"I Want to be Myself..."

By Natalia Cherepanova

Sport in the USSR, 1986   Three years ago our magazine offered a story about the USSR junior gymnastics team entitled "Svetlana Boginskaya's Tsukahara."  The editors promised at the time to keep readers abreast of the young gymnasts' progress.  These plans, however, were never realized.  In the last three years the team's line-up has been almost completely renewed.  Former members Oksana Omelianchik and Elena Shushunova have made the USSR national team and are in the lead of world gymnastics, having shared the all-around title at the 1985 World Championships in Canada.  (We presented stories on these remarkable athletes in this year's issues 7 and 11.)  Irina Baraksanova has become world champion in the team scoring.  Elena Zabrodina, Natalia Frolova and other girls who made up the backbone of the Soviet junior team of three years ago also have impressive victories to their credit.

The names of the young gymnasts who have replaced them, with the exception of the all-round junior European champion Svetlana Boginskaya, have yet to become household words to lovers of this sport.  But who knows, perhaps these girls, just like their predecessors, will soon make names for themselves in big-time gymnastics.

This story will give you an idea of how things are on the USSR junior gymnastics team today.

They are training in the same gym at a sports center near Moscow.  I saw the familiar haze of magnesium floating in the air, the yellow landing pits carefully covered with foam rubber mats and slim girls in sweatsuits working out.  They also seemed just the same as three years ago. 

"Are you missing the girls who moved on to the adult team?" I asked Svetlana Boginskaya, an old acquaintance of mine.  Three years ago she was the youngest on the team.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Have you made any friends among the newcomers?"

"Yes, Natalia Laschenova, Yulia Kut and Svetlana Makarycheva."

"You are looking very serious, I think even more serious than you did when I saw you last."

"I don't know, maybe," she said shrugging her shoulders and obviously reluctant to elaborate.

"Svetlana is always very concentrated during training sessions," said the squad's head coach Anatoly Kozeev, as if to apologize for Svetlana's reticence.  "She is quite different at home.  Still playing with her dolls -- teaching them gymnastics, you know..."

"So the girls are playing with dolls just as before?"

"Yes, children will never change.  Unlike the sport they go in for, which changes very rapidly."

Kozeev believes that in recent years women's gymnastics has made something of a U-turn, remembering that its main task is to reveal, both through simple and highly complicated elements, the specifically feminine in the athlete's character.  While only a few years ago female gymnasts tended to merely imitate men as best they could.  The revival of femininity should be associated with the rise of new stars, Olga Bicherova and Olga Mostepanova.  They brought more emotion into performances and made them more complicated, too.  Elements unheard-of at women's competitions of three years ago are becoming standard fare.  The Tsukahara with two spins jump that Boginskaya was once so eager to perform now figures in many athletes' programs.

The apparatus have undergone changes, too.  Today the girls perform on a new springy podium permitting spectacular acrobatic elements.  The side horse now made of new materials also offers increased possibilities.

The head coach's attitude to the selection and training of athletes has changed somewhat, too.  He is still unretiring in his search for talents but believes that improved training methods will help achieve good results even with average gymnasts.

All training innovations introduced are scientifically substantiated, the coaches working in contact with a physical education expert, Nikolai Yepishin.

Says Anatoly Kozeev:  "At each all-squad training session which we hold several times a year we make changes in our line-up.  Selection errors occur, too.  I don't fancy athletes who do not develop their skills with each new competition.  They lack exactly what they are supposed to have much of at their age: the ability to learn and improve.  At 11 or 13 one should be forging ahead, not marking time.  As before, the girls come to the periodic training sessions with their individual coaches.  Under their care they feel almost at home in the new surroundings.  The coaches do not waste their time here either: they compare notes and exchange experiences.  We are trying to bring as much diversity into the training sessions as possible.  After all, our pupils are still children who like playing and dancing and romping around.  We must not allow gymnastics to turn into a chore for them, or they'll soon become sick and tired of it."

"Svetlana Boginskaya is leading the squad now.  She stood out even three years ago, but not so much for her expertise as for her unchildlike industry and persistence."

"At 13, she is the oldest on the team," says Lyubov Miromanova, Boginskaya's coach.  "She has lived through difficult times when she had to work extra hard to get back into shape after a long illness.  At one point she even developed a loathing for gymnastics."

"I remember one day when she came without her sporting bag and instead of the usual hello, said: 'I won't be coming any more. Good-bye.'  And off she went, slamming the door and leaving me dumbfounded."

"That's the end of it," I thought, knowing well her stubbornness.  I didn't run after her, didn't try to dissuade her but decided just to wait.  After four days she came back and, without apologizing or explaining anything, changed into her sweatsuit and started rubbing magnesia into her palms.  She's been unwavering ever since."

"Svetlana, who do you like among the female gymnasts?" I asked.

"Oh, there are many I like."

"Is there anyone in particular you want to be like?"

"No," she said, her eyes lighting up, "just myself."

This page was created on March 31, 2001.
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