Hong Headed to WOGA
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Inside Gymnastics magazine features a profile of Ivana Hong, along with stunning photos, in the March/April 2009 issue. Subscribe or Renew now so that you don't miss a single issue of Inside Gymnastics! Plus, check out our commemorative Olympic issue, featuring Nastia Liukin on the cover, in the back issues section of our shopping cart.
World gold medalist Ivana Hong will make the move to Plano, Texas-based WOGA to train under Valeri Liukin as soon as her right ankle heals enough to resume training, she told Inside Gymnastics earlier this week.
In the past few months, Hong, who turned 16 in December, has sampled several clubs across the U.S., but settled on the WOGA, home of the last two Olympic all-around champions, after a successful trial run in early January.
“You know, four years ago when we were looking for a gym it was GAGE and WOGA, and it was really close between them,” Hong revealed. “[This time,] I tried some other gyms too and [picked] WOGA [because of] their training schedule and Valeri is just a wonderful coach, and Nastia is there—we all know each other so well. I just thought that was a really good fit.”
After Hong moves to Texas she plans to live, at least at first, with another WOGA gym family, so that her oldest sister, Isabelle, a high school senior, can graduate with her class in Blue Springs, Mo. Whether her mother and younger siblings join her in Texas at some point is yet to be determined. “Right now we’re not too sure where everyone is going to be,” Hong said of her close-knit family, which will soon be spread over three states.
Hong, an alternate for the 2008 Games, plans to make the move to Texas “in the next month or two,” perhaps following the February National Team training camp, or even sooner if she gets the all clear from her doctors.
“We’re planning on it soon, because I have to start training—actual training,” Hong said of her timeline.
Hong said she first fractured her tibia in December 2007 but a premature return to the gym as part of her efforts to make the U.S. Beijing Olympic team, kept the injury from ever healing fully and, by the time Hong competed at last summer’s U.S. Championships and Trials, she says she was in constant pain.
Now, Hong is working with doctors to make sure she’s fully healed before getting back in the gym. Surgery was scheduled last October, but later canceled when the injury finally began to respond to treatment, which includes daily electric stimulation. (A scan in mid-January revealed the fracture was still there, but healing.)
Hong, along with her mother and three siblings, moved from California, where her father still lives and works, to Missouri in 2004 to train at GAGE under Al and Armine and Fong.
“It was in the back of my mind,” Hong said of the somewhat surprising decision to switch clubs after four years at GAGE. “It wasn’t anything I was certainly planning on doing, at all.”
Hong says she and the Fongs officially parted ways after a meeting in September 2008. “I was already planning just to go in and say thank you and that I wasn’t going to be coming there to train anymore,” Hong explained, “but I wanted to see what their plan was, listen to what they had to say, and that just didn’t go very well. So, after that, that was it.”
Since then Hong has been training independently at a local gym while looking for a new permanent home. Though her workouts have been light, Hong says she was only out of the gym completely for “a couple weeks” and hopes to be 100 percent in time to return to competition at U.S. Championships this summer. She’s already taken part in two post-Olympic National Team training camps (October and November) and plans to attend next month’s camp as well.
“You know, after the Olympics I needed someone to talk to about the gym and the coaching situation and everything and I called up [USA Gymnastics vice president] Kathy Kelly and she talked to me a lot,” Hong said. “I think that helped me. … Kathy was always there supporting me and the whole [USAG] staff, too.”
Not that Hong’s decision, which meant once again uprooting her family and starting over at a new gym, came easily. “I’d been getting comfortable here in Missouri and my sister is now a senior and she’s graduating just this summer,” Hong noted of the complications her move will bring. “It’s kind of not a good time to move or anything. It was definitely hard, but I think it was the best for me and my family.”
Until the move, Hong is enjoying her downtime by being a “normal” teenager. “After I got back from China, I really just tried to catch up with school and stuff,” Hong said. “This year, I tried to go a full day at school [and] I’ve liked that a lot. … I actually went to my first high school football game when I got back. It was a lot of fun. (laughs) I didn’t exactly know what was going on, but …
“That’s probably the hardest part, to leave school, and my school life.” Hong added of the downside to her upcoming move. “I’m at the high school this year, and I’ve liked it a lot. My sister and I are both going here this year and we have a couple of classes together. It’s just really fun and a great experience.”
Despite all the fun, Hong wants to make sure everyone knows she remains committed to gymnastics. “I’m definitely not retired,” she concluded with a laugh. “I’m definitely still in the sport of gymnastics. I’m just looking forward to getting back into shape and training with Valeri and Nastia and everyone at WOGA. And I just want to thank all my fans for the support. It means a lot.”
Inside Gymnastics magazine features an in-depth profile of Ivana Hong, along with stunning photos, in the March/April 2009 issue. Subscribe or Renew now so that you don't miss a single issue of Inside Gymnastics! Plus, check out our commemorative Olympic issue, featuring Nastia Liukin on the cover, in the back issues section of our shopping cart.
Photos by Grace Chiu
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