Anna Rizatdinova in top gymnastic form
It is still one year before the Summer Olympic Games kick off in Rio de Janeiro next year. But Ukraine’s Anna Rizatdinova, one of the world’s top rhythmic gymnasts, already feels like time is going too fast.
At 22 years old, these may be the last games in her career competing in a sport that favors the young.
“At the age of 25 you may be a veteran,” Rizatdinova says with a smile.
Maybe so, but Rizatdinova is still peaking.
She won the world all-around silver medal in 2013 in Kyiv and the world all-around bronze medal in 2014.
“It was her best performance,” Iryna Deryugina, her coach, was quoted as saying after the World Championship in Izmir, Turkey, in 2014.
This year, Rizatdinova won the allaround bronze medal at the Sofia World Cup.
“My biggest dream is the Olympic Games,” Rizatdinova says as she reaches to touch her elegant golden necklace shaped in five Olympic rings.
The upcoming September World Championship in Stuttgart, Germany is important to the nation’s team. It will decide if the Ukrainians get a spot in the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Rizatdinova is optimistic about making it to the Olympics. She works daily on the same routines: hoop and ball, clubs, and ribbon. She likes the hoop the most. However, she is most known for her trademark ribbon program, “Carmen.”
Rizatdinova trains six days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to prepare for the fall championship. It pays off: she is often dubbed as Ukrainian Grace.
She’s been living like this since she entered gymnastics at the age of five. Her mother initially tried to sign her up for the class a year earlier, but fouryear-old Rizatdinova didn’t like it.
“I cried because it was painful,” Rizatdinova recalls. She changed her mind in a year. In her adult career, Rizatdinova also had some moments when she wanted to give up.
One of the hardest ones was after the 2012 London Olympics when she finished in 10th place.
But she’s happy to have good mentors who inspired her to move forward. Among them are Albina Deriugina, 83, and her daughter Iryna Deriugina, 57, both legends of Ukrainian gymnastics.
Another one is Iryna Blokhina, the daughter of Iryna Deriugina and Oleh Blokhin, the former famous soccer player, and head coach of Ukraine’s national soccer team.
“I didn’t give up on sports because Irina (Blokhina) believed in me,” Rizatdinova adds.
As a native of Crimea’s Simferopol, Rizatdinova was shocked when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.
“I still can’t process it,” she says. “Crimea is always Ukraine for me.”
Rizatdinova hasn’t visited Crimea since the annexation, saying that it would be “difficult” to see Russian flags everywhere. Back in 2013, she had an incident at the world cham-
pionship, when the Russian national anthem started playing during her award ceremony instead of Ukraine’s.
Her parents still live in Crimea and her mother, a coach, still trains Crimean gymnasts now representing Russia.
“My mom trains her daughter’s competitors,” Rizatdinova says.
But she says that Ukrainian and Russian gymnasts still get along, despite the tense relationship between the countries brought on by Russia’s war and annexation.
She believes that athletes are the county’s best diplomats now.
“And I’m always proud when I hear the national anthem and when the Ukrainian flag is raised,” Rizatdinova says.
Even though the sport takes all her time and her childhood was a rather busy one, she said she’d also want her own daughter to go into gymnastics.
“It helps to understand music, be more artistic, flexible and healthy,” Rizatdinova says.
In the meantime, she’s totally focused on her career.
“If you want to achieve something, you have to dedicate yourself to it. And, yes, I want to leave something significant in history after me,” Rizatdinova says.
Ukraine’s Anna Rizatdinova competes in the women’s gymnastic rhythmic individual apparatus final at the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan on June 21. (AFP)
Ukrainian rhythmic gymnast Anna Rizatdinova is hoping to qualify for and win her first Olympic medal in next year’s Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Volodymyr Petrov)