“Ukrainian female gymnasts are now received as heroes in the world”

24 June, 2014 - 11:52
Anna RIZATDINOVA on the annexation of Crimea, challenges for the country and role of sport

At the European Rhythmic Gym­nastics Championships which ended in Baku on June 15, the new star of Ukrainian gym­nastics, Crimean Anna RIZAT­DINOVA could confirm her class by winning the prestigious all-around bronze medal. This achie­vement is espe­cially valuable taking into account the fact that the winter pre­pa­ra­tions of the athlete were extre­mely com­plicated. Anna told in an inter­view to The Day how Ukrai­nian na­tional team trained in Maidan during the revolution, about the secession of her native Crimea, and why she will never compete for the national team of Russia.

Ania, is it possible that you will compete for the national team of Russia?

“I have never even thought of moving to another country’s team. Actually, this is unreal. This is impos­sible. By the way, my parents post­pone the moment of receiving the Russian passport, because they want to be the citizens of Ukraine.”

How have you managed to over­come the number of not especially successful performances after a difficult winter?

“Ukrainians are now perceived very warmly, like no other team, simply like heroes. People see what a difficult moment Ukraine is expe­­riencing now. Wherever we go, we see newspaper headlines, television reports about Ukraine. People support us, which is very pleasant. Sometimes we received offers to come to train to their countries, if the situation in our will get really bad.

“But morally it is sometimes hard to cope with emotions. You know what is going on in your country, and this influences your mood.”

You say it was hard to cope with your emotions. Do you remember your feelings when your home town Simferopol gradually stopped being your city by 100 percent?

“Honestly, it was very hard. I believed till the last moment that this would not happen, and the Crimea would stay with Ukraine. I don’t know where this faith came from.

“I grew up in the Crimea I love. I love the people who trained me in Simferopol, with whom I started to do the gymnastics. I could not understand, why? How can the Cri­mea be Russia? How can our Simferopol school train under a Rus­sian flag? I was outraged. This was unpleasant and terrifying. It was especially hard for my mother. This should not be so. I think it is unfair concerning people, children and coaches. I think the Crimean residents should be given a choice what country to compete for. For me the most terrible thing was when I could not get on a plane and come to my native Simferopol in two hours, like before. I cannot see my parents often. There are technical moments. Now my parents use rubles, they have a different mobile connection, they live accord­ing to Moscow time with a two hours’ difference with Kyiv.”

Your mother is a head of a Sim­feropol school, which is probably the strongest one in Ukraine. Will she now be training your rivals for the Russian combined team?

“My mom is a head of the Olym­pic reserve team in Simferopol. In the end of April the Cri­mea was performing at the Championship of Ukraine. Of course, we would like the Crimean school to be part of Ukrainian gymnastics. But I do not know what awaits us. I cannot answer the question whether the Cri­mea will participate in cham­pionships of Ukraine or Russia.”

By the way, Russian leadership stated that it occupied the Crimea to protect the Russian language spea­kers from nationalists and fascists. You speak Russian and have been living in Kyiv for the past three years. You have lived in Kyiv for entire winter and were going regularly to Maidan, because your gym is nearby. Have you ever been suppressed as a Rus­sian speaker over these three years and in the time of Maidan?

“Of course, not. I think this is nonsense. I can speak Ukrainian and Russian. Yes, practically all people in the Crimea speak Rus­sian. But nobody has ever offended the Russian speakers there. There have been no restrictions. Honestly, I have never heard about this problem from anyone. Since I moved to Kyiv, I have not had any unpleasant situations based on the language. It was only hard for me because after the Crimea I did not know Ukrainian. And there are much more people in Kyiv who speak Ukrainian. I had to put efforts and learn the language to be able to understand it.”

How did you train in the Zhovt­nevy Palace during the protests in the Maidan?

“Every time in the evening when we returned from training sessions, we saw these tires and barricades. Everything was happening before our eyes. During the training sessions we changed halls, because the coaches did not know where it would be safer. We were very terrified. When the protesters took the Zhovtnevy Palace, we went to train to a different hall for three months. When we returned to the hall in Zhovtnevy Palace, we saw that our white carpet was black. Some devices, like a TV set and a kettle, disappeared. Someone took our equipment, balls and clubs, it was a strange kind of robbery. We don’t know who did it.”

Your surname is Rizatdinova, are you of Crimean-Tatar origin?

“No. We have relatives among Kazan Tatars on father’s side. They live in Kazan. My father’s sister lives in Russia, we communicate with them really well. My parents grew up in Russia before they came to the Crimea.”

How has your life changed after the triumphant World Championship in Kyiv, when you won the gold?

“Of course, the championship was a stair to the future. I met many new people. People started to recognize me in the streets. I did not enjoy such popularity before the World Championship. People knew the previous generation of gymnasts. I was always offended by this, because I wanted people to recognize me. After the champion­ship, my life made a U-turn, this is a fact. I started to receive many offers, photo sessions, and interviews. I spent the second half of 2013 in euphoria – emotions, happiness. Now I have started to understand how hard it is to perform when you are a world champion. It is a completely different attitude and demands from the coaches, judges, audiences, people with whom I communicate. Everyone started to follow my achievements more, pay attention even to tiny details. People notice and immediately start to discuss me in public. After the championship I faced jealousy and misunderstanding in my team. Thank God, we came to understand­ing with the girls and the rest. Therefore the victory brought me both many good things, and many challenges.”

What are the distinguishing features of Ukrainian rhythmic gymnastics?

“The Ukrainian national team above all has always had not only to complete a set of elements and cleanly perform the program, but bring emotions to the audiences and judges. Iryna Deriuhina and Iryna Blokhina always choose the music very tho­roughly. The music should match the suit – this is an entire creative process. The Ukrainian school is always trying to create an integral picture. For example, I perform with a ribbon to Carmen Suite. I must convey this image. So far I am not 100 percent successful, but we are working on this: we watch the vi­deos of Maya Plisetskaya’s and other ballerinas’ performances. Our purpose is to convey the beauty, the grace, and emotionality of every exercise. To bring a story to the audience. Na­tu­rally, we should not forget about the technical performance of the elements. Because this is sport, not dan­c­ing or theater. Therefore, in the end only the fact of whether you made mistakes or not counts.”

You said that after you have lived for several years in Kyiv, this city has become native for you. What do you like in Kyiv?

“I like the center of the city very much. After the training sessions I always liked to go to Mai­dan, walk along Khreshchatyk. The evening Kyiv is charging you with many emotions. Now I cannot do this, because what was left in the Maidan is not a very pleasant view. I like Andriivsky Uzviz. I like the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. I have places where I come to charge at the most difficult moments, for example, after a training session where I failed to do something.”