The Gymnastic Charisma of Galina Beloglazova

By Andrei Batashev

Soviet Life, September 1985   At the European championship in rhythmic gymnastics, which took place in Vienna, Austria, in November last year, the all-around title was won by 17-year-old Galina Beloglazova, a student of the Foreign Languages Department of the Astrakhan Teachers Institute.

The newspapers articles describing Galina's success were more like ballet reviews than sports commentaries, and the journalists are not to blame for it.  In Vienna's Stadthalle, Beloglazova displayed exactitude of form and sincerity of emotion (the trademarks of the Soviet choreography school) in her compositions to the music of Schubert, Adam and Strauss.

And yet Beloglazova's gymnastic performances are not ballet.  They are a sport with all the attendant features: competition, drama and total concentration of physical and mental energy.  Beloglazova herself, who looks so wonderfully feminine and charming, is essentially a contestant who rejoices not just in any applause, but only in that which comes in praise of excellence.

In Vienna, Beloglazova performed with a bandaged ankle, but she acted as if the bandage was part of her tights.

The competition at the championship was exceptionally tough.  To catch up with Anelia Ralenkova, the early all-around leader from Bulgaria, Beloglazova had to score a perfect 10 for her last exercise with the ribbon.

When the first chords of a Strauss waltz sounded in the hall, she performed her program with such breathtaking elegance that it looked as if it didn't require anything special to abandon herself to inspiration and make her way through an invisible labyrinth, marking its turns with tender and yet flashing and confident moves.

Her reward was the coveted 10 points.

A year earlier, at the world championship in Strasbourg, France, Galina fell just 0.05 points short of sharing the all-around title with Bulgaria's Diliana Georgieva.  Those five-hundredths of a point robbed her coach Lyudmila Tikhomirova and choreographer Viktor Sergeyev of sleep.  They had prepared her for the world championship, and Beloglazova, who, according to everyone, should have been crying her eyes out, was as calm as ever, marveling at the performance of ski jumpers on TV that day as if nothing had happened.  This episode perfectly illustrates her self-control.

As for ballet, Beloglazova likes it, too.

"I like everything I have seen at the theater," she says, "Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Spartacus.  But I have never wanted to become a ballet dancer, and I don't know why.  It's probably because ballet dancers nearly always work empty-handed, but when I enter the gym and pick up the ribbon or the ball, I immediately forget everything."  Her coach thinks that Beloglazova is exaggerating.  She never forgets what she is supposed to remember.

"It sometimes seems to me," confesses Tikhomirova, "that Beloglazova has a tiny but accurate computer inside her head.  That's why all her improvisations -- both in life and in sports -- are based on very precise calculations."

Once Tikhomirova suggested that Beloglazova should include a sophisticated manipulation with clubs in her exercise.  "I was astonished at her dedication.  Her hands were covered with the bruises she got while perfecting that truly difficult trick," the coach recalls.

"Many people are impressed by Beloglazova's artistry and resourcefulness," continues Tikhomirova, "but that doesn't mean I'm always delighted with all of her qualities.  If, for example, she is set to go through her program 10 times at the training session, an eleventh run will be just too much for her.  And even if I finally persuade her that she must do 14 runs, she'll pretend to agree with me, but she'll do the first six runs very casually, with a beautiful smile on her face but without really putting her heart into it.  Sure enough, at the end of the session she'll do it seriously, but whenever she can, she'll try to conserve her energy.  I must constantly guess what she's up to and force her, as imperceptibly as possible, to do what's necessary."

Watching Beloglazova perform, you involuntarily come under her spell.  She is often compared to the Bolshoi dancer Lyudmila Semenyaka, who is so adept at expressing the music that, despite the obvious, viewers ascribe the entire wisdom of the composer who created it to the ballet dancer.

Beloglazova (height 163 cm., weight 44 kg.) lives in the old Russian city of Astrakhan at the Volga delta.

She was only five years old when her mother, a physician by profession, brought her to the sports school for children headed by Tikhomirova.  The first four years she worked in the beginners group.  At nine she went to her first training session with Tikhomirova, and three years later she scored her first major victory, a junior prize at an Intervision Cup tournament. And then Beloglazova, who never hurries in her everyday life, made a dramatic spurt to the gymnastic summits, winning the silver at the 1983 world championship and the gold at the 1984 European championship.

Will she be able to exploit her success in the next few years?  This is what her coach and numerous fans are dreaming of.  Beloglazova naturally is not opposed to it, but she has no intention of sacrificing the joys of life and her academic studies (she plans to become an English teacher) to sports.  Despite her youth, Beloglazova feels and treasures the beautiful moments of life.

"Back home we have a small cottage in the countryside," Beloglazova says.  "I have a favorite arbor there woven of vines.  Try to imagine it.  There is a gentle breeze blowing.  Bunches of ripe black grapes are hanging from the vine, and I am swinging in the hammock to the sound of soft music.  My only worry is how to pick the grapes without disturbing this blissful dream."

That's how she controls her tension.  So far this ability has never let her down at major tournaments.

This page was created on April 6, 2001.
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