1. Competition within the national team

Russia’s rhythmic gymnastics team has always had a strong stable of gymnasts, which allows the team’s star to be backed up by other athletes. The most obvious example of such “assistance” – which could also be considered healthy competition – occurred during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. After Alina Kabayeva, Russia’s big favorite for the individual all-around gold medal, dropped her hoop, leaving her to claim only bronze, another Russian athlete, Yulia Barsukova, came from behind to win the competition.

All the Russian gymnasts who start practicing under Irina Viner, head coach of the national team and president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, must learn one rule.

“If an athlete locks herself into her grandeur, her stardom, it is bad for everyone and, above all, for the athlete herself, ” Viner said in an interview with Russian daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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“There will be no progress in this case. While you are standing on the podium, you are lovely, you are fabulous, yes. But as soon as you get back down, you have to forget about the triumph and start practicing twice as hard.”


Alisher Usmanov UK's richest man

About Irina Viner

Irina Viner,  is famous for being former three-time rhythmic gymnastics champion of Uzbekistan, heads Russia’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation and head coach of Russia’s rhythmic gymnastics team.

She is a Jewish divorcee with a son, Anton Viner, born in Tashkent in 1973. Anton Viner in a Real Estate investor.

She remarried in 1992, this time to her teenage sweetheart, an Uzbek muslim, Alisher Usmanov.

The couple first met in a sports club in Tashkent when they were both in high school. They have no biological children together.

According to 2015 Forbes Usmanov is Russia’s richest man, and Second richest person in the UK,  with a fortune estimated at $14.7 billion. Bloomberg estimated his fortune at $19.6 billion,  making him the 37th richest person in the world.

The couple have good connections with the Kremlin. Viner was a gymnastics coach to Alina Kabayeva, President Vladimir Putin’s rumored lover. Viner also campaigned for Putin during his 2012 presidential election campaign, rferl.org reports.

You may be surprised but rferl.org reports that Usmanov once was an accomplished fencer and a member of Uzbekistan’s national team. Usmanov still keeps a keen interest in fencing as the head of the International Fencing Federation. In sports, Usmonov mixes pleasure with business: he acquired a 14.5-percent stake in England’s Arsenal Football Club in 2007, before increasing his shares in 2011. He currently owns nearly a third of the lucrative soccer club.

The couple’s main residence is reportedly in the upmarket Rublyovka village outside Moscow, but they also spends time in the former mansion of the oil baron Paul Getty in Surrey,  south east of England, in addition to a £48 million London mansion.

Among his investments Usmanov, 62, co‑owner of Russia’s second-largest mobile telephone operator, MegaFon, and co-owner of the Mail.ru group,  the largest Internet company in the Russian-speaking world.

2. My greatest rival is myself

Russian athletes have great respect for competitors from other countries, but during the events, they try not to rival someone else, but rather strive to conquer themselves.

Retired rhythmic gymnast and coach Amina Zaripova emphasized the importance of self-control when commenting on the success of her protégée Margarita Mamun, who won the individual all-around gold medal, as well as all four individual events – hoop, clubs, ball and ribbon – at the World Cup in Kazan earlier this year.

Margarita Mamun of Russia performs during the individual ribbon competition final at the 32nd Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Kiev August 29, 2013. Source: Reuters

“I loved everything about Margarita’s performance at the World Cup in Kazan, including her mental condition, ” Zaripova told the Ves Sport news agency.

“Her main rival is herself. She has to learn to deal with her fears and insecurities – not to beat Yana Kudryavtseva or some other competitor, but to conquer herself.”


3. Pushing it to the limit

Russian gymnasts have always set the bar high. Being leaders, they set the pace both in individual and in group events, even when the team’s lineup changes almost completely. Russia’s squad for the upcoming group event of the 2015 World Championship will consist of Anastasia Maximova, Diana Borisova, Darya Kleshcheva, Maria Tolkacheva, Sofia Skomorokh and Anastasia Tatareva.

Out of the six athletes, only Maximova has some credentials – she is a three-time world champion. Nevertheless, back at the start of the season, the Bulgarian choreographer Lucy Dimitrova staged incredibly elaborate programs for the Russians, complete with “insane stunts and furious pace.” The group’s coach Tatyana Sergayeva explained why.

“We never go the easy way. The Russian team is the leader, so it’s supposed to be head and shoulders above everyone else. We need to work so hard and later perform so well, that all the contestants should say in the end: ‘Russia is out there, we cannot catch up with them!’” she said.



4. A Coach with a capital ‘C’

When, back at the 2015 European Games in Baku, international journalists asked yet again how Russian rhythmic gymnasts manage to dominate and sweep all the medals at major competitions, Russia’s Yana Kudryavtseva said: “Our rhythmic gymnastics school is the best – we have all the conditions for success and professional growth. In Russia, we are provided with everything – accomodation, food, training halls.”

Margarita Mamun added that it was possible thanks to Irina Viner, saying that the coach really does know how to treat the athletes right.
“Seventy percent of my job is counselling, ” said Viner. “This cannot be substituted by physical exercises or brilliant choreography. I try to explain what the highest level of skill actually is, try showing them examples of such skill. It is all about a positive attitude, you have to perform with love, get into the so-called ‘flow, ‘ which is when time has no power over you and you don’t care about any issues of technique.”

This article was first published at RBTH by Anna Kozina