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.
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
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?
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:
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.
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.
Strengths: vault, beam, floor
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?