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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 28 March 2017 07:10    PDF Print
'It Will Get Better From Here,' Says Jamaican Olympian Williams
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although a recent injury has sidelined 2016 Jamaican Olympian Toni-Ann Williams from competing for the University of California-Berkeley this season, she is determined to remain an icon for her country's national program and a valuable member of her collegiate team.

Williams, who was born in Maryland to Jamaican parents, became Jamaica's first gymnastics Olympian when she competed last summer in Rio following a long and successful season for Cal. A veteran of the 2011, 2013 and 2015 World Championships, Williams suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury in early February. She is in the process of recovery and looks forward to future international and collegiate competitions.

In this IG Online interview, Williams discusses the impact that her recent injury, Rio and her role-model status have had on her ever-evolving gymnastics career.

Williams with track star Usain Bolt in Rio

IG: How and when did you injure yourself?

TAW: It was a couple of days before we left for the (Feb. 4) Utah meet, in workout. I had been feeling kind of tight in my (left) Achilles and calf that day. My trainer said, "Just roll it out and make sure it's super loose." Right before a tumbling pass, I thought, "OK, this is going to be my last tumbling pass, and then I'm going to be done for the day." Then, on the takeoff for my double pike, I felt it snap. In my mind I was like, "How am I going to land this without hurting myself any further?" So I kind of landed on all fours. I cried for about five minutes and then the pain went away, because that's what happens when you snap an Achilles. It's not really painful. I knew exactly what happened as soon as I did it.

IG: How are you doing in terms of recovery at this point?

TAW: I got my stitches out a few weeks ago and I'm allowed to walk without crutches, so it's been good. It's a slow recovery but it's definitely different for me to be in this position — not competing — but I definitely enjoy being in the cheerleader role for the team, and bring the spirit and attitude. It's going to be a long recovery but I'm excited to get back in there.

IG: Being used to competing week in and week out, not to mention for Jamaica, how are you psychologically coping with being sidelined?

TAW: It was definitely hard for me. A few weeks ago I had a breakdown. I just cried. I don't know if it was mourning or grieving over something you have taken away from you, but once I went through that, I realized that it will get better from here. I started walking, and I know my recovery is going to go in great places and I'm going to come back stronger than I was before. It's been challenging to be in that mental space, but having the team behind me and helping me has helped me get through it.

IG: When do you think you'll be back doing actual gymnastics?

TAW: By mid- to end of summer, I can hopefully start to do everything again and be my normal self, but I will definitely, definitely be back for next season.

IG: What was your main take-away, or revelation, from competing at the Rio Olympics?

TAW: During Rio I actually had a knee injury that resulted in knee surgery a couple of weeks later when I got back. But going through that and dealing with my knee and competing for Jamaica after competing for Cal made me realize how strong I am and that I can get through things like my Achilles injury. I can take that experience and bring it to this (Cal) team. It's a team that's growing and going in great places. I can use my experience and grit, going through all of that, to bring it to the team.

Williams on vault for Cal

IG: What was your personal experience in Rio like?

TAW: It was so much fun. I was starstruck the entire time. Usain Bolt was in the room below me. Every little girl dreams of going to the Olympics, and for me to reach that goal — there are no words I can use to describe it. I even got a Rio tattoo, on my left biceps — nowhere scandalous! But having these rings reminds me of where I've been and where I want to go. Continuing to compete for Jamaica and Cal keeps me focused and staying on the right path.

IG: What plans do you have in terms of resuming your international career?

TAW: Coming back from my injury is what I'm focused on right now, and finishing out my last season at Cal. I plan on training internationally once I graduate, continuing to compete for Jamaica. There's still a lot I have to do for the program in Jamaica. Kids need role models and gyms need to be built, and my competing helps that progress. I have more to do and I'm not going to stop after I graduate.

IG: How do you manage the extra responsibility you carry as the "face" of Jamaican gymnastics?

TAW: Making that milestone for Jamaica is something I had been preparing myself for. Being the only gymnast to compete for Jamaica since I was 15 has been a lot on me, and I've been able to handle the pressure. Coming to Cal and being part of this team has also helped me become a leader in my own sense of the word. It was a lot of fun and pressure in Rio, and no matter how I performed, I knew Jamaica was proud and a lot of people saw gymnastics as a sport that can now be in Jamaica, which was the goal the entire time.

IG: What's been happening with the team since Rio?

TAW: My sister, Maya Williams, is also on the national team. She competed at the (2015) World Championships in Glasgow. They've been having training camps in my home gym while I've been out here competing. It's still going. My sister is holding it down for me till I'm back!

To subscribe or to purchase back issues to International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 15 February 2017 09:46    PDF Print
Interview: David Jessen (Czech Republic)
(3 votes, average 4.67 out of 5)

Czech gymnast David Jessen intends to use the valuable experience he gained at last summer's Olympic Games in Rio to motivate him for future competitions for Czech Republic and Stanford University in California, where he is in the midst of his first NCAA season.

Jessen at the 2015 European Games

Czech gymnast David Jessen intends to use the valuable experience he gained at last summer's Olympic Games in Rio to motivate him for future competitions for Czech Republic and Stanford University in California, where he is in the midst of his first NCAA season.

Born in Brno, Jessen holds dual citizenship with the U.S. He was a member of the U.S. junior national team earlier in his career, and won the Czech national all-around title in 2014 and 2015. Jessen, who finished 47th all-around at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, is the son of 1988 Olympian Hana Říčná Jessen. Říčná Jessen, who competed for then-united Czechoslovakia, won the silver medal on balance beam at the 1983 World Championships and the bronze medal on uneven bars at the 1985 Worlds.

Jessen, who placed 47th all-around in Rio, shared his thoughts on Rio and his plans for the future in this IG Online interview.

IG: After Rio you posted a Facebook message implying that you weren't satisfied with your results. Looking back, what went right and not-so-right?

DJ: Looking back at the Games, my performance was not as bad as it might have seemed at first. Disappointment is the first thing that hits when something doesn't go as well as you hoped, especially when an opportunity such as the Olympic Games comes only once every four years. I think I may have set my ambitions a little too high instead of letting the competition take its course and enjoying it. The experience is what it was really about. Pommel horse was definitely a rough event to start on, but once I got that out of the way, I felt more relaxed for the rest of the meet. If there was one thing I could relive from the Games, it was the feeling of hitting a really clean high bar set. I was most happy about that.

IG: How did your experience in Rio prepare you for the upcoming major international competitions?

Jessen and Australia's Emily Little, with whom he paired to win the 2016 Grno Brand Prix

DJ: The Olympic Games in Rio was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After being a part of that experience, I've felt what it's like to be among the top athletes in the world, and I am extremely grateful. Therefore, going into the upcoming international meets, I do not think I will be as nervous, yet I will always pressure myself into performing to the best of my ability.

IG: So far this NCAA season you have not competed all-around. What is your plan for building back into the all-around, in the NCAA season as well as for international meets?

DJ: Stanford has always been a very competitive team, and making the lineup on an event is not an easy task. As of right now, I help to contribute on my better three events – pommel horse, parallel bars, and high bar – in competitions while still getting to train all six during the week. So I will always be fighting to earn an all-around spot, but at the end of the day, the lineup is determined by what is best for the team. As for representing Czech Republic in international competitions, I would like to pursue competing all-around.

IG: What big meets are on your agenda for Czech Republic this year?

DJ: Sadly, this year's NCAA Championships fall on the same weekend as the European Championships, so I will not be able to go (to Europeans) this time. However, I do plan on competing at Czech Nationals in June if school permits. I also look forward to hopefully competing in this year's University Games in Taipei and World Championships in Montreal.

IG: Although you have not declared a major, towards which if any major are you leaning at this point?

DJ: I am leaning towards a biology degree or a similar degree that may help me get into med school. I have always enjoyed learning about the sciences, particularly biology and chemistry, so I figured that medicine was the way to go.

International Gymnast magazine's coverage of Czech gymnasts includes:
Vera Caslavska tribute (October 2016)
Vera Caslavska/Hall of Fame induction feature (June 2012)
"Rebuilding Phase" - Kristýna Pálešová profile (June 2011)
Říčná/Jessen family update (June 2010)
"Central European Sojourn" - includes IG's visit to Sokol Brno (January/February 2010)
"Shooting Star" - Petra Fialova profile (January/February 2010)
"Central European Sojourn" - includes IG's visit to Sokol Brno club (January/February 2010)
"On the Upswing" - Jana Šikulová profile (July/August 2006)
"Reality Czech" - Jana Komrsková feature (November 2003)
"Catching up with Hana Říčná Jessen" - profile (May 2001)
Komrsková profile (August/September 2000)

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

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 10 February 2017 11:19    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Scott Morgan (Canada)
(3 votes, average 4.67 out of 5)

Although 2016 Canadian Olympian Scott Morgan skipped the recent Elite Canada meet, he is readying himself for challenges to come, including this falls's World Championships that his country will host in Montreal.

Although 2016 Canadian Olympian Scott Morgan skipped the recent Elite Canada meet, he is readying himself for challenges to come, including this falls's World Championships that his country will host in Montreal.

The 27-year-old Morgan was the lone Canadian male artistic gymnast at last summer's Olympic Games in Rio, where he was the first competitor on floor exercise in the first subdivision. He competed on three apparatuses, ranking 14th on vault, 18th on floor exercise and 27th on rings. Morgan, who placed eighth on floor exercise at the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, came closest to a Rio final on that event, where his score of 14.966 points was 0.234 points shy of the cut-off for the eight-gymnast final.

Morgan refers to his gymnastics in terms of "we," a consciously chosen pronoun by which he means himself and Valentin Stan, his coach at Flicka Gymnastics Club in North Vancouver. "It certainly wouldn't have been possible to get to where I've gotten without his support, so I look at us as a team," Morgan says.

In this IG Online interview, Morgan details his strategy for skipping Elite Canada, his performances in Rio and how they impacted him, his plans to revise his routines and his goals for Montreal.

IG: Why didn't you compete at Elite Canada?

SM: Following a very busy cycle and a demanding Olympic Games, we (Morgan and Stan) decided to rehab a few injuries this fall and winter that needed attention. Progress has been great so far, and our goal this year is to learn and progress as much as possible. We've decided that more time towards skills was best for our long-term plans of obtaining finals and reaching the podium, so opting out of this year's early competitions just made sense.

IG: You were reasonably close to making the floor final in Rio. Looking back, what do you think cost you a higher score and a better chance at the final?

SM: After qualifying as Canada's representative we knew we had an uphill battle starting off the competition first on floor. Perfection was our only objective and although we hit one of our best great routines, it wasn't enough to keep us in the mix as the competition progressed. It wasn't easy watching the rest of qualifications unfold but, at the end of the day, we were extremely happy with my routine and had a great experience.

IG: What did your experience in Rio teach or show you in terms of the changes or improvements you need to make in your gymnastics?

SM: Our experience certainly taught me that, regardless of competition order, it has zero reflection on how you as an athlete perform. We knew that, come competition day, the pressure to perform first up was going to be huge, and our preparation paid off. Rio was just one of many examples of how deep the the talent pool is in men's gymnastics, which is why we're planning on taking a step back and learn as much as possible. It's difficult to make it with just Start Value or form, so our goal is to maximize both in order to reach our full potential heading into this (2020 Olympic) cycle.

IG: What specific skills or combinations are you training for this season, not only on floor but your other apparatuses?

SM: We're going to try and change up a few things on floor. We want to keep it clean while opening up the door for higher Start Values, and maximizing connections while keeping some big skills in the mix. The same goes for rings and vault. It seems like everyone's pushing the envelope, so we're testing out a few new 5.6 vaults, as well as a couple new rings routine compositions, in hopes of improving our chances on multiple events.

IG: This year's worlds in Montreal present a new challenge for you competitively, compounded by the chance to compete in front of your home audience. How are you preparing for this opportunity, in terms of the extra expectations that may be placed on you there?

SM: We're planning the same as we did for Rio. Although the situation is different, we know the expectation will be just as high, and we're looking forward to showing something new and competitive at home. We expect Montreal's World Championships to be a similar experience to Toronto's 2015 Pan American Games, with loads of energy with immense pressure to do your country proud. Competing on home soil is always a pleasure, and we couldn't be more excited for this event and opportunity.

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

Subscribe today and read this entire issue digitally, on your computer!

Written by dwight normile    Friday, 16 December 2016 16:00    PDF Print
Dominic Zito Has Found His Dream Job
(6 votes, average 4.33 out of 5)

Dominic Zito has been choreographing gymnastics routines since he was 13. Since 2013, the 34-year-old has been the official choreographer for the U.S. women's national team.

A former gymnast in his native Cleveland, Zito was a competitive dancer from 1991-2004 and a professional dancer for the Cleveland Opera from 2004-06. He got his start in choreography when Kittia Carpenter (Buckeye Gymnastics) was judging the Ohio State 9/10 State Championships in 2001. Zito was head coach at Westside Gymnastics, and she asked him who choreographed his team's routines. Zito did.

"She called me the next day and asked if I would come to Buckeye and choreograph their routines," Zito says.

The floodgates opened from that point. Mary Lee Tracy called, and soon Zito was doing routines for prominent clubs across the U.S. But after he did Jordyn Wieber's routine in 2011, "my career really took off."

Zito was getting calls from Valeri Liukin, Liang Chow, Donna Strauss, Sarah Jantzi, Jenny Liang and Kelli Hill.

"I choreographed many national team members before I ever met Martha Karolyi or attended a training camp," he says.

Zito has done routines for Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, Ragan Smith and a host of others.

Following are excerpts from his lengthy interview in the December issue of International Gymnast.

IG: Ragan Smith's routine to The Addams Family was brilliant. Does that routine rank in your own top three?

DZ: Yes, Ragan Smith's floor routine was one of my top three favorites. Kim Zmeskal-Burdette and I worked together on Ragan's 2015 and 2016 floor routines. [Neither] Kim nor myself have an ego when it comes to choreography, and we both want the best possible routine for the athletes, and I think we are a great choreography team. Kim and I spent endless hours and months working on it to make sure everything was perfect. Kim and I were worried we wouldn't be able to top the West Side Story routine from 2015, but we did! Ragan's routine turned out to be one of the most memorable routines from 2016, and that's exactly what we were going for.

IG: Simone Biles wouldn't be considered balletic, so how do you choreograph for her?

DZ: Correct, Simone Biles is not a classically trained ballerina, but I think she honestly could do anything she puts effort into. I still wish fans and spectators would understand that ballet does not define artistry. The Samba/Latin style Simone has used was perfect for her at the time.

You never know what she will decide to use if she returns. We actually tried several styles and genres in the past three years, including a routine we started to "Malaguena," which Simone actually picked out in our music selection meeting.

IG: How hard is it to get gymnasts to use facial expressions during their floor routines?

DZ: I choreograph many of the gymnast's facial expressions and eye contact/focus. The athletes usually don't know where to look or are not sure what emotion they should display in the various sections of their floor routines, so it is important to pay attention to detailing that during the choreography process and after. Some gymnasts are better than others about adding in their own facial expressions, but a lot of times they are focusing on their skills and lose the engaging interaction that makes routines the full package. I have found that the more comfortable the gymnasts become with their gymnastics skills and dance elements, the more fully they perform.

IG: On constraints posed by the Code of Points...

DZ: I would love if the time limit was raised from the 1:30 maximum to allow more time for the athletes to showcase more choreography/artistry and utilize the entire floor like a stage, instead of dancing close to the corners or around the perimeter. Regardless, the USA is still doing an amazing job, demonstrating both great tumbling, dance elements and choreography.

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

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 30 November 2016 11:02    PDF Print
Schmidt 'Fiercer' In Quest For Tokyo 2020
(6 votes, average 3.33 out of 5)

Although Dutch gymnast Casimir Schmidt was not selected for a starting spot on his country's team at this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he has shifted his focus from frustration to optimism as he aims for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Although Dutch gymnast Casimir Schmidt was not selected for a starting spot on his country's team at this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he has shifted his focus from frustration to optimism as he aims for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Schmidt, who turned 21 on October 31, was one of the top Dutch prospects for team and individual success in Rio. He placed 18th all-around at the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, and competed all-around at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, where the Dutch team finished 18th and 11th, respectively. He was a member of the Dutch team that placed third at the April Olympic test event in Rio in April, where the Dutch men qualified their first full team since 1928.

Among Schmidt's best individual achievements, he won gold on floor exercise and bronze on vault at the 2014 Challenge Cup of Ljubljana, bronze on vault at the 2014 European Championships in Sofia and silver on vault at the 2015 European Games, where he placed 13th all-around. He also placed fourth on floor exercise at the Olympic test event.

Schmidt, who finished fourth all-around at the Dutch Olympic trials in July but was named a non-traveling reserve for the team, reflects on his missed opportunity and projects his aspirations for the coming years in this IG Online interview.

IG: How have you been able to cope with, and reconcile with, the fact that you were not selected to compete in Rio?

CS: Of course it's difficult for me. I really felt that I was supposed to be on that team, but I was also happy for my teammates who did earn themselves a spot on the team. I'm very easy in accepting, and that was kind of the only thing I could do. There wasn't anything I could've done about it.

Schmidt won the silver medal on vault at the 2015 European Games.

IG: When you watched the Dutch team's performance in Rio, what do you think they could have done differently for a better result?

CS: I don't know for sure, but of course they took a risk with having only three gymnasts on floor, pommel horse, vault and parallel bars. But you never know if someone else could've done it better.

IG: Also when you watch the team's performance, what do you think you could have contributed that was missing from the team?

CS: I think my best apparatuses are floor and vault, so maybe on those events, but you can't be sure about that. Besides that, the team performed very well, and I'm really proud.

IG: In what ways did your status as non-traveling reserve gymnast for the team, and the team's actual results, motivate you to continue your career?

CS: Of course I think gymnastics is the most beautiful sport there is, and I'm fiercer than I was before on getting to the Olympics. Now that I was so close that I could almost taste it, I want the full dish, if you know what I mean. I don't only want to compete in Tokyo 2020, but I want to surprise everyone.

IG: What upgrades and changes are you working on, to better your chances for success in 2017 and beyond?

CS: The Code of Points is going to change a lot, so we are not sure yet what we are going to change, but at least my high bar has to improve. We're really working on that, and it's coming along very well. And I'm working on some big moves on floor!

IG: With Tokyo still over three years ahead, what is your plan to stay focused and keep a steady pace, so you can be at your best in 2020?

CS: The best is staying healthy and fit, so I'm just trying to do everything I can to be 100% every training and work my tail off. And we will see if that pays off at the end!

International Gymnast magazine's recent features on Dutch gymnasts include:
"Dutch Master" - Eythora Thorsdottir interview (April 2016)
"Marked for Success" - Casimir Schmidt profile (July/August 2014)
"Just Verdict" - Céline van Gerner interview (June/July 2012)
"Ready to Rise for the Netherlands" - Noel van Klaveren profile (June 2013)
"Skilled and Studious" - Epke Zonderland cover story (March 2014)

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


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