- 2nd in Individual All-Around
- 2nd in Ball
- 2nd in Clubs
- 3rd in Hoop
One simply could not write enough words to do the talent of Maria Petrova justice. Undisputedly, she is regarded as one of the finest rhythmic gymnasts of all time, and never placed lower than 7th in any competition in her entire career.
A Plovdiv native, Petrova, who was born November 13, 1975, began training at the age of 5 at the Levski club under the guidance of Natalia Muravenova. In her first World Championships in 1991, she narrowly missed making the all-around final after an untimely hoop drop. Nevertheless, she made quite an impression, causing judges and journalists alike to buzz about this amazing new talent. At the 1992 European Championships, Petrova scored her first major victory. Expectations were high at the Barcelona Olympics, but Petrova found herself in 5th after a penalty of .20 was assessed because the zipper on the back of her leotard broke during her hoop exercise. Fortified with a new leotard at the World Championships just a few months later, Petrova took second place behind Oksana Kostina and ahead of Larissa Lukyanenko.
In 1993, Petrova came to Worlds armed with one of the best sets of routines ever performed. Her Panovaesque ball to a haunting Indian melody highlighted not only her incredible turning ability, but also her knack for making the smallest movements look important. She also competed a fast, folksy exercise with ribbon, and a funky, small-toss filled clubs routine to Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." But it was her intense interpretation of Carmina Burana that caused the crowd to erupt into resounding ovation. She won the all-around, as well as three more golds (ball, hoop, ribbon) and a bronze (clubs).
Thus began Petrova's long reign at the top of the rhythmic gymnastics world. She would go on to win one more European title and two more world titles (shared in 1995 with Yekaterina Serebrianskaya), tying her with countrywoman Maria Guigova for the most wins in the latter category. Although she had tried to retire several times after her first World title, Petrova hung on as a favor to the Bulgarian national team, which was in a rebuilding phase after the Eastern European Communist collapse.
Despite a clean, mature, expressive performance-- that included a wonderfully modern rope exercise, an almost perfectly executed ball routine, and sophisticated Spanish-style clubs and ribbon-- that bettered the majority of the top performers, at the 96 Olympics Petrova wound up in the exact spot (5th) that she had finished in the Olympics four years earlier. Some cited Petrova's lack of difficulty as the reason for her off-the-podium placement, but far more rhythmic fans, and even Petrova herself, were convinced that the judges had decided the outcome in advance.
Petrova was finally able to retire after her Olympic disappointment, turning full-time to her studies at the Bulgarian National Sports Academy. In July of 1998, she married long-time boyfriend Borislav Mihailov, the decorated former goalkeeper of the Bulgarian national soccer team. She and Mihailov are in the process of building a new home, where they will live with his two teenage children, Bisera and Nicolai. Petrova has been elected to the Administrative Council of the Bulgarian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, and she hopes to become a judge when she has completed her university studies. Recently, a French perfume company released a brand new fragrance called Maria P., and its ads feature glamorous shots of the former gymnast. We can only wonder if the scent has managed to capture the allure of Petrova herself.
In late April 2000, RGWorld@aol.com recently ran a piece about the upheaval in the Bulgarian gymnastics camp. In short, the Bulgarian Federation voted to abolish the post of National Head Coach and instead form a technical panel. The latter consists of highly regarded trainers Despa Katelieva, Zlatka Parleva, and Lilia Ignatova, as well as Federation administrative committee member Maria Petrova.