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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 21 August 2007 16:30    PDF Print
Interview: David Durante (USA)
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
Newly crowned U.S. champion David Durante talks about his quick change of roles, from 2006 team alternate to team leader at the upcoming World Championships.
David Durante

Durante, 27, placed first all-around at the 2007 U.S. Championships (Aug. 15-18 in San Jose), and was named to the American team that will compete at the 2007 World Championships (Sept. 1-9 in Stuttgart).

At the 2006 Worlds, held in Aarhus, Denmark, Durante could only cheer from the stands as an alternate on the U.S. team that finished 13th. The top 12 teams at the 2007 Worlds will qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Durante, who has been training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs since graduating from Stanford University in 2004, is now preparing to help the American team boost its international ranking in Stuttgart.

The self-assured New Jersey native spoke with IG in San Jose, where he outlined his progress as well as the American team's potential for Stuttgart.

IG: Last year in Aarhus you were an alternate, and this year in Stuttgart you will go in as a team leader. How are you preparing to switch roles so quickly?

DD: Last year I really considered myself a team leader also. I just had a bad competition at the U.S. Championships. Going to Aarhus and watching from the stands was a really tough role for me. I know I did everything I could to contribute to the team as an alternate, but I really don't see myself as an alternate. I never want to be in the position of alternate again, and that's the mindset I had coming into this year. I was thinking, "Don't ever allow yourself to be sitting up in the stands again at one of those competitions." I know that this year my role is going to be a lot different. Being out on the floor, I'm going to be the kind of leader the guys need, and do everything I can so we can succeed out there.

IG: In the past, it seems as though consistency was an issue with your performances and perhaps cost you a spot in the line-up in Aarhus. How have you managed to improve your consistency since then?

DD: It's taken a while to get used to the change from Stanford to the USOTC. I've been there a few years now, and I didn't think the adjustment would take as long as it has, but I've finally become accustomed to the way that Vitaly (Marinich) coaches and the training style at the center. I understand that I can succeed with that, and I don't need to do the amount of routines I used to do at Stanford. This new method really works for me, and it's more of a mental game. I can go out and hit cold routines, and it's really not a question of getting myself warmed up and doing things over and over again. I know in my head that I have it down.

David Durante
I'm a little older, and my body can't take the pounding it used to. I think Vitaly understands that, too, having been an athlete at this level. He's also coached people like Jason (Gatson), Brett (McClure) and Steve McCain, who competed at the world and Olympic level at an older age. So he understands that sometimes you have to just go out and be efficient and get your workouts done. You don't need to spend four, five or six hours in the gym. You can go in, get your stuff done and go home. Vitaly completely understands that. He's not about, "Do the numbers." He's like, "If it takes one turn for you to get it right, that's all it takes."

IG: Talk a bit about the other guys on the team for Stuttgart, and what you think they bring to the team.

DD: Sasha (Artemev) has a style and an elegance that's internationally recognized. He really stands out in a crowd. I remember we were in Japan, and on the wall of their training center they had clips of gymnasts from around the world doing specific skills on each event. On pommel horse they had Sasha. The only person they had in the world on pommel horse was Sasha. Everywhere you go, people know that Sasha is someone to watch out for.

(Jonathan) Horton is the ultimate competitor. He lives off the crowd and brings an emotion to the team that we need.

Kevin (Tan) is kind of on the other end of it. He's totally laid-back, and just goes out there and does his routines. He's been around this a while. He's an older guy and he has a coaching mentality. I can definitely see him as a coach when he's finished with gymnastics. He's totally there for the team, and really knows how to pick guys up when they're struggling.

(Sean) Golden is the jokester of the team. He's one of the funnier guys I know. He can lighten up the mood of a room. He's the kind of guy, too, who doesn't get flustered with anything. No matter what kind of day he's having - good or bad - he's going to go out there and do his gymnastics. That kind of consistency, and being able to hit under any kind of circumstance, is what we're going to need.

Guillermo (Alvarez) is like the silent killer. He doesn't speak too much, so you have to get him out of his shell a bit and hang out with him to see his personality. But out on the floor, he's dominant. He hits routine after routine. He already has one Worlds experience, and between Pan Ams and now, there's already been a jump in his performance. So I'm expecting one more jump from him between now and Worlds.

I'm so proud of Sho (Nakamori). I've watched him grow up at Stanford, and I was there when a lot of bad stuff happened. His father passed away when he was at a competition with me, and I was there when he broke his femur at the Pan Am Games in 2003. His family is so proud of him, and I'm no different. For him to make the senior national team and be the Worlds team alternate is a huge jump for him. I can see that Thom's (Gliemli) coaching is working for him, and he's going nowhere but up from here.

IG: What is it going to take for the team to lift itself from 13th place last year into not just the top 12, but closer to the medals?

DD: Last year really wasn't as bad as the results show. Kevin got sick (food poisoning), and he can score 16 on rings, and got a 13. We were only about a point away from finishing in the top eight and making team finals. We were one routine away from being in a lot different perspective from right now, but I think this year has helped. Last year's performance has really motivated us a lot. We have a different mentality going into Worlds.

To read IG Online's live coverage of the 2007 U.S. Championships, click here.

For an in-depth interview with Durante earlier in his career, read "All-Around Specialist," in the April 2005 issue of IG Magazine.)

Written by Kaori Miyaura    Friday, 08 June 2007 16:35    PDF Print
Interview: Natalia Ziganshina (Russia)
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)
IG contributor Kaori Miyaura caught up with 2004 Olympian Natalia Ziganshina in her hometown of St. Petersburg.
Ziganshina at the 2001 Worlds

After winning the all-around bronze at the 2000 Junior European Championships in Paris, Ziganshina became one of Russia's most reliable senior gymnasts through the 2004 Olympic Games. At the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, she was a member of Russia's silver medal-winning team and won the all-around silver medal behind teammate Svetlana Khorkina.

At the 2002 European Championships, Ziganshina won gold medals with the Russian team and on vault, and the silver medal on floor exercise. Later that year she won the silver medal on vault at the World Championships in Debrecen, Hungary.

Injury kept her out of the 2003 World Championships, but Ziganshina returned in 2004 to help Russia win the team bronze at the Olympic Games in Athens. In 2005, she placed sixth at the Russian Championships in March and fifth all-around at the University Games in August. Her last international competition was the 2005 Trophée Massilia in France, where she won the bronze medal on vault. She finished 13th all-around and second with the St. Petersburg team at the 2006 Russian Championships, held in March.

Both Natalia and her younger sister, Gulnara, were coached by Viktor Gavrichenkov, who guided Yelena Shushunova to the 1988 Olympic title. Gulnara won the 2001 International Juniors competition in Japan and was a member of Russia's gold medal-winning team at the 2002 Junior European Championships. She is now a coach at their home club, SDYuSShOR No. 1, and Gavrichenkov works with the Russian national team at Lake Krugloye outside of Moscow.

Now 21, Ziganshina returned to training in January after taking nearly a year off from competition. She is now training seven hours a day at SDYuSShOR No. 1. She didn't specify her competition goals, but Gulnara indicated Natalia is aiming for the Russian Cup, to be held in Chelyabinsk in July.

Gulnara and Natalia
IG: Has your life changed since taking a year off?

NZ: My life has changed. It's gotten better. I became a more social person. I'd like to say that I've matured as a person.

IG: Which university do you attend?

NZ: I go to the P.F. Lesgaft Institute of Physical Culture. It is one of the most famous universities in Russia. I'm in the fourth class in the Athletic Trainer department.

IG: How are your friends and family doing?

NZ: My family members - dad, mom, Gulnara and our younger brother, Ruslan - are all doing well. We're very close.

My friends are also all doing well. I hang out a lot with Polina Miller, Yekaterina Kramarenko, Olga Azarkevich and Alexandra Shevchenko. When Viktor Gavrichenkov comes to the gym I see him as well.

Ziganshina trains ballet in 1998
IG: Thinking back, what was your best memory in all the years you have been in gymnastics?

NZ: When I was standing on the Olympic podium with a medal on my neck and a bouquet of flowers in my hands, the fans and spectators were yelling "Good job!" from the audience seats. This was the best moment I've ever experienced.

IG: How did you continue your training when times got tough? What was your motivation for staying in gymnastics?

NZ: Of course training was very hard and difficult. But I had specific goals and dreams. At that time, I had some coaches who helped and supported me in realizing my goals and dreams. My family was also around me, and they cheered me up and supported me.

IG: What do you think is the best thing about living in St. Petersburg?

NZ: My city is the best place for me. I am very happy that I was born in St. Petersburg. We have a lot of art museums and great places. It's awesome to walk around here at night, particularly because we have White Nights in June.

Read "For St. Pete's Sake," an in-depth profile on Ziganshina, in the March 2002 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.

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)
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)
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.

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