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NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SHOWS RUSSIAN GYMNASTICS IS UP TO THE MARK

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MOSCOW, April 18 (RIA Novosti) - Russian rhythmic gymnastics is up to the mark, and has bright prospects for the future. Such is the conclusion made by coaches and observers following this year's national championships, held in Kazan April 10 through 15.

According to Irina Viner, head coach for Russia's rhythmic gymnastics team, the tournament in Kazan showed that even with Olympic champion Alina Kabayeva staying away, the national squad had quite a few athletes to pin high hopes on. She praised the team and the coaches for the progress made since the Athens Olympics.

Viner believes there is a revival of interest in rhythmic gymnastics in Russia these days. She says this is down to the recent achievements of Russian athletes on the world arena, most notably Kabayeva, all-round champion of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and Irina Chashchina, silver medallist of the latest Olympics. They "are becoming role models for the younger generation. When girls see how beautiful and graceful our primas are, they try to imitate. And the first step in this direction will be [to join] a gymnastics club," the coach was quoted as saying by the National Olympic Committee's press office.

Kazan, which had never before hosted national gymnastics championships, did a great job as an organizer, Viner said. According to her, Mintimer Shaimiyev, President of Tatarstan, the constituent Russian republic with the capital in Kazan, has designated rhythmic gymnastics as the third most significant sport there. Hence the local organizers' eagerness to bring the tournament up to the highest standard, the coach pointed out.

The top three prizes at this year's Russian championships all went to athletes coached by Viner. Chashchina took home the gold medal; Vera Sesina picked up the silver; and Svetlana Putintseva won the bronze. All of these girls represented Moscow.

Gymnasts from Moscow also proved the best in team events, where they competed against the teams of seven other federal districts. The silver medal went to the Siberian team and the bronze, to the team of the Central Federal District.

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