“It took a little bit of getting used to, but then it was good”
2 August 2018 – While her Russian team-mates at the European championships have risen up through the Russian training system, 16-year-old Irina has a different background – living and training in the United States. She is Russian and was born in Moscow, but her family moved to Texas, USA, when she was seven years old. I talked to her before competition began in Glasgow. (UPDATED)
Irina had already started doing gymnastics when she was living in Russia, and her coach had moved to the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Texas, so Irina enrolled there too. WOGA is run by the former Soviet gymnastics star Valeri Liukin, and his daughter Nastia competed for the USA and became Olympic all-around champion in 2008.
However when Irina was not able to get USA citizenship, she decided to try out for the Russian team. She competed at the 2018 Russian national championships and was accepted to join the national squad.
For the past few months, she has been training at Round Lake, the Russian national gymnastics centre just outside Moscow. I asked if it had been difficult to transfer from the USA back to her homeland of Russia.
“I’ve just been there for a few months now,” she says of her new living arrangements. “I’ve been practising at the gym so it’s pretty normal, it’s just practise. It took a little bit of getting used to, but then it was good, it was fine. They [her Russian team-mates] are all really nice.”
Her family are currently divided between the USA and Russia. “It’s kind of half and half,” she says. “I have some family in the States, some here [in Russia], and I’m kind of in the middle of it right now. My Dad is with me and my Mum is sometimes, too.”
Living back in the motherland for a while has given Irina a chance to catch up with relatives. “I’ve been able to see some of my family that still lives here [in Moscow],” she says, “such as my grandparents and cousins.”
The decision to train with the Russian national squad paid off when she was selected to compete at the European championships in July. Irina is now focussed on helping her native country retain the team title in Glasgow. “”I just hope we all do our best, and we’ll see.”
The Russian women won the team title at the European championships, and Irina also competed on the team at the 2018 world championships in Doha, where they won the silver medal. UPDATE, March 2019: Irina has decided not to continue competing for Russia, focussing instead on gymnastics at college in America.