If you have been a follower of the gymnastics sport for a long time, you might have witnessed the dominance of Russia in the sport. At the recently held Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships which took place in Stuttgart Germany from September 9 to 13, two remarkable Russian gymnasts — Yana Kudryavtseva and Margarita Mamun continued their country’s winning trend that was initially built by Alina Kabayeva, Irina Chashchina and Yevgenia Kanayeva. So, you might wonder, why are Russian gymnasts so successful?

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Competition within the national team

The Russian rhythmic gymnastics team has always been filled with numerous top quality gymnasts, which grants the team’s star the privilege to be “backed-up” by the other gymnasts. One of the most distinguishable example of the aforementioned “backing up” – which is also considered as a healthy competition – took place during the 2000 Summer Olympics held in Sydney Australia.  After Alina Kabayeva — a Russian gymnast which was admired by the people for the individual-around gold medal — accidentally dropped her hoop during her routine, which left her with only a bronze medal, another Russian gymnast, Yulia Barsukova, came to the rescue and won the gold medal in the hoop competition.

26 Aug 2004, Athens, Attica, Greece --- First placed Alina Kabaeva of Russia performs with the hoop in the gymnastics rhythmic individual all-around qualification at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. --- Image by © Gero Breloer/epa/Corbis

All of the Russian athletes who were training under Irina Viner, the head coach of the Russian national team and the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation president, is required to learn one rule.

 “If an athlete locks herself into her grandeur, her stardom, it is bad for everyone and, above all, for the athlete herself,” head coachViner stated in an interview with Russian daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

 “There will be no progress in this case. While you are standing on the podium, you are lovely, you are fabulous, yes. But as soon as you get back down, you have to forget about the triumph and start practicing twice as hard.”

Their Greatest Rival is Themselves

Russian gymnasts show a great respect for athletes that came from other countries. However, during the competition, they try not to compete with anyone else, and instead attempt to conquer themselves.

Amina Zaripova, a retired rhythmic gymnast and coach, pointed out the significance of self control while commenting on the success of her student Margarita Mamun, who was a gold medalist in the individual all around event, as well as all of the four individual events – hoop, clubs, ball, and ribbon at the 2015 FIG World Cup circuit in Rhythmic Gymnastics held in Kazan earlier this year.

 “I loved everything about Margarita’s performance at the World Cup in Kazan, including her mental condition,” Zaripova told the Ves Sport news agency.

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“Her main rival is herself. She has to learn to deal with her fears and insecurities – not to beat Yana Kudryavtseva or some other competitor, but to conquer herself.”

Russian Gymnasts Pushes it to the Limit

Russian athletes have consistently set the bar high. As leaders, they set the pace in the individual and group events regardless of the changes in the lineup of their team. The Russian team who participated at the group event of the 2015 World Championships held in Stuttgart was composed of Anastasia Maximova, Diana Borisova, Darya Kleshcheva, Maria Tolkacheva, Sofia Skomorokh and Anastasia Tatareva.

34th FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships Stuttgart (GER)), 7-13 September 2015

Out of the six Russian athletes, only Maximova has some credentials – she is a two-time World Group All-around bronze medalist and a three-time World Cup Final Group All-around champion. Even so, back at the beginning of the season, the Lucy Dimitrova, a choreographer from Bulgaria, arranged incredibly elaborate programs for Russian gymnasts, complete with “insane stunts and furious pace.”

Tatyana Sergayeva, the new coach of the group explained the reason behind it. “We never go the easy way. The Russian team is the leader, so it’s supposed to be head and shoulders above everyone else. We need to work so hard and later perform so well, that all the contestants should say in the end: ‘Russia is out there, we cannot catch up with them!’” she stated.

Russian Coaches with a capital “C”

Looking back at the Baku 2015 European Games, some international journalists also asked about how Russian athletes manage to take over the competition and get a clean sweep of all the available titles at major competitions. The Russian rhythmic gymnastics star Yana Kudryavtseva answered: “Our rhythmic gymnastics school is the best – we have all the conditions for success and professional growth. In Russia, we are provided with everything – accomodation, food, training halls.”

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Additionally, Margarita Mamun said that it was also made possible thanks to head coach Irina Viner, stating that Viner, without a doubt, knows how to handle the athletes properly.
“Seventy percent of my job is counselling,” said Viner. “This cannot be substituted by physical exercises or brilliant choreography. I try to explain what the highest level of skill actually is, try showing them examples of such skill. It is all about a positive attitude, you have to perform with love, get into the so-called ‘flow,’ which is when time has no power over you and you don’t care about any issues of technique.”

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