Rhythmic gymnastics: Durunda back to lead hunt for glory

4 May 2017
Rhythmic gymnast Marina Durunda
An athlete trains at the National Gymnastics Arena in Baku on May 4, 2017 prior to the Baku 2017 4th Islamic Solidarity Games

Rhythmic gymnast Marina Durunda is hoping to mark her first major competition since the Rio Olympics by leading hosts Azerbaijan to a possible five gold medals at the Islamic Solidarity Games next week.

The 19-year-old reached the all-around final in Brazil last summer, and will be the favourite for all four individual apparatus titles in Baku.
Durunda suffered a hand injury before the start of the season in March, and is making her return just over a month since successful surgery in France.

The pressure is on the Ukrainian-born athlete to produce a flurry of golds and she is feeling quietly confident, despite sporting heavy strapping on her left wrist.

"I'm always nervous here, but I will try to be calm," she told AFP-Services at the National Gymnastics Arena on Thursday.

"I know how important all the competitions here in Baku are. The other countries here will not be that strong, not all of the world is coming.

"I'm trying to be (confident) and I had the injury. But I was very good before and we're trying to get back into that shape, but thankfully I didn't get far off that shape, so I hope everything will be fine.

"It's a matter of mentality I think, because physically I'm ready. It does hurt. For a normal person it would be too early to start putting full energy on the hand.

"But I don't have a choice and I don't want to lose more time."

- Team gold there for the taking -

Durunda missed last weekend's World Cup event in Baku, although her Islamic Games teammates Zahla Piriyeva, 16, and Zohra Aghamirova, 15, did compete.

The three will be expected to cruise to the team gold medal on May 13, with their top two scores from the four apparatus (hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon) to be combined for a final score.

That competition will also serve as qualifying for the four individual finals, where Durunda will be expected to shine.

"I think she's the best gymnast from the Islamic countries," said head coach Mariana Vasileva.

"We never know, this is competition, but it's possible to get five golds. I really hope and believe that we will win gold in the team.

"Marina is a very experienced gymnast, even if she is young, she is experienced and I think that her career is really starting now.

"I think that she has recovered, she's 80% ok. We need it (Durunda to get through the Games). Because we're hosting this event and it's very important for us and also for Marina.

"She's our leader and we need to have her, and I think that she'll be ready."

The rhythmic starts with the hoop and ball qualifying on May 12, with the four individual finals on May 14.

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