Author : Christof Gertsch, Benjamin Steffen
Language : German
Suffering under the spotlight. What a book title. What a split between a successful, shining and nice blond young athlete, and the confession Ariella Kaeslin delivers in that authorized autobiography. The gymnast from Lucerne, the beautiful city in central Switzerland, was indeed the most successful swiss female gymnast ever before Giulia Steingruber, who then followed her steps in Magglingen, the gymnastics national centrer, to become even better. European champion in 2009 on vault – her favorite apparatus, like Steingruber –, silver medalist at worlds the same year, three times swiss sportsperson of the year, Kaeslin had constantly and slowly improved through her career to become a true star in her country.
Magazine covers, advertising everywhere, she seemed to live a dream and was one of the most well known athletes in Switzerland beside Roger Federer and Fabian Cancellara. Her smile was so bright and sharp and convincing it seemed to be perfect, even to gymnastics observers who could make out the tiredness she should naturally suffer from at some point of the season.
According to the story you can read in that book, actually that was only the sunny side of the street. The dark one was hidden but huge. Most of the media focus on that point, of course. And the book mostly does, too. It's like a thriller : anytime, any page, the reader knows the clouds are going to invade the sky and become heavier and heavier. But we will not consider the story as a full tragedy. We will balance, as the authors actually maybe even unconsciously do, between happy and sad moments. The sad ones, however, will seem awful to the common reader. Physical pain. Brutal mental treatment, like trash talking, from the national coach, who is never mentioned by his name but is the french advanced technician Eric Demay, who then shouldered the coaching of the french female national gymnastics team. Starving. Denying body changes. Endorsing high goals as soon as « the French » was fired to prove herself and everyone it was the right decision to make. Then, at the end, nervous breakdown. I-feel-totally-empty and I-am-nothing feelings. No emotions anymore. « If I could have pressed a button and die immediately, I would have done it », she says. Ariella is not the only one in that case but as she was the best in the country ever and as Switzerland is not used to such observances at all, it had to blow up. She felt too isolated. She felt under a bigger and bigger public pressure. She stopped. One year before the Olympics. Then she felt lost.
The beginning of Ariella's sportslife was bright, though. Well, as bright a the one of a young gymnast can be. At least, pleasure was a key word at that time. The pleasure of moving her body. Ten years coached by Susi Stettler. A balanced coaching, as soft as it can be, even through hard times because of Ariella's changing mood. The critical point appeared as soon as going to Magglingen became the only way. Every top swiss athlete goes there. A beautiful place outside but a prison inside at some point. This touching, solemn and nicely written book brightly illustrates a european cultural uneasiness. It's unlikely such a successful athlete would have released such a point of view in the US. Jennifer Sey, a former US all-around champion, did it in 2009. It is not common, though. At all.
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