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Alexandra Nicholson

Starting out in tumbling, in 1968 Alexandra Nicholson began her career as a trampolinist in Illinois, USA. Her training included a 4am training session before school and 3 hours training after school.

In 6 years of competing Alexandra won 12 national titles and 2 World Championships in 1972 and 1974 . In 8 years of competing Alexandra entered over 200 national and international competitions. She broke many records including competing the highest female difficulty routine of 8.9 at the time. She attended UCLA on an athletic scholarship where she competed on the track and gymnastics team. She also began diving and was a member of the USA diving team. In 2001 Nicholson was inducted into the Acrobatics Hall of Fame. She was honoured as the Greatest Women Trampolinist in the history of the sport.

Alexandra overcame many struggles in her career as a trampolinist. Born in Switzerland, her mother was Austrian and her father from Trinidad. They immigrated to the USA when Alexandra was 6 months old and struggled to gain US citizenship. This called to question her capacity to compete for the United States. Her coach was her biggest advocate and saw no written rule requiring a competitor to be a citizen of the country they represented.

However US trampoline officials said they would not allow her to compete, because it could cause the whole US team to be disqualified from the World Championships. A special act of Congress was needed to declare her a US citizen. She went on to win Gold at the World Championships in 1972 and 1974 overcoming racial discrimination and citizenship complications. She was also the First male or female to compete a triffis.

After college she started working for Muhammad Ali Sports, promoting the involvement of minorities in acrobatic sports. Her trampoline fame led her to perform at Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth among other places/ shows. Nicholson has since helped create the internationally famous Maruba Resort Jungle Spa. Alexandra also has her own business promoting skin and beauty products from all natural ingredients found in the rainforests of Beliza. She is the proud mother or a son and a daughter.

Olympic Champion Simone Biles and Alexandra met in 2019. The advice she shared with Biles was something we could all apply to life in the current crisis.

“Flexibility, and concentration are key when it comes to gymnastics.”

John Orozco

John was born in the Bronx, New York on the 30th December 1992. Orozco’s parents both lived in Puerto Rico before immigrating to the Bronx. His father worked for the city department of sanitation for 20 years, until he was forced to retire after suffering a stroke.

He started gymnastics at 8 years old when his father found a flyer for free gymnastics lessons at a gym in Manhattan. The gym allowed him to be part of a program for children who were socioeconomically disadvantaged. His mother drove him 30 miles to and from the gym for training, sometimes twice a day!

In 2007 he won the Junior Visa US National Championships, becoming the youngest male to qualify for the finals. He earned himself a place on the Junior National Team, representing the USA in the Pan-American Games as an alternate. He went on to win 3 consecutive Junior Visa US National Championships in a row! (2007, 2008, 2009). He competed at the Pacific Rim Championships in 2008 and 2010 helping the team with Gold medals both times.

At 17 years old, John competed in the US National Visa Championships as a senior gymnast. Unfortunately he was unable to finish the competition due to sustaining a torn achilles on Vault. After surgery and intense rehab he was able to return to training.

After high school he decided to defer any college plans to concentrate on training for the 2012 Olympic Games. In 2011 he competed at the US National Championships and ranked 2nd on Parallel Bars, 3rd in All Around, Pommel and High Bar and 4th on Rings. In the lead up to the 2012 Olympics, he had been unable to perform to the best of his ability due to illness or injury. Despite that, he was able to qualify and in 2012 he competed for the United States at the London Summer Olympics.

At the 2012 London Olympic Games, John competed in the Men's artistic team all-around and the Men's artistic individual all-around, placing 5th and 8th respectively. In both events he erred on the pommel horse, even though going into the Olympics it was his strongest event. Following the Olympics, Orozco suffered tears to both the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee.

At the World Championships in 2013, Orozco qualified in 7th place on the parallel bars and earned a bronze medal in the event final. Later that year, Orozco placed 4th after a fall on the high bar in the FIG World Cup event in Glasgow, Scotland. In 2015 his mother passed away. “After the past year and a half I’ve had, and all the people that doubted me, I finally found the strength within myself,” a crying Orozco told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “My mom was there the whole time. I know she’s looking down on me, and she’s so proud.” John qualified for the 2016 Olympics, but he left the sport after tearing an ACL three weeks before the Rio Games.

He qualified for two Olympics, won a U.S. all-around title and earned three world championships bronze medals. This during a career in which he suffered two torn right Achilles and two torn left ACLs before the age of 24.

Orozco had moved on from a decorated gymnastics career to pursue the music and entertainment industry in Southern California. He started taking classes in music and audio production. He even released his first single, ‘What Goes Up’ in early 2019. Orozco appeared in three episodes of Law and Order as an extra.

John came out of retirement this year and on the 3rd March 2020 his nationality switch from US to Puerto Rica, was approved by the international Gymnastics Federation. He said “I have the goal of just being able to represent the place that my family’s from,” Orozco said, according to the Olympic Channel. “I never got to do that, and I feel more connected to my community and the people that represent me.” At 27 he could attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics 2021.

Dominic Mensah

1. How did you get started in gymnastics and what was it about tumbling that drew you to focus on it?

My career in gymnastics started off at a local leisure centre with a club called Southwark Gymnastics Club in South East London. My initial inspiration for getting into the sport wasn’t a role model gymnast or because all my friends were doing it; My initial inspiration was the Power Rangers (my favourite was the red one - the leader!). I was obsessed with them and their flips and stunts, constantly trying to copy them in my living room. My mum had to find something where I could put my energy and also learn safely (and give the sofa's in our living room a break as well!)

Initially, nothing in particular drew me to tumbling; I was moulded into one because my coaches at the time (Fay Elliott, Ava Buckley and Andrew Payne) thought I was perfect for it as I was fast and explosive as well as being courageous and willing when it came to learning new things. When I became a little older and actually understood what tumbling was, I was so drawn to it's complexity as well as the speed and explosiveness of it. Always helps when you have fun doing it day in and day out of course. This is the most important thing.

2. What does your training consist of and how has it changed in lock down?

My training session usually consist of a quick warm up (running, body weight conditioning exercises and stretching), tumbling track work (routines during competition season, working on new skills in the off season), fast track and trampoline work (consolidating competition skills or learning new skills), then finishing with body weight conditioning again and stretching. I'm in the gymnastics gym 5 times a week and each session is 2 hours long.

During lockdown, it has been near impossible to train the technical and physical aspects of gymnastics as we need the gym for that: absolutely no way round it really! So I personally decided to focus on physical aspects of my own fitness as well as mental training around my gymnastics. Physically, I took up road running, running 5-8k's up to three times a week as well as completing gymnastics based conditioning set by myself and specialist S&C conditioning by my TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) coach Connor Campbell at King's Sport. Mental training has just consisted of watching old training and competition back and analysing what I've done well and what I can do better.

3. What achievements are you most proud of?

My biggest achievement on paper would becoming a World Champion in the team event at the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan. Definitely one of my proudest moments. But personally, I'd have to say winning a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships in 2017 purely because I'd seen so many of my teammates win World medals and I wanted one for myself so bad and waited 4 years for it to happen. It was also my last competition as a junior so to finish on a high meant so much to me.

4. What is the biggest challenge you have overcome?

I think the biggest challenge came at the midway point of my career. I represented and trained at Southwark Gymnastics Club from the age of 4 till the age of 13. London hasn’t got a lot of space so we weren't blessed with the best facilities and this is so important for development especially when you're learning harder and more complex skills. Because of the lack of the facilities, I had to move on from the club and the club I chose next was Pinewood Gymnastics Club in Wokingham. This was because of their great facilities and in particular their legendary coach Vladimir 'Vov' Podobin who I had worked with briefly prior to me moving in 2012 at the Sofia Cup (my Great Britain Debut).

Still living and going to school in London, it was very tough for me to go to and from five days a week and especially tough for my parents financially and time management wise. On paper, it was unfeasible. My career became my mum's life as she would be driving me a 50 mile round trip, 5 days a week for the next year and a half. When I got a bit older, around 15, I started getting the train/bus by myself to and from training (a 4 hour round trip). My desire to be at the club and to reach the next level was too strong to let the multiple obstacles stop me and I'm beyond happy me and my parents could make it work as it allowed me to achieve things I could only ever dream of as a kid.

5. What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
In the gym, my first short/medium term goal is to win a team medal and make the Top 10 at the 2021 European Championships in Sochi, Russia. In addition, I've been training a quadruple twisting double straight (a 'killer') and I hope to compete this in 2021 and become the first British man to compete the skill. Long term, I hope to be winning as many medals as possible domestically and internationally as an individual and as part of a team too. It's all about making my resume look as great as possible before I retire.

Outside the gym, I'm close to finishing my Sports Communications and Marketing Course at University and I hope to start a masters in Sports Journalism after this. Long term, I'd love to work in sports media as a presenter, broadcaster and content creator after completing university.

6. Who was your biggest inspiration and why?

Gymnastics inspiration would definitely have to be Kristof Willerton, my GB teammate and former World and European Champion. I've gone from looking up to him as a kid coming up in the GB junior squad to competing against and alongside him at senior level. His style, technique, longevity and consistency has always been so amazing to witness and he's been one of the best tumblers in the world for nearly 10 years now. So humble and approachable despite all of this and an inspiration for many!

Outside gymnastics, I'd say my biggest inspiration is Anthony Joshua, British Boxer and 2x Unified World Heavyweight Champion. I love his mentality towards his training and life, his general character and aura and the fact he's so humble and relatable to me as a young black athlete from an African background growing up in London (for him, Watford). Had the pleasure of meeting him a couple years ago and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. Recently, got a birthday video message from him as well which I'm still buzzing about despite my birthday being a month ago! Truly my biggest idol!

7. What advice would you give an inspiring gymnast?

The most important thing is to love what you do. It sounds so cliché but it's so true. In my 16 years in the sport, I've seen the most talented gymnasts and the gymnasts with multiple medals at World/European level eventually quit/retire in a sad way because they’ve fallen out of love with the sport for whatever reason. It's the love and desire that keeps you in it for a long time and enjoying the sport, not the medals and external validation.

With this, my last piece of advice would be never wish to be someone else at any point. It's so easy to do this and I'm pretty sure everyone has done it at some point, in all walks of life as well. Everyone's journey and career are different and everyone will fight their own battles as well as enjoying their own successes. Be inspired by people you deem to be successful but never envy them. Focus your energy into being the best gymnast you can be rather than wishing for someone else's success or ability.

8. Dominic's thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, racism in the sport in general and reflecting on what he would like to see accomplished in the sport of gymnastics.

The attention on the Black Lives Matter movement and the support and unity from everyone who supports it has been so uplifting and positive to see despite the tragic and disgusting circumstances the conversation on racism and police brutality was re-lit under. For me, I've been educating myself on the issue, trying to share as much informative and educational content on Instagram so people can learn too as well as having real and virtual conversations (and arguments) with people who still don't seem to get it.

In regard to racism, we all know it still goes on at an obvious and underlying level and the fight still goes on to eradicate it as much as possible. It's been great to see so many sports governing bodies making it unanimous to show support for the Black Lives Movement through taking a knee for a few moments before the action kicks off or supporting black lives matter on their jerseys throughout games. In addition, so many high profile sports stars like Lebron James and Lewis Hamilton have been using their massive platforms to bring awareness to the movement which has such a massive impact too.

It's also great to see people speaking out on their experiences of racism and trying to raise awareness on it. Of course, you get people trying to gaslight and invalidate people's experiences of racism and the whole movement in general but I can only hope these people can open their eyes and educate themselves in the future. Education is truly a major key to eradicating racism.

In terms of what I'd like to see accomplished, I'd like to see more diversity in the higher roles and positions of power in sports governing bodies as well as on the playing field in coaching, other support roles and in sports media where diversity can improve potentially. Also, social media platforms finding a way to further protect people from racial abuse (as well as other abuse) and punish those who send disgusting messages and abuse daily. I don't have all the answers to how to accomplish these two things but I'd like to see them happen as for most things in life, where there's a will, there's a way.

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