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Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 31 May 2007 18:00    PDF Print
Interview: Katja Abel (Germany)
(9 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
Germany's Katja Abel has been working toward her Olympic opportunity a long time. The daughter of 1972 Olympic team silver medalist Irene Abel (who competed for East Germany), Abel finished 13th all-around at the 1998 European Junior Championships in St. Petersburg. A bad back hampered Abel for the remainder of the 2000 Olympic cycle.
Katja Abel

Abel was a member of Germany's eighth-place team at the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, where a unified Germany qualified for the team final for the first time in Worlds history. Abel was also a member of Germany's 13th-place team at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim, where 0.040 separated the Germans from team qualification at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Considered a candidate for one of the two individual Olympic berths that Germany earned in Anaheim, Abel broke both bones in both forearms in a training accident in early 2004. She returned to major competition in 2006, and won the bronze medal on vault at the European Championships in Volos, Greece. She then suffered a foot injury that kept her out of last fall's World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, where Germany placed 16th.

Abel, who last year left her native Berlin to train in Stuttgart, is getting close to her best form in 2007. She placed 20th all-around in preliminaries (with a fall on balance beam) at the European Championships in Amsterdam in April, and made three event finals at World Stars, a World Cup meet held May 25-26 in Moscow. She is now preparing for a World Cup meet to be held June 2-3 in Buenos Aires. Abel's main target for 2007 is the World Championships, Sept. 2-9 in Stuttgart. There, she hopes to help Germany earn a top-12 team finish, and thereby qualify a full team for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

In this interview, the 24-year-old Abel details her plans to make it to the Olympics at long last.

 


IG: How and why did you decide to leave Berlin and start training in Stuttgart?

KA: After my foot injury last summer, I analyzed the last year and my plans for gymnastics. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to compete at the Worlds and hopefully in Beijing 2008, but for this, I needed to change something. In Berlin I did gymnastics without training partners for years, and I couldn't stand it even one more year. So I decided to leave my lovely home for two years, and moved to Stuttgart after getting in touch with the coaches there.

IG: Who coaches you now?

KA: Tamara Khokhlova is the main coach but (1996 Russian Olympic team silver medalist and former Khokhlova pupil) Yelena Dolgopolova helps on the beam and floor. If we need help on the bars especially because of new elements, then Robert Mai supports us. He once did gymnastics, too.

IG: With whom do you train?

Katja Abel

KA: Marie-Sophie Hindermann, 16, and Kim Bui, 18, are my training partners. We aren't together constantly, because of school, university, etc., but we are for most of the time, and that's fantastic! I missed it a long time, since (former Berlin training partner) Gritt Hofmann moved to the University of Utah.

IG: You won the bronze medal on vault at last year's Europeans, so why didn't you try to qualify for the vault final at this year's Europeans by performing two vaults in preliminaries?

KA: I didn't try to qualify on vault in Amsterdam because I wasn't able to raise the difficulty, after my injury, and that would have been the requirement to vault two times to get the chance of a final. The team coach fixed the criteria.

IG: Are you completely recovered from your injury?

KA: Everything is OK with the foot. There's nothing bothering me.

IG: What are your goals for the World Cup meet in Buenos Aires?

KA: I'll try to make finals. I'll start on all four apparatus. I don't know who the other participants will be, but I will give everything to be better than place five, six or seven.

IG: How satisfied were you with your performance at Europeans?

KA: I don't like the word "satisfied" because there's always development, even if everything went right. Bars and floor were all right. On vault I could have done better, and you know my fudged performance on beam.

IG: How is the German team looking right now?

KA: In general most of the team who will go for Worlds is in good condition, besides the known small problems. There is no gymnast without those!

IG: How is (2006 European junior all-around bronze medalist) Marie-Sophie Hindermann doing, following her own injury?

KA: I'm very confident that Marie will do well in September. Recent times have been hard for her and sometimes she was desperate, but everything changes for the better and there's time, if only a bit.

IG: What is your team goal for Stuttgart?

KA: I am sure the team will do everything to qualify for the Olympic Games. We work hard, we'll come together one month before and so we'll grow closer together. Every one of us will give her best.

Read "Double Break," an in-depth profile on Abel, in the July/August 2006 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.

 
Written by Amanda Turner    Tuesday, 22 May 2007 16:46    PDF Print
Interview: Eric Demay (Switzerland)
IG spoke with former Swiss head coach Eric Demay about the situation that led to his and his wife's exit from the Swiss women's program in April 2007.

The Swiss women's team preparations for the European Championships in Amsterdam ground to a halt when tensions between the gymnasts and the French-born Demays became unsurpassable.

On April 11, the Swiss Gymnastics Federation, the Schweizerischer Turnverband-Fédération Suisse de Gymnastique (STV-FSG), announced that the women's team would not be participating in the Europeans. One week later, on April 18, the STV-FSG held a press conference to announce that Demay and his wife were relieved of their duties. Demay and his wife, Cécile Pellerin Demay, had been under contract through October 2007.

Former East German coach Wolfgang Bohner is now preparing the Swiss women's team for the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart.

Following our April 25 interview with team member Ariella Käslin, Demay shared his side of the situation.


IG: Why were you relieved of your duties, according to the Federation?

Demay at the 2005 Worlds
ED: I was relieved of my duties under the media pressure created by Miss Käslin and her mother, for no other reason. Initially the STV-FSG had kept me in my position and Miss Käslin and her friends had agreed to some light training, but the media shows on only the Swiss-German channels — nothing in the Swiss-Italian or French — changed the situation.

IG: Most of the gymnasts on the team speak German as their native language. Was this ever a problem in the gym?

ED: I am always surprised when people ask me this question. Switzerland has four official languages; if one doesn't speak German, it's a problem with the Germans. On the other hand, nobody asks the question of when a coach doesn't speak German, if this causes a problem with the Swiss Italians or the Swiss Rumantsch. I speak one of the four official languages of the country like the majority of the coaches who work in Switzerland.

IG: The gymnasts told the media that you called them names, such as "cows." Is there any truth to this?

ED: This is a delicate question; there were indeed some excessive exchanges with one or two gymnasts. Melanie Marti, the best Swiss gymnast in the past 25 years, never had this type of problem, like the majority of the young athletes that trained with us. Miss Käslin should ask herself the question: why [did this occur] with her?

IG: Where are you and your wife going to go now?

ED: We have some options but I don't wish to speak about it at the moment.

IG: Do you have any other comments you would like to add?

ED: It is clear that this situation occurred for several reasons. The first is that the seniors and especially Mis Käslin were not physically, technically or psychologically ready to participate in the European Championships. Miss Käslin had refused to train normally from November after Aarhus until mid-March, that it to say because of health problems but mostly because of a lack of will, of motivation and a surplus of weight. The second is that the rise of the juniors (born in 1992 and training for the Stuttgart World Championships) was pressure for Miss Käslin who felt her status as No. 1 after the retirement of Melanie Marti was threatened. During the race to the Olympic qualification Miss Käslin tried to draw aside the other athletes, including these friends, because she did not support the competition, she did not support Melanie Marti and she continues (this) with the young gymnasts now.

In seven years of positive results, the best in a long time, there were some difficult moments. In order to obtain international results and build a system, it was very complicated and long, there were always happy people and other unhappy people, this is standard for any high level. In the uncontrollable anger of Miss Käslin and her friends to explain their faults, they needed a culprit and in this case it is always the coach. She could not accept some incorrect words which only account for 1 to 2 percent of the years of training.

To reject others for their faults is always easier than accepting one's own mistakes, at least this affair allowed us to see that to giving everything to one athlete is not enough especially when that athlete has gotten used to having everything since a young age, it's a problem of education.

 
Written by Amanda Turner    Wednesday, 02 May 2007 16:54    PDF Print
Interview: Ariella Käslin (Switzerland)
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

As the 2007 European Championships began in Amsterdam without the Swiss women, Ariella Käslin spoke to IG about her team's absence from these continental championships.

Ariella Käslin
On April 11, the Swiss Gymnastics Federation, the Schweizerischer Turnverband-Fédération Suisse de Gymnastique (STV-FSG), announced that the Swiss women's team would not be participating in the European Championships because of "tensions" between some of the gymnasts and head coach Eric Demay. The STV-FSG stated that the Swiss team—under the continued guidance of the French-born Demay—would regroup and instead focus on its preparations for the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart.

However, April 18, the STV-FSG held a press conference to announce that Demay and his wife, Cécile Pellerin Demay, were relieved of their duties, effective immediately. Assistant coach Fabien Martin, Hopes coach François De Saint-Martin and Hungarian-born Ferenc Donath have been appointed temporary coaches of the Swiss women's team.

When contacted by IG, DeMay declined to comment about the situation, deferring to Swiss team officials.

Despite the coaching changes, the STV-FSR reiterated that the women's team of Käslin, Danielle Englert, Carina Fürst and Linda Stämpfli would not attend the 2007 European Championships in Amsterdam.

At the 2005 European Championships in Debrecen, Käslin was fourth on vault, 0.037 shy of the bronze medal. Käslin placed sixth on vault at the 2006 Europeans in Volos, Greece, where the Swiss senior team finished 10th. She finished 19th all-around at the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus.

The 19-year-old Käslin shared her side of the scandal that grounded her team's dreams of the 2007 European Championships, and her hopes for the future of the Swiss women's team.


IG: Can you tell us about the events that led to the Swiss women's team being pulled from the European Championships?

AK: Before big competitions the tension would always mount inside the gym. This time the situation was so intense that just a banal exchange of words between Danielle Englert and Cécile Demay became the straw that broke the camel's back.

After this we informed the head of elite sports that we would not be able to go to Europeans with Eric Demay. It was considered a scandal. We had no more training possibilities. The Federation signaled to us that no replacement coaching team would be at our side. Our (independent) physical preparations would not be enough and so withdrawing from Europeans was necessary. But from our point of view, the arguments of the Federation were not sound enough for us to accept this decision in its entirety.

I think from the view of a top athlete, the decision to withdraw is always hard to accept. Particularly with all of us (with the exception of Carina Fürst) being in good physical condition at that point in time. We were all very disappointed about the decision.

IG: Do you think the situation has been adequately resolved?

Ariella Käslin
AK: I don't think that one can already speak about a solution at this point in time. It is now appropriate that all parties now think over by themselves what they can improve on, so that a similar situation cannot emerge again. We athletes have learned to stand by ourselves and to clearly express our condition and our opinions. I would appreciate if the Federation could on its part rethink the structures and critically question interaction with young athletes. I hope that this scandal can cause a process in favor of the sport on different levels.

IG: How long had you worked with the Demays, and do you believe there would have been a way to go on working with them?

AK: I have worked with the Demays for six years. The technical area was covered very well—we all benefited a lot. It was the social competence and the educational/psychological areas which were not acceptable for me anymore. We often tried to clear hurdles through discussion. The successes were short lived, and always when the pressure before competitions got more intense—or I was collapsing with an injury—things escalated. I was accused of making too little effort in training and having a bad attitude. It was hard to improve the communication, because Eric didn't show much willingness for conversations. He often insulted and hurt me verbally. With everything that happened I lost trust; further cooperation from my side was no longer possible.

IG: How has all of this affected your preparation, and do you feel this will affect the team in Stuttgart?

AK: It's hard to say how much these happenings have affected my preparations. I have always been under psychological stress. Surely this is not a good precondition for optimal preparation.

How this is going to affect Stuttgart I can't say yet. It's essential to now handle what happened, to look forward and to make the best out of the situation. Our cooperation inside the team surely has grown, and I have also personally learned a lot from it. I try to take this positive energy over to the preparation for Worlds. I'm aware it takes time to adjust to a new team of coaches.

IG: Is it true some gymnasts would have liked to go on working with the Demays? How is the atmosphere in the gym now?

AK: Yes, there are some young gymnasts who would have liked to go on working with Eric. Eric did not treat everyone in the same way. But there were many athletes who repeatedly suffered psychologically. Also the atmosphere inside the gym was not always good. You know, a group of gymnasts also suffers as a whole when the coach has problems with one athlete. Eric and Cécile often brought private problems into the hall which negatively influenced the mood inside the gym.

IG: How motivated are you and your teammates right now for the upcoming competitions?

AK: During this scandal of course I was clearly confronted with the question: "How important is my sport to myself? Under which conditions can and do I want to go on with gymnastics?" The answer was clear: Gymnastics is my passion! I want to train hard, but fairly! I believe my teammates also went through a similar crucial test. Of course this process is very motivating for upcoming competitions.

IG: Do you think you will be able to train just as well and have the same successes without the Demays?

AK: It's hard to say. I, for one, don't let myself buckle under pressure. I'm aware of the fact that I must take charge of my self-discipline and personal responsibility. I'm looking forward to this challenge, because this was also something I was missing with the Demays.

IG: Who would you like to be the new head coach of the Swiss women?

AK: I don't know if there is one "supercoach." I need a coach who is strict with me, but who at the same time can stay human and fair. I'm certain that a team of coaches who complement one another surely could be a good solution.

IG: Any other comments about this situation?

AK: I am thankful to my family, my advisers, friends, acquaintances and the fans all around the world who are supporting me and my teammates during this time.

External Link: Ariella-Kaeslin.ch

 
Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 29 March 2006 01:53    PDF Print
Interview: Ashley Priess (USA)
(7 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Ashley Priess at the 2004 U.S. Championships
First-year senior Ashley Priess made a strong entry into the international scene in 2006, winning the balance beam title at the French International in Lyon in March.

Priess, a strong all-around gymnast, placed third all-around as a junior at the 2003 U.S. National Championships. In 2004 she made her international debut, placing third all-around and first with the U.S. junior team at the Pacific Alliance Championships in Honolulu. In 2004 she also won the U.S. Classic all-around title and placed fourth at the national championships.

After winning the U.S. Classic junior title again in 2005, Priess was a favorite to win again a few weeks later at the national championships in Indianapolis. However, Priess was forced to withdraw after taking a dramatic fall off the uneven bars, gashing her leg and needing 45 stitches.

Priess, who turned 16 on March 8, trains with Mary Lee Tracy at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy. She took up the sport at age 2, following her older sister Courtney. Courtney is now a member of the Univ. of Alabama's gymnastics team.

IG's John Crumlish sat down with Priess in Lyon for a quick chat about the competition and her entry onto the senior scene.


Priess and Tracy at the 2006 World Cup in Lyon

IG: How does the transition feel, going from junior competition to competing against some of the world's best seniors?

AP: I've been really excited to become a senior, because I feel like I've bee a junior for awhile, so I was really ready to come out here and compete as a senior.

IG: On beam, during the qualifying, your coach applauded after your full turn, and in finals, she clapped after the leap pass just before your dismount. Is there a point in your beam routine that makes you nervous?

AP: Not really. Mary Lee (left, with Priess in Lyon) always tries to cheer and clap, to help keep me focused. I do hear it in a competition. It helps me. I like to know she's watching and that I did a pretty good job.

IG: Has the leg injury you suffered on bars at last year's USAs affected your confidence on bars?

AP: It didn't really alter my training at all. It took about two weeks to heal it, and I was right back up on bars.

IG: Why do you think the US team has so much depth right now?

AP: I think the training camps we go to every month really help prepare and unite us. Marta Karolyi does a great job leading us and helping us stay on track and helping us be disciplined. I think she helps our coaches become aware of what we need to do. They all do a great job of preparing us.

IG: What brought you to Mary Lee's gym?

AP: I came from a gym in Chicago about five years ago. My sister and i were both doing elite at the time, and we moved to be able to train with Mary Lee. We saw her gymnasts on TV, but what really made us want to come was her encouraging atmosphere and attitude. The gym has such a great environment and it felt like the right place for us.

IG: When things are not going well, how do you stay positive?

AP: There are always good days and bad days. Some days it's easier than others to keep a positive attitude. My teammates try to set a good example in that we try to push each other and make each other better.

IG: Which gymnasts do you admire?

AP: Amanda Borden has always been my favorite gymnast, because of her attitude and positivity and excitement. She was always really fun to watch.

IG: Why did you compete only bars and beam here in Lyon?

AP: Those are my best events and the ones I was more prepared for.

IG: Are you planning any changes in your routines for the rest of the season?

AP: We're trying to figure out the new Code and what fits into it, so I won't be adding much. I will be tweaking my routines here and there, but nothing major.

IG: How hard has it been to work your routines into the new Code?

AP: It hasn't been that much of a change. It's a nice change of pace and a new challenge. The scoring is weird, but I'm getting used to it. I think everybody is.

IG: What are your goals between now and the 2008 Olympics?

AP: I want to keep representing the U.S. internationally, and hopefully compete in the world championships.

Read "Cincinnati Gym Sisters" a profile on Ashley Priess, in the February 2004 issue of IG.

 


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