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Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 20 April 2008 16:26    PDF Print
Interview: Olivia Vivian (Australia)
(13 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Australia's Olivia Vivian is looking forward to this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, and starting a new phase of her career this fall at Oregon State University in the U.S.

Olivia Vivian

Vivian, who competed at the 2005 and 2006 World Championships, recently accepted a scholarship to study and compete at Oregon State University, where she will train under head coach Tanya Service Chaplin and associate head coach Michael Chaplin.

Born July 13, 1989, in Perth, Vivian is coached by Martine George and Nikolai Lapchine at the Western Australian Institute of Sport. She placed 13th on uneven bars at the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne; and 12th on uneven bars and sixth with her team at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark.

Vivian's best results in World Cup competitions include fifth place on uneven bars and sixth place on balance beam in Shanghai (2007); and seventh place on uneven bars in Glasgow (2007).

Vivian won the Australian junior title on uneven bars in 2003 and 2004; and the Australian senior title on uneven bars in 2006. Also in Australian Championships senior competition, she placed second on uneven bars in 2007, and third on balance beam and floor exercise in 2005. In the senior all-around, Vivian was sixth in 2005, fifth in 2006 and 11th in 2007.

In this IG Online interview, Vivian, Australian national team coach Peggy Liddick and OSU head coach Tanya Chaplin comment on Vivian's accomplishments and her future prospects.

IG: When and how did you decide to try for a U.S. university scholarship?

OV: In early 2007 Peggy mentioned the idea of trying to gain a college scholarship, and I was immediately interested.

IG: When did you make your first contact with the OSU coaches?

OV: I came into contact with Tanya and Michael Chaplin in October last year. Peggy had actually made the first contact with Tanya earlier in the year, and told Tanya that she might be interested in me. I had made my mind up that I would go to college in America not long before that.

I arranged to take the SAT [Standard Aptitude Test, used to help gain admission to U.S. university], and when I got the results I showed them to Peggy. She suggested that I take them again, now that I knew what the SAT format was. We don’t have anything like that over here! I was much happier with my second set of results; I did quite well!

After that, I put together a DVD of my latest competitions and training, and sent it to Tanya. She must have liked what she saw, as she called me and said she was coming to Perth to see me. They only had one scholarship left when I spoke with them, so I was very lucky to catch them when I did.

IG: What about OSU specifically, and U.S. university gymnastics in general, appealed to you?

OV: To be honest, my thoughts on going to college on scholarship increased dramatically when my parents said I would have to pay for my own university fees! But I also thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get an education whilst still doing the sport I love. Australia doesn’t offer any sporting scholarships in university. OSU appealed to me because of its great staff and location. If anything is close to Perth, it would be a university on the west coast of the U.S. It is still a 24-hour flight!

IG: What about the OSU coaches in particular?

OV: Tanya and Michael are so lovely. Tanya flew to Australia to meet with my parents and me. I knew by that gesture that the coaches at OSU really cared and looked after their athletes, and that I would be well looked after over there. America isn’t close to Australia, and I can’t just hop in a car and drive home. So it was important that my parents knew the strangers that would be in charge of me for the next four years and try to keep me out of trouble!

IG: How are your preparations for the Beijing Olympics going? What is your strategy for the lead-up to Beijing?

OV: Preparations are going well. I am focused on taking each day as it comes and making every training session count. Training for the Games is really exciting, and I hope to be at my best for the first cut in May, and then on the day of the final trials in June.

Liddick on Vivian:

IG: As national team coach, how do you feel Olivia has benefited the Australian team?

PL: Olivia has been a survivor, one of those gymnasts who has never given up and has been ready to take advantage of every opportunity that has come her way. She is a real team player and keeps the atmosphere in the gym a happy one; she enjoys her training and training with her teammates. I like having Olivia in the gym. She is a team leader and has the respect of the rest of the team. She is the first one to help out with mats, bar preparation or with the music. She has had enough experience in the gym so she can see situations arising that she can attend to before they escalate into an “issue.” I am counting on Olivia continuing to represent Australia internationally as she pursues her degree at OSU.

IG: How do you think Olivia will benefit the OSU Team?

PL: Olivia will be the loudest voice and the most enthusiastic booster on the team. I hope they are ready for her! Her energy is contagious and her personality is engaging. We will miss Olivia’s spunk, but OSU will just love her. Besides that, she is a very tough competitor. She will add to the OSU team tremendously in that area.

Chaplin on Vivian:

Tanya Service Chaplin at the 1983 Worlds

Newer fans of the sport may know Tanya Chaplin as a successful collegiate coach, but she also enjoyed a prominent international competitive career.

Under her maiden name of Tanya Service, Chaplin finished 22nd all-around at the 1983 World Championships in Budapest. Her powerful but polished style enabled her to perform skills that are unusual even today. On uneven bars, Service's mount was a stem rise, immediate Jaeger. On balance beam, she performed a standing front salto (without a hurdle); and dismounted with a double tuck from a cartwheel, instead of the customary round-off.

Chaplin competed collegiately for UCLA, and tied for second place all-around at the 1989 NCAA Championships. Her husband, Michael, is also a former UCLA gymnast and U.S. national team member.

IG: When and where did you first notice Olivia's gymnastics?

TC: Olivia contacted me through email and video. We have been watching the Australian team for a few years and were able to watch Olivia through some of her international competitions, as well as invitationals that the Australian teams have come over for.

IG: What qualities of Olivia's gymnastics motivated you to recruit her?

TC: Olivia is an excellent uneven bars worker, and that caught our attention right away. I was also impressed with her skill level on floor and beam. I believe her artistry, clean lines and competitive experience will make her a very successful collegiate gymnast.

IG: When you got to know Olivia during your trip to Australia, what personal qualities did she show that made you feel she would be a good fit for your program?

TC: As I sat and talked with Olivia, I could see the passion she has for the sport and the excitement about coming to the States and continuing to compete. After my visit with her family in Perth I flew back to Sydney and drove to Canberra where I was able to watch her compete at the National Club Championships. It was obvious that she was a talented gymnast, but I was really impressed with how she interacted and worked with her teammates.

IG: In what ways do you think Olivia can benefit your program, from a gymnastics standpoint and a team-morale standpoint?

TC: From a gymnastics standpoint our team will benefit from her outstanding skill level and international competition experience. From a morale standpoint she will already have a strong team concept developed because of her experiences with the Australian national team and training at WAIS.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 18 March 2008 13:23    PDF Print
Interview: Tasha Schwikert (USA)
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
Tasha Schwikert

Now coming to the end of her competitive career, the 23-year-old Schwikert has enjoyed success at the Olympic, World Championship and NCAA levels. Her international elite career flourished under coach Cassie Rice at the Gymcats club in her native Las Vegas.

Schwikert was originally named an alternate on the U.S. team for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, but ended up competing and helped the Americans to a fourth-place finish. In 2001 she won the U.S. national all-around title and placed fifth all-around at the World Championships in Ghent. In 2002 Schwikert earned her second U.S. national all-around title, and finished first all-around at the American Cup and Pacific Alliance Championships.

Schwikert served as captain of the U.S. squad that won the team gold medal at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim, marking the American women's first world team title. Schwikert's efforts to compete at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games were hampered by an injured Achilles' tendon, but she traveled to Athens as an alternate on the American team that won the silver medal.

Following Athens, Schwikert enrolled at UCLA, where during her first three years she won the NCAA all-around title (2005), two Pac-10 conference all-around titles (2005 and 2007), and seven All-American designations. Schwikert is now preparing to help UCLA qualify for the NCAA Championships in April.

Schwikert, a sociology major, has worked as a commentator for IG partner WCSN during the 2005, 2006 and 2007 World Championships. She has also done commentary for UCLA gymnastics broadcasts and will head to Beijing this summer as an intern with NBC during the 2008 Olympics.

Schwikert recently spoke with IG, recalling highlights of her career and offering her opinion of the U.S. Olympic team selection process that she twice negotiated.

IG: Looking back on your career, what are some of moments that stand out in your mind?

TS: I feel like every chapter in my life — elite gymnastics and college gymnastics — has its standout moments. Winning the 2003 Worlds as a team was a fantastic moment in that chapter of my gymnastics life, and in college, winning the NCAA all-around in my freshman year and winning Pac 10s last year stand out. Today, I really embraced this whole atmosphere, more than any other meet this season. I took in the audience and my teammates, and just slowed down my pace. I tried to make every moment as full as possible, because I knew this was my last time competing here at Pauley (Pavilion).

IG: What do think about the selection process for the U.S. Olympic teams in 2000 and 2004? You went to Sydney as an alternate and ended up competing, but you went to Athens as one of the alternates after helping win the world team title in 2003...

TS: I was a complete underdog in 2000, so I went in not expecting anything. I couldn't have told you in a million years that, "Yeah, I'm going to be on the 2000 Olympics team." I can't even explain in words how much that meant to me. I was there in Sydney and I was still the alternate, and when Morgan (White) got hurt, I was aware she was hurt, but it didn't really register that I was going to be competing. So when they told me, I was in shock. I was like, "No, I'm not competing." They were like, "You are competing for the United States in the Olympic Games." I went and did my job. I did the best I could, and I hit.

Tasha Schwikert
2004 was a different year. I was injured with my Achilles' tendon, so I was in a boot for a lot of the time during nationals and Olympic Trials. I'd walk around in a boot, and they'd strap it up when I trained. Training was hard, so I definitely went into nationals and Olympic Trials with watered-down gymnastics, because I couldn't do a lot of things. You know, with the Achilles' tendon, there's a fine line between snapping it and keeping healthy (laughs).

I was 19 in 2004, and I definitely understood the selection better, and why they selected who they selected. I was fine with being an alternate, because of the circumstances and because I came in injured. When we were over there, Annia's (Hatch) foot actually got more injured, so they said, "OK, we might put you in; we'll see." But all in all, I had an amazing experience. Being an alternate may not sound as amazing as being on the team, but we got to do so many things over there. They put us up in a nice place, and we got to go around and see more sites and more events. So from that aspect of things, it was really fun.

IG: From an athlete’s perspective, what recommendations do you have to make the selection process as fair as possible?

TS: (laughs) In 2004, the whole idea of pulling the bench out and making us feel like we were on the reality show "Survivor" was kind of dramatic. The whole idea of them (team officials) going into the office...I mean, if they wanted to, they could have made a show about it! As far as selecting the Olympic team off one competition, how they traditionally did it, I personally don't think that's the right way to do it. I don't think the Olympic team should be selected off one competition, if your top gymnast or top three gymnasts don't do so well in the Olympic Trials. I think taking the last few years before the Olympics into consideration for picking the team is a smarter idea, because if you have one or two of the top athletes in the country injured, they will still be on the team and could be healthy when they get to the Olympics.

I think taking into consideration how the gymnasts compete and train, and how well they come off injuries, is really important. This is something I learned in college. There will be times that I don't train, but sometimes, less is more. I'll go into a competition and do better because I've taken time off. I think that needs to be taken into account with the Olympic team selection.

IG: What do you think of the training system for the U.S. team prior to the 2000 Games, compared to the 2004 Games? What worked and didn't work?

TS: I feel that 2000 was more of a group training, a group assignment. Regardless of how you trained, everyone was instructed to train the same way, with the same amount of routines. I really liked the upgrade they did in 2004, because they considered every athlete and her coach as individuals. One girl might need five routines, but another girl might need only two because she needs to save her body. But two works for her, and five works for the other. So I really think they got better with that system in 2004. This is an individual sport. People's bodies are different. Some people can hit with two perfect routines a day, and some can hit doing seven perfect ones a day. I think that, if the training and assignments are more individualized, that's the better route to take.

IG: What to you is the key to a positive Olympic experience?

TS: My advice is to really shut the political door until it's over. It's stressful because the last thing you want to do after training is be on the phone for three hours with reporters, and this person and that person. They (the gymnast) ought to have a say in it, because the gymnast is putting in the hard work, and once the job is done, you can have all the fun you want.

I know the media are doing their job, and sometimes it's hard when the gymnast is doing her job. I remember when I was an elite, they'd be calling at late hours. I was like, "Listen, if you want me to do my job and win, you have to let me have sleep. We can talk later." I know it's a fine line and they have to get their work done, but I really feel that if the gymnasts try to shut it off, and the coaches help them shut it off by saying "It's OK, don't worry about that," it will all still be there. If you do well, it will always be there. It won't go away. Just do well and have fun. Take in everything, and go outside for some sunshine any chance you get. See other events. Have fun, get a lot of rest, and make it a whole, complete experience.

IG: What advice can you give the gymnasts who will be competing in Beijing, so they can avoid feeling overwhelmed in actual Olympic competition?

TS: I feel that being nervous is inevitable, and if you're not nervous, there's something wrong with you (laughs). What I've learned from college gymnastics is that, in a sense, college gymnastics is harder than elite in that consistency is key. I've been watching elite, and yeah, these girls are throwing big skills, but the execution isn't as precise as in college because we're talking 9.95s and 9.975s (in NCAA scoring), since the scoring is so close. Landings are everything here. That's what I've learned from college that needs to be applied to elite. With the new Code of Points it's very hard, but Miss Val (UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos-Field) is always telling me, "Calm...calm confidence. You need to slow it down." Sometimes you get out there and you're too tight. If I'm loose and slowed-down and just pretend I'm in practice — Miss Val calls it my "happy place" — I feel it's the best way to handle your nerves.

IG: How has it been having your sister Jordan on the team with you at UCLA?

TS: It's been a dream come true. I didn't know if we would get to go to the same college, and it's amazing that Miss Val and Chris (assistant head coach Chris Waller) took both of us. Jordan has been doing an amazing job and has been a huge asset to the team. To finish our career at Pauley going 1-3 in the all-around, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

IG: What's next for you?

TS: I'm going to Beijing (2008 Olympics) as an intern. I'm an actual production assistant, so it's going to be an interesting experience — my third Olympics, but on the other side of things. I'm hoping to do other sports, as well. I want to do sportscasting as a career, and get into football and basketball, so I'm hoping they'll let me be around basketball and get a feel for that. I've always followed basketball more, because my dad played college basketball. But coming to UCLA, we're a basketball school and we also have a great football team, and I've gotten more into both. All of my friends are football and basketball players, so it's a lot of fun.

Tasha Schwikert is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

June/July 2005: cover photo, NCAA Championships coverage
March 2005: "Tasha in Transition" (interview)
October 2003: cover photo collage, World Championships special issue
August/September 2003: cover photo collage, U.S. Championships coverage
October 2002: cover photo, U.S. Championships coverage
August/September 2002: "What are the Odds?" (Schwikert profile)
June/July 2002: Pacific Alliance Championships coverage
April 2002: American Cup coverage
October 2001: cover photo, U.S. Championships coverage

To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 12 February 2008 15:50    PDF Print
Interview: Becky Downie (Great Britain)
(10 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
As Great Britain's top scorer on three events in the 2007 Worlds team finals, Becky Downie is hoping for greatness at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Downie at the 2007 Worlds

Downie, who turned 16 on Jan. 24, played a key role in the British women's historical-best seventh-place finish at last fall's World Championships in Stuttgart. She was the team's top scorer on all three events in which she performed: vault, uneven bars and balance beam. (2006 world uneven bars champion Beth Tweddle did not compete in the team finals.) Based on Downie's performances in the qualifications, she came close to making the event finals on vault and uneven bars, as well.

A native of Nottingham, Downie was a member of England's silver medal-winning team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where she placed eighth all-around and third on balance beam. Downie was eighth all-around and sixth on floor exercise at the 2006 European Junior Championships in Volos, Greece. Following these achievements, the BBC's East Midlands Today named her Junior Sportswoman of the Year for 2006.

Downie, who also won the British Espoir (Hopes) title in 2004 and 2005, trains with coaches Claire Starkey and Ian Kime in Nottingham.

In this IG Online interview, Downie candidly describes her past success and her plans for continued greatness in the Olympic year of 2008.


IG: Becky, many people were surprised at how well the British team finished at the World Championships in Stuttgart. What do you think were the main reasons for your team's success there?

BD: We had lots of support from our coaches. And we knew the target was top 12. The team all knew we had to just do what we did in training and go steady. Any risks were out. In the training I had some injury issues with my feet, so we decided it was best to keep me off floor because the team needed my vault and beam more than floor. This meant I couldn't get an all-around position, but it was best for the team. The coaches made decisions for the team that worked.

IG: In what ways have you changed or developed as a gymnast since Worlds?

BD: After Worlds - as I mentioned, I've had problems with my feet - I had an operation on both of them. They are better now, but it has been a slow and frustrating recovery. Once they were OK, I had to do loads of rehab and get fit again, then recover old skills. I still have to be careful with them, but (coach) Claire Starkey and the physios (physiotherapists) help me manage a program to avoid any overload.

Downie at the 2007 Worlds
Now that I have seen and competed with the best in the world, I know that it would be possible to make finals. When we came back I just wanted to get going, but Claire had to hold me back so that I could recover from the injury. I haven't changed much; I just want to get out there and do more.

IG: In addition to Claire, who coaches you on what events?

BD: Claire works every event with me and has done so for years. She does all the planning of routines, training schedules and program, conditioning, choreography, etc. She also used to do most of the spotting when I needed it when I was younger.

Ian Kime has also been involved in coaching me for several years, but he is only in the gym part-time. As I've gotten older, he does more spotting for me because I'm the same size as Claire now, but I prefer to do most of my skills alone. I work with Ian if Claire's away, but she leaves me a strict program and I still phone her to check if I need to alter anything on that program, even if she's in another country.

Obviously I work with the national coaches more now, as well. We go to national training once a month, and more when we are close to a major event. My last floor routine was made up by the national choreographer. We have a few other coaches in the gym at Notts (Downie's club) who all work as a team, so lots of coaches have a small input. I know Claire discusses a lot of things with Adi (British team technical director Adrian Stan) and the national coaches, and sometimes they disagree on things, but in the end it's all about what's best for me.

Downie and Starkey at the 2007 Worlds
IG: You are one of the most powerful gymnasts on the British team, with top skills on all four events. How do you manage to pack the tough skills into all four of your routines?

BD: I want to be an all-around gymnast. I know I have strengths and weaknesses, but Claire (pictured with Downie in Stuttgart) always tries to balance my program and make sure all aspects are covered. Over the years my strongest pieces have changed except for vault. I have always been strong on vault, but I found bars hard when I was younger. Now because we have found skills that suit me and planned the routine progressions carefully, I am quite strong on bars. Floor has suffered a bit, because I have had various injury issues last year and couldn't train floor as much as I wanted.

IG: On vault in Stuttgart, you performed a solid double-twisting Yurchenko. Are you planning a new vault or new vaults for 2008, possibly with an eye on the Beijing event final?

BD: We were planning a new one, but because of my feet I just have to recover and correct first. Then I have to secure my second vault.

IG: On bars in Stuttgart, you did a couple impressive combinations (giant 1 1/2, toe-on, Tkatchev; Stalder-full, giant, Ricna). Did you or do you plan to directly connect the Stalder-full with the Ricna in 2008?

BD: On bars both those connections should be in the routine, but I didn't want to take any risks. Claire always plans escape routes so that should a skill not be spot-on in the routine it doesn't mess up the rest of the routine. Sometimes they may connect if they feel OK, but it's not a big problem if they don't.

IG: What do you think you and your team will need to do, to keep the momentum building from Stuttgart to Beijing?

BD: We've got to keep up our team spirit and work hard now. We can't relax. Our target is to try and move up the rankings, but we have to remember that there were good teams that made mistakes, so if these teams hit we will have to do a bit more to stay in our position. For me personally, I have to look after my body and manage my training with care. I want to be able to do all four pieces this year.

IG: What are your goals for 2008?

BD: It's difficult to give you a clear answer because, of course, my ultimate goal is to medal at the Olympics, but this may not be realistic yet. So I plan step-by-step goals. Now my goal is to recover, then get to the European Championships (in April). I would like to make some finals at the Europeans, but I will have to be careful. I don't want to push at this comp and be wiped out for Beijing. So I'll just say my goal is to get to the Olympics and do my coach, my club and my country proud, hopefully with a final or two.

The team goal I suppose is just to hold it together, lift our fitness level and go out to Beijing with a fully fit team, well prepared and ready to do a job.

External Link:

Written by John Crumlish with Introduction by Amanda Turner    Saturday, 08 December 2007 16:00    PDF Print
Interview: Aljaz Pegan (Slovenia)
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
The numbers tell the story of Aljaz Pegan's incredible career.

The venerable Slovenian has competed in 14 world championships — every one since his first appearance in 1989.

Aljaz Pegan

Six times he has competed in the high bar final at worlds — winning four medals, including the gold in 2005.

He is ranked No. 1 on high bar in the FIG World Cup points system; with more than 750 points, he has nearly 300 points more than the next highest gymnast.

The only unimpressive number in Pegan's career is zero. That's the number of Olympics he has been in. Four Olympics have passed since his first world championships appearance, three have passed by since his first world championships final and one has passed since his first world medal.

At the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, he barely missed qualifying to the Olympics. It was the first time that the qualifying system — which traditionally grants berths to the strongest teams and all-arounders — allowed individuals to earn berths to the Olympics by winning an apparatus gold medal. But Pegan won the silver on high bar in Stuttgart, and although it was another world championship medal, it wasn't enough to earn him a trip to Beijing.

At age 33, Pegan points out that trying one more time to qualify to the Olympic Games in 2012 may be unrealistic.

So for the next five months, the most important number for Aljaz Pegan is one. There is one single remaining berth to the 2008 Olympic Games, a wild card spot to be decided in April by a Tripartite Committee made up of one member each from the FIG, the IOC and the 2008 Olympic organizing committee. It is the number one that keeps Pegan's Olympic dreams alive today.

In this IG Online interview, Pegan talks about his numbers, his Olympic hopes and the efforts he and his country are making to convince the Tripartite Commission that he is deserving of its selection.


IG: Aljaz, how are you coping with the fact that you have won World gold and silver medals, but have to fight for a wild card to Beijing?

AP: It has always been difficult knowing that being one of the best gymnasts in the world is not enough for qualifying to the Olympic Games. I am not the only one who is in the same situation — there are quite a few gymnasts who are among the best on their apparatus and cannot go to the Olympic Games. In my case, this is even more obvious as I have been competing at the highest level for so many years. Since my first finals in [the 1994 Worlds in] Brisbane I have won four medals at the World Championships, yet three Olympic Games have already gone by without me being there. I hope these are not going to be the fourth in a row.

Pegan receives a hug from Germany's Fabian Hambüchen at the 2007 Worlds

IG: What do you think of the selection process? Do you think it is fair, or should reigning world medalists receive automatic Olympic berths?

AP: Gymnastics has a certain amount of places at the Olympic Games and the current system has been out of date for a number of years, preventing the best gymnasts in the world from competing at the Olympic Games. It is unfair that we compete throughout the cycle in numerous World Cup events and then can qualify only through one qualifying competition — the World Championships. What if the best gymnast is ill at that time or his partner is expecting a baby and cannot compete on that day? In my opinion the World Cup events should have more weight in the qualification process, — only then we will really have the best gymnasts competing at the biggest competition in everyone's career. The president of the FIG, Bruno Grandi, has been trying to fight for our position for several years now, but I fear that it will be too late for many of us before anything changes.

IG: How did the petition get started, and how many signatures have you received so far?

AP: The petition came to me quite as a surprise — the Slovenian Gymnastics Federation started the process at the congress of the European Gymnastics Union in Prague in October. It was amazing that more than two-thirds of European countries signed the letter of support, including Mr. Dimitrios Dimitropulos — the president of the UEG and Mr. Gianfranco Marzolla, president of the UEG Men's Technical Committee. In Slovenia, the letter of support was signed by the most prominent people from all walks of life, and the Slovenian prime minister spoke about the issue recently with the prime minister of China at a state meeting.

A month ago, the Web site was launched in the Slovenian language and more than 40,000 people wrote in, expressing their support. For comparison, this number represents 2 percent of our population, which would be equivalent to more than 5 million U.S. citizens. The Web site will be soon available for English-speaking users as well and I hope that many people, who I met throughout my long career, will support the initiative.

IG: When will you know for sure about the wild card berth?

AP: The Tripartite Commission, which decides about the Wild Card, will be selected in January and they will reach their decision sometime before April. I hope that I will be able to enjoy the moment of decision. After being at 14 World Championships and winning more than 50 medals at major international competitions, I would like to compete at THE biggest of them all, if only to experience the spirit of the Olympic Games.

IG: Is the "wait" distracting to you, or does it give you more motivation to train?

AP: I am trying to push the issue out of my head, nevertheless, it keeps coming back. There are too many "What if's?" to be able to focus completely, but I believe that the right thing will be done, and this sometimes helps me to train even harder than before.

IG: What are some of your competitive goals for 2008?

AP: I would like to put another difficult skill in my routine in order to have a 7.0 Start Value. Apart from that, I plan to start the season well on the World Cup circuit in March, then win a medal at the European Championships in May and finally, to stand under the Olympic circles in Beijing in August. After that, I think everyone will need a bit of rest.

IG: Will you compete after the Beijing Olympics?

AP: My first World Championships were in 1989 in Stuttgart and I hope that my last one has not already happened in the same city. It is becoming more difficult to motivate myself year after year, after winning nearly everything there is possible. I would like to carry on with my gymnastics, but I am not sure I can wait four more years in order for rules to change or someone to invite me to the Olympic Games. Going to Beijing would boost my spirits and belief that there is justice in gymnastics world.

External Link: (English-language forum)

Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 15 November 2007 16:05    PDF Print
Interview: Aaron Vexler (USA)
(13 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
Former gymnast Aaron Vexler, who plays Russell Crowe's stunt double in the 2007 film "American Gangster," seeks and finds new thrills as an in-demand stunt performer for movies and television.
Aaron Vexler

Vexler's upcoming credits also include roles in Disney's "Enchanted" (in which he doubled for Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden) and Warner Bros.' "I Am Legend," starring Will Smith. Next year Vexler will appear in Paramount Pictures' "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett and Shia LaBeouf.

A native of Northampton, Mass., Vexler is a third-generation gymnast. His maternal grandmother, Annie Hoog, was the alternate on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team. His father, Norm, is a former gymnast, and his uncle Paul was the NCAA rings champion in 1969. His mother, Anne, competed for the U.S. at the 1973 World University Games in Moscow.

As a club gymnast in Massachusetts, Vexler was coached by 1984 Olympic team gold medalist Tim Daggett. Later coached by Fred Turoff at Temple University from 1994-98, Vexler earned his best U.S. Championships finish in 1996, when he was fifth all-around in the 19+ "Team 2000" division.

Vexler and his sister, Talya, each won all-around silver medals at the 1997 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Talya, who later competed for the University of Georgia, is now an assistant gymnastics coach at the University of Iowa. Their younger brother, Luke, placed first on floor exercise and fourth all-around at the 2005 Maccabiah Games. Luke is now a senior at Temple.

Diversity and adroitness have earned Vexler nearly 50 roles to date. Prior to 2007, he performed stunts in the blockbuster Spider-Man 3, as well as in the popular television series "The Sopranos," "30 Rock" and "Law & Order," among others. His work has ranged from two stints as George Clooney's stunt double on "Late Show with David Letterman," to acrobatic performances at the 2002 and 2004 MTV Music Awards.

Although Vexler's professional stunt status has gradually risen through his work in big-budget productions, he remains humble. "I always tell my mother that you will be sure to see me in the credits," the 32-year-old Vexler jokes.

In this IG Online interview, Vexler details his latest roles, and his ambition to continue exploring his opportunities as a professional daredevil.

IG: After you finished your gymnastics career, how did you make the transition into acting and stunt work? Were you always interested in stunt work, even when competing?

AV: I always wanted to get into stunt work even when I was competing, but I did not quite know how to go about breaking into the business. My "transition" into stunt work was basically this: retired from gymnastics; worked on the Celebrity Galaxy Cruise ship as an acrobat/circus performer; finished my degree at Temple University; moved to New York and joined the circus performance troupe, Antigravity; went on tour with a live stunt show called Spider-Man Live! A Family Stunt Spectacular; started my own circus company with (former Temple gymnast) Mike Moran, called Axiom Entertainment Inc.; performed in Batman Vs. Catwoman at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey; and finally on to television and film as a stuntman. IG: What did your roles in "American Gangster," "I Am Legend" and "Indiana Jones" actually entail?

AV: In "American Gangster," I was Russell Crowe's stunt double. I worked out a lot of the stunts, and then showed him what the shot and stunt required. Russell is a very good "action actor" so almost all of what you see in the movie is actually him. I was mainly there to ensure his safety, help him with any problems, and make sure he had the right pads. However, I did most of his driving for him. I did all of the driving for the scenes in the movie where he is driving and you can't see his face.

In "I Am Legend," I worked on a big riot scene where all of the people in Manhattan are being evacuated from the island. There is a panic, where everyone rushes to the boats and helicopters, while knocking down fences and each other. This is called ND or nondescript stunts. We used a lot of stunt people for the riot because it was very dangerous. It was very cold and slippery, there were people and fences falling down and helicopters taking off, and we did a lot of it on a barge in the East River in New York. Falling into the river in January would not be good. In "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," I did some of the stunt driving in a car-and-motorcycle chase that was shot at Yale. I was also a pedestrian in the same car chase. I did a lot of diving out of the way of cars and motorcycles. It was really a great experience, because of the caliber of stunt performers on this movie. They really brought in some of the best stuntmen and stuntwomen in the business. This movie is going to be awesome!

Aaron Vexler
IG: What was it like working with Russell Crowe, on a personal level?

AV: Russell Crowe is a super great guy. He is always looking out for the crew and is very gracious to everyone on set that he is working with. One night he bought the whole crew — at least 100 people — Australian steak dinners. However, he has been doing action movies so long that it is also a bit intimidating, because he is such a good stuntman himself.

IG: As stunt double for both Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden in "Enchanted," what were your key tasks?

AV: For Patrick Dempsey I did a lot of rigging, testing and performing stunts. There is one scene at the end of the movie where Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams, who incidentally my wife stunt-doubled, are fighting Queen Narissa, played by Susan Sarandon. In the scene, there was a lot of wire-flying stunts that we helped create, rig, test and perform. This was along with assisting Patrick and Amy when they did some of the stunts themselves. For James my role was very similar. You can see one of my stunts for him in the trailer for the movie, when his character jumps off a bridge in Central Park and then gets run over by a pack of mountain bikers. I did the jump, and also the shot where he gets hit by all of the bikes. Incidentally, in the group of bicyclists, there were (former gymnasts) Shane Geraghty, Gabriel Hansen and D.J. Surgent.

IG: What have been some of the most challenging stunts you've had to perform?

AV: My driving stunts have been the most challenging. I have not done anything death-defying in a car yet. However, for me, it is a totally new challenge. Although some of the qualities I think you develop as a gymnast — staying cool under pressure, focus, coordination — help with stunt driving, nothing from gymnastics carries over directly into stunt driving. Conversely, other stunts like high falls, air rams and wire flying have a lot of carryover from gymnastics in terms of the physicality of the stunt.

IG: Gymnastics has obviously benefited you in your new career, but what are some of the new skills you have learned or picked up in your stunt work?

AV: Gymnastics has been a huge help in stunt work. Some other skills that I have been working on are rigging, stunt driving, motion picture combat, and acting, just to name a few.

IG: What is your ultimate goal in stunt work — a specific stunt, working with a specific director/actor, or perhaps something more general?

AV: That is a great question, For me the ultimate goal would be a stunt coordinator. However, there is so much to learn between now and becoming a coordinator that I really don't think about it that much. The more you learn as a stuntman, the better stunt coordinator you will become. Being a stuntman always is a challenge, because your job presents vastly different challenges on a day-to-day basis, so I am never bored or thinking of future goals — just the challenge at hand. Staying safe on the job and training to expand my skill base when I am not working provides me with a multitude of goals on a day-to-day basis.

Read more about Vexler and his family in "Meet the Vexlers," an in-depth feature in the February 2005 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.


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