Stars of Foreign Stadiums: Anelia Ralenkova

By Veselin Laptev

Sport in the USSR, 1982   Who should represent Bulgaria in the combined event at the Munich world championship?  European overall title-holder Iliana Raeva?  Undoubtedly.  Will it be the young and internationally recognized Lilia Ignatova?  Yes, of course.  But who is to be third, wondered Bulgarian sports fans, experts and the national team coach Neshka Robeva.

It will be of interest to recall now a lively discussion in the sports press touched off by Robeva's last-minute nomination of Anelia Ralenkova to the Bulgarian squad.  Despite her consistent performance she had not taken part in any major international meets.  Most sports writers supposed that at best she would be able to compete in the second echelon, that is with gymnasts contesting fourth place on down.  But they changed their minds as soon as they saw Anelia in action on the mat.  Her performance of the club exercise astounded both the audience and the judges.  Se displayed polished technique, remarkable grace and surprising self-control.

We know the rest.  The Bulgarian gymnasts took top honors at the championship, Anelia Ralenkova winning the world overall title and Raeva and Ignatova sharing the silver medal.

Did your victory come as a surprise to you? was my first question to the new world champion.

Frankly speaking, yes.  Of course, I was in good form in Munich both physically and psychologically.  But it's no secret that the marks we gymnasts get are, to a large degree, subjective and that a lot depends on the athlete's world ranking.

Did you watch your rivals' performance?

No, I didn't.  After I was through I went straight to the gym.

What did you do there?

Well...I waited for Lilia who performed after me to come and share my secret meal of bananas with me.  We are very fond of bananas.

When did you feel you could win the overall title?

After the first day of competitions was over.  Our coach didn't say anything, but as the audience always cheered for us three more than for other gymnasts we felt we might get the first prize.  Believe me, I didn't think about myself at all.  I was glad if one of us won.

Isn't there any rivalry between you?

Yes, sure, but only during competitions.  We've been friends since we were kids, we grew up together, went to the same school and belong to the same Levski Spartak club.  It was Iliana Raeva who actually brought Lilia and me to the gym for the first time.  She introduced us to her coach, Zlatka Boncheva, who became our first coach, too.

What are the main traits of your style?

I put great stress on grace and difficult elements even if they turn out to be risky.

What can you say about your present coach?

I wouldn't have won without Neshka.  She works harder than any of us.  I have great confidence in her and follow all her instructions during workouts.

What has rhythmic gymnastics given you?

I can't imagine my life without it.  What I enjoy most is not winning, it's the performance itself and the contact with the public.  Sport has taught me to work and toughened my will-power.  Last year I finished school and now I want to continue my sports career at a physical education institute.

Who are your main rivals abroad?

Rhythmic gymnastics is expanding rapidly, so competition is growing, too.  Our main rivals are, just as before, Soviet gymnasts.  Girls from Czechoslovakia and West Germany have also improved.

Tell us about your life outside gymnastics.

There isn't much to tell, really.  My life, just like that of other athletes, tends to be a bit monotonous.  Training sessions take up a great deal of my time and when I'm free I prefer to stay home with my parents.  They have nothing to do with sport: my father works in catering and my mother is a railway traffic controller.  I can have a real rest when I'm with them.  I like modern music and good books.  On weekends my friends and I often go to Mount Vitosha.  As you see I can't tell you anything special.

This page was created on April 13, 2001.
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