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Despite Tragedy, Azerbaijan Looks Forward
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While the recent death of women’s national team head coach Alexander Pravdin shocked and saddened Azerbaijan’s gymnastics community, a spokesperson for the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation told IG that Pravdin’s memory and influence will continue to drive the team as it establishes itself internationally.

“Mr. Pravdin’s legacy to Azerbaijani women’s artistic gymnastics will always be seen in future successes of the little girls who started their first steps in gymnastics with him,” said Farid Gayibov, Secretary General of the federation. “It became their favorite sport due to his professionalism, coaching skills and good knowledge of children’s psychology. We are confident that these girls will justify their first coach’s hopes and will prove themselves in the international arena.”

Pravdin, who suffered a fatal heart attack on April 4, became the head coach of the team in 2014 after coaching in his native Voronezh, Russia, for years. He, his wife/fellow coach Nina Pravdina and several Russian gymnasts who relocated to Azerbaijan formed the foundation of the fledgling women’s national program.

Foremost among these gymnasts are two-time Russian Olympian Anna Pavlova; Yulia Inshina, who won a team silver medal and placed sixth on balance beam at the 2011 worlds; and Pravdin’s daughter, Kristina Pravdina.

While competing for Russia, Kristina Pravdina won a team bronze medal and placed 24th all-around at the 2006 world championships. She finished 16th all-around in qualifications at the 2007 worlds. Pravdina began competing for Azerbaijan late last year.

“Mr. Pravdin has left after himself the gymnasts he brought up,” Gayibov said. “They are Marina Nekrasova, Yulia Inshina, and, of course, his daughter, Kristina. They are representing our country at international competitions with dignity.”

Gayibov said injuries and other factors contributed to the Azerbaijani team’s “not so successful” performance at the 2014 worlds. He said the team’s results early this year show promise, however.

“At the times when Mr. Pravdin was head coach, the girls successfully executed their routines at the Challenger Cup in Cottbus (in March), where Kristina won a medal. Prior to Cottbus, they were inspired by medals taken within ‘home walls’ at the Open Joint Azerbaijan championships, held as a test event for the first European Games (taking place in Baku in June).”

Gayibov said Pravdin was also responsible for inspiring new, homegrown talent.

“Under his direction, the first local championship among pre-juniors and youth age categories were held, in this new-for-us gymnastics discipline,” Gayibov said of Pravdin.

Gayibov said the Azerbaijani team’s performance at the European championships in Montpellier earlier this month was “naturally very difficult for them psychologically.”

In Montpellier, Pravdina injured herself early in her routine on her first apparatus, balance beam, and did not continue. Marina Nekrasova and Maria Smirnova finished 45th and 59th, respectively, in the all-around qualifications. Smirnova’s 18th-place finish in vault qualifications was the highest ranking for the Azerbaijani women.

Gayibov said the upcoming European Games in the Azerbaijani capital and this fall’s world championships in Glasgow provide unique challenges to the team.

“It is always hard to perform within ‘home walls’ in front of a local audience, and the current sad circumstance will have even more psychological impact on the team members,” he said. “This year’s other very significant competition is the world championships, qualifying gymnasts for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”

While replacing Pravdin will also be a challenge, Gayibov said the team will try its best to recruit a coach as dedicated and capable as Pravdin.

“Of course, the team needs a new coach, as life is going on and we will be searching for a new one,” he told IG. “It is very difficult to find a good coach and a good person. But it is unknown how soon we will succeed in finding one.”

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