Touch the fans with your art – on the retirement of Viktoria Mazur

Viktoria Mazur with fans in a Pesaro restaurant after the 2017 World Championships (Photo: Gergely Marosi)

It’s Sunday night, Ristorante Moletto in Pesaro on the seafront is bustling with people. We are sitting in a corner, the Ukrainian RG team occupies a much larger table. It’s quiet until the fans inside notice Viktoria Mazur.

In five minutes the place goes mad. There is chanting, there is a thunder of applause, there is calling for a mass selfie. Half-baffled, half-beaming, smiling, Viktoria Mazur is taking in her popularity. Maybe a send-off like that means more to her than to other gymnasts. She’s taken her last bow and leaves, as already a married woman, to new pastures.

I always considered Vika a kind of a gala gymnast. She is beautiful. Arty. Tremendously expressive. Her movement is finely crafted, she gives her soul to her performances. Everything is just so pretty. On the other hand, as a competitive gymnast, she could never reach this level. Maybe it’s the nerves. Maybe it’s the head.

But one thing is sure: in a senior career spanning 8 years, both in group and in individual, she never really reached the small group of really elite gymnasts, and that was mostly because of her uneven performances. Pesaro, her last World Championships was one of the best of these, with a 17th place in the final and a superb ball routine, for which the score left us a little bit surprised. She steps off the stage with four World Championships bronze medals, a silver and a bronze European Championship medals, those all came in either team or group competitions.

Viktoria Mazur (UKR) competing at World Championship Izmir 2014

“This day was one the happiest, one of the best in my sports career! I was enjoying every moment thanks to you my dear fans! Unfortunately I was not competing for the medals, I was sharing my story with you, my work, my emotions, everything what my great coaches invested to me!” – she wrote on her Instagram account about her final all-around competition.

That was maybe the lightest, the less stressed performance I’ve ever seen from Vika. It looked like she tries to channel everything – her emotions, her art, her work, her experience, her spirit – into those short and delightful six minutes spent on the carpet in the final. The fans felt it, and reacted accordingly.

I might be mistaken, but my feeling is that the actual results did not count that much to her. Maybe they never did. Maybe she was the kind of gymnast who looked at an otherwise madly competitive sport as an art with which she could reach across and touch people, giving a little piece of herself. That might cost places and scores, but maybe self-expression and the happiness of her coaches and fans is just as important.

That would not be that much competitive (but don’t forget, we are in a sport in which the reigning Olympic champion is not a competitive soul), but it can be beautiful. And it was beautiful for sure. Fortunately rhythmic gymnastics is a sport that does not only reward the best – success does not equal popularity, and someone can be hugely popular without competing for medals.

It’s also about how much a gymnast can connect with and touch the audience. And Viktoria Mazur was a master in that, without a doubt. Lithe and delightful, fairy like, unpredictable and arty – she will be missed from the sport.