. It was more of a question regarding which color medal we’d win.”

Rogers, who placed first on vault and fifth on balance beam at last summer’s University Games in Taipei, said she is not rushing a decision relating to Tokyo 2020.

“All I know for right now is that I am soaking in all of the success the team and I had in Australia, as well as giving my mind and body a break,” she told IG. “I have a few job opportunities in the works which I am really looking forward to, but in the meantime I’m going to let the wind take me where it wants to take me.”

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Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 04 April 2018 08:11    PDF Print
Doha Silver Gives Kimble 'Upper Hand'
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

U.S. gymnast Marvin Kimble told IG that winning the silver medal on high bar at last month’s World Cup of Doha served multiple advantages as he eyes this fall’s World Championships, which will also take place in Doha.

“Every meet is a stepping stone,” said Kimble, who also finished seventh on parallel bars and eighth on rings in Doha. “I just want to hit my routines to the best of my ability. It was a good opportunity to compete where Worlds will be held. I feel like I have a little bit of an upper hand knowing what it’s going to be like.”

Kimble, who finished 0.267 points behind 2017 world high bar champion Tin Srbic of Croatia in the high bar final in Doha, said better execution can help him match Srbic in future meets.

“I’m working on cleaning up my high bar each meet,” he said. “I think that’s what it’s going to take to make the jump.”

Kimble, the 2017 U.S. co-champion on rings and champion on high bar, placed second all-around and first on vault at the Winter Cup Challenge, a U.S. ranking meet, earlier this year. Although a few of his apparatuses are particularly strong, he plans to remain a competitive all-arounder.

“I am hoping to make a big impact in the all-around,” Kimble told IG. “As I’ve seen in the past, that’s the best way to punch your ticket onto any team.”

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