In Rio, Russia’s rhythmic gymnasts made it an incredible five consecutive Olympic triumphs in both the individual and group events.
A performance brimming with elegance and grace saw Margarita Mamun take the individual all-around rhythmic gymnastics gold at Rio 2016 on 20 August. She sealed victory ahead of her compatriot Yana Kudryavtseva, a three-time world champion, and Ukraine’s Ganna Rizatdinova who completed the podium.
Despite her seven world titles, 20-year-old Mamun had long lived in the shadow of her younger compatriot, and she arrived in Rio having won an all-around title in a major international competition.
After Kudryavtseva faltered in the final seconds of her clubs routine, a total score of 76.483 carried Mamun to the top of the podium, and she simply needed avoid any glaring errors to secure gold. Four dazzling routines ensured she did just that, to give Russia its fifth consecutive Olympic gold in the individual all-around competition.
Mamun did not initially realise she had overtaken her team-mate: “It was quite unexpected for me to win the gold medal because Yana Kudryavtseva normally wins competitions like these,” she explained. “That's why I wasn't thinking about winning the gold medal. I wasn’t aware of her mistakes because we were in different places at the time. I was changing my costume when Yana was performing. I only got the chance to see the scores after we had both done our ribbon routines.”
“I was just trying not to make any mistakes and to follow my coach’s instructions,” she added. “I was trying to be as calm and as focused as possible. That helped me to produce such a good performance.”
At the halfway point of the competition Kudryavtseva, who has been dubbed the “angel with iron wings”, floated above the rest of the field with top marks in the hoop and ball. But then disaster struck. Moments before striking her final pose in front of the judges, she threw a club high into the air and rolled over on the floor preparing to catch it, only to see the apparatus land beyond her reach.
Her low clubs score of 17.833 allowed Mamun to take the lead. Even an impressive score of 19.250 with the ribbon was not enough for Kudryavtseva to catch up as she had to settle for silver with a total of 75.608.
“It all happened very quickly,” she commented when asked about her mistake in the clubs routine. “I couldn’t find a way to sort out the mistake and that’s why I lost the club. I’ve been competing for 13 years now, so of course this has happened before. At the end of the routine, I realised I was not going to win the gold medal. From then on I was a little bit more relaxed and I was competing for myself, my coach and the spectators. I wanted to give them a good performance.”
For the bronze, meanwhile, Ukraine's Ganna Rizatdinova managed to edge out Son Yeon-jae of the Republic of Korea. Speaking afterwards, Rizatdinova described the pressure she felt going into her final routine: “As I was going into my last routine with the ribbon I realised there was a high chance I could finish in third place. I knew that if I dropped the ribbon just once, I wouldn’t have won the bronze. I let go of the situation, just did my job and I’m glad I succeeded. Believe it or not, even if you win a silver or bronze, it still means a gold to the person who wins it.”
Russia secure fifth successive group gold
After producing an extraordinary, free-flowing display combining hoops, ribbons and clubs, Russia’s rhythmic gymnasts sealed victory in the all-around group competition. They edged out the Spanish and Bulgarian teams on the final day of the Rio 2016 Games to give Russia its fifth consecutive title in the event.
Vera Biriukova, Anastasia Bliznyuk, Anastasia Maksimova, Anastasia Tatavera and Maria Tolkacheva produced a particularly striking second routine to pull away from early pacesetters Spain and finish with a total of 36.233 to eclipse their rival’s 35.766, a score matched by 2014 world champions Bulgaria, who claimed bronze.
The competition really came to life on the second and final day, when Russia returned for their routine with two hoops and six clubs. Diving through the hoops and using their feet to catapult them to fellow gymnasts, the Russian team were hugely impressive. They also drew rapturous applause from the crowd as they performed a synchronized, high-speed Biellmann spin, a move regularly used in figure skating.
“We were concerned after the first rotation because it didn’t go totally smoothly,” said Tatareva. “There was a collision and one of the ribbons ended up on the floor. That hiccup forced us to pull ourselves together and do our best to beat our rivals.”
The Spanish team had high hopes of ending Russia’s dominance in the discipline following an exquisite display with five ribbons. However, despite leading the scoring at the half-way point of the competition, they could not quite hold on.
“Honestly for us, this silver medal is like a gold,” Spanish gymnast Alejandra Quereda said when discussing Spain’s “extraordinary” return to the podium after a 20-year absence. “As we saw yesterday, I don’t think anyone is invincible. The Russians have a very strong rhythmic gymnastics team, but we are always improving. I think we are getting to a similar level.”
Hristiana Todorova, a member of Bulgaria’s bronze-winning team, also said that her team valued their bronze just as much as gold: “I can’t describe the emotions because it’s still very intense at the moment. This was our biggest dream and we made it come true. We are very, very happy. It’s very hard to get a medal in the Olympics so it doesn’t matter that it’s bronze.”