Kikuchi was 20th at the
2003 world championships
Photo courtesy Grace Chiu
For the past three years, David Kikuchi has been one of the mainstays on the Canadian men's gymnastics team. Coached by his father, Tak Kikuchi at Halifax's Alta Gymnastics Club, Kikuchi has quietly risen to the top of the sport, both in Canada and abroad. As the highest finisher for Canada at last year's world championships, Kikuchi established himself as one of the front-runners for the 2004 Olympic team, and placed a further stamp on his growing resume with a first-place finish at the 2003 Elite Canada, after finishing second in 2002.
Now 24 years old, Kikuchi may be peaking just in time to pace the Canadian team in Athens, where the team has set a goal of finishing among the top eight. In this Gymn.ca exclusive interview, Kikuchi discusses his preparations and his goals for the coming months leading up to next month's national championships in Mississauga, as well as the Olympic Games in Athens.
Personal Facts:Club: Halifax Alta
Coach: Tak Kikuchi, Mary Kikuchi
Age (DOB): 24 (27/12/79)
Favourite Event: Rings to compete, pommel horse to train
School: Dalhousie University
Top Results: 2004 Pacific Alliance Championships: 4th Team, 3rd AA
2003 Elite Canada: 1st AA
2003 World Championships, 9th Team, 20th AA
2003 Canadian Championships: 3rd AA
2002 Elite Canada: 2nd AA
2002 World Championships for Individual Apparatus: 11th PB
2002 Commonwealth Games: 2nd Team, 7th AA, 2nd PB
2002 Canadian Championships: 2nd AA
2001 Elite Canada: 2nd AA
2001 World Championships: 12th Team, 41st AA (preliminaries)
2000 Elite Canada: 1st AA
Gymn.ca: How is your preparation going for the national championships and Olympic trials?
David Kikuchi: Everything is going really well right now, no real injuries, and I've had a lot of good meets lately. Training has been steady lately, too.
Gymn.ca: Will you be making any changes to your routines between now and the Olympics?
DK: Well, first I have to make the Olympic team, then we'll see. There are a few events that have skills which aren't quite ready yet, and maybe they would get upgraded by August.
Gymn.ca: Do you have a particular goal or ranking in mind for nationals?
DK: Well the number one goal is to keep myself in a good spot to make the team. But I also want to win this year because I have been so close the past two. I won Elite Canada in December, so maybe that is a good sign. But really, can anyone beat Rich [Ikeda, the four-time Canadian champion]?
Gymn.ca: How do you assess the preparation of the rest of the menís team over the past few months?
DK: I've only seen most people for a week in the past few months, but they were looking good. I've been travelling more with Adam [Wong] lately, and he is looking good. Grant [Golding] and Nathan [Gafuik], also.
Kikuchi gets a lift from his father, Tak,
en route to 2nd AA at the 2002 Elite Canada
Gymn.ca: There seems to have been a clear effort to get all of the top menís athletes into international competition this spring. You have led the way with three international assignments Ė the Jurassic Classic, Olympic Test Event in Athens, and most recently with your fine performance at the Pacific Alliance Championships in Hawaii, where you earned a bronze medal in the all-around. What did you gain from each of these experiences? How will they help you come this summer?
DK: Jurassic was great because we beat the American team for the first time that I can remember, and even though it wasn't their absolute top team, they still sent quality guys. That definitely was a confidence boost. Athens was good because we got to compete on the Olympic equipment, which is great, and I had a good meet. After Athens I was really motivated and upgraded a few events, but especially p-bars. I thought of my current routine while I was there. And Pacifics was great because it was in Hawaii, I scored a personal best in the all around, I did a sweet p-bar routine in finals, easily my best ever, and we went surfing!!!! So this summer these meets will help me by: knowing we can beat the Americans, knowing all the coolest places in Athens, and knowing how to surf. Oh yeah, and they were good for gymnastics, too.
Gymn.ca: Last year, the menís world championship team included you, Grant Golding, Sasha Jeltkov, Kyle Shewfelt, and Ken and Richard Ikeda. When you look around now, however, there are several different faces (mostly up-and-coming athletes) who are making a name for themselves, both nationally and internationally Ė athletes like Adam Wong, Nathan Gafuik, world championship team alternate Casey Sandy, veteran Rhett Stinson, and Brandon OíNeill, to name a few. Do you think any of these athletes are at a level yet where they could crack the Canadian line-up?
DK: For sure all of these athletes have a chance to make the Olympic team. All of these guys have improved so much in the past few years. I think it will come down to what events the team needs, who has good meets, and who the national coach feels comfortable with.
Gymn.ca: Would it be difficult to see one of the veterans left on the sidelines in favour of one of the younger athletes?
DK: It would be really difficult though to see someone from worlds 2003 not make the team. These were the guys that enabled us to send a full team, and without even one of them, we wouldn't have done it. We had such a fantastic competition in Anaheim.
Gymn.ca: At last yearís world championships, we learned that anything can happen in the sport of gymnastics when the reigning world champions, Belarus, failed to qualify to the Olympic Games. As a team, you finished ninth last year, which was a remarkable finish. What do you think your chances are for a top-eight finish, which would get you a berth into team finals?
DK: I would say that if we can hit as well as last year, then we have a really good shot at eighth. Everyone from last year's team have gotten better. Ken was just coming back from his shoulder injury, and he has upped his start values a lot, Grant has lots of big scores now, I have upgraded start values, Rich too, and Kyle and Sasha are almost healed up from ankle injuries (I hope). Our guys are looking good.
Kikuchi was a semi-finalist
at the 2002 world championships
Photo courtesy Grace Chiu
Gymn.ca: Will you be satisfied as a team if you donít qualify to team finals, considering your Cinderella performance from last year?
DK: If we don't make team finals it would definitely be disappointing, especially if we had a bad meet, but hopefully we'd have some people going for individual stuff that would keep us occupied.
Gymn.ca: There was a joke at last yearís world championships that your coaches hadnít even thought of putting together lineups for three-up, three-count team finals, and they were left scrambling with the possibility when you were still in contention to qualify late in the preliminary round. Is there any more consideration placed on possible 6-3-3 lineups this year? If so, where do you think you could help the team most in a team final?
DK: Since we are on the bubble to make the top eight then I don't think we can really plan for the 6-3-3 format. We have to send the best team for 6-5-4, and hope we make it. Teams like the US, China and Japan have the luxury to send specialists specifically for team finals. Even if we had a guy that was world champion on one event, but that's all he did, I don't think we could send him. He would be great for the finals, but we probably wouldn't get there. We need guys who can multi-task.
Gymn.ca: Are you receiving any more media coverage or attention since your performance last year? How are you handling the pressure of an Olympic year?
DK: I have noticed a bit more media coverage since a few years ago, but not enough to bother me or make me feel pressure. I am trying to approach this year just like last year; do as well as possible, and make the team in August. It is hard to keep the Olympics in perspective because whenever you hear that word you kind of lose sight of why you are really there, the training and competition. I tend to think about the people to meet, Opening Ceremonies, watching other sports, the tattoo I would get, stuff like that. I guess things that you would see on TV. I just have to remember that all that stuff comes after the three more months of hard work.
Gymn.ca: You are 24 years old, which is sort-of middle-aged for a male gymnast. Have you given any thought to what you will do after Athens? Your results seem to be getting better every year Ė do you think youíve reached your peak yet? Will you consider retiring, or is there still more gymnastics in you?
DK: Right now my plan is to stay for another cycle, until 2008. I haven't been part of the national team for too long, I am kind of a late bloomer, so I think that will help me stay longer. We should still have a really strong team next cycle.
Gymn.ca: Do you have any concerns about the conditions in Athens, both from a competitive and a security standpoint? What were your reactions to the recent subway bombings in Athens? Some countries are allowing their athletes to opt out of competing at the Olympics if they donít feel safe Ė do you feel it could come to that point for you or any of your teammates?
DK: I heard that it'll be really hot there, but the gym has air conditioning, so it shouldn't be too bad. I'm sure we'll have everything we need there. I am not someone who worries a lot, so I trust the security there. If the terrorism continues I'm sure it'll make people think twice. It would take quite a bit to make someone stay home, though. Hopefully we've seen the end of it.
Gymn.ca: The Olympics are less than 100 days away. Do you ever have to pinch yourself that this is all finally happening?
DK: Anything can happen from now 'til Athens, so I'll pinch myself if I compete, and it's over. You can't count your chickens before they hatch. Even in July when the team is picked, anything can still happen. Haha, I just realized that this sounds very worrisome for someone who doesn't worry, but I like to be careful about these things. I'll let someone else take care of security.
Gymn.ca: What would be a dream performance for yourself and your team at the Games?
DK: Dream performance? Let's see:
- make team finals;
- shock everyone and medal in team finals;
- two guys in all-around finals - including me, this is my dream;
- three event medals, how about a gold, silver, and bronze? I'll let some other people take care of this one;
- great competitions all around!
Gymn.ca: Thank you very much for your time, and best of luck this summer!
DK: No problem, and thank you!