Anna Rizat­di­nova in top gym­nas­tic form

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - BY OLENA GONCHAROVA [email protected]

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)

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