The lone Chilean gymnast in Rotterdam, Tomas Gonzalez told IG he is inspired by the heroic rescue of 33 miners trapped for 69 days in a mine in northern Chile.
"I've always been proud to be Chilean, and now even more so," said the 24-year-old Gonzalez, a finalist on floor exercise at the 2009 Worlds in London.
The final miner came to the surface Wednesday night at the close of a dramatic, flawlessly executed rescue that has captivated the world. The men have been trapped 2,300 feet below the surface of the earth since part of the mine collapsed Aug. 5. Cut off from the world for the first two weeks, the miners never gave up hope they would be saved, rationing their tiny food supply until rescuers could reach them. Once a narrow hole was drilled, they survived with food and supplies lowered down into the mine while engineers drilled through hundreds of feet of solid rock to create a rescue shaft.
Tomas Gonzalez is the only gymnast in Rotterdam for Chile, which has captivated the world with its dramatic rescue of 33 trapped miners.
Gonzalez said he awoke Wednesday morning to the news that the miners were being reunited, one by one, with their families in Chile.
"Unfortunately I didn't see [live] images of miners with the time difference in Rotterdam, where I'm really focused on training," said Gonzalez, who turns 25 next month. "But I'm aware of everything that's going on with them, and I hope everything turns out well."
The painstaking rescue operation has brought the world's attention to the stoic South American nation, which has been praised for its professional approach and unwavering faith that all the miners would be freed. Chile's president Sebastian Pinera was on hand to personally greet each of the miners — 32 Chileans and one Bolivian — during the 23-hour final rescue mission. In a capsule painted with the Chilean flag, each miner was pulled to the surface to applause, tears and the sporting chant of, "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Los mineros de Chile!"
"This problem in the mine is showing that Chile is a strong country," Gonzalez said. "We can overcome various problems, which will help us grow as people."
The mining accident is the second major crisis Chile has faced in 2010. On Feb. 27, the coastal nation was hit by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which claimed the lives of 486 people and caused billions of dollars in destruction.
"It's something I will never forget," said Gonzalez, who was at home in Santiago when the earthquake struck at 3:34 in the morning. "But I was lucky I didn't suffer continuing problems, unlike the people living to the south who were harder hit. I hope they can repair the affected areas soon because there are many people who lost everything and are suffering greatly."
Gonzalez is the most successful gymnast in Chilean history, winning more than a dozen World Cup medals on floor exercise and vault, including the floor title at the 2007 Glasgow Grand Prix. In 2009, he became the first Chilean gymnast to make a world championships final, qualifying to the floor final in fourth position and finishing seventh.
Most recently, Gonzalez was second on floor exercise at the Ghent World Cup in September. He didn't make the vault final in Ghent after falling on an attempted triple-twisting Yurchenko in qualification. A Yurchenko with three twists is not yet in the Men's Code of Points, as few gymnasts have ever attempted it in competition.
"In Ghent I was one-quarter shy of the full three twists, so the judges would not evaluate it as a triple twist," said Gonzalez, who also competes a Tsukahara double pike. "I look forward to training that vault because it would have a value of 7.0, but it is very technical and very hard, so now I'm just doing it with 2 1/2 twists to be safe."
Known for his cat-like landings on floor and vault, Gonzalez plans to compete all six events in Rotterdam, where the world championships begin Saturday. The 2010 Worlds are the first step toward qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I will compete all six events in order to qualify for London 2012, and I must qualify individually because I have no team," he said. "My goal is to do a good all-around and also qualify for the floor or vault finals."
Gonzalez has been training with Cuban-born Yoel Gutierrez since 2007, after five years of training alone.
"It was very difficult for me to train alone, but I'm very happy now training with Yoel, and I feel that I can accomplish my goals in gymnastics with him," Gonzalez said. "But I was fortunate to also train with Evgeny Belov, a former Russian coach, who was like a second father to me. Evgeny unfortunately died in April, and I intend to dedicate all my achievements to him."
Gonzalez competes Tuesday in the seventh subdivision of men's qualification, from which the top eight gymnasts on each event advance to finals.
"If all goes well I hope to fight for a medal for my country and give joy to all Chileans," he said.
Stay tuned to IG Online for more news and reports from the 2010 World Gymnastics Championships in Rotterdam. Live coverage begins Saturday with the first day of women's qualification.