Kat Hasenauer Cornetta

Writer. Communications assistant. Coffee drinker.

Category: gymnastics (page 1 of 5)

There’s a kid from Vermont at the P&G Championships! (Plus more men’s gymnastics notes.)

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In traditional media coverage of gymnastics, men’s gymnastics doesn’t get a ton of love. So I figured I would offer some notes on stories I’m watching on the men’s side of this weekend’s P&G National Gymnastics Championships taking place in Anaheim, California.

From the “Kingdom” to Championships

St. Johnsbury, VT. A town of a little less than 8,000 people a few miles from the New Hampshire border. A town best known for building the Fairbanks scale and maple syrup packing. This is not a town a hop, skip and jump away from bustling Burlington. No. This is the county seat and economic center of the region of Vermont known as the “Northeast Kingdom.”

In this small Vermont town trains a two-time Junior Olympic National all-around men’s gymnastics champion.

Nikita Bolotsky of the appropriately named Kingdom Gymnastics will make his first trip to the P&G National Gymnastics Championships this week. He will compete on the Junior 15-16 competition Thursday and Saturday. The two-time Level 9 all-around national champion qualified for his first elite Nationals by finishing sixth in the Junior Elite Level 10 category at this year’s Junior Olympic Nationals.* (See primer below this section for a quick explanation on what that sentance means.)

Sadly, despite him being a two-time national champion on Level 9, there aren’t too many videos of Bolotsky on YouTube. However, recent scores from J.O. Nationals are solid enough to make him someone to watch.

His floor exercise is well-executed. One video that caught my eye was his high bar set, which is not only fun to watch, but showcases solid form (and what can I say, I’m a sucker for release moves.)

Bolotsky also trains at Vitaly Scherbo School of Gymnastics in Las Vegas, which pretty much the exact opposite of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. I’m eager to see how he does this weekend during his first foray on the elite level.

*A quick primer: The Junior Olympics Nationals for men are for Levels 8, 9 and 10. If you wish to compete at the next level – elite – you compete in the Junior Elite division there. You have two days of competition: one where you compete your full-fledged skill filled routines, and another where you compete “technical sequences.” You do well at both and finish in the top 20? Hi P&Gs Championships. If you don’t, you have one last shot: the Elite Qualifier in July.

The New England contingent

New England might not have anyone on the women’s side of the P&G Championships, but as always, the region can be counted on bringing the men.

From Massachusetts, we have Liam Doherty-Herwitz from Bedford competing at the Junior level in the 17-18 age group, and Yan Inhaber-Courchesne of Westborough on the Junior level in the 15-16 age group. Doherty-Herwitz, who trains at Brestyan’s Gymnastics (home of Aly Raisman) was one of the very last gymnasts to earn their spot at Championships, earning sixth place at last month’s National Qualifier. He did finish first after the first day of competition there, which bodes well for what he may be capable of.  Doherty-Herwitz is a standout on floor exercise, with some very powerful tumbling.

Inaber-Courchesne has flown under my radar, so, unfortunately, I don’t know much about him. The New England Academy of Gymnastics product has competed at Junior Olympic Nationals twice, finishing ninth in the all-around this past May.

In seniors, Penn State’s Stephen Nedoroscik, originally from Worcester will compete. He captured the NCAA championship on pommel horse this past spring as just a freshman, making him only the third rookie to win a NCAA event title in the last five years. Pommel horse is not exactly every gymnast’s favorite event, so if you can find success in it, there’s opportunity for you on the national level. Nedoroscik is a graduate of Worcester Tech, and during his club career, he trained at Sterling Academy of Gymnastics.

(Sadly, there is no video of Nedoroscik’s NCAA win, so here’s some of his pommels from 2015.)

New Hampshire has a competitor in juniors, Nashua’s Michael Fletcher, also of New England Academy of Gymnastics. And as mentioned previously, Vermont has their first competitor in a while in Bolotsky.

It’s the first P&G Championships in three years without Addison Chung (Medfield, Mass.), who is just back up to full training this summer after a series of injuries. As he told me for his hometown newspaper, he and his University of Iowa coaches hope that he can make a return to the elite level in 2018. His new Hawkeyes teammate is the Junior All-Around favorite, Bennet Huang.

Is This the Year for Eddie?

I was on the bus ride home Monday and read a popular gymnastics website’s men’s P&G Championships preview, and nearly threw my iPhone across the seat.

How do you preview this year’s senior men’s event by not mentioning a gymnast who won a World Cup gold medal on floor exercise this season? Yes, the frustrating preview skipped over Eddie Penev, who may be the U.S.’s best medal hope for this year’s World Championships. (This year’s World Championships are an individual championships, meaning team medals are not at stake, but individual all-around and event medals are.)

It is Penev’s best chance to finally make a Worlds team for the U.S. (he previously represented Bulgaria twice at Worlds, making the floor finals both times.) Penev is not an all-arounder, and still rings, pommel horse and high bar aren’t exactly his cup of tea. But he will even show the occasional high bar update on social media. And in a rebuilding year – where a good portion of last year’s Olympic team has now retired and the National Team is under new leadership – Penev may be exactly what the U.S. needs to have a solid medal showing at Worlds.

“Looking at the results from the (Olympic) Games I can see that I had great medal chances on floor in particular – even gold medal chances by the looks of it – by the scores I’ve gotten over the years in international competitions,” said Penev in an interview last fall.

To me, after an epic Yul Moldauer – Akash Modi duel, fan-favorite Penev doing well could be one of the main men’s stories of these championships.

A Shout-Out to Kiwan

One of my favorites from my years attending P&G Champs, Kiwan Watts, is back after finishing 30th last year in his senior debut. Watts, who is headed to compete for Arizona State (a high level college club team) in the fall, finished first all-around at on the junior level in 2015.

I can’t put my exact finger why he became one of my favorites – I think it might have been because he sometimes has a female coach, somewhat a rarity in men’s gymnastics. But his long lines and great effort kept me paying attention. The years I covered Championships, I always made sure to catch him on high bar, but he is fun to watch on every event.


A Different Vibe at Championships

It will be interesting to hear and read reports about this year’s championships because of the grave issue hanging over USA Gymnastics like a dense fog. With news breaking on the eve of the championships that a California-based victim may have received a settlement from the organization, which may be against California law, it won’t be business as usual in Anaheim.

The actual competition will march forward, and USA Gymnastics will encourage media to focus on the gymnasts competing as much as possible. Where I think this fog might be most felt is at the National Congress and Trade Show held adjacent to the competition. (Side note: Besides watching hours and hours of gymnastics, the Trade Show was always my favorite part of the three Nationals I got to cover.) Coaches come from all over the country to attend Congress, where you can take seminars and classes from some of gymnastics’ best and brightest. There will be discussion there of course of USA Gymnastics’ new SafeSport initiatives and policies, as well as how to prevent dangerous situations from occurring at gyms across the country. I am sure there will be a much different vibe and a few hard discussions taking place in sessions at the Congress, and they are definitely conversations that need to be had if the sport wants to continue forward.

 

Eddie Penev is far from done.

After a unsuccessful bid for an Olympic team spot at this summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials, Eddie Penev could have hung up his grips and said farewell to the sport of gymnastics. But after mounting an impressive comeback from a devastating 2014 ACL injury, the 26 year old isn’t quite done.

Instead, the 2013 Nissen Emery Award (gymnastics’ version of the Heisman Trophy) winner is showing off difficult skills on Instagram, traveling to Germany to compete in professional competitions and traveling the East Coast with the final leg of the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions.

“My goal is the world championships next year in Montreal,” said Penev via email last week on his way back from competing for KTT Heilbronn in Germany’s Bundesliga for the second year. “It’s a great opportunity for me because it’s an ‘individual worlds,’ meaning there’s no team competition and so they will most likely send guys who have the best medal chances on their best events.”

With one of the most difficult floor exercises in the U.S., Penev has every right to have his eyes set on one of the Worlds spots for that apparatus. He also is an international contender on vault, making next fall’s Worlds setup ideal to continue his competitive career for. Watching the recent Olympics showed him he definitely has the goods.

“Looking at the results from the games I can see that I had great medal chances on floor in particular – even gold medal chances by the looks of it and the scores I’ve gotten over the years in international competitions,” said Penev.

Though he didn’t get a spot on the Olympic team,  Penev was proud of what he achieved. He finished second in floor exercise and seventh on vault at Trials. “Olympic Trials was an amazing experience that I will certainly remember and cherish for the rest of my life,” he wrote. “And although it didn’t end the way I would’ve hoped it would, I was thrilled and honored to be a part of it.

“We have so many talented athletes in our country and that’s a good problem to have and it unfortunately means that great gymnasts will have to be left off the team. I made tremendous improvements since my knee injury (largely due to my coaches) and I couldn’t be happier with what I did. I just didn’t fit the team they wanted to send.”

But in an individual Worlds year, he might be a perfect fit. He has represented his birth country of Bulgaria at the 2007, 2010 and 2011 World Championships, but not the U.S., and this could be the season that it finally happens. To achieve that goal, Penev will continue training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, where he moved after graduating from Stanford University. The OTC is in the midst of the a shakeup, with national team head coach Vitaly Marinitch and national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika leaving, but the facilities and resources available there still make it the place to be.

“Nothing will change with my current training situation,” wrote Penev. “I will remain at the Olympic Training Center despite Vitaly’s resignation. While I’m very sad that he’s leaving us, I have absolutely everything I want/need at the OTC for high-level athletics. As I get older it’s so crucial that I stay on top of my physical therapy, nutrition, recovery, etc. and that is all there at my disposal.”

Another reason to stick around in Colorado Springs doesn’t involve gymnastics. “I’m also pursuing a few potential job opportunities in urban development, so when I’m done with my gymnastics career I’ll hopefully have something else lined up,” said Penev, who has a degree in architectural design. “I’m hoping to get an internship or part time work in the city of Colorado Springs in the planning department that I can fit into my schedule. It’s ambitious but I’m used to balancing school and gymnastics and I’m ready for that kind of life again.”

But before he gets back to Colorado and preparing for 2017, he will join members of the Olympic team and national teams and perform in the last set of dates on the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. “It’s another one of the those possibly once-in-a-lifetime things and its a great way to celebrate four years of dedication to the sport,” said Penev.

That includes a date at the Blue Cross Arena in Penev’s hometown of Rochester, NY on November 3rd. The last time Penev performed with the tour, he was a little kid performing as part of a segment of the show that features young local gymnasts at every stop. That segment is still a part of the show, but now Penev is now one of the champions those youngsters are aspiring to be.

The tour is a fitting close to one Olympiad and the start of the next portion of Penev’s journey, wherever it may lead him.

“It’s crazy to think how it’s all come full circle and now I have the opportunity to be one of the guys that kids look up to the way I did all those years ago,” said Penev.

The Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions hits Eddie’s and my hometown of Rochester, NY tonight, November 3rd, at the Blue Cross Arena. The tour finishes up in Boston, MA on November 13th with two shows at the TD Garden. Learn more at kelloggstour.com

You can read more of my gymnastics writing here.

Sophina DeJesus has always been awesome.

The world is totally enamored with UCLA gymnast Sophina DeJesus, whose amazing floor exercise became a viral sensation mere hours after she competed this weekend against Utah. If you’ve been following gymnastics a while, DeJesus’ dancing and performance ability is nothing new. But it is completely awesome that it’s finally getting worldwide acclaim.

Back in 2008, the then junior elite DeJesus competed at the National Championships at Boston’s Agganis Arena with a floor exercise that used college marching band music. It was captivating, fierce and beautiful, even if she had a bobble here and there. She finished 11th on floor exercise and 14th overall (this is a meet where 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas finished in a tie 16th, so that should help you put things in perspective.)

Here is the only video I can find of the routine at the moment, which is from the first day of competition. She steps out of bounds on the landing of the first tumbling pass, but it doesn’t shake her performance quality a bit.

I watched 2008 Nationals as a spectator (it helped that I could walk out of my office, walk three blocks and be at the arena) and wrote this about DeJesus’s routine in a post about day two of competition.

Sophina DeJesus’s (Precision) floor – This girl sells every move she does on every event, and her floor routine shined just like it did on Day 1. She uses marching band music (think the movie Drumline) and has great choreography and just a perfect smidge of attitude. Her difficulty isn’t there yet, but gosh, she ought to get bonus points just for having unique music! Please, please, please keep this music for as long as possible.

Let DeJesus’ amazing performance be a reminder to the world that there are more fabulous gymnasts in the world than the ones you may see at the Olympics.

At halftime, Daggett is ready to get the job done

The Junior Men's competition at the 2015 P&G Gymnastics Championships at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Junior Men’s competition at the 2015 P&G Gymnastics Championships at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

INDIANAPOLIS – Last year, a great first day of competition saw Peter Daggett in striking distance of a stellar P&G U.S. Gymnastics Championships debut.

Then the East Longmeadow, Mass. native let himself look too far ahead to a Junior National Team berth and fell on floor exercise and vault on day two, dropping him from fifth to tenth in the standings. That coveted national team status would have to wait another year.

“Last year, I had a really good first day,” said the 18 year old. “But in the off period, I let myself get a little too high and let myself think that I was all set for making the national team, when it was really only halftime.”

It’s now halftime of Daggett’s second P&G Championships, and to continue the football analogy, he will start the second half with possession. Hitting all six routines, he finished the first day of competition at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in second place with an overall score of 84.050, putting him on quality ground for that elusive Junior National Team spot.

“I’ve learned now to pace myself,” said Daggett. “There’s six more events to do, six more routines to hit, and I’ll go from there.”

Maturity hasn’t been Daggett’s only growth area since last August. His recent move to start school at the University of Oklahoma has pushed his gymnastics in an entirely new direction. He now rooms with two other competitors in this weekend’s junior men’s division, current leader Yul Moldauer and Levi Anderson, who sits in sixth.

Daggett hasn’t added tremendous difficulty (though he insists he has upgrades he should be able to show off next year), but every move is that much more exact. Spending time in a college gym with some of the nation’s best senior gymnasts stresses those details.

“It’s a lot different training with guys like Jake Dalton and Steven Legendre, senior national team guys I’ve looked up to my entire life,” said Daggett. “Watching everything, watching those little tiny details, those things they do a little bit better than anyone else that get them to that level.”

One of those details Daggett improved upon the most were his dismounts, and those lifted him above all but Moldauer on Friday afternoon.

“My landings have gotten a lot better,” said Daggett. “I’m not typically one to do very well on the sticking portion of it. But I’d say that went pretty well today. I’d say I stuck my routines today that I don’t usually stick.”

If he can stick his landings again in Sunday night’s finals, he might clinch the National Team spot that has served as motivation since last year. But membership in another team, Oklahoma, may now spark his efforts even more. Now he wants success now just not for himself, but for his two other Sooner teammates who are competing alongside him.

“I had teammates back at home, but it was nothing like a college team,” said Daggett. “These two guys are my roommates. We live together. We’ve only been together for a month and a half and we’re already best friends. It’s great.”

Jersey Girls: Gymnastics’ future might have Garden State roots

INDIANAPOLIS – The 47th largest state in land mass in the United States might have cornered the market on the future of women’s gymnastics.

When the junior division, gymnasts between the ages of 11–15, took the floor at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the first day of their competition at the 2015 P&G U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Thursday afternoon, five of the 28 competitors hailed from the Garden State. The only other state to equal that amount? The traditional gymnastics powerhouse that is the nation’s second largest state — Texas.

And when the first day of competition ended? Three of those five Jersey girls had spots in the top ten, with two — Jazmyn Foburg and Lauren Hernandez, who train at Morganville, N.J.’s Monmouth Gymnastics — in first and second.

Foburg is the reigning national champion in junior women, and her consistency won the day. Although she stepped out of bounds on her final tumbling pass on floor exercise to open the afternoon, she put that behind her quickly. On her next event, she scored her first career 15.000 — a giant score for a senior gymnast in this decade’s Code of Points, let alone a junior one — on vault with a high-flying Yurchenko double twist.

“It was amazing,” said Foburg. “I’ve always wanted (a 15), and I finally got it. And it’s awesome because I got it at P&Gs.”

Foburg’s uneven bars routine finished with a flourish, a full-twisting double tuck dismount, and she slid up to first place. On her last rotation, she calmly moved through a balance beam routine with fewer bobbles than most of her competitors, earning her a 14.35 and putting her in a good spot heading into Saturday afternoon’s finals.

Clad in a yellow, white and hot pink leotard, the spunky Hernandez held her own in her first national championships back after wrist and knee injuries kept her sidelined for most of 2014. With choreography details so sharp that you could easily see them if you were hanging from the Indiana Pacers’ Divisional Championship banners in the rafters, she started the afternoon off with a huge ovation and score (14.35) on floor exercise. Vault shook her a bit, but she recovered on uneven bars to move from third place to second.

Nerves struck Hernandez as she waited for her last event, balance beam. To help, she turned to advice she learned online.

“Sometimes I blow on my thumbs. Somewhere I read that your thumb has a pulse, so if I blow on my thumb it helps,” said Hernandez. “Or I talk to my coach about shoes, so I don’t overthink.”

It worked. She had a balance check here and there, but she held her own to remain in second just behind her teammate, something Foburg was pleased about.

“I’m glad we’re together,” said Foburg. “I am so happy that I get to compete with her.”

Next year, the New Jersey contingent will be down two gymnasts in the junior ranks. Both now 15 years old, Hernandez and Foburg will move up to the senior division for 2016, making them age-eligible to make runs for the team headed to the Olympics in Rio. But for this weekend, the focus is on one of them winning a national title at the end of Saturday’s finals, proving that New Jersey is as tough in gymnastics as it is in its stereotype.

“I’m just so happy to be here, especially with her,” said Hernandez. “She pushes me to be the best and she always has my back.”

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