“It was hell, I was terribly nervous” says Yana Batyrchina about her first world championships

16 September 2019 – The rhythmic gymnastics world championships started today in Baku, Azerbaijan. The ambassador for the event is none other than Yana Batyrchina of Russia, 1996 Olympic silver medallist. She recently wrote about her experiences at her first-ever world championships in Paris in 1994 on her Instagram profile. Here are some highlights from her harrowing account.

I was almost 15 years old when I went to my first world championships. It was hell, I even wanted to end my sporting career.

Two weeks before the championships began, we arrived in France. We lived somewhere near Paris and trained around the clock. Wake up – train – sleep – repeat. If you wanted a rest, you had to do three clean routines in a row. I did two perfectly, but on the third I made the smallest mistake – I had to start again. It was brutally hard.

Because of my fatigue, everything flew in the wrong direction. I thought that my performance would be an utter disgrace, after which I would not be able to look anyone in the eye. At this point, I seriously considered leaving gymnastics, so I wouldn’t have to perform at these world championships. I did not believe in myself at all.

As a junior, I was a leader and almost always won. I was the strongest In Russia, and always first or second in Europe and the world. But at senior level, I did not get into the top ten. It was very confusing for me, and made me doubt myself even more.

The thing is, I was not weaker than my rivals – on the contrary! I had the strongest exercises in the world, my routines were ten times harder than the others’. But I only placed about 12th as a senior. At that time, rhythmic gymnastics was completely different, with different rules. All I heard was “Your time hasn’t come yet.”

In those days, it was impossible to move from juniors to seniors and maintain your leadership. You had to start from the bottom and work your way up. It felt like a dead end. I was one step away from giving it all up. 

After the training camp, it seemed to me that the most difficult part was over. But other unpleasant surprises awaited me.

We performed in the huge Bercy arena (now AccorHotels Arena), used for basketball and hockey, and now set up for rhythmic gymnastics. Normally, we perform on a carpet flat on the floor, but in Paris they had built a platform more than a meter high for us to perform on.

It was a disaster. The thing is, gymnasts sometimes drop their apparatus, and they fly away from the carpet. Current rules allow for spare apparatus to be placed at the edge of the carpet, but in 1994, there were no such rules, and in Paris it was even worse – if I dropped the apparatus, it could fall off the stage and it would not be possible to pick it up. There was no room for mistakes.

Whatsmore, the ceiling was very dark, and I couldn’t see my apparatus when I threw it up – it just appeared at the last moment when I had to catch it. At the age of 14 I came across these conditions for the first time. I was terribly nervous and very afraid that my feelings would overwhelm me.

I did three routines very well with just one slight mistake. I reached the all-around finals in ninth place, making it to the top ten for the first time! It meant so much to me – only the greatest gymnasts of the world were ahead of me.

In the ribbon finals I placed sixth. I jumped for joy! After that I was remembered very well. I made it clear to both the audience and the judges that I was a force to be reckoned with. And all the following world championships were much easier.

How happy I am that as a 14-year-old girl I had the guts and patience to overcome my fear, pride and despair. It made me stronger. 

Yana went on to win team and ball gold, and all-around bronze, at the 1995 world championships, and won many more medals – including Olympic silver in 1996 – at top level until her retirement in 1998. The 2019 rhythmic world championships run from 16th -22nd September.

Oksana Chusovitina & Svetlana Boginskaya

“When Svetlana is next to me as a coach, I feel confident.” (Oksana)
“That’s very flattering to me!” (Svetlana)

Former team mates – Svetlana Boginskaya (left) and Oksana Chusovitina in London earlier this year. (Photo copyright Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

August 2019 – These two gymnasts competed together on the last-ever Soviet gymnastics team (called the “Unified” team) at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. They both went on to compete at the 1996 Olympic Games – Oksana for Uzbekistan and Svetlana for Belarus – but little did they know that 23 years later, Oksana would still be competing at the age of 44, and Svetlana would be her part-time coach!

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Casimir Schmidt – a passion for fashion and cooking

Casimir Schmidt at Superstars of Gymnastics – (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

27 June 2019 – At the Dutch national championships last weekend, Casimir became all-around champion, a title that had eluded him since he first won it in 2013. Now aged 23, he is working hard to reach his goal of competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I met him in March at the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London, where he got into the spirit of the occasion by colouring his hair green. This, with his trademark Dutch orange leggings, earned him the nickname “the gymnastics carrot”! 

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Ellie Downie – back in the medal hunt

“Gymnastics is getting so much harder”

Elissa Downie of Great Britain (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

27 April 2019 – European all-around champion in 2017, Ellie Downie of Great Britain then spent over a year recovering from surgery – twice – on her left ankle. She returned to competition at the 2018 world championships, then became British champion in March. In April she won the all-around silver medal and bronze on vault at the European championships. I talked to her about what it took to make a successful comeback.

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James Hall – perseverance pays off

“It’s so exciting to be the top dog”

James Hall of Great Britain (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

3rd April 2019 – Bronze medalist in the last European all-around competition, James is a top prospect for next week’s European championships in Poland. Now 23 years old, he struggled for many years to reach this level and is a perfect example of the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. He talked to Gym Stars just before the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London.

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Danusia Francis – putting on a show

“I adore and worship Usain Bolt

Danusia “does a Bolt” at the Superstars of Gymnastics (Photo courtesy Jamie McPhilimey / Matchroom Multi Sport)

19 March 2019 – This Saturday, 24-year-old Danusia, a former British gymnast now representing Jamaica, takes part in the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London. It will suit her very well, having competed for college gymnastics in the USA where they like to entertain the audience. I chatted with her after the 2019 English championships. 

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Amelie Morgan – 2019 English champion

“I’m absolutely over the moon!”

Amelie Morgan of England & Great Britain (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

11th March 2019 –  In her first year as a senior (she turns 16 in May) Amelie Morgan was delighted to win the English all-around title, which makes her a top prospect for the British championships coming up this weekend. I spoke to her after her win.

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