Rhythmic gymnastics on the rise

Few, if any athletes, work harder than rhythmic gymnasts.

Israel’s national rhythmic gymnastics team fashions a star of David (photo credit: OLYMPIC COMMITTEE OF ISRAEL)
Israel’s national rhythmic gymnastics team fashions a star of David
The interview with Neta Rivkin was held at a special time for her.
She had just returned home from the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, where she finished the individual all-around final in a career-best seventh place and secured her place at next summer’s Rio Olympics.
However, that was not the reason.
What made it such a noteworthy time was, rather, the fact that Rivkin was in the midst of her annual two-week holiday.
Few, if any athletes, work harder than rhythmic gymnasts.
Rivkin trains six days a week and an average of eight hours a day, and after completing her season at the World Championships, she finally had the chance to relax for a couple of weeks.
Rivkin, who is just 24, will participate in her third consecutive Olympics next summer after registering an overall score of 70.974 in the final in Stuttgart – 17.900 in the hoop, 17.833 in the ball, 17.925 in the clubs and 17.316 in the ribbon.
A day later, Israel’s national rhythmic gymnastics team booked its ticket to Rio, ending the all-around final in sixth position.
The team of Yuval Filo, Alona Koshevatskiy, Ekaterina Levina, Karina Lykhvar and Ida Mayrin recorded an overall result of 34.283 points – 17.333 in the ribbons and 16.950 in the clubs and hoops.
Rivkin’s and the team’s success in Stuttgart was further proof of the rise of their sport in Israel. Rhythmic gymnastics was brought to the country by Russian immigrants in the early 1970s, and in the past decade it has become one of Israel’s most successful Olympic sports internationally.
Rivkin became the first Israeli to win a medal at the World Championships when she took a bronze in the hoop final in 2011. Earlier that year, she made history once more when she was the first of her countrywomen to scale the podium at the European Championships, taking a silver medal in the clubs.
She won a bronze in the continental championships earlier this summer, finishing third in the hoop.
After her short holiday, Rivkin returned to her arduous training regime, preparing brand-new performances ahead of the Olympic year.
“People ask me how I do it, and I don’t really know how to answer,” Rivkin told Metro. “It must be something within me – a hunger and a real intense love for this sport and my determination to be at the top.”
Rivkin, who finished seventh in the all-around final at the London 2012 Olympics after coming in 14th in the Beijing Games four years earlier, is her sport’s biggest star in Israel.
She followed in the footsteps of Irina Risenzon, who finished in ninth place in Beijing, with the current national team also building on the success of its predecessors.
The Israel roster was rebuilt at the start of last year, with the goal of reaching the Olympics for a third straight time in Rio 2016. The previous national teams advanced to the final at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
The current team ended the all-around final at last year’s Worlds in an impressive fifth place, while also taking a silver in the clubs final.
The Israelis won three medals at the European Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, this summer, claiming a silver in the all-around final, a silver in the clubs and hoops and a bronze in the ribbons.
“I think we owe a lot of our success to our coaches,” said Rivkin. “They have shown that they can raise us and lead us to achievements. Israel is treated around the world as a rhythmic gymnastics powerhouse. We have an amazing national team and amazing individual athletes.
There are many talented girls coming through, and I can certainly see that there is plenty to come from the next generation.”
Rivkin is coached by Ela Samofalov, while national team coach Irina Vigdorchik is the main driving force behind the consistent triumphs in the group competitions.
“I’m happy that we accomplished our goals in Stuttgart,” asserted Vigdorchik on the team’s return from Germany. “We dropped an apparatus but still finished in sixth, and that means we are capable of finishing much higher. Our goal was to qualify for the Olympics, and I’m happy that people at home may have been disappointed that we didn’t win a medal, because that shows what we have accustomed them to. We need to continue and work in order to win a medal – and that is what we’ll do next.”
Rivkin also participated in two individual finals in Stuttgart, ending the ball final in sixth and the hoop in eighth. Despite finishing without a medal, she was delighted with her performance, especially in the allaround, as that is the only event that is contested at the Olympic Games.
“The competition was really tough, as it was held over five days rather than three like most events,” she explained.
“That made it more challenging, and we also had to prepare differently. I’m happy that I recorded a good overall result and that I completed my drills without making any mistakes.”
Rivkin is still not quite pleased with the respect her sport receives in Israel, but she admits that significant progress has been made over the past decade.
“Eight years ago the situation was a lot worse,” she detailed.
“People didn’t even understand what rhythmic gymnastics was; a lot of times I would tell people what I do and they hadn’t even heard of it. That doesn’t happen to me anymore. I think that a lot is being done in order to promote the popularity of the sport in the country.
“Of course, there is still plenty more room for improvement, but progress is being made. Even from a statistical standpoint, there are a lot more girls currently taking part in rhythmic gymnastics.
“I have invested my entire life in this sport, and I do want people to afford it the respect it deserves,” Rivkin concluded. “After all, this is a very difficult sport which demands a lot from the athlete, and I think it deserves more recognition.”