Rita, the rhythmic gymnastics for you is it a sport or an art?
I always perceived rhythmic gymnastics as an art, especially during my performances. Definitely, it was an absolute sport at the Olympic Games, but even there the emphasis onto emotions and images was made to make people accept it as an art. So, it comes that the rhythmic gymnastics is an art worked out at trainings.
Creativity within gymnastics – is it possible? Anyhow it is a regulated sport.
Of course, it is! I consider, rhythmic gymnastics is one of the most creative sports. This is expressed by many things – in the choice of music, leotards, images. After the World Championship the period of staging new programs for a future season begins, and during the season we choose the leotards and the objects to match them. This is all very interesting, because everyone in team has his own vision.
Who made programs for you?
Irina Zenovka always made all the programs for me. This process was our favourite, because we worked in a more relaxed mode, we could release our fantasy. All our creativity was shown in it.
While creating the exercises was it taken to consideration where the competition took place (World Championship or Europe Championship)?
Yes, it was often taken to consideration, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like to be bound, because, for example, once the Europe Championship took place in Baku and we prepared the special exercise with clubs, but it went not so well and we had to change the exercise for the World Championship. Moreover, Irina Viner-Usmanova makes all final decisions, but we may propose lots of variants.
While choosing the music was it oriented to the prior gymnasts or current rivals?
While choosing it was usually oriented on me. All the team proposed the music: Irina Zenovka, Amina Zaripova (Margarita’s personal coach – editorial note), Irina Viner and sometimes Tatiana Pomerantseva (Margarita’s choreographer – editorial note). Of course, if the gymnasts from other countries had already performed to that music in previous season, we didn’t take it. Firstly, during all the season the music was associated with a particular gymnast and her exercise. Secondly, the gymnast may keep the music and the exercise for a next season, because it’s not written that the program must be changed every year. Also, we always looked back to the prior generation of gymnasts. We liked The Elegy by Rachmaninoff in the performance of Evgenia Kanaeva and we took this music but in different cover at the Olympic Games for ball exercise and we performed to Stravinsky at Mariinsky Gala devoted to the 80th Anniversary of rhythmic gymnastics.
The Black Swan part was my dream, but somehow, I remembered about her only when the exercise had been already prepared. If Irina Viner didn’t like the music, I offered Tchaikovsky immediately, but she told that this composer required totally new exercise but not the ready one adjusted. I think, it was needed The Black Swan to be kept for Olympic season. I can definitely say that it was one of the most difficult exercises, because the Olympic ribbon was the strongest, the most complicated, very powerful – physically and emotionally. Our exercise lasts only for 90 seconds and usually the music is gathered the following way – the slower part at first, ant then the powerful rising and final. Moreover, I had the interpreted music, fragments from The Black Swan movie, also I had constant changings of the musical rhythm. It is very complicated to perform such exercise the forth, as the last one, when your forces almost left you.
“In my common life I smile only when it is sincere and I call myself the optimistic pessimist, because that’s my nature”
You had a very special music and exercise in pre-Olympic season for the ribbon (Galina Ustvolskaya, Duet for cello and piano). How did you risk to take such a complicated music especially for the ribbon?
Amina Vasilovna dreamt about this music and I also liked it. It was very difficult to work with it because it is very fragmentary and I moved that manner, while working with ribbon it caused the mistakes. Probably, that prevented me to make the last type of all-round at the World Championship without mistakes. I always merge into the music and the nature of my movements depends on it. For example, I always performed the exercises to the lyrical music, that matched perfectly the specifics of work with this apparatus (the ball must slide smoothly along the gymnast’s body, she must feel it).
When we tried to take the quicker, more dynamic music or even cheerful music, we always refused of it while staging, because a ball started to jump over me as over the drum. Regarding the last exercise with the clubs, Irina Alexandrovna hadn’t agreed with We Will Rock You during few seasons and initially an absolutely different exercise was prepared for the Olympic Games under another music. But it was not that special or memorable, and we decided to make a new exercise under Freddy Mercury song. I managed to perform it without mistakes or losses immediately, that is phenomenal for a new program. And Irina Viner told: “We take it! Do you know why? Because you’ve managed perfectly and the music matches you!” I think this very music have been matching my heart-beat, my inner rhythm.
How big were the changes in exercises during the season and why?
If, according to the opinion of Irina Alexandrovna, the exercise is successfully made she doesn’t like to change anything. Sometimes it happens that the program turns upside down. For me it always happened with clubs and hoop. It is changed because there is always a search for the best variant. If something does not go at the competition, it is usually changed to be made more comfortable and interesting. At the same time every changing is a mini stress for your body. To the end of the season the exercise gains its ideal form.
Did the choreographer participate in training process?
Yes, Irina Borisovna attended almost every training. She always fought for her exercises and her style. She always assisted, made remarks. Irina Borisovna, Amina Vasilovna, Tatiana Borisovna – they always acted as a team, it helped me, because they always believed in me.
What did help you to create unique style?
The most important is that the movements depend on your physicality. Yana, Sasha and me – all of us had unique styles. I was lucky to get such team and Irina Borisovna to stage all my exercises. I liked everything she did. All her dancing variations and the passages from one element to another – I understood them, felt them and fulfilled with my inner sense. I did everything the way I could, listening to my coaches. That’s how my style was born.
“I think that even the un-confidence helped me a lot, because I never could re-watch my performances”
What was more complicated – to work over technique or virtuosity?
The technique was simple for me since childhood, I loved to learn new elements. Probably, it helped me to catch up, because I started training when I was 7. To work over the virtuosity was difficult in spite of that it would become my stronger feature. I was very serious and responsible since childhood and performed under the Chopin music when I was 10, I didn’t want to smile under the cheerful music.
I supposed that if it is so difficult for me to perform, I shouldn’t give the false smile, otherwise I would be like a little clown. I always wanted to express my inner world. When I came to Amina Vasilovna, she put me beside the mirror and forced me to smile, inspiring that my smile is very beautiful and natural. We always worked at the emotions in the gym hall, it is really very important in our sport, because 50-60% percent of what is gained during trainings escapes at the competition, because you are nervous and strained. You must train for 150-200% to get 70% at the competition.
Irina Alexandrovna always told me before my performance: “Don’t let the audience see the real you”. I can say with confidence that in all four images at the Olympic Games, it was me but always different.
In my common life I smile only when it is sincere and I call myself the optimistic pessimist, because that’s my nature. It was always difficult for me to fit into the new collective, everyone supposed me to be haughty. I am very grateful to gymnastics, to Amina Vasilovna and Irina Alexandrovna, that they helped me to become less shy and more confident.
Who cultivated in you that honest, clear self-estimate at the arena?
From one side it goes from childhood, from education and character. From the other side it is your training environment. My coaches never allowed me to relax, but at the same time I told what I didn’t like. I think that even the un-confidence helped me a lot, because I never could re-watch my performances. The only performances I can watch are the Olympic Games. I don’t even like to watch my interviews, I always find some defects.
When you had a feeling that you really grew up as a gymnast, as a professional?
Probably, closer to the Olympic Games. If to talk about 2013 when Evgenia Kanaeva and Dasha Dmitrieva finished their careers and we stayed to act as adults, then I didn’t feel myself a professional. Everything was new, I had never gone to the competitions every week, I had no experience. Only later the understanding has come, that we are the main squad of the Russian national team and it is a huge responsibility. The realizing myself as a professional came when I finally understood where and what for I was going to and when I started to watch over my nutrition and to take the recovery.
High-performance sports assume everlasting physical exertion, but even here you need to know when to stop. Must the gymnast watch over her physical state herself or totally rely on the coach?
I always considered that if I would listen to the coach and to do everything for 100% it would lead to success. But later I’ve realized it is not enough. I must feel my body and understand what I need. In the evenings I decided myself either to go to the gym for a third training or to swim in a pool for muscles recovering. Of course, Amina Vasilovna couldn’t get into my mind to know my physical and emotional state, because she saw only my external processing and our schedule. Besides if I didn’t want to talk or to discuss something you wouldn’t get it from me. The older I was getting the better I could supplement health and feeling sketch for my coaches.
“For me it was difficult both at the trainings and at the performances”
Characterize, please, Amina Vasilovna.
Amina Vasilovna is very purposeful and emotional person with perfect sense of humour. Emotions play the leading part in her life, they are her engine. Sometimes it helps her, sometimes it doesn’t. Amina Vasilovna is very kind and always ready to assist. But she is also straight, tells everything what is on her mind. It is extremely important in sport, because everyone is aimed for the result and there is no place for understatement or hidden offense.
Please, tell about the common and different features in Amina Zaripova and Irina Viner approaches.
In principle, their methods are alike, because Amina Vasilovna trained under the guidance of Irina Alexandrovna. They both demanded virtuosity. However, for Irina Viner the more means the better, and for Amina Zaripova it is not inherent, she often felt sorry for me. Of course, during the career I didn’t notice it, but after watching the film I found it with surprise.
Probably such approach of Amina Vasilovna saved me from many injuries. When I was performing at the Olympic Games, I was nearly 21-year old, this is the elderly age for rhythmic gymnastics. Previous season I felt pain in my back and also had to make the injections to the feet joints. So, if Amina Vasilovna didn’t feel sorry for me so deeply, I could simply not to come to Olympic Games.
I would like to emphasis the experience of Amina Zaripova that played an important role on our way. When I was in junior team, Yana Lukonina was trained under Amina Vasilovna guidance and I always paid attention towards the remarks she made. Now I can say that to the moment of our common work the remarks became more concrete and precise. Amila Vasilovna was growing up together with us as a coach, as a professional.
During the collaboration with Alena Akhmadullina, what was your part of creative job?
When I joined the team, it had been already formed and the collection had been almost ready, that’s why we didn’t bring any cardinal changes. It was important to keep the colours and silhouettes characterizing the brand Alena Akhmadullina. I worked together with T-shirt designer choosing the signs, fabrics to be made of. I brought small corrections, worked with details and décor – beads, rivets.
What is your role as the Under Armour ambassador?
My aim is to popularize the brand philosophy that I accept for 100%. When I go to the master-classes and see the children wearing Under Armour, they are happy to get dressed like their idol. It’s great that the brand is now popular not only in USA and Canada, but also in Russia.
You give lots of master-classes all over the world, what is their main goal?
A master-class is an opportunity for children to see their hero. They are so happy to be able to give me a present, to say some words, to ask a question, to make a photo with me, to get an autograph. I go to give and to get these unbelievable emotions. But the master-classes are limited in time, the back reminds. But even for this little time I try to teach little gymnasts the basics I’ve learned that will let them to perform difficult elements. Unfortunately, now I see that the coaches do not teach the basics, which are so important in our sport. I also show and explain how to perform my signature elements and links from the Olympic program. Of course, the girls immediately have the gloss in their eyes and a desire to perform everything.
What was more complicated for you – to perform or to train?
It’s hard to say, because for me it was difficult both at the trainings and at the performances. These are absolutely different categories but both very difficult – physically and emotionally. Every new day in Novogorsk is a “groundhog day”, you always do the same things. In the morning only when you start to think about working all day long under the same music, you want to do nothing. There is a pain in your body and you want to sleep. And you don’t now how and when your training day finishes.
At the competitions you have that heavy feeling of responsibility and a desire to perform everything the way it was worked out during trainings.
There is often a question asked: what is more complicated to be a gymnast or a coach? I always answered – a gymnast, Amina Zaripova answered – a coach. My argument was: “It is me who must perform and fight with myself at the arena. And Amina Vasilovna have told that a coach worries but can not help at all. I was a coach for three days of shootings for International Olympic Channel and I got tired physically a lot. Definitely, if you are a coach, you always have this physical and emotional pressure.
“Now I am trying to enjoy every moment of my life, because we often begin to appreciate something after we lose it”
Irina Viner-Usmanova gave the opportunity to watch classical ballet in the Bolshoi Theatre, and did you see modern ballet?
First time I got into the Bolshoi Theatre it was just after my arrival to Novogorsk for trainings. Irina Alexandrovna took us to watch classical ballet regularly and I saw Don Quixote, Giselle, La Bayadere. The modern ballet I watched only in the Internet, only fragments. Of course, my choreographer Irina Zenovka learned from the modern choreographers. She always watches the contemporary ballets – this has formed her unique style and she has been transferring it to me. By the way, after the Olympic Games in Rio our national team went to St. Petersburg for a joint training camp with Boris Eifman ballet company.
What did help you to get some rest from the rhythmic gymnastics in Novogorsk?
Communicating with my friends and Sasha saved me, the possibility to go home, to my family, for Sunday. Sometimes there was a quarantine in Novogorsk, and we were not allowed to go out. It was terrible for me, because every time waking up in the same room I realized that I had to go training again and that fact depressed me and didn’t leave a chance for emotional rest. Besides that, I was always listening to the music and watching movies.
Is it possible to compare your life before and after finishing your sport career?
These are two absolutely different periods in my life and my life has been separated into “before” and “after” the Olympic Games. In “before” I don’t remember me outside the gym, belonging to myself and “after” I plunged into the family, married life. When we came to the competitions and the former gymnasts told to Amina Vasilovna their admiration, she was confused and answered that it all had been in another life. It surprised me. But now I have the same feeling as if everything was in another life. Of course, my dreams always make me remember about trainings and competitions.
What inner statement is the most important for you?
When I was training I kept myself calm by a positive statement: “Everything what comes, comes for good”. In principle, I don’t like too precise statements. During the sport career my team, my family, my closer people believed in me. Truly speaking I always lived for tomorrow while training. I was waiting for Sasha for three months, I was living from one weekend to another while stressful work and during the high competition season – from one contest to another. Now I am trying to enjoy every moment of my life, because we often begin to appreciate something after we lose it.
Interview Angelina Krivova
Photo Alisa Aslanova
Style Diana Klochko
MUAH Nika Kostina
Jewelry Tiffany & Co.
Total Look Maison Esve
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