After a lengthy career competing in and for her native Russia, Irina Sazonova of Iceland has reached the highest destination of her gymnastics journey — a berth to this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Sazonova, who began competing for Iceland last year, earned her spot for the Rio Games through her performance at the Olympic test event in Rio in April, which served as the second and final qualifying meet for the Games. She will be the first female artistic gymnast to represent Iceland in Olympic competition.
Born September 2, 1991, in Vologda, Sazonova competed steadily for her native country earlier this decade. She placed 12th all-around at the 2010 Russian Cup, 13th all-around at the 2011 Russian Championships and 14th all-around at the 2012 Russian Championships. Among Sazonova’s international credentials for Russia, she placed sixth on floor exercise at the 2010 DTB Cup in Stuttgart; and seventh all-around, sixth on uneven bars and third with the Russian team at the 2011 University Games in Shenzhen.
Sazonova’s career has flourished since she relocated to Iceland and subsequently received Icelandic citizenship. She placed fourth all-around (50.950), first on uneven bars and third on floor exercise at the Northern European Championships in Limerick in September 2015; and 98th all-around in qualifications (50.398) at the World Championships in Glasgow in October. This spring she finished 39th all-around (52.931) at the Olympic test event, and 19th all-around in qualifications (52.057) at the European Championships in Bern.
In this IG Online interview, Sazonova details her journey from Russia to Rio, via her adoptive country of Iceland.
IG: When did you realize you qualified for Rio, and what emotions were you feeling at that moment?
IS: I knew about my advancement to the Olympic Games right after the performances at the test event, when they showed the final results. Even now I cannot believe that I will compete on the Olympic podium and compete with the best gymnasts in the world. This was my dream since childhood.
IG: Between Bern and Rio, what will be the focus of your training?
IS: Bern was one more test of my possibilities. In general I am pleased with my performances, but there is still work to do, to finish my program and bring it up to the necessary level for the Games. This month I will go to a training camp in Stuttgart, where I can concentrate only on training and make my program more difficult. It will be, in its own way, a dress rehearsal before the Olympic Games!
IG: How, when and why did you decide to compete for Iceland?
IS: I began my career in Vologda, at the Children’s/Youth Specialized Sport School of Olympic Reserve No. 1, with coach Olga Kovalyova. Then, when I was 15, I left for Saint Petersburg, in order to continue my training there at the School of Olympic Reserve No. 1. There, spouses Svetlana Kolomenskaya and Yury Kolomensky coached me. In Iceland I am coached by my compatriot Vladimir Antonov.
My coach from Saint Petersburg, Svetlana Kolomenskaya, was working in Iceland, and took me there with her. I simply wanted to try something new. Soon she left to return home, and I decided to remain. I liked this country so much that I did not want to leave. Iceland became my home. At first I competed only for the club “Armann,” but having received citizenship on August 13, 2015, there was for me the possibility of representing the country on the big podium.
IG: Your life in Iceland must be quite different from your life in Russia. How are you doing with the transition, in terms of lifestyle, culture and language?
IS: I cannot compare how I lived in Russia with how I live now. Everything is different. I was a child, and here I have plunged into adult life. In Iceland I not only continued my sports career, but I also began my coaching activities, and for the first time began to work as a coach, precisely in Iceland. The Icelandic language is hard, but I think that soon I can grasp it.
IG: To what do you attribute your betterment as a gymnast since you moved to Iceland?
IS: I’m better probably because I became more adult, and of course have gained experience. Now I can allocate my time adequately so that everything I do goes to my advantage.
IG: What are your post-Rio plans?
IS: Rio will be my first Olympic Games, but I hope not my last. I am going to continue training and prepare for the next Games in 2020.
Read “Icelandic Warm-up,” a feature on IG’s visit to gym clubs in Iceland, in the November 2012 issue of International Gymnast magazine. To order back issues or subscribe, click here.