The Ukrainian men’s team competed in the qualifications at the World Championships yesterday. The team which put up three inexperienced gymnasts in addition to Illia Kovtun and Igor Radivilov was not expected to make the team final. Kovtun, however, aimed for at least two finals – the all-around and parallel bars. The 2021 World bronze AA medalist finished 15th in the all-around qualification after mistakes on floor, pommel horse, and high bar, and will compete in the final. Kovtun is also currently the first reserve for the parallel bars final. He scored 14.966, exactly the same score as Joe Fraser, but lost in the tie-break because his D score was higher than that of Fraser.
Kovtun said part of the reason for his mistakes, especially on high bar, was a shoulder injury:
“On high bar – I have some minor shoulder issues, that’s why there is a problem to work on high bar on a regular basis, and that’s why it went so hard today. I think that we’ll improve it by the final and everything will be fine.”
Kovtun often performs much better in the all-around final than in the qualification. At the 2021 Euros, he finished 11th in the qualification, then won bronze in the final. At the Tokyo Olympics, he improved from the 34th place in the qualification to the 11th place in the final. At the 2021 Worlds, he finished fifth in the qualification and then won bronze in the final. Kovtun said he hopes he will do better in the final here as well:
“I don’t know why but it’s a bit easier for me when I compete for myself. It’s hard to compete for the team, plus I’m somehow calmer when I’m already in the final, I don’t have such nerves, emotions, and so I hope that I will manage the nerves and everything will be fine.”
Kovtun made news all over the world when he wore a t-shirt with “Stop War” in podium training on Saturday. He said he did not expect such attention:
“No, in general, we did not expect that it would cause such a strong reaction but since it has already spread like this, well, so be it.”
Kovtun has become a refugee when the war started and has been moving around Europe for the past eight months. He has trained in Croatia in preparation for the World Championships and will return there to train for the Swiss Cup which will take place on November 27th but doesn’t yet know where he will live after that:
“After the World Championships, I’m staying to train in Croatia because of the Swiss Cup, a competition where a boy-girl team is invited to compete. I’ll prepare for that and then, after the Swiss Cup, we’ll see.”
Kovtun’s coach Irina Nadiuk elaborated on her earlier statement about the “Stop War” t-shirt. She told Tribuna the shirt was a present from Palestra Ferrara Club for which Kovtun competed in the Italian Serie A and which hosted him and other Ukrainian gymnasts and coaches in the spring. Kovtun helped the club qualify to the league final but had to withdraw from the final because Artur Dalaloyan competed in the same competition for Romagna club. Kovtun’s team also had another version of the t-shirt which they wore in the Serie A final to show support to Ukraine.
“This shirt was a gift from our friends – the Italian gymnastics club in Ferrara. The Italians, in cooperation with me, in the beginning of the war, organized a training camp at their gym for the Ukrainian team that lasted three months. They originally developed several t-shirt designs with messages of support for Ukraine. They wore these t-shirts at all the internal competitions – both the gymnasts and the coaches. They even developed new competition uniforms for the club in the colors of our national flag! They are constantly in touch with us and are willing to help is in the future.”
“Neither Illia nor I had any clue that such t-shirts could be forbidden. The FIG representatives approached me and asked me not to wear this t-shirt anymore. I understand the organizers of Worlds at some level because they are trying to preserve peace during the competition. Also, the FIG finances all Ukrainian athletes and coaches at these Worlds and it’s not the first time they’ve helped us financially.”
“Illia Kovtun was the one who had the idea to wear the t-shirt. But I fully support this action of my pupil and I am proud of his actions. He has always been a man of actions and not just words.”