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Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 26 September 2019 11:25    PDF Print
‘We Will Fight In Any Circumstances,’ Says French Coach
(3 votes, average 3.67 out of 5)

French coach Eric Hagard told IG that his team and its individual gymnasts, including 2019 European all-around champion Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, have strong chances and high expectations for medals at the 2019 World Championships that begin October 4th in Stuttgart, Germany.

“The team is ready for Worlds, and we expect Olympic qualification,” he said. “We will have a last training camp in Paris just before our departure for Germany. The team spirit is strong and all the girls are determined, as is the coaching staff.”

Aiming for one of nine team berths to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games that are available in Stuttgart, the French squad for Worlds includes De Jesus Dos Santos, two-time European balance beam medalist and ’16 Olympic balance beam finalist Marine Boyer, ’19 European balance beam bronze medalist Lorette Charpy and Aline Friess.

The fifth designated starter, 2017 European vault champion and ’19 European vault silver medalist Coline Devillard, withdrew due to an ankle injury. “We will replace her with one of the young gymnasts who were alternates on the roster,” Hagard said.

France placed fifth in the team final at the 2018 Worlds in Doha, where the top three teams earned berths to Tokyo, but Hagard said his team has medal-winning potential in Stuttgart.

“Of course, the race for the team podium is going to be very exciting, because a few nations will be able to reach those steps,” said Hagard, who with his wife, Monique Hagard, coaches De Jesus Dos Santos, Charpy and Friess. “The U.S. and Simone Biles are unbeatable today, China seems to have a very good chance to climb onto the podium, and the bronze is open.”

Hagard cites Russia, Italy and Great Britain among the top teams capable of a medal in Stuttgart.

“Russia was third in Doha and is a serious contender, with experienced and talented gymnasts with numerous awards all around the world,” he said. “Italy is also a serious threat with its ‘Magic Four’ newcomers born in 2003 who are such excellent all-arounders, able to produce clean and precise routines on each apparatus. Great Britain has also a very good team, with the double Downies (Ellie and Becky).”

Hagard is confident in his own team’s medal hopefuls, though. Foremost among them is De Jesus Dos Santos, who placed fifth all-around at the 2017 Worlds in Montreal and sixth all-around at the 2018 Worlds.

“Melanie is the leader of the French team, and her last competition in Paris (Challenge Cup, September 14-15) was pretty good, with a gold medal on bars, which was her weakest event in the past,” Hagard said. “She worked a lot to upgrade her routine including a new connection with a Pak-full. She will also show a new floor routine based on her own musical choice. We are expecting the beam and floor finals, in order to show some enthusiastic and quality gymnastics.”

De Jesus Dos Santos has a realistic chance to challenge indomitable four-time world all-around champion Biles, Hagard said.

“Melanie is a good all-arounder and with her D-scores, she could be close to the unavoidable Queen Simone,” he said.

Hagard said that, even without Devillard’s services, France plans to perform with aggressiveness and pride. “Obviously, Coline’s injury is a big loss for the team, especially on vault, which was part of our winning strategy,” he told IG. “We will fight in any circumstances and show to the world that France is there!”

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Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 23 September 2019 09:06    PDF Print
Huddleston: ‘Bulgaria Will Be Back’
(4 votes, average 4.25 out of 5)

Born in the Netherlands to a Bulgarian mother and an American father, recent Challenge Cup of Mersin medalist David Huddleston of Bulgaria told IG he is hopeful that the once-mighty country he represents internationally can regain its former gymnastics stature.

“I of course strive to succeed,” said Huddleston, who earned the first Challenge Cup of his career when he won silver on vault in Mersin, Turkey, on September 1. “Not just for myself, but to help and show the world that Bulgaria, once on the top of the world in gymnastics, will be back sooner or later.”

Huddleston’s gymnastics journey is unique and indeed international. He was born in the Hague, the Netherlands, and lived in the Caribbean for eight years. He has lived “on and off” in the U.S. for a total of about five years, and in Bulgaria for a total of about six years.

“We have traveled a lot throughout the years,” Huddleston said.

Huddleston said he owes his gymnastics career to his mother, Gergana Georgieva, a former track athlete in her native country. She runs her own trucking company in Texas, assisted by Huddleston’s father, Herbert Justus Huddleston, who used to work for a solar company.

“My mother was the reason I started gymnastics in general,” said Huddleston, who holds dual citizenship with Bulgaria and the U.S. “She is an ex-athlete and saw potential in me as a gymnast. She made me do the splits every day and taught me how to do a back flip. In 2007 my mother was talking with my now coach, Damyan Ignatov, on the phone, and she took a big step of moving from the Caribbean to Bulgaria just so I could train with him.”

Huddleston also thrived while training in the U.S. during a couple relocations. He first trained under coach Vladimir Artemev at 5280 Gymnastics in Colorado, and later under 1988 Olympic all-around champion Vladimir Artemov (not to be confused with Artemev) in Texas. Later he trained at Alamo Gymnastics in Texas and then under coach Ryan Maskell at Powerhouse Gymnastics in San Antonio. “He is such an amazing coach and person,” said Huddleston of Maskell. Ignatov, with whom Huddleston now trains in Sofia, is responsible for his more recent progress.

“I am very thankful for him,” said Huddleston of Ignatov. “He was the one who pushed me and advanced me into being a better gymnast.”

Huddleston said he believes the current and future generations of Bulgarian gymnasts can thrive with more financial support. As another example of their potential, teammate Yordan Aleksandrov won two medals in Mersin and one medal at the Challenge Cup of Szombathely, Hungary, the following weekend.

“It's sad to know that the country you compete for was once at the top and now it's not — not even close,” Huddleston told IG. “In my opinion it all has to do with finances. We have a lot of young talented gymnasts that I dearly want to see, future-wise. I want them to succeed. We have really good gymnasts overall. It's just that, in my opinion, money is what's lacking. We don't go to many competitions to show what we can do.”

Huddleston now looks to qualify for next summer’s 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo through his performance at next month’s World Championships in Stuttgart.

“My plan to go to Tokyo is through the World Championships,” he said. “I will be doing my all-around performance.”

Check out David Huddleston on Instagram:

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Written by John Crumlish    Thursday, 05 September 2019 08:39    PDF Print
Rebeka Groulx: ‘Ready For The Rush!’
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

There is a feature in the 2019 October issue of International Gymnast magazine with Canadian junior all-around champion Rebeka Groulx may have been too young to compete at this summer’s World Junior Championships, but she won’t let her youth keep her from working hard and dreaming big.

“Of course, I was sad at the beginning and thought I deserved to go,” says 13-year-old Rebeka, who won the all-around and three events at the Canadian Junior Championships in May.

“But I figured it would only give me another reason to work harder this summer to have the chance to be there next year.”

Rebeka has been looking ahead and moving up since she chose gymnastics over dance, which she had also been practicing.

“My coaches wanted to put me in a higher level because I was pretty good, and I had to make the biggest decision of my life,” she says.“I chose gymnastics but I keep wondering what my life would be if I would’ve chosen dance. It would be completely different!”

Although floor is Rebeka’s favorite event, her composure on beam has proven to be key in her success. She has always been at ease on this worrisome event.

“Since I started, my beam made me change categories,” says Rebeka, the ’18 Canadian novice all-around champion. “For example, when I started in the recreational program, my coach wanted to put me in competitive since (in recreational) I could not do all the skills I was able to do. Also, I am very stable on beam and it’s an apparatus on which there are many falls. So, that benefits me.”

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Written by John Crumlish    Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:36    PDF Print
Alistratava: ‘The Strongest Wins’
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Profiled in the September 2019 issue of International Gymnast magazine, Anastasia Alistratava of Belarus told IG that she has reconciled her fourth-place finish on uneven bars at this spring’s European Championships.

"In the final, I tried to perform well,” said Alistratava, who earned the highest execution score of the final. “It is a pity that people who believe I was worthy of a medal were not among the judges. But sport is sport. The strongest wins.”

Born October 16, 2003, in Olga Korbut’s hometown of Grodno, Alistratava began training at age 4. She credits her previous and current coaches for assuring the foundation and continuity of her progress.

Irina Murza instilled a love of gymnastics, sports education and the original correct technique,” Alistratava says. “After that I continued to train with Olga Knysh (wife of Korbut’s late coach, Renald Knysh), whom I work with now. Thanks to her, I have successful performances. Many other coaches care about me. They help me develop in every possible way.”

Read the complete profile on Alistratava in the September 2019 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe to the print and/or digital editions, or to order back issues, click here.

Written by John Crumlish    Friday, 30 August 2019 07:30    PDF Print
Germany’s Rida Gains Confidence Through All-Around Bronze
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

First-year German senior Karim Rida told IG that his bronze medal-winning all-around performance at this month’s German Championships was as satisfying as it was unexpected.

“Third place was a real surprise for me,” said the 19-year-old Rida, whose all-around score of 81.60 points placed him third behind 28-year-old gold medalist Andreas Toba (83.10) and 31-year-old silver medalist Marcel Nguyen (82.35). “I was thinking about being in the top 10 perhaps, but then it happened and I got the bronze medal. It was a great feeling to stand on the winner’s podium beside the experienced athletes.”

Rida said his podium finish was the product of intense training in the lead-up to the competition.

“I trained very hard before the championships,” said Rida, who is coached by Robert Hirsch in Berlin. “It wasn’t always easy and it took a lot of effort, but I had a good feeling because my coach prepared me very well.”

Rida’s performance at the German Championships positions him well for this fall’s World Championships in Stuttgart and next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, but he has not burst into the German senior ranks as an unknown.

Rida placed first all-around at the 2017 German Junior Championships and second all-around at the 2018 German Junior Championships. Last year he was eighth all-around, second on parallel bars and eighth on floor exercise at the European Junior Championships in Glasgow.

Although Rida’s recent success has made him a strong candidate for Tokyo, he said he and his team must earn a Games berth through a solid performance in Stuttgart.

“We are still not thinking of the Olympic Games because first we have to qualify for them,” said Rida, a native of Eberswalde whose Moroccan father was born in Casablanca and whose mother is German. “Only if we will have passed the championships in Stuttgart we will know if we can take part in the Olympic Games. So a good result in Stuttgart is our next goal.”

To secure a spot on the German team in Stuttgart and hopefully Tokyo, Rida said he wants to demonstrate reliability and precision.

“I do not have much experience but I can improve my performances and try to clean up my exercises as well as possible,” he told IG. “I hope to show stable and well-done exercises, and I will train for this very hard.”

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