Publication date : 18/08/2016
Photo of the moment
5:00 p.m.: Russia's Yana Kudryavtseva has never been beaten in World All-around competition. Here she is at her first Olympic podium training session. Rhythmic Individual qualification begins tomorrow morning at 10:20 a.m. in Brazil.
The Russian connection
2:00 p.m.: Though practiced throughout the world, the center of the Rhythmic universe still lies in Russia, where the sport evolved during the early 20th century. Many of the athletes in Rio, from Cape Verde's Elyane Boal to South Korea's Son Yeon Jae to the Japanese Group, are guided by Russian or former Soviet coaches or train part time in the country.
"I went to Russia because Rhythmic Gymnastics in Russia is the top," said Varvara Filiou of Greece, who has spent the past three years living and training in Moscow. "I train with the Russian national team and I try for the best. I'm far from my family and friends, and far from everything, because my dream is to compete very well in Rio."
Others, like Australia's Danielle Prince, have taken advantage of invitations to train in Russia for extended periods of time. "In Russia and in a lot of the eastern European countries, Rhythmic Gymnastics is like swimming in Australia or rugby: It's one of the pinnacle sports," said Prince. "Their facilities are just incredible, dedicated facilities where you live, eat, breathe, train Gymnastics. That environment allows you to really focus and concentrate on Gymnastics, compared to at home where you have a lot of outside factors like university, part-time work as well as life as a 24-year-old."
1:00 p.m.: Here's Natalia Gaudio, the host country entry in Rhythmic individual, as she prepares for her big Olympic moment in podium training. Brazil's best finish by an individual in Rhythmic Gymanstics was 24th, back in 1984.
Melitina Staniouta on the unpredictablity of the Games
12:20 p.m.: As one of a handful of returning Olympians, Belarus's Melitina Staniouta is one of the most experienced in the 26-woman field. But everyone starts from a clean slate when the Olympic curtain rises, says Staniouta, a three-time World bronze medallist.
"The Olympic Games is a really unpredictable competition," she added. "There were so many people in the past that were expected to win a medal, but it did not happen. I have 13 World Championship medals. It was all in the past. It is something good to remember. I will tell it to my children one day. But I need to live now, in this moment."
At the FIG Gala, Rhythmic is the sight to see
11:20 a.m.: Spectators at Wednesday's FIG Gala got a foretaste of the Rhythmic competition, thanks to Ukraine's Ganna Rizatdinova and Belarus's Melitina Staniouta, both of whom gave exhibition performances. The Italian Group -- the famous "Butterflies," as they are known in Italy -- also performed, as did the Belarusians, while the Ukrainian Group joined Rizatdinova on the carpet.
The Belarusians took it as one more chance to practice before the big day. "I am happy that I could perform on the podium and actually feel the response of the crowd," Staniouta said. "Everyone is just more relaxed. It gave us a good advantage to do the gala, because we know how the spectators will react."
The spectacle in photos:
Under the Russian sun
11:00 a.m.: Since 2000, when Yulia Barsukova upset superstar teammate Alina Kabayeva for gold in Sydney, the top step of the Olympic podium in Rhythmic Gymnastics has been occupied exclusively by Russian gymnasts.
Kabayeva waited four years for her golden upgrade. She was succeeded in 2008 by Evgeniya Kanaeva, the only gymnast in the sport's 32 year Olympic history to successfully defend her Olympic title. Kanaeva went out in a blaze of glory at the London Games, leaving behind an exceptional CV: Kanaeva won every single gold medal up for grabs at the World Championships twice, in 2009 and again in 2011.
In Yana Kudryavtseva, Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics found her heir apparent. The lithe blonde Kudryavtseva, daughter of a 1992 Olympic swimmer, proved precocious when at 15 she became the youngest Rhythmic gymnast ever to win the World All-around title in 2013. She hasn't relinquished it since, making her one of just four gymnasts to have won three consecutive World titles.
Trailing in Kudryavtseva's wake is another Russian star, her best friend and training partner, Margarita Mamun. For all the gold Kudryavtseva has accumulated during the past three years, Mamun has most often come up with the silver. Their styles are different -- Kudryavtseva is the ballerina, Mamun's nickname is "the Bengal tiger" -- but together they have kept their country on top of the world in this graceful Olympic discipline.
Rhythmic Gymnastics was born in the Soviet Union but is now practiced on every continent, with gymnasts from 57 countries competing at the most recent World Championships. The best still mostly hail from the east: in addition to Kudryavtseva and Mamun, Ukraine's Ganna Rizatdinova, Belarus's Melitina Staniouta and South Korea's Son Yeon Jae have been the major medalwinners at the World Championships and World Cup events over the past four years. They'll face off again here in Rio.
The FIG recommends...
10:45 a.m.: Don't know much about Rhythmic Gymnastics? Don't worry! Here's an overview to help you understand more about this dazzling sport.
Rhythmic Gymnastics by the numbers
Rio goes Rhythmic
RIO DE JANEIRO, 10:15 a.m.: Ninety six gymnasts -- 14 Groups of five gymnasts and 26 individuals -- will dance on the Rhythmic floor installed in the Rio Olympic Arena during today's podium training, the final dress rehearsal for the qualification rounds beginning Friday.
For the past 16 years, Russian gymnasts have reigned supreme in this discipline, winning every Olympic gold medal in individual and Group competition. Rhythmic was born in the east, and eastern European countries continue to produce the best in the world. That title presently belongs to Yana Kudryavtseva of Russia, who comes into this event unbeaten in World All-around competition since she became a senior in 2013.