Irina Viner-Usmanova: “Being a Coach is a Gift and Responsibility”

Legendary Russian rhythmic gymnastics coach told about the challenges and joys of her profession

‘Remarkable person’ is a word combination that we use very often without thinking too much. However, our today’s heroine really deserves being called like that. Ms. Irina Viner constantly surprises people around her. Many years ago, she managed to combine sport and art. Russian rhythmic gymnasts starting presenting real mini performances that are something more than sets of extremely difficult gymnastic tricks. That was a smash! However, there were sceptics who believed that Russian sportswomen wouldn’t be able to maintain the high standard, which they set, for a long time. They found that impossible for every team and sportswoman to prepare so many gymnastic masterpieces that are extremely difficult and present them perfectly. People expected that Irina Viner would run out of all that she had to prepare unique gymnastic performances: her imagination, inspiration, strength, energy, patience, and talent. The years and decades have passed and today no one expects the decrease in the level of Russian rhythmic gymnasts’ performances. On the opposite, everyone awaits how the legendary coach and her gymnasts will surprise the viewers the next time. Every time Irina Viner not only meets but also exceeds all the expectations! One can wonder what else physical abilities of the body and seven musical notes can result in. Ms. Viner always finds the idea that wonderfully connects the body and the soul and causes the noblest emotions. 

One can only guess how much physical, intellectual, and spiritual work it requires. Coming up with an idea is only one aspect. In addition to that, Ms. Viner puts her idea into practice, inspiring and developing new gymnasts into sportswomen of unbelievable level. In a joint interview to Barbara Dietrich, Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic World magazine, and Marina Volynkina, Head of the Eurasian Women’s Community news agency, Irina Viner shares about how she manages all that. 

Irina Viner-Usmanova 

Chairperson of the Board on Physical Education and Popularisation of a Healthy Lifestyle of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, President of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, Hero of Labour of the Russian Federation, Soviet and Russian rhythmic gymnastics coach, PhD in Pedagogy, Professor.

Ms. Viner’s father was an artist and a gymnast. Her grandfather was a violinist. They were the people who passed on her love towards sport and art. For Irina Viner, these two aspects united in ballet and rhythmic gymnastics. Her father showed her basic movements and exercises. Ms. Viner started training by herself and then began doing rhythmic gymnastics professionally. She decided to become a coach when she understood she could make it a specific kind of art. That was her vocation. 

The coach started her career in Tashkent. She worked in Great Britain and coached the British national team for the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Despite being invited to stay abroad, Ms. Viner decided to continue her professional path in Moscow. Since that time, Irina Viner has literally been bringing up Russia’s real champions for 20 years already.  

Irina Viner loves children very much. In her opinion, that fact is the key to her success. Ms. Viner is sure children are beautiful from their birth. However, diamond cutting is not so easy. It depends on grown-up mentors, whom the child will become. 

The coach said: “Recently I read Fyodor Dostoyevksy and found a thought: one has to ask children for advice. I completely agree with it. I has been communicating that to everyone since I started working with children. They often see something we cannot notice”. Thus, it is necessary to proceed from perception, impressions, and emotions, all of that always being individual. A child is not a clean slate to draw anything on it, a child is a person. One can create something new and perfect only through children’s extraordinariness and by upgrading their skills within collaborative art.

According to Irina Viner, children like to get the result much more than adults. Children respect and love those who help them achieve the results. The coach is demanding, so she never praises her trainees for no reason: one must earn her compliment. However, young gymnasts are never offended by her strictness. Children always feel who loves and wishes them well. 

Ms. Viner has been and remains the coach of the great number of athletes. Many of them continue to call her mom even after growing up. Alina Kabaeva, Anastasia Bliznyuk, Yana Batyrshina, and Amina Zaripova became the stars in rhythmic gymnastics under Irina Viner’s guidance. 

The coach works much with the young sportspeople from Japan, the USA, Spain, Uzbekistan, and other countries. She admits bringing up rivals, as without competition, there is no development. Ms. Viner said: “What especially excites me is the gymnasts from different countries bringing peace and harmony to our world during the tournaments. They are the messengers of peace.” 

According to Irina Viner, all children are talented. It is only important to find a good teacher, a professional, who will unleash the child’s potential at its fullest. Such people are a rare breed: most coaches work strictly according to their schedule without staying out late. 

Ms. Viner’s work is result-oriented. Doing what she likes, she forgets about time and personal comfort. When she had no chance to be present at the trainings, Ms. Viner was working with her gymnasts via internet. She watched them practicing and gave her instructions and advice. Once she even missed the Olympics. However, Irina Viner was always online. Two of her screens were showing two gymnasts, the third one displayed the group exercise, and the fourth one showed the tournament on air. It was essential for Ms. Viner to be there, even when she was in another country. 

One of the trainings was in the building. The temperature there was 38°C and it was difficult for people to even enter the gym. Irina Viner continued contributing to her maximum potential and inspiring sportsmen. 

The coach recalls that there was a documentary about her work shown at the film festival in Milan. Before that, the film crew literally followed her around: camera operators filmed all the working process. Irina’s colleague from Italy burst into tears during the film screening: she couldn’t imagine how much time and energy the legendary coach dedicates to her favourite activity. It seemed impossible to her.

To be a coach means to make strenuous efforts every day. 

“An athlete is a champion only when he or she stands on pedestal. The very moment they come down from it, they again become just athletes who need to work hard to achieve new victories. It is the same with my profession: you are the coach of a champion only when an athlete stands on pedestal”, thinks Irina Viner. 

She won many prizes including the Hero of Labour title. Firstly, Irina felt shy because of that title. She thought that people should always rise above themselves and suffer to achieve that prize. “The work I do is not an involuntary labour. I love sport. When the President was delivering congratulation speech before the award ceremony, he mentioned great responsibility we accept. It is true. The most important thing is to accept responsibility for other people and their destinies”, shares the coach. Irina Viner has a gift to see potential in people, notice things other people don’t see, and help athletes achieve their goals. She firmly decided to do it as long as she could.

“I believe in higher power. It is the same for all the people regardless of their religion. It helps and guides us. Everything I do in my work happens at the will of that power. Thus, I think that to be a coach is a gift. There are different religions but they all are about one thing. It doesn’t matter to which religion people belong when they turn to God with sincere requests, feelings, and good intentions. That places them under the spiritual dome protecting them”, says Ms. Viner.

Irina Viner is a person of peace. She carries harmony and beauty through her work erasing boundaries between states and nations. She is a woman who became a mother for many talented children from different countries and instilled a love towards the art of rhythmic gymnastics.

Viktoria Yezhova, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov


Irina Viner-Usmanova received the sculpture Peace Dove from the Belgian-German artist Ulrike Bolenz as part of a joint interview with Barbara Dietrich, Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic World magazine and Marina Volynkina, Head of the Eurasian Women’s Community news Agency presented. The sculpture Peace Dove is part of the project: Woman for Peace Projects.