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The Problem With Ukraine

November 6, 2010

Krystina Sankova, An Olympic Hopeful From Ukraine (photo: krystinasankova.com)

I wrote this a while ago, around the time of the European Championships, but I thought I would share my thoughts anyway. I’ve edited it a bit, but I kept the basic ideas. After worlds, where Ukraine finished 12th, which would be high enough to make it to the olympics if this was the qualifying event, I have mixed feelings. Of course I still want them to qualify to the olympics; not necessarily because of their wonderful gymnastics but because of my nostalgia. Ukrainian gymnasts lost their power and consistency a long time ago, but now it looks like they are losing their style. It’s a shame, really.

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It has certainly been sad for me to see the Ukraine fall so far in gymnastics over the past few years. At the European championships, things seemed to be looking up; they qualified 6th to team finals. However, after a score in the 8s on bars, the senior team dropped to eigth place. In the beam finals, their beautiful gymnasts Yana Demyanchuk and Valentina Holenkova finished 7th and 8th. The only bright spot for the team was Natalia Kononenko’s bronze medal on bars, and that wouldn’t have even happened had Youna Dufournet’s coach not touched her as she was finishing her def.

Although the Ukraine has never won a medal as a team (excluding 1999 worlds, where underage gymnasts may have gained them a bronze), they have often been close, finishing 5th at the 1994 worlds, 5th at 1995 worlds, 5th at the 1996 Olympics, 4th at 1997 worlds, 4th at 1999 worlds, 4th at the 2004 Olympics, and 5th at 2006 worlds. But now, they are looking at not even qualifying a team for the Olympics. So where did it all go wrong?

Ukranians have a history of being inconsistent. Okay. But the issue now is that even if they hit every routine, they can’t get into the medals. They lack power on vault, and even on floor. Lovely dance does not make a high scoring routine in this code of points.

Also lacking: A great coach. Oleg Ostapenko was apparently considering going back to the Ukraine, but is now in Russia coaching their juniors. If Ukraine could just get some of those legendary coaches back, they would get back near the top.

Their program, like many countries, has always been based around a strong all around gymnast. From 1993-1996, they had Lilia Podkopayeva and Tatiana Lysenko. From 1997-2000, their team often focused around Viktoria Karpenko. From 2001-2004, they had new talents like Alina Kozich and Irina Yarotska. From 2005 on is when it really started to get worse for them. In 2007, their only gymnast in the all around final finished dead last. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 they didn’t qualify anyone.

Is Ukraine going to qualify a team to the 2012 olympics? I hope so! But so far, they are failing to get it together. Their juniors finished 10th at Europeans, with no remarkable individual results. I miss the classical Ukrainian style; in my opinion, they had a more Soviet style than the Russians. Hopefully the Ukrainians will be able to fix their problems and not become the next Belarus (25th at worlds).

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