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Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 25 November 2016 07:40    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Jessica Dowling (Canada)
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Absent from competition for the past few years, 22-year-old Canadian gymnast Jessica Dowling is enjoying her return to competition, starting with a satisfying return at the recent Elite Gym Massilia meet in Marseille, France.


Dowling at the recent Elite Gym Massilia in Marseille

"Even with the surgeries and the state of my knee, I knew I would regret my decision later in life if I didn't try to come back," said Dowling, referring to the issues that kept her out of the sport since 2013.

Dowling trains at Dynamo Gymnastics in Cambridge, Ontario, under coaches Elvira Saadi (1972 and '76 Soviet Olympic team gold medalist) and Denis Vachon. Dowling helped Dynamo place ninth in the Open team standings at the Elite Gym Massilia, held November 11-13 in Marseille. She finished 26th in the Open all-around. Eight years ago in Marseille, she placed eighth all-around. Five years ago in Marseille, Dowling finished 16th all-around in the Elite division.

Born September 9, 1994, in Hamilton, Ontario, Dowling was a steady presence on the Canadian scene as a junior and senior earlier in her career. She placed seventh all-around at the 2008 Canadian Junior Championships, 15th all-around at the 2010 Canadian Championships, first all-around in the Open division at the 2011 Canadian Championships, and 11th all-around at the 2012 Canadian Championships.

Dowling, whose mother was born in the Netherlands, has dual citizenship; she placed fourth all-around at the 2011 Dutch Championships.

Dowling describes her past challenges, and reveals her new motivations and plans, in this IG Online interview.



The Dynamo team at the 2016 Elite Gym Massilia: Brooklyn Moors, Jessica Dowling, Madison Hughes and Emma Spence

IG: It's a surprise to many people that you've returned to competition after a few years in the shadows. What was the reason for your absence, and what was your motivation for returning to competition?

JD: In March 2013, I underwent knee surgery for OCD – a cartilage defect – and a partially torn meniscus. I required a level 3 OATS procedure, as the bone on the lateral side of my knee contained two substantial holes and the cartilage was no longer attached. Due to the amount of work done on my knee and the condition my knee was in, I required a second surgery in October 2013. It took a long time to regain strength in my knee, and the surgeon didn't think I would be able to continue gymnastics. It was a tough two years for me, but I couldn't give it up. I simply love the sport of gymnastics and I can't live without it. It has also been a dream of mine to make the national team and compete for Canada at international competitions. Even with the surgeries and the state of my knee, I knew I would regret my decision later in life if I didn't try to come back.

IG: How satisfied were you with your performance in Marseille, in terms of your expectations?

JD: I was satisfied with my floor and vault. These have been the hardest events to get back, and I am happy I was able to land all my tumbling lines and perform a clean vault. Beam was a little shaky and I did not compete my full start value. However, it was the first event of the day, and I am happy I was able to control my nerves and avoid any major mistakes. I had the most expectations for bars, and was very dissatisfied when I didn't hit my routine the way I had been doing in training. More than that, I am disappointed that, after one major mistake, I let my emotions affect the rest of my routine. I will take this as a learning experience for future competitions.

IG: Having been away from competition for so long, how did nerves affect your performance in Marseille?

JD: I found myself more nervous in the days prior to the competition than I have been in the past. This definitely affected my sleep the night before the meet. I definitely need to compete a few more times in order to feel more comfortable in the competition environment again, but overall, I was pretty happy with how I handled my nerves in Marseille.

IG: Based on your performance in Marseille, what improvements or changes do you plan for upcoming competitions?

JD: I definitely have to work on the details and execution of my performances for upcoming competitions. Being my first competition back, I found myself concentrating harder for the bigger skills and thus, lacked focus on the finer details of my routines, including dance, turns, leaps and jumps, which are just as important.

IG: How is gymnastics more challenging for you than when you were younger?

JD: When I was younger, I recovered faster between training sessions and thus was able to handle a high number of repetitions six days a week. Now, I find I have to balance the harder training sessions with some lighter ones, in order to maintain successful, consecutive weeks of training.

IG: Who coaches you and on which events?

JD: Elvira Saadi and Denis Vachon are my main coaches, coaching me on all four events and traveling with me to competitions. Elvira is the head coach who prepares the training plan for each and every day. I also receive coaching by Sarah Rainey and Jonathan Asada, who work alongside Elvira and Denis in the gym. Finally, we work with a dance and ballet teacher every week.


Dowling in 2011

IG: In the past you competed at the Dutch championships and considered getting approval to compete for the Netherlands. Is that still an option for you? (To read IG Online's 2011 feature on Dowling relating to this topic, click here.)

JD: In 2011, when I was injured during the Canadian selection process for the world championships and other international competitions, I considered getting approval to compete for the Netherlands. Unfortunately this is not an option for me anymore. As much as I love the Netherlands, my home is in Canada. I am also completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph and, in order to combine my studies with gymnastics, I have to be in Canada.

IG: How do you balance your university studies with the training demands of gymnastics?

JD: I am studying nutrition and nutraceutical sciences. In order to manage my studies with my training schedule, I take only six courses a year, instead of the usual eight to 10. This way, I am able to maintain high grades so that I can apply to grad school in the future, and continue training at the elite level. I am taking six classes through the entire year – two in the fall term, two in the winter term, and two in the summer. Most students take four to five classes in the fall and winter term and work during the summer. During the week I live in an apartment in Guelph, Ontario, where I go to school. On weekends I go home and spend time with my family in Dundas, a small town outside Hamilton.

IG: What have the last few years away from competition revealed to you, in terms of why you do gymnastics and why you still have unfinished business in the sport?

JD: The gym is my safe haven, and I do gymnastics because I love it. Having the two knee surgeries and being away from the gym for a year and a half was a miserable time for me. Not only did I miss doing gymnastics, but I knew I hadn't gotten everything out of the sport that I wanted.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Canadian gymnasts includes:
"Shooting Star" – Jade Chrobok profile (April 2016)
Chrobok and Meixi Semple cover photo inset (March 2016)
"Aiming to Top the Charts" – Maegan Chant interview (October 2013)
"Canadian Beacon" – Ellie Black interview (September 2015)
"Canadian Promise" – Black chat and Robert Watson profile (July/August 2014)
"Canadian Diversity" – Black and Hugh Smith profiles (July/August 2013)
Chat with Christine Peng-Peng Lee (April 2015)
"Sudden Impact" – Victoria Moors interview (January/February 2013)
"Making Tracks" – Scott Morgan profile (December 2013)
Isabela Onyshko profile (July/August 2014)
"Shooting Star" – Megan Roberts profile (April 2015)
Aleeza Yu two-page photo spread (May 2014)

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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 08 November 2016 10:57    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Tomi Tuuha (Finland)
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)



Winning a silver medal on vault at the last month’s Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, has inspired Tomi Tuuha of Finland.

Winning a silver medal on vault at the last month’s Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, has inspired Tomi Tuuha of Finland, whose mixed fortunes over the last year included an illness that prevented him from trying for this summer’s Rio Olympic Games, a broken wrist and his happy engagement to Icelandic gymnast Agnes Suto.

Tuuha, who will turn 27 on November 28, now looks ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Games as a new goal in his long career. He placed first on vault at the 2010 European Championships in Birmingham, which helped him win "Breakthrough of the Year" honors at the 2010 Sports Awards in his country. He placed first on vault at the 2014 Challenge Cup of Cottbus, and third on vault at the 2015 Challenge Cup of Osijek. Tuuha has finished in the top 15 on vault at three world championships.

In this IG Online interview, Tuuha reflects on his latest success and details the latest developments in his life.


IG: How did Szombathely motivate you for competitions to come in the remainder of 2016 and heading into 2017?

TT: Szombathely was a great competition for me. It was a very tight vault final, and I managed to fight myself to the podium. I got my first-ever silver medal from World Cups (Challenge Cups), too, so I was very happy with the results. 2016 has been overall a bit unlucky for me. In the end of February we had a national training camp in Stanford, USA, where I broke my wrist during vault training. I had to skip some World Cups because of that, so I kind of missed the ranking also this year. The European Championships in Bern (in May) were a bit too early, too, considering the wrist was still not fully healed, and I didn't quite get into the shape where I wanted to be. So yes, the result in Szombathely gave me a really good motivational kick for the rest of the year and also for next year. There is still one competition left for me this year in Cottbus, so I'm hoping to get as good results there as in Hungary.

IG: Leading into 2016 many people would consider you a favorite to compete for Finland in Rio. What happened to you at last’s years world championships in Glasgow?


Tuuha and his fiancée, Agnes Suto, of Iceland, in October

TT: Glasgow was a big disappointment for me. I had been working on upgraded vault difficulty for a year to higher my chances for a spot in the final. Unfortunately I got quite sick a couple of days before qualifications and the fever was not letting go on the competition day. I tried warming up and competing on rings but I was feeling so nauseous after the routine that I decided to withdraw. Walking out of the arena was a really hard decision to make, as I knew the vault final would have been my only way to Rio, but at the same time, I didn't want to take the risk of injury, while not being at my full health.

IG: How have you managed to reconcile with the fact that you did not qualify for Rio, especially seeing a teammate (Oskar Kirmes) perform well there?

TT: I knew a long time before that it would be a hard way for me to qualify to Rio. I've focused a long time already on only three apparatuses, and I consider myself as a vault specialist. However, only the top three gymnast from each apparatus final in Glasgow got straight tickets to Rio. I tried to increase my chances by training and competing all-around again, but with the base on my weaker apparatuses and the short time that I had, it was nearly impossible to make a good enough all-around score. Yet the time training all six was pretty educational and I managed to get couple of national all-around titles, too.

I am still very happy for my teammate Oskar for making it to Rio and competing in the all-around there. Seeing him working so hard and improving so much in the past years, it was no question he was the one who deserved the spot to compete for Finland. IG: What now motivates you to compete in the future? And what do you think of trying for Tokyo?

TT: Now that all the Rio hype is behind, I would like to set my focus on the next cycle. The rules will change with the new Code of Points, and also there is a new Olympic qualifying system for apparatus specialists through World Cups. This will definitely keep me motivated for the next four years and keep my Olympic dream alive. I mean, Tokyo sounds pretty awesome, right? Thinking about it always gives me a great feeling, as that's where I met Agnes for the first time in 2011 (World Championships in Tokyo). So who knows, maybe it's destiny.

IG: You and Agnes are experienced gymnasts and both of you have had some challenges. So how has Agnes helped you stay focused and positive in this last difficult year?

TT: We’ve been together for five years. We are both gymnasts, and are still training and competing, so we understand each other pretty well. The past year has been pretty difficult for me with injuries and Olympics going by. Having Agnes by my side, helping me clear my mind and get back up again, has been a real blessing.

IG: What is your relationship with Agnes like, in terms of logistics?

TT: Agnes moved to Finland for couple of years to train and coach, and basically so that we could be more together. This summer we took a step forward and got engaged. I was able to keep the proposal a secret from everyone, so there was a lot of surprise and excitement about it for everyone, especially for Agnes. We haven't planned the wedding yet, as we have friends and relatives in three different countries (Suto's parents are from Hungary). But I'm sure it will be sometime soon. Agnes is back in Iceland to finish her studies and coach. And since there aren't any big competitions this fall, I decided to follow her and come train with the Icelandic team in Reykjavik. I've spent around two months here now, being coached by Robert Kristmannsson, the men's head coach. I think it has been a very refreshing experience for me and for the gymnasts here, as well.

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features:
"Fearless Finn" – Tuuha interview/photo gallery (December 2012)
"Hope in Helsinki" – feature on IG's visit to Voimisteluseura VSH men's club (January 2013)
"Icelandic Warm-up" - feature on IG's visit to Icelandic clubs (November 2012)

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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 23 October 2016 12:39    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Emily Little (Australia)
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)



2012 Olympic all-around finalist Emily Little of Australia said her most recent medal-winning international performances have rejuvenated her as she continues to upgrade and improve.

2012 Olympic all-around finalist Emily Little of Australia said her most recent medal-winning international performances have rejuvenated her as she continues to upgrade and improve.

The 22-year-old Little tied for the gold medal on balance beam and won the silver medal on vault at the Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, held October 7-9.

A veteran of three world championships, Little placed 15th all-around at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and third on vault at the 2016 Olympic test event held in Rio de Janeiro in April. She finished third all-around, first on vault, and third on balance beam and floor exercise at the Australian Championships in May.

Little did not get the opportunity to compete at the Rio Games in August since after Australia placed fifth at the test event, from which the top four teams advanced to the Games. Larrissa Miller, one of Little's teammates at the 2012 Games, was the lone Australian artistic gymnast in Rio.

In this IG Online interview, Little reflects on Szombathely and Rio, and projects her ambitions for the coming years.


IG: What were your goals for Szombathely, and how do you assess your performance in terms of your goals?


Little at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

EL: My goals for this competition were to make both my beam and vaults cleanly. I added a new mount and a new connection on beam, with the new Code in mind, so I wanted to make both of those skills, which I managed to do. Vault was another chance to practice competing, and I feel confident that I am ready to upgrade on vault.

IG: 2016 might be considered a difficult year for the Australian team. What has given you the motivation to continue, even after your team qualified only one gymnast for Rio?

EL: If anything I hope that this year has made the team stronger and more motivated to do better in the next (Olympic) cycle. We haven't had the best team outcomes but I think that when someone has the most difficult times is when we learn the most about ourselves. I have been lucky enough to gain a sponsor and I have a good team of supportive people around me, so I feel as though the next couple of years can be the best of my career if I put in the hard work.

IG: What were your impressions of Larrissa's performance in Rio, especially having competed many times with her on the team?

EL: I think she had a lot of pressure on her as the only gymnast competing from Australia.  Her bars routine was very nice and she was going for difficulty on floor. She is a good competitor on teams, and I believe not having a team in Rio left her at a disadvantage.

IG: Although you were an all-around finalist in London, there is a trend for the more veteran gymnasts to end up specializing in one or more apparatuses. Does your success on beam and vault in Hungary indicate that these might become your specialties? Or if that is just a coincidence, what are your plans for continuing as an all-arounder?

EL: I plan to continue as an all-arounder. I am able to do all four events and I enjoy them all. Most of my focus will be put into vault, and I'll be looking to upgrade on floor and beam. Bars is not my best apparatus but I'll be competing a clean, safe routine.

IG: Looking ahead to 2017, what are your plans in terms of international gymnastics and life outside the gym?

EL: I would like to do the World Cup circuit. I have already met so many amazing gymnasts and I would like to practice competing new skills. I want to start studying. I feel as though I'm getting old as a gymnast and need to start planning for my future outside of the gym. Personal training or massage will be on my agenda for next year.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Australian gymnastics includes:
Alysha Djuric profile (July/August 2014)
Georgia Godwin interview (October 2015)
Peggy Liddick interview (October 2015)
"The Lowdown from Liddick" – comments from Liddick (June 2014)
"Catching up with Allana Slater" – profile (April 2014)
Georgia Godwin cover photo (March 2014)

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

 
Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 08 June 2016 08:41    PDF Print
Russian-Born Sazonova Realizes Olympic Dream In Iceland
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

After a lengthy career competing in and for her native Russia, Irina Sazonova of Iceland has reached the highest destination of her gymnastics journey — a berth to this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Sazonova, who began competing for Iceland last year, earned her spot for the Rio Games through her performance at the Olympic test event in Rio in April, which served as the second and final qualifying meet for the Games. She will be the first female artistic gymnast to represent Iceland in Olympic competition.

Born September 2, 1991, in Vologda, Sazonova competed steadily for her native country earlier this decade. She placed 12th all-around at the 2010 Russian Cup, 13th all-around at the 2011 Russian Championships and 14th all-around at the 2012 Russian Championships. Among Sazonova’s international credentials for Russia, she placed sixth on floor exercise at the 2010 DTB Cup in Stuttgart; and seventh all-around, sixth on uneven bars and third with the Russian team at the 2011 University Games in Shenzhen.

Sazonova’s career has flourished since she relocated to Iceland and subsequently received Icelandic citizenship. She placed fourth all-around (50.950), first on uneven bars and third on floor exercise at the Northern European Championships in Limerick in September 2015; and 98th all-around in qualifications (50.398) at the World Championships in Glasgow in October. This spring she finished 39th all-around (52.931) at the Olympic test event, and 19th all-around in qualifications (52.057) at the European Championships in Bern.

In this IG Online interview, Sazonova details her journey from Russia to Rio, via her adoptive country of Iceland.

IG: When did you realize you qualified for Rio, and what emotions were you feeling at that moment?

IS: I knew about my advancement to the Olympic Games right after the performances at the test event, when they showed the final results. Even now I cannot believe that I will compete on the Olympic podium and compete with the best gymnasts in the world. This was my dream since childhood.

IG: Between Bern and Rio, what will be the focus of your training?

IS: Bern was one more test of my possibilities. In general I am pleased with my performances, but there is still work to do, to finish my program and bring it up to the necessary level for the Games. This month I will go to a training camp in Stuttgart, where I can concentrate only on training and make my program more difficult. It will be, in its own way, a dress rehearsal before the Olympic Games!

IG: How, when and why did you decide to compete for Iceland?

IS: I began my career in Vologda, at the Children’s/Youth Specialized Sport School of Olympic Reserve No. 1, with coach Olga Kovalyova. Then, when I was 15, I left for Saint Petersburg, in order to continue my training there at the School of Olympic Reserve No. 1. There, spouses Svetlana Kolomenskaya and Yury Kolomensky coached me. In Iceland I am coached by my compatriot Vladimir Antonov.

My coach from Saint Petersburg, Svetlana Kolomenskaya, was working in Iceland, and took me there with her. I simply wanted to try something new. Soon she left to return home, and I decided to remain. I liked this country so much that I did not want to leave. Iceland became my home. At first I competed only for the club “Armann,” but having received citizenship on August 13, 2015, there was for me the possibility of representing the country on the big podium.

IG: Your life in Iceland must be quite different from your life in Russia. How are you doing with the transition, in terms of lifestyle, culture and language?

IS: I cannot compare how I lived in Russia with how I live now. Everything is different. I was a child, and here I have plunged into adult life. In Iceland I not only continued my sports career, but I also began my coaching activities, and for the first time began to work as a coach, precisely in Iceland. The Icelandic language is hard, but I think that soon I can grasp it.

IG: To what do you attribute your betterment as a gymnast since you moved to Iceland?

IS: I’m better probably because I became more adult, and of course have gained experience. Now I can allocate my time adequately so that everything I do goes to my advantage.

IG: What are your post-Rio plans?

IS: Rio will be my first Olympic Games, but I hope not my last. I am going to continue training and prepare for the next Games in 2020.

Read “Icelandic Warm-up,” a feature on IG’s visit to gym clubs in Iceland, in the November 2012 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues or subscribe, click here.

 
Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 07 April 2016 12:41    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Samuel Zakutney (Canada)
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)



Although Canada's Samuel Zakutney, 17, is new to senior international competition, he is eager to take on the important task of Olympic qualification as he prepares for the upcoming Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro. Pictured: Zakutney with coach Oleksandr Zavadych

Although Canada's Samuel Zakutney is new to senior international competition, he is eager to take on the important task of Olympic qualification as he prepares for the upcoming Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro.

Zakutney placed sixth all-around at the RD76I International Junior Team Cup in Texas in January, and fifth all-around and first on parallel bars in the senior division at the Elite Canada meet in February. Based on his recent results, including third place on high bar at the Calgary International Cup in March, he was named to the Canadian squad for the test event.

Canada finished 15th at last fall's World Championships in Glasgow, where the top eight teams earned automatic berths to this summer's Olympic Games in Rio. The next eight teams advanced to the test event taking place April 16-18, from which the top four teams will move on to the Games.

Born October 6, 1998, in Saint John, New Brunswick. Zakutney trains at Ottawa Gymnastics Center under coach Oleksandr Zavadych, former coach of the Ukrainian junior men's team. Zakutney, a Franco-Ontarian, is a senior at l'École Secondaire Catholique Franco-Cité in Ottawa. His father, Tim Zakutney, was a member of Canada's bronze medal-winning team at the 2000 World Ultimate Frisbee Championships. Zakutney's younger sisters, Alexandra and Sydney, are also athletic.

Zakutney earned solid results at the junior level earlier in the current Olympic quadrennium.

He placed 15th all-around in the 1997-98 age group at the 2013 International Junior Team Cup in Berlin; 12th all-around at the 2014 Junior Pan American Championships in Aracaju, Brazil; and 11th all-around and third on high bar at the 2015 Japan Junior Invitational in Yokohama.

In domestic competition, Zakutney finished third all-around, first on vault and first on parallel bars at the 2014 Canadian Junior Championships; first all-around, first on floor exercise and first on high bar in the junior division at the 2015 Elite Canada meet; and third all-around and second on high bar at the 2015 Canadian Junior Championships.

Zakutney shares his plans and goals for the test event in this IG Online interview.



Zakutney on parallel bars

IG: You haven't had much time to adjust to major senior competition, so what is your mindset heading into the test event?

SZ: Since this is my first major international senior competition, I'm just hoping to approach it with the most confidence possible. If I trust my training and not worry about scores, I should be cool as a cucumber.

However, there will be seven Canadian gymnasts going, and the final line-up will be made after podium training. Hopefully my self-confidence will also give me the chance to compete.

IG: What exactly do you think Canada will need to do at the test event to earn one of the four spots for the Games?

SZ: If the Canadian team wishes to qualify to the Olympic Games, we need to pull off near-perfect routines. We need to focus on executing our routines to the max.

IG: What do you think makes the composition of this team uniquely strong and cohesive?

SZ: Unfortunately, the Canadian team faced a few injuries which resulted in a couple of our best gymnasts being put out for the rest of this year. However, the rest of the team, including me, has remained determined to not let this year get the better of us. It's through our resilience and our perseverance that I believe we will challenge for one of the top four spots.

IG: What do you feel you can offer to your team at the test event, in terms of your particular strengths and also your sense of team spirit?

SZ: I believe I can offer the team consistency on most of the events, more specifically on floor, p-bars and high bar. Those events are the ones with the highest Difficulty scores and they remain remarkably consistent.

Since I am the only senior national team member from Ottawa, I always make the most of the time together with the team. I will offer as much support and encouragement to all of the teammates from the moment we enter the arena.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Canadian gymnastics includes:
Jade Chrobok profile (April 2016)
Chrobok and Meixi Semple cover photo inset (March 2016)
"Aiming to Top the Charts" – Maegan Chant interview (October 2013)
"Canadian Beacon" – Ellie Black interview (September 2015)
"Canadian Promise" – Black chat and Robert Watson profile (July/August 2014)
"Canadian Diversity" – Black and Hugh Smith profiles (July/August 2013)
Chat with Christine Peng-Peng Lee (April 2015)
"Sudden Impact" – Victoria Moors interview (January/February 2013)
"Making Tracks" – Scott Morgan profile (December 2013)
Isabela Onyshko profile (July/August 2014)
Megan Roberts profile (April 2015)
Aleeza Yu two-page photo spread (May 2014)

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

 


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