Aleksandra Soldatova: My life was divided between sport and struggling with this illness

Russian four-time rhythmic gymnastics world champion opens up on her battle with bulimia and announces a career break

Russia's four-time world champion gymnast Aleksandra Soldatova has revealed her battle with bulimia.

“This story has gone on for two years, I’ve had this affliction," the 21-year-old told TASS.

"It’s very hard for me to speak about it. In addition to sporting issues – fractures, injuries – I’ve had another illness which has constantly affected me.”

"It’s impossible to treat bulimia easily... Life was divided between my battle with the illness and this beautiful sport,” she added, also posting a social media video on the Instagram account of her coach to reassure fans and announce that she was taking a career break from rhythmic gymnastic competition.

Seeking help and urging others to speak up

Soldatova revealed that her coaches were aware of her condition, and helped her to find the right support for the eating disorder.

“It’s a frightening illness. When I told [coach] Anna Vyacheslavovna [Diatchenko] I cried, I talked with her for three or four hours." she said.

"I’m grateful to her and Irina Alexandrovna [Viner-Usmanova – president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation], they really supported me.

The three-time European gold medallist also encouraged others struggling with eating disorders to admit to their problems and seek help.

"I prepared myself for several months before I could tell them that I really needed help.

“I want to tell anyone who is also suffering from bulimia that the hardest part is admitting it… but when I told my trainers, they were a mountain [of support] for me,” she said.

In an Olympic Channel exclusive [below], Rio 2016 alternate Soldatova had said that she was changing her approach to social media due to having a complex with 'not looking beautiful', and that she wanted to be 'more open'.

It took the Russian time to come to terms with her illness.

"In the past two years I haven’t spoken with anyone at the [training] base in Novogorsk, I ate alone, went everywhere alone, at the beginning I didn’t even know that there was this kind of illness, I didn’t know what was going on with me, even though I understood something wasn’t right."

“My health got worse, and no one would understand what was up with me,” she said in the TASS interview.

“I missed the European Championships in 2018 because of a fracture, and my body became so fragile it was frightening.

“At this turning point I battled with bulimia, recovered in a month, and in September won gold at the World Championships." - Soldatova

“You can’t imagine what I see when I look at that medal. It was an unbelievable summer in 2018, I simply believed in myself like my trainers did.”

After winning the individual ribbon and team gold medals at the 2018 Rhythmic Gymnastics Worlds, Soldatova's health continued to decline.

“I stayed in hospital twice, got treated, drank a lot of vitamins. I competed at the European Championships in 2019, the results were OK, but the condition of my health was terrible.

“After the European Championships in 2019 I said that I was ready to be treated, at a hospital or wherever necessary. They found a clinic for me, but I wasn’t there for long, I quickly felt better, and that was my mistake – I said I was ready to train.

“Every time when I faced the choice: sport or my health, I always chose sport.”

Despite trying not to show signs of her bulimia struggles, the three-time European Championship gold medallist was omitted from the Russian team for the 2019 World Championships after losing consciousness at an event in Portugal.

The 2020 Women's European Gymnastics Championships start on April 28th in Paris, but Soldatova confirmed that she would only return to full training when she felt ready, and hadn't made any decisions about whether she would aim to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“Professional sports and bulimia are not compatible, especially when you need full strength at the Olympic Games.”

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