Minnesota gymnast Maggie Nichols has had quite the 2013 season. After coming off of a junior season in 2012 where she placed 3rd at the American Classic, Nichols represented the US at the Jesolo Trophy meet and the Tri-Meet in Germany in 2013, helping the team reach a first place finish at both competitions. Recently, Nichols competed at the US Championships where she finished 5th in the all around and made the U.S. Senior National Team. She recently committed to OU, but we can’t wait to see what the rest of her Elite career has to bring before she joins the Sooners in 2016. We got to chat with Maggie about her goals and upgrades for 2014, her most embarrasing competition moment, and how she balances public high school with gymnastics.
You recently committed to Oklahoma for NCAA gymnastics. With so many great schools to choose from, what made you choose OU?
The coaches and the campus. I just loved everything about it, it was a good fit for me.
Now that you’ve made the National Team, what other goals do you have for yourself in gymnastics?
To do some international competitions and stay on the National Team for a couple more years to see where it takes me.
What’s been your favorite moment in gymnastics so far?
Probably competing in Italy and Germany last year and winning the team gold.
What were those experiences like?
It was a totally different experience but also a lot of fun. I really liked competing with all the girls from international countries. Now with some of them we follow each other on twitter and instagram so that’s pretty cool.
Can you tell us a bit about what Worlds Camp was like for you?
It was really fun but also nerve wracking. We all knew we had to hit our routines as best we could but it was fun. It was pretty much what I expected because my coaches told me everything I was gonna have to do.
-photo via Gymnastike
If you were queen of gymnastics for the day, what rule change would you make?
I would change the bar settings for elite. It’s hard for some girls because they may be too short or too long and you can’t change the setting. So I’d like to change it to whatever works best for you.
With such a strong finish at this year’s Nationals, you’ve gained a lot of new followers and fans. How has it been for you to have people wanting your autograph, tweeting you, etc?
It’s actually kind of surprising because it doesn’t feel like I’m any different. So when people ask for my autograph and tweet me it reminds me how far I’ve come and makes me feel really good.
What upgrades are you working on for next year?
I’m working on a couple new skills. Double doubles on floor and some new connections on bars and beam. Also, an amanar on vault.
What’s an interesting fact about you or something fans would be surprised to learn?
I go to public school so that might be a little surprising.
How do you balance that with gymnastics?
I do ⅘ class periods at school and 1 online class. Then I have to make classes up if I miss them for competition and camp. My parents and coaches wanted me to have a little bit off of a social life and be able to get my mind of gymnastics sometimes so that’s why I chose regular school over homeschool.
Has anything funny or embarrassing ever happened to you while at practice or competing?
Well one time at J.O. Nationals, I was on one side of the beam and thought I was on the wrong side so I ran under before I started. Then I realized that was actually the wrong side! So it was pretty funny and I was talking a little with my coach while I was doing my routine.
Fast Facts Favorite Food- Seafood-shrimp and other fish. Favorite Book- I like the Pretty Little Liars series. Favorite Musician/Band- I like country music and I also like hip hop but I don’t have a favorite artist. Favorite Movie- I like The Last Song. Dream Job- I want to be a physical therapist or physical trainer or teacher. Being involved in sports would be great and I like working with kids. Super Power you wish you had- Either to be invisible or have super strength. Favorite skill to perform- Probably paks or shaposh’s on bars. Skill you’d most like to learn- Shaposh full. Dream travel destination- Somewhere tropical or Paris, France. Favorite gymnast- I’ve always liked Shawn Johnson and Jordyn [Wieber] How your teammates would describe you- Probably like goofy because I’m always singing and dancing around the gym. How your coaches would describe you- I hope hard-working and cheerful and always giving 100%.
The 2000 Olympics. What first comes to your mind when those infamous Games are referenced? The Andreea Raducan scandal? The incorrect height of the vault? Svetlana Khorkina’s falls? The eventual removal of the Chinese team’s bronze medal? Viktoria Karpenko stubbing her toe?
Plenty of things, for better or worse, mark key moments of the Sydney Olympics. And I still can’t make it through rewatching the individual all around without a fit of gym rage setting in. Unfortunately, with an Olympics associated with so many negatives, the positives are often times lost. So in my attempt to put a positive spin on the Games that caused me so much emotional turmoil as a gym fan, here are a few of the highs that may have been lost amidst the lows:
Liu Xuan: Although her team bronze was eventually stripped, Liu had a successful experience at her second Olympics. Not only did she move into the bronze medal position in the individual all around, but she also clinched the gold on beam during event finals.
Spain: Much like the Canadians in 2012, Spain finished a historic fifth (and eventual fourth) in the team final in Sydney. They were led by Esther Moya and Laura Martinez, both of whom went on to compete in the individual all around and placed ninth and 12th respectively. Both also qualified into the vault event final, with Moya finishing in fourth and Martinez finishing in fifth. Moya later picked up a second fourth place finish during floor finals.
Lisa Skinner: Skinner’s performance in the all around was one of the highlights for her hometown crowd. She was in the hunt for a medal after three rotations, but low start values on vault took her out of contention. Regardless, her expressive floor routine captivated the audience and was a highlight of the meet.
Russia’s Event Finals: To say that the team final and individual all around competitions didn’t go as planned for the Russians is a slight understatement. So let’s exclude those heartbreaks and focus on the event finals that served as quite a highlight for their team. Elena Zamolodchikova took golds on vault and floor, Yekaterina Lobaznyuk won bronze on vault and silver on beam, Khorkina reclaimed her bars gold and added a floor silver, and Yelena Produnova took the beam bronze. Not a bad medal haul considering how their competition started out.
USA Team Final: The US might have put up a performance during prelims that barely qualified them to finals, but an entirely different American team walked out the day of finals. Seeing the transformation between their defeated demeanor during prelims to their tenacious attitude during finals was one of the highlights of the meet.
At just 13-years-old, Shallon Olsen has captured the attention of the gymnastics world in her home country of Canada and around the globe. She has an impressive skill set that goes well beyond what one would expect to see out of someone her age, including a double twisting yurchenko (that she first performed at age 10!) and a full-in on floor. Her potential seems almost limitless and she happens to be just the right age for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Shallon has won the Canadian Junior National Championships the past two years in a row. She made her international debut at the Top Gym tournament in Belgium in 2011, then won the AA and vault at the same meet last November. With past winners including Shawn Johnson and Larisa Iordache it’s safe to say that expectations for the phenom are high, but we think she’s ready to rise to the challenge. Shallon took the time to answer our questions about her career so far, upgrades, and her favorite things to do outside the gym-
How did you first get involved with gymnastics?
I was always running around with so much energy. I frightened my mom cause anytime she took me out, I was gone in a flash and she would think I’d been kidnapped. My parents thought gymnastics would be a good fit for me, I could run around and be safe.
When did you first know it was something you wanted to take to a high level?
Photo by Grace Chiu
I don’t think I really knew that I wanted to take gymnastics to a high level. I just loved flipping and jumping, basically enjoying gymnastics and progressing through the levels.
Which gymnasts do you look up to or admire?
I admire different gymnasts at different times. For now I look up to Simone Biles. In the past I`ve liked Jordyn Wieber, Aliya Mustafina, Gabby Douglas, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin amongst others.
You’ve competed at the Top Gym competition in Belgium for the past two years, last year winning the AA title. What did it mean to win the same meet that many gymnastics greats such as Jordyn Wieber, Shawn Johnson, and Larisa Iordache have won in the past?
It meant a lot to me because first of all, I`ve joined the long list of gymnasts who have already won this meet. I feel like I`m going in the right direction.
Your Omega teammate Brittany Rogers made the Canadian Olympic team in 2012. What was it like to watch her go through that process?
I was really excited for her because I knew she had overcome a severe injury to make it to the Olympics. She is such a fighter and an inspiration to young gymnasts around the world.
Can you tell us what your daily schedule is like?
Shallon at 2013 Nationals (credit to Grace Chiu)
I attend school in the morning and train in the afternoon through to the evening.
What are your short and long-term goals?
I really want to compete at the Pacific Rim Championship this April, right here in Richmond, BC - my home province! I also want to go to the 2016 Rio de JaneiroOlympics. Now that the World Championships are on, I have developed a desire to go to those in 2017, since I will be too young to attend WC prior to that time. Unfortunately, there are no WC in an Olympic year, otherwise I would want to go.
One of the first times we saw video of you was as a 10-year-old already performing high level skills like double twisting yurchenkos. With so much natural ability, how are your coaches able to pace you and keep you healthy long term?
I train all my hard skills into the foam pit where the landing is soft. My coaches have so much experience and knowledge that they know what I am capable of. They always have safety as a priority for all their gymnasts.
How do you keep yourself motivated to train at such a high level?
I keep a positive attitude and say good things to myself. I remind myself that I have worked hard and take time to appreciate what I have already accomplished. Most importantly, I tell myself to never give up.
What upgrades do you have in store for the future? Are there any skills you’d love to learn?
I`ve added an Arabian to my beam routine and am practicing a 3.5 twist on floor. I am also practising the Amanar vault, but only into the foam pit.
What are your favourite things to do outside of the gym?
Hang out with my friends and sleep. I don`t often get to sleep in so when I can, I really enjoy it. Sleeping is the best!
What 3 items would you take to a desert island besides food and water?
I would take my ipod, a beach towel and some sunglasses. I guess I would have to include some sunscreen too. I would also bring some good books and my word search.
Photo by Grace Chiu
Favorite Food- quesadillas and cake
Favorite TV Show- iCarly
Favorite Book- Hunger Games and the Twilight series
Favorite Musician/Band- One Direction
Dream Job- to become a famous pop singer
Super Power you wish you had- able to become invisible and to fly
Favorite skill to perform- Arabian
Skill you’d most like to learn- full twist from high to low bar (don`t name of it, but it`s like a pak with a full twist)
Dream travel destination- Venice, Italy
Favorite gymnast- Aliya Mustafina
How your teammates would describe you- funny, nice, kind and thoughtful
How your coaches would describe you- energetic and talented
If you’re like me, you’ve spent this past week watching old World Championships videos in order to cure your post 2013 Worlds withdrawal. After jumping from recommended video to recommended video (thank you YouTube), I found myself in the 2007 era when the US – pre hot pink – beat China to take home the World team title during the coveted pre-Olympic year. And as I watched more routines from those Championships, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities it had to last week’s Worlds. A few examples:
The Individual Gold Medal Distribution Among the Countries
The 2007 World Championships were a dominating year for the Americans, both in routines and medal count. The US finished with three of the five individual gold medals that were up for grabs. China, who would be the biggest rival for the US the next year in Beijing, took one of the remaining golds. And Russia, who was in the process of rebuilding but was not quite revitalized, took the remaining first place title. This 3-1-1 gold breakdown between the US, China, and Russia was the same this past year.
The All Around Champion Also Won Floor
Not dissimilar to 2013, the year 2007 was also dominated by a US power gymnast. Shawn Johnson rounded out her breakout year – one that included American Cup and US National titles – with multiple World Championships titles. After winning the gold in the all around, Johnson went on to also win the title on floor in a very slim margin over teammate Alicia Sacramone. This year, after Simone Biles’ win in the all around, she also went on to win gold on floor during her fourth event final of the competition.
The All Around Silver Medalist Also Won Silver on Beam
The all around silver medalists from 2007 and 2013 aren’t quite as similar in style as Johnson and Biles, but they do share the commonality of having both won silvers in the all around and on beam. The 04-08 quad was a rebuilding year for the Romanians, who were under new leadership after the (brief) retirement of Octavian Bellu. One of its strongest all arounders, Steliana Nistor, came away from the 2007 World Championships with Romania’s only two individual medals with her second place all around and beam finishes. This year, Kyla Ross also finished second in both the all around and beam but also added a third silver from uneven bars to her collection.
The Beam Champion Also Medaled on Bars
Not only did the 2007 and 2013 beam champions also medal on bars, but they were perhaps both more expected to take the bar title rather than the beam. After a beam mishap that landed her in 5th place in the all around, Nastia Liukin set out to take the 2007 World Championship uneven bars title before being passed by Ksenia Semenova. But in her last event final of the meet, she completed a nearly flawless beam routine to secure a gold the gold medal. In 2013, reigning Olympic uneven bar champion Aliya Mustafina was also one of the favorites to win the event. She performed a clean and slightly downgraded routine but landed in third behind Huang Huidan and Kyla Ross. Then, in an outcome no one expected, Mustafina performed one of the cleanest beam routines of her career and finished her meet on top of the medal podium.
The Same Countries Medaled in Bar Finals
We’ve grown accustomed over the years to seeing the Chinese and Russians on top of the medal podium during uneven bar finals, and the 2007 and 2013 Worlds were no different. Also during both years, the medal podiums were comprised of one gymnast from China, one from Russia, and one from the United States. In 2007, Ksenia Semenova won Russia’s only WAG medal from those Championships when she finished first on bars. Nastia Liukin finished second, and Yang Yilin finished third – much like their eventual bars podium at the Beijing Olympics. The same countries this year, albeit in a different order, were on the podium when Huang Huidan, Kyla Ross, and Aliya Mustafina went 1-2-3 respectively.
A Non “Big Four” Gymnast Medaled on Floor
China, Romania, Russia, United States. These are the four flags you typically see being raised during the medal ceremony of major WAG events. So it’s quite noticeable on those rare occasions when the flag of another country is seen instead. In 2007, French gymnast Cassy Vericel placed third on floor and beat gymnasts like 2008 Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa and defending Worlds floor champ Cheng Fei. This year, the Italian flag was raised during the medal ceremony after Vanessa Ferrari’s performance proved good enough for the silver.
By now, most of you will have watched the routines from Worlds, seen the scores, and dissected every single movement of each gymnast. So for this article I thought I would do something a bit different and write it in more of a blog format. I had the chance to attend World Championships this year. This was my first Worlds and I managed to watch the WAG AA final and event finals. I will recount my experience from Worlds; what I saw, what I heard, and most importantly what Marta got up to!
Day 1 – Friday 4th October
I had an early wakeup time – 3 am – to catch my flight to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam, I then took the train to Antwerp. By 12:30 I had arrived in Antwerp, just in time for some Belgian fries. I spent the next hour getting lost, apparently reading maps is not my strong suite. I finally found the hotel and got ready for the AA. I met up with friends from the gymternet and all together we got some more Belgian fries and discussed our hopes for the meet. We then got onto the tram and headed off to the arena for the women’s all-around final.
View from my seat Day 1
We got to the arena and it was already packed. There were various stalls selling a variety of things from: Adidas gear to champagne. At this point we ran into Bruno Grandi; he was busy chatting to a judge and briskly disappeared into the crowd. We then went into the arena and I was blinded by the white podium. I had seats in the corner behind uneven bars. As we waited for the start of the competition, they had zombies entertain us on parallel bars, yes it was as bizarre as it sounds! My attention turned to scanning the arena and my eye caught sight of Al Fong’s shiny bald head. With him came in Brenna and Alicia. I was surprised by the fact that their seats were not that great. I thought they would either sit with the delegations or in the VIP section, but no they were sat in the midst of the general public.
Anyways, the competition started and I was temporarily blinded by the American leos, they sparkled in all the wrong places!! (I have now seen videos and pictures from the AA and they were not as bad as they looked live). In any case the competition started and I pretty much only took pictures of gymnasts chalking bars, the prize definitely goes to Shang Chunsong!
Shang Chunsong chalking bars
How many Russians does it take to chalk Rodionova’s bars?
In what felt like no time, the meet was over. Simone was crowned the AA champion and my first day at Worlds was over… or so I thought. As we excited the arena we saw the shiny white USA jackets heading our way. Marta was leading Simone by the shoulders and holding her like she was her own personal trophy. Any fans who tried approaching were met by Marta’s glare and she told everyone that “we are late” [insert Marta accent]. Then out of nowhere Steve Penny comes running yelling Marta’s name. Steve Penny running after Marta was probably the most comical moment of the day.
Day 2 – Saturday 5th October
View from my seat Day 2
Saturday started out slowly with a nice sleep in. I then left the hotel around lunch time to meet up with friends. Lunch consisted of Belgian fries again and then we were off to the arena. The arena was just as packed as the other day, but we figured we would do a lap just in case we got to meet someone that wasn’t Bruno Grandi. This time we ran into Al Fong, who was sporting some neon green sunglasses! Apparently he has a few international fans (or maybe they just liked his sunglasses); either way he was stopped for photographs a few times. After our Fong encounter we headed in to watch some more creepy zombies on parallel bars. This time my seats were in front of vault.
Looks like Marta finally found a seat (credit USAG/John Cheng)
Before the start of vault finals I glimpsed Marta’s hair out of the corner of my eye. She was descending the stairs towards the seats right in front of vault, but before she managed to get into her seat she was stopped by a volunteer. She showed the volunteer what appeared to look like a ticket, but it must not have been as she was directed away and towards the delegation seats on the second level. Marta doesn’t give up easily as she stood her ground for a good minute before she left.
McKayla and Simone having a chat during the medal ceremony
Vault finals went pretty much as expected, with Maroney claiming the title, and right after the event they had the medal ceremony. McKayla and Simone spent most of the time having a chat. Once that was finished the gymnasts were directed straight to the media/interview zone, which was right next to where I was sitting. Kohei Uchimura, probably bored of always getting the same flowers, ran towards vault, jumped onto the podium, and threw his flowers into the crowd. The rest of the male gymnasts joined him and once Simone realized what they were doing, she also jumped on and threw her flowers. McKayla looked less keen to depart from her flowers, but she still threw them. It’s a shame that none of them were former baseball players, as the flowers didn’t make it past the first few rows. Simone and her coach made their way back to the training gym to prepare for UB fianls, but were caught by the influx of pommel horse finalists. They had to shuffle their way out, backs to the wall. Meanwhile, McKayla did the most interviews I’ve seen any gymnasts do, by the time she was done with interviews pommel horse finals were about half way through!
Simone and Aimee trying to get out of the pommel horse crowd
The others finals went on and certain cheering could easily be distinguished. I could hear Beth cheering during the entirety of Max Whitlock’s pommel horse routine. I hope BBC turned her microphone off, because it was loud! Then during UB finals I could hear Aly cheering on Kyla and Simone.
Yao Jinnan signing autographs
The finals came to an end and we headed out of the arena. As it was light outside, the gymnasts were easier to spot. Right outside the arena were the Chinese gymnasts signing autographs. I got Shang Chunsong’s autograph and honestly from up close she didn’t seem as young as she does on screen. I thanked her in my rusty Chinese and she replied and then ran off to catch up with the rest of the team. We remained a bit longer outside to see if we could meet anyone else. Yao Jinnan came out and I was surprised by how willing she was to sign autographs and take pictures, considering that 30 minutes earlier she was crying. Honestly, all the Chinese girls were extremely nice and even though they understood no English they nodded and smiled all the time. The Americans then came out and seemed in a rush to leave again. I have to say that McKayla has a lot of fans even in Europe and they all went crazy when she came out. The coaches promptly moved her along, and surprisingly she seemed a little scared of all the attention. She grabbed onto Simone’s arm and they were all moved away. Al Fong seemed as chilled as ever, strolling out in his green sunglasses. Lastly, Aliya
USA delegation leaving arena, plus Al Fong’s neon green sunglasses (credit @whiptotriple)
Mustafina came out. Anna Rodionova ran to her and hugged her, but Aliya seemed more preoccupied with getting as far away as possible from all fans. Aliya could give Marta a run for her money in the evil glare department. Once she reached her coaches she dropped her bag and literally ran away before any fans got a chance to approach her. Aliya’s departure heralded our own as we got on the tram to return to the city centre.
Day 3 – Sunday 6th October
When I had originally booked my trip I thought I was flying out of Antwerp and therefore didn’t have enough time to watch Sunday’s event finals. A week before my departure I discovered that I was actually booked on a train not a plane. Then, on Saturday I did the math (Mustafina style) and realized that I had time to go watch event finals. So Sunday morning I packed my bags, did some touristy things, ate some Belgian waffles and then headed to the arena super early on a hunt for tickets. Online it had said they were sold out, but when I got there they had standing place tickets left. I bought one and soon realized why all the seats were sold out: pretty much all of Holland had come to support Epke Zonderland! I watched some of the warm-ups and the crowd went crazy when Epke came out. Pretty much every breath he took was followed by screams. To waste some time before the start of the competition, I walked around the different stalls and found one for International Gymnastics Camp with Oksana Chusovitina and Svetlana Boginskaya. It was amazing to get to meet these gymnastics legends!
View from my seat Day 3
In the end I sat next to my friend, as there was a free place. We sat on the second level next to the delegations. The Chinese girls were sitting near us and wearing normal clothes, it made them look so much older! I spent most the time watching each delegation’s reaction to their compatriots’ routines. The Korean gymnasts had two large flags and they went crazy when Seon Hak Yang went up on vault. Tatiana Nabieva (who I didn’t recognize straight away because her hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed since 1994) and the Russian MAG team sat down right next to the Chinese girls after beam finals. They had the most neutral reaction to Aliya being crowned BB World Champion, honestly I don’t think I saw them even smile.
Whoever picked the music to play during BB fianls needs a new day job. The music was depressing, though I guess it fit well with the strangest BB final I have ever seen. To fill in enquiries the coach would walk towards our side of the arena paper in hand. First came Aliya’s coach, then Simone’s, then Kyla’s. After Larisa’s routine, I saw Octavian Bellu walk towards that part of the arena and for a second I thought he would also fill an enquiry but instead he just stormed out.
Right before the start of parallel bars, I saw Marta running down the same set of stairs as Saturday. This time she made it to the front and sat in the first row. Guess she had actually booked tickets to sit there, even though as a delegation member she gets free access to all events. Parallel bars seemed to go on forever and coupled with beam finals being a mess, floor finals started with more than a 30 minute delay. I managed to watch Vanessa’s floor routine before having to leave to catch the train.
I am so glad that I decided to go to Worlds! It was so worth it, getting to meet gymnasts, watching the competition unfurl right in front of my eyes, and seeing what goes on behind the scenes. I also had never been to Belgium so it was nice to get to see a new country. I think a special mention needs to go out to the commentator who not only made us laugh with his mispronunciations of gymnast’s names, but also kept us entertained! During the MAG floor medal ceremony he told the men “smile you know you are on camera right” and then during parallel bars finals when Epke prepared to compete he told the girls to “get in line”. Honestly, I would get in any line that led to Epke! I hope you have enjoyed my recount of my experience from Worlds, I tried to remember all the little moments so that you could all get a feel of what its like to be at Worlds.
Hailing from powerhouse Elite gym WOGA, Briley Casanova had an impressive club career prior to joining Michigan as an NCAA gymnast last season. After becoming the level 10 regional all-around, vault, bars, and floor chamion, Briley successfully qualified to Junior International Elite in 2008. At U.S. Nationals that year, she placed 5th on beam and 12 in the all-around, earning a spot on the Junior National Team. In 2009, Briley finished 8th in the AA at VISA Championships and went on her first international assignment to the Junior Japan International competition, where she placed 3rd all-around. Casanova competed as a Senior International Elite in 2010 and 2011. She then returned to level 10 in 2012 in preparation for NCAA gymnastics, finishing 10th AA at the Nastia Liukin Cup and winning the vault title at J.O. Nationals.
Briley made the decision to graduate High School early and join the Michigan gymnastics team last spring for their 2013 season. She made an immediate impact, competing on vault throughout the season and working her way into the beam and floor lineups. She hopes to compete as an all-arounder this year and we can’t wait to watch her grow as an NCAA gymnast. Briley took the time to talk with us about her transition to Michigan, her Elite career, and her eclectic taste in music-
What has been the biggest adjustment for you from the Elite world to NCAA gymnastics? From Texas to Michigan?
Wow, that’s a very difficult question for me to answer! I guess out of everything so far that I’ve experienced, having the team atmosphere around me every day has been an adjustment. I had that with club too, but it’s a very different vibe in the gym everyday. With the number of girls in the gym being so small we’re definitely closer to each other. The whole team aspect and team environment has been a great adjustment and I’ve loved being part of it.
Obviously the weather is very different, but it honestly wasn’t that big of a difference because I expected so much worse-snow, wind, hail. We get that but it hasn’t been as bad as I was expecting. I think I brought some of the Texas heat with me! We’ve had a few warmer seasons than average so it hasn’t been too bad and not too big of an adjustment.
Why did you choose the University of Michigan?
Briley competing on beam for Michigan last year (via gymnastike.org)
Oh man there were a whole bunch of reasons that contributed. The coaches for sure. I loved Bev (Plocki) and the whole staff. At the time Shannon Welker was recruiting me and now we have Dave (Kuzara) too, which is a bonus to have another assistant coach. I actually liked the distance from Texas to Michigan, I’ve lived in Texas in the same house my whole life and wanted a new environment. I wanted a change and having a new place outside of the south. I love the south but wanted to expand my horizons. Also, the athletic environment is very prestigious here and I saw the investment that the school put into the program. The facilities and resources we have here are amazing.
What made you decide to graduate early and start with the team last year?
That wasn’t the original plan, actually. I was asked by the school, by Bev, to do that. I had a whole bunch of High School credits out of the way because I like to stay ahead of things so I was able to graduate early. I guess what really made me commit and go through with it was to experience college ahead of my 2013 peers and I felt ready to move on. The one thing that made me sad was one less season of gymnastics overall, but another season means more pounding and wear and tear. So for my health that’s one less year of doing that. Using the next 4 years in college, I want to use my time to have a successful career.
What are your individual and team goals for the upcoming year?
Team goals: #1 we want to win the NCAA National Championship! We unfortunately didn’t make the super 6 last year-we were one place behind-but we really, really want to make it to super 6. And having another solid performance overall, we were Big 10 season champions and that was a big improvement from previous years from what I’ve been told.
Individually, I want to compete in AA this year. I really want to get in the bar lineup. It’s a challenging event for me but I’m working hard to make the lineup. I’d like to hopefully get a few titles here and there and improve each meet.
How do you manage to balance training with being a student at the University of Michigan?
It’s difficult, but honestly I have so much academic support here. That’s another reason I picked this school-tutors, advisors, mentors for everyone. They help you so much, give you a schedule, plan what you want to accomplish each day. They help you organize yourself so when you have free time you can dedicate yourself to that free time and you can dedicate yourself to your studies. They keep you motivated. I could not do it on my own, I get a lot of help. As a team, we keep each other on top of things and do homework. My friends help me and we help each other because you can’t do it on your own.
Are there any changes to your routine or upgrades we can expect to see from you this year?
On floor, I’m working on a double layout. That’s my big goal to get on floor-I’ve done it in the past but in level 10 I didn’t compete it much. Also cleaning up my leaps-I changed my leap to switch-side wolf full so just cleaning that up is what I’ve been working on.
On bars, I don’t have any upgrades planned. We changed my dismount. Right now I’m doing giant-360-double back.
On beam, I changed my dismount to gainer pike off the end and it’s more clean and consistent (than the gainer full off the side). I added a side aerial as well.
On vault, for right now I’m still doing the yurchenko full, but I’m working on a yurchenko 1.5.
What was the highlight of your Elite career? Favorite place you traveled to?
Briley and Nastia at the 2012 Nastia Liukin Cup (via usagymnast.com)
I loved doing Elite so much so it’s really hard for me to pick! I think the Nastia Liukin Cup was one of my favorite experiences because it was at Madison Square Garden. It’s such a rare thing for people to get to do that . Having Nastia there and supporting everyone, I think that was just the coolest thing to have a fellow teammate with a meet named after her and be able to compete in it. And the U.S. National Championships in Dallas in 2009, hometown crowd. I think that’s when I felt my best so that was one of my favorite meets ever.
We went to Italy for a camp when I was younger and that was awesome. Oh and my coaches were French and her old gym had a meet, so me and Sophia Lee competed at the Massilla Gym Cup in France. That was really cool too. When I was younger, we also went to switzerland for a camp and that was really fun as well. Oh, and I’m also forgetting Japan in 2009. That was one of my best Elite meets ever.
Can you tell us a bit about Spring Creek Academy? What advantages did going to a specialized school like that give you in terms of your training and for life in general?
Well the classes are significantly smaller. The limit is 8 so you get to do a lot more hands on things like labs and outdoor activities compared to regular high school…well, actually I don’t really know what regular high school is like! You got a lot of individual attention, you could shout of answers whenever you wanted to and had a lot of involvement with the teachers. There was less room for distraction and we all had an activity we did more than 15 hours a week so we were serious in class.
With all the great gymnasts that come out of WOGA, is there anyone at your gym that you particularly admired or were inspired by?
Oh my gosh that’s hard! I honestly just can’t think of just one. I was just so lucky, beyond what many other people get to experience. Obviously, I think the people I got to know the best were Nastia Liukin and Rebecca Bross. Katelyn Ohashi inspired me, I don’t care how old she is she inspired me every day. Carly Patterson, Hollie Vise…I feel bad I know I’m forgetting some! WOGA was a team even though we had individuals that shined. There are so many people to choose from.
Are there any skills that you have always wanted to learn and/or put into your routines?
A harder dismount on bars-double double or double layout. Or a ginger full, not a lot of people can do it. I used to try it when I was little playing around and I’d really love to do that one day in another life.
If I could do a double double on floor that would make my life. Anything super cool or difficult would be super awesome.
What’s your major/what do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m an undecided major currently. I’ve had so many things run through my head so I’m not sure yet. One thing I didn’t know about myself is I took an anthropology class this summer and really loved it. I would maybe, eventually focus in anthropology. There are lots of different specialties within anthropology too. Also, I had this crazy dream since I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a forensic pathologist or something in that area. Or something in pharmaceutical sales if I wanted to go the business route.
If you could be in any TV show or movie, what would it be and why?
Oh man, cool. I’d have to pick Dallas-the new one. I haven’t seen any of the old ones but if I could just guest star on that show that would be epic. I’m not sure which character I would be.
What’s an interesting fact about you or something fans would be surprised to learn?
Well, I feel really boring because I can’t think of anything off the top of my head! Maybe the type of music I listen to. Pretty much anything-dubstep and I love crazy, loud rock and pop music, country, clubby funky dance music. Indie bands too, Lady Gaga. I have such a wierd range of music and love Hawaiian music too. My mom grew up in Hawaii and went to school there when she was a kid, so she would play Hawaiian tapes in the car on the way to practice. I think it’s really cool to listen to.
Also, I’m really into social media-facebook, twitter. I love that stuff.
2010 U.S. Nationals (via gymnastike.org)
Favorite Food- Anything sweet! With sugar or chocolate or any dessert item.
Favorite Book- The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. That book changed my life-it helped me open my eyes and mind, it’s a whole self-awareness thing and helps you become more positive and open to life. It improved my life and changed my views on how to get through hard times and enjoy good times. I recommend that everyone reads it, it’s basically the secret to life.
Favorite Musician/Band- Black Keys, Maroon 5, The Beatles, Beach Boys
Super Power you wish you had- Gymnastics gets you close enough to flying so I’d like to try something else. I’d love to have the superpower to be a professional choreographer and I’d like to know what it feels like to be a super awesome dancer.
Favorite skill to perform- Since I got the new gainer pike off beam that’s my favorite right now.
Dream travel destination- I’ve had the fortune to go to many cool places, but maybe Iceland. It looks really cool with all the natural springs and stuff.
Favorite gymnast- I think Mary Lou Retton, she was the first American to win the Olympics and set the bar for everyone.
How your teammates would describe you- I’m actually quiet most of the time, I’m not the most outgoing person at first. They would describe me as really serious, normally I don’t talk during practice much and am very serious and passionate about what I do. I’m very dedicated, I would hope that they’d think I’m dedicated. Serious, quiet, but very happy. I smile and laugh a lot.
How your coaches would describe you- I definitely get down on myself easily. I’m very self-critical and critical of how I perform. I don’t think I’m negative, but I get wound up in my own thoughts. I think too much maybe! I guess I get in my own way sometimes.
With Worlds coming to a closer earlier today, gymnastics withdrawal is already setting in. This week’s Championships was filled with the usual triumphs, tears, surprises, and upsets that come with any gymnastics meet, and we will all undoubtedly relive it all again and again on YouTube in an attempt to assuage the withdrawal. Antwerp featured the debut of some of the potential stars of the quad, and it also featured some of the sport’s veterans who were back to prove themselves once again. Here are my most – for better or worse – memorable moments from this year’s World Championships.
The “Redemption” Theme
Air Maroney (via usagym)
McKayla Maroney doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, and she (rightfully so) made that clear in some of her post-Olympic interviews. Her comeback was for herself, not for proving anything to anyone. But, you also get the feeling that no matter what happens, she is never ever missing that second vault again. Maroney came in as a (but perhaps not “the”) favorite to win the vault title, and she did it by nailing the same two vaults she performed in London over a year ago. Not that she needed a medal to prove it, but I’m glad Maroney now officially holds the title as vault champion in 2013. Sandra Izbasa was in a similar situation on floor. She was the 2008 Olympic champion on the event but fell metaphorically and literally short of medaling again in 2012. Unfortunately, Izbasa’s fate would not match that of Maroney’s, as she once again fell on her final tumbling pass. But in such an endearing fashion, Izbasa got up, smiled genuinely at the crowd, and broke into an “I can’t believe this happened again” laugh to herself.
Maybe it was her jam-packed first pass, or maybe it was her captivating music, but Ellie Black’s floor routine is one of my favorites of the meet. She manages to fit in a 2.5 through to a triple and choreography that fits the music, making her routine an absolute delight to watch. And speaking of jam-packed first passes, Victoria Moors reverted back to her fan-favorite Assassin’s Tango music to debut her double twisting double layout, or, The Moors. After missing the skill in prelims, Moors nearly stuck the tumbling pass during all around finals and is now the proud owner of an eponymous skill with an “I” difficulty value. Seeing both her and the crowd look absolutely elated when she landed the tumbling pass was one of the highlights of the meet.
The World Championship saga of Larisa Iordache was one of the heartbreaks of the competition for me. In 2012, Iordache was slated to be one of the all around medal contenders for the London Olympics. A few injuries and setbacks later, and her individual medal hopes diminished as she watched her veteran teammates contend for event final podium spots. Then it seemed as though 2013 could be her year, after competing well at the European Championships and using World Cup meets to unveil one of the most difficult beam routines being done. But it was on that event in Antwerp during the all around competition and event finals that her medal hopes once again disappeared. Iordache finally got her chance to see the Romanian flag being raised when she secured the bronze medal on floor with her high energy routine, but the disappointment from her earlier performances could still be seen on her face. With her strong beam and floor routines and an ever-improving bar set, I hope her floor bronze was just the first of many individual World and Olympic medals for Larisa.
Ross and Biles after going 1-2 in the AA (via usagym)
There are some gymnasts you watch with absolute uncertainty as to whether or not they will hit. There are others you watch and think “well she’s hit her routine twice already, she’s probably due for a fall on this one.” During these World Championships, Kyla Ross and Simone Biles were not those gymnasts. The styles of Ross and Biles are completely different; Ross’ elegance and long lines are typically referenced, while Biles is the powerhouse of the duo. But both gymnasts had a way of looking like they were almost on autopilot, and their competition routines turned into a carbon copy of one of the hundreds of routines they had hit perfectly in practice. Even on the final day of competition during event finals when maybe just a hint of lethargy was showing, neither American gave the impression that their consistency was wavering.
Aliya Mustafina Few gymnasts have a presence in the sport like Aliya Mustafina. She went from being the “new kid” on the scene in 2010 to the “comeback kid” post knee injury in 2012, all while gaining the respect and admiration of her fans and peers alike across the world. Now, 2013 has seemed to bring its own new set of challenges for Mustafina. Between the changes in her coaching regime to the illnesses and injuries that have plagued Round Lake, it was only slightly surprising when she showed up during prelims not looking like her usual self. Two falls and a shaky beam set later, and many started to doubt her medal capabilities in Antwerp. Then, in her typical fighting spirit she has shown so many times before, Mustafina came back with a vengeance during the all around to secure the bronze medal. Another bronze medal was in her future on the event she dominated last year in London, but it was on beam – the only event on which she had yet to win a World or Olympic medal – where she finished in first. With the addition of her new beam title, she now has four World/Olympic golds, four silvers, and four bronzes. One important lesson to be learned: never count out Aliya Mustafina.
Great Britain: Bars
Two routines I can’t get tired of watching are the bar routines from Ruby Harrold and Becky Downie. Bars can become a very “cookie cutter” event, with many of the gymnasts throwing the same release moves or transitions. So it catches your eye when someone performs a move like the Zuchold transition that Harrold does midway through her routine. As far as Downie’s routine is concerned, she stands out in the way she swings the event. Most of the top bar workers in the world have the same fluid, flighty way of performing on the event. On the other end of the spectrum, when bar routines are performed incorrectly, they often look muscled. Downie has a way of aggressively attacking the event while still making it look fluid and effortless. It wouldn’t surprise me to see either gymnast on the uneven bars podiums throughout the next quad.
In a sport so often dominated by only a handful of countries, it’s always exciting to see a new flag being raised during the medal ceremony. Italy isn’t an “unknown” by any means, and their gymnasts have been in medal contention for years now. But it was nice to see Vanessa Ferrari come away with a medal on floor, especially after coming so close at last year’s Olympics. She attacked her tumbling and was her usual expressive self during her dance, so it wasn’t surprising to see her end her day on the medal podium. She and teammate Carlotta Ferlito were also equally impressive on beam. Ferlito hit impressive sets in prelims, all-around finals, and event finals – something few gymnasts can say during a meet in which the beam became somewhat of a splatfest throughout. With impressive performances from its veterans and a crop of younger talent waiting in the wings, Italy has the potential to shine this quad.
The 1991 World Championships was one of the pivotal buzzed about pre-Olympic year meets that was supposed to set the stage for the following year’s showdown on Barcelona. Many people remember it for the classic all around battle between eventual winner Kim Zmeskal and Belarusian Swan Svetlana Boginskaya. But another battle was brewing off the medal podium- a battle many should have paid more attention in the lead-up to the 1992 Games. In the 5th and 6th place spots and separated by only .05 were Tatiana Gutsu and Shannon Miller, two gymnasts who would become the stars of the all around in Barcelona.
Now one of the most decorated American gymnasts of all time, Miller was still a rookie at her first World Championships in 1991. She finished third out of her teammates in the all around, with Zmeskal winning and Betty Okino placing 4th. But one thing she showed that lasted her well throughout her career was her consistency.
Right now, we’re in the middle of the 2013 World Championships, and Simone Biles’ name is now associated with a very small group of gymnasts who have managed to qualify for the all around and all four event finals in a single World Championships. Most recently, Russia’s Aliya Mustafina accomplished this feat at the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam. But the last American inducted into this group of “five finals gymnasts” was none other than Miller.
Miller left 91 Worlds with two medals: a silver with the team, and a silver on the uneven bars (an event on which she tied with Gutsu). But she performed confident, steady routines on all of the events (all of her scores were 9.8+) and gained valuable world experience that she would no doubt use the following year. So in honor of her incredible performance, here is a look back at Miller’s routines from the 26th Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.
After months of anxious anticipation, gym fans can rejoice as the 2013 World Championships have finally arrived. The lead-up to Worlds hasn’t been without its fair share of drama, as it featured rigorous selection processes for each country and an injured list that goes on for miles. Nevertheless, we’re being treated to a week-long competition full of some of the top medalists from the London Olympics, first-year seniors, and potential medal contenders from outside the usual powerhouse countries. Of course the battle for the coveted all-around title has been well debated on the gymternet. Will Simone Biles come out on top after her win at US Championships? Or will it be now-veteran Kyla Ross? Or Aliya Mustafina, who won five medals at her last World Championships?
But there’s another exciting Worlds conversation happening on the gymternet – a conversation sparked by an uneven bars skill that sent everyone atwitter on Twitter. Chinese gymnast Yao Jinnan debuted a new release skill that was named after one of her fellow countrymen years ago. Called the Gaylord salto when performed on men’s high bar, the Mo Salto is one of the most difficult releases being performed on uneven bars today. So who is the gymnast after which this daredevil skill is named?
Mo Huilan was one of China’s standout gymnasts in the mid 90s and was one of the members of the 1996 Olympic team. As the story goes (and NBC’s fluff piece tells it much better than I do), Mo and her sister Huifang both attended “tryouts” to be selected to train at the national training center. Her sister was chosen, she wasn’t, but she talked the coaches into letting her stay and train. Eventually her sister retired, and Mo became one of the leaders of the Chinese team. Mo competed as a senior during the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until 1994 that she started really making a name for herself. At the 1994 Asian Games, she won a gold medal with the team and on all four events, as well as a bronze in the all-around. Her gold medal-winning bar routine included the debut of her eponymous skill. The next year at the World Championships in Sabae, she came away with three medals: a silver with the team, a silver on bars, and a gold on beam – an event on which a fall cost her an all-around medal.
At the 1996 Olympics, Mo and her teammates finished just outside the medals in fourth place during the team final competition. Given her first and second place finishes on bars and beam at 95 Worlds, Mo was expected to contend for titles on both events. But a mistake during her compulsory bar routine and another mistake on beam during team finals that prevented her from making those event finals. However, she did qualify for the all-around, vault, and floor finals. She was in the group of leaders heading into the last rotation of the all-around, but a few unsteady landings put her out of medal contention by only .018 (I almost forgot how close the scores were during the 10.0 system- the top three scores were all within .158 of one another). Much like her routine in the all-around, her floor routine during event finals was also filled with bobbles that kept her out of medal contention. Although her quirky choreography did coin the term “funky chicken with a smile on the side” from John Tesh. She didn’t come away from Atlanta empty handed though. After performing almost textbook perfect double twisting yurchenkos throughout the Games, Mo proved once again to be one of the best vaulters during event finals and earned a silver medal in vault finals.
Mo’s release move from nearly two decades ago has still only been performed by a handful of gymnasts, so seeing Yao Jinnan (hopefully) perform it in competition will make for an even more exciting uneven bar final. But will it be enough to take over the top spot on an event recently dominated by Russia on the World and Olympic stages?
World Championships Medal Podium Preview: Part 1 – The All-Around
Article: Elisa Emanuelli
Edited by Jackie Congress
The best time of the year is upon us (no, not Christmas)- it’s World Championship time!! Podium training has started and we are close to the start of the biggest gymnastics competition of the year. Gymnasts have travelled all over the world to try and claim medals in the all-around, vault, uneven bars, beam and floor exercise. As this is the year after the Olympics, there is no team competition and each country can bring a maximum of four gymnasts with only three competing per event in qualifications. This is a great time to see new faces make a name for themselves on the world stage and to see the return of veterans.
At the end of Friday, October 4th there will be a new all-around champion crowned, as reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber is not competing this year. Who is going to win the most coveted of prices, the all-around gold? Here is a brief look at the gymnasts with the greatest probability of reaching the all-around podium:
There is no doubt that Mustafina is one of the front-runners for reaching the top spot on the podium. She has had a highly successful year, beating Larisa Iordache at the European Championships and also winning the AA at the World University Games, Russian Cup, and Stella Zakharova Cup. The latest news from the Russian Camp is that she is feeling unwell, but I don’t think that this should hold her back much. She also has some upgrades on uneven bars and a new floor routine.
Uneven Bars Upgrade:
Newly crowned US National Champion Simone Biles will be a certain challenger for gold; if she doesn’t let the international stage and nerves affect her, that is. We saw this happen at Classics where she fell on all events and ended up not competing vault, but she definitely proved she could hit when it counts at National Championships. She finished with a 60.500, the current highest AA score this year along with Kyla Ross’ 60.500 on day 2 of US Nationals. In terms of difficulty, she currently has the highest scoring potential and it might be even higher if she adds in upgrades.
Iordache was Mustafina’s biggest rival at this year’s European Championships, but her low scores on uneven bars held her back from winning gold. It might be the same problem that holds her back at Worlds if everyone else hits. Also, she was taken out of a friendly meet in the Netherlands a few weeks ago because of an undisclosed injury. However, this injury didn’t seem to hold her back at Romanian nationals where she won the all-around. With a great meet, she could be a surprise contender for the AA gold.
Video of Iordache at Romanian Nationals:
Larisa training on BB at Worlds:
While Biles has the difficulty, Ross has the execution. At the US Nationals, difficultly prevailed with Ross coming in second, but Kyla did win day 2 over Biles by over half a point so anything could happen. She has no planed upgrades for Worlds so for her to win she has to be flawless or others have to make mistakes. She has plenty of international experience and is a consistent competitor, which will definitely be an asset in Antwerp.
Kyla training UB at Worlds:
Jinnan is the only gymnasts from the 2011 Worlds AA podium to be competing at these Worlds. In 2011 she finished in third, but this year she will definitely be looking to improve on that result after a disappointing 2012. Jinnan won the all-around at Chinese Nationals this year and then tied for 1st at the Chinese National Games with a 57.801. She has some unique moves, especially the mo salto on uneven bars!! She unveiled the skill at a recent competition, but fell, it will be interesting to see if she decides to keep it in for the all-around.
Another strong competitor from China is Shang Chunsong. She finished behind Yao Jinnan at the Chinese National Championships and then tied with Jinnan at the Chinese National Games, finishing with a 57.801. She has competed consistently throughout 2013, also participating in the Tokyo and Anadia World Cups. Her strong performances on beam and uneven bars could propel her to a great all-around score at this year’s World Championships.
The only competitor making my list outside of the “Big Four” is Swiss gymnast Giulia Steingruber. She proved her all-around potential at European Championships, finishing in fourth, but since then has made various upgrades. She dominated Swiss Nationals, winning the all-around with a massive 59.400! Sure her score is probably inflated (as are all scores from national meets), but she has a high scoring potential and I think she has a good chance of finishing in the top eight.
As is the case with all gymnastics competitions, anything can happen. While it is unlikely that a gymnast from outside the big four will win this year’s all-around, the year after the Olympics is probably the one with the highest chance. Lets hope for an exciting, injury free competition next Friday!