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Strazheva: 'Return Glory to Ukrainian Gymnastics!'
(98 votes, average 4.90 out of 5)

Two decades after winning Olympic and World Championships gold medals, legendary Ukrainian gymnast Olga Strazheva told IG she hopes that, despite economic problems, her country can regain its former gymnastics greatness.

Olga Strazheva with daughter Anya, a rhythmic gymnast

"Now in Ukraine is certainly a very difficult time, not only for gymnastics, but also for all Ukrainian sports," said the 36-year-old Strazheva, a physical education professor in her native Zaporozhye. "Many big training halls and sports schools are closing, there are insufficient finances for competitions and training, and of course there are not enough qualified coaches.

It would be nice to hope that we shall overcome all difficulties on a way of the achievement of the goal. And the goal, the only goal, is to return glory to Ukrainian gymnastics!"

Known for her unique artistry and spectacular skills, Strazheva was a member of the gold medal-winning Soviet team at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and the 1989 World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart. She suffered a torn ligament in her knee during her optional balance beam routine in Seoul, and was unable to finish the competition.

Strazheva won the all-around bronze medal in Stuttgart, where she performed an inimitably choreographed floor exercise routine to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" that still earns raves today.

Among Strazheva's other accomplishments, she placed first all-around at the 1988 Soviet Championships, second all-around at the 1986 Junior European Championships and third all-around at the 1989 European Championships and 1989 World Championships.

Strazheva at the 1989 European Championships in Brussels

Strazheva, whose style is unforgettable to gymnastics fans, said she is still recognized by the public in Zaporozhye.

"Of course both at the university and in city they know me, and I still have admirers," Strazheva said. "They often invite me to different sports events as the guest of honor."

As risky as Strazheva's routines were in the late 1980s, she said the sport continues its natural progress in difficulty and technique.

"Undoubtedly gymnastics today has become more interesting and certainly more complex," said Strazheva, whose coaches, Alexander and Viktoria Zaruba, have been working in France for several years. "And the development of complexity in gymnastics goes constantly. You cannot hold and stop it at any level."

Strazheva said advances in equipment make more difficult elements possible, and today's most daring tricks could be commonplace soon.

"Only a small number of gymnasts can do the hardest skills, but you will look at the same complexity in a year, the majority can," Strazheva said. "Certainly, gymnastics is very much an injury-filled kind of sport, but without those complexities which are performed today, it will be uninteresting. And in this, it's wonderful!"

Strazheva still follows the sport, although her professional path has led her away from coaching. For several years she performed with the German touring circus, Circus Krone. Last year she earned her Master's degree and married Ivan Vanyuk, a fellow physical education professor at the university. Anya, Strazheva's 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, competes in rhythmic gymnastics.

Strazheva said she enjoys as many gymnastics competitions as possible, on television and in person. She is particularly supportive of Ukrainian gymnasts.

Strazheva with husband Ivan at an event for the Ukrainian Olympic Committee

"I don't have any favorite gymnasts," Strazheva said, "but when I watch competitions, I cheer for everyone, of course the most for our girls."

In April, the first Olga Strazheva Gymnastics Tournament took place in the Zaporozhye club where Strazheva trained. Strazheva, who said she hopes the competition becomes an annual event, said the participants inspired her to consider coaching.

"Looking at the performances of the little gymnasts, I recalled myself," Strazheva told IG. "And, probably, I shall try myself in a role of trainer."

Olga Strazheva is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine

"Catching up with Olga Strazheva" (June/July 2003)
1989 World Championships special issue (January 1990)
1989 European Championships coverage (August 1989)
Strazheva cover photo, USA vs. USSR coverage (July 1988)
1986 Goodwill Games coverage (October 1986)
1986 Junior European Championships coverage (August 1986)

To subscribe to IG Magazine or order back issues, click here.

Comments (3)add comment

Suzie Buzzy said:

Love her!
My favorite gymnast ever!! Thanks so much.
July 11, 2009
Votes: +2

Kevin Nguyen said:

Strazheva the Great
Strazheva was an innovator on the floor with her front tumbling. Fantastic gymnast! Thanks for the update.
July 12, 2009
Votes: +0

Orest Steciw said:

Please refer to article on Ukrainian gymnastics with link
STOP using Russian transliteration of Ukrainian names. Please use Ukrainian transliteration of all names of cities, etc. For example, the name of the city is Zaporizhzhia and NOT Zaporozhye.

League of Ukrainian Canadians
July 12, 2009
Votes: -3

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