Oct. 5, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -
Stanford sophomore Kristina Vaculik has returned to campus after taking a year off to prepare for the Olympic Games. She helped Canada to a fifth-place finish in the women's team gymnastics finals, and last week talked about the experience during a media gathering for current Stanford Olympic student-athletes.
Q: What was it like to be part of a Canadian team that finished fifth, the best finish in its history?
A: It was definitely unexpected. When it did happen, it took time for it to sink in. The real impact of that is only starting to sink in now. There's such a high at the Olympics: the energy, the excitement, the pride, the patriotism. You couldn't fully understand what that meant at that point. Now, I look back and I think, `Wow.' We actually did it. And that's something we can carry with us the rest of our lives. I'm really happy to have been given that opportunity.
Q: Was finishing as high as fifth ever a realistic goal?
A: Going into the Olympics, we knew we could finish top eight. That was our ultimate goal, to get top eight and make the finals. We were actually ranked 12th going into the Olympics. Eighth place would have been a step up for us. To finish seventh after the qualifying round was huge. It was a real high point for us, an unexpected one. Going into team finals, we decided to just leave it all out there. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain. We had the performance of our lives there. We were consistent, every one of us hit all our routines, and it went a long way.
Q: What were the positives and negatives of taking a year off from Stanford to return to Canada and prepare for the Olympics?
Q: After enduring injuries in the past, it must have been a relief for you to go through a hard year of training without a major injury?A:
A: That was really hard for me because you get used to this lifestyle in college of having all your friends with you. I really enjoyed my first year at Stanford. Going back home was a hard transition. It was nice to see family again and spend time with them, but I was mainly training - all day, holidays, and weekends. It got really redundant after a while. I was looking forward not only for the Olympics to come, but to return to Stanford afterward.
Yeah, I was really lucky. It was challenging. I did have a few things that were hurting, but I kept them at bay. The doctors helped me out. I was just lucky that I got through that, stayed healthy, and was able to come back to school and be able to perform for Stanford.
Q: Was the experience of 2012 even more meaningful after the disappointment of 2008, when an elbow injury prevented you from an opportunity to compete in Beijing Games?
A: Back then, looking ahead, I didn't expect that making any other Olympics would even be possible. I'm just really happy, and I feel lucky that I've been given that opportunity.
Q: College and international gymnastics are very different, and I'm sure it was difficult to figure out a balance when you were at Stanford. Is it easier now to know you don't have to go back to that world, and just concentrate on college?
A: It's definitely easier mentally. In my first year, it was really hard to put everything into the team. No matter how hard I wanted to fully commit to it, I still had the Olympics in the back of my mind. I still had to work on skills that I didn't necessarily need to compete at the collegiate level. It was just hard to balance the two, mentally. The skill level, the amount of physical work and hours, and the detail that you need to put into international gymnastics is just elevated. It was a little stressful for me. But I still took a lot of great things to international gymnastics from my first of college. I learned how to work as part of a team, and be a leader on a team. I brought those things back to the Canadian team and we accomplished amazing things.
Q: What was it like to go from a team atmosphere at Stanford to a quite different training situation at home?
A: You train individually. I was the only one from my club, so I trained by myself. There were a couple of other girls there, but they were a lot younger than me. We don't necessarily have a national training center in Canada, so it's kind of hard to develop those team aspects there. But the things I learned from Stanford I applied at training camps before competition with the Canadian team.
Q: What did you incorporate from Stanford?
A: Team spirit, cheering for one another, inclusion - making sure everyone feels like they are part of the team. The way you approach competition and knowing your teammates are there for you at every turn really makes a difference.