Boosting Gymnastic Fans' Interest
Moscow News, #13 1988 Soviet sports officials and coaches met with reporters from TASS, APN and a number of national dailies shortly before the opening of the gymnastics competition, as is traditional before every such tournament. The "MN"-sponsored meeting was attended by head of the Gymnastics Department of the USSR State Committee for Sport and senior coach of the Soviet men's team Leonid Arkaev; senior coach of our women's team Andrei Rodionenko; gymnastic coach of the Committee for Sport Lidia Ivanova and head referee of the tournament Valery Kerdemilidi.
Moscow News: A paradoxical situation: Soviet gymnasts rate best in the world, while at national tournaments the crowds keep dwindling. The "MN" tournament is no exception.
Leonid Arkaev: That's why we have entered our best gymnasts for this event. Those who are the greatest crowd pullers in other countries. Their names on the billboard, I think, are the best advertisement of the tournament.
As for the situation in principle, I think we are taking the consequences for our own mistakes -- both coaches and gymnasts concentrated more on the complexity of the routines, at the expense of their artistic impression. The fans for some time gasped, catching their breath, at the mindboggling spins and turns brought out by girls in their early teens and their counterparts on the men's national team, but then began to demand that gymnastics be a real entertaining performance. That means not only hazardous vaults and triple somersaults. Fans, for example, want to see gracefully built female gymnasts whose performances are aesthetically different from those of men. In a word, record tricks are not enough. I would say in short that gymnasts must be beautiful people doing beautiful gymnastics. That would bring back the crowds.
MN: As we have a part in the organization of the coming event, we hope that'll happen already next Friday.
LA: Those who'll come to the Olimpiisky Sports Complex will at any rate be sure to witness some new attractions. For the first time ever there'll be a combined gymnastics and calisthenics event, with Kochneva, Lobach and Druchinina.
MN: Aren't you afraid that the wee, but very determined tamers of the asymmetric bars, the beam, etc., will pale before the graceful and feminine girl-artistes, and that that would alienate the fans from gymnastics still more?
LA: Not at all. We've tested that during our recent demonstration tour in Belgium, and the spectators were in raptures.
MN: There have of late been "authentic" stories among fans about gymnasts, mostly girls, who take special hormones to slow down their growth, and no less "authentic" claims that girl gymnasts would never be able to become mothers. What do you think?
LA: Both are utter rubbish. There are doping tests at every major event, and as far as I know, none of our gymnasts has ever once been exposed as a chemical hormone user. The reason why most of our girl gymnasts are so small is that quite some time ago coaches found that doing complex turns is much easier for girls of a small height. So they took that easy road. But I may say that, for example, Nelli Kim, Natasha Yurchenko, or Sveta Boginskaya were outstanding gymnasts of normal standard height.
As for doubts about being able to bear children, the best argument of all against these doubts will be the present tournament, among whose judges and guests of honor will be some of our former famous champions. All of them will come to see it together with their children.
MN: Don't you find it strange that classical gymnastics which for decades has been associated with physical fitness now makes some people discourse on the subject of "sport for health"?
LA: There's apparently some misunderstanding. There are always injuries in big-time sports, including gymnastics. But I don't think it's right to try to explain these injuries using fancy arguments not based on any objective information. The latest argument is that gymnasts today are much younger than before, as adults, with their instinct of self-preservation, can't be made to perform risky routines. There is no arguing with people who are not aware that, according to the basic rules of the Soviet school of gymnastics, whatever the age of a gymnast, he or she is supposed to be absolutely clear on how to do this or that routine and should not just start learning it automatically at the coach's order. There are lots of such incompetent speculations around.
MN: A possible reason is the vast number of drop-outs during screening at sports schools for children. The division of children into good prospects and bad, and the selection of those who are able to do high-complexity elements get parents nervous and agitated, and fuel speculations. Is that so?
LA: No, that isn't quite right. The system of screening at the schools is a must. Without it we would not be able to produce high-class gymnasts. It's a different matter, of course, that there should be conditions for those who want to develop fitness through gymnastics rather than to compete and win medals. Now the schools have been given the right to run paid gymnastics classes.
MN: Do such classes already exist?
LA: Yes, they do. For instance, there's an acrobatics school in Voronezh which is, by the way, free. Whole families come there for workouts and to learn some gymnastic exercises that improve fitness. As a matter of fact, as regards the development of fitness, a good choice, I think, is a cross between gymnastic exercises and body-building ones. At Moscow University there are classes of calisthenics which are also attended by men. This is not quite the usual women's gymnastics, it's more like aerobics and it develops good bearing and elegance of movement, which are useful.
MN: Chances are that more gymnastic classes around the country would boost the interest for competitive gymnastics and bring more fans to the grandstands.
LA: Then we'd be able to hold big gymnastics festivals where masses of gymnasts and acrobats would perform. Such festivals are already held in Estonia and they're simply great.
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