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2017 World University Games – The Team Waits for Results

Posted on 20 August 2017 by admin

By Jo-Ann Neff

With day one, the biggest day, of the 2017 World University Games (WUG) behind the USA’s Men’s Artistic Gymnastics (MAG) team, the waiting begins.  Three more sessions of teams compete today, followed by tonight’s team awards ceremony.  How TeamUSA will finish only time will tell. Today is all about this team.

Each team member expressed their genuine excitement to be part of this USA team. They trained skills and routines since the start of summer with the goal to rally for one another and execute their best at the 2017 Taipei WUG. They want to “come together and make it happen” and feel this opportunity will create bonds that will extend into their lives, both in and out of the gym. It all started with a USAG WUG committee team selection process and then social media to bring them together before actually traveling together to Taipei for the competition.

OU’s Levi Anderson found out he was selected to the team at the same time he was told he needed surgery for a sports hernia.  Together with his coach and trainer Zach Miller, who also is at WUG, they designed a core strength and flexibility recovery program that he worked through all summer so he would be prepared to compete on this international stage.

Anderson said he took the WUG opportunity “with no questions asked. This is super cool!” He added that he would never retire from gymnastics, which he has been a participant of since he was very young, until he competed with USA on his chest.

Not that he has plans to leave anytime soon. He has two more years of NCAA eligibility and whatever else he achieves with the sport. And even then, the Creative Media Productions major plans to head to Disney where he can be a “tumble monkey” and in his free time work on making sports videos.

Anderson is described as the guy everyone likes, a great teammate, according to OU’s head coach Mark Williams. Levi considers himself family oriented as they are his biggest supporters. “They mean everything to me,” he said. “They are always there for me. Always willing to help me to look at both sides of a situation.”

In addition to his family, Anderson considers Jonathan Horton, Tom Meadows and Chris Brooks (just retired) as role models.  Horton for his commitment in everything he does; Meadows for his humble talent and Brooks for his perseverance in overcoming countless injuries and hurdles throughout his gymnastics career. Finally, he is a gymnast who believes if you give it all you’ve got, you’ve done your best. Hopefully, leaving Taipei, he feels that way.

Illinois’ Alex Diab, also has two years of NCAA eligibility remaining.  His head coach, Justin Spring, hopes his WUG performance is one that USAG considers for future “team” assignments. Alex, whose best events are rings, vault and floor, hopes the team leaves Taipei proud and that he qualifies for an events final.

Diab is the eldest child in a family of gymnasts. His parents own three gyms, so he grew up in the gym! His dad has coached him all along, whether from near or afar, along with other accomplished coaches including Paul Hamm, who joined his father’s Premier Gymnastics team when Alex was a high school sophomore. Both his parents were gymnasts, mom competed at University of Wisconsin and his father is a two time rings champion (1985/86) and Iowa State Hall of Famer. His four siblings are all gymnasts and his brother Max will join the Illini team this fall. So there’s should be no surprise when Alex talks about his dad being his greatest supporter.  He is my role model, Diab said.  “He is always there to help me”.

Undertaking a Kinesiology major at Illinois, Diab plans to take the DAT and attend dental school.  It’s something he’s been interested in for years, he said.  A lot of his friend’s parents and family friends are dentists and they have allowed him to shadow their work, which he considers will be a lifelong career. Outside of gym and his studies, Diab enjoys playing golf.

Minnesota’s Tristan Duran is excited about being a part of the WUG team and hopes that their competition results leave a positive impression with USAG for sending teams in the future. He said the experience of it all is so very special.  “The memories and bonds that we form will be lifelong, ” he added.

Duran trained at USA Development Gym in New Jersey (Paul Ruggeri, Jesse Silverstein…) before becoming a UMN team member. As he improved in the gym he moved to the gym’s new location which created a bit of a traveling logistics problem for him and his family.  As both his parents work at their family business – “they are the two busiest people I’ve ever met,” he said – it became a joint effort of family and friends, on time and late, to get him to training until he started driving – in NJ you get your license at 17.  He now walks to training on campus!

Studying business at Minnesota, Tristan hopes to become a business owner.  The perfect job would be to become a restaurant or gym owner in the same area as my family, he said.  His family is very important to him.  Throughout his gymnastics career, they all supported him a variety of ways.  He recalls when his dad travelled an hour to their home in NJ and back to West Point, after realizing he’d left his grip bag at home and wouldn’t be able to compete.  “He never complained,” said Duran of his father. “He’s always there to help me if I need it.”

Minnesota’s Vitali Kan was as thrilled as the other gymnasts to be selected to the 2017 WUG team. “It’s definitely something special to compete for TeamUSA,” he said. “I was speechless!”  Once at college, he didn’t think being part of TeamUSA would happen.  “I realize how special and exciting this is.  These types of accomplishments will keep happening if I do well,” he added. “It’s a big moment in my career.  I’ll keep my head up and stay happy,” he said. Kan added that he’s a better gymnast when he’ s happy, so he tries to enjoy every little moment and do what he can for the team.

Vitali is a Statistics major with a minor in Economics and Math.  He works a part-time job as a sports statistician and when relaxing enjoys Netflix and spending time with his girlfriend. Pommel, floor and vault are Kan’s best events, in addition to rings.  He views hitting pommel in college competitions as a special achievement and best when it is over!

Kan is also a part of an accomplished gymnastics family.  His father, Andrei, a successful gymnast and now coach, was a member of the 1996 Belarus Olympic team He and his teammates Alexander Belanovsky and Vitali Rudnitsky are currently owners and coaches of Salto Gymnastics Center in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Stanford’s Robert Neff is thrilled to be competing internationally for TeamUSA.  He is excited about how bringing the WUG team together has worked and how as a group they have helped one another and are forming strong bonds. His hope for the team was that “we do our routines well, hit them and give it our best. It’s the biggest competition I’ve ever been to,” he said.

Neff like most of the other team members started gymnastics early.  But he lived and trained outside the USA from age five until he was a high school sophomore.  During his early primary school years, his Australian coach was 2008 Olympic Team Bronze medalist Kevin Tan’s coach, Greg Corsiglia. Neff’s family then moved and he trained in Switzerland and Great Britain. Both afforded him opportunities to compete internationally, including Germany’s Cottbus Invitational. Robert will see some of his overseas “teammates” in Taipei. But it also was a challenge for him.  Moving around gyms, learning different languages, experiencing different training models… “I had to learn to adapt,” he added.

When he returned to the USA he was coached by Kan and Belanovsky at Swiss Turners, Wisconsin. He was Vitali’s teammate for three years before joining Stanford’s team, and competing alongside him again is great, he added.

Neff loves gymnastics for many reasons. He said it is greatly gratifying to push boundaries, take risks and do 100s of movements on the six apparatus.  “It is super cool to do things outside your comfort zone, ” he added.

Majoring in Computer Science with a minor in German, Neff is interested in working with a start-up in graphics and or computer security.  His goal is to keep studying towards a masters and to consistently make national team.  In his free time he enjoys gaming, reading sci-fi novels, watching movies or tossing a frisbee.

What a great student-athlete team…Good Luck!

2019 WUG is in Naples, Italy.


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