Leisan Utiasheva: “Gymnastics is the jungle where only the strongest can survive.”
At times when you are close to give up people from rhythmic gymnastics sphere recall Leisan Utiasheva. After Alina Kabaeva and Irina Chashina’s disqualifications Leisan Utiasheva became the leader of the Russian rhythmic gymnastics team. She overcame a serious injury – a complex fracture of a scaphoid foot bone wasn’t noticed at once. The gymnast either won the medals through the pain or just fell on the carpet. She didn’t give up, she came through several operations and managed to come back to sport.
Today Leisan Utiasheva is a famous broadcaster and a mother of two children. Elena Sobol, a reporter of “R-sport”, met Leisan Utiasheva on a lake’s bank. She was all in black for the photo shoot’s purposes. At her 30th birthday Leisan told about her dark image of a black swan and a panther, about her warm relationships with the president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, Irina Viner-Usmanova and about her big and happy family.
- This image…
- This is a black swan. This is a panther. Call it as you wish. This is the Vrubel’s “Swan Princess”, a favorite work of my mother. I am seldom photographed for editions, I devote to it one day out of six months. Earlier I could go to photo shoots every day but now I have a different schedule. I don’t like posing, it’s better for me to “live” in shot. The same situation is with the work in front of the camera. I don’t like to tell the learned text, I prefer speaking from myself.
- Earlier you used to comment on rhythmic gymnastics. Are you going to return to this type of work?
- I had been commenting on rhythmic gymnastics for 12 years. During this time I lost my mother, gave birth to my son, I got really lost. And I like commenting on what I’m really good at – rules, rhythmic gymnasts, their paths. I’m not familiar with the generation of gymnasts that performs nowadays. I know the last names of rhythmic gymnasts, I saw them in the sport hall, I visited Irina Viner-Usmanova. She showed me the sportswomen. But I don’t know these girls. I support our girls, of course. I support the Irina Viner’s hard work. This work can be easily seen in each gymnast who bring her gold medals.
I haven’t accepted the offer to come back to commenting but I haven’t refused as well. I need to picture that, to learn all details, to get acquainted with girls, to talk to them. Perhaps I’ll have to live in the sport base. But I have a little child, everything should be balanced. When my daughter Sofia is able to move in Novogorsk, for example, I’ll take all my children with me. Let them run there, I’ll watch the girls, I’ll spare attention to them.
- As I got it, it will not be correct enough to ask you about a gymnast who impresses you most, will it?
- I know Margarita Mamun and Yana Kudryavtseva as great gymnasts. Yana is associated with a slim birch but she is strong as an oak, she is unbelievable. I saw Margarita Mamun when she was a little girl but she made an impression of a powerful but gentle and womanlike warrior. This is Amina Zaripova’s work, this is great!
As for the group exercises Irina Viner breathed a sexual aggression in the girls. But I don’t want to underestimate the work of other coaches. The girls became bright, pretty – earlier they were just group gymnasts but now they are extremely beautiful women who do the unbelievable rhythmic gymnastics things. Last time when I was commenting on Olympic Games in London, I was pleasantly surprised. Although I saw a lot of beautiful girls in my life that time it was complicated to understand how these girls managed to do all this. It was just unbelievable. They should be included in the Guinness Book of World Records because the group exercises were never connected with sexuality, it was only about the technique, technique and technique. We throw together, catch together, jump together. But that time each gymnast was noticeable, each shone as a diamond. That was a fascinating work, I was impressed. That time I wanted to come back to sport. “Probably I should try myself in group exercises” – Leisan laughed. But I was pregnant with Robert, all my thoughts were concentrated on him.
- Irina Viner-Usmanova is a like a second mother, a wise instructor, an inspirer to most gymnasts…
- She is like a mother for me. She was with me for my entire life, from times when I was 10. Perhaps Irina Viner is one part of me and my mother is another one. Everyone has his own life conditions. I have a father but he put nothing in me, I felt nothing from him. Frankly to speak I don’t know what father’s love is. But I know what mother’s love from both sides is. Irina Viner helped me to recover when after my injury I was completely broken.
- Is it true?
- When you are 17-19 years old, you can either fly or fall, this is an absolute maximalism. At that moment I felt that it was unfair. Why me? I was so devoted to rhythmic gymnastics, I was fair and pure in front of this kind of sport I admired. Why did all happen that way? Why was I punished? There are girls that train a lot but still they have time for other things as well, they don’t devote their whole life to rhythmic gymnastics. But I was broken. Irina Usmanova recovered me mentally and physically as well.
She helped me for the second time when I lost my mother. She insisted on my refusal from antidepressants. She wanted me to get through all that without interventions. When people take antidepressants, they seem to be a bit out of mind. But I remember every minute. It was painful. Irina Viner literary took me out of all that because I was ready to lie next to my mother. My husband, Irina Viner did that colossal work to help me.
- Getting back to your sport career…How can you describe the world of rhythmic gymnastics?
- This is the jungle. Only the strongest person can survive. This is a fair fight. If you caught the right moment to win, it means it’s yours. If anybody else managed to do it better, you don’t need to be disappointed. Things happen.
- Is it a great life school?
- I wouldn’t call it a school. It is a period of each gymnast’s formation. Gymnastics is my blood. I was called a panther. Here it is, on my hand (she shows the tattoo). I am a panther. At first I didn’t perceive it right but later I understood that is who I am.
- Apart from a strong character, what else did rhythmic gymnastics give you? If I remember it right, sport changed you completely.
- At school I was afraid to raise my hand even if I knew the right answer. I was that timid. Director of my school talked to my mother and asked whether she did some bad things to me or not. She wanted to know the reason of my shyness. My mother answered: “We just love her.” I wasn’t offended by anybody, I was just shy.
When serious rhythmic gymnastics started I understood that I needed to get good scores faster, to fly to the competitions, to hurry to the trainings…That speed probably has made me so fast.
- If not to take your medals into account, what is your biggest achievement in sport?
- The biggest achievement….It is that I managed to come back to sport having undergone two operations and two years of wearing a cast. That is probably my personal achievement that would never happen without Irina Viner. We showed the example for other girls, for those girls who gave up rhythmic gymnastics because of injuries. We showed that it is possible to recover, injuries shouldn’t ruin your life. I’m not talking about the injuries when the girls have to move by means of a wheelchair. When you broke an arm or a leg, it is difficult to make your back but it is possible. These injuries are not dangerous for your life or career. You need patience to recover, to lose weight, to mentally rehabilitate yourself and to finally come back to your favorite kind of sport. I think it was a great victory, we got many people back to sport. After my coming back, there were lots of letters addressed to me. The girls wrote: “You were my tip to follow, I was operated and then started to train again”. It was not about my ego. I was almost the first number of the Russian team. There were so many possibilities in front of me but I was close to lose it all. The whole world was watching me. Somebody was delighted at my issues, the others supported me.
- Has your leg disturbed you since then?
- Just a little. I felt discomfort when I was pregnant. But that’s all right.
- Have you ever thought of becoming a coach?
- I had such experience, I used to train girls. But perhaps I love gymnastics and children too much. The children hugged me, we didn’t train. We laughed, did some funny exercises…I just can’t. It’s difficult for me. The girls start to cry, I can’t see it. You need to have a really strong character. I can’t see when the girls cry. And they cry all the time. When it was time to go home, they cried. When the training was over, they cried. These emotions are very hard to deal with and I’m a very emotional person myself.
Moreover, it would be impossible to take my gymnast to performance, to stand there to worry about her and then to lie in hospital because of cardiac insufficiency. This is not for me. It is easy for me to make up a beautiful performance. I love to work with adult women who do not cry, who improve their skills with my help.
I really like to stretch men. I’m not kidding. The flexibility is youth. I want our men to be good-looking and young. Stretching helps a lot. I know some secrets about it.
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