(Thumbnail/top photo credit: Oleg Naumov)
Rhythmic gymnastics has been dominated by athletes from Russia since Sydney 2000, and at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Dina and Arina Averina hope to continue that trend for the Russian Olympic Committee team.
The 22-year-old twins continue to stand atop the world of rhythmic gymnastics, with Dina beating Arina to gold at a recent World Cup meet in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Speaking exclusively recently to the Olympic Channel, the sisters said while they were looking forward to the Games in Japan, they were taking the pre-Games preparation day by day.
"We live every day and try not to count so much, how many days left," Arina said.
They also revealed their intentions to stick with their current programs and not try something new at the Games, with under three months to go. A condensed Q&A with the twins is below.
The interview below was conducted in Russian by Olympic Channel journalist Ekaterina Kuznetsova and translated into English. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Averinas' Olympic programs and ideas
Olympic Channel (OC): We are now in the pre-Olympic period, can you tell us if you're going to do new programs or will you keep any old ones?
Arina Averina (AA): I think we will stick to our existing programs. My hoop one is 'Firebird', ball - 'Kill Bill', clubs - 'Bella Ciao' and ribbon - 'Carmen'. I think that these programs would remain, we just need to clean them, to better them.
OC: Dina, you said you'd really like to perform with your program 'Petrushka'.
Dina Averina (DA): I said that I would like to perform with 'Petrushka' again, I had this ball program in 2018... I just really liked the music and composition. Everything coincided there - the outfit, the routine, music, emotions. It was my favourite routine. But I certainly understand that now with these rules that we have there will no such vivid performance. Now there is more emphasis on difficulty, in order to gain the points. The artistry is being less noticed.
OC: There are no set program submissions now in which elements are written, and judges now put marks based on which elements are executed. Do you like this system more or less?
DA: But I think there are advantages in this, in case something happens, you can always replace some kind of element. During the performance you can change something, if there is music you can add something. If on the contrary there is no music, you can be do one element instead of another. That's certainly a plus. Do whatever you want, fantasise!
AA: Complete improvisation.
OC: And what about the disadvantages of such system?
AA: Pursuing these risks can mean less beauty, less femininity.
DA: Yes, I think there is less attention paid to stretched arms, legs; everyone is in such a hurry to do everything quickly just to score the points. That's why Irina Alexandrovna (Viner-Usmanova) always says: 'Even though you are in this rush to get a good mark and difficulty, there has to be beauty and cleanliness. And then everything will be fine and at its best.' Therefore, we are working on cleanliness and beauty.
Averinas' advice from Mamun
OC: You haven't participated in the Olympic Games yet. Probably you heard from others that it's a different kind of competition in a sense. Did you get any advice from your colleagues, such Margarita Mamun, for example?
DA: We were chatting to Rita and just asking what it was like, how scary, how hard it was. But she says that in fact it's not so scary once you are ready - you just go out performing as usual, it's like normal competitions. Only when you finish you have very different emotions. Speaking to her I realised: 'Probably she is right.' When we perform at the European Championship and World Championships there is no such sensation that: 'Right now we are performing at the World Championships.' We go out and just perform, without even thinking about it and we know that you have to show everything you are capable of. Only after you have this realisation: 'Oh wow, you performed at the World Championships!' So it's not even that scary to compete.
OC: So you don't think during the Olympics you will have this sensation: 'Wow, it's Olympics', you will just go as usual?
AA: If you bring your routine automatically then you will just go out and do your maximum or try to do your maximum. Without thinking at what competitions you are now and that you are performing at the Olympics.
OC: Margarita Mamun in an interview to us said that gymnasts don't rest more than a week, that's the specifics of being a gymnast. Do you agree with that?
AA: Yes, because if you rest more than a week than you already can't warm up properly or do anything with your body, your ligaments will thicken. You need to try at least once every two days to warm up and stretch so that then it's not so hard in the future.
OC: Did you think about your future plans after Tokyo?
AA: We don't make any predictions and don't set any goals either. God helps us to the reach the Olympics and then let's see. Then we will act depending on the situation.
OC: Still this question has to be asked: now there are already 3 years left before Paris 2024 Olympics - any chance that you decide to stay and compete there?
DA (smiling): Well, maybe. A lot of people say: 'Maybe you will stay, it already not four years, but only three.' When you think three years - it's not so much, but every day something new happens so we have to make the decisions depending on our health. If our health will allow then why not. If not - then no.
OC: There is only one gold medal at the Olympics and there are two of you. What will you feel when one of you wins gold and another one silver? Pride for yourself or disappointment for the sister?
AA: Well, in my case, [laughs] silver is also good for me, and I don't consider it a failure and that life had ended badly, that it's all bad. Why? Every medal is a medal, a merit. Any labour should still be rewarded. Most hurtful is the fourth place. First, second, third - you did well. At least you are on a podium, you earned this medal with your work, blood and tears. And it doesn't matter whether it is gold, silver or bronze.
Learning from each other
OC: What advice would you give yourself before the Tokyo Olympics?
AA: Not to relax and do not give up, keep your chin up and not to be nervous. Overcome yourself and go only towards your goal. And think only about good things [Dina laughs] and protect your health, health is the main thing.
DA: The main thing is health. You have to fully listen to the coach, to trust her and then everything will work out. They actually know what is right and what is necessary. We have to fully listen to them and do everything they say, they have been through a lot. And they will prompt and help.
OC: What qualities do each one of you want to learn from the other?
AA: I already talked about the resilience of Dina; I want to learn it. Well, and then when you think that everything is bad and already lost, it's necessary to find strength in yourself and prove first of all to yourself that everything is not lost and that you can. The main thing to fight to the end.
DA: I like this small kind of indifference from Arisha - when everything is bad, or if you are being scolded - you do not have to take it close to heart. Do not be so upset, life does not end with this - it is necessary to listen carefully, to analyse it and to go work further. Nothing horrible happened. Probably, that's what I'm missing because I need everything and at once.
Near-retirement in 2018
OC: In 2018 in an interview you said that you were thinking about finishing your career. Was it an emotional outburst or was it a serious statement?
AA: I think it was a conscious thought for us that we wanted to finish, in 2018. We planned to finish (our career). But then me and Dina came one evening to the room and reasoned about it - so much has already happened, we gave it so much of our energy. There's so little left.
DA (smiling): At that point it was a little.
AA: And the next day we just came back to the gym to keep training.
OC: Probably any athlete goes through very difficult, bad days. What's your secret to overcoming them and staying in such a difficult sport?
DA: Well, it's only a bad day, not a bad life. The day will pass, then there is the next day. The next day is like a new life and everything is new so you do not even need to pay attention to this. Everyone is going through the bad days.
AA: Plus it helps us that there are two of us and we start talking or something else, and so it all goes rather calmly for us.
OC: What does vacation mean to you? Is it spending time with your loved ones, going to the seaside or maybe just forgetting about the carpet?
AA: Rest is completely changing the environment, being with close people and even to try not to talk about gymnastics at all. This is rest.
OC: Does this ever work out?
AA: Yes, after the World championships...
DA: But still for the first two days or three we talk about gymnastics.
AA: But this is at first. Yes, the first days you talk about it, everyone asks you how and what. What kind of competitions, impressions and emotions. But then we say: 'Let's close the topic with gymnastics' and communicate on other topics. On everything except gymnastics.