19.06.2012

It’s very rare for three family members – mom, dad and daughter – to go to the Olympics at the same time. Not as tourists, but in the middle of big sport, competing for their country. And in different sports. In the last issue, we heard from Anastasiya Grishina’s mother. But today the floor goes to the daughter athlete. Pole vaulter Aleksandra Kiryashova, member of the Russian track and field team is the younger daughter of Russian gymnastics coaches Vera and Aleksandr Kiryashov. She looks back at her path in sport under the direction of her mom and dad.

From Gimnastika magazine: (11) 2012

…My acquaintance with gymnastics probably began when my mom was pregnant and went back to work when she was still on maternity leave. And it grew from there. First I watched gymnastics from my cradle and then started crawling around on the floor, “trying the taste”. I literally grew up in the gym, it couldn’t have worked out any other way.

See, before my older sister was born, my mom gave all the best girls in her group to my dad. And dad in fact coached boys. But the girls started to show results and gradually, dad ended up coaching women’s gymnastics. And when I showed up, he was sending most of his time at training camps in Moscow and at Round Lake, while mom stayed behind working in St. Petersburg. They didn’t have anyone to leave me with, so naturally I was with her all the time – in the gym.

I spent all my summer holidays at training camps where we went as a whole family. Some kids spend summers in the country with grandpa and grandma, but I was always at Round Lake. And there, whether you want to or not, you’re going to do gymnastics. And I did gym until I was almost 14. I made Candidate Master of Sport and really wanted to make Master of Sport, but I was just a little young (then they only gave you Master of Sport if you were at least 14). And that’s when pole vaulting showed up in my life. I was doing that twice a week and spending three days a week in the gym, and eventually I ended up switching sports.

I can’t say I had really good results in the gym. Mom would sometimes say: “What kind of gymnast is she?! She is for track and field!” I was tall, and grew fast. And then when I started track and field, I stopped growing. I used to add 13 cm a summer with no problem. They called me the giraffe a lot in gym, because even the older girls were only up to my shoulder.  My parents probably understood that it would be hard for me to achieve much in gymnastics, but they didn’t say anything, they didn’t want to hurt my child’s heart.

Mom coached me just like everyone else. And I loved gymnastics! I thank my parents for the sport. I always really wanted to be first, and dreamed of being an Olympic champion and not going to training camp like mom and dad’s girl, but as a real athlete in my own right.

When mom finally sent me to do track and field, I didn’t see a future in it, I didn’t want to quit gymnastics and I argued about it. I remember once I was afraid of doing a round-off layout beam dismount and I was thinking how to talk mom into not making me quit; I was ready to do anything. I promised her: “Mom, I’ll do that dismount every time you say. I won’t be afraid of it, and I’ll stretch and I’ll do everything. I just don’t want to do track and field”…But she was right.

Is it good when a kid’s mom and dad are her coaches? I honestly don’t think anyone can answer that question. Looking back today, I can say that I personally had more plusses from it. Why? Well, first of all, my parents knew everything about me. What time I went to bed, how many lessons I had, what I ate, how I was handling the loads…That is, they knew all of the details that coaches often miss, but which are so important. And they had it right in front of their eyes and they could control me completely.

Mom was very correct in our relations in the gym. She demanded more of me – moms always expect more of their own children, they want them to be the best. And I really, really felt that. Mom would yell at me, even though I was her daughter. But she had reasons to. I was sometimes lazy, messing around. I couldn’t keep up with my growth, and everything hurt and I was being too careful. But mom thought it better to not pay attention to that.

She could holler at me at home, too, if I’d done my homework poorly. We lived a long way from the gym, and that was a lot to bear — the drive, the workout and then lessons… Of course, that will wear out any kid. Mom saw it, and she understood how hard it was for me and when she needed to, she helped me. She was my coach and my teacher as well. And I know she makes her gymnasts sit down and do their lessons now, too. And that’s right. Because sport is sport, but it’s not the be-all in life.

What’s interesting is that I accepted that all as absolutely normal. She would get mad, and of course I didn’t like that, but I never once thought I had a bad mom!

After workout, the other girls would have a very different life; they could complain to their parents about their coaches. They’d cry and it’d be all better. But who could I complain to? Dad? He was in Moscow most of my career in gymnastics. He’d come home two or three days and there was so much to do, there was no time to complain.

And to be honest, I can’t remember anything ever really hanging over me like that. If it was ever that bad, I could talk to the other girls about it and we’d complain to each other. And I could talk to my older sister when she was at home. (Anya started in gymnastics but then started dancing, so she was busy a lot, too.)  There was more good at any rate. And so I have to hand it to mom, she demanded a lot of me, but was fair about it.

I was an athletic gymnast, not a beautiful or graceful girl; I was more quick and fast. And I could tumble. And mom would point that out whenever she needed to. But she would praise me, too, when I really deserved it. I can remember how I felt when she’d praise me. It was like balm for the heart.

They say that children suffer sometimes when both of their parents are coaches in the same sport. But it was the other way around for me; it stimulated me. And when I was second or third in city championships, I’d get upset. I’d think about what great coaches my mom and dad were and about what good gymnasts they had, but I was nothing and couldn’t hold up the family spirit. I was pulling to catch up to them.

What else can “hurt” a child in a situation like that? Envy of the other gymnasts? You asked me, but I’ve only just now thought about it. Maybe I don’t know that feeling, because I was always with my parents. Even if I didn’t make it to junior nationals, I saw that mom was the same with them at training camp like she was with me. She’d help them with their lessons, help them pick out a leotard, say a kind word…

But probably both mom and dad (even though I saw him less, of course) gave me so much parental attention and warmth that it never entered my head to think about the others. They explained their work to me early on: the girls have to be helped, because they are training so hard and trying and working to be better. So I was calm about that: that’s how it should be and no way else.

Parents should decide themselves whether or not they will coach their own children. Can they punish their child in front of everyone else? Some find it too hard to raise their voice. But you can’t be that way in sport. The parents personality sets the tone both in the gym and at home. And the kids? They’ll do whatever you tell them to do.

I used to worry and ask mom to keep me in gymnastics, but now I am thankful to her for convincing me to try another sport. She put it simply: “Go and try it!” But I went three or four times to jump and couldn’t understand anything, but at the fifth, my coach sent me to compete. That was a shock for me. You have to train so many years in gymnastics to ever do anything. And here – I didn’t know anything and boom – a meet! I think I jumped 2.70 cm. It was something like city championships for middle school kids. Shock again. What do you mean? I hardly did anything and I won?! So, naturally, I got interested in that right away.

And there was another stimulus – I saw how happy my parents were to see me succeed. I remember standing there in second place at world junior championships. I lost on tries. I’ll never forget my mom’s face as she said: “I never thought you medal at a world championships!”

No matter how my parents tried in gymnastics, I was always behind. And they probably wanted more deep inside, too. And here in less than two years of training, a result like that! I remember feeling how happy mom was and how proud she was of me!

And I was happy, because I was able to make her happy, even if it wasn’t in gymnastics. Now with so many victories and losses behind me, the feelings aren’t so strong. I used to see how mom and dad were watching me with the eyes of coaches. Now, I see them watching me like parents. Well, maybe dad still analyses things like a coach a bit.

But they are just happy for their daughter. That’s she’s alive and well and doing what she loves. I lost out on going to winter worlds and mom wrote me an SMS because they weren’t showing the meet anywhere and she said: “Don’t worry, you’re doing a good job”.

I remember mom telling all us girls: “You’re so terrible. It’s hard to work with you”…And then with every knew generation she’d be surprised: “Did I really say that? Why, you were angels!”

Kids are different now. Not just in gymnastics, but in all sports coaches are running into problems they didn’t even think about before. I don’t want to offend anyone, but we really were more professional in our work and made sacrifices to get results.

The coaches put there entire souls into us, and we responded in kind…When I watch gymnastics today, it’s like I’m up there competing, I understand all their mistakes. I am still amazed at how correctly mom and dad taught me. “Don’t toss a skill, breaking your head. Learn how to understand what you are doing”, they’d say. We did a lot of drills.

I haven’t done gym for a long time, but I can still do a double back, handsprings and such. Of course, I’m a little afraid of beam, but if you put mats there, I can do it. And I can vault a Tsukahara…And all thanks to my parents teaching me how to think about it. No doubt about it: my kids, boys or girls will do artistic gymnastics first. Absolutely.

Now I worry about my parents like a grown-up. Like a loving daughter. I always watch their gymnasts compete and if they don’t show it on TV, I find out on the Internet. I know sport is my parents’ life. And when things go right for them, they are happy. So, I’m happy, too. But I’d be happier if they’d finally rest some, go on holiday. I don’t remember the last time they took holiday. Do they even know what one is?

Maybe after the Olympics in London, they’ll take a week off? I already want to give them a grandson or granddaughter – maybe then they’ll get out of the gym for a break? But it’s not easy right now, while we’re all preparing for London. I need to make the olympic team, and that means winning Russian summer championships. The winter season wasn’t that good for me, but I’m still optimistic. It would be great if mom, dad and I all went to London and competed well! We have to believe in it!