IG's John Crumlish continues his trip through the Baltic countries. This stop: Tallinn, Estonia, where a unique form of gymnastics is thriving in the absence of artistic gymnastics. Pictured: Estonia's team of gymnasts from Club Piruett and Club Janika joined forces to win the bronze medal at the 2011 World Aesthetic Gymnastics Group Championships.
IG's John Crumlish continues his trip through the Baltic countries. This stop: Tallinn, Estonia, where a unique form of gymnastics is thriving in the absence of artistic gymnastics.
Estonia's artistic gymnastics program disappeared soon after the country earned independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but Estonian gymnasts are enjoying success in the relatively new discipline of aesthetic group gymnastics, said longtime Estonian choreographer and coach Mall Kalve.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in scenic Tallinn
"When Estonia became independent, clubs weren't rich, and we couldn't have a gym with artistic equipment," said Kalve, who in 1990 founded Club Piruett, independent Estonia's first gymnastics club, in the capital city of Tallinn. "It was beyond any possibility. The coaches didn't have a job and went away to other countries."
Instead, Estonian gymnasts and coaches shifted their attention to other disciplines of the sport that were economically more practical, such as rhythmic gymnastics, sports acrobatics and sports aerobics. When aesthetic group gymnastics organized at the international level in 1996, Estonia was among the first countries to embrace it.
Kalve said aesthetic group gymnastics offers competitive opportunities to children who may not have the opportunity or talent to reach the top level in other disciplines, and to rhythmic gymnasts who have finished their competitive careers.
"The senior group is for gymnasts 16 and older," said Kalve, who serves on the board of the Estonian Gymnastics Federation and is vice president of the International Federation of Aesthetic Group Gymnastics. "It means that many rhythmic gymnasts can continue in aesthetic gymnastics. The disciplines are close. The basics are ballet, acrobatics and so forth. If a gymnast was good in rhythmic, she will be good in aesthetic, because the pirouettes, balances, jumps and leaps are the same."
Aesthetic groups consist of six to 10 gymnasts who perform routines from under 3 minutes in length (2:15 to 2:45) , without apparatus. Kalve said she hopes an apparatus will be added in the next couple of years to bring an element of risk to performances.
Aesthetic group gymnastics began at the international level in 1996, and the first world championships were held in 2000. Although the discipline was initially most popular in Europe, teams from Asia, South America and North America (specifically Canada) now participate at world championships and World Cup events.
Club Piruett's group won the gold medal at the 2001 World Championships, and the bronze medal at the 2005 World Championships. Gymnasts from Club Piruett and another Tallinn-based club, Club Janika, comprised the Estonian group that won the bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships.
In addition to training gymnasts in aesthetic group and rhythmic gymnastics, and sports acrobatics, Club Piruett have an "Elite Group" of 24 gymnasts who perform with apparatus at cultural and sporting events around the world. The group is preparing to perform at the Estonia Sports Awards on Dec. 27.
"It's motivation for the girls," Malve told IG. "Competitive aesthetic group gymnastics is so much work, but the other side is fun."
Read more on Estonia's gymnastics pursuits and IG's visit to the Baltics in an upcoming issue of International Gymnast magazine. To subscribe, click here.
Next stop: Vilnius, Lithuania!