Federation Friday: Belarus

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Federation Friday: Belarus

April 29, 2016

The home nation of gymnastics legends like Olga Korbut, Vitaly Scherbo and Svetlana Boginskaya guides us how they are planning to rebuild their once glorious artistic gymnastics programme

Artistic gymnastics. A new round of history.

Not so long ago the Belarusian school of artistic gymnastics -as part of Soviet gymnastics- was one of the strongest in the world. Since 1960 Belarusian gymnasts were constantly part of the USSR Olympic team. This is despite the fact that to become a member of the USSR national artistic gymnastics team was much more difficult than to win a World or European Championship, so great was the competition. During the nine subsequent Olympic Games twelve Belarusian athletes became champions and prize-winners of the Games. They won 36 medals, of which 21 gold ones. Olga Korbut, Svetlana Boginskaya, Vitaly Scherbo, Nellie Kim, Antonina Koshel - this list may be continued - have become not just legends of the world gymnastics and idols for millions of people, but have contributed to the development of the global boom in this sport.

But the glorious history has made a zig. Vitaly Scherbo was the last Belarusian athlete to rise on the Olympic podium in 1996 in Atlanta (USA). At that Olympiad Ivan Ivankov, an injured two-time absolute world and European champion, not a less legendary figure, was not able to support the team and the Belarusian men's team took the offensive fourth place. The women’s team was sixth. It was the last bright page in the history of Belarusian artistic gymnastics of the last century.

The collapse of the Soviet Union had contradictory effects. The positive effect was the fact that Belarus could participate as an independent team and send more of its athletes to high-scale sports competitions. On the other hand, the whole Soviet coordinated system of training of high-class athletes began to "fall apart at the seams" ranging from basic training in artistic gymnastics at schools to preparation of coaching staff. It was the staff, or rather its outflow that played a decisive role in the fact that Belarusians began to lose their leading positions.

In a difficult economic and social situation in the country, the world opened a wide embrace for post-Soviet specialists, offering significant financial support and good working conditions. Fish look for where it is deeper, and people - where it is better. In the 90s and early 2000s over one hundred coaches have left Belarus. The geography of their residence is from France to Australia and from South America to Egypt. More than 70 Belarusian specialists started working in the USA. It turned out that our own coaches began to prepare competitors for us.

But a new round of history begins today. The Belarus Gymnastics Association has set a task to revive the former glory and traditions of this sport. Particularly intensive work in this area began a year and a half ago, when Helen Skripel, a famous businesswoman in Belarus, became the Association’s Chair. These ambitious plans have become one of the priorities of her work and the Association’s activities.

To implement the "Revival Plan" the comprehensive program has been developed based on the study of problems, consultations with highly qualified specialists, including foreign ones, and bold marketing ideas. The program has received strong support from the Ministry of Sport and Tourism of Belarus and the National Olympic Committee.

The basic items of the project are sports facilities, coaching staff and promising athletes. Several gyms have already been renovated and equipped with the latest equipment. World-renowned expert Oleg Ostapenko has started working as the head coach of the women's national team. He trained two Olympic champions and led the Brazilian women's team into the elite of world gymnastics. At present the position of head coach of the men's national team is vacant, the Association would like a high-class specialist take the position. The Association plans activities for retraining and learning for its young coaches. As for athletes, the focus is on young gymnasts and the junior category which are aimed at serious work in the next Olympic cycle.

Commenting on the objectives of the project and the progress of their implementation, Elena Skripel noted: “We need to make the Belarusian gymnastics to be represented by new champions who work and train in our country. It’s impossible to restore everything in one day or year. But with all the existing problems, I can say that there are prospects for solution of assigned objectives.”

From left to right: First Vice-President, Assistant to the President of the Republic of Belarus Maksim Ryzhenkov, Olympic champion Yelena Volchetskaya, Chairman of Belarus Gymnastics Association Helen Skripel, Head coach of the women's national team Oleg Ostapenko, Olympic champion Antonina Koshel, First Deputy Minister of Sports and Tourism Aleksandr Gagiev.

PHOTO  by V.Zdanovich

 

Olympic champion and President of FIG WAG TC Nellie Kim and young Belarusian gymnasts

 

Text and photos: Belarus Gymnastics Association