i’ve just realised that Maria Paseka, who was permanently injured for like 3 years and barely held together with tape or always had some drama going on, finished 2015 as European Champion, Universiade Champion, and World Champion on vault. Who would’ve thought?

2012 Summer Olympic Games, London | 4 events, 4 nations, 4 champions
Sandra Raluca Izbasa (ROU) - vault champion with a 15.191
Aliya Mustafina (RUS) - uneven bars champion with a 16.133
Deng Linlin (CHN) - balance beam champion with a 15.600
Alexandra Raisman (USA) - floor exercise champion with a 15.600
Jamaica, We Have A Gymnastics Team - California Golden Bears - University of California Official Athletic Site

This feature originally appeared in the Winter edition of the Cal Sports Quarterly.
Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Regional vault champion. The only Cal gymnast to record two 10.0s. Regional Gymnast of the Year. Toni-Ann Williams is on the right side of history.

Williams is already the first gymnast to ever represent Jamaica in international competition, donning the yellow, black and green at every World Championships event since 2011. Should she make it past the Olympic Test Event in April, the women’s gymnastics sophomore, who shattered program and conference records in her rookie campaign, stands to make history once again by becoming the first gymnast to sport Jamaican colors in the Olympics. Along the way, she hopes to inspire a nation to believe it can be more than track & field superstars (and the occasional bobsled team).

The American-born Williams was raised in Randallstown, Md., the daughter of two Jamaican emigrants who moved to the U.S. nearly 30 years ago. Williams’ parents, Tony and Marlene, run a Jamaican grocery store in Maryland. Growing up, the Williams household was decorated with island-style flavor – tons of palm trees and plants – and Williams often feasted on traditional Jamaican dishes (her favorite is the staple ox-tail soup).  Though she was surrounded by a tight-knit Jamaican community, Williams did not feel heavily tied to her heritage.

“My parents wanted me to have my own identity and go to school and make friends and figure out who I am, but also never forget where I came from,” Williams said. “It was a good balance of both.”

A trip to Jamaica in 2010 changed her feelings for her parents’ country. Williams, who was already beginning to flourish as a gymnast at that point, visited the island’s gyms. Many were small structures with limited equipment.

“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, it is going to be an uphill battle trying to get gymnastics off the ground here.’” she said. “But I saw the kids, and they were super excited about gymnastics, and I did a few routines for them, and they kept commenting that they had never seen anything like that, so the mood was hopeful and people were willing to put in the hard work. That trip was eye-opening for me.”

Inspired by the small support system, Williams turned her focus to embracing her heritage on the international stage in hopes of driving more Jamaican youth to try gymnastics. But how to do that in a country that wholeheartedly embraces track & field success?

“In Jamaica, it’s like Usain Bolt is president. They love him, they love track & field and they are all about it all the time. It is what Jamaica is known for, so they take pride in that,” Williams said. “It makes it a little harder to make other sports, especially gymnastics, easy to grasp for Jamaicans. Breaking that barrier was definitely really hard in the beginning, and we had some people who were really apprehensive about me competing.”


“Once I competed for the first time at the World Championships, then people could actually see gymnastics in Jamaica going somewhere,” she said. “I think people could see the perseverance, and they were proud of my performance even though I didn’t do what I knew I was capable of.”

She competed at Worlds again in 2013, and most recently this past October. This time, she didn’t do it alone. Over the last five years, governmental changes in Jamaica have helped Williams’ cause. She started a leotard drive for the Jamaican youth several years ago and is beginning to see the donations and support roll in. Support has also come in the form of other athletes stepping up to join Jamaica, including several male gymnasts, her sister Maya, and British-born Jamaican and UCLA standout Danusia Francis.

Stepping onto the floor at the October event in Glasgow, Scotland, Williams allowed herself a moment of reflection.

“I felt more pride mainly because we had more people on the team and I knew that all the work I had put into the team for the past five years was really paying off because we had a larger team and people were starting to notice and recognize gymnastics in Jamaica,” she said. “It made me proud to see that all my work was worth it, that progress has and will continue to be made, and that we’re going somewhere with this.”

With a strong performance in Glasgow, Williams earned the lone female berth to represent Jamaica at the Olympic Test Event in April. Another strong showing there will propel her to the world’s biggest stage in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, Williams is hoping her journey will encourage other Jamaicans to pursue gymnastics.

She’s already seen the work pay off with a fellow member of Team Jamaica, Nicholas Tai.

“He is just realizing that he can come to America with gymnastics to get a degree and it seems to be something he is really interested in,” Williams said. “He never realized that was an option. The idea that a degree can come from a sport is such a powerful tool and interesting to those who are pursuing the sport in Jamaica.”

Williams’ other plans include opening up a training center in Jamaica with her fellow Jamaican teammates, including a shuttle service to  transport kids who can’t afford to get to practice, and establishing ties with the U.S. team.

“There are talented kids,” she said. “They just don’t have the resources like we have in America. I feel like if they did have the resources and equipment and facilities and the coaching they would be able to compete and get scholarships to colleges.”

In a country where 66 of its 67 Olympic medals come from track & field, Williams is ready to break through.

“It’s crazy to think that a whole country is looking to me for an entire sport, but before if I thought about that, I probably would have gotten overwhelmed,” Williams said. “I feel like now I am able to handle that pressure and be a leader and ambassador for gymnastics in Jamaica. It is really the first time I’ve allowed myself to say, ‘I am a Jamaican.’ Before, I never felt like I deserved to call myself that. I wish I could describe the feeling you get when competing for your country, but it’s indescribable. It’s the best feeling in the entire world.”

IHM has been championing London’s Vaults for what feels like forever, so it was a much cathartic night when I finally caught the compelling band live at Popscene last fall. It was easily one of the most gorgeous sets that I witnessed all year long, with their majestic dark pop and lead vocalist Blythe Pepino’s spectacular voice taking full, mesmerizing command of the room. Vaults recently visited BBC Radio 2, and on the show, they performed a stunning cover of one of 2015′s best songs, Foals’ Mountain At My Gates. The keys driven cover is yet another spectacular way to really take in Blythe’s immaculate, impeccable vocals. Two of my 2015 favorites collide on the cover.

Russian pole vaulter Isinbayeva announces return after maternity leave

Moscow, Feb 4 (IANS) Russia’s two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva said on Thursday she plans to take part in the Russian Winter Meeting, an annual indoor track and field competition, and in Russia’s Indoors Championships.

Her first tournament after a more than two-year maternity leave will be the Volgograd Region Governor’s Cup due on February 6, reports Tass.

“The competition in Volgograd will be my first one after a 2.5-year break linked with the birth of my daughter,” she wrote on her Instagram page.

“I will also take part in the Russian Winter Meeting and in the Russian Indoor Championships.”

The Russian Winter Meeting will be held on February 14, and Russia’s Indoor Championships - on February 23-25. Both will be held in Moscow.

Isinbayev, 33, is reputed as the best female pole vaulter of all time. She won Olympic gold twice - in 2004 and in 2008, and was bronze medallist of the 2012 Olympics.

Moreover, she is three-time World outdoor champion and four-time World indoor champion. She is a holder of 28 world pole vault records. In June 2014, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter.

Pole vault queen Isinbayeva to take part in athletics tournaments in February

Pole vault queen Isinbayeva to take part in athletics tournaments in February

MOSCOW, February 4. /TASS/. Russia’s two-times Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva said on her Instagram page on Thursday she plans to take part in the Russian Winter Meeting, an annual indoor track and field competition, and in Russia’s Indoors Championships. He first tournament after a more than two-year maternity leave will be the Volgograd Region Governor’s Cup due on February 6.…

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Record-breaking Suhr to miss world indoor championships

By Gene Cherry

(Reuters) - Olympic pole vault champion Jenn Suhr does not plan to compete in next month’s IAAF indoor championships even though she has just broken her world indoor record, the American said on Tuesday.

A desire for more gold at the Rio Games and the stress of having to go through the U.S. trials and the world indoor championships with just four days in between led Suhr and her coach to rule out the March 17-20 worlds in Portland, Oregon.

Plans did not change after Suhr boosted her world record to 5.03 metres (16 feet, 6 inches) on Saturday in Brockport, New York.

“Right now, it is still off the table,” she said of the world indoor championships during a teleconference.

“I am not sure that is something I want to do in an Olympic year,” she said of having to finish in the top two in the U.S. championships on March 12 and then competing against the world’s best on March 17.

“That is just asking a lot,” said Suhr, who will celebrate her 34th birthday on Friday.

Healthy and having fun after two years of up-and-down results, the Olympic gold medallist added a centimetre to her 2013 world indoor record with her third-attempt clearance at Saturday’s college meeting.

“When I am ready to jump it doesn’t matter where I jump,” Suhr said.

And the record was not a surprise.

“I knew from what was happening in practise, things were working out well,” Suhr said.

One of only three women to win Olympic pole vault gold, the American hopes to challenge two-time Russian Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva’s 2009 outdoor world record of 5.06 metres later this year.

Suhr attempted to go even higher than that on Saturday, three times unsuccessfully vaulting at 5.07 metres, the highest height ever tried by a woman, athletics officials said.

“The second attempt didn’t feel all that high,” Suhr said of a mark she hopes to try again at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston on Feb. 14.

Although the World Health Organization has declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international health emergency, Suhr said she was not overly concerned about the Rio Games, believing U.S. and international Olympic officials would protect athletes in Brazil, where the virus has spread rapidly.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)


Ali Jackson @ajackson_10 – Oklahoma U Gymnast
Few things from Last season:
First-team All-American (vault)
2015 Big 12 Event Specialist of the Year
All-Big 12 (vault, floor)
NCAA Norman Regional vault champion with a career-high 9.95
Big 12 vault champion (9.925)
Six event titles in 2015
#BrownGirlsDoGymnastics #oklahomagymnastics #ncaa #sooners