Sveta Boginskaya's Tsukahara?

By Natalia Cherepanova

Sport in the USSR, July 1983   Every time I am to meet an athlete I am going to write about in my next feature, I always try to recollect everything I know about that person.  The more inquisitive journalists look up sports reference books or peruse newspaper and magazine clippings to glean as much information about the athlete as possible, namely, where and when he was born, who his parents were and what his greatest achievements were.

This primary information gives one an idea, albeit a superficial one, of the person in question, and it is certainly much easier to talk to someone you know.

This time, however, I am to write about some girl gymnasts whose names are as yet unknown even to most experts in the field.  I went therefore to a sports center outside Moscow, where the reserve and the main body of the national junior gymnastics squad held their training sessions, knowing only the names and the ages of the girls I was going to write about.

Despite its enormous size, the gym seemed crowded with gymnastic apparatuses.  The bright and at the same time tempered light, a white magnesium haze hovering in the air with colorful splashes of the gymnasts' attire scattered in it and the nimble figures on different apparatuses all made the scene look somewhat unreal.

These children do on the beam what one might think only celebrated champions could do on the floor, and fling from the bars into the air, defying, as far as I can judge, the law of gravity.  It looked as if those wispy girls knew neither the meaning of fear nor gravitation, which gave me an urge to bring them back to earth, to the world of ordinary things anyone would understand.

At that moment Marina Kalinichenko reluctantly jumped off the beam, as if she had been distracted from playing with her favorite doll.

"Aren't you afraid?"

"What of?" she looked bewildered.

"But the beam is so narrow and hard and you somersault on it far away from the floor!"

"To begin with," she explained in a very grown-up way, "the beam is soft.  Try it yourself -- the floor is much harder.  Second, I just can't fall from it: the coach is always there to catch me and he is quite deft.  Third, there are foam rubber mats all around.  You can't even bump yourself here.  But I'll tell you that I'm indeed a bit of a coward," she wound up in a hurry, none too shy to make a confession like that.  "I even cry when I come across a scary tale in a book.  There's a brave girl for you!"

My question answered, I looked around and noticed that the yellow of foam rubber was well nigh the dominant color in the gym.  Foam rubber mats covered the floor all around the uneven bars, and gymnasts' feet were clad in foam rubber slippers and the landing pit looked like a sand-box.

"Three times a year, when school is out for the holidays," Anatoly Kozeev, head coach of the national junior girl gymnastics squad, told me, "we hold training sessions for girls in the 12-14 age group.  We invite those who have already made a good showing at national championships from children's sports schools and at the annual competitions in Tallinn sponsored by the Estonian newspaper Spordileht.  These competitions help us spot talented girls out of tens if not hundreds of thousands, who take up gymnastics at schools and sports societies.  This is not to say, however, that all those who come to these training sessions are considered full-fledged members of the national junior gymnastics squad."

"There are twenty girls in the gym at the moment," he went on, "and only five or so of them in fact form the backbone of this squad.  Some will join the national team on turning 15 and start performing at major international competitions.  But time still has to pass, while it is hard to forecast now who of them will have the honor to represent the Soviet school of gymnastics."

"All coaches try to avoid making forecasts," Konstantin Krutyev, head coach of the Olympic reserve team, put in, "but talk to any of the girls and you'll realize that, to use Suvorov's famous adage, every one of them dreams of becoming general."

Natasha Studenikina did a horse vault with piked salto and 360-degree turn and skipped back to the beginning of the run-up strip.

"Would you like to become an Olympic champion?" I asked her.

Not in the least surprised, she said confidently, "I'll be a world champion first.  I often dream I am standing on the victory pedestal, laughing and holding my arms high up.  I once laughed so hard that I woke up.  I liked that dream so much that in the morning I rushed to the gym, I think, overtaking a trolleybus..."

The coach allowed Natasha to repeat her jump at that moment, and off she went, to my mind, indeed faster than a trolleybus...

"We invite young gymnasts to these training sessions together with their coaches," Anatoly Kozeev resumed the talk, "taking into account the fact that they have already established some contact between themselves and, so to speak, understand each other without saying a word.  Besides, these sessions prove useful not only for the gymnasts but also for their instructors.  They, as it were, attend refresher courses here and learn what their colleagues from other cities are doing.  Before closing the session we give both coaches and their gymnasts some home assignment and then check it during the next school holidays."

Our talk was interrupted by Lyubov Miromanova who coaches Svetlana Boginskaya.

"I need your advice," she said apologetically.

Her charge, Svetlana, who is only ten years old and a third-grader at a Minsk school, is the youngest in the gym.

"It is not by chance that she found herself here," Konstantin Krutyev had already managed to tell me.  "And it is not her first training session either.  She is a remarkable girl, as far as her physical abilities and, I would say, personal characteristics are concerned.  She is indomitable, stubborn and even pushy, to quote Miromanova who has been training her for four years now.  She wants to be a winner always and in everything and manages to queue up for an exercise on several apparatuses at a time to outstrip the rest of the gymnasts and do the biggest number of exercises.  With her around we no longer ask the girls who wants to be the first to try a new element.  Sveta is bound to shoot ahead of all of them with her, "Me, me!"

Sveta was standing at the uneven bars all covered with magnesium, like a baker with flour, and looked at the coach ingratiatingly.

"Just look at her," Miromanova explained.  "She wants to dismount with a triple salto."

"What about your double salto?" Kozeev asked.  "Show us if you're good enough at it."

The girl took hold of the bar, made several circles to get into the swing and easily performed the dismount.

"Nothing doing," the head coach was not so easy to please.  "You were all bent and square, while what you have to do is to soar in the air like a rainbow.  No, it is much too early for you to try a triple."

Sveta bit her lip, pouted and muttered to herself something like: "I'll do it just the same."

"Aren't your kids much too serious?" I turned to Krutyev and Kozeev.  "They look absorbed, perhaps even worried, as if they were taking a test at school."

"Have you noticed that all the excellent pupils are always serious in class?" Krutyev said.  "It is only poor students who fire paper balls and pull girls' braids.  The girls we have here are literally exemplary pupils with nothing but high grades.  As for gymnastics, it indeed requires complete dedication and invites them to think for themselves rather than repeat mechanically the coach's instruction.  They have enough time for fun after their sessions.  Do you hear them giggling now -- they are watching some cartoon films on video cassettes.  I wish you had come a couple of days earlier and seen a concert performance they gave us, travestying the coaches.  They mimicked everything -- the way we walk, talk and even drink our tea -- so keenly."

According to Kozeev and Krutyev, gymnastics is going to see an upward trend in the age of its top-class performers and will therefore become more feminine, emotional and spectacular.  At present dozens of the world's best gymnasts are approximately at the same level of excellence.  The difficulty of the compositions shown at championships is approaching its maximum, which nevertheless does not mean that a peak has been reached.  The main criterion in evaluating the gymnasts' performance will soon be the manner of execution rather than what has been performed.  There will be ever less risky elements, that is to say those in performing which a competitor may make a fault.  Quality plus stability are going to be the things valued most.  The coaches believe that this trend will be manifest as early as this summer at the traditional Druzhba competition for young gymnasts from socialist countries preparing for them now.

Sveta Boginskaya reappeared in the gym.

"It's much too early," Krutyev told her.  "There is still some time left before the afternoon training starts.  Better go to the backyard and play hopscotch with the girls..."

Sveta left the gym reluctantly and sat down outside the entrance door.

"Sveta, would you like to have some element named after you?" I asked her.  "Like, say, the Korbut or Comaneci?"

"This element is called the Tsukahara with two pirouettes," she said, as if it were a long decided matter.  "I can only manage one pirouette at the moment but I will make a double pretty soon.  I still can't think of a good name for it, though.  Perhaps, Boginskaya's Tsukahara, how about that?"

This page was created on April 12, 2001.
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