- 3rd in Individual All-Around
One of the most controversial gymnasts of the 1990s, the super-flexible Amina Zaripova was born in Tchirtchik, Uzbekistan, on August 10, 1976. Even though she began training at a late age, Zaripova would become one of the most accomplished athletes of her time.
The 10-year-old Zaripova entered the gym after taking up ballet. Her naturally long and supple limbs made her an immediate standout on the floor, and it wasn't long before she caught the eye of Uzbeki head coach Irina Viner. When Viner relocated to Moscow to become the Russian head coach, Zaripova followed.
A strong showing at the 1991 European Junior Championships gave Zaripova her first medal haul: gold for the team event and bronze for the all-around and clubs. As a first-time senior at the 1992 European Championships, Zaripova couldn't quite match older, more experienced teammates and failed to qualify for the all-around. But what would prove to be her most important year was yet to come.
At the 1993 Medico Cup, Zaripova grabbed silvers for the all-around, hoop, and ball, and notched a pair of golds for clubs and ribbon. Even though she placed only 7th at the European Cup final, she still managed bronze medals with hoop and clubs. After just missing out on the medals in Corbeil, the elegant Russian rebounded to 3rd at Thiais.
Her first World Championships was even more successful, as she won bronze for both the team and all-around. But after Zaripova was criticized in the media for both her extremely thin appearance and the overuse of her back flexibility, she received lower scores and didn't score a single apparatus medal.
1994 was another consistent year for the popular gymnast. She placed 2nd at Corbeil and 3rd at the European Championships, where she earned four medals in apparatus finals (gold for ball and clubs, bronze for hoop and ribbon). She handily won three titles at the Goodwill Games (all-around, hoop, ball), as well as a silver medal (clubs) and a bronze medal (ribbon). But her most significant achievement that year was her career-high second-place finish at the World Championships, where she also came in 3rd with clubs and 2nd with ribbon.
After a few 4th- and 5th-place rankings at Grand Prix events, Zaripova snagged three silvers at the 1995 Corbeil International, the Koop Cup, and the Alfred Vogel International. Hopes were high for the 1995 World Championships, but Russia's number one suddenly became number two when teammate Jana Batyrchina defeated her (in a tie with Larissa Lukyanenko) for the all-around bronze. Zaripova was golden, however, in the team event as well as with ball and clubs, and she also gained a silver for ribbon -- the most medals won by a Russian in that competition.
Zaripova rarely finished out of the top three in 1996, adding bronzes at the France Telecom International, the Swedish RSG Cup, the DTB Cup, and the European Championships (where she also won gold with ribbon). After pocketing silver medals for her performances at the Kalamata Cup, Zaripova was on track for an Olympic medal. But despite a clean performance in the all-around final, Zaripova found herself the odd woman out in 4th place -- behind a pair of medalists whose mistakes should have taken them out of contention.
The disappointed Zaripova persevered, but her popularity was quickly being eclipsed by that of new Russian stars Jana Batyrchina and Natalia Lipkovskaya. At the end of 1996, Zaripova underwent surgery to repair a torn left Achilles' tendon. Although she would come back full-strength, the time out of the spotlight would irrevocably damage her career.
When she returned to competition in 1997, Zaripova was awarded with three medals at the DTB Cup: gold with clubs, silver with hoop, and bronze with ribbon. She aided the Russian team's gold-medal effort at the World Championships, but missed the cut to finals when she qualified in 4th behind teammates Batyrchina and Lipkovskaya.
Back in fine form at the 1998 San Francisco Invitational, Zaripova came in second and received what was perhaps the warmest audience response. But with yet another new teammate, Alina Kabayeva, tapped to head the Russians, Zaripova was relegated to one event only at the 1998 European Championships. She took home a team bronze, but was so distraught with her results that she retired.
Four months later Zaripova was back, easily winning overall honors at the Schmiden International. She also snapped up a gold medal for her ball exercise and won a silver with hoop. More importantly, she performed some of the most interesting and original routines of her career. But with her younger teammates getting the majority of the prestigious international assignments, Zaripova finally decided to retire for good.
Several months later, Zaripova was invited by the Greek Gymnastics Federation to coach their team. She helped prepare the team for their successful showing at the 1999 World Championships, but ended up returning to Moscow shortly afterward. She still resides in the city, where she is trying to launch a career as a fashion model.
Amina Zaripova's elegance and unusual body elements are what makes this gymnast special. Indeed, her ease of movement is apparent not only during flexibility skills, but also during her balletic dance. She is best remembered for her spirited 1996 clubs performance to the music from Don Quixote (in which she showcased superior balances and an exciting club rebound off the knee), but her swanlike 1998 hoop displayed an athlete-artist at the peak of her creativity and maturity. In a 1999 interview with International Gymnast Zaripova said, "When I was small, I did it for myself -- throw, catch, throw, catch." But then she explained her new artistic maturity: "Now I perform more for the audience . . . If you love what you do, you must forget everything and follow only one line."
Update (October 2002): According to Gymworld.de, Amina married singer Alexei Kortnev on September 21, 2002. She currently works as a coach, while also publishing her own rhythmic gymnastics magazine. Kortnev is the lead singer of the band "Neschatsny sluchay."