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Feisty Belarus acrobats united in quest for Las Vegas gold

Publication date : 20/03/2019

Training sessions are always interesting for Belarus’ top-ranked Acrobatic Gymnastics Women’s Group Karina Sandovich, Veranika Nabokina and Julia Ivonchyk.

Not only do the three gymnasts hone the sublime skills that have made them World silver medallists, but they also might have a colourful disagreement or two.

“We spend so much time together that sometimes during training there can be difficult moments,” admitted Nabokina ahead of the FIG Acro World Cup event in Las Vegas this weekend. “You could say we all have difficult characters.”

But it turns out heated debates breed harmony for the three-time European Games medallists, as Sandovich explained that blunt honesty is the secret to the Group’s success.

“Sometimes we might have disagreements in training, but never for a long time. It is important to listen to each other and support each other. We are all friends,” said the 19-year-old top.

And teammate Nabokina agreed: “It works because we are all the same. Our strength is our unity.”

Athletes from Belarus are expected to dominate the Women’s Group competition as the FIG Acro World Cup returns to the United States for the first time in a decade.

The country provides three of the six teams competing at the event on 22-24 March, with the young trio of Alina Kandziuliova, Hanna Katsuba and Krystsina Lishova, along with Sofiya Belmach, Darya Niamarskaya and Anhelina Tsiukha, also taking part. But Ivonchyk revealed her team will approach the event separately.

“We all train in different cities and we work together only before main events. Those six girls are around the same age and they have the same interests, whereas our group is older and more experienced. Our programme is more difficult, although artistically it’s the same,” the 24-year-old said.

“The atmosphere in our team is friendly and we support each other but in the competitions we are different groups.”

The absence in Las Vegas of Russian trio Daria Chebulanka, Kseniia Zagoskina and Anastasiia Parshina will be a welcome boost to all nine competing Belarusian gymnasts.

Described by Sandovich as “our main rivals”, Chebulanka, Zagoskina and Parshina have won both gold medals so far in this World Cup series – denying their Belarusian rivals each time – an impressive showing from the world champions, who have seamlessly replaced previous top Polina Plastinina with Parshina since winning gold in Antwerp last year.

“The aim is to make our programme without any mistakes and hopefully that will get us a medal. We just want to do it like we do in training and stay calm,” Sandovich said.

In Baku (AZE) in November 2018, Chebulanka, Zagoskina and Parshina took gold ahead of second-placed Sandovich, Nabokina and Ivonchyk, who had been ranked first after the qualification round.

Then in Maia (POR) earlier this month, the Russians once again topped the podium, with the Belarus team having to make do with bronze.

The closely-knit Belarusians are set to stay together as a group for the foreseeable future. Or, as Nabokina quips, “Until our top Karina is not married!”

Meanwhile, in the Men’s Group contest, Portuguese quartet Frederico, Henrique and Miguel Silva and Henrique Piqueiro will aim to repeat their gold-medal success from the last World Cup event in Maia, although they will face stiff competition from China’s World silver medallists Fu Zhi, Guo Pei, Jiang Heng and Zhang Junshuo.

And elsewhere in Las Vegas, the World Games champions Tim Sebastian and Michail Kraft (GER) are aiming to improve on their silver from Maia in Men’s Pair; Emily Davis and Aubrey Rosilier (USA) will hope the home crowd can cheer them on to the Women’s Pair podium; and World silver medallists Konstantin Evstafeev and Hanna Kasyan (BLR) look like the Mixed Pair to beat.

As for the women from Belarus, they will be hoping their special pre-competition ritual brings them good luck at last. The ritual is so special, in fact, that they won’t reveal what it is.

“We do have something we do before competition, but it’s a secret,” Sandovich said.

For these three outspoken Acro sisters, keeping their emotions private is all part of the winning strategy.

The Las Vegas event is the third in the 2018/19 FIG Acro World Cup Series and will start on Friday 22 March.