"There is always room for improvement," says Darja Varfolomeev. © IMAGO/Schreyer
Darja Varfolomeev is the greatest German talent in rhythmic gymnastics for decades. At the age of twelve, Varfolomeev moved 5000 kilometers from home in Russia to Germany. And is considered a great medal hope for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The interview with tz.
Munich – At the age of twelve, Darja Varfolomeev moved from Barnaul in Russia to Fellbach on the outskirts of Stuttgart. Mother Tatjana had previously sent an application video of the talented rhythmic gymnast to the German Gymnastics Federation. Since then, Varfolomeev has been training at the federal base in Fellbach-Schmiden and winning medals in rows. At the World Championships in Sofia 2022 there were five, gold was awarded with the clubs. At the European Championships in Baku a few weeks ago, gold followed with the ribbon. In an interview with our newspaper, the 16-year-old talks about busy days and the Olympics in Paris.
Darya Varfolomeev, at the European Championships in Baku you won gold with the ribbon. How would you sum up the European Championships?
The days were very exhausting. I didn't win a medal until the last apparatus, so I expected more. But I had mistakes and inaccuracies, you can't afford that at this level. I knew that the practice would be enough for a medal if I got it through cleanly. But I didn't know if it would be enough for gold. Therefore, I was very happy and relieved.
Even your grandmother from Siberia was there and got on a plane for the first time.
Actually, my family wanted to give it to me as a surprise for the European Championships. But then my mother said that such a great gift and the concentration on the European Championships would probably be a bit much. That's why my family told me two weeks earlier that my grandma was coming. I was incredibly happy, we hadn't seen each other for two and a half years. Immediately before the competition, however, I didn't let it get to me. If I had just thought all the time "Oh my grandma is there and I have to be even better", that wouldn't have been helpful (laughs).
You started rhythmic gymnastics at the age of three. How did the beginnings go?
Unfortunately, my mother had to stop rhythmic gymnastics due to knee problems. She passed on her enthusiasm for the sport to me at an early age and thus continued to pursue her path. When I started rhythmic gymnastics, I didn't understand what I was doing (laughs). Over time, I liked it better and better. When we came to Germany, I really realized that I could do it professionally. After all, we didn't come here without reason (laughs).
What do you like most about your sport?
Incorporating new exercises and always improving them, that's what I like the most. It's special to present a new exercise that no one has shown before and then listen to people's feedback. It can always be more beautiful, even better. There is always room for improvement in our sport.
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Fancy a voyage of discovery?
You moved to Fellbach at the age of twelve. 5000 kilometers away from home. Did you find it difficult to move?
My family wasn't there at first, so I didn't feel so at home yet. That changed last year. I was also able to learn german quickly at the language school and boarding school, which helped a lot in settling in.
So Germany is now like your second home?
Absolutely. Like the first home, even already (laughs).
Are you still in contact with Russia?
Of course, I'm still in contact with my grandmother in Russia, my first coach and a few friends. They also congratulate me on my success. Otherwise, however, our lives now take place entirely in Germany.
They have to combine school and competitive sports. What does a day look like for you?
Today, for example, I had training from 7:30 a.m. to 11:20 a.m., then two hours of school. Short lunch break and then back to school. Now we have the interview and this afternoon I have two to three hours of training again. So it's all very busy, I often train up to five hours a day.
And what is more strenuous, a class test in math or training?
I like math very much. But in general, the class test is a bit more strenuous (laughs). You have to prepare so much. When you train, you do what you like.
You are already very successful at a young age, and you are praised in the media as an exceptional talent. Is that difficult when many people expect a lot from you at such an early age?
Of course, many expect something. But I also expect a lot from myself. That's why we're in the gym every day and always train the same thing. That's why you can expect something when we spend so much time in the hall. But I don't feel that much pressure from the outside. There was no requirement from the federation at the European Championships that I should win a gold medal. The pressure comes automatically during competitions. After all, you always want to improve yourself. Most of the pressure comes from myself.
The silver medal in the all-around at the 2022 World Championships also guarantees a starting place at next year's Olympic Games in Paris. Are you already thinking about that?
At first I didn't understand that I had secured a quota place for Germany in the singles. Since I know that, it's been in my head every day. The Olympics are such a big and difficult competition, we are already preparing for it. We already have two exercises that we can show. Soon two more will be added. Now it's a matter of getting the exercises clean.
Do you already have plans for after school, or is the focus entirely on sports for the time being?
The focus is on the Olympics for now, I can't think of anything else before that (laughs). I have a lot of interests, but of course you have to be one hundred percent in the sport at this level. After Paris, I'm thinking about what happens after school.
Interview: Nico-Marius Schmitz