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Ryan Sheppard: Hopeful For Hungary
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U.S.-born gymnast Ryan Sheppard, who competed for Hungary at this month’s European championships in Glasgow, Scotland, told IG that he is feeling confident and at home among his new teammates as they prepare for this fall’s World Championships in Doha.

“It's been a great experience coming here, and the team has welcomed me with open arms,” said Sheppard, who is training in Hungary until late September.

Sheppard and his teammates finished 11th in qualifications in Glasgow, less than three points from advancing to the eight-country team final. Although no all-around competition took place in Glasgow, he earned the sixth highest all-around score among gymnasts who performed on all six apparatuses.

Born Oct. 17, 1995, in Silver Spring, Maryland, Sheppard competed for WOGA in Texas in the U.S. junior ranks and then for Stanford University from 2015-18. He finished fourth all-around and first on parallel bars in the 17-18 age group at the 2014 P&G Championships, and ninth all-around at the 2018 NCAA championships.

Sheppard is the second member of his family to represent the homeland of his maternal grandmother, Anna. His older sister, Austin Sheppard, competed for Hungary at the 2011 European Championships in Berlin, where she placed 13th on vault; and was third reserve for the vault final and 52nd all-around in qualifications at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. She later competed for the University of Michigan.

In this IG Online interview, Sheppard describes the hopes he has for himself and his Hungarian teammates as they aim for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

IG: Having recently transitioned into a role on the Hungarian team, what were your thoughts on how you personally performed in Glasgow, and how the team did overall?

RS: I thought my performance could have been better. I struggled all week in training on pommel horse and high bar, and that showed in the competition. I was happy with the other four events, though. With that said, I was just extremely grateful to be out there competing on the international stage and I had a lot of fun. The team overall did very well. We improved several places in the team rankings compared to the last European Championships (15th in 2016) and were very close to qualifying to the team final. I think it was a great preparation for the World Championships.

IG: How much influence did Austin's international career, and her own decision to represent Hungary, have on your decision to try for a spot on the Hungarian team?

RS: Austin played a huge role in me wanting to compete for Hungary. My older sister and I have a very unique relationship. I treat her more like a younger sibling and joke with her a lot, but in actuality I have the utmost respect for her, and she is someone to whom I look up. I really wanted to follow in her footsteps and try to compete for Hungary.

IG: Having been born and raised in the U.S., how much do you embrace your Hungarian heritage?

RS: My mom is full Hungarian. My grandmother had to leave Hungary during the Cold War due to political persecution. I believe she regained her citizenship in the early 2000s. My grandmother lived with us almost my entire childhood, and I was never fully able to appreciate what she went through until I got older. I have the utmost respect for her.

IG: How are you embracing your Hungarian heritage in terms of gymnastics?

RS: It's been a great experience coming here and the team has welcomed me with open arms. I am trying to improve on every event, but I am desperately trying to tap into my Hungarian heritage to help me with pommel horse. I struggle a lot with pommel horse despite it being my favorite event. When I was younger I had a very nice swing. However, as I've gotten bigger I've lost a ton of flexibility in my shoulders, and my pommel swing has suffered tremendously due to this. It's kind of a running joke I have with my coach here, where we make fun of this.

IG: The Hungarian team has some very talented guys: Adam Babos, David Vecsernyes and others, not to mention (2012 Olympic pommel horse champion) Krisztian Berki. Where do you see yourself fitting into the team in terms of your strengths and what you can contribute to the team?

RS: I think the Hungarian team has a bunch of great gymnasts. Adam Babos, David Vecsernyes, Botond Kardos, Krisztian Boncser, Balazs Kiss and Krisztian Berki are the guys currently on the senior national team, and they all have lots of experience and talent. I just want to help the team in any way I can, whether that be in the all-around or on a few events. At Stanford, I have really learned to put the team before myself, and I view competing for the Hungarian team the same way. The goal is to qualify the country to the next World Championships (2019 in Stuttgart) and the (2020) Olympics in Tokyo. We are working really hard to make that happen.

IG: What is your arrangement with the Hungarian team, in terms of training there and training in the U.S.?

RS: I head back to the United States on September 24, after the Szombathely World Cup in Hungary. I go back to Stanford for the start of classes because I am not finished with school yet. I should be finished with my master's degree next December. My coaches at Stanford are Thom Gliemli, Quazi Syque Caesar and Karl Ziehn. The plan is, if I make the team, I will meet everyone in Doha on October 19. We have not planned anything else beyond Doha in terms of training.

IG: Hungary placed 22nd at the last Worlds in which a team competition took place (2015), and Doha will be an important step for all the teams trying to make it to Tokyo. With so many teams at a similar level these days, what do you think you and your teammates will need in order to advance beyond Doha and eventually to Tokyo?

RS: The main goal is to qualify a team to the Olympics. We need to place in the top 24 in Doha to advance a team to the next World Championships. After seeing our results at Europeans, the team is very optimistic about achieving this result in October. We don't have the highest difficulty, but where the team lacks in difficulty we make up for in our execution. We just need to go out and do our gymnastics.

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