Rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Kiroi-Bogatyreva was just one step away from qualifying to represent Australia at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
But the Games’ postponement to next year and potential cancellation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up plenty of uncertainty for her and hundreds of other Australian athletes attempting to qualify.
In an exclusive Zoom interview, the 18-year-old athlete described the toll that recent developments had taken on her and her family.
“Everything was ready,” she said. “I was physically ready. I was mentally ready.
“Everything that’s happened now hit me really hard … because I had one step for qualifying for Tokyo. I had Olympic qualifications coming up, and I was going in as number one athlete.”
Despite this, she isn’t losing sight of her goal just yet. Instead, she’s putting her focus back into training so that she can be ready if and when qualifications resume.
“It’s very important to keep working now (when) you have time to work on your weak aspects,” she says.
“I’m working on my weak aspects as well as improving my good aspects. It’s very important to just maintain your level, maintain your fitness, and then when everything’s over … I’m pretty much ready.”
Her career so far
In rhythmic gymnastics, athletes perform dance-like gymnastic routines with the use of an apparatus. Balls, hoops and ribbons are among the equipment that can be used.
Miss Kiroi-Bogatyreva has been in the rhythmic discipline since she was six, and won her first international competition five years later in Spain. Since then, she has won multiple Australian championships and competed all over the world, including in Italy, Greece, and Azerbaijan.
She says the biggest highlight of her career so far has been competing in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. There, she won bronze in both the ball and team events.
Most recently, she was Australia’s All-around Rhythmic Gymnastics Champion in 2018 and 2019, and is the top-ranked rhythmic gymnast in Oceania.
Training at home
This year’s Tokyo Olympics would have been the next step in her career. However, even with the Games’ postponement, and the need to self-isolate at home, Miss Kiroi-Bogatyrev is staying positive.
And despite having no competition for the foreseeable future, she’s still training in preparation for when she can start competing again.
“When we have a break (from training), our looks change,” she says.
“We lose our muscles, we lose our flexibility, we eat a lot instead of eating and working out. So we end up gaining weight.
“It’s important to be ready because if they say, in a month I could have a competition, and what if I’m just, like, right now lying in bed. I’m not going to have any preparation at all.”
Unable to access all the facilities and equipment she normally can, she is making do with what she has available in her own home and training in the garage.
“I’m doing everything except for what we usually do at training, which is routines because I can’t do that much,” she says. “There’s not much space.
“I do a lot of stretching just so I can maintain my stretching and improve it a little bit. So an hour and a half of stretching and splits, side splits, back splits, my back, everything.”
She’s also been using household pieces of furniture for some of her exercises.
“I’ve used tables, benches or bookcases to stretch off in splits instead of a box, as well as instead of a ballet barre I use a table or chair to hold onto for kicks. Otherwise, I have all my apparatus with me,” she adds.
“We have been doing some new exercises to improve flexibility and strength but it’s since we have time to focus on these things now.
“We never usually work on little stuff. Now we actually have time to focus on the minor details in our routines.”
She’s not the only one
Miss Kiroi-Bogatyreva is one of hundreds of Australian Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls facing up to the harsh new realities presented by the pandemic. Some have thought up innovative ways to maintain their training, and their methods have been shared on social media.
Champion Canoeist Jessica Fox has taken to canoeing in her backyard swimming pool, while 16-year-old Paralympic swimmer Col Pearse is using the dam at his family’s Echuca farm to swim laps.
Miss Kiroi-Bogatyreva says each individual athlete’s training setup “depends on where you live, how much space you have, what sport you’re in, because I’ve heard (a rock climber) bought this massive set for her house so she can practice at home.
“(Some artistic gymnasts) took pommels from the training arena to their house and they’ve been working on it at home.
“Everyone’s dealing with (isolation) in their own way.”
No matter their individual training necessities, our Olympic representatives – both past and aspiring – all have the same goal: staying prepared in the hope of competing at Tokyo 2021.