Artistic Gymnastics

Diana Varinska seeks European success for Ukraine, despite recent COVID-19 setback

Despite a decorated past, a medal of any colour would be a first in a decade for the nation

By Scott Bregman ·

Ukrainian gymnast Diana Varinska comes to Mersin and the 2020 Women’s European Artistic Gymnastics Championships with realistic expectations, having recently been forced to take time off after testing positive for COVID-19.

“It is going quite difficult, I just had a coronavirus roughly three weeks ago,” Varinska told Olympic Channel last week. “As I was preparing I felt sick, and for 14 days, I stayed at home doing self-isolation. Then I returned to training and it felt quite difficult. In general, it is always difficult to recover, and from a disease it is twice as difficult.”

Still, Varinska will be among the favourites of those left in the field, starting Thursday 17th December. Her 15th place finish in the all-around at the 2019 World Championships is highest among anyone set to participate this week.

That’s because coronavirus concerns have forced many nations, including France, Russia, Great Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands, to withdraw from the event. Those withdrawals provide Varinska, somewhat ironically given her own bout of the virus, a chance at returning her country to the medals podium.

“Many strong countries refused to compete. But since these competitions are happening, we did not see the point to refuse,” said Varinska of Ukraine’s decision to compete. “If it's happening, you just need to prepare and try to show your best. There is a lot of pressure and the workload is not any less.”

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Though Ukraine ranks fifth in the overall women’s Europeans medal count, their blue and yellow flag has not been raised at the event since 2010. Natalia Kononenko picked up a bronze on the uneven bars that year. Yana Demyanchuk won the nation's last European title a year earlier on the beam.

Varinska is realistic when discussing what a title this year would mean.

“I will honestly know that isn't a full-fledged European Championship,” she admitted. “Of course, this will be good in any case if I manage to perform well and to win a medal... But I think that the real European championship will be held in April next year.”

Those European Championships, scheduled for 21-25 April in Basel, Switzerland, are set to be a Tokyo 2020 qualifier.

Varinska has already punched her ticket to next year's Olympic Games, holding off teammate Anastasia Bachinskaya at the 2019 World Championships to do so.

“It was the most important dream - to make it to the Olympic Games,” she said. “I was very happy that I made it. I came home inspired, with new goals and desires to train further.”