Aliya Yussupova fell in love with rhythmic gymnastics when she was in firstgrade. Today, the famous Kazakh gymnast and two-time Olympian chairs the specialised gymnastics centre opened in the south of Kazakhstan at the end of last year.
Persistence in achieving goals, working efficiency, stamina and patience helped Yussupova attain extraordinary results. Flexibility and plasticity, which play a crucial role in this kind of sport, made the aspiring athlete one of the most promising gymnasts. The coaches have not made a mistake by staking on the delicate and graceful Yussupova.
“At the age of 16, I was sent to Moscow to improve my skills at the Academy of Rhythmic Gymnastics of Irina Viner. This is the most important landmark in my sports career. If I had not gone then, everything would have been different; I would not have become a two-time absolute champion of Asia, a champion of the Asian Games, a ten-time champion of Kazakhstan and a participant in the Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing. I would have only remained a promising gymnast,” she said.
Yussupova was sent to the world’s best gymnastics centre because her abilities, readiness and desire to move forward were noticed. None of the local coaches wanted to take the responsibility to train the talented gymnast for the Olympics, as they were afraid of damaging her career. A quarter century ago, Kazakhstan simply did not have experience in the field of rhythmic gymnastics.
The coaches made the right decision, although it was not easy for Yussupova both psychologically and mentally. She was a teenager when she was sent to Moscow where she spent nine long years, coming home only once in a while. During those days, she clearly understood that something had to be sacrificed if one wanted to achieve a goal. Her goal was to participate in the Olympic Games.
Her father, Maksut, a USSR Master of Sports in boxing, took his daughter to rhythmic gymnastics school. He could foresee a bright future for his child and tried to engage her in sports not only by his own example, but also by daily exercises. Thus, Yussupova honourably passed the entrance examination.
The school’s entire coaching staff gathered to watch the talented and flexible girl. She easily stretched and did the splits and a backbend. Yussupova was eagerly admitted and immediately included in the list of the most talented trainees. Every day her father would pick her up from regular school to take her to the sports school. He repeatedly told her only rigorous training could help her achieve success and she tried her best not to disappoint her father.
Yussupova mastered her skills during the years in Moscow, training together with Russian gymnastics stars Irina Chashina, Alina Kabayeva, Olga Kapranova and other girls. With her gentle nature, she became close friends with them. Trainings took place mostly in Moscow, with performances around the world.
The gymnast gradually gained experience in performing at international competitions, resulting in her first successes. Starting with her debut at the 2001 world championships in Madrid, Yussupova has always been among the 10 top gymnasts following the results of the all-around. In 2001, she was 18th in the all-around final, seventh in Budapest in 2003 and in Baku in 2005 and sixth in Patras in 2007.
The 2004 Athens Olympics were another important step in Yussupova’s career that also influenced Kazakhstan’s development of rhythmic gymnastics. She ranked fourth, giving way only to world leaders Kabayeva and Chashina and Anna Bessonova from Ukraine. Yussupova advanced beyond Belarusian and Bulgarian gymnasts and Natalia Godunko, who had been considered number two on the Ukrainian team.
Sports analysts unanimously started to speak about Yussupova’s huge potential and her possible participation in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She placed fifth and was satisfied with her performance, although she was not among the medallists. Between the Games, Yussupova twice became the Asian all-around champion. This achievement has been unbeaten for a long time, as no other gymnast managed to become the continent’s multiple champion. Last year a Korean gymnast became an all-around champion, replicating her success.
Yussupova made the decision to retire from sports six years ago, saying she was inspired by coaching. The choice was quite an unexpected one for Ekaterina Panchenko, Kazakhstan’s rhythmic gymnastics national team and Yussupova’s coach, who thought the athlete’s potential had not been exhausted. The retirement ceremony coincided with the opening ceremony of a private rhythmic gymnastics school and international tournament with awards from Yussupova. Viner approved her trainee’s choice and promised to extend every possible support and help. Several years ago, Yussupova gained the status of as the Kazakh team’s senior coach and international class judge and intends to further share her experience with newcomers.
“When I got an offer to try as a senior coach of Kazakhstan’s rhythmic gymnastics team, I did not refuse and agreed having promised to do my best. I clearly knew what to do and realised the burden I was undertaking. It is not enough to send several sportsmen to Moscow to train to maintain the high level of rhythmic gymnastics. It is necessary to support other talented gymnasts as well. This is a prerequisite to succession; this is how we can avoid failure for years and ensure the performance of our gymnasts at the Olympics with good results. I raised the issue of the need to establish our own training ground and thanks to the support of the head of state, now we have it,” she said.
Approximately 200 children currently train at the specialised rhythmic gymnastics centre in Shymkent. Many come to the south from Astana, as their parents believe so much in the abilities of the centre’s head they were ready to make such a drastic change in their lives for the future of their children. Foreign gymnasts also rely on the centre. Following the successful performance of Sabina Ashirbaeva, Yussupova’s trainee in the Asian Championship who demonstrated good results in the all-around and individual exercises, teams from a number of Asian countries, including Korea, asked to join the training camp.
To achieve good results Yussupova invites foreign experts, such as individuals from Russia who are soon expected to conduct training for judges and teach coaches the new rules. Rhythmic gymnastics develops constantly and every four years – at the end of the Olympic cycle – drastic changes take place. The new sports facility has the necessary equipment for children so they can train in their home town. Therefore 5-year-old Amina, Yussupova’s daughter, has the opportunity to train next to her mother, which is exactly what she has been doing for the past year.
Yussupova should be given credit for opening Kazakhstan’s rhythmic gymnastics centre, which can quite possibly be considered yet another of her achievements. While she has a number of victories, her main success is making the sport fashionable in her own land. Her spectacular performances in the world’s major tournaments have made it popular among children and teenagers who want to be as slender, flexible and graceful as their idol.
Thanks to Yussupova’s personal example, rhythmic gymnastics in Kazakhstan is experiencing the peak of popularity. Large-scale participation in any sport will certainly affect the results in the future, because it allows coaches to select talented and promising children. The more people wishing to train with a rope, hoop, ball and clubs, the higher the chances of finding future champions. This is exactly the desire of the national team’s head coach – sharing her wealth of experience with budding gymnasts. She is very successful, judging by the fact that her 17-year-old protégé won a license for the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. So, after many years, Kazakhstan will once again be represented at the rhythmic gymnastics competition.