Team Ukraine & London. To be or not to be?

The Future of Ukrianian Gymnastics :  Is there one?

It’s hard to believe that a decade ago (almost two in Gutsu’s case), Ukrainian’s were winning World & Olympic all-around titles. First came Gutsu in Barcelona, and then Lilia in Sabae, Birmingham, and ultimately, Atlanta.

Following Podkopayeva’s reign, in came a new generation and a new code of points. Oleg Ostapenko referred to Viktoria Karpenko as “the most talented” gymnast he’d ever worked with. Sadly, the pressure to become Ukraine’s third Olympic all-around champion proved too much for Vika, and she cracked under the pressure in 2000; an event I oft-refer to as the “Sydney Suicides.” Much like one of my favorite books/movies (starring a young Kirsten Dunst), The Virgin Suicides, gals went down the shitter one by one in a most spectacular and ghastly demise. But instead of self-execution by way of hanging (Bonnie), being impaled by a fence post (Cecilia), baking your head in the oven a’la Sylvia Plath (Mary), downing a bottle of sleeping pills chased with gin (Therese), or carbon monoxide poisoning (Lux), Sydney’s shit-show featured wrong vault settings (everyone, namely Khorki), illegal use of cold medicine (Raducan), code-whoring (Olaru), and most tragically, tripping over your own big toe (Karpenko).

Following Karpenko’s blunder – which eventually sent her packing for Bulgaria, our attention focused on Alina Kozich a few years later. A promising new Ukrainian with the long lines of Boguinskaya but the headcasiness of Karpenko, Kozich (somewhat surprisingly) captured the all-around crown at the 2004 European Championships. Kozich could have been a medal contender in Athens, but of course this happened:


She bounced back in 2007, claiming an all-around bronze at Euro’s. Expected to be a player (or at least umm…make all-around finals) in Beijing, she headcased her way through prelims when she was to be the team leader.

Dare we forget this?

Like Karpenko, she moved. Unlike Karpenko, she moved twice. First, to Uzbekistan (Hi Daria!) for a minor comeback, and ultimately to Japan to coach. Though it was rare that she actually went 4 – 4 (and her bars were always kind of weak), I have to believe that Kozich was Ukraine’s last solid all-arounder. We’ve had glimpses of individual genius over the years – Zgoba/Koval’s bars, Krasnianska’s beam, Demyanchuk’s surprise beam gold in 2009, Kononenko’s fabulous bars set from last year in Milan. But where did all the great all-arounders go? When exactly did this ship begin to sink? When Ostapenko moved to Brazil?

Training in less than desirable conditions with little funding and no money to spare, where do they go from here? Are these obstacles too insurmountable?

Only 8 teams from Tokyo will qualify to London. The other 4 will qualify during a test event prior to the games. At this point, I’m wondering if they’ll even qualify a full team, and who their biggest challengers will be. 

From Rotterdam:

12th, and not even by a lot.

A list of Ukraine’s main players (or rather what they’ve been reduced to), and what they can contribute.

Daria Zgoba retired

Yana Demyanchuk

Strengths: beam, she’s cute, big tricks.

Weaknesses: chronic knee injury, execution

Following 2009 Euro’s, I thought of Yana as a little glimmer of hope for this team. She qualified 4th to the all-around, won beam, and danced her way into our hearts with this jazzy little ditty:

Later that year, she was diagnosed with necrosis of the knee, and was knocked down to 2 events. They need her on all 4, even if she’s only scoring 13’s on vault and floor. I’m almost positive that she’s had the required surgery, but she’s still only been doing bars and beam.

Yana is wildly inconsistent, if not unlucky. She made last years beam final at Euro’s, and fell in finals. She repeated the same cycle in Rotterdam last year. Not that her form was ever her best quality, it’s totally been shot to shit. Her (always heavily taped) knee seems to not straighten on leaps, and though her bar routine is super risky, there’s the missed handstands, the dumpy releases, the flexed feet, the leg separations, and the bent knees all over the place:

A routine worth a 6.1 shouldn’t be scoring in the low 13’s with no falls, right?

Anastasia Koval

Strengths: bars & beam. Experience.

Weaknesses: typical UKR headcasiness, often injured, low d-scores on vault and floor.

Another Ukie renowned for her fantastic bar work, Ana brings a lot to the table on that event – and beam too. Though her difficulty on bars has depleted, she’s capable of a high 14 if she makes it through smoothly.

She reappeared this year after recovering from injury, and honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed. She did however, inform IG that she’s working on upgrades and fully expects Ukraine to finish in the top 8 in Tokyo. A girl can dream.

Never count out a girl capable of this:

Valentina Holenkova

Strengths: experience, potential

Weaknesses: inconsistent, lowish d-scores

Valentina might be the only Ukrainian to remain healthy since Beijing despite quite a growth spurt. She could use some upgrades all over the place, and to convince her coaches to scrounge up some $hryvnia$ and send her to some meets. She seems to do well at domestic competitions in Ukraine, but falls apart once she leaves her cozy cave.

Natalia Kononenko

Strengths: Rad bars.

Weaknesses: injuries (sound familiar?)

I almost feel bad referring to “injury” as a “weakness”, as injury isn’t always something you can necessarily prevent. But I’m also realizing just how battered this Ukrainian team is.

We were all excited for Natalia to make event finals on bars at last years Euro’s in Milan. Her routine is a lot of fun to watch. We were even more excited when she actually performed under pressure, and knocked Nabieva off the podium in finals. Especially after Team Ukraine’s dismal team performance.

Excitement turned to sadness when an injured Natalia was forced to sit out at Rotterdam. She could have added at least a point to Ukriane’s bars tally, and possibly made event finals at her first Worlds.

Maria Livchikova

Strengths: vault, beam, floor

Weaknesses: bars

I’ve only seen this girl compete a couple of times via youtube – once as a junior at last years UKR Nationals. She was being touted as “the new Kozich” – both gymnastically and looks-wise.

I’ll state the obvious: she’s been injured since. However, I was quite impressed with what I saw. She’s horrific on bars, but with a healthy Kononenko, an upgraded Koval, and a cleaned-up Demyanchuk, that shouldn’t matter much. Bars is the least of Ukraine’s worries. She’s a decent vaulter; I believe she’s the only Ukrainian with a DTY, actually. If Ukraine has any sort of “future”, she might be it. Quite a diamond in the rough, this one:

Beam (front handspring + front tuck, GORGEOUS Onodi, aerial + loso):

Floor (stuck double front):

Vault (DTY, or almost):

Still quite rough around the edges, but this girl has pizzazz.

There are other (surprisingly healthy) Ukrainian gymnasts – Cherniy, Fomenko, etc., but like any gymnast from Ukraine, these girls have their ups and downs and seem simply like filler gymnasts until their better teammates recuperate.

Stoi! Readers, I ask…what are your thoughts on this badly bruised bubble team? London? Yay? Nay?



7 responses to “Team Ukraine & London. To be or not to be?

  • Stoi!

    UKR Nats just happened, and indeed Koval did NOT compete. Demyanchuk still on 2 events, Holenkova won the all-around with a umm…53 point something. This isn’t looking good. At all.

  • betweentheolympics

    Koval is injured and “only trains rarely now.” That really does not sound good for Ukraine.

    • Stoi!

      Have you got any more information on that, like do you know what she actually trains?

      • betweentheolympics

        No Idea, unfortunately. I’m just taking the information from her website. Here is the full post: Earlier, Anastasia has been out of competition due to a shoulder injury. She has since recovered and competed at a few events. Unfortunately shortly afterwords her other shoulder was injured! She only trains rarely now, and won’t be competing until she recovers. We wish her a full recovery!!!

        It’s too bad that she sustained this injury right when things seemed to be looking up for Ukraine (relatively) with Kononenko and Livchikova presumably healthy. Hopefully she will recover in time for the test event at the very least. I’m obviously not quite as optimistic about Ukraine’s chances of being top 8 as she is.

  • World Spinner

    Team Ukraine & London. To be or not to be? « STOI!…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  • Stoi!

    Scholarly, Bronners.

    Rachel, you’re right, she did move to Paris. There was talk of her moving but nothing came of it. Not sure how much France would’ve needed her by that stage anyway.

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that Ukraine have had more than their share of bad luck. They’ve been on the wrong end of some 50-50 decisions and some outright cheating too.

    For one, they’ve lost more individual Olympic medals than any other country through China’s cheating- Karpenko in 00 and Koval in 08 should both have had a bars bronze. Despite the team underperformance in both of those Games, having won even one medal can be very significant for a programme. Not just in terms of morale, but funding too.

    They were additionally unlucky in 97. Karpenko and Podkopayeva were both supposed to compete for them at worlds, and I’ve heard from people who were there that the team looked like a real threat in podium training. But they both got injured at the last minute, so Ukraine ended up with a team of 4 athletes, 4 up on each event, 4 scores count. Yet they still finished only 1.3 out of the bronze. Very impressive in the circumstances.

    Then there’s 99 worlds. I’ve never seen the whole team competition, but I’ve heard Ukraine only missed out on bronze because of hometown scoring. Someone who saw more than me could expand on that.

    And last but not least, there was Lysenko’s screwing in the 93 worlds AA. She should have won. Miller’s vault and beam scores were just plain cheating. Lysenko’s were all ok, but 9.8 for a vault with bent arms and only 0.288 in deductions for a beam routine with a wobble and three steps on landing were both simply impossible in 93-96.

    The general consensus after that worlds was that the former Soviet states had underperformed, as well they might. Had one of them won the AA title, it might have been different. Bear in mind that in 91-93, it wasn’t at all clear that Russia were going to become the leading post-Soviet programme. Certainly in 91 and 92, I think Ukraine would’ve placed higher than Russia in a team worlds.

  • Rachel

    Nothing to add really, it’s all very depressing.

    BTW what happened to Mirabella Akhunu? She moved to Paris I think after 2004 Olys and trained with the French team, wasn’t there some talk of her too moving countries?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: