‘Young gymnasts represent Kuwait in competitions regionally and internationally’

Salto gymnast Margarita Mamonova at the Styrx Sports Rhythmic Gymnastics Cup 2019. Margarita won one gold and two silver medals in the competition.

Eleven year old Tamara Buhamad has been practicing gymnastics in Kuwait for more than five years. This year she won three gold medals at a competition in Dubai, a proud moment for the young Kuwaiti athlete.

Slender with sparkling blue eyes, Tamara represents a growing trend of girls in Kuwait taking to the world famous sport of gymnastics and pursuing it to the competitive level. Competing, “makes us stronger,” says the young gymnast. “When you go out on the floor, at first you feel scared but then you just feel confident and want to have fun.”

There are no national teams for gymnastics in Kuwait so local clubs are pioneering the sport in the country. Now many of them are building competitive teams that are representing the oil-rich nation in competitions regionally and internationally.

The two most popular types of gymnastics taught by private clubs in Kuwait are artistic and rhythmic gymnastics.

“We were the first to open an artistic gymnastics school in Kuwait in 2017,” explains Viktoria Marafie, co-owner of Salto gymnastics in Shuwaikh. “Artistic gymnastics is the foundation for all gymnastics. It includes four apparatus – beam, bars, floor and vault – and is a huge investment for a private club because of the space and height requirements. But we wanted a truly professional club that could prepare competitive gymnasts up to the highest levels of the sport. That is why all our coaches have not only a Masters of sport but also a Bachelor’s degree in their area of expertise, for instance in artistic gymnastics, so that they can also know the pedagogical methods for teaching gymnastics as well,” Marafie said.

Salto gymnastics scored an historic first when they were the first Kuwaiti club to take part in an international Artistic Gymnastics competition in Amman in Feburary. The Kuwait team won 1st place Team All Around Level 2 and 2nd place Team All Around as well as several individual medals.

Rhythmic gymnastics is a mix of dance/choreography and gymnastic elements jumps, balances, twists, and performance either freehand or also with ropes, hoops, clubs, ribbons and balls. Both types require dedication and commitment – from students and parents.

The benefits of gymnastics for children are many. Gymnastics is an ‘all body’ sport – it develops strength, muscle memory, flexibility, discipline, balance, depth perception, overall conditioning. Gymnastics is often utilized by athletes in other areas like football and soccer to build their overall conditioning and especially for men, to strengthen their upper body.

Children as young as three can begin developmental gymnastics focusing on fun and interactive games that encourage balance, conditioning and preparing to learn the foundational skills. Around the age of five, kids move into working on compulsory routines organized by levels.

Eleven year old Tamara Buhamad won three gold medals representing Kuwait at a gymnastics competition in Dubai this year.

At the competitive level, clubs like Salto are developing young women who can compete in the region and internationally.”We have recently adopted the USAG guidelines and standards for our club because its more widely used as the standard in competitions regionally and internationally,” notes Marafie. “Salto girls have competed in in artistic competitions in Amman and will soon in the UAE as well as rhythmic competitions in the region and internationally. But the level of competition is fierce, especially in Europe where girls are trained from an early age and focused on making gymnastics their career. We don’t have that here where gymnastics is more a recreational sport and students do not view it as a long term career option.”

Private clubs are the main organizers for competitions and interest in gymnastic meets have led to an increased number of competitions being held in the region including in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Doha and Dubai. For Kuwait, however, hosting competitions remains a distant possibility. While the clubs here have the talent, resources and specialized coaches to put on a competition, obtaining visas for visiting gymnasts, coaches and parents would be a challenge.

“We could do it and would love to if the visas weren’t a problem,” says Marafie. “Hopefully it’s something we will be able to do in the future.”

In the meantime, local clubs continue to train girls and boys in Kuwait for competitions abroad. Margarita Mamonova, a nine year old gymnast at Salto, recently won a gold medal and two silver medals at the competition in Dubai for rhythmic gymnastics. “It was scary but when you get on the carpet, you focus and just do it.” This young gymnast is already training for her next competition.

By Sarah Ahmed