Cecile Landi loves challenges.
When the 1996 Atlanta Olympic gymnast – then known by her maiden name of Cecile Canqueteau – decided to move from coaching France’s National Training Center to the United States in 2004, there was no shortage of doubters, including the head of the training center.
“When I left France, they told me I was going to fail. I can’t. I was going to come back crying and begging to go back to work. And here I am 18 years later,” Landi told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview. “That was one of the motivations too. I thought, ‘Oh, no, no, no. I will prove you wrong. I’ll show you. Do it.’
“It wasn’t easy,” she continued. “This is not easy.”
It wasn’t the first time the official doubted her.
“When I was 13, she wanted to kick me out because she didn’t think I had the potential to pursue a career,” recalls Landi. “And that’s why she put me with the Chinese coaches in such a way as to say, ‘You know what, this is going to be too hard, so you’re going to quit so I won’t have to kick you out.’
“It was the first,” she continued. “Well, I didn’t quit. I later retired but went beyond what she thought I could do.”
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Coming to America
When Canqueteau and boyfriend (now husband) Laurent Landi she left to train in the United States instead of returning to France, wanting to get her old job back, blossomed.
The couple began their American journey in Oklahoma Bart Konner Academy of Gymnastics and then at two different gyms in Texas.
She has worked with two outstanding American artists, Alice Baumann and Madison Kocianat WOGA Gymnastics in Dallas, a gym that has hosted Olympic champions Carly Patterson and Nastya Liukin achieve greatness.
Under Landi, Baumann was part of the 2014 U.S. World Championships team that won gold, while Kocian won two world team titles, a world uneven bars title, and the 2016 Rio Olympic gold and silver medals.
Despite the success, Landi never harbored dreams of becoming a coach when he was growing up.
“I actually wanted to be a PT (physical therapist) because like many gymnasts, I’ve had a lot of PT to do throughout my career,” she explained with a smile. “I went to the University of Marseille, spent the first two years, and after two years you start teaching physical education, more PT or professional coaching.
“The national team training center in Marseille called me and said, ‘I think you’ll be a great coach? Do you want to do it?’” she continued. “I said, ‘Oh no, damn it, no. I don’t want. I don’t want to train.”
But an offer to pay for her tuition finally convinced her to give it a try. The rest, as they say, is history.
Cecile Canqueteau takes part in a dance floor exercise in Atlanta, 1996
Cecile Landi: “As an athlete, I feel fulfilled.”
Landi credits this education with shaping her as a coach, noting the importance of seemingly small details such as how do you approach correcting your athletes.
“Luckily for us in France, we really do have this degree that teaches us psychology… and how negative comments really have an impact,” Landi said.
Her coaching education this is one of the differences Landi notes between France and the United States, where instructors may not receive the same training.
She says she tried to combine these teachings with her experience as an athlete, taking the things she liked from her athletic career and discarding the ones that didn’t work for her.
Landi’s dedication to her athletes is clear. She enjoys watching her athletes win Tier 10 state championships as much as she enjoys leading them to the Olympics.
She says her professional career has been more than she could have imagined, leaving her completely fulfilled and fulfilled ready to help the next generation of young women achieve more than they could have imagined.
“I was from such a small town, from such a small gym, that I was just joining the national team and going to the worlds … I didn’t win medals, but that wasn’t the point. It was about experience, development and going to the Olympics,” Landi said about her sporting achievements.
“As an athlete, I feel accomplished, so when I went into coaching, it was more about how can I help them feel the same? What can I do to help them fulfill their dreams?” It makes me happy.”
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However, not everything went smoothly as Landi is aware of the many challenges that women in their field face.
Among them is starting a family.
In 2007, Landi worked until the day she gave birth to her daughter Julia – who represented France in diving at the Junior World Championships in December – and returned to work three or four days later.
Not because she didn’t have maternity leave, which many Americans miss, but because of a sense of duty.
Her sister, who still lives in France, couldn’t believe the turnaround.
“My sister had two children and was able to stop [working] a few weeks earlier, many weeks later,” Landi said. “So she said, ‘You’re crazy, you’re going back to work so soon.’ I had a choice because I know I would be paid, but I didn’t either.
“When you have 35 kids, I don’t know who’s going to come and coach my 35 kids if I’m not around,” she continued, later adding, “I think mentally we can handle a lot more than some guys around.”
Simone Biles brings new pressure, perspective
She says her female perspective helped her career, especially as her view of her role changed.
Landie’s star student Simone Bileswhich she and her husband Laurent started training in 2017, he emphasized the importance of the mental health of its athletes when she made the decision to put her mental health ahead of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“I think we’re trying to listen to the athletes a bit more because mental health wasn’t real to me in the 90s. It was, ‘You’re lazy, you just don’t want to do it,’ or other things like that they told us,” recalls Landi.
“Mental health has become more and more [important] in the last five years, I would say, with the USA Gymnastics scandal and all these athletes who were abused, then we saw that it affected them a lot more than we ever thought.
“Talk to Simone and the girls… I just want them to know they can tell me anything. I often observe body language, I try to see. Then I ask, ‘What’s going on? Everything’s all right? you want to talk? Do we need to talk and spend the day? All right.
“I think it’s more casual, being mindful and mindful of girls’ body language. We see them every day, so we can tell when something is wrong.
“It was definitely a big change and Simone opened my eyes to a lot of things,” she concluded.
Landi also talks about working with Biles it created a pressure unlike any she had faced before in his coaching career.
“When we started training Simone, I’d say we had a different kind of pressure because everyone was waiting for us to mess something up. “How can you improve it? How can you improve it?” I don’t know, but she’s capable of more. And she did.”
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Landi didn’t back down from this challenge with Biles, just as she didn’t back down when she was told she was going to fail as a coach in America.
She hopes that determination is what any woman who wants to follow in her coaching footsteps can take from her career.
“It’s really… just don’t be afraid. People will tell you, “No.” People will say you can’t do that,” she said of her advice to aspiring trainers. “Just keep pushing. Do what you believe you can and you will make it happen.”