Gymnasts to meet in Baku for grandiose World Challenge Cup

By Amina Nazarli

Baku will host another major sport event, this time FIG World Challenge Cup AGF Trophy 2016 for the first time on February 19-21.

The Men’s and Women’s World Challenge Cup in Artistic Gymnastics will open its doors to 146 participants within the delegations representing 19 countries.

World-known gymnasts, including Kenzo Shirai and Kaya Kazuma from Japan, Marcel Nguyen from Germany, Alexander Shatilov from Israel, Oksana Chusovitina from Uzbekistan, Flavia Lopes Saraiva from Brazil and Dorina Boeczoego from Hungary will exhilarate the fans with their thrilling performances.

The favorites of the Azerbaijani fans will certainly be Oleg Stepko, Petro Pakhnyuk, as well as Kristina Pravdina, Marina Nekrasova, Yuliya Inshina and Mariia Smirnova.

Farid Gayibov, the vice-president of the European Union of Gymnastics, secretary general of Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation said the decision to hold the FIG World Challenge Cup in Artistic Gymnastics in Azerbaijan was made due to the successful performances of national gymnasts at the Baku 2015 First European Games.

Commenting on the event Oleg Stepko, the bronze medalist of the World Championships on Parallel Bars, and the only Azerbaijani athlete, who won five medals at the 1st European Games said the organization of the FIG in Artistic Gymnastics in Baku facilitates the further popularization of this sports discipline in the country.

“Hosting of the World Cup is a big advantage which significantly contributes to further promotion of gymnastics. It will be very interesting as the athletes from Asia, America and Brazil will come to take part in the tournament,” he noted.

Stepko emphasized the preparation for the tournament goes hard enough due to early start of the season.

“Normally, the season begins in mid-March. But, now, the preparations are going in an intensive way and with big training loads as the competitions’ season starts early. I think I will be ready for the tournament, if not in my best, but in the form close to it. Actually, the entire program has already been worked-out, some elements became more complicated, whilst there was not enough time to get it into the desired shape,” the athlete said.

National Gymnastics Arena is 100 percent ready for the event

Another Azerbaijani gymnast Petro Pakhnyuk said the national team is seriously preparing for the competitions, spending all day in the hall.

He noted that the World Cup is the 2016’s first major competition. “The season’s first event is very important for us as we host it at home. Afterwards, we will prepare for the Olympics step-by-step. Following our World Cup, there will be another one in Qatar. Pre-Olympic Test Event qualifying for the Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro in April,” Pakhnyuk said.

He stressed that the National Gymnastics Arena is by 100 percent ready for the event. “Arena was ready for the event even two weeks before the World Cup, so we can host the competitions even today. Very good gymnasts will come to Baku including a very strong Japanese team, a few high-class gymnasts from Israel, as well as Ukraine stably brings good athletes. So, we will have serious contest,” he said.

Israeli gymnast Alexander Shatilov believes that the World Cup is quite important event for the country, expressing confidence that the competitions will be held at the highest level.

Shatilov, who has visited Azerbaijan for several times, including during the European Games, noted that the National Arena is a state-of-the-art building with a very good atmosphere both in the warm-up hall and on the field of play.

The gymnast emphasized, although, a significance of the World Cup is less than the European Games, it will not be so easy to achieve positive results due to the participation of Asian gymnasts in the events, adding that Azerbaijani gymnasts will be one of his main rivals in the contest for the medals.

Head Coach of the Israeli national team in Artistic Gymnastics, Sergei Vaysburg, in turn, noted that it would be more difficult to achieve positive results during the World Cup than it was at the First European Games.

“The European Games hosted gymnasts only from Europe. But, this is the World Cup and athletes from all over the world will gather in Baku. We shall mention Asian gymnasts who are one of the strongest gymnasts in the world. Anyway, we are here not only to participate, but also to try to take any prize-winning places,” he said.

Coach from Uzbekistan Konstantin Shaulov, for his part, noted he visited many facilities around the world, however, here, in Baku, everything is done just splendidly. “First, it is vast and there is a comfortable hotel inside. I will repeat that it is just splendid.”

Head Coach of the Azerbaijani National Team in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Nina Pravdina expects only good results from the World Cup, adding that gymnasts are ready for 70-80 percent.

“We still have the main week ahead which promises to be strained enough in terms of preparation for the competition. So, we will try to be in a good form by the start of the event. The girls have some slight injuries, but we try to be strong, undergo treatment and work hard,” she said.

Pravdina also emphasized the excellent preparations for the Cup at the Arena. “The preparations are going in an intensive way, and it will be very interesting. One of the best parts of the competitions is an Opening Ceremony. In general, this will be the best World Cup, as, in my opinion, no one could hold it better than Azerbaijan. Everything is prepared here at a high level,” the head coach said.

Spectators will definitely experience something exciting at the Cup, Head coach of the Azerbaijani Men’s Artistic Gymnastics National Team Pavlo Netreba stressed.

“Quite strong athletes will participate at the World Challenge Cup,” he noted. “Last year turned out to be saturated and hard, both physically and morally. Moreover, the boys had some slight injuries, which we needed to treat. But, in general, everything is going fine.”

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Amina Nazarli is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @amina_nazarli

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