Interview | Larissa Miller
Larissa Miller has been one to watch in Australian gymnastics since she burst onto the International scene with a 7th place finish at the 2012 World Championships. Since then, Larissa has only built upon, and enhanced her reputation in gymnastics; helping the Australian team in 2011 to Olympic qualification, and coming first in the 2012 Gymnix International.
It was in 2014 that Larissa cemented her place as one of the most successful Australian gymnasts, collecting a silver on the Uneven Bars at the Commonwealth Games, and helping her team to a silver. 2014 was really a stand-out year..., "I would have to say 2 moments from 2014 [really stand out]. Firstly Commonwealth Games Uneven Bars Final.
I don't think I have ever felt as confident as I did during that final. I knew I had done the work and I was proud of the way I prepared in the lead up to the games. You can never know 100% how things are going to go in competition, but I was 90% confident that I would hit that routine. It honestly couldn't have gone much better.
And secondly making floor finals at 2014 World Championship. That was the biggest surprise to me! I remember going into the final with absolutely no expectation, I just went out and enjoyed every second of the routine. I felt blessed that I was able to compete alongside the top 8 Floor workers in the world, it's still crazy to know I was a part of that".
In 2016, you were the sole Australian representative at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio... "for the first time in 25 years Australia didn't qualify for a full team to go to the Olympic Games, and as a result I was selected as the sole representative.
It was very unusual not having a team, but my coach and I worked closely together in the lead up knowing that it would just be the 2 of us over there; so we were prepared for that. I got to compete in a group with other sole representatives for 5 other countries, which was a very special and unique experience.
I learnt so many lessons during my Olympic campaign and learnt so much about myself and discovered strength within me I never knew I had. It truly was an invaluable experience".
Arsene Wenger said, 'to perform at your maximum you have to teach yourself to believe with an intensity that goes way beyond logical justification. No top performer has lacked this capacity for irrational optimism; no sportsman has played to his potential without the ability to remove doubt from his mind'" - Rio did not go as planned; how do you bounce back from something like that, at the elite level? "As an athlete I am a perfectionist, it is a blessing and a curse.
Obviously it is a great trait for an artistic gymnast to have; given that everything we do is meant to look beautiful and effortless. But on the flip side it can be really poor for your self esteem, because it's not very often that I will do something that I am even 90% happy with.
When I go to competition and have a poor performance, usually my initial feeling, is wanting to get back into the gym right away to fix it and make sure it never happens again. I look at a 'poor' performance as an opportunity to grow.
As for missing out on medals; for me that isn't what it is about. I have never gone into a competition hoping to walk away with a medal. I got into competitions aiming to do the best that I can do, and if I deliver my best performance I am happy, wether that is last or first".
Was there extra pressure on you as the sole representative from Australia in gymnastics at Rio 2016? "I don't think I have ever experienced pressure like I did in the lead up, and during the Rio games.
There were times when I honestly did feel like I was carrying the nation on my shoulders; and that was difficult to deal with. There were a few days that I really broke down, and I wanted to give up.
But obviously, deep down inside my soul I knew what I wanted, and no pressure or expectation was going to stop me. So I guess come comp day I went out and gave it everything I could, just like I would at any other major competition.
Since 2014 you've been a star in Australian gymnastics, and in 2016 the media focus was really on you; as you've become more successful & famous, how have you found the increased attention on yourself? "I think 'fame' and media attention was one of the hardest thing for me to come to terms with. I didn't sign up for fame; I did gymnastics because I loved it, and became successful because I loved it and worked really hard.
In the lead up to Rio I had a fair bit of attention from the media, and I guess I just had to be really smart with how much time and energy I put into that; because at the end of the day I was going to the Olympic Games to perform, so I had to make training the priority.
As for now, I do really love sharing my experiences with young athletes, hopefully inspiring them to be the best they can be along the way".
How important is a strong support network at the elite level (coaches, physio's, analysts, etc)? "Gymnastics would be impossible without support staff. My coach especially. There have been times when I wanted to give up, and my coach would be by my side reminding me what I was training for.
I wouldn't get through physically without my medical team. For me personally I am most reliant on massage therapy, I feel like if my muscle are well taken care of that is the best injury prevention.
And definitely my family, at the end of the day they are what keep me, me; keep me mentally and emotionally alive outside of the gym".
So, let's talk about your nutrition; take me back to Rio 2016, what were you eating prior to competing there? "I was actually sponsored by a Melbourne food company called Nourissh. They would deliver weekly paleo dinners to my door. It took the stress away of cooking dinner after the tough sessions that I had in the lead up to Rio".
So what would a normal day of fuelling yourself look like? Gymnasts, although being relatively petite, have to be very strong & must have to exercise a lot. Do you eat a lot/very regularly (i.e. 5 or 6 meals a day) to fuel your training? "When I am in full training mode my schedule for the most part will look like this:
Breakfast - Quinoa with fruit/porridge with honey cinnamon and almonds. And a coffee
Lunch - chicken or tuna wrap using mountain bread. Sometimes I would have another latte
Pre training snack - usual something light, 1/2 or full banana and an espresso
Dinner - dinner is my most variable meal. Beef stir fry, salmon steak with kale salad, lamb and mango salad, chicken tenderloins with vegetables (I love broccoli!)
Snack - nuts or yogurt"
Aside from Rio, do you eat much before you compete? "I don't usually like to eat too much before competition. Although it does depend on what time of the day I compete. I will always have my normal breakfast portion. If I have lunch it will be a light chicken salad or wrap".
And do you eat during or immediately after a competition? "I generally pack a banana and nuts in my bag for competition. I usually have half a banana after apparatus warm up. (Before the competition begins)"
What are your thoughts on protein shakes & bars? "I have never really had protein shakes. I have the occasional protein bar, but I don't eat them religiously. I generally try to incorporate my protein intake trough my meals".
Presumably you can't beat eating healthy all the time - what is your cheat meal? And what meal is most common in your household? "I love nachos! And donuts. I would have to say chicken wraps. Using mountain bread, chicken, avocado, carrot, olives, cheese, mayonnaise and jalapeños".
How important is hydration in gymnastics? "I think sometimes gymnasts overlook hydration during training and competition.
Personally I don't like to drink too much during training as it can be quite uncomfortable with the amount of jumping and flipping that we do.
Are there any foods you actively avoid? "Mostly I just try to limit my sugar intake during comp season. Processed sugar really affects my training, it makes me feel really lethargic and weak.
I do also limit but not restrict my carb intake during comp season. But otherwise I believe almost all foods are ok in moderation".
When you compete abroad, do you try & take in some of the local cuisine, or do you have to maintain a strict diet? "Usually I try to maintain a normal diet until after the competition. Just as a precaution so that I don't get sick or an upset tummy"
Do you eat much or snack in the gym? "I don't usually snack at all during training, but I generally always have something in my bag just in case. If anything I will snack on the drive home from training".
Do you have any game-day rituals or superstitions? What are you doing 5 minutes before competing? "Before completion I usually just like to clear my head. Go into a quiet space by myself and listen to music or play cards on my phone. I know so athletes like to run through their routines in their mind, but I don't really do that.
I believe that if I am at a competition there is no more that I can do, I have spent months in the gym, day in day out thinking about what I am doing. I feel that competition is a time for me to let go, enjoy myself and really perform. Obviously I get nervous, I think nerves are important, it just about managing those nerves and trying to turn them into positive energy".
What is your recovery like after a competition? Are you eating much, or stretching? Initially after competition I would usually ice bath or at least ice bucket my lower legs. A lot of the time I would get a rub down the next day to free my body up due to the intensity of competition. The next day would usually be a light stretch session to keep my body moving.
In the gym, what exercises do you tend to rely on the most? How would I train like I world class Olympian? "I personally rely heavily on my strength program.
Strength is one of my favourite aspect of being a gymnast. It isn't always easy and fun, but I know the results I can get from being strong and physically prepared to conquer my routines each day.
I believe as a gymnast I have the coordination to do the skills (for the most part!) I just need to be physically and mentally prepared.
I think being and feeling strong also helps me a lot mentally, because if I am feeling mentally exhausted I know I can rely on the strength of my body".
Finally, are there any individuals, or athletes, that you admire or find inspiration from? "My sporting inspiration is consistently changing, I think it depends where I am at on my own journey.
I look to athletes I can relate to at the time and draw strength from them. My most recent inspiration was Shelley Watts, an Australian female boxer who was a part of the Olympic team".