The rising star of rhythmic gymnastics is Yana Kudryavtseva, a 15-year-old Russian who is sort of like a very flexible Harlem Globetrotter in a glittery ice skating costume. At the rhythmic world championships this week, Kudryavtseva won two gold medals and two silvers. She competes in the all-around final on Friday in Kiev.
Kudryavtseva is particularly known for her ball routine, for which she won silver on Wednesday.
One of the things she's most famous for is when she spins the ball on the tip of her finger while she does a front walkover. It was hard to see in the video of this competition, but it looks like the GIF at left, taking from an earlier meet. Kudryavtseva's ball score was an 18.35, and she had the second-highest difficulty in this event.
Rhythmic gymnasts scores are based on difficulty and execution, worth up to 10 points each. (Artistic gymnasts — the Gabby Douglas type — get up to 10 points for execution, and then an unlimited amount for difficulty.) In rhythmic, difficulty scores are based on the jumps, turns, and catches. Do you catch the ball with one hand while you could see it? Or some other body part while you couldn't?
This summer, rhythmic has been going through a scoring scandal, in which dozens of judges were accused of cheating on qualifying tests. The International Gymnastics Federation cleared all but six judges this week. But the drama is not over! Natalia Kuzmina, president of the Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee, told Inside the Games that the federation's actions have an ulterior motive. "It seems that due to, perhaps, some personal preferences, FIG management is trying to discredit rhythmic gymnastics from the list of Olympic sports," Kuzmina said. "Otherwise how one can explain generation of such negative publicity based on the ungrounded accusations."
At worlds, Russian Margarita Mamun won gold in ball with a score of 18.516.
Kudryavtseva also won silver in hoop. Ukrainian Ganna Rizatdinova won gold in that event with an 18.266 (GIF below). You might notice that all the top contenders come from a few countries: Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. Unlike artistic gymnastics, rhythmic hasn't found the same kind of mass (-ish) appeal outside of Eastern Europe. It's a little bit more weird.
On Thursday, Kudryavtseva won gold in ribbon, with a score of 18.516.
Note that the aspect ratio of these GIFs has not been distorted. Being very tall and thin is a part of the sport, as American rhythmic gymnast Julie Zetlin told the podcast Gymcastic in June. Listen in for Zetlin's excellent impression of her coach telling her, in a thick Eastern European accent, to eat lettuce. This is one possible reason why rhythmic hasn't picked up as big an audience in the U.S., where openly telling teenagers to eat lettuce is often (but not always) frowned upon.
The video of Kudryavtseva's ribbon routine:
But some Americans do compete at the world level. Zetlin competed in the 2012 Olympics, and though she did not medal there, she took home many golds from the Pacific Rim championships in 2012 and Pan American Games in 2011. Here's the video for America's Rebecca Sereda's ribbon routine. She did not make finals.
Kudryavtseva and Margarita Mamun tied for gold in clubs. And Ukrainian Alina Maksymenko won bronze:
The video of Maksymenko's clubs routine:
Twenty-four finalists will compete in the all-around on Friday, starting about 7a.m. eastern time, and the competition lasts for many hours. There is usually a livestream somewhere on the Internet, though often on not-very-reliable websites.
(Photo via Reuters.)