Photo by Silvia Vatteroni

As the Europeans is the biggest topic on the gymternet this week, let’s take the time to revisit the era when World Gymnastics = European Gymnastics. Unfortunately, that was also an era when politics took over sports. Hana Ricna and Boriana Stoyanova were two gymnasts who peaked during the forgotten quad of 1981-1984, yet with perseverance, they made it to the 1988 Olympics as young adults. 

Czechoslovakian Hana Ricna and Bulgarian Boriana Stoyanova emerged and peaked during the 1983 World Championships. While Ricna won silver on beam, Boriana became a world champion on vault, clinched bronze on floor, and was 0.2 points shy of medaling in the AA. With their achievements, it was expected that these two would have marveled the World in Los Angeles. However, due to political reason, they were sent to Olomouc to compete in the Alternate Games instead. Coincidently, the two gymnasts placed fourth in the floor final. While this was the worst result of the 1984 Alternate Games for Ricna (she collected two silvers on AA and beam), this was the best Stoyanova had done (7th on AA, 8th on vault). 

Despite physical limitations, both Ricna and Stoyanova continued to compete. While Ricna had her eyes on her ultimate Olympic quest and collected more successes on bars and beam, and occasionally on floor and AA, Stoyanova continued to polish her vaults and AA skills to wrap her career with hopefully an Olympic medal at last after her unsatisfying show-up in the 1984 Alternate Games. Eventually, despite previous successes on bars and beam, Ricna finished with a pedestrian position of 29th in AA, while Stoyanova, already losing her ability to do full-in on floor, battled to place 4th on vault and 13th in AA.

The legacy of the 1988 Olympics is not just about the AA showdown between Shushunova and Silivas, but to watch inspiring girls like Hana Ricna and Boriana Stoyanova, despite passing their prime, fighting ceaselessly for the Olympic chance they were deprived of is the glorious moment of the 1988 Olympics. Indeed, having to courage to risk their biggest failure in order to realise their Olympic dreams is victory of another kind. Real victory is pushing yourself to the limits and proving your skeptics wrong. In this regards, it is not exaggerating to say that both Hana Ricna and Boriana Stoyanova had earned their victory in the 1988 Olympics. 

Hana Ricna, who may be the first gymnast to do two E rated releases on bars (Ricna: Stalder through to handstand to straddled Tkatchev, notably performed by Svetlana Khorkina from 2000 to 2004; Comaneci salto), now works as a head coach in a gym in the US. Her son David Jessen will compete in Rio for the Czech Republic. 

Boriana Stoyanova, who competed different sets of vaults in her career (Tsukahara and Cuervo in her earlier years, switched to Yurchenko vaults by 1988), and was one of the rare gymnasts to have 4 tumbling passes on floor in her prime, has become an elementary homeroom and PE teacher in a few countries since obtaining her Masters of Education degree. She has recently settled in an international school in Vietnam. 

Written by Valerie Theodora Ko



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