© Diane Bidermann

Competition at the 2011 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships begins Monday, Sept. 19, with the qualification round in Montpellier, France. This year’s World Championships serve as the first opportunity for the Americans to qualify to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The United States last qualified to the Olympics in 2004, when Mary Sanders represented Team USA in Athens.

Team USA sends a strong team to France, headlined by 2010 U.S. national champion and World all-around finalist Julie Zetlin. Shelby Kisiel, the 2011 U.S. all-around champion, and Polina Kozitskiy, the 2011 U.S. ribbon champion, will join Zetlin in France.
With the competition just days away, USA Gymnastics caught up with the three women who will represent the United States in competition, along with USA Gymnastics rhythmic program director Caroline Hunt. Here’s what they had to say on the eve of the competition.
USA GYM: What is the importance of these championships for Team USA with the London Olympics less than a year away?
Hunt: This is the most important competition for the team as it is the first qualifying event to London.
USA GYM: What are the expectations for the competition for the Americans?
Hunt: Both the individuals and the group are focused on competing consistently – they are all very well prepared and represent the strong American rhythmic program that has made huge strides over this past quadrennium.
USA GYM: How does the team prepare for big competitions, like the World Championships?
Hunt: The team has had various camps and verifications leading into August. After the 2011 Visa Championships in Saint Paul, both the individuals and the group prepared together at the National Team Training Center at the Karoyli Ranch and completed a final verification. We arrived in France a few days before official podium training to get acclimated, and then, they will compete. They will follow a similar plan right before next month’s Pan American Games.
USA GYM: What are your goals for this competition?
Zetlin: My goals for this competition are not only to be strong and consistent, but also to lead my team with a good and positive energy. I would like to use my experience to show them what it means to be a solid and strong competitor with the rest of the world because I think we are exactly that: strong competitors.
Kisiel: My goal is to show improvement from Visa Championships, to show amazing expression, and to be an enjoyable gymnast to watch.
Kozitskiy: My goal for this competition is to really put my best effort into my routines and please the crowd with all of my hard work.
USA GYM: What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to represent the United States in a World Championships?
Zetlin: It’s a great feeling representing my country in something I feel so passionately about, especially since it’s my fourth worlds.
Kisiel: Since I was 5 years old, I had always dreamed of being on the U.S. national team. Competing in my second World Championships for Team USA is beyond belief for me! I am very proud of my country and my teammates competing at this year’s World Championships. We are a strong team.
Kozitskiy: To be able to go to the World Championships and represent your own country is an honor! For me, it has always been a dream of mine to go to one, and now my dream has come true!
USA GYM: How do you prepare mentally for competition? Do you have any rituals or superstitions?
Kisiel: On the days of competition, I usually get into the "zone" by listening to my music and reading notes that motivate me from my family and friends.
Kozitskiy: The night before the competition, I close my eyes and go over my routines in my mind. I imagine myself catching every toss, holding every balance, and fixing every mistake. And of course, I have my good luck charms!
USA GYM: Do you have any plans to sightsee or do any fun activities while in France?
Zetlin: We saw the Eiffel Tower!
Kisiel: I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower! It was incredible!
Kozitskiy: Yes! But only after I am finished with practice or when I am finished with competing. France is a beautiful country, and I would love to see all the historic monuments and museums that it holds.