Sankovich, Halkina and Slanchevskaya: The victory over pain

Ksenya Sankovich, Katsyarina Halkina

After Melitina Staniouta Onliner.by published an interview with three special gymnasts from the Belarus National team. Original article written by Alexander Chernukho, photos by Alexander Ruzhechka.

Polina has been a rhythmic gymnast for six years, but she still has to begin her senior career. Katya is 20, and she is an international master of sports. Ksenia – Olympic medalist in Beijing and London, and Honored Master of Sports – completed her career four years ago and is now raising her daughter. Three generations of gymnasts, three stories of victory over themselves.

Ksenia Sankovich, 27 years old. Honored Master of Sports of the Republic of Belarus, ended her career.

I used to think that I would have never brought my child to gymnastics. What for? It’s hard work. It’s better to study, or to practice dance. Now, as my child is growing, I’m almost sure that she will practice rhythmic gymnastics, at least at its initial stage. I don’t pretend to raise a champion. But for her, it will be a good school of life, she will learn to understand what pain is, to get up even when it’s hard. But I don’t want to force my child, “I love her too much to have regrets”.

I felt sorry for myself, and it’s a really bad sensation: I became depressed, and in this state it’s difficult to achieve something in general. It may seems that girls in the sport are strong, but you don’t have to be strong all the time. At home sometimes I just let the others take decisions. But in sport you can’t let yourself go: the older you become, the more you understand it.

Ksenia Sankovich

I was very afraid to feel like I hadn’t worked enough to achieve the results I aimed. Inside my head I was calm, I knew I trained to the maximum: just if something didn’t work out during the competitions, I feared I would torment myself for the rest of my life.

When they began to stretch us, I gained a better perception of my body. Little girls often don’t like to go to gym because they feel pain. But through this kind of pain you can really feel your own body. In general, stretching children is a difficult job… And of course, it was very unpleasant, but I was able to tolerate stretching.

If it hurts, you start counting to ten: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, niiiiiine, teeeeeeeen – finished, please release me!
But all this is tolerable. Just as a child, you are still not used to feel pain, the less you control it the more it is unpleasant. When you get older, you can stretch yourself: put your foot on the table and control this pain. But at the age when we start competing, stretching was no more the worst thing in training.

Ksenia Sankovich

Almost all the time there was physical fatigue from the heavy load of work, after a huge number of repetitions. It evolved into a constant pain: you are tired, you have no time to rest, and you load your muscles even more. Then the stretch become routine. The pain is different: sometimes you just have muscle clogged – and that’s okay, you can just massage and warm yourself up. And there are serious injuries that need to be monitored. You can be a super talented gymnast and end your career because of what have been overlooked during your childhood.

Someone has fragile bones, some ligaments problems, and I always had problems with my knees – this was my Achilles’ heel. For a common person that wouldn’t be particularly critical: if I just ran in the morning and did physical exercises, there would be no discomfort. And my meniscus tore. I was prepared to a big start and I lived it in pain – before a World Cup the knee “tore”. Then the second knee began to hurt … Because of the schedule of training, you don’t have time to heal it completely, and you can “fly over” the pain of some part of your body. This is what prevented me in sport: my knees, the overload in the back and feet.

Ksenia Sankovich

I achieved some important results in 17 years of career – for successful performances you go beyond stretching and flexibility. At this age, gymnasts train other things: difficulties, plasticity, dynamism, artistry. I didn’t try to improve my flexibility, that wasn’t important anymore. If I would have tried to go further, it would have be difficult for me: at this age, traumas happens very often. I can’t say that it’s strictly connected to the age: some gymnasts get injuries also at the age of 15, and some others continues to compete until 28. These are characteristics of the body are different from one person to another.

The human body is capable of much more than we think. We always think to have reached the peak. The truth is that we can usually overcome our limits. Of course, there are some boundaries, but they are much further than we can imagine.

Katsyarina Halkina

Ekaterina Galkina, 20 years old, International Master of Sports.

Gymnastics is hard. Everything hurts. In childhood you don’t realize this completely: the body is young, everything is more flexible. When you get older, you will feel your bones and joints start hurting. 15 years of work beyond the limits of human ability is not easy.

At the age of 14 I was terribly lazy and didn’t want to do anything at all. It hurt, and I felt sorry for myself, and laziness hindered everything. Sometimes I said to myself: “God, I should have ended this sport…” But now I haven’t such thoughts anymore.

I underwent heart surgery: the valve did not close. I wasn’t scared, because I wasn’t aware of the seriousness of the situation. After the surgery I had to start training. The first month I could not even bend forward, get worried, walk fast and, most importantly, get sick, because there could be blood clots. Only three months later I came to the hall and began to do something. It was not easy to start all over again…

I never cried. At all. Only in the transition years I couldn’t do what I needed. As a child, I was completely immersed in sport. This doesn’t mean that I am not submerged now. It’s just that children always need to be forced to do something, but I did everything by myself: it gave me joy.

You can not help but feel your own body. You are born and you already feel it. And when I was 13-14 years old, I felt really powerful: I can do more! Everything was given a little easier than now, when the body is already formed. 16 years is a turning point. My back ached then, and it was a lot of pain. Now I can not stand for long or bring weights. What can I do about it? Live.

Sensations after training are completely different. But most often I have the forces only to get home. Especially if the training is intense. It takes time to recover from it, and sometimes the night isn’t enough to rest. I try to just come and lie down so my back and everything else stop aching.

During competitions endurance i really important. On the carpet, we show exactly what we have prepared in training, and emotionally it all depends on the situation. But the devastation after the competition is always there. Sometimes it’s so hard that I need three days in which I haven’t strength even to get out of bed.

Katsyarina Halkina

The day I will leave Rhythmic Gymnastics… I want to try something else, not related to sports. I’m in love with the fashion world, maybe I’ll try to work in this domain. I used to think that after the end of my career I would have felt relief. But now it’s much easier for me to train: I’m 20 and I’m more aware of my limits.

Rhythmic Gymnastics is an art. And I know that when I’ll finish my career, a chapter in my life will just end.

Polina Slanchevskaya, 11 years old

That was six years ago. My mother took me from the kindergarten and brought me to the gymnastics hall. The trainer looked at me, my knees and feet. They still look at the figure: if the girl is plump, there is a chance that she will not be taken. If the figure is all right, the knees bend, then you can try.

Every gymnast is very pleased to hear praise from the coach. When they praise me, It motives me to do even more and even better. Stretching is something I’m not much afraid of, but it’s unpleasant when you pull your back. I used to have problems with it, and I went for a massage: either the coach pulled it off unsuccessfully, or I did something wrong… The problem was great, but now my back is flexible enough and I’m no longer pulled.

Now it almost does not hurt me. Well, only when they pull me on the left… Each gymnast has her “own” leg – the one that is stretched more. My left is stretched out less, and I try to work on it. Marina Vikentevna (Lobach, the first Soviet champion in rhythmic gymnastics, coach – note Onliner.by) can pull me, and sometimes it hurts. But she tries to calm me down. Marina Vikentevna is my dream coach!

When I compete, it’s very hard for me to overcome myself. Sometimes I go out on the carpet and think: “What if something goes wrong? And if I do not catch the apparatus? “My fear is immediately noticeable, the judges pay attention to that, and this leads to mistakes and losses. Before competing, I always take a deep breath, I leave all my thoughts and problems and I go on the carpet.