Australia’s Stephens aims to cut ties with 2017 knee injury
DOHA: For Australian gymnast Clay Stephens, competing at the 48th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships is the chance to literally cut his ties with the serious knee injury that crippled his performance at last year’s Worlds in Montreal, Canada.
The competition will begin on October 25.
He plans to soon discard the bright yarn bracelet from his left wrist - an ornamental reminder of the injury he sustained in Montreal, where he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament on his last tumbling pass on floor exercise.
“I put this bracelet on the day I ruptured my ACL, and the plan was to cut it off at my next competition,” the 21-year-old told worldgymdoha18.com/home after training here at the Aspire Dome on Friday. “So one year later, at this Worlds, it’s pretty cool to be able to do that.”
No stranger to overcoming physical challenges, Stephens was born without a right pectoral muscle. He insists his condition has not stifled his success in a sport that counts on every available muscle, and particularly upper-body strength.
“It’s easy to see this as a difficult thing for me to deal with,” said Stephens, who has chauffeured for visually impaired people. “Everyone is going through their own battles, whether mental or physical. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. It’s just that mine is very visible. Success for me is about smart training, picking skills that are going to be easier for me than for other people.”
Stephens said he believes the Australian team can place among the top 24 in Doha, thereby moving a step closer to qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“We’re definitely capable of the top 24 and much better than that, if we all compete well,” he said. “It’s just about settling in, making sure we’re doing the right training and hitting our sets.”
Stephens, who referred to the training session alongside six-time world All-around champion Kohei Uchimura and his Japanese team-mates as “cool,” said persistence and time should close the current scoring gap between the mighty Japanese and the aspiring Australians.
Japan won gold in the team final at the 2015 Worlds in Glasgow while no team competition took place at last year’s edition.
“We’ve been pushing our start values for a long time,” Stephens said. “We’re slowly starting to get there. It’s all about finding the balance between high execution and high difficulty. It’s going to be a long time until we get there, but it’s possible. It’s important for us to train smart and hard, and keep doing what we’re doing. We’re in the right direction. We’re working hard and we’re getting better.”