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The Little-Recognized Gymnast Who Refuses to Stop – An Previous College Gymnastics Weblog

Russia’s girls’s gymnastics program is thought for producing very gifted gymnasts who obtain outstanding fanfare amongst gymnastics followers, however it’s also a program dominated by kids. Of the 14 gymnasts on Russia’s essential nationwide group, 11 of them haven’t but celebrated their nineteenth birthday.

Even when this system produces examples of older gymnasts sustaining their locations within the Russian program, it’s often gymnasts like Angelina Melnikova and Anastasia Ilyankova. Olympic veterans who’ve previous success in main, worldwide competitors and are sturdy candidates for future group assignments.

Yulia Biryulya is a serious exception to all of this. She has grow to be a captivating gymnast to look at not as a result of she is likely one of the leaders of the Russian program, however her reluctance to be pushed out it. Biryulya is the gymnast who continues to compete even whereas many of the gymnasts from her technology have left the game. It’s not Yulia’s age which makes her story so compelling, however that for many gymnasts who’ve had a profession like Biryulya’s, they might have thrown within the towel a very long time in the past.

Gymnasts retire for all kinds of causes. A lot of the time it’s damage, fatigue and bodily exhaustion. However usually occasions it’s as a result of they understand their profession has flatlined. That main group assignments just like the World Championships or Olympics at the moment are out of attain, and the one future they’ve within the sport is spending their days watching youthful gymnasts benefit from the highlight. For a lot of gymnasts, they’re going through these prospects whereas they’re of their early 20s and timing is true for them to enterprise into one thing new. Not cling to life in an athletic profession that’s going within the unsuitable route.

But greater than anybody, Yulia Biryulya has defied that.

When Yulia Biryulya made her first look as a Junior on the Russian Nationwide Championships, Anna Pavlova was nonetheless competing for the Russian program. When Biryulya joined the Russian ranks as a senior-eligible gymnast a number of years later, Ksenia Afanasyeva was nonetheless competing for Russia on the World Championships.

For 12 years Yulia has been an everyday attendee on the main Russian home competitions. In that point she has by no means competed in an Olympic Video games, World Championships, European Championships or World Cup. Biryulya was despatched to compete in a notable competitors exterior of Russia on only one event, a contest in Tbilisi, Georgia that was solely attended by nations that had been former members of the Soviet Union.

From L to R: Anastasia Ilyankova, Yulia Biryulya and Ekaterina Sokova (2014)

However even then, Biryulya was not allowed to signify Russia at this competitors. Russia had already reached the utmost variety of gymnasts per program, so Yulia competed underneath the title of her metropolis and didn’t put on Russian warmups throughout her medal ceremony. On solely a handful of events have Russian coaches thought-about her for a spot on the Nationwide Crew. And lastly, within the particular person occasions Yulia Biryulya has by no means received gold or perhaps a silver medal on the nationwide stage competitions that Russian gymnasts compete in.

Despite all of that, Yulia has confirmed one factor. That nothing will cease her from attempting. Ever since her first look on the Junior Russian Championships again in 2012, Biryulya has competed in almost each Russian Cup and Russian Championships since then.

It must be famous that Biryulya was not the oldest gymnast competing on the 2023 Russian Championships. For the second yr in a row she received a bronze medal on vault whereas the silver medalist was the identical gymnast who occurs to be even older than her. The gymnast in query was Eleonora Afanasyeva-Goryunova, who’s three years older, but additionally has two kids. Eleonora gave start to her second baby in 2021 solely to win medals on the Nationwide Championships in 2022 and 2023.

Yulia Biryulya (2017)

Eleonora Afanasyeva-Goryunova and Yulia Biryulya are spectacular examples of longevity, however showcase it in very alternative ways. Eleonora is the current really feel good story who has achieved sudden success up to now two years. Yulia Biryulya is the gymnast who yr after yr, I anticipate her to fade away as a result of that’s what gymnasts in her scenario often do. Then yr after yr Yulia comes again.

Though Eleonora is older than Yulia, it’s Yulia who has considerably extra appearances in Russian home competitors. As a result of Yulia Biryulya is as persistent as they arrive and infrequently misses a contest, and she or he has maintained that consistency for the whole lot of her profession. From her senior debut in 2015 to 2023, Yulia Biryulya has participated in each Russian Championships and Russian Cup excluding 2017. Attending 14 of 16 potential competitions within the course of.

Though it must be famous that 2017 was hardly a foul yr for Biryulya. As a substitute, she dominated the regional Russian Championships and it was in 2017 that she was capable of compete in Georgia. The closest competitors she has ever earned to a world task. Yulia was additionally extremely energetic as a junior, steadily attending the junior division of those prime competitions from 2012 to 2014.

Yulia Biryulya (2014)

For the Olympic Video games the presence of Oksana Chusovitina is as sure as dying and taxes. However for main Russian home occasions, it’s dying, taxes, and Yulia Biryulya.

What Biryulya has completed is outstanding. Her skill to persistently seem in each junior and senior competitors eluded her up to date Eleonora Afanasyeva-Goryunova. And contemplating the sheer variety of gymnasts who earned prestigious worldwide assignments however determined sufficient was sufficient they usually couldn’t go on, Yulia Biryulya by no means earned such an task and for 12 years she has by no means allowed that to discourage her.

Yulia Biryulya may be very a lot in contrast to that of Eleonora Afanasyeva-Goryunova. Eleonora is analogous in nature to Oksana Chusovitina, a gymnast who deliberately made the choice that her time had come to retire, however after spending time on the sideline determined she wished to return again. Yulia Biryulya in distinction by no means went that route. Biryulya is the instance of a gymnast who has the truest Olympic spirt and such the center of a competitor, she refuses to stroll away from the game. Not even for a quick second.

None of that is to make Yulia Biryulya come off as a glorified participant. Beforehand I mentioned that Yulia by no means received a silver or gold within the particular person occasions. However she has received a bronze medal on 5 totally different events. She is a standout on vault and is so good on this equipment that Biryulya has not missed a vault finals of any variety since 2016. However the craziest a part of this story is that Biryulya seems to be getting higher with age.

In her final 5 appearances in vault finals she has received a bronze medal on 4 totally different events in a streak that goes all the way in which again to the start of 2021. From 2019 to 2023 she has eight appearances in vault finals and completed 4th or higher 75% of the time. At a time when Yulia Biryulya’s profession was presupposed to be fading, she is beginning to hit her stride. Which makes her profession harking back to one other Russian gymnast.

Lilia Akhaimova spent 5 years as a decrease rating member of the Russian program earlier than abruptly exploding onto the scene with two appearances on the World Championships and later turned an Olympic gold medalist. There may be additionally the profession of Tatiana Tuzhikova, a Russian gymnast from the Eighties who competed for what was then the Soviet Union.

From L to R: Ksenia Semyonova, Ekaterina Sokova, Yulia Biryulya and Viktoria Komova (2014)

Tuzhikova recorded 15 complete appearances on the USSR Championships, USSR Cup, and the Russian Championships. The occasions that had been the predecessor to the modern-day Russian Cup and Russian Championships. Tuzhikova competed at these competitions extra usually than every other Soviet gymnast of the Eighties. Tatiana did so whereas by no means incomes any type of worldwide task, and in contrast to even Yulia Biryulya, Tatiana Tuzhikova by no means received a person medal in national-level home competitors.

Tuzhikova was the low rating Soviet gymnast till she abruptly wasn’t. Tatiana went on a shock run in 1987 the place she made the Soviet World Championships group. Her placement within the Soviet beginning lineup earned her a silver medal within the group competitors, however the true success was Tuzhikova efficiently entered her title into the Code of Factors. As we speak Tuzhikova’s legacy lives on by being the namesake of probably the most troublesome expertise on ground.

Whereas I don’t really feel it’s honest to say Yulia Biryulya goes to be the subsequent Lilia Akhaimova or Tatiana Tuzhikova, their tales are maybe a solution as to what presumably motivates Biryulya. That irrespective of how small their likelihood could also be, there’s at all times a risk a gymnast can obtain her dream if she by no means stops attempting.

However finally, what makes Yulia Biryulya so commendable and makes me respect her a lot is her willingness to stay at this stage in any case these years. To be an Olympian a gymnast should actually love the game. However then you definately get examples like Yulia Biryulya who’s clearly so enthusiastic about competing and giving the game every thing she has, that her coronary heart embodies the Olympic spirit greater than even the Olympians themselves.

Yulia Biryulya is an uncommon gymnast caught up within the midst of an period that’s something however regular. The present time interval is outlined by the tragedy of Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine and ensuing struggle. It’s an period the place Russian gymnasts are “struggling” underneath the load of a ban from worldwide sporting occasions, their “struggling” is trivial in comparison with what Ukrainians are experiencing who can inform their Russian counterparts what “actual” struggling is.

The struggle has introduced an uncomfortable reality to the forefront. That Russia’s Olympic sports activities are used as propaganda instruments by Vladimir Putin, and each medal Russia wins plus the extra common Russian gymnasts grow to be to non-Russian audiences, it solely empowers the propaganda worth related to this system.

Yulia Biryulya and Angelina Melnikova as juniors

Even with out making the connection between Putin, propaganda, and the Olympic sports activities, there’s nonetheless an uneasy feeling available when one watches Russian gymnasts compete. It means watching gymnasts carry out figuring out they’re engaged on routines and upgrades that will by no means be scored in a world setting. Or as people, some are in the very best years of their careers in what’s going to finally be handled as “misplaced” years. This all casts a darkish cloud round each Russian gymnast when she competes in home competitors.

However Yulia Biryulya is totally different. As a result of her success and influence has been restricted to home competitors, she is the one gymnast in the whole program who is ready to proceed on as if her profession is unaffected. Yulia was on the pinnacle of her success earlier than the ban went into impact, and is continuous to expertise it even after the ban was carried out. In contrast to different main Russian gymnasts, Yulia competes with out that darkish cloud following her round.

With Yulia Biryulya, she’s one of many final remaining Russian gymnasts the place it’s nonetheless pleasant to look at her carry out. It doesn’t include the thought that her profession is presently being ruined by a (effectively justified) ban on Russian athletes. As a perennial one-event bronze medalist on the Russian Championships, she hardly registers as a number one sports activities determine that invokes questions as as to whether her success is a propaganda win for Putin. And regardless of her being probably the most energetic Russian gymnasts on social media, I’ve by no means seen Yulia publicly hyperlink herself to pro-war symbolism which has been a problem for a lot of of Russia’s prime gymnasts.

Yulia Biryulya is such a low profile gymnast that when she competes on the main Russian home championships, at one level she went 5 consecutive years whereas utilizing the identical two leotards for her appearances in non-team occasions.

However most significantly, she’s a kind of athletes who seems to like the game greater than anybody, which makes me respect her as an athlete. How else do you clarify a gymnast who continues to stay round regardless of being relegated to the bottom tier of the Russian nationwide program? The athletes with true coronary heart are those I like following essentially the most and Yulia Biryulya actually qualifies.

Throughout the 2023 Russian Championships a video of Yulia Biryulya’s medal profitable vault achieved 6K views on Twitter. Whereas that hardly registers as going viral, for a gymnast like Yulia she hadn’t actually seen such consideration like that earlier than. The commentary was overwhelmingly constructive with followers arguing she had been underscored. For as soon as, followers had been beginning to take discover of her even when it was only a tiny little bit of recognition. After giving the game her full dedication for 12 years, this sort of consideration was lengthy overdue.

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