(photo by jb) International Gymnast was among the media outlets that reported in December that Anna Pavlova was to start competing for Azerbaijan, along with Konstantin Pluzhnikov and Yulia Inshina. To this writer, this is a terrific opportunity for Pavlova (pictured here competing in ESPN2’s Pro Gymnastics Challenge in May, 2012) to continue her career and compete internationally for as long as she’s able, instead of being benched for what may be as much political and personality reasons as performance ones. She has had so much bad luck and near misses, it’s been such a shame that she has not gotten to compete more in recent years.
The story and its larger context was well-reported in International Gymnast, outlining Azerbaijan’s campaign to take the express lane for building up a Women’s Artistic Gymnastics program, and leapfrog into the thick of the international ranks in large part by using its considerable oil wealth to purchase the services of athletes who might perceive the grass in their home countries becoming less and less green in comparison. The description certainly fits Pavlova. The story can be found here: http://www.intlgymnast.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3838:azerbaijan-recruits-three-russian-gymnasts&catid=2:news&Itemid=53, Pavlova says that it was the opportunity for a return to international competition that was her main motivation in accepting the offer, rather than any monetary considerations. “Azerbaijan has invite[d] me for a specific purpose — to compete in the European Championship that will take place in Baku in 2015,” Pavlova is quoted as saying. “Azerbaijan wants dignity in that competition and I want to return in the international arena. Here our interests converged. About the financial side [it] is really to early too say. In Azerbaijan, as in Russia, you are paid on the result, for the medals. No medals: no money.” Pavlova also reveals in the interview that a couple of years ago there were “some proposals” to compete for Uzbekistan, but there was nothing official, and anyway she wasn’t ready to accept such proposals then, as she was still hoping to play an important role on the Russian national team, “the country in which I was born.” Now, with those hopes clearly dashed in the wake of ACL reconstruction surgery and vague political intrigue, she has come to a more pragmatic decision, one which will likely extend her competitive career several years past what it might have otherwise been. Good for you, Anna, says this writer. It will regardless be interesting for all to see what the future holds for the Azerbaijani team in international gymnastics, with or without their brace of foreign ringers. The translated interview can be found here: http://russiangymnastics.blogspot.ro/2013/11/anna-pavlova-azerbaijan-has-invited-me.html
It should be noted that a similar strategy in the arena of rhythmic gymnastics has proved very successful for Azerbaijan, netting them some impressive results and the opportunity to host some prominent international competitions. And, indeed, last May the FIG announced that the Azeri capital of Baku will host the 2019 Rhythmic World Championships. Only time will tell if the oil-rich former-Soviet republic can take a similar shortcut to world-class status in artistic gymnastics. The Russian athletes they have recently added will certainly help that cause.
You may have noticed a fourth name in the headline which has not yet been mentioned again. Looking at the results of the Voronin Cup, which roughly coincided with the public announcement of the new Azeri recruits, it seems another Russian gymnast, Marina Nekrasova, has joined the Azeri team. I don’t know anything about Nekrasova, and can’t easily find any info online, but she showed well in this event. If anyone has more information on Nekrasova they would like to share, please contact me and I will pass it along. A summary of the results of the Veronin Cup can be found at International Gymnast here: http://www.intlgymnast.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3850:vasilyeva-gogotov-win-20th-voronin-cup&catid=5:competition-reports&Itemid=164
In the past, it has seemed that it is not so easy to just up and compete for another national team with no previous citizenship or even residency requirement, but emerging countries such as Azerbaijan seem to have fast-tracked citizenship to enable the process. What’s more, for the time being they are training in Russia because Azerbaijan reportedly does not have adequate training facilities. How hard is it to build a decent training gym? I don’t think it’s a question of money. How long could it take? They didn’t just hit upon this idea on the spur of the moment, did they?
But, in any case, I’m very happy for the result, for Pavlova’s sake, and this move will instantly make Azerbaijan a significant factor internationally. It’s also of note that Anna’s mother Natalia Pavlova, who is her coach, has been named coach of the Azerbaijani national women’s team. If Pavlova’s accomplishments are any indication at all of her mother’s skill as a coach, then in addition to the new Russian gymnasts, this will provide and opportunity to build a solid national team for the longer term. Whatever happens, it should prove interesting to watch.