Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Tale of the Two.....

 "Broken Dolls"

Last night I watched a little of Slommanie Kulkolkie (Broken Dolls), the documentary about Russian Gymnastics and was reminded of the sad stories of the Zasypakina's, the two young gymnasts with the same names.  Both girls competed for Russia at different times. There experiences, however, were strangely similar, though the outcomes extremely different.

The documentary Slommanie Kulkolkie is entirely in Russian and without subtitles. But even without knowledge of the Russian language it is not hard to grasp its negative attitude to the state of Russian gymnastics at the time of filming. It repeatedly illustrates the dangers of gymnastics with its shots of training gymnasts taking falls, it's coverage of Yelena Mukhina's sad story and it's repeated use of imagery from the heartbreaking Russian gymnastics film Kukolka (Little Doll). The documentary interviews gymnasts like Ekaterina Labuziouk, Svetlana Khorkina, Anna Pavlova and Maria Zasypkina as well as featuring a little of a young Yulia Lozhecko.

It would be interesting to hear what young Maria Zasypkina had to say about her sport in this documentary, considering she was recovering from a broken vertebrae in her neck that almost left her paralysed. At the time of the accident, Maria was a popular Russian gymnasts who was already making a name for herself at competitions like the Junior Europeans, the WOGA Classic, the Canberra Cup and the 2001 World Team's Event. She was already known for the incredible difficulty of her gymnastics, such as a double yurchenko vault and her punch front and standing Arabian on beam. She was also known, ironically, for taking some awful spills while performing them.

(Maria took an ominous and awful fall at the Canberra Cup some time before her more serious accident. Her beam set was magnificent, but perhaps too difficult for her age?)

Maria Zasypkina's accident occurred during training at Round Lake. Maria was training vault. She had recently returned from the Ghent World Cup contest in 2002. Maria was performing a round-off, half on handspring- off but something went wrong and she landed on her head. Due to difficulties experienced getting emergency help to the training center, it was nearly an hour before Maria actually received the urgent medical attention she needed.

When she finally made it to the hospital, it was discovered that Maria's legs were paralyzed as well as having partial paralysis to her hands and arms. Zasypkina's strength became legendary at Round Lake and in the media as she endured the torturous wait for the ambulance, survived two operations, had a metal rod inserted in her back and eventually recovered feelings in her hands, and then her feet. She spent her sixteenth birthday in hospital but was able to spend New Years Eve the same year at home, a testament to the speed and strength of her recovery. The documentary features lengthy interviews with her and footage of her spending time with her family at home.

The other Russian Zasypkina- Svetlana Zasypkina had already long left the sport when Maria had her near-tragic accident. Svetlana left gymnastics at age sixteen, when after ten years of intense training she too injured her spine while training. She was no longer able to perform any jumps and training was completely out of the question. Leaving the Soviet training system, Svetlana turned to acting when Isaak Friberg gave her the lead role in the tragic film, Kukolka ("Little Doll" or "Dolly").

For those of you not fortunate (or unfortunate some may think) enough to have come across the film, which had limited distribution, it is a poignant film about what happens to a young gymnast when she has to leave the sport. I was lucky enough to find a VHS copy of this film in the state library collection, and watched it with a mix of horror and sadness.

Following along similar lines to the life story of the young actress who played the part; the "Dolly" is a young gymnast who has been injured badly and must now leave the Soviet training system and attempt to lead a the regular life of a teenage student. needless to say, the little girl has immense trouble adjusting to regular social life, and takes out the psychological effects of the transitions on her classmates, manipulating and bullying them even though she is smaller and younger than most of them. Unlike the story of the real young gymnast, the film has a tragic outcome.

In an article catching up with Svetlana Zasypkina several years ago by Gymnastics Greats, the young actress seems to have had trouble adjusting to the the real world too. Confused about where to place her energies, she had first continued acting, then started a course in gymnastics coaching, switched to veterinary sciences, then eventually to industrial business. One thing is for sure, she no longer wants anything to do with gymnastics. She told reporters that if she so much as sees it on the television, she turns it off.

Maria Zasypkina, on the other hand, must still have some love for the sport because she tried to come back, unsuccessfully unfortunately, after the her recovery. But considering the far worse outcomes of the handful of spinal injuries we have seen in modern gymnastics (Mukhina, Gomez, Sang Lan) I am sure Maria is grateful she got the chance to do gymnastics again at all. She apparently does not harbour such negative feelings for the sport considering she and a friend reportedly skipped university classes in 2005 just to visit and watch other Russian gymnasts at the 2005 Voronin Cup!

It is interesting, I think, to look back on these films after Russian gymnastics has experienced and come out of such a crisis as a changed system. Things have cshifted markedly in over there and I think this is reflected in the two Zasypkina's opposite attitudes to the sport since leaving it. While Svetlana wants nothing to do with the soviet system that she felt used her up and spat her out, Maria, despite the magnitude of her accident and the negative light placed on it by the documentary, returned to the sport and continues to involve herself in it while pursuing her education. While many complain that the gymnastics isn't like it used to be from the Russians, life isn't what it used to be there either. And for that, I am grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. It's interesting to note that Maria Zasypkina was coached by Marina Nazarova who is also the coach of Ksenia Semenova and Ksenia Afanasyeva. Apparently Maria is now coaching little children at their gym.