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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!

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 06 February 2015 13:22    PDF Print
Interview: Toni-Ann Williams (Jamaica/Berkeley)
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Two-time world championships competitor Toni-Ann Williams of Jamaica is enjoying her first season of U.S. collegiate competition as a member of the University of California-Berkeley team.

Two-time world championships competitor Toni-Ann Williams of Jamaica is enjoying her first season of U.S. collegiate competition as a member of the University of California-Berkeley team, but she looks forward to continuing her international career.

Williams, who was born in Baltimore, holds dual citizenship. Prior to enrolling at the University of California-Berkeley last fall, she trained at United Gymnastix in Reisterstown, Maryland, where her coaches were 2000 Bulgarian Olympian Mladen Stefanov and Kari Barnes.

Her coaches at California are Justin Howell (head coach) and his wife, former U.S. national team member Elisabeth Crandall-Howell (associate head coach).

IG spoke with Williams after her team's meet at UCLA on February 1, where she placed first on vault and second on floor exercise. Based on her performances there, Williams was named Freshman/Newcomer of the Week for the third consecutive week in the Pacific 12 Conference. She is the second gymnast to win the honor three times, and the first to win it three consecutive times.

In this interview, Williams describes her new life as a student-athlete, and her potential for future international competitions including the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Williams on beam for Cal-Berkeley

IG: How has your transition to collegiate gymnastics been so far?

: It's been so much fun. I honestly feel it's like summer camp, but then, school is everything, so I'm like, “OK, maybe not so much like summer camp!” I love the team. Everyone is so inviting. They've welcomed me, and it's been an awesome ride so far.

IG: What classes are you taking this semester, and what major do you have in mind?

: I'm taking Nutritional Science, Brain Mind and Behavior, and classes like that. Right now I'm trying to get through everything and see what I like. I'm taking different classes, so I'm not sure right now what my major will be.

IG: What caused the problem you had on beam (at UCLA on February 1)?

IG: I've been struggling with my groin muscle. It's been a little rough on beam. I missed my leap pass, but we came together and finished solidly. I'm going to get back in the gym and work harder. It's just a passing injury, like those injuries that are a little annoying. You just have to take care of it to make sure it doesn't get worse.

IG: How are you maintaining your high-level skills, considering that you are training only 20 hours per week (per NCAA rules)?

: I feel I've had a lot of preparation in club gymnastics, to kind of get my skills so I don't have to do too many numbers, and be able to compete them fine. We spin a lot and get in a lot of cardio outside the gym, and that really helps maintain.

IG: What are your plans for international competitions, such as this fall's worlds and next year's Olympics?

: Definitely worlds this year - and the Olympics, hopefully. I'm going to try my best, and give 100 percent, and whatever happens, happens. Justin and Liz are really open about my training for international competitions, and they're really supportive about it.

IG: How do your college coaches compare to your club coaches?

: Club and college coaches are way different, but I love Justin and Liz. They're amazing. They're like the dynamic duo. You get one thing from one, and another thing from the other, and it's an amazing balance.

IG: In which ways has your gymnastics changed, physically and mentally, since last year?

: I feel I've improved a lot. I've learned more about myself mentally, and I prep for competitions every single weekend, which is something I'm not used to. There's still room for improvement, obviously, but it's been a great experience. I've helped my gymnastics both physically and mentally. Read “Jamaican-American,” an interview with Williams in the March 2014 issue of International Gymnast magazine; and "Back from the Brink," a feature on the University of California-Berkeley program, in the October 2014 issue. To order back issues, or subscribe to the print and/or digital editions of International Gymnast magazine, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 02 February 2015 22:54    PDF Print
IG Interview: Annabelle Schmidt (Netherlands)
(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Although injuries have plagued Dutch gymnast Annabelle Schmidt throughout her career, she is eager to lend her experience and determination to the young gymnasts she now coaches.

Although injuries have plagued Dutch gymnast Annabelle Schmidt throughout her career, she is eager to lend her experience and determination to the young gymnasts she now coaches.

Schmidt, who turned 23 last month, recently announced her retirement from competition after a challenging but fruitful competitive career.

At the 2008 Mikhail Voronin Cup in Moscow, Schmidt placed fifth on floor exercise, seventh on uneven bars and eighth on balance beam. She placed fifth all-around and third on vault at the 2011 Dutch championships, and third all-around finish in the senior division at the 2011 Pre-Olympic Youth Cup in Germany. Schmidt was eighth all-around at the 2013 Dutch championships.

Schmidt has enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship with her younger brother, Dutch team standout Casimir Schmidt. Casimir placed first all-around at the 2013 Dutch championships, 18th all-around at the 2013 world championships in Antwerp, and fourth (tie) on vault at the 2014 European championships in Sofia.

In this IG Online interview, Annabelle recalls the difficulties she has faced and overcome, and outlines her goals as a fledgling coach.

Schmidt with her younger brother Casimir

IG: After a long and successful career, what was the reason, or what were the reasons, that you decided to retire?

AS: I have had a lot of surgeries on my foot. The last one was in August 2014, and I still have a lot of pain now. My goal was to qualify for the European championships or the European Games but the rehabilitation is going slower than I thought it would be. So I would definitely miss it. My motivation is not 200% anymore and you really need that to recover and come back and compete again. In the past I chose gymnastics and my goals and forgot all the pain, but now I choose for my body.

IG: Take us through the injuries you've suffered and the recovery processes.

AS: In 2011 I qualified for the selection process for the Olympic test event in London, and I was so happy, but two weeks after that I tore my Achilles' tendon. That was my first surgery. I rehabilitated for eight months and tried to do gymnastics again, but I couldn't run or doing strength training on that one leg. I went to another surgeon, Dr. Kerkhoffs, and he told me that my Achilles' was too long and I had a chronic inflammation in my foot.

I had to have another second operation because of a fault of the first surgeon. Dr. Kerkhoffs did a great job and I had my second surgery in August 2012. After very hard work I was able to compete in the all-around after only 10 months. The doctors were surprised that I was able to do gymnastics again at this level. But I was in pain with my shoulder, and in September 2013 I had surgery there. It was not a very big surgery so I recovered very fast.

I tried to qualify for the European championships in 2014. I placed fourth but they choose the other girls. I regretted that. But I really want to compete at the world championships so I upgraded my floor with a double layout and full-in. After a few months the pain in my foot was getting worse, and the doctors told me that I may not compete at the national championships, which meant no worlds. In August 2014 I had my last operation. They removed some heel bone so my Achilles' was not able to bump against my bone. The last one was bigger than I expected, and I had and still have a lot of pain.

IG: While you were competing, Casimir was rising the rankings. In which ways did he encourage you to continue, and in which ways do you encourage him?

AS: He always told me, "No, never give up, you can still do it. If you train hard and you really want it, you have to fight for it, no matter what." He has always believed in me and watched me compete at the national championships in 2013. After that competition he told me, "Welcome back, sis!" I was really proud. I am never jealous of him and have so much respect for him, how he trains and how resolute he his. I will always support him and watch his competitions if I can. For me he is the best, and I think he can achieve so much more because he is young.

IG: What is your coaching schedule like?

AS: I am coaching the little gymnasts at the club where I trained, BATO Haarlem. I train girls from ages four to eight. I train the girls who are eight now the most, and they have their first competitions this season, so that is a little bit more special for them but also for me. It is different as a coach than as a gymnast, but I am really enjoying it.

IG: Based on your own experiences as a gymnast, what are your goals as a coach?

AS: My main goal is to make the best out of every gymnast, whichever level that would be. I really want that they train hard but always with a lot of fun. I make a lot of jokes and I am always positive and I always try to cheer them on. They are so little but have to train a lot of hours. I hope I make a good balance between hard work and fun. We have a small club but a very big group of young, talented girls, and I am really proud of that!

What I hope I can teach them about my own experiences is to work hard and never give up. An injury does not always mean the end of the world!

International Gymnast magazine's coverage of Dutch gymnasts includes:
"Her Finest Hour" – Renske Endel interview (May 2002)
"Miracles Do Happen" – Imke Glas profile (May 2008)
"Double Dutch" – Suzanne Harmes/Yuri van Gelder profiles (May 2006)
"Fresh Start" - Loes Linders profile (April 2006)
"Patient and Persistent" - Tahnee Masela profile (September 2006)
Tess Moonen on cover photo collage (July/August 2010)
"Marked for Success" - Casimir Schmidt profile (July/August 2014)
"Valentijn's Day" – Rikst Valentine profile (June/July 2001)
"Comebacks Complete" – Verona van de Leur/Jeffrey Wammes profiles (September 2007)
"Fame Resistant" – Verona van de Leur cover story (May 2002)
"Power Trip" - Yuri van Gelder profile (January/February 2009); van Gelder two-page center poster (June 2008)
"Just Verdict" – Céline van Gerner interview (June/July 2012)
Ready to Rise for the Netherlands" – Noel van Klaveren profile (June 2013)
"Destiny's Child" – Jeffrey Wammes profile (August/September 2002)
Gabriella Wammes profile (October 2009)
"Calculated Risk" – Lichelle Wong profile (May 2010)
"Perseverance Pays Off" – Lichelle Wong profile (July/August 2007)
"Skilled and Studious" - Epke Zonderland cover story (March 2014)
"The Flying Dutchman" – Zonderland interview (May 2010)

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


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