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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.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 25 November 2016 07:40    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Jessica Dowling (Canada)
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Absent from competition for the past few years, 22-year-old Canadian gymnast Jessica Dowling is enjoying her return to competition, starting with a satisfying return at the recent Elite Gym Massilia meet in Marseille, France.

Dowling at the recent Elite Gym Massilia in Marseille

"Even with the surgeries and the state of my knee, I knew I would regret my decision later in life if I didn't try to come back," said Dowling, referring to the issues that kept her out of the sport since 2013.

Dowling trains at Dynamo Gymnastics in Cambridge, Ontario, under coaches Elvira Saadi (1972 and '76 Soviet Olympic team gold medalist) and Denis Vachon. Dowling helped Dynamo place ninth in the Open team standings at the Elite Gym Massilia, held November 11-13 in Marseille. She finished 26th in the Open all-around. Eight years ago in Marseille, she placed eighth all-around. Five years ago in Marseille, Dowling finished 16th all-around in the Elite division.

Born September 9, 1994, in Hamilton, Ontario, Dowling was a steady presence on the Canadian scene as a junior and senior earlier in her career. She placed seventh all-around at the 2008 Canadian Junior Championships, 15th all-around at the 2010 Canadian Championships, first all-around in the Open division at the 2011 Canadian Championships, and 11th all-around at the 2012 Canadian Championships.

Dowling, whose mother was born in the Netherlands, has dual citizenship; she placed fourth all-around at the 2011 Dutch Championships.

Dowling describes her past challenges, and reveals her new motivations and plans, in this IG Online interview.

The Dynamo team at the 2016 Elite Gym Massilia: Brooklyn Moors, Jessica Dowling, Madison Hughes and Emma Spence

IG: It's a surprise to many people that you've returned to competition after a few years in the shadows. What was the reason for your absence, and what was your motivation for returning to competition?

JD: In March 2013, I underwent knee surgery for OCD – a cartilage defect – and a partially torn meniscus. I required a level 3 OATS procedure, as the bone on the lateral side of my knee contained two substantial holes and the cartilage was no longer attached. Due to the amount of work done on my knee and the condition my knee was in, I required a second surgery in October 2013. It took a long time to regain strength in my knee, and the surgeon didn't think I would be able to continue gymnastics. It was a tough two years for me, but I couldn't give it up. I simply love the sport of gymnastics and I can't live without it. It has also been a dream of mine to make the national team and compete for Canada at international competitions. Even with the surgeries and the state of my knee, I knew I would regret my decision later in life if I didn't try to come back.

IG: How satisfied were you with your performance in Marseille, in terms of your expectations?

JD: I was satisfied with my floor and vault. These have been the hardest events to get back, and I am happy I was able to land all my tumbling lines and perform a clean vault. Beam was a little shaky and I did not compete my full start value. However, it was the first event of the day, and I am happy I was able to control my nerves and avoid any major mistakes. I had the most expectations for bars, and was very dissatisfied when I didn't hit my routine the way I had been doing in training. More than that, I am disappointed that, after one major mistake, I let my emotions affect the rest of my routine. I will take this as a learning experience for future competitions.

IG: Having been away from competition for so long, how did nerves affect your performance in Marseille?

JD: I found myself more nervous in the days prior to the competition than I have been in the past. This definitely affected my sleep the night before the meet. I definitely need to compete a few more times in order to feel more comfortable in the competition environment again, but overall, I was pretty happy with how I handled my nerves in Marseille.

IG: Based on your performance in Marseille, what improvements or changes do you plan for upcoming competitions?

JD: I definitely have to work on the details and execution of my performances for upcoming competitions. Being my first competition back, I found myself concentrating harder for the bigger skills and thus, lacked focus on the finer details of my routines, including dance, turns, leaps and jumps, which are just as important.

IG: How is gymnastics more challenging for you than when you were younger?

JD: When I was younger, I recovered faster between training sessions and thus was able to handle a high number of repetitions six days a week. Now, I find I have to balance the harder training sessions with some lighter ones, in order to maintain successful, consecutive weeks of training.

IG: Who coaches you and on which events?

JD: Elvira Saadi and Denis Vachon are my main coaches, coaching me on all four events and traveling with me to competitions. Elvira is the head coach who prepares the training plan for each and every day. I also receive coaching by Sarah Rainey and Jonathan Asada, who work alongside Elvira and Denis in the gym. Finally, we work with a dance and ballet teacher every week.

Dowling in 2011

IG: In the past you competed at the Dutch championships and considered getting approval to compete for the Netherlands. Is that still an option for you? (To read IG Online's 2011 feature on Dowling relating to this topic, click here.)

JD: In 2011, when I was injured during the Canadian selection process for the world championships and other international competitions, I considered getting approval to compete for the Netherlands. Unfortunately this is not an option for me anymore. As much as I love the Netherlands, my home is in Canada. I am also completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph and, in order to combine my studies with gymnastics, I have to be in Canada.

IG: How do you balance your university studies with the training demands of gymnastics?

JD: I am studying nutrition and nutraceutical sciences. In order to manage my studies with my training schedule, I take only six courses a year, instead of the usual eight to 10. This way, I am able to maintain high grades so that I can apply to grad school in the future, and continue training at the elite level. I am taking six classes through the entire year – two in the fall term, two in the winter term, and two in the summer. Most students take four to five classes in the fall and winter term and work during the summer. During the week I live in an apartment in Guelph, Ontario, where I go to school. On weekends I go home and spend time with my family in Dundas, a small town outside Hamilton.

IG: What have the last few years away from competition revealed to you, in terms of why you do gymnastics and why you still have unfinished business in the sport?

JD: The gym is my safe haven, and I do gymnastics because I love it. Having the two knee surgeries and being away from the gym for a year and a half was a miserable time for me. Not only did I miss doing gymnastics, but I knew I hadn't gotten everything out of the sport that I wanted.

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

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

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 08 November 2016 10:57    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Tomi Tuuha (Finland)
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Winning a silver medal on vault at the last month’s Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, has inspired Tomi Tuuha of Finland.

Winning a silver medal on vault at the last month’s Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, has inspired Tomi Tuuha of Finland, whose mixed fortunes over the last year included an illness that prevented him from trying for this summer’s Rio Olympic Games, a broken wrist and his happy engagement to Icelandic gymnast Agnes Suto.

Tuuha, who will turn 27 on November 28, now looks ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Games as a new goal in his long career. He placed first on vault at the 2010 European Championships in Birmingham, which helped him win "Breakthrough of the Year" honors at the 2010 Sports Awards in his country. He placed first on vault at the 2014 Challenge Cup of Cottbus, and third on vault at the 2015 Challenge Cup of Osijek. Tuuha has finished in the top 15 on vault at three world championships.

In this IG Online interview, Tuuha reflects on his latest success and details the latest developments in his life.

IG: How did Szombathely motivate you for competitions to come in the remainder of 2016 and heading into 2017?

TT: Szombathely was a great competition for me. It was a very tight vault final, and I managed to fight myself to the podium. I got my first-ever silver medal from World Cups (Challenge Cups), too, so I was very happy with the results. 2016 has been overall a bit unlucky for me. In the end of February we had a national training camp in Stanford, USA, where I broke my wrist during vault training. I had to skip some World Cups because of that, so I kind of missed the ranking also this year. The European Championships in Bern (in May) were a bit too early, too, considering the wrist was still not fully healed, and I didn't quite get into the shape where I wanted to be. So yes, the result in Szombathely gave me a really good motivational kick for the rest of the year and also for next year. There is still one competition left for me this year in Cottbus, so I'm hoping to get as good results there as in Hungary.

IG: Leading into 2016 many people would consider you a favorite to compete for Finland in Rio. What happened to you at last’s years world championships in Glasgow?

Tuuha and his fiancée, Agnes Suto, of Iceland, in October

TT: Glasgow was a big disappointment for me. I had been working on upgraded vault difficulty for a year to higher my chances for a spot in the final. Unfortunately I got quite sick a couple of days before qualifications and the fever was not letting go on the competition day. I tried warming up and competing on rings but I was feeling so nauseous after the routine that I decided to withdraw. Walking out of the arena was a really hard decision to make, as I knew the vault final would have been my only way to Rio, but at the same time, I didn't want to take the risk of injury, while not being at my full health.

IG: How have you managed to reconcile with the fact that you did not qualify for Rio, especially seeing a teammate (Oskar Kirmes) perform well there?

TT: I knew a long time before that it would be a hard way for me to qualify to Rio. I've focused a long time already on only three apparatuses, and I consider myself as a vault specialist. However, only the top three gymnast from each apparatus final in Glasgow got straight tickets to Rio. I tried to increase my chances by training and competing all-around again, but with the base on my weaker apparatuses and the short time that I had, it was nearly impossible to make a good enough all-around score. Yet the time training all six was pretty educational and I managed to get couple of national all-around titles, too.

I am still very happy for my teammate Oskar for making it to Rio and competing in the all-around there. Seeing him working so hard and improving so much in the past years, it was no question he was the one who deserved the spot to compete for Finland. IG: What now motivates you to compete in the future? And what do you think of trying for Tokyo?

TT: Now that all the Rio hype is behind, I would like to set my focus on the next cycle. The rules will change with the new Code of Points, and also there is a new Olympic qualifying system for apparatus specialists through World Cups. This will definitely keep me motivated for the next four years and keep my Olympic dream alive. I mean, Tokyo sounds pretty awesome, right? Thinking about it always gives me a great feeling, as that's where I met Agnes for the first time in 2011 (World Championships in Tokyo). So who knows, maybe it's destiny.

IG: You and Agnes are experienced gymnasts and both of you have had some challenges. So how has Agnes helped you stay focused and positive in this last difficult year?

TT: We’ve been together for five years. We are both gymnasts, and are still training and competing, so we understand each other pretty well. The past year has been pretty difficult for me with injuries and Olympics going by. Having Agnes by my side, helping me clear my mind and get back up again, has been a real blessing.

IG: What is your relationship with Agnes like, in terms of logistics?

TT: Agnes moved to Finland for couple of years to train and coach, and basically so that we could be more together. This summer we took a step forward and got engaged. I was able to keep the proposal a secret from everyone, so there was a lot of surprise and excitement about it for everyone, especially for Agnes. We haven't planned the wedding yet, as we have friends and relatives in three different countries (Suto's parents are from Hungary). But I'm sure it will be sometime soon. Agnes is back in Iceland to finish her studies and coach. And since there aren't any big competitions this fall, I decided to follow her and come train with the Icelandic team in Reykjavik. I've spent around two months here now, being coached by Robert Kristmannsson, the men's head coach. I think it has been a very refreshing experience for me and for the gymnasts here, as well.

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features:
"Fearless Finn" – Tuuha interview/photo gallery (December 2012)
"Hope in Helsinki" – feature on IG's visit to Voimisteluseura VSH men's club (January 2013)
"Icelandic Warm-up" - feature on IG's visit to Icelandic clubs (November 2012)

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

Written by John Crumlish    Sunday, 23 October 2016 12:39    PDF Print
IG Online Interview: Emily Little (Australia)
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

2012 Olympic all-around finalist Emily Little of Australia said her most recent medal-winning international performances have rejuvenated her as she continues to upgrade and improve.

2012 Olympic all-around finalist Emily Little of Australia said her most recent medal-winning international performances have rejuvenated her as she continues to upgrade and improve.

The 22-year-old Little tied for the gold medal on balance beam and won the silver medal on vault at the Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, held October 7-9.

A veteran of three world championships, Little placed 15th all-around at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and third on vault at the 2016 Olympic test event held in Rio de Janeiro in April. She finished third all-around, first on vault, and third on balance beam and floor exercise at the Australian Championships in May.

Little did not get the opportunity to compete at the Rio Games in August since after Australia placed fifth at the test event, from which the top four teams advanced to the Games. Larrissa Miller, one of Little's teammates at the 2012 Games, was the lone Australian artistic gymnast in Rio.

In this IG Online interview, Little reflects on Szombathely and Rio, and projects her ambitions for the coming years.

IG: What were your goals for Szombathely, and how do you assess your performance in terms of your goals?

Little at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

EL: My goals for this competition were to make both my beam and vaults cleanly. I added a new mount and a new connection on beam, with the new Code in mind, so I wanted to make both of those skills, which I managed to do. Vault was another chance to practice competing, and I feel confident that I am ready to upgrade on vault.

IG: 2016 might be considered a difficult year for the Australian team. What has given you the motivation to continue, even after your team qualified only one gymnast for Rio?

EL: If anything I hope that this year has made the team stronger and more motivated to do better in the next (Olympic) cycle. We haven't had the best team outcomes but I think that when someone has the most difficult times is when we learn the most about ourselves. I have been lucky enough to gain a sponsor and I have a good team of supportive people around me, so I feel as though the next couple of years can be the best of my career if I put in the hard work.

IG: What were your impressions of Larrissa's performance in Rio, especially having competed many times with her on the team?

EL: I think she had a lot of pressure on her as the only gymnast competing from Australia.  Her bars routine was very nice and she was going for difficulty on floor. She is a good competitor on teams, and I believe not having a team in Rio left her at a disadvantage.

IG: Although you were an all-around finalist in London, there is a trend for the more veteran gymnasts to end up specializing in one or more apparatuses. Does your success on beam and vault in Hungary indicate that these might become your specialties? Or if that is just a coincidence, what are your plans for continuing as an all-arounder?

EL: I plan to continue as an all-arounder. I am able to do all four events and I enjoy them all. Most of my focus will be put into vault, and I'll be looking to upgrade on floor and beam. Bars is not my best apparatus but I'll be competing a clean, safe routine.

IG: Looking ahead to 2017, what are your plans in terms of international gymnastics and life outside the gym?

EL: I would like to do the World Cup circuit. I have already met so many amazing gymnasts and I would like to practice competing new skills. I want to start studying. I feel as though I'm getting old as a gymnast and need to start planning for my future outside of the gym. Personal training or massage will be on my agenda for next year.

International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of Australian gymnastics includes:
Alysha Djuric profile (July/August 2014)
Georgia Godwin interview (October 2015)
Peggy Liddick interview (October 2015)
"The Lowdown from Liddick" – comments from Liddick (June 2014)
"Catching up with Allana Slater" – profile (April 2014)
Georgia Godwin cover photo (March 2014)

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


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