Maria Petrova (BUL)
Tribute courtesy of Robin Catalano

1991 World Championships: 2nd T, 4th ball, 4th clubs
1992 Medico Cup: 1st AA, 1st rope, 1st hoop, 1st ball, 2nd clubs
1992 European Championships: 1st T, 1st AA, 3rd rope, 5th hoop, 6th ball
1992 Olympics: 5th AA
1992 World Championships: 2nd AA, 7th rope, 3rd hoop, 2nd ball, 2nd clubs
1993 Medico Cup: 1st AA, 1st hoop, 1st ball, 2nd clubs, 2nd ribbon
1993 European Cup final: 1st AA, 2nd hoop, 1st ball, 5th clubs, 1st ribbon
1993 World Championships: 1st T, 1st AA, 1st hoop, 1st ball, 3rd clubs, 1st ribbon
1993 Corbeil International: 2nd AA
1993 Paris Open: 2nd hoop, 2nd ball, 2nd ribbon
1994 Gymnastics Masters: 1st AA, 6th hoop, 2nd ball, 5th clubs, 4th ribbon
1994 European Championships: 3rd T, 1st AA, 2nd hoop, 3rd ball, 4th clubcs, 4th ribbon
1994 World Championships: 1st AA, 1st hoop, 3rd ball, 2nd clubs, 2nd ribbon
1994 Chichmanova Prize: 1st AA
1994 Corbeil International: 3rd AA
1994 DTB Cup: 3rd AA, 2nd hoop, 1st ball, 7th clubs, 3rd ribbon
1995 DTB Cup: 6th AA
1995 Corbeil International: 3rd AA
1995 Grand Prix Tournament: 7th (qualifying)
1995 Gymnastics Masters: 7th AA
1995 Universiade: 1st AA, 1st rope, 1st ball, 1st clubs, 1st ribbon
1995 World Championships: 2nd T, 1st AA, 2nd rope, 4th hoop, 1st clubs, 8th ribbon
1996 Hungarian International Cup: 1st AA
1996 Chichmanova Cup: 1st AA
1996 Corbeil International: 3rd T, 3rd AA
1996 World Championships: 2nd ball, 3rd clubs
1996 Olympic Games: 5th AA

One simply could not write enough words to do the talent of Maria Petrova justice. Undisputedly, she is regarded as one of the finest rhythmic gymnasts of all time, and never placed lower than 7th in any competition in her entire career.

A Plovdiv native, Petrova, who was born November 13, 1975, began training at the age of 5 at the Levski club under the guidance of Natalia Muravenova. In her first World Championships in 1991, she narrowly missed making the all-around final after an untimely hoop drop. Nevertheless, she made quite an impression, causing judges and journalists alike to buzz about this amazing new talent. At the 1992 European Championships, Petrova scored her first major victory. Expectations were high at the Barcelona Olympics, but Petrova found herself in 5th after a penalty of .20 was assessed because the zipper on the back of her leotard broke during her hoop exercise. Fortified with a new leotard at the World Championships just a few months later, Petrova took second place behind Oksana Kostina and ahead of Larissa Lukyanenko.

In 1993, Petrova came to Worlds armed with one of the best sets of routines ever performed. Her Panovaesque ball to a haunting Indian melody highlighted not only her incredible turning ability, but also her knack for making the smallest movements look important. She also competed a fast, folksy exercise with ribbon, and a funky, small-toss filled clubs routine to Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." But it was her intense interpretation of Carmina Burana that caused the crowd to erupt into resounding ovation. She won the all-around, as well as three more golds (ball, hoop, ribbon) and a bronze (clubs).

Thus began Petrova's long reign at the top of the rhythmic gymnastics world. She would go on to win one more European title and two more world titles (shared in 1995 with Yekaterina Serebrianskaya), tying her with countrywoman Maria Guigova for the most wins in the latter category. Although she had tried to retire several times after her first World title, Petrova hung on as a favor to the Bulgarian national team, which was in a rebuilding phase after the Eastern European Communist collapse.

Despite a clean, mature, expressive performance-- that included a wonderfully modern rope exercise, an almost perfectly executed ball routine, and sophisticated Spanish-style clubs and ribbon-- that bettered the majority of the top performers, at the 96 Olympics Petrova wound up in the exact spot (5th) that she had finished in the Olympics four years earlier. Some cited Petrova's lack of difficulty as the reason for her off-the-podium placement, but far more rhythmic fans, and even Petrova herself, were convinced that the judges had decided the outcome in advance.

Courtesy of Tom Theobald

Petrova was finally able to retire after her Olympic disappointment, turning full-time to her studies at the Bulgarian National Sports Academy. In July of 1998, she married long-time boyfriend Borislav Mihailov, the decorated former goalkeeper of the Bulgarian national soccer team. She and Mihailov are in the process of building a new home, where they will live with his two teenage children, Bisera and Nicolai. Petrova has been elected to the Administrative Council of the Bulgarian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, and she hopes to become a judge when she has completed her university studies. Recently, a French perfume company released a brand new fragrance called Maria P., and its ads feature glamorous shots of the former gymnast. We can only wonder if the scent has managed to capture the allure of Petrova herself.

In late April 2000, recently ran a piece about the upheaval in the Bulgarian gymnastics camp. In short, the Bulgarian Federation voted to abolish the post of National Head Coach and instead form a technical panel. The latter consists of highly regarded trainers Despa Katelieva, Zlatka Parleva, and Lilia Ignatova, as well as Federation administrative committee member Maria Petrova.

Petrova was born on November 13, 1975.

1999-2004. This page was created on June 21, 1999 and last updated July 2004.