Interview with Roxana Popa

7:32 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments recently interviewed Roxana Popa. Popa was born in Romania but moved to Spain at the age of six. She was an immediate asset to the Spanish team. She was a member of their junior European team and continued her success as a senior. In 2013, she finished sixth in the all around and seventh in the floor final at the European Championship. She competed at both the 2013 and 2014 World Championships where she competed in the all around finals. At the end of 2014, she had a knee injury that revealed a torn ACL that was likely an old injury. Since then, Popa has had multiple surgeries and is now recovering from a procedure in October. She did return to competition at the 2015 World Championships where she competed on the uneven bars. Popa was best known for her prowess on the uneven bars and floor exercise.

Hello, Roxana. Thank you very much for answering our questions. Could you please tell us how you started doing gymnastics?
I started at age 4. I was a very hyperactive girl that used to climb the furniture around the house, jump, and run non-stop. My mother did rhythmic gymnastics and that's why she realized that I needed to relieve that energy, and not in the same gymnastics discipline as her. So she took me to the gym where I then trained for about two years.

When we got to the gym, the coach (Ciprian Cretu) said that I was very young and when I heard it I began to cry, and I don't know in what order things happened, but according to what my mother told me, I began to climb a rope that was in the gym while they were talking, and when the coach saw me he asked me to stay that afternoon. At the end of the training session he told my parents that I had a talent that could be clearly seen, and that's how everything began.

How was your life in Romania?
I honestly don't remember much. I remember my father used to work abroad because he was a general officer in the armed forces, he was in the navy, and my brother and I used to stay with my mother. Later on, my father came to Spain and soon afterwards it was my mother the one who left, leaving me with my maternal grandparents and my brother with my grandmother on my father's side. Some time later, when they saved enough money, they were able to bring us to Spain by bus.

When did you move to Spain? What was the hardest part in a personal level? And about gymnastics, what was the hardest part of starting training here? What differences did you notice in the ways of training between Romania and Spain?
We came to Spain when I was about 6 years old, so because of the kind of training that you do at that age, you don't really appreciate any changes. Training was not hard for me at all. The first place we went to was to the Spanish National Training Center in Madrid, hoping I could train with Jesús Carballo. I also had a letter of recommendation from my coach in Romania, but once again I was too young, and they sent me to the best place I could go to until I turned the age to prepare for the junior category, and then return to the Spanish National Training Center to start my gymnastics career seriously. But it didn’t turn out like that for different reasons that I partially don't know, they didn't want me to leave, and they got into my head that the National Training Center was a horrible place where you get beaten up, and many more things. Today, after five years, almost six, of being in the National Center, and after two Olympic cycles in which the gymnasts have changed, I have never seen or have been through anything like that. Moreover, I am who I am thanks to them.

In a personal level, it took me quite a lot to fit in at school, not because of the language but because of my classmates. Let's say I had a difficult Primary school, also because of the teachers, who never quite understood my situation; we didn't own a car yet and I had to take three buses to get to the gym every afternoon, and another three to go back home, coming to practice at around 7 p.m. and leaving at 9 p.m., and getting home at 10-11 p.m., and then shower, dinner, and homework and more homework. I always fell asleep while doing them, and my parents used to try to finish them so that I didn't have problems at school ... But of course the following day the teachers, despite the efforts of my parents, would realize that it wasn't me who had done the homework, so they tore the sheets out of my notebook and I had to start all over.

How and when did you start training in the Spanish National Training Center in Madrid?
I got there because of my elbow injury after the club responsible for the injury left me in the lurch, I was not useful for them anymore. The second surgery was carried out thanks to María José San Martín (from the Spanish Gymnastics Federation), she was the only person who got involved in my case and got Dr. González to see me in the Deyre clinic. He got in touch with Dr. Tabuenca, who was my surgeon, and they laid down the details of my surgery. Then I started my recovery in the National Training Center in Madrid with the support of the technical team, and they were the ones that, besides giving me a second chance to live a normal life, got me back to gymnastics.

What are your best and worst memories to date in gymnastics?
My best memories... I think the best of them all was, on the one hand, the American Cup; before entering the competition arena it came to me the memory of everything, that a few years before I would be retired, I simply thought: "Look where you got" and I began to cry, trying to hide it, but I did cry, I admit it. On the other hand, the first competition in which I competed after [the injury] of my cruciate [ligament], the Novara Cup, when I finished my uneven bars routine. Once again, the words of my mother -which she hasn’t stopped repeating since March, when I had the second surgery on the knee -came to my mind: "You're strong, we'll get through this, you're going to make it."

The worst moments are related to several things, starting with the second surgery in my elbow, to how I spent the week in the hospital suffering the physical rehabilitation. The day after the surgery they removed the cast. It had been placed with my arm extended and with the palm up, and they started to move my arm by force. I could not stop crying out in pain and begging them to stop, but it was the best for me. And with that came the disappointment to all of the people around me (except by my family obviously), which made me realize that when they get something out of you you are useful, but when you are not, they give you the heave-ho.

On the other hand, I remember María Paula Vargas' injuries. I became very attached to her, she was my role model and I remember it hurt seeing her go through both injuries, and seeing her getting out of both helped me face my knee injury.

The last and worst moment I might say, because I've been aware of all of it, has been seeing in March how the Olympic Games slipped between my fingers after so long and so much ... It is painful.

Of all the places you've competed, what has been your favorite or where would you like to compete again?
American Cup. It has always been something I have dreamed of. I remember watching the competitions when I was little, with the flag in the background, and saying: "I want to be there."

What is your favorite event? And your favorite skill? What skill or combination would you like to do in the future?
My favorite event... Honestly if I had to choose it would be between the uneven bars and floor. My favorite skill... I could not say: double layout on floor, the tumbling pass with the whip backs... I enjoyed doing them. On the uneven bars, the full twisting double layout dismount, the Shaposnikova... I have no favorite elements as such. I would like to pull off the elements that I once worked on: the full-in full-out on floor, the Amanar vault, the full-in full-out layout dismount on bars, etc.

Do you choose your own floor music? With what kind of music do you feel most comfortable?
I usually suggest and search for music. The latest ones were chosen for me by Sara Bayón, coach of the national rhythmic gymnastics group.

What gymnasts do you admire?
I don’t admire just one. I admire many who, like me, have their story, and having gone through similar things you understand them better and you appreciate the effort.

Could you please explain the problems you've had in your knee? Will you have surgery again? (Note that the questions for this interview were sent to her before her latest surgery and she didn’t respond until after the surgery) Could you please tell us why, and how long do you think it will take you to recover?
In December 2014 I broke my cruciate ligament in the AMG [Mexican Gymnastics Open], I had surgery and they fixed it, they took a piece of my lateral meniscus and another one was sewn into the medial meniscus. I started training slowly, and in March this year without a bad fall, for no apparent reason, I broke my medial meniscus, the one that was sewn. I had surgery again in April and the loose piece was removed. For some reason I had the feeling that my knee went out rather frequently and even when doing things such as walking faster, or running, or going downstairs... I went back to have Dr. Leyes, our surgeon, and he concluded that there was hypermobility in the cruciate ligament and had a considerable pivot. I had an MRI but nothing could be seen in it because what was used to secure the ligament was a piece that caused a stain on the screen. The only option was to have surgery again but this time a tendon would have to be brought from the morgue. I have had the tunnels enlarged, the tendon has been moved through the tibia to limit the pivot and reduce the chances of that movement breaking it again. The surgery went better than expected, there were no complications. I was in the hospital under observation from Friday, the 14th of October until Monday, when I left hospital, and afterwards I spent two weeks with the splint at home. Over time, what is sought this time is a little stiffness to avoid the hypermobility of the tendon, so physical rehabilitation will be much slower and controlled. The rehabilitation period will take more or less about 9 months, and for top competition, some more.

Were you able to train in recent months?
Not since March, when I broke my meniscus and started with the bad sensations again.

Overall you've been rather unlucky with injuries, besides the change of nationality, etc. What keeps you motivated to keep doing gymnastics?
It is not motivation, you know you have to fight your way out of each of them, because when you get more mature, gymnastically speaking, you know that sooner or later you will get injured. No athlete enjoys getting injured nor undergoing physical rehabilitation, we like to train, but without a proper rehabilitation that will not be possible, so the love for the sport you do is what makes you keep going.

What are your plans for the future in gymnastics? What do you think could be your next competition? Do you think you will be able to participate in the next European Championships, that will be held in your home country Romania?
Unfortunately, no. I'd love to, but first comes my knee, and my recovery is the most important thing. To date I have lost the most you could lose at a competitive level, so everything else can wait.

Besides gymnastics, are you working or at school right now?
I'm at school, since last year I left it to prepare for the Olympic Games.

Have you ever considered competing NCAA or has any American University offered you a scholarship? Have you perhaps received any offer from an European league? Do you follow American collegiate gymnastics, European leagues, or like a team in particular?
I've never thought about it, but I have seen some competitions, and it's a joy to watch, it is a very nice way to take your gymnastics career to another level when you decide to stop competing elite.

What would you like to do when you retire?
I honestly don't know, I've thought a lot about becoming a choreographer, it is something I've always enjoyed and it would be another way to stay involved with gymnastics. Apart from that, I have also considered some things outside of gymnastics, but I can't make up my mind.

What do you think of the situation of Romanian gymnastics now that they didn’t qualify a team for the Olympics, or that Cătălina was the individual representative?
I think that they are not machines. Gymnastics is a sport in which you can lose, and it's OK. I think it is disrespectful when people criticize their losing streak. Behind the misfortune of failing and not qualifying, there is a lot of work by newcomers and inexperienced girls, but also by the veterans and the coaches. It's a sport, no one is programmed to always win.

We have seen that you have a leotard with your signature, and we loved it when we saw it. Is it still for sale? Could you give us a link in case anyone wants to buy it?
Yes! A new leotard has been recently released, actually Gimar Gym has done a great job. It may sound weird... But even I wanted to have it, lol. They have it on their official website, here:

Out of curiosity and because we have seen your snapchats, how many cats do you have?
I have 7, yes 7. I love them, why lie. My parents brought home the first cat we had, who unfortunately got lost, but I brought home all the others.

We've seen you post quite often on social networks. Do you interact much with the people who follow you?
Yes, whenever I can. Actually I don't usually look at the messages but when I do I always try to answer. I've always tried to give people the idea that they won't bother me if they write to me; on the contrary, I like it, in the end I am a normal girl.

We are going to translate this interview into English since you have many fans abroad, is there anything you want to tell them?
Little more than what is already known, thanks for the support received during these past two years from all over the world.

And in general, is there anything else you would like to add or you want to tell us?
About my leotard, it is not known exactly when, but a new one will be released soon.

Thank you very much, Roxana. We wish you the best. :)

Thank you GimnastasNet. You can read the original Spanish interview here.


New Talent Shines at Top Gym

9:36 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

The annual Top Gym competition took place last weekend in Charleroi, Belgium. It's a junior competition that proves to caattract some future stars. Past attendees include Jordyn Wieber, Amy Tinkler, Jonna Adlerteg, Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar, and Axelle Klinckaert to name a few.

The star of the meet was Célia Serber of France who will turn senior in 2019. She won the all around with a 51.833. I couldn't find video of her vault but early in the year, she had a full twisting Yurchenko. On bars, she shows a strong Jaeger but has some form issues on her Pak. She dismounts with a lovely full twisting double layout! There wasn't much difficulty yet in her floor routine (she opens with a double pike) but it was a great performance. Beam was where she really caught my eye. She has an air of confidence on beam and has some actual moments of choreography that remind me of Claire Martin meets UCLA. She scored a 13.450 (5.7D) for the routine below.

Naomi Visser of the Netherlands finished in 2nd with a 51.699. She will join the senior ranks in 2017. Her best scores were on vault and floor exercise where she showed that the Dutch philosophy of lower difficulty with clean execution and excellent performance value is alive and well.

Olivia Cimpian of Romania, senior in 2017, has been making a name for herself recently and is one of the hopes for Romania next quadrennium. She had multiple falls on balance beam which cost her the gold medal but earned her a bronze. In event finals, she won vault and floor gold with silvers on bars and beam. I realized that she seems to be the gymnastics love child of Ana Porgras and Larisa Iordache making her floor enjoyable to watch with the highest difficulty of the competition. She shows both a piked and tucked full in during this routine. 13.550/5.4D for the routine below

Other notable mentions goes to Adela and Vendula Merkova. Vendula finished the all around in 4th place and earned the bronze medal on uneven bars. Her sister, Adela, earned an individual medal on floor where she finished in 3rd place. The Czech team shows a lot of potential for the coming quadrennium. On floor, they seem to be a bit like the Netherlands with lower difficulty but eye catching, sometimes tear jerking, choreography. They also turn senior in 2017.

Honorable mention for the meet goes to France's Alisson Lapp who has a lovely floor exercise. Between the French performance here and at Massilia, it is a reminder that French creativity and flair is alive and well. Lapp will be a senior in 2018. She earned the bronze medal on floor for this exercise with a 12.850/5.1D.

Additional video can be found at Belgian Gymnastics
Follow @belgiangym for news on Team Belgium


LSU Ready to Attack

10:35 PM Arabian Punch Front 1 Comments

LSU finished the 2016 season with a historic second place finish. They have slowly but surely been creeping up in the ranking and for the past year or two, have had a "this will be the year" vibe. Unfortunately, it hasn't been the year. Not yet. But, the Tigers are proving they'll be in the running. The key for the team this year is depth. The athletes have said that they have more athletes than in the past ready to go on each event. This is pre-season anything can change, but as of right now, these girls are looking fiece.

Returning athletes: Julianna Cannamela, Sydney Ewing, Sarah Finnegan, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick
Watch for: Freshman Ruby Harrold is going to be an asset on every event and threaten for an all around spot as a freshman. In training videos, she shows a very solid 1.5TY vault valued at a 10.0. Kennedi Edney is also shown in the videos doing a 1.5TY. Sophomore Lexie Preissman spent the bulk of last season injured but this may be the year for her to make the lineup with either her FTY or DTY. McKenna Kelley also debuted a front handspring front pike half off vault. It's a new vault for her but I expect her to make the lineup (she may exhibition at first then make the lineup).
Cannamela's spot is likely the one most in danger. Ewing has a 10.0 vault. Finnegan's spot is precarious as well but she would need the spot for the all around. The other 2, Gnat and Hambrick, are most definitely safe. Hambrick has shown an upgraded 1.5TY and Gnat continues to show her strong DTY.

Uneven bars
Returning athletes: Sarah Finnegan, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick, Lexie Priessman, Shae Zamardi
Watch for: Ruby Harrold will slay us all with her phenomenal routine complete with her unique van Leeuwen to Zuchold. Kennedi Edney shows a lovely Hindorff. There are also clips of Erin Macadaeg on uneven bars.
The 5 returning athletes are pretty stable barring injury. Gnat is potentially the weakest link in the lineup but needs this for the all around. Harrold will most likely sneak right into this band of 5. Edney would most likely be next in line should any of the girls get injured or need to rest.

Balance Beam
Returning athletes:
Julianna Cannamela, Sydney Ewing, Sarah Finnegan, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick, Erin Macadaeg
Watch for: Beam has been LSU's nemesis for the last 2 years causing them a spot in the Super Six and causing them an SEC Championship. So this may be one of the places with lineup changes. They're returning their entire lineup. Again Harrold may be able to make the lineup. There are also clips of Priessman and Lauren Li training on beam. Li reportedly had a 9.9 at the intrasquad with a very impressive routine with split layout stepout and gainer layout full dismount. McKenna Kelley did beam at the most recent intrasquad as well.

Floor Exercise
Returning athletes: Sydney Ewing, Ashleigh Gnat, Myia Hambrick, McKenna Kelley
Watch for: Yes, yes, Ruby Harrold. She has an interesting potential for passes with a double arabian and front double full. Edney showed a lovely floor routine at the most recent intrasquad with a high and well landed double arabian. There are clips of Priessman and Finnegan doing double layouts. In earlier videos, Lauren Li was training a piked full in. The landing was a little low but it was also earlier in preseason. Zamardi has done floor a few times last year and is shown again working her double arabian. Given the strength of tumbling of her teammates, she'll have to work hard to make the lineup. Sophomore Katelyn Szafranski exhibitioned last year on vault and there are videos of her on floor in the intrasquad with a score of 9.9.
In the most recent intrasquad, it actually looks like Kelley is working on a full in dismount which would be all amounts of insane.

All Around
Returning: Myia Hambrick, Ashleigh Gnat
These 2 will most definitely continue with the all around. Gnat may be taken out if for some reason her UB scores are really, truly, significantly hurting the team.
Watch for: Finnegan is probably next in line for me. She did the all around last year but given her past injuries and unsteady balance beam, where she's a crucial member, she went back down to 3 events. She's shown on floor a lot so I think they're grooming her for the all around either for next year or if Gnat for some reason is no longer doing all around. Macadaeg mentioned that she's training all 4 events but despite her excellent floor exercise score last year, she didn't make it into the lineup again. A full twisting Yurchenko will also be tough to break in this current 10.0 vault lineup. Harrold may exhibition on floor and beam and may be able to work into those lineups for injuries or for resting other athletes. She'll definitely need to be groomed for the all around for next year when they lose contributing routines from Ewing, Gnat, and Zamardi.

LSU will have their Gymnastics 101 Showcase on December 12 and their first meet will be January 6 against Georgia.


Get to Know WOGA's Sloane Blakely

8:56 PM Arabian Punch Front 5 Comments

At the 2016 Secret Classic, there were quite a few juniors that caught my eye. One of them was new elite Sloane Blakely. She trains at WOGA under coaches Tatyana Shadenko and Ryan Roberts. She caught my eye on floor where she held her own with a particularly strong piece of music with powerful tumbling to match. She vaulted, and stuck, a lovely full twisting Yurchenko. Many on the gymternet first noticed her beam when she placed first at the 2016 Level 10 Junior Olympic Nationals. As a newcomer to the elite scene, there weren't very many interviews with the young talent. I had the chance to speak with Sloane and her mother about gymnastics, WOGA, and her hopes for the future.

How did you get started in gymnastics?
I started with dance and my mom was looking for activities to do other than our daily schedule so she signed us up for gymnastics and ever since then I enjoyed it and it's been my passion. I was 5 years old [when I started]. I did [try and do gym and dance together] but then after a little bit, my gym schedule started taking over and I just stopped doing dance and continued in gymnastics. [Dance] helped me with my coordination and helped me with the dance parts of my routine on floor, of course, and beam as well. I did ballet, tap, and jazz. I liked jazz the best.

What's your favorite event?
My favorite event is vault. I like vault because I get to fly, it's a really fast event but it takes a lot of power and I love to use power to fly high and try to stick the landing.

When did you first realize you were good in gymnastics?
In compulsories whenever I was just starting, I was starting to get first place a lot in a lot of the meets and I, then I thought, "Wow. I'm getting better at this" and I just started to propel from there.

Sloane scored a 13.450 for this routine on Day 1 of the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships. She finished 11th on balance beam at this meet.

What is your weekly schedule like with training?
Monday through Thursday we have morning practice from 7:30 to 12. Then we have school from 12 to around 4. We start gym at 4:30 and we end at 7. On Fridays, we start at 7:30 and go until 11:30 and then after first practice, we go to school (we don't have second practice). On Saturdays, we practice 8 to 12.

What was the hardest skill for you to learn?
The hardest skill for me to learn was probably my Tkatchev. Well, I was working on it a lot. I wanted to do it by myself but whenever I wanted to go, I kept doing it with my coach. Then finally I felt it. I felt how to do it. I was like "Oh now I get it!" And then I went for it and I felt so good.

Have you had any obstacles to overcome in gymnastics (injury, mental block, losing skills, issues during meets, fear, etc.)? And how did you get through it?
This was when I was transitioning from compulsories to optionals. I had a mental block on back tumbling and it really made me upset. The way I got through it was I worked with my coaches a lot and they gave me certain drills to do. I continued to stay focused on my goals and I trusted in the Lord and knew that He would bring me through this.

How do you feel like the last year went, looking back on Classics and P&Gs?
I think it went well for my first time to be at Classics and P&Gs. I didn't know what to expect and my coaches were preparing me. They were happy with the way I did and they were very encouraging for me. At Classics, I hit 4-for-4 and at P&Gs I hit 8-for-8 so I was very pleased and happy with myself.

Sloane Blakely at the ranch during the summer of 2016, where she first qualified elite.

What are your goals for this season and for the future?
This season, I want to make it to P&Gs again. I want to have cleaner and higher difficulty routines and I also want to make national team. For the future, I want to represent USA at Worlds or maybe even the Olympics.

How was your first National Team Camp? 
It went well. It was a good experience. I got to see how they train there, how the daily schedule went, and I met new people. The coaches gave me corrections and I learned new approaches and new techniques on ways to perfect my skills. The biggest thing I learned was to listen to the corrections and just to fix it as best as you can. If you don't fix it right away, do drills and keep trying your best to make the correction.

Were you a little nervous at first or mostly excited?
I was a little bit nervous. I didn't know how it would go. I didn't know what to expect but once I got the feeling of how it was there, I was excited and happy that I was there.

What upgrades are you working on?
On bars, I'm working piked Tkatchev, Gienger, double layout full. On vault, I'm working on a 2.5 twist. On beam, I was working some dismounts like double arabian and full in off the beam. On floor, I'm working double double, double arabian piked, and double layout.

Some really exciting upgrades! Check out that endo!

Any pre-meet rituals or superstitions?
The ritual that I normally do is, with my family, we always come in a circle and we pray, asking for protection over the meet and asking the Lord to help me do my best. I also have time to myself to just think and concentrate on my routines and meditate on the way I would like the meet to go.

Who are some of your role models and why?
One of them is Simone Biles because she is always high spirited even if something doesn't go the way she would like it to, she's still bubbly and happy. She has a lot of talent and skills, she has a lot of height, something that I would like to have. She was very encouraging because one time, I was kind of nervous and she came up to me and said, "You can do it! You'll be fine. You got this!" and she was just very encouraging towards me and kind.

Sloane Blakely with 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles

What's your most embarrassing memory in gymnastics?
One time at a meet, I was either level 5 or 6, I was getting ready for floor. I was supposed to go second but as the first girl was going, I got a bloody nose! I had to go last even though I was supposed to go second. I did well on my floor routine even though I had a bloody nose but then they forgot to call me up on one of the awards so I had to receive my medal later. They were like "Sloane Blakely please come up. We forgot to say your name."

Have you ever trained at the WOGA Plano location? What are the differences?
The gym there is a little bigger. They have more sets of bars and beams. They have an extra area where you can warm up. Something different, you know that some of WOGA's best gymnasts actually trained there. Being where they trained is kind of cool and it's motivating.

Mrs. Blakely: When we (WOGA) host a meet, we host it at our Frisco location and when the girls or the boys can't train, they always go to the Plano location. It's really good because it takes them out of their norm. Whenever you get out of your comfort zone or your home, it just helps to, I think, heighten your preparedness, and awareness around your skills. It's kind of like a mini meet. It's not a real meet or anything but when they go there they are taken out of their comfort zone a little bit even though they know people there, they're teammates, it just helps them because the equipment is a little different. It's not what they train on every day. I think it's really healthy. It happens maybe once or twice, every 3 months you're probably going over there.

All in all, we are WOGA. The fact that we have 2 locations doesn't really make a difference, we are one team. I think that WOGA Frisco is going to be put on the map when you look at the caliber of gymnasts that are coming up. At the end of the day, it's not that Frisco has to be called out because WOGA is WOGA. We're one gym. We're one family.

Do you train with your sister? What's it like training together?
Most of the time, we're in the same group. Whenever we train together, it goes very well. We encourage each other and it's like a different bond than just your teammate. We're not only teammates, we're sisters. So we know what's going on. We know what facial expression means, what and how to help each other out.

Sloane with her sister, Skye

Mrs. Blakely: This year was interesting because before Sloane made elite and before Skye had made Hopes elite, they were both Level 10. So technically they were in the same groups at the same competitions and we had not had that before. They were on the podium together on beam at one of the meets. So that was pretty interesting to have them get the exact same score on beam! I'm kind of glad that Sloane is moving it forward and we don't have to have them both in the same session, same competition. The way that we approached them being in the same age group, we told them they are Team Blakely and no matter what the result is, we're family.

Sloane: I do give her advice sometimes if I see her doing something, "Oh maybe you should try it this way" or "Try doing this drill before you go." Sometimes we're upset with each other, as sisters can be, but we work through that and we know that we help each other and we make each other better.

Mrs. Blakely: Skye had gone to the developmental camps last year and Sloane couldn't go because she had an injury. So Skye had experienced camp at the Ranch before Sloane did and Skye was able to give her some "Hey. Here's what you're going to expect when you get there" experience.

When you get home, do you have to try to stop talking about gym?
We have our stories of the day. We talk about how the day went, of course. Sometimes we do bring gym into it but we talk about other stuff. We don't have to say let's stop talking about gym.

Mrs. Blakely: We actually want to know. We have a pretty standard routine when they get out of training. We pick them up and do a high and low discussion. What were your highs today and what were your lows today because we don't get a chance to be with them during their training and we want to know what's going on, what's bothering them, what went well today, what didn't go well today. Because so much of gymnastics is very mental and we have to make sure we're in tune with where their heads are and just keeping them grounded and helping to push through some of the challenges that they face or celebrating the victories.

Skye is 11 and she made Hopes Elite this year. So she definitely has big aspirations as well so it's always interesting to have two daughters in this sport. We stay quite busy.

Thank you to Sloane and the Blakely family for this interview. Wish you the best of luck in the future and can't wait to continue to follow your career.


Partial Roster 2016-2017

11:17 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

A list of freshman from the Top 20-ish schools. I was initially hoping of making full rosters so we could see who signed an NLI, who swapped throughout the years, etc. but that project may have died. I may add the current sophomores to this. Check the college commits page. That will be udpated with the Class of 2020 commits.

Class of 2016Class of 2015
Wynter Childers
Madison Desch
Shea Mahoney
Abby Armbrecht
Jenna Bresette
Amanda Huang
Avery Rickett
Caitlin ColeAngelina Giancroce
Ariana Guerra
Notes: Amanda Huang transferred to Ohio State for her sophomore year
Avery Rickett ? medical retirement
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Christina Berg
Courtney Cowles
Heather Swanson
Charlie Dembo
Haylie Hendrickson
Brittany Robertson
Skyler Sheppard
Danielle Spencer
Shannon Farrell
Isabell Hutchins
Jenny Leung
Maddi Leydin
Lauryn Mattson
Notes: Christina Berg '16 was Auburn
Robertson is no longer at Arizona. Dembo, Hutchins unknown
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Michaela Burton
Hailey Garner
Sarah Shaffer
Jessica Yamzon
Mackenzie Anderson
Sydney McGlone
Kirby Rathjen
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Katie Becker
Gracie Day
Kendal Moss
Samantha Cerio
Emma Engler
Taylor Krippner
Emma Slappey*

Telah Black
A'Miracal Phillips
Notes: Christina Berg '16 switched to Arizona
Slappey is a red shirt freshman
Boise State
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Isabelle Amado
Courtney McGregor
McKinley Pavicic
Sarah Means
Shani Remme
McKenna Morrell
Maddison Nilson
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Cassidy Keelen
Rachael Mastrangelo
Emily Howe
Sofie Seilnacht
Sylvie Seilnacht
Chelsea Shu
Alex Dudschus
Mariah Peterson
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Maddie Karr
Courtney Loper
Samantha Ogden
Claire Kern
Kaitlyn Schou

Grace Broadhurst
Diana Chesnok
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Maegan Chant
Rachel Gowey
Amelia Hundley
Alicia Boren
Amanda Cheney
Lacy Dagen
Peyton Ernst
Ashley Hiller
Sierra Alexander
Notes: Chant graduated in 2015, signed NLI in 2016.
Peyton Ernst was medically released
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Rachel Dickson
Sabrina Vega
Caroline Bradford
Gracie Cherrey
Sydney Snead
Jordyn Pedersen
Notes: Pedersen deferred to 2016
Alexis Beucler (2016) changed commitment to NC State.
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Rae Balthazor
Lindsay Dwyer
Karen Howell
Brittany Jones
Julia Hutcherson
Lizzy LeDuc
Brielle Nguyen
Haylee Roe
Rachael Donovan
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Kennedi Edney
Ruby Harrold
Ashlyn Kirby
Julianna Cannamela
Sarah Finnegan
Mckenna Kelley
Lexie Priessman
Kaitlyn Szafranski
Notes: Harrold deferred to 2016.
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Lexi Funk
Maggie O'Hara
Madison Osman
Polina Shchennikova
Olivia Karas
Emma McLean
Sam Roy
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Casey Betts
Ivy Lu
Kristen Quaglia
Ryan Stach
Rebecca Taylor
Rachel Cutler
Selena Ung
Julia Huebert
Nicole Rogalski
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Alexa Clark
Sierra Hassel
Taylor Houchin
Kami Amemiya-Shows*
Sienna Crouse
Catelyn Orel
Megan Schweihofer
Kelli Chung*
Megan Kuo*
Notes: Shows, Chung and Kuo are red shirt freshman
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Jade Degouveia
Maggie Nichols
Brehanna Showers
Alex Marks
Nicole Lehrmann
Megan Thompson
Oregon State
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Isis Lowery
Brianna McCant
Mariana Colussi-Pelaez
McKenna Singley
Sabrina Gill
Halli Briscoe
Kaitlin Campbell
Destinee Davis
Lena Greene
Jaime Law
Maela Lazaro
Alyssa Minyard
Mary Jacobsen
Elizabeth Yu
Notes: Gill deferred to 2016
Penn State
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Tess McCracken
Kristen Politz
Mikayla Waddell
Sabrina Garcia
Mason Hosek
Jessica Jones
Amber Autry
Madi Heckman
Gianna LaGuardia
Peyton Schuller
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Kaylee Cole
Aleeza Yu
Taryn Fitzgerald
Hailee Hoffman
Dare Maxwell
Ashley TaiNicole Hoffman
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Anna Glenn
Grace Glenn
Felicia Hano
Katelyn Ohashi
Madison Preston
Macy Toronjo*
Madison Kocian
Kyla Ross
Maria Caire
Gracie Kramer
Giulianna Pino
Mercedez Sanchez
Matteah Brow
Stella Savvidou (Jan)
Nicki Shapiro
Nica Hults*
Notes: Kocian and Ross signed with the class of 2015 but deferring to 2016
Biles '15 is a professional athlete
*Nica Hults to start in Jan of 2017 (or the mystery continues)
Toronjo is a red shirt freshman
Shapiro and Brow are not on the 2016-2017 roster
Class of 2016Class of 2015
Melissa Reinstadtler
Kim Tessen
Shannon McNatt
MaKenna Merrell
Erika Muhaw
Sabrina Schwab
Mykayla Skinner
Macey Roberts
Notes: Skinner is deferring to 2016
Hannah Miller '16 was initially verbally committed to Utah but signed NLI for BYU
Roberts is a transfer from Maryland for the 2017 season


Remembering the Road to Rio

12:26 PM Arabian Punch Front 2 Comments

For as long as we can remember, the slogan/hashtag for Rio was Road to Rio. Great Britain's hashtag was #everyroadtorio and for the longest time, I couldn't understand it. It wasn't until I saw each gymnast compete at this Games and had time to reflect that I realized what it meant. Every gymnast, or athlete for that matter, has had a different path that brought them to the Rio Olympic Games. For some, their arrival at the Olympic Games seemed inevitable. For others, it was a fight to the last minute to earn their federation's spot. Some were returning Olympians, some were first time Olympians. They all ended up in the same place but each journey was different. I just wanted to take a moment to remember some of these athletes and their magnificent journey to Rio.

I'm not quite sure when I first noticed Giulia Steingruber but I did and I'm glad. She became a senior in 2011 and made event finals on vault at both the European and World Championships. At the time, she was vaulting a Rudi (front handspring 1.5) and a Tsukahara full. She finished 5th in vault event finals. Steingruber was selected as Switzerland's sole representative in London 2012 and knew she needed to hit big vaults to make the vault event finals and have a shot at a medal. She upgraded her second vault to a Tsukahara double twist which she unfortunately fell on and finished 9th, just outside of the top eight spots that make an event final.

But, yes, you read that right. A Tsukahara double twist. That vault was quickly abandoned and for 2013 worlds, Steingruber was back with a new vault. A double twisting Yurchenko. This vault is the favored vault of most gymnasts and if able, gymnasts can upgrade to the ever elusive Amanar or two and a half twisting Yurchenko. However, shortly after learning that, Steingruber suffered from a case of the "twisties." For unknown reason, gymnasts (and other athletes like cheerleaders or divers) develop this fear of twisting and loss of air awareness. Hoping for a few international vault medals, Steingruber was suddenly held back by this mental block. She would vault again but downgrade to a full twisting Yurchenko and suffered a few injuries at competitions sustained on vault.

With divine healing power and fighting spirit, Steingruber was back and dominant. She was training a new vault - a handspring double twist which is not currently in the Code of Points. Steingruber was also rapidly upgrading floor exercise to a difficult routine that would hopefully challenge for a medal.

Steingruber came to Rio with a solid chance for a high all around finish, and a possible vault and floor exercise medal. She decided not to show the new vault and made the vault final anyway. Even better, she showed two clean vaults, a Rudi and a solid DTY that has challenged her time and time again to earn the bronze medal. This was the first ever women's artistic gymnastics Olympic medal for Switzerland. It was a long road from upgrading vaults to switching vault families, having to deal with injuries and mental blocks, but Steingruber did it and has the medal to show for it.

Ellie Black is one of the returning Olympians from London 2012. She turned senior in 2011 and has just continued to improve since then. in 2012, she was given one of the largely contested spots for Team Canada. Her vault and beam routines are what helped her most compliment her teammates and earn that spot. In London, Black qualified to the vault final and helped Team Canada to their highest finish ever - 5th place. She later got injured after doing her first vault in the event final. Since then, Black has just continued to improve. She's attended Universiade Games, Pacific Rim and Pan American Championships, numerous World and Challenge Cups, and has steadily built her name to where it is now. In Rio, the team just missed out on the team final but Black was able to finish the all around final, which she did not make in 2012, in 5th place, the highest ever for a Canadian woman.

Sanne Wevers turned senior in 2007. Yep, 2007! She was eligible for the Beijing and London Olympics but missed out in 2008 and had injuries that essentially kept her out of the running in 2012. Sanne Wevers was always known as a great beamer. In 2013, she had one of the top scores on beam and was a hopeful to make the beam final at worlds. Unfortunately, she fell immediately on her round off full twisting back handspring mount and had several errors afterwards and did not qualify for the event final.

From there, the troubles continued. She remained one of the best beam workers in the Netherlands and in the world but was either unable to make finals due to poor performances or then fell in finals to miss out on medals at both European Championships and World Championships. The end of 2015 is when Wevers' luck seemed to change. At the World Championships, she won the silver medal on balance beam. She continued in 2016 with an upgraded routine that she was able to hit more often than not, both domestically and internationally. At the recent Olympic Games, to the delight of many, Wevers' won the gold medal on balance beam.

What an accomplishment for Sanne Wevers! She went from missing out on 2 Olympics to helping to qualify a team to the 2016 Games and winning the Netherlands first individual women's artistic medal.

There were a few 2014 Youth Olympians that are now 2016 Olympians. Flavia Saraiva, Wang Yan, Ellie Downie, Sae Miyakawa, Seda Tutkhalyan, and Tutya Yilmaz all had a great showing at these Olympic Games.

Tutya Yilmaz of Turkey finished 10th in the all around at the Youth Olympic Games. She also made the vault and floor finals. If you've followed me, you know that I consider Yilmaz the gymnastics love child of Aly Raisman and Alicia Sacramone. She has that same level of attack and poise when competing and has very difficult skills, the highlight being her back handspring layout full on beam. I've wanted to send her to Brestyan's for training camp to work on her consistency but maybe she doesn't need it. After a long wait in preliminaries, Yilmaz had the beam performance of her life with all eyes on her. She nailed every single skill and dismounted with the approval of a roaring crowd. She finished with a 14.5 (6.3 D) and in 13th place on balance beam.

Seda Tutkhalyan was the all around winner at the Youth Olympic Games. She has since continued to show great potential but struggled with consistency. Tutkhalyan was initially not on the provisional Olympic team but with the confirmed absence of Ksenia Afanasyeva, Tutkhalyan was able to fill the hole. Despite earlier worries of consistency, Tutkhalyan managed to beat out Angelina Melnikova for the all around spot, coming in ahead of teammate Aliya Mustafina as well. She performed well again in the team final. Tragedy didn't strike until the all around final where Tutkhalyan, with a real chance at a medal, fell on her balance beam dismount and twice on floor. Despite the heartbreaking performance there, it is important to remember that Tutkhalyan was a rock for the team for both qualifying and the team finals, helping Russia to just beat out China for the bronze medal.

Wang Yan did well in 2015 but then had a very rough start to her 2016 competitive season. She was always on China's team for her strong floor and vaults though it seemed like event finals were out of the question. After some rest and refocusing, a strong and sturdy Wang Yan returned and proved to be one of the rocks for Team China. She made both the vault and floor finals where she finished 5th and helped China earn a bronze medal in the team final.

Ellie Downie has been a trailblazer for Team Great Britain. In 2015, she earned Team GB their first individual AA medal at the European Championships. At the 2015 World Championships, she helped the team to an historic bronze medal. At the Olympics, Downie was a favorite for the all around final and possible a few event finals. Unfortunately, Downie had a scary fall on floor exercise which took her out of the floor final. She then returned to the arena to finish on vault. Downie had done enough to make the all around final but just didn't have the best day. She did show an upgraded routine with a Patterson dismount on beam but fell. As the sole qualifier to the all around final for Team GB and after such a scary fall, Downie did an excellent job fighting for herself but also for her team. She finished in 13th place.

Flavia Saraiva helped Brazil to an 8th place team finish and earned a spot in both the all around and beam event finals. She withdrew from the all around to focus on beam where she finished 5th. In the team final, Saraiva contributed on both beam and floor helping her to become one of the darlings of this home Olympic Games.

Sae Miyakawa was a vault medalist at the 2014 YOG. She made the Japanese worlds team and helped the team to a fifth place finish. She also competed in the floor final where she tied for 4th. Miyakawa is known for her very difficult floor routine with tumbling difficulty that can rival that of Simone Biles. Due to an error, Miyakawa did not make the floor final. However, she did help Japan to a 4th place finish. Their highest finish in nearly 50 years.

Every athlete has had a different road to Rio, all worthy of celebration. Whose career have you reflected on after watching the Olympic Games?


Adjusting from Elite to UCLA

12:38 PM Arabian Punch Front 1 Comments

We sat down to catch up with Felicia Hano (Fish) as she heads to UCLA in pursuit of furthering her education and partaking in college gymnastics. This is a follow up to our interview with Hano earlier this year, in February. You can read that interview here.

At the time of this interview, Fish had just returned from orientation where she signed up for her Pre-Business Economics Major classes for Fall quarter. Her schedule looks something like four hours of conditioning and training Monday through Friday followed by her classes. “In summer, the team is taking pretty much the same classes. We’re taking German Philosophy and then we’re taking a World Arts & Cultures class. It’s to get GEs (general education requirements) out of the way.”

Fish is currently training at West Coast Elite where she had initially trained before training for elite with Gym-Max. She visits Gym-Max once a week, due to the long commute and has an established mutual understanding of the schedule with Coach Jenny.

Hano’s elite career came to an abrupt end when she was injured on vault during podium training at the 2015 Secret US Classic. She later had surgery for multiple torn ankle ligaments. She spent the remainder of the pre-collegiate season rehabilitating the injury and getting skills ready for her college career. “In college, the main focus is staying healthy. Miss Val (Valerie Kondos Field), Chris (Waller), and Randy (Lane) don’t want me to do anything that I could possibly hurt myself doing. Especially for freshman year after coming off from an injury. I’ll do the skills I’m comfortable with and (can) compete and perform really well.”

(You can also find video of her bar routine on the Gym-Max youtube)

Recovering from the injury was a difficult process as the tumbling star recalls missing just that, tumbling. “I was most happy to get back doing double layouts because that is my skill. Everytime I do them, I love them. That’ll be in my floor routine for sure!” As a freshman, Fish will “test the waters” with her collegiate routine but hopes to “throw some harder skills” during sophomore year when she “feel[s] more comfortable.”

This year, with the help of Miss Val, she hopes to stray from “Choosing Dauntless” to a more serious and character driven routine to add a little flare and sass to her floor performance. “I know what type of music I want. I have songs that I like but it’s the process of putting them together and making sure it all flows together. It’s definitely different than elite because elite I was so straight faced, so focused. In college, and Miss Val knows too, in college, I want to do something a little sassier. So hopefully some smiles in this season coming up.”

When asked about her thoughts on the US Olympic team she beamed with pride, “I’m excited to watch the Olympics especially Team USA because I know those girls on a personal level and it makes me even happier to see their dreams come true.” In regards to whom she was closest with on the Olympic team, she responded with Simone Biles since Simone had been verbally committed to UCLA in the past and would interact with the future class on a regular basis. Fish was especially supportive of Laurie “because she has overcome and gone through a lot with injuries.” She also acknowledged the depth of Team USA by suggesting that they could send three different teams and still to do well.

The UCLA gymnastics team will most likely hold viewing sessions for the Olympics. It would be of great importance to her and Kyla Ross since “Kyla and I have gone to camps and we know those girls and are really happy for them and want to see them do well.”

A photo posted by fishhh💋 (@felicia_hano) on

Fish is excited to join her close friend and former West Coast elite teammate Hallie Mossett, and Gym Max teammate Kyla Ross at UCLA. “I talk to Hallie on a daily basis. We used to train together at West Coast Elite back in the day. I’m really close with her and she told me, ‘If you ever need anything just ask me. If you need advice, just come to me.’” She finds that “familiarity will be around them” and the Glenn twins (Anna and Grace) will make the college experience a memorable one. Her Gym Max coaches, Jenny and Howie will try to attend every home meet to support Hano, Ross, and Team UCLA.

It’s been an inspiration watching you recover from injury and take on other challenges. We wish you luck in your collegiate endeavors as you embark on this journey!

Special thanks to KRAppreciation.


Rio 2016 - Notes from Podium Training

7:52 PM Arabian Punch Front 8 Comments

The Olympics are finally here! While tomorrow is the Opening Ceremony, competition has already started for soccer. In gymnastics, the men had their podium training yesterday while the women had their session today. Thankfully, we had access to the US during training and here are a few notes from the women's session today.

Note: The gymnasts warmed up and then saluted the judges. The saluted routine is the one I'm calling the "competition" routine.

Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman
None of the athletes really went "all out" in terms of performance but the skills were all there.
- Hernandez: Overall hit routine. It's weird to see her not in full Baby Shakira/Human Emoji mode. The dance moves were there. Her tumbling was good, just the front double full was a little questionable.
- Douglas had trouble on all of her dance elements I would say. She fell out of her opening double Y and was in a huge lunge going into the L turn which brought her dangerously close to going out of bounds. Her tumbling, however, was great. Her full in to back tuck was also solidly connected. It wasn't rebounded per say but connected just as well as Ferrari's had been.
- Biles and Raisman were both incredibly solid and hit
- Kocian on floor is so impressive to me. She doesn't need to do it at this point but I suppose that's part of why she made the team. I really like this routine.

There's lots of discussion about the lineup here but there are a few things to consider. First off, it's podium training, everyone competed and the lineups are subject to change. Sure. Secondly, Simone has to warm-up 2 vaults so her going 3rd on floor, gives her a little more time to rest her legs before going again on vault. And, yes, she's last in the vault lineup but warms up first.

Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas,  Aly Raisman, Simone Biles
- Hernandez was short on her warm up DTYs but did well on her competition one. She seemed to twist a little late. Maggie assured Martha that she shows up on competition day.
- Douglas was also short on her warm up vaults but had a very solid stick/near stick in her competition routine.
- Biles has to warm up quickly since she has to do a second vault. Others were still doing timers or FTY when she went for her first Amanar. And stuck it right down the middle. Her competition one was landed offsides and then she hopped out of bounds. She warmed up a Lopez then did a great Cheng. The vault final will really be interesting with Hong working the TTY.
- Raisman! She stuck the crap out of her warmup Amanar. This one was her competition one with just the slightest shuffle. But right down the middle. She tried not to smile after the warmup one but then she saw Simone and they gave each other the largest smiles. It was a sweet moment.

Uneven Bars
Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez
- Raisman usual routine. First off, the girls warmed up full routines on bars and beam. Her first one was head on and loked fine. Her competition one was from the side and looked ... like Aly
- Biles had a few minor things in her routine - leg separation on her Maloney and gets a little stuck in her full pirouette after it. Otherwise, good routine.
Funny moment: Biles gets down and sees Aly without grips but wonders if they have to do another routine. They find out they only need to repeat if they have something to work on and Aly has a huge sigh of relief.
- Douglas hit an excellent routine. She was working very hard to get every handstand and she did. She also did her full difficulty routine with the Chow 1/2 and everything went well, including a stuck double layout dismount.
- Kocian hits a great routine. Martha praises her for going for one of the connections but asks for a little more on her Jaeger release. In her competition routine, she had a little shuffle on the landing. In her follow up routine, she gets great height on her Jaeger, enough to frighten me, though she catches  a little close, and she sticks her dismount.
- Laurie Hernandez went last on this event. One would think she's going last on the event because she won't compete it but Martha hasn't made a decision yet. Sure. Hernandez, though, has a rough routine with her usual leg separation on the stalder full but then she also has a leg separation on her Pak which isn't her usual. The next routine was better and she sticks her dismount. I think she was a little rattled because she was last up for warmups when the "30 second warning" went off.

Balance Beam
Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Simone Biles
Confession: I was maybe 75% focused on beam. Things went well, overall.
- Douglas did ok with some hesitant connections. She hit her full once and the second time had a slight leg up wobble.
- Raisman hit. A little crooked on Patterson but otherwise ok.
- Hernandez was doing well until the second half of her routine when she had one bend at hips wobble and another small wobble. Good double pike dismounts though.
- Biles hit. She went for a second routine and didn't do her second layout step out. Her Barani is her Barani. Otherwise, her full in looks great. Repeated that and it again looked great.

And there you have it. Overall, team USA looking incredibly solid. The big question is who will do the all around.

Aly and Laurie? What about Gabby? Based on today's competition, Douglas is definitely going to be one of the all around gymnasts. She looks better than she's looked for most of the year. Raisman was her usual self, the question being left to the judges on beam connections and execution. Hernandez made things tricky. She is a great uneven bar worker and could have certainly been used in team finals but during bars and after, she got a little nervy. Based on her competition today, I wouldn't put her in the AA and she's a question mark for bars in team final. But what about the whole year before this? This is all true but if you can't handle the pressure in podium training, how will you do when the lights are truly on? Personally, I think Laurie will be fine but I don't think she'll be in the all around.

There's also the fact that Douglas and Raisman are USA's defending all around gymnasts. The same way that Aly competed bars over Maggie Nichols at Worlds 2015 to put Raisman in the all around, the same will likely happen here. It's tricky since Laurie went pro so technically she is marketable but she doesn't have the same fan base... yet!

Speaking of Laurie going pro, I thought it was weird if she wasn't doing AA as well but after seeing the beam lineup, it makes sense. She could possibly take Raisman out of beam finals. Based on the routines we saw today, it'll be tight. And, to be quite honest, I wouldn't count Douglas out on beam either if the other two have any errors.

All I will say is that podium training made me incredibly excited for competition to start!
Opening Ceremony Aug 5, 7:30 PM ET
More of the Olympic schedule - MAG and WAG - can be found here

What did you think of Podium training? Who do you think will be the all around gymnats?


Cintia Rodriguez: I Can't End Like This

11:49 AM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

Personal photo of Cintia Rodriguez

Cintia Rodriguez is a Spanish gymnast that first caught my eye at the 2013 World Championships. Her floor routine was magnificent and her lines and attention to detail really drew me in. She is also a steady competitor on uneven bars, where she has been working towards an original skill - a full twisting Ray shoot to high. I had the pleasure of working with Podcast Asimetricas, a Spanish gymnastics podcast, on this interview and am glad we can bring the translation to you all. You can check out the podcast here.

- For those who don’t know her, Cintia Rodríguez is a Spanish gymnast born in Mallorca on the 16th of November, 1994. She trains at Club Xelska. She is a member of the Spanish National Team and she has competed in 3 World Championships (Rotterdam 2010, Antwerp 2013, and Nanning 2014), 2 European Championships (Sofia 2014 and Bern 2016). We’ve also seen her compete in some World Cups, and in the Italian and German Gymnastics leagues, as well as in the Spanish National Championships and several friendly meets.

- Well, if you want we’ll start asking you a ton of questions, how does that sound?
- I’m pleased to answer

-OK, so let’s start as with everything, from the beginning. How did you get started in gymnastics, how old were you, and why did you start?
- I started when I was 3 years old because my older sister did gymnastics and I would always go pick her up (from the gym) with my mom. I saw her doing gymnastics and I fell in love with the sport. Ever since I started, I haven’t been able to stop.

- Thank God! What are your best memories of doing gymnastics as a child?
- Truth be told, when you’re little you love everything. I loved going (to the gym), I would never get tired despite spending hours there, and also (I loved) learning things.

- And what did you enjoy the least when you were little? You’re saying that you liked everything, but there must have been something that you didn’t like?
- As a child it’s difficult (not to like something) since when you’re little it’s something new and all, you always like everything, but I guess that physical preparation… well, like right now, I hate it!

- So that’s also what you hate right now, physical preparation?
- Yeah!

- When did you realize, or when did your coaches realize that you were good at it?
- Well, actually I’ve never realized that I’m good at it, basically because I’ve never seen myself as better than anyone nor with the ease that others have, but I guess that when I changed gyms at age 8, Pedro (Pedro Mir, her current coach) realized that I had something, that I was special.

- When did you first became a member of the National Team, and what did that achievement mean to you?
- I became a National Team member in 2008, when I competed at my first Junior International, and to me it was… I remember it as something super special because I had the study trip (school organized class trip at the end of the school year) and it was either to go to the trip or to go to the International. And without a doubt I said to myself “I’m going to the International!”

Photo by Cordelia Price at 2013 World Championships

- But of course! I would have done the same thing! And, we guess that going to the Olympics is a dream for all gymnasts, but did it become something that you wanted at some point? Is it a goal of yours?
- Since 2012, when I went to the Test Event and we (the team) almost did it (almost qualified), since that moment yeah, to me it was the main goal, and well, to have been able to go to Rio would have also been the best! Because after Worlds, what you want is to go to the Olympics, but well, it’s also ok if you don’t go…

- Well, there are other things I guess…
- Yeah…

- I guess there are other things that are worth it…
- Right, it’s not everything, but at the same time it is everything… but you always have to look at the bright side and if I’m never able to go, well, I would still have gone to 3 World Championships, which is something…

- But of course! Well, and now Cristina has some questions about the Spanish system and stuff. Tell us, Cristina…
- Yeah, for people who don’t know much about it, Cintia, could you explain for us how does the Spanish gymnastics system works? How are the training centers organized? How often does everybody get together? How do you start training at any of the high performance centers?
- Ok, well, there are 2 high performance centers, that would be the one in Madrid, and also the one in Sant Cugat, in Barcelona. And then in Mallorca we have the Technification Center. And well, if they call you and you want to go, then you go to train in Madrid, but we here in Mallorca… I’m really well, and back then I decided that I didn’t want to go and I stayed here at home. Each center has their own planning, which is more or less coordinated, and once in a while Lucía (Lucía Guisado, the Spanish National Team Coordinator) comes over to test us, or we go over there to do the tests and concentrations.

- And I guess that’s how they decide who represents Spain at each competition, right? With the tests?
- Yeah, yeah, depending on the scores and whatever they wish, you are either part of the team or you’re not.

- Oh, ok. Well, as far as we know, you have psychologists, nutritionists, and other experts that help you. Is that correct? And if so, how often do you see them?
- Well, I don’t know about Madrid, but as for the Technification Center, we have psychologists, physiotherapists, everything, and I guess that you can see them whenever you want, but I’ve never gone to the psychologist so I have no clue.

- Well, from the outside we can tell that all the gymnasts on the Spanish National Team get along really well. Are you close because of something in particular? Are you often told about the importance of the team feeling, or is it something you seek on your own? How does it work?
- Well, each one gets along better with the gymnasts in her center, the ones in Madrid are closer to the ones in Madrid, Barcelona with Barcelona, and so on… it’s only natural, but then when it comes to competing if we are a team, we are a team, and who cares if you’re from Barcelona, Madrid, or Mallorca. If the score is for the team, it’s for the team, you don’t have to be thinking you’re from Madrid and all… we try to think as a team so things turn out better.

- And then also within your Club, the girls that train there also seem to get along very well, right?
- My Club, more than a club is really a family, because we are all really close, we do a lot of activities outside the gym, from a bbq to going to the beach all together… we do a lot of things because it’s really the base of our club, that more than a club we are a family and I know it sounds cliché, but we really feel it. For instance, during the spring we have a festival and us seniors that have attended World Championships have to train with the 4 year olds and help them do handstands, and with their parents being there too… because it’s the goal.

- Yeah, we can see it because of the things you all share in social media, that’s why we were asking. And… what do you think the Spanish gymnastics success is due to? When things go well, what do you think it’s due to?
- Well, I think it can be summarized in the word “work”. When the work is well done, there’ll be results, sometimes better sometimes worse, but if you work with excitement, constantly, and you give it your all, it may go wrong, but most likely it will go well.

- You’re known internationally because of your elegance and your balletic style, have you ever done dance or ballet? Or has it always been within the training regimen?
-Oh, not at all! I’ve only done gymnastics and gymnastics! Actually dancing or doing any other thing I am super pathetic and super clumsy! But since I don’t have big D scores, the jumps, leaps, turns and elegance come out naturally.

- So far, what have been the best and worst moments of your career? What are you the most proud of, and what has been the hardest thing you have gone through?
- What I am most proud of is to have overcome breaking my knee twice, to continue doing gymnastics after 5 surgeries. That’s what I’m most proud of, that I never quit. The fact that I haven’t been able to do, for instance, a Yurchenko ever again… well, it is what it is… I can’t really train on vault anymore because my knee always hurts, but that’s what makes me happy, that despite all that, the pain, the 5 surgeries, having rehab every day, I’m still training. And the worst moments… well, it’s been the surgeries, and about everything else, I’d say I’m quite happy. I can’t complain.

- What element was the hardest to learn?
- The stalder release facing inward with counter movement and full twist in flight to high bar, that is, a Ray with full twist…

- That’s the…
- “The Rodríguez”

- “The Rodríguez!”
- 3 years! I’ve been attempting it for 3 years.

A video posted by Cintia Rodriguez (@cintiia_94) on

- Yeah, I knew you were training something, a transition, I was told… I saw you attempting something, but I wasn’t sure of what it was until one day at a competition, practicing something, you did it, although I think you didn’t compete it at the end, right?
- Well, I saw Cristina Riera when I was little. She was doing it and I told Pedro “I wanna do it!!” and he said, “Well, try it!” and (we started) playing. Eventually the game became “We have to do this because you do it really well." We have tried all along these past 3 years, a thousand combinations, a thousand tactics… how to do it, because it’s actually super difficult and super precise. Eventually, one day, I’m not sure how we figured out the key and we’ve been working on it. Well, some days it turns out better, some days it turns out worse, but it’s really super difficult and the day that I lose focus or the exact moment in which I have to let go (of the bar) and stuff, then I can’t do it because it’s actually difficult and then some other weeks I do it super well. I’ve competed it here, in Mallorca, and I did it, also 2 weeks ago, in France. I did it during training but then it didn’t turn out well in competition. So well… I’ll keep working on it and whenever I’ll do it, I’ll do it.

- We can’t wait to see it and for it to be named after you because you deserve it! And… was there any element that you thought would be hard (to learn) and all of a sudden you just did it?
- Hmm… (she pauses to think)

- There is nothing that easy, huh?
- No, there is not!!

- Everything is complicated in gymnastics
- Oh but the other day, the split ring leap, I did it on the mat, and the coach said, “Come on, now do it on the beam” and well, I fell, but then I did it quite well

A video posted by Cintia Rodriguez (@cintiia_94) on

- You posted a video of it too, we saw it!
- Yeah! So the first attempt I was scared and I didn’t do it, second attempt I fell, and the third one I did it!

- Very well, 3rd time's the charm! And right now, are you trying to increase your D scores? Are you training something new or are you just perfecting what you already have?
- Well, problem was that this week, which was dedicated to do new elements, I was on vacation because tomorrow I start, for 4 weeks, a Level 2 coach course so I was off this week and I couldn’t train, but when I get back I will try to increase my difficulty on beam and bars.

- And speaking of bars, up until a few years ago, grips were not really used in Spain, have you always used them, or did you adapt to them later on?
- I’ve only used grips for a year now. I had never used them before, and when I was 20 years old I put them on!

- Yeah, I never used them! How was the transition for you?
- Horrible! I was telling him (her coach) everyday “I don’t want to wear them! I don’t want to wear them!” Because they don’t help me. The L-grips, they were so hard to do (with grips) even today. I was super happy without grips, but honestly, it was hard also to go out (as in to compete outside of the country) and everybody used them and I didn’t because they didn’t work for me.  And honestly, the only reason why I began to use them was to do the Ray with a full twist because I actually do it better with grips.

- Yeah well, maybe they’ll help you with some things…
- Right now I’m very well (with the grips) but the L-grips are still a little hard to do with grips.

- The day I used grips for the first time, I did a kip and I decided they weren’t for me, so yeah, I guess I can understand.  Well, and about your floor exercise, does the choreography have any meaning? Does it represent something?
- No, not at all. The choreographer puts it together for me and the day after I’m already doing different movements because I tell her “nah, I don’t like this, may I do this instead?” and she says “Yeah, do whatever you want, everything looks good if you do it.”

- So you make it yours…
- Yeah. Actually, anytime I do my floor routine, it is never the same choreography! It’s not the same moves! I improvise depending on the music and how tired I am.

- And, which has been your favorite floor routine of the past years?
- Hmm! I think this one.

- The one you have right now?
- Yeah, the one I’ve had for this past year, I like it a lot, the music and all… and besides this one, the one I had 2 years ago, the 2014 one I think, I also liked that one a lot.

- Which are your favorite apparatus?
- Let’s see, this is complicated! To train, beam, without a doubt, beam is my favorite. But when it comes to competing it, I hate to compete on beam, well, I guess it happens to all of us, because you have a really hard time! But beam is my favorite, and then bars. Although when it comes to compete, I love to compete on floor!

- Yeah, it’s really appealing.
- Yeah!

- How do you feel about the current code? Would you change anything? (She understand that we’re asking about the 2017-20 code and answers accordingly) 
- Well, I actually printed it today. I haven’t completely looked at it yet but there are some things that I find great, that are on our side, like beam D dismounts not being mandatory anymore, for instance, or that leaps and turns are more important…

- Oh, so we’re talking about the code that will be current after the Games…
- Yeah, exactly. And then, also, on uneven bars, it doesn’t affect me at all, but I think it’s great that you can only do 3 elements of the same family! It doesn’t affect me because I don’t have so many similar elements, but there are a lot of gymnasts that I think (their bar routine) is very repetitive and they abuse it, and like this, well, now they have to learn something different.

- And about the former perfect 10 system, do you like it more or less than what we have now?
- I liked the perfect 10 system so much better, but well, what we have right now isn’t bad either, but the perfect 10 was so much cooler.

- And how did it come up to start competing at the Italian and German leagues?
- The German league… There was a man that used to come with his daughters from Germany to vacation in Mallorca and he got in touch with Pedro because they (the little girls) wanted to do gymnastics and from then on, like 12 years ago, a great relationship was established. This man ended up building a gym for his daughters back in Germany and he said “Pedro, please, I started this gym, would you come over with your girls and help us compete so we have a higher level, and in exchange I’ll help you with whatever?” and we were pleased to do it so in 2010. It was the first time I went to the Regional League to help them get to 3rd division, with that team, the Gym Tittmoning, and from there on I began to compete in Germany and I went to the Hamburg Gymnastics to compete and there was an Italian judge. That Italian judge got in touch with me and said that in Italy they needed help to get to 1st division and so I started to go to Italy too. In Germany we never change teams, we always compete for the Gym Tittmoning which has different categories, and in Italy I’ve competed for a different team every year.

- And not so long ago you have competed at Spanish Nationals. Can you tell us how did it go, what were your impressions?
- This National Championships went really bad!

- Well, it happens sometimes…
- Yeah, well… vault I did well, look at that! And floor was the last and truly, I was actually really angry and I didn’t even feel like competing, but I did, and I can’t complain because I didn’t do bad. Beam was a disaster and bars… I made a mistake, and I never make mistakes and that is what made me so frustrated.

- Well, it’s just one competition, there will be more… these things happen! And now I’m gonna leave you with Nines, who’s going to ask you about the future and some other things.
- Ok

- Yeah, I’m going to ask about things that are maybe a little more general. To begin with, how is your normal schedule in a week? How do you make gymnastics compatible with other things?
- Well, I wake up at around 9:30am, and I go to the gym… well, some days I get up earlier and go to English class, then I go to the gym from 11am to 2pm, I eat from 2pm to 3pm, then I work as a secretary from 4pm to 5pm, and from 5pm to 9pm I go back to the gym, and then go back home. [That schedule is] on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Thursdays, I only train for one session and on Saturdays I also only train one session.

- A ha, and you commented earlier that you are taking a Level 2 coaching course, could you tell us more about it?
- I start tomorrow. In 2012, I took the Level 1 coaching course, and I passed and got certified, and this year they offered the Level 2 course here in Mallorca and well, learning new things is always good and despite I don’t want to be a coach. Well, I’m not sure. As of right now I don’t want to be a coach, but I’m taking the course because it’s one more thing to have and it’s important.
[Since this interview, Cintia has started the Level 2 course and is enjoying it enough to reconsider coaching!]

- So, what are your goals for the future, inside and outside gymnastics? What do you want to achieve in gymnastics, and in general with your life?
- That is quite a difficult question!

- Yeah! It is for all of us, yeah!
- In gymnastics, I wasn’t sure… a few weeks ago I was considering this to be my last year but I truly like gymnastics too much and it won’t be my last year. Most likely I will only train one session from now on so I can do some other things… and outside of gymnastics… I’m not sure yet.

- Have you ever considered to continue your gymnastics career at an American University? Is it something that you even consider here in Spain? Do you (the Spanish team) receive scholarship offers, or is it not too common?
- Yeah, I’ve actually discussed it sometimes with Jessica López and her coach, but it’s not something that I have seriously considered… I just think it’d be very difficult, but on the other hand I would like to do it because it would be amazing to experience how gymnastics is felt over there!

- So you haven’t completely ruled it out yet
- No, I’m not ruling it out yet, but I don’t see it as a very viable option…

- And… since you’ve mentioned Jessica, your choice would be Denver University or…
- I have no clue!

- You haven’t given it much thought yet as I see…
- Nope!

- Ok, and lastly, as curiosities, I wanted to ask a couple more things. I’ve noticed that when you (the Spanish team) post videos or pictures on social media, you always write a motivational quote, everybody in the team does it. Is it because of something in particular? Do you have a pact or something?
- No, not at all. They, the ones from Madrid, I’m not sure because they are always posting pictures at the same time and all, so I have no clue. But me, depending on the picture, I come up with a quote and I write it down. I like to write, so I come up with it, and I put it there.

- That’s cool. And another curiosity, what gymnasts do you admire, or who are your role models?
- Without a doubt, for me. Catalina Ponor has always been worthy of admiration. In Bern I was actually able to take a picture with her and I was like “Oh, God! I took a picture with her!!”

Personal photo of Cintia Rodriguez

- Hey, and she with you!
- Yeah yeah… but she started to follow me on Instagram and I had to take a screenshot of that! And also Svetlana Khorkina has always been important to me, and also Nastia Liukin, I’ve always liked her a lot.

- You all have similar styles actually… everyone you mentioned and yourself, just so you know.
- Well, it’s actually the kind of gymnastics that I enjoy. I don’t want to take away the merit from some because it’s incredible what the Americans do! Simone is a beast! And I admire it because I will never be able to do things like that, but I would always prefer a Dutch gymnast like Lieke Wevers to Simone Biles, for instance. Because it’s my gymnastics style and I like it more… because it’s artistic gymnastics, not acrobatic. But that’s just my opinion of how I see gymnastics.

- Yeah well, you and a lot of people, of course… And well, is there anything else that you would like to tell us about your gymnastics or about you? Is there any question that we haven’t asked you? Just tell us whatever you want!
- Actually… I don’t know!

- Yeah open questions like that are a little difficult. Does anybody want to ask her anything else?
- (Cristina) Yeah, I wanted to ask if you’re planning to continue doing gymnastics, but you’ve already said you are and I am very happy about that. But I’m not sure if you’re planning to continue to a specific moment or you’re just going to continue until you feel like you cannot do it anymore...
-Thing is that when training goes well, we always think of continuing, but when training goes bad I always think, “Nah, that’s it, I am done.” And after Nationals, because it went so bad, the first thing I thought was, “It’s over.” But then you think about it coldly and I tell myself “I can’t end it like this, I want to continue competing. If I don’t get anywhere else with the National Team, well, it’s ok, I’ll train for one session and I’ll go and compete gymnastics to have fun and for those who admire my gymnastics to enjoy it… and that’s it.”.

- Thank you! Thank you!
- And also I am really excited because my coach, Pedro Mir, and Jessica’s coach they are organizing here in Mallorca an international competition, and I would like to compete in it. It’ll be in February.

- Oh, that’s interesting! Can you tell us more about it? I love it!
- Well, I don’t have all the specifics yet because Pedro hasn’t told me everything but I know it’s being organized at a big arena, the Palm Arena, where we had Nationals in 2007. It’s going to be on the 17th and 18th of February and so far, there are already gyms from Brazil and the U.S. that are set to compete.

- I’ll be there… it’s around my birthday too so it’s perfect! Thank you!
- I think it’s going to be super cool and a lot of important people are coming over to compete and I would love to compete in it. And well, another thing I would love is to compete in Italy another year because gymnastics there is incredible!

- I also wanted to ask about Italy… how do you manage with the language? How do you communicate with your team?
- Well, I’ve been going there for three years already and spoke to people so little by little you learn and I speak to them in Italian.

- And in Germany?
- In Germany I speak in English if I can and if not, then Pedro translates for me. But Italian is really easy, you understand everything because it’s really similar to Catalonian (language that is also spoken in Mallorca) and it’s really easy to understand. But about competing in Italy, if you guys ever can make it, I recommend that you attend a competition there because it has nothing to do with how gymnastics is here! In Rome, there was a capacity of 12.000 people! It’s incredible.

- We’ll have to save money to go before you retire so we can see you too…
- If I’m in good shape and some club wants me to compete for them, which for now, they do, I’m definitely competing there next year again… I hope!

- Well, then for now we’d say this is it… you’ve been with us for like an hour now
- It was my pleasure

- Please understand that as excited as you were when Catalina Ponor followed you on IG, that’s as excited as we are for speaking to you
- Oh there is no comparison!!

- Yes, yes for us there is. So thank you, really, for being so kind to do this and answer to all of our questions. Thank you so much.
- It’s the least I can do for people that enjoy gymnastics, try to make it more popular and for other people to know more about gymnastics… I’m proud and pleased to help

Thank you, Cintia, for this wonderful interview and for your beautiful gymnastics! And thank you to Podcast Asimetricas for agreeing to do this interview.

Follow Cintia
on twitter - @cintiia94
on instagram - @cintiia_94

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on twitter - @asimetricaspod