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Written by dwight normile    Sunday, 20 May 2018 08:23    PDF Print
Hamm, Liukin, Raducan Gain Entry Into The IGHOF
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

On May 19 at the Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City, Master of Ceremony Bart Conner opened the evening with this statement to more than 200 guests: "We are honoring undeniable excellence tonight!" How true.

The event was live-streamed on the International Gymnast Facebook page.

Alexei Nemov was inducted last year but couldn't come because his mother was ill. But he came this year with his wife and joined Paul Hamm, Nastia Liukin and Andreea Raducan. Now the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame has 98 individuals from 22 countries. Slava Corn of Canada received the International Order of Merit.

All four inductees were Olympics champions, one with an asterisk.

Born May 28, 1976, in Barashevo, Mordovia, Alexei Nemov is from Tolyatti, Russia. The three-time Olympian had a significant impact on each Games. In 1996 he helped his Russian team with the gold, and he won six medals. In 2000 he won the all-around and, again, won six medals. In 2004 in event finals, his exceptional high bar routine scored too low in the eyes of the fans, and they wouldn't stop booing and whistling. His routine ultimately led to the open-ended Code of Points.

Nemov's acceptance speech, both humorous and serious, was translated by Anna Liukin, Nastia Liukin's mother.

"I'm very honored to be here with all you guys," said Nemov, who was coached by Yevgeny Nikolko. "I would love to thank my mom, who brought me to my gymnastics class that started my career."

Born September 30, 1983, in Barlad, Romania, Andreea Raducan was next to speak. What a story she had. If you recall, at the 2000 Sydney Olympic all-around final the vaulting horse was set too low during the first two rotations. The cold pills she took from the Romanian team doctor, however, turned her world upside-down. The pills had a banned substance and the all-around title was awarded to Simona Amanar, Raducan's Romanian teammate, who placed second. Raducan was able to keep the team gold and her silver medal on vault.

Raducan had every reason to turn her back on the sport but didn't. She won five medals at the 2001 World Championships: golds for the team, and on balance beam and floor exercise; and bronze in the all-around and on vault.

And at age 33 she became President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation.

"I'm very honored to share this honor with you guys," she said. "I'm very honored to be among my fellow Romanians."

Paul Hamm and his twin brother, Morgan, were born September 24, 1982, in Washburn, Wisconsin. Both were two-time Olympians (2000, 2004). Paul was the first American male gymnast to win a World Championships all-around gold, which he did in 2003 in Anaheim, California.

Paul was next to speak, and his story is similar to Raducan's, only he got to keep is all-around gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He had to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland to defend himself, however. If you recall, South Korean Yang Tae Young was erroneously docked one tenth on parallel bars. At the CAS hearing, the lead arbitrator asked the top South Korean lawyer that if Yang had received the extra tenth, would he have won? The lawyer said no. (Yang had placed third, less than a tenth from the gold.) After all, every situation affects the next.

The fallout was that Hamm never really got to celebrate that gold medal. Incredulously, FIG President Bruno Grandi asked Hamm if he would be willing to give up the gold medal. And feeling a lack of support from his own federation, Paul retired much too early. He was only 21. He tried to make a comeback for the 2008 Olympics, but a broken hand derailed that dream.

"Thank you for this honor," said Hamm, who earned an accounting degree from Ohio State. "I missed high school functions, I lived with Russian coaches. I was blessed to have my brother through those times. I know I wouldn't have my success if Morgan wasn't there with me. I was coached by some of the best people out there (Stacey Maloney, Miles Avery). "It's a huge honor for me."

Born October 30, 1989, in Moscow, Russia, Nastia Liukin, coached by her father, won the all-around gold at the 2008 Beijing, China. And Shawn Johnson, her roommate at those Games, won the silver.

"It is truly my honor to be here," said Liukin, who brought her fiancé, Matt Lombardi, a former hockey player at Boston College. "I always wanted to grow up to be like my parents. (Anna was a world champion rhythmic gymnast, and Valeri was a gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.) "You were all my biggest idols," she said of Nemov, Hamm and Raducan.

"Finally, to my parents, it's hard to express what you mean to me. This is a great honor to be inducted in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame."

As a child, Slava Corn and her family fled from the communist regime of Czechoslovakia and ended up in Canada. They got involved with Czech activities there and went to the Sokols. Corn was her mother's partner in Sokol Slets in various cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Corn worked for the FIG for decades. She was the media director and was involved with the implementation of the Academy programs, which traveled to various countries that wanted to bolster their gymnastics programs. She was also on a committee to help prevent sexual abuse.

Corn retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics and is an Honorary Vice President at the FIG.

"It's a great honor to receive such a distinguished award," she said. "I have to admit, I was not a very skilled gymnast (the gathered guests laughed). My gymnastics career was modeled around the Sokols. My 24 years at the FIG was a true learning experience."

Read complete coverage of the Hall of Fame induction dinner in the June 2018 issue of International Gymnast magazine.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 11 May 2018 07:55    PDF Print
Chiles On U.S. Team: 'There Is Not Just One Leader'
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

U.S. gymnast Jordan Chiles told IG that her triple gold medal-winning performance at last month’s Pacific Rim Championships in Medellin, Colombia, showed her reliability as a scoring leader and a team leader, as well.

“It was amazing to compete with my teammates and be able to support them,” said Chiles, who placed first on vault, first on floor exercise, first with the U.S. team and third on balance beam in Medellin. “Some of the girls are first-time team members, so it was cool working together to represent the USA.”

Chiles, who placed third all-around at the World Cup of Stuttgart, Germany, in March, said she was pleased with her personal results in Medellin, despite an injury that kept her out of the all-around and a fall from balance beam in the apparatus finals.

“My plan was to compete in the all-around, but in the morning practice before competition, I was training bars and jammed my index finger on a release move,” said Chiles, who turned 17 on April 15. “After discussing the injury with my coaches and the medical staff, it was decided that it was safest for me to not do bars. My routines for the other events went pretty close to what we planned for this early in my season. The goal was to compete clean routines and think of the team, and I think I was able to do that, except my beam in the event final. Why?!”

The 2017 U.S. all-around silver medalist, Chiles said she intends to add content to her routines in time for the U.S. Championships in Boston in August and, should she qualify, the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in October.

“I need to focus on putting all my upgrades in my routines,” said Chiles, who trains at Naydenov Gymnastics Inc. in Vancouver, Washington. “I have been competing watered-down routines this year in Stuttgart and Colombia. To do well at Championships and hopefully make Worlds, I will need to compete my full difficulty.”

The stability, confidence and cooperation that Chiles demonstrated in Stuttgart and Medellin are other key focal points for the coming months, she said.

“I also need to show that I can be consistent and hit routines easily,” Chiles said. “I think I was able to show that I can be counted on. I was able to bring USA a medal in every event I was in this year. But mostly I think I can show that I love my team and that competing as a team is amazing. I love the all-around and event finals, too, but there is something about the team competition. I became close with the girls and the coaches, and that makes the experience so cool.”

A second-year senior, Chiles embraces her new role as one of the U.S. team’s leaders.

“It is crazy to think that I would be considered a veteran since I still look up to many of the girls, but I do feel comfortable in a leadership role,” she told IG. “I have been an elite since I was 11 and on Team USA since I was 12, so I have had a lot of experience. I hope that I can encourage the girls to be the best they can be. It really is a team effort and there is not just one leader, but I can help get our team to achieve their dreams. I think that is what makes the USA great. Anyone can step up at any point and we will listen.”

Read “Amazing Grace,” a four-page profile on Chiles, in the March 2018 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to the print and/or digital editions of IG magazine, or order back issues, click here.

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.”

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

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.”

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, 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.

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


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