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Elena Vitrichenko

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Country Represented: Ukraine
100 Greatest Gymnast Rank: 0
Rank Points: 0

1997 World Championships - Berlin, Germany

1996 World Championships - Budapest, Hungary

1995 World Championships - Viena, Austria

1994 World Championships - Paris, France

1993 World Championships - Alicante, Spain

Elena Vitrichenko Russian: Елена Игоревна Витриченко Elena Igorevna Vitrichenko (born 25 November 1976 in Odessa, USSR) is an Individual Rhythmic Gymnast. She comes from a gymnast family - her mother Nina was also a rhythmic gymnast and indeed was also her daughter's coach at the famed Deryuguina School in Kyiv. Elena was put into rhythmic gymnastics in 1980 at 4 years of age.

Although she made her first international appearance in 1986, many feel that her international career started at the European Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in 1992 where she as a part of the Ukrainian Group won a bronze medal. Elena began gaining experience and winning medals at major events.

A worldwide and sympathetic crowd favorite, Elena's career was marked by numerous judging controversies, usually not in her favor. In the 1994 World Championships in Paris, she was placed 3rd in the hoop event final behind teammate, Ekaterina Serebrianskaya, and the Belarusian Larissa Lukyanenko who were both tied for the gold (9.875); but an upgraded score (9.825 to 9.875) for Bulgarian world champion, Maria Petrova, knocked Elena out of the bronze medal position and eventually came out 4th. In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Elena seemed to be a contender for the gold medal by placing first after preliminaries and second after the semi-finals. And despite a clean all-around performance in the final, she was only given scores in the 9.8 range (the highest score received in the rope event 9.866). She actually placed 2nd behind teammate, Ekaterina Serebrianskaya, after the first rotation, rope, but her brilliant ball routine score of 9.800 threw her out of the gold medal hunt, and she even had to fight for the bronze with Russian rival, Amina Zaripova, and only managed that medal at all due to Zaripova's mishandling of the ribbon, stepping on it before her final toss. Ironically, she scored tremendously well in the execution half of her routine scores (4.900 and above) but was marked down in the composition half which was her stronger point. The crowd booed and jeered at the judges for their decision, and a disappointed Elena would later say that she felt that she was robbed of the gold. Not to be deterred, however, in the following year she became both the World and the European All-Around champion.

The 2000 European Championships in Zaragoza, Spain featured one of the most egregious judging scandals in the sport with Elena once again at its center. At the peak of a long and well-publicized feud with the head of the Ukrainian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, Irina Deryugina, Elena was inexplicably placed in 17th place, and withdrew in protest. In the official evaluation of videotapes, it was mentioned that certain judges had clearly discriminated against Elena in comparison to scores given to other gymnasts. Shortly after the scandal the FIG sanctioned the guilty judges: Natalia Stepanova (Belarus), Gabriele Stummer (Austria), Galina Marjina (Latvia), Ursula Sohlenkamp (Germany), Natalia Lashtsinkaya (Russia), and Elena's nemesis Irina Deryugina.

Madame Abruzzini, the then president of the Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee, wanted more severe punishment, such as suspension for life of the guilty judges. In the end, the 6 guilty judges were suspended for one year and they could not go to the judge course in Rome. Their federations were forced to select another judge for the Sydney Olympics who met the requirements of FIG. The other 26 judges that were at Zaragoza were also warned and were not allowed to judge in Sydney. This was the first time in RG history that such massive inappropriate behavior was proven and penalized.

Elena's struggles continued when after the Europeans, her own federation tried to deny her a spot on the Ukrainian Olympic team in 2000. She appealed to the International Olympic Committee who overturned the decision, and awarded her a spot on the team. Elena seemed to put all the aggravation behind her, and performed beautifully at the Olympics. However, she appeared to be the victim of favoritism once again as the reigning World and European Champion, Alina Kabaeva, edged Elena for the bronze medal despite a major drop on her hoop routine.

She retired from the sport after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, admitting that the omnipresent judging politics would prevent her from achieving further success. She maintains that she is not embittered by her controversial placings. "The most important thing that I have learned in elite sports is to experience other people's victories and to forgive people," she says. Though her near misses are often better remembered than her success,Elena nevertheless won eleven World titles and ten European titles throughout her career.

She is at the moment teaching rhythmic gymnastics in Spain.



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