Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Bread Basket of Europe

I have always had a slight obsession with the Ukraine and their historic fight for independence from Russia and the Soviet Union. This of course, means i have a particularly soft spot for Ukrainian gymnastics. Ukraine, the country, has always been known as the bread basket of Eastern Europe because of its rich soil and fertile land. So many wonderful gymnasts have come from there that i think you could say the same of their talent pool. AND because I just paid for my ticket to the Ukraine next year, and I am ridiculously excited, I decided that today's post would be a list of things I love, hate and wonder about in Ukrainian gymnastics!

Many, many gymnastics champions have come from the Ukraine. Despite their uneven results over the years, they have not lacked for outright talent. Even before the split from the Soviet Union, many of the greatest hailed from the land that was claiming its independence long before it was granted. Ludmilla Turischeva and Tatiana Lyssenko were actually from the Ukraine. Then we have greats like the amazing Kozich, Proskurina, Koval, Yarosh, Kvasha, Kalinina and the upcoming Holenkova (to name just a few). There is also, of course, Karpenko, who after a successful career, moved to Bulgaria and tried to compete for them. Though she did, she never achieved the results she had in the past. As a team, they have placed fourth and fifth in the world. Not bad for a brand new country striking out on its own in a period of complete economic dysfunction.

They, like the Chinese, often seem to possess such impeccable,gorgeous lines that make their beam and bar work look truly beautiful. With few exceptions, they are incredibly polished gymnasts and often quite lovely dancers. Think of Olga Roschupkina, who, despite her diminutive size always carried herself so elegantly when performing. They are often very original and show terrific flexibility. The tragedy, though, is that like the Chinese, they often seem to crumble psychologically during competition. Too often they seem to fall or stumble on apparatus when they had been viable medal contesters. When I say this, I think of Krasnynskaya whose bar work was flamboyant and original, but who could not seem to stay on them when it counted (though she did go on to win beam in Aarhus) or Dariya Zgoba who, while very talented, seems to choke a little too often in major competition. I sadly think of Karpenko who was inches from an AA gold before she stumbled out of the floor boundaries in the last rotation (A cute aside- Irina Krasnynskaya told reporters that, as well as her competition goals that she hoped there would be free Mcdonalds at the Beijing Olympics like their had been at Athens!!! I hope she got it!).
I wonder if the gymnasts are not exposed to enough international competition. But then, at each Olympics and Worlds, I recognize a lot of the girls from other meets so they have been around. It could be to do with coaches who, like in Romania,are moving overseas to earn better money in other gymnastics programs. Ostapenko, who trained Lyssenko through her career has now lifted Brazilian Gymnastics to great heights. Maybe it's just a lack of funding and training equipment.

And this is certainly not a rich gymnastics program, Years ago, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, their gymnasts had the benefit of the centralized training system and Ukrainian gymnasts like Gutsu trained near Moscow and competed for the Soviet Union while the rumblings of Ukrainian independence continued. Nowadays, the training center has a touch of the Round Lake despair to it. A few years ago, the Ukrainian Gymnastics federation had a badly maintained but informative English web page which has now disappeared. One of the saddest things on the page was a little note saying that if people were planning to come visit the gymnasts at the training centers that, though little presents were appreciated, to please not bring sweets, and also that any bandages and medical equipment would be very warmly welcomed. The thought that these immensely talented girls were lacking for basic medical supplies is depressing.

At least they managed to mark their breakout as a new country with true style. Liliya Podkopeyeva was the first champion of Ukrainian gymnastics and became a happy symbol of their successful revolution and newfound sporting independence. The Lilipod did, however, begin her career at Round Lake- on the Soviet team-before moving, post-break-up, to the Kiev based training center. Leonid Arkeav reportedly claimed that the Lilipod would be the gymnast he missed most after the break up.
And she was one of the last truly great all-around gymnasts of the Ukraine. No one esle showed the nerve she did. These days, Lilya keeps working for her country, judging gymnastics and working as a goodwill ambassador for HIV?/AIDS (which is a huge problem in the Ukraine) issues.

I know I have knocked Spain in the past for their somewhat dubious leotard choices, but if their is a runner-up in the quest for outright fugliness, it has got to go to the Ukraine. I hope i can find a picture of the velvet monstrosity Dariya Zgoba was forced into at one point because it was truly hideous (I couldn't, but look out for it on her in YouTube competitions. Think "leotard-come-evening-gown-complete-with-fake-cleavage-maker" and you will know exactly what i am talking about).

(Edit) Here 'tis! Thanks to Lightbulb Hands for the link. You sure know your leos! I think this kind of design looks stoo-pid on the gymnasts who look young. It's like dressing lamb as mutton, in my opinion.

Another issue I have with the Ukraine leotards is the cut. What is with the high neck thing? Is it a demure thing? I think it make gymnasts look blockier when they wear high neck lines. And of course, they lose the elegance of a long neck.

Also, I have noticed that the Ukraine, like some other countries, just can't seem to find and stick to a recognizable national color scheme either. The flag colors are yellow and blue and often the go with that. But lately, there has been a questionable foray into the world of orangey-red(of course, I saw the perfect photo to illustrate this, but now can't find it! I promise. I will keep looking!). Orange-y red is a place most skin tones should never...ever go. (or that yellow in the photo above either for that matter!)
(EDIT. I found it, but it is at a site and it says No Downloads about eighteen times on the page in rather commanding German tones so I can't put it here!)


  1. Dariya Zgoba's leo horror:

    You mean that one? Those Christian Moreau leotards have been making the rounds in the last quad.

    - Lightbulb Hands

  2. Yes!! They are horrendous. I didn't know one person was responsible for the whole kit and caboodle! Thanks for that. It's goin' in!