December 20, 2008

The Death of Ukrainian Gymnastics: Why Ostapenko Went to Russia Instead

Over the last few days, the Internet has been ablaze with gossip about why Oleg Ostapenko turned down the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation to start working with the Russian juniors instead. It was rumored Russia offered him more money, which is undoubtedly true. It was also assumed Ostapenko had found working conditions much better in Russia than in his native Ukraine, where many gyms are woefully unprepared for the exigencies of modern gymnastics.

Turns out there's more to the story than that. According to the article below, which was posted on a Ukrainian gymnastics site yesterday, Ukraine doesn't even have a national training center anymore. The national training center at Koncha-Zaspa has been closed. No wonder Ostapenko went to Russia, where many clubs (and, one would assume, the national training centers at Round Lake and Malakhovka) have just been re-equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.

Irina Krasnyanska (photo: Jasmin Schneebeli-Wochner/Gymbox)

Anyhow, here's the article - the Ukrainian perspective on the whole affair, which is bitter and incredibly pessimistic. Rightfully so, we fear.

Oleg Ostapenko is appointed senior coach of the women's junior team of... Russia!

So here it is. Just a few weeks ago, Victor Korzh, President of the [Ukrainian] Artistic Gymnastics Federation, told us the happy news about Oleg Ostapenko's return to Ukraine. Yes, Korzh had succeeded in interesting the experienced coach and persuading him to work with the Ukrainian gymnasts. Oleg Vasilyevich [Ostapenko] had foregone other, more advantageous proposals. He undertook the work with enthusiasm, all the more so because even while training the Brazilian team, his soul had always kept pining for Ukraine. Everyone was excited and revived. Hope dawned for the revival of bygone glory. But no sooner had Oleg Vasilyevich been introduced to those under his care than the terrible news (you can't call it anything else) came – there would be no training camp for the gymnasts. Everybody is going home. The gymnasts will train in their own towns. That shouldn't have to be a problem, but in which towns can you find gyms with up-to-date equipment? Yes, and where can you get good, experienced coaches? For the first time in our years of independence, our gymnasts don't have a training camp. Even in the more difficult 90s, the country found the necessary means for the development of this beautiful sport. And results were forthcoming!

Alina Kozich (photo: Vladimir Rys/Bongarts)

I cannot imagine what is going on now in the hearts of the girls and boys who have dedicated their whole conscious lives to gymnastics. They dreamed of medals, they dreamed of singing the Ukrainian national anthem while standing on pedestals all over the world. But our country does not care about them. You can say there is a crisis, that it is difficult for everyone... But at the same time, the Supreme Council has proposed a law providing additional tens of millions to support the Ukrainian national football [soccer] team. On the eve of the 2012 European Football Championships [which will be hosted by Poland and Ukraine], any sacrifice is deemed acceptable. It's always football; football is everywhere! Only how many medals have our football players won at World Championships, European Championships, or the Olympics? [The answer is none.] Their wage levels and training facilities have always been many times better than those for gymnasts. When gymnasts from other countries arrive at our Koncha-Zaspa training center for an exchange, they are always surprised that it is possible to obtain such good results under such conditions. But now our gymnasts have been deprived even of this bare minimum.

Vote in our poll for the best Ukrainian gymnast! It's possible that there won't be anybody to vote for next year.

We don't know about you, but that article just ruined our weekend. Sad, isn't it, to see such an illustrious program crumble like that? "Tragedy" seems to be an understatement to describe what's going on in Ukraine. "Death bells" is more like it, by the sound of it.

We'll be dressed in black and mourning for the rest of the weekend if this news is true.


  1. That site is *not* the site of the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation. It is just a site about Ukrainian gymnastics (in Russian).

    Check out the info page: "This page is for all lovers of gymnastics. We will try to collect all information relating to Ukrainian gymnastics."

    That article is just an opinion piece.

  2. Is there any way that the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation can start a donation fund in order for private citizens and businesses to donate money and/or gymnastics equipment to them?

  3. Aha, so it's just a fan site, Jess? Well, that would explain the rather unofficial-sounding tone of the article. It doesn't exactly sound like a press release. But then, as you've said yourself, Russians do have a way of making even official press releases sound a bit, well, off.

    Still, if the information contained in the article is true - and it sounds legitimate enough to us - it's bad news for the Ukrainian gymnastics program.

    Anonymous, we think it's high time the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation established a donation fund. They've been complaining about a lack of funds for years now, and we have it on good authority that the situation at the clubs is dire indeed. Ukrainian gymnastics has fans all over the world; we're sure many of those fans would be willing to donate money and/or equipment if they knew it would make a difference. Maybe someone should suggest it to the Federation...

  4. Where does it say that Koncha Zaspa is closed? It isn't. In fact, some other sports, soccer included, have had training camps there.

    It just says that there is no money for training camps.

  5. God this is horrible, if Koncha Zaspa is really closed. Ukrainian gymnastics cannot be over!! If there was some kind of fund or something, hell I'd donate! The Ukraine gymnastics program gives me some of my greatest enjoyments in life!!:)

  6. If this was true, is there any way Ukranian gymnasts can train in Russia?

  7. Gabor, thanks for the Koncha-Zaspa information. We didn't know it was a multi-purpose training center, used for other sports too. Good to know it hasn't been closed entirely. We continue to share the author's pessimism though. Even if we overtranslated the bit about Koncha-Zaspa, we think the article is a lot of bad news for the Ukrainian team. The combination of no money for training camps, ill-equipped gyms and a dearth of experienced coaches sounds very dangerous to us.

    Anonymous 1, we share your horror. We'd donate too if we were certain the money would end up in the right place.

    Anonymous 2, we doubt the Russians and the Ukrainians will train together, but it's an interesting idea. Especially with Ostapenko occupying a high rank in Russia. Who knows what strings he might be able to pull... We don't think it's likely though. In all likelihood the Ukrainian gymnasts will just have to train at their home clubs, ill equipped though these are. Sad but true.

  8. (TCO)

    After the Russians take over Ukraine as part of their plan to recover the USSR empire (complete with Black Fleet ports and such), then the Ukranians can just merge with Russia. Perhaps they can all tumble with orange leotards, the shade of a poisoned prime minister.

  9. Okay TCO, you got us laughing. Orange leotards indeed. Brr.

    For what it's worth, we think a joint Russian/Ukrainian team would be invincible and an absolute joy to watch, but that doesn't mean we support Russia's imperialism. We want Ukraine to stand up and fight! And emerge victorious! Not gonna happen, but still.

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  11. cidlover,

    Your comments are an insult to Elina Khozlu, Viktoria Bessonova, Marina Karadash and the other talented coaches who work in the Deriugina school, without any monetary or personal recognition.

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  13. The Russians have the Europeans by the balls. But the Ukranians have the Russians by the balls.

  14. Thank you for this informative site. As part of an international sport, I would like to know what is going on in the rest of the world, and am limited by language. You have made it possible to feel connected to other gymnasts around the world.