Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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Sport and friendship … from Vladimir to Crayford and again once more

State-of-the-art gymnastics amenities at Europa Gymnasium Centre, Crayford

It’s 10.30 on a Saturday night time, and Len Arnold OBE is shifting mats with the lads.  The 58 12 months outdated gymnastics coach and social entrepreneur is Head Coach and supervisor of the Europa Gymnasium Centre in Crayford, a formidable cutting-edge coaching facility that opened in 2012 and which immediately (seventh September) hosted the London Open, a significant occasion within the British gymnastics calendar.  This 12 months, the competitors acted as a last trial for the British senior males who will journey to Antwerp for the World Championships later this month, and amongst the competitors have been two children from the historic Nikolai Tolkachev Gymnastics College of the Olympic Reserve, Vladimir, Russia.

The Russian boys’ presence was greater than a mere alternative for them to expertise competitors abroad towards some world class rivals.  It additionally marked the twenty fifth anniversary of a partnership between a legendary Russian faculty that has been a world chief for so long as anybody can keep in mind, and an area health club membership that’s at present having fun with the unprecedented wave of success in British males’s creative gymnastics. All three of the eventual medal winners within the throughout – Max Whitlock, Daniel Purvis and Sam Oldham – had been Olympic medal winners final 12 months in London, and are getting ready for related successes within the forthcoming World Championships.

‘In my lifetime, I by no means thought I might see British Gymnastics win 4 medals within the Olympics, by no means thought I might see Britain above Russia within the medals desk’, says Len, with a twinkle in his eye.  ‘I cheekily phoned up Vitaly [Director of Vladimir School] after the Olympics and stated, would you want me to ship an English coach over? … Vitaly laughed …’

Artemov and Korolev prepare collectively in Vladimir, 1986

‘Maybe our coaches gave Britain a lift’

25 years in the past, when the primary change programme with Vladimir happened, world gymnastics was dominated by the Soviet Union, and Vladimir was the house of 1988 Olympic throughout Champion, Vladimir Artemov.  Solely two male British gymnasts had certified to journey to these Video games, they usually had completed in 81st and seventy fifth place throughout.  The British workforce on the 1987 World Championships had come house in nineteenth place, greater than 28 factors behind a mighty, victorious Soviet workforce that had included two Vladimir gymnasts in its ranks, Artemov and 1981 and 1985 World Champion, Yuri Korolev.  It’s evident that Britain have been then by far the junior companions in sporting phrases even when the friendship was as heat as it’s immediately.

At this time, nevertheless, as Len says, Russia and Britain are extra carefully matched within the battle for gymnastics medals.  This spring, for instance, in Moscow, Max Whitlock got here an in depth second to Russian David Belyavski within the European Championships throughout and Britain matched Russia within the variety of medals it gained.  The fashion of a lot of British males’s gymnastics too owes fairly a bit to the Russian heritage of classical line and method.

I talked with the Director and Deputy Director of the Vladimir College of Gymnastics, generally known as ‘the 2 Vitalys’, Ivanchuk and Akimov.  What do they suppose that British gymnastics has realized from Russia?  How does this type of partnership assist the gymnasts?  At first, they have been reluctant to reply this instantly, extra anxious to acknowledge their associates and hosts of the final 25 years than to advertise their metropolis’s huge sporting heritage.  ‘We’re honoured to be members of this competitors, we’re very blissful to be right here.  For us it’s a nice expertise as we all know that British gymnasts have achieved extraordinarily good outcomes, and our gymnasts be taught lots out of your gymnasts’, say Vitaly A modestly, earlier than Vitaly I is persuaded to chip in.  ‘It’s a well-known undeniable fact that Andrei Popov and Sergei Sizhanov, former gymnasts initially from town of Vladimir, are the principle coaches for the British workforce, Andrei for the senior and Sergei for the junior, and we’re very happy with that.  Our traditions return to Nikolai Andrianov, the most effective gymnast of the twentieth century.  So our gymnasts gathered good issues from Andrianov, they realized from four-time Olympic champion Artemov and twice World Champion Korolev and maybe by way of this they gave British gymnastics a lift.’

In fact the Vladimir College of Gymnastics boasts not solely the most effective gymnast of the twentieth century, but in addition a few of the world’s main coaches.  The health club’s namesake, Nikolai Tolkachev, was one of many trailblazers of Soviet gymnastics teaching for his work with Andrianov, who broke by way of the downslide in Soviet males’s gymnastics fortunes of the late Sixties to take a file breaking 15 medals throughout three Olympics (1972, 1976 and 1980) together with 7 gold.  Earlier than his premature dying in 2011 Andrianov was himself a nationwide coach in his house nation and in Japan.  Yuri Korolev now coaches in Russia’s nationwide coaching centre.  And, after all, as talked about, in Britain we have now two extra of their gymnastics teaching pedigree, who’re collectively bringing British gymnastics to a high quality level and, as Vitaly says, giving it a lift.

However when the 2 Vitalys converse of how their very own gymnasts be taught from their rivals in Britain, they aren’t solely expressing nice modesty about Russia’s – Vladimir’s – proud heritage and sporting prowess.  They’re additionally expressing a level of circumspection across the ever shifting energy struggles in world gymnastics during which Britain is seemingly on the ascendant, whereas Russia alongside them makes an attempt to re-assert its former dominance.  In recent times, Russia and Britain have gone face to face in competitors, and it’s nip and tuck as to who holds the whip hand within the race for third place on the earth behind the brilliance of the ‘prime’ nations, together with Japan and China.  Germany, Ukraine and the USA would additionally take into account themselves to be within the operating.  After a couple of years within the doldrums (no medals in 2004, and a humiliating two bronze medals within the 2008 Olympic Video games), Russia is actually on the rise, however their pure reserve and a level of reluctance to over-glorify the exploits of the Soviet period maybe brings with it a sure insecurity in placing ahead the case for his or her contribution to world gymnastics. 

Nikolai Kuksenkov, a Vladimir gymnast now, on his approach to gold in Kazan

‘We’re very proud that Kuksenkov selected us’

Nonetheless, they do not let it maintain them again with regards to competitors.  In Vladimir, the coaches proceed to provide prime class gymnasts.  Most just lately, the membership introduced ahead Yuri Ryazanov, bronze medallist throughout at each the 2009 World and European Championships, who so tragically misplaced his life in a automobile accident simply after profitable his world medal.  Yuri’s private coach, Igor Kalabushkin, nonetheless coaches in Vladimir, the place he now takes care of his workforce’s most up-to-date adoption, twice Universiade throughout champion (the primary time for his house nation, Ukraine), Nikolai Kuksenkov.  Kuksenkov just lately selected to take Russian nationality and to compete for his adopted nation. (His house nation’s passionate and proficient, however impoverished gymnastics programme proved incapable of offering him with the medical care wanted to nurse his accidents again to full well being.  Ultimately summer time’s Olympics, Kuksenkov was unable to compete throughout; this summer time, having benefitted from the attentions of specialist medical doctors below his adopted nation’s nationwide sports activities system, he defended his throughout title in Kazan.)

Kuksenkov, along with his high quality strains and rhythm, consideration to element, and quiet dedication, is about within the mould of the peerless Artemov, the right gymnast to take ahead the traditions of his chosen membership.  ‘Nikolai modified citizenship, ‘, says Vitaly I, ‘he spent numerous time occupied with which metropolis in Russia he would come to and we’re very proud that he selected Vladimir, due to the traditions of our gymnastics faculty, and since he feels we have now the most effective coaches.  He gained three gold medals within the Universiade in Kazan, and we hope that he’ll carry out properly on the forthcoming World Championships.’

Seeking to the longer term

Coach Kalabushkin has his palms full today as he cares not just for the twice Universiade champion, but in addition for 19 12 months outdated Kirill Prokopev, who completed in fifth place at immediately’s competitors behind three Olympians and Britain’s rising star, Reiss Beckford.  Vitaly I, who additionally coaches Kirill, instructed me somewhat bit in regards to the younger man, ‘In fact we will not say it was his greatest efficiency, however nonetheless we’re glad.  Kirill pulled himself collectively, although many, many Olympic Video games medallists have been right here.  He simply confirmed consequence.  Final 12 months he was European Champion on ground.  Now he’s 19 and combating to change into a member of the senior nationwide squad.’  Kirill actually confirmed the strains that one would count on from a gymnast of the Vladimir custom, and, as a member of Russia’s senior reserve, his putting forward of a few of Britain’s up and coming gymnasts demonstrates Russia’s energy in depth in males’s gymnastics. He was accompanied right here by 17 12 months outdated Ilya Kibartas, whose coaches opted to position him within the Loveday competitors for junior males, the place he too achieved a formidable fifth place end, recording the best rating of all opponents on pommel horse but in addition highlighting on rings and on excessive bar.  It’s clear, due to this fact, that regardless of some disquiet final 12 months that the membership had run out of proficient gymnasts, there’s a future in Vladimir College of Gymnastics that might reap gold within the not too distant future.

Sport … and friendship 

However what of the close to future?  Len Arnold instructed me his gymnasts have been wanting ahead to a visit to Vladimir in October, the primary change for 2 years since Europa Gymnasium has been preoccupied with settling into its unbelievable new amenities, and the 2 Vitalys have been clearly enthusiastic about this as properly, telling me that as the 2 gyms have a ‘lengthy, lengthy relationship, now we’re going one step additional, we’re about to formally make our gyms twin gyms, we are going to hopefully meet our Mayor and the Governor of Vladimir, and we are going to signal official paperwork that may approve the change programme between our golf equipment’.

Talking to Len and the Vitalys, you rapidly recognise that the partnership has gymnastics at its coronary heart, however is about extra, exhibiting sport’s energy to transcend nationwide boundaries and promote friendship between folks at two distant, very completely different locations.  Len remembers the very first change.  ‘It wasn’t only a query of taking your greatest children,’ he says, ‘they might settle for any children by way of the door, they usually have a pleasant, laid again angle with them, the coaches, everybody.  It is a completely completely different tradition to ours – vacationers maybe count on a dour, matter of truth sort of folks however I’ve travelled all world wide and have but to come back throughout a extra beneficiant group of individuals.  I keep in mind one explicit time with pal of mine, Nikolai.  We took the children to his dacha within the nation the place we collected wooden and made a hearth for a barbecue.  He stated to the children, ‘would you want potatoes?’ and gave all of them shovels to go and dig them up out of his market backyard.  It was a tremendous expertise, particularly for a few of the children who thought potatoes got here in packets, so it is not simply been about gymnastics, it is a complete life expertise for everyone who has been.  It has change into fairly a bond.’

That bond of friendship goes again 25 years, and extra.  Britain’s gymnastics hyperlinks with Russia and the Soviet Union proceed to bear fruit in individual, but in addition within the gymnastics enviornment, the place Britain clearly has the larger self esteem now because it reaps the advantages of the Olympic legacy.  Throughout the busy gymnastics enviornment on the times of the London Open, volunteers and organisers busied themselves, making a completely skilled job of staging a contest, one thing each Vitalys stated they might be taught from.  And Britain’s gymnasts, I am proud to say, appeared sturdy and clear on the equipment, a lot of them exhibiting the road, originality and air time so attribute of the Russian faculty. 

We are able to count on a high quality show in Antwerp, as Russia and Britain make their bids for gold, silver and bronze, and shake palms on the rostrum.

You could find the complete outcomes of the London Open right here.

There’s a channel of movies from the competitors right here.

Watch Ilya Kibartas on the excessive bar.

And at last, watch this fascinating documentary on Nikolai Andrianov, which includes a quick interview with the founding father of Vladimir Gymnastics College, Nikolai Tolkachev.

With many due to Catherine Bates and Samantha James, who arrange the interview with the 2 Vitalys for me, to the 2 Vitalys for being so fascinating, and to Len Arnold for being so eloquent.

Supply hyperlink



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