It's Morning in Tashkent, and a Day of New Beginnings

The World Cup event in Tashkent always seems more interesting than other World Cup events because, generally, both Asian and European gymnasts attend it. This year is no different, although the teams of Azerbaijan and Ukraine are not participating. Still, we have Russia, Belarus, Israel, but also South Korea, Uzbekistan and Japan!

I feel very disappointed that we cannot watch live and can't wait for the results to start trickling in. It's already morning in Tashkent right now, as a I write, and so comforting to know that while I impatiently wait for news about my favorite gymnasts, other fans can actually enjoy real the performance.

Today is also the birthday of a wonderful friend of mine, who has watched many gymnastics routines with me. So, May 23 can only bring luck to our favorite athletes, right?

Speaking of favorites, the top Bulgarian gymnast, Neviana Vladinova, got very solid scores with hoop and ball. I think the stars may finally start aligning for her to show her best at the international carpet. Here is a video from her training with ball in Tashkent; her lines look very, very clean, and the routine is beginning to flow effortlessly:

This routine to Bulgarian music strikes a sensitive cord for all fans because it reminds us of other famous routines with ball performed by our gymnasts of the "golden era" of the 80s and early 90s. Neviana is dancing in their footsteps in the sense that she is the most innovative and expressive gymnast we currently have, and one that has really worked on introducing her own style and elements.

When I examine Neviana's progress in the last two years, I find myself thinking that she truly sets an example of how to push the boundaries of one's own abilities, and how to relentlessly pursue a dream. As the Olympics in Rio seem closer and closer on the horizon, we can close our eyes for the minor imperfections and absorb the bigger picture. The bigger picture that I see with Neviana is a very mature and confident gymnast, who, now more than ever, deserves a spot among the world's top 8.


Three Promising Gymnasts from Three Promising Countries

In my regular life and work, that is, the time when I am not watching gymnastics or writing about it, I try very hard to give positive feedback to younger people whose work I have to review. I have found that, very often, we focus on the errors, or, we only praise very advanced performance, but we fail to identify individuals who shine bright but are not at their top performance yet.  That's why I would like to devote this post to three gymnasts, who do not make the headline, but who are showing beautiful lines and expression. I expect to see all 3 of them advance in the next couple of years.

Sabina Ashirbayeva from Kazakhstan shows the flexibility and elegant lines we have have seen from Yussupova and Alibaeva in the past, in line with an elegant Kazakhstan tradition. My favorite routine from her this season are the clubs:

Lilit Harutuynyan, also with clubs, is by far the best rhythmic gymnast Armenia has shown in the last couple of decades. I have picked this routine, because I am flattered that she has chosen Bulgarian music. Although the pirouettes leave a lot to be desired, there is some interesting work with the clubs:

Finally, Nikoleta Dulgheru from Moldova has a beautiful ribbon routine to French music, which I love watching.Although Moldova has not had gymnasts in the world elite, I am sure they have many other talents. Nikoleta's best performance so far was at the Grand Prix tournament in Holon:

I hope you have had time to watch and enjoy these routines and to dream and imagine how these young gymnasts will delight us in the future.


Europe's Best "Second" Gymnast and Minsk's Most Contested Bronze

As a fan, I always root for the underdogs. Why? Well, because they bring the nicest, most exciting surprises and, most importantly, because they always remind us that anything is possible.

That is why, in my impressions of this year's European championship, I'd like to talk about a gymnast who surpassed everyone's expectations: Halkina from Belarus. I would also like to briefly discuss Marina Durunda's much contested bronze medal with ribbon, which she received after submitting an inquiry into the score.

First, Halkina. For me, her bronze medals with both clubs and hoop have the weight of a silver medal. She also did a beautiful ball routine. Her ribbon routine was well-performed but I think there is still some work to be done in terms of apparatus handling.

However, I think that even with ribbon, Halkina outperformed her illustrious teammate Staniouta. Halkina is still "second" on the Belorussian team, but, to me, she is the best second gymnast there is.  One thing I would definitely like to wish Halkina is to continue to be expressive and to enjoy the music that accompanies her routines. we really saw this from her with clubs at this championship. While in the past she may have focused on just completing the difficulties in this action-packed routine, I think this time she really danced to it as well and felt every beat.

When I look back on all the club routines performed at the Europeans,  I believe only Kudryavtseva beats Halkina in terms of originality and expression.

The only reason Halkina is not getting more scores over 18, especially for her awesome hoop routine, is because she is still relatively new to the big carpet of international gymnastics.

Even though she is still new to the elite,  I am not sure why Halkina placed third with hoop and not second: her routine really shows the best there is to show with this apparatus, both in terms of risky throws, but also general handling of the hoop with constant movement and  a lot of originality. This hoop is better than both Rizatdinova's and Staniouta's. Halkina is  quickly becoming one of the most interesting and complex gymnast her country has shown the world.                                                  

Now, about Durunda's medal in ribbon, which she received after contesting the score. This is a huge victory for Durunda. She has been performing one of the fastest, most difficult and most exciting to watch ribbon routines in the world. She makes this routine go very smoothly as the ribbon is never touching the ground and moves from one difficulty to the next with terrific amplitude. The ribbon is telling a story or perhaps painting a picture for us. The fact that the judges gave Durunda this bronze even though this meant depriving the host country of another medal really shows how powerful and deserving Durunda and her coach are. They did the right thing by contesting the score! And although Durunda's victory means one medal less for Halkina, this much contested bronze is a real breakthrough for Durunda, who has really grown as a gymnast and shown very strong apparatus work, a lot of artistry in addition to her meticulously clean balances and pivots. Well done, Marina, welcome to Europe's  the world's top 3!