Lilia Ignatova (BUL)
Tribute courtesy of Robin Catalano

Courtesy of Tom Theobald

Lilia Ignatova is one of the finest gymnasts never to win a World or Olympic all-around title. Born May 17, 1965, in Sofia, Bulgaria, the remarkably innovative Ignatova became her country's most beloved rhythmic gymnast of all time.

This fragile-looking, wonderfully adaptable gymnast made an impression at the 1980 European Championships, placing 2nd in the all-around and with hoop, and first with clubs and ribbon. At the 1981 World Championships she duplicated this result, and also claimed her share of medals in the event finals, with golds for rope and hoop and silver for clubs.

1982 proved to be more difficult, as Ignatova came in 5th at the European Championships. She would win only one medal in event finals, a gold with ribbon. The following year she came dangerously close to finishing out of the medals after mistakes with ribbon. But this great crowd favorite allowed the applause to buoy her to two 10s in her final events, ball and clubs, and wound up second overall at the 1983 World Championships. Golds were her reward for precise clubs and ball routines, and she also earned a bronze for hoop.

In the Vienna, Austria, European Championships of 1984, Ignatova again placed out of the medals, this time in 4th. Two more medals - gold with hoop and silver with ball - were added to her ever-growing collection. A favorite for the 1985 World Championship title, Ignatova once again placed second to teammate Diliana Gueorguieva, but won a cache of apparatus medals (gold with ball and clubs, bronze with rope). In 1986 she won her second World Cup title, and became the only gymnast to triumph an incredible six consecutive times (1981-1986) at the prestigious Julieta Shishmanova Cup. In her last major competition, the 1986 European Championships, Ignatova finally won a much-deserved all-around gold. She followed up her victory with wins in rope and clubs, and a silver with ribbon.

After retiring in 1986, Lilia Ignaotva enrolled in the National Sports Academy in Sofia. She starred in musical film Akatamus, which was helmed by acclaimed Bulgarian director Gueorgui Duylguerov. She also performed rhythmic routines onstage in a company called Theater 13, and choreographed dances for their shows.

Upon her graduation from college, Ignatova began coaching at Levski, the club at which she trained as a gymnast. She has helped coach several excellent Bulgarian gymnasts, including Neli Atanassova and 1990 European Champion Julia Baicheva. Ignatova has one child, a young daughter named Ioana. In 1999, Ignatova was one of four rhythmic gymnasts inducted into the FIG Hall of Fame.

Lilia Ignatova is remembered for her long and very successful career, throughout which she performed a variety of extraordinary exercises. She seemed to have a greater number of original skills - such as her peerless backward shoulder roll executed within a circling ribbon - than any other gymnast of her time. Ignatova was able to combine great difficulty and elegance with nearly any style imaginable; she could perform a spirited ribbon routine to Hit the Road, Jack (1983), modern ball to If You Go Away (1983), and classical clubs to music from Carmen (1984) with equal deftness. But far and away her masterwork is her indescribably beautiful 1985 ball to Ave Maria, a routine she will forever be associated with.

Courtesy of Tom Theobald

Update (April 29, 2000). recently ran a piece about the upheaval in the Bulgarian gymnastics camp. After the disappointing placement of the Bulgarians at the 1999 World Championships, rumors flew about the dismissal of Bulgarian head coach Neshka Robeva. In actuality, Robeva was not dismissed. But in the face of conflicts with Iliana Raeva (coaching supervisor) and Maria Guigova (president of the Bulgarian federation), Robeva resigned. Confusingly, Robeva tried to withdraw her most recent resignation. But during the intervening period between the resignation and the withdrawal, the Bulgarian Federation voted to abolish the post of National Head Coach altogether. Robeva is now coaching at the Levski club, where she got her start more than 30 years ago. Lilia Ignatova, a onetime Robeva pupil who was also coaching at Levski, is said to have argued with her mentor and left her position at the club. Ignatova is now part of the technical coaching panel that was formed by the Federation to coach its gymnasts. In addition to Ignatova, this panel is made up of highly regarded trainers Despa administrative committee member Maria Petrova.

Courtesy of Tom Theobald

1999-2002. This page was created on September 20, 1999 and last updated July 2004.


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