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Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 15 April 2015 08:28    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: David Jessen (Czech Republic)
(4 votes, average 4.50 out of 5)

David Jessen, the son of legendary Czech gymnast Hana Říčná, is eager to begin following in her footsteps at this week's European championships in Montpellier, France.

David Jessen, the son of legendary Czech gymnast Hana Říčná, is eager to begin following in her footsteps at this week's European championships in Montpellier, France.

Jessen, who was born in Brno and raised in the United States, enjoyed a successful career in U.S. junior rankings prior to his debut for Czech Republic earlier this year. He placed sixth all-around in the 14-15 age division at the 2012 Visa (U.S.) junior championships, 10th all-around in the 15-16 age division at the 2013 P&G (U.S.) junior championships, and third all-around in the 15-16 age division at the 2014 P&G (U.S.) championships.

In this IG Online interview, Jessen details his decision to represent his native country, his goals for Montpellier and his role in rebuilding the Czech men's national program.

IG: When and why did you decide to officially represent Czech Republic?

DJ: I have been a part of the U.S. junior national team for five years and even had the chance to compete for the U.S.A in a couple of small competitions against Canada. Additionally, with my mother being an Olympian representing Czechoslovakia, I always knew I had the option to go that route, but at the same time I did not want to give up my position on the U.S. team. It was not until late last year that I decided to pursue competing for Czech Republic. I had received multiple emails from people, including members of the Czech Gymnastics Federation, telling me that I should help the Czechs out. Finally, I decided for myself that representing Czech would provide me a better opportunity to compete on an international level, considering the U.S. was still very competitive. Therefore, in dreams to follow my mother's footsteps, I hope to get the chance to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games for Czech Republic.

IG: What is your citizenship status?

DJ: I have dual citizenship with the United States and Czech Republic. Not too long ago I applied for Czech citizenship because my mother is a Czech citizen, and I officially got it earlier this year.

IG: How well do you speak Czech, and how do you communicate with the Czech coaches and team members?

DJ: Ever since I was a little child, I learned Czech and English sort of at the same time, considering my mother spoke Czech and my father spoke only English. However, as I grew up, I used Czech less and less and only used it when I traveled to Czech to visit family, or if my mother got mad at me. But since I have become a part of the Czech team, I started to become more serious with speaking it and can now speak fairly well. I would not necessarily say that I am fluent with the language, but I can definitely converse with all of the coaches and my teammates.

IG: What is your schedule like, in terms of training in the U.S. and Czech Republic?

DJ: I actually have not trained in Czech Republic much at all, the only times being before a competition. But when I do get the chance to train there, it is in a gym in Brno, my birth city and where my grandparents live, called Sokol Brno I. There, I am coached by my mother's friend and former Czech national team member, Petr Hedbávný. For the majority of the time, I train in Florida with my coach Vasili Vinogradov, a former member of the Soviet Union team. Hopefully, when I compete in the European Games (in Baku in June) and world championships for Czech later this year, I will be able to have Vasili with me.

IG: What are your goals for Europeans, relating to all-around and apparatuses?

DJ: As for the European championships, this will be my first time competing in such a big international competition, and with all the best guys in Europe for that matter, I do not expect too much. At the least, I want to be able to make the all-around final, which means I will have to be in the top 24 gymnasts from qualifications. I also do not expect to make an apparatus final, but if I do, I will have the biggest chance on pommel horse, parallel bars or high bar.

IG: The Czech men's team has not had a strong international presence in recent years, so what do you think you can offer to help improve its standing?

DJ: Knowing that Czech has not been strong in recent years and that they want me to help them puts a little bit of pressure on me, but I embraced the challenge and am honored to be given this opportunity. There is nothing I can really say as to what I can offer for the Czech team specifically, except for giving them the best of my ability and to hopefully put Czech back on the floor as a strong international contender.

International Gymnast magazine's coverage of Czech gymnasts includes:
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    Wednesday, 08 April 2015 11:33    PDF Print
Sixth Time's A Charm For Iceland's Hermannsdóttir
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

After recently winning her record sixth Icelandic national all-around title, Thelma Rut Hermannsdóttir told IG she looks forward to upcoming international competitions including the European championships, the Games of the Small States of Europe and the first European Games.

"It's the fun of gymnastics that keeps me going," said Hermannsdóttir, who last month scored 49.35 to win the Icelandic title over silver medalist Dominiqua Alma Belányi (48.00) and bronze medalist Norma Dögg Róbertsdóttir (46.95). "It's the flying around, pushing yourself to the limit sometimes and doing new skills and, of course, the good fellowship."

Thelma Rut Hermannsdóttir won her sixth Icelandic national title

Hermannsdóttir said she was surprised to clinch her record-winning title against strong competitors.

"The win this year was very unexpected," Hermannsdóttir said. "Norma Dögg, Dominiqua and I had the greatest potential to win the title. When I stepped into the competition hall my only goal was to do my best, and see what that would give me in the end."

Hermannsdóttir said her 2015 win was special because she broke the record of five titles that was jointly held by Berglind Pétursdóttir, her former coach and an international judge, and Sif Pálsdóttir.

"I had forgotten about it, but when the scores were official everyone congratulated me for the new record," she said. "It was a great feeling."

The 21-year-old Hermannsdóttir credits Róbertsdóttir for helping her maintain her drive and confidence.

"It wouldn't be possible if I weren't training with my best friend, Norma Dögg," she said. "At one point last year it was all down to her motivation that kept me going, and I thank her for that. If it hadn't been for her I wouldn't have achieved this. Competitions are also a great part of my motivation. It is always fun to go abroad and compete, meet your friends from other countries, and share experience and memories."

Hermannsdóttir's next international target is the European championships in Montpellier, France, this month.

"My goal there is to see where I stand compared to similar countries like the Nordics and some others," she said.

Hermannsdóttir also hopes to compete at the Games of the Small States of Europe, which will take place in her country in early June.

"We have been very victorious and hopefully we can maintain that," she said. "Two years ago we won the team title, and I hope that we can defend that title. I also hope for some medals on individual events."

Following the Games of the Small States of Europe, Hermannsdóttir would like to compete at the first European Games, which will take place June 12-28 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

"We earned a spot for three girls and one boy when we competed at the European championships in Belgium last year," she said. "I was a part of that team and it would be fun to be one of three girls in that team."

Hermannsdóttir said she understands that her dedication and longevity are essential to the progress of the Icelandic national program.

"I think that I have been a good role model for the younger girls and they will like to be in my footsteps one day," she told IG. "It is important to help the next generation to build upon the experience that I and my 'older' teammates have gathered over the past few years. I like to believe that we have built a positive reputation both with the judges and fans. It is our responsibility to help the younger ones as best we can so our team can continue to make progress on the international stage."

Read "Icelandic Warm-Up," a feature on International Gymnast magazine's visit to Iceland that includes Hermannsdóttir, in the November 2012 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues, click here.

Written by dwight normile    Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:52    PDF Print
IG Has a Few Words With … Stella Umeh
(9 votes, average 4.56 out of 5)

The March 2015 IG features an interview with Toronto native Stella Umeh, who remains one of the most inspiring figures in gymnastics. She and her husband, Sam Nicholas, are expecting their first child in August, which means Stella might have to slow down a bit. She's certainly accomplished many things: Olympian, UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame member, actor, performer. She's retired from various performance roles with Cirque du Soleil (see photo as a clown), and has started her own business, which you can check out here.

For now, however, here are a few excerpts from her amazing interview.

You turn 40 on May 27. How do you view conventional age milestones?

Yep, turning 40 is right around the corner. With regards to conventional age milestones, what are those? I’ve hit some pretty profound ones and I’ve blown past a couple of the conventional ones. I am a healthy and happy adult. I made it through an elite gymnastics career and I can still walk, bend over and even jump every now and then.

When did you know you wanted to perform in front of people?

I have known I have wanted to perform in front of people from the moment I did it, when I was 4 and I started dancing. The interesting thing, though, is I see it less about performance and more about having such a burning desire to share something with people. I yearned, and I still do, for that opportunity on a regular basis.

Any advice for a gymnast who is considering Cirque du Soleil?

You might as well try it; there is a place for everybody. Push yourself to the edge of your skinny branch, throw yourself outside of your box, don’t look down, always look ahead and dream huge.

What do you think of Simone Biles? She seems to have your unique and individualistic attitude.

Well, first off let me thank you for comparing [me] to Simone Biles. She’s kind of ridiculous! She smiles more than I did. She is definitely unique and … an individual. She let’s her light shine through and I commend her for that. I am inspired by her fierceness. We both have the same favorite events: vault and floor. Way back in 2013 she said she wanted to work on her dance skills. I’d love to have a dance up with her. I think she’d hold her own.

What inspired the name of your new company, The Ivory Elephant Group?

Elephants did. They are such majestic animals. They show grief, humor, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, playfulness, and they have excellent learning abilities. Elephants are social and tactile. They are a matriarchal herd and their commitment to one another is mind-blowing.

To close, check out Stella's four floor routines while she was a UCLA Bruin. Each is unique and entertaining … and so Stella.

Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 04 March 2015 16:33    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Alma Kuc (Poland)
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Born in Canada and raised in South America and the U.S., Alma Kuc of Poland looks forward to competing at her second world championships in Glasgow this fall and ultimately at next summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Kuc, who trains under coaches Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in Los Angeles, made her debut for the Polish team at last spring's European championships in Sofia. Nursing an injured foot, she placed 95th all-around in qualifications at last fall's world championships in Nanning. Kuc, who intends to enroll at the University of California-Berkeley in 2017, is eager to continue her international journey after she recovers from foot surgery following Nanning.

In this IG Online interview, the 16-year-old Kuc describes her role on the Polish team and outlines her plans beyond the 2016 Games.

Alma Kuc (Poland) in February 2015

IG: What was the nature of your surgery, and where are you now in terms of healing and training?

AK: I had the surgery at the end of October. I had two torn ligaments in my right foot, so they had to reconstruct the ligaments. They also had to shave some muscle off a tendon that was growing. I've started training a little bit. I'm doing almost all of bars, and I'm starting to do a little beam and some Tumble Trak. I'm running and jumping, but I still can't do any vaults or tumble, but I'm hoping to be back fully training in the next two months or so.

IG: So theoretically you could try for this fall's worlds?

AK: Yes, that's my main goal for now – to go to worlds.

IG: Speaking of worlds, were the problems you had at last year's worlds related to your injury?

AK: I had my injury before worlds, but I decided to keep training and go to worlds. I think my performance was mostly due to lack of confidence in myself, but the injury also played a part in that. If I had been healthy, I would have been more confident and would have had a better performance overall. But I think that my falling was mostly due to the fact that I lacked confidence in myself.

IG: What is it like being a hope for the Polish team, coming up along against team members in their 20s, such as (2014 worlds competitors) Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska, Paula Plichta and Gabriela Janik?

AK: It's really exciting, but I feel I have a responsibility to do well for Poland as a team. The older girls are leaders, and it's nice to be part of a team. I think we're unified.

IG: How do they treat you, considering they didn't know you till last year and then suddenly were part of the team?

AK: It's definitely different from the relationship they have with each other, because they see each other a lot more, but they really welcome me. They love having me and I love them, too. There's a girl who trains in London, Claudia Chmielowska, who also competed in Nanning. We're kind of closer because we're in the same situation, in that we're not in Poland. It's never a problem. I have a good relationship with the girls. My Polish isn't perfect but it's nice to go there and practice with them.

IG: How do your coaches at All Olympia coordinate your training so it's in line with what the Polish national team coaches expect?

AK: I send them videos so they know what I'm working on, and so they know what to expect when I go there. It's not really a big deal for me. If I need help, they help me.

IG: How did you end up in California?

AK: My dad had a job that took him all around the world. I was born in Toronto, and then we moved to Argentina and Brazil before going to Missouri, and now we're here. I think we're staying here!

IG: When did you get the idea to compete for Poland?

AK: I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics. That was my main goal and it's still my goal. I would go to Poland every summer, and my family in Poland would always say, “You can compete for Poland; that would be really cool.” I never really thought about it too seriously until a couple of years ago. I just decided that I could try to compete for Poland. I felt it would be a better opportunity for me. There's not as much competition there as there is in the U.S. At the time I wasn't a U.S. citizen, either. So I basically decided that's what I wanted to do. Now I have Canadian, Polish and American citizenship.

IG: Although several of the Polish gymnasts are in their 20s, it's usual for Elite-level gymnasts in the U.S. end their international careers once they go to college. What are your thoughts about continuing your international career once you get to Berkeley?

AK: I'll focus on the Olympics, and I'll still have a year till I go off to Berkeley. I've definitely though about continuing in Elite once I'm at Berkeley, because it would be awesome to go to Tokyo (2020 Olympics), too. It depends on how my body feels at that point. Obviously Marta and the others are in their 20s and they are still competing and doing fine, so it depends on how I feel at that point. If I make it to Rio and then go to Berkeley, I might just decide to take it down and focus on college.

IG Magazine: March 2015
(6 votes, average 4.33 out of 5)

The March 2015 issue of International Gymnast Magazine digital version is available now! Subscribe today and read this entire issue digitally, on your computer!

The Savior
On his perpetual mission for perfection, Kohei Uchimura continues to rescue a troubled Code. But his primary goal remains unfulfilled

Tall Order
Interview: Alla Sosnitskaya is hopeful that her height will help rather than hinder her rise in the rankings

Aging Beauty
At 29, Venezuelan Jessica Lopez has never looked better. Learn more about the indisputable Queen of South American gymnastics

Junior Hits
Romania dominated at the Nadia Comaneci International Invitational; plus, the Perfect 10 Challenge makes Oklahoma 10-0

10 Things to Like About...
Two-time world champion Simone Biles

10 Questions With ... Stella Umeh
IG catches up with 1992 Canadian Olympian Stella Umeh, who's inspiring as ever!

Remembering Jeff Sipsey
Tribute to long-time IG photographer Jeff Sipsey

Ziert Alert!; Training Tips - Elastic Ruler Concept; Mental Minute - Expect It!; Kids Klub - Find the Gold Maze; Find the Hidden 10; and much more!

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


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