With an impressive
career that spanned the entire 1980s, Milena Reljin is a rarity
in rhythmic gymnastics. Not only did she have one of the longest careers
in the sport, but also she managed to keep pace with her powerful Soviet
and Bulgarian competitors -- a feat few gymnasts accomplished during that
Reljin, a native of Belgrade,
Yugoslavia, was born May 25, 1967. She began training in
rhythmic first with Jasna Tomin, then was taken under the wing
of Nada Vuckovic Pisic at club GK Partizan in Belgrade. For the majority of
the year, the young gymnast trained 15 hours per week, increasing to 26 hours
during summer and winter holidays.
Reljin's first success came in 1980,
when she won the Yugoslavian Junior National
Championships. The following year, she took the all-around gold at the
Balkan Championships and tied Bulgarian star Anelia Ralenkova for the clubs
silver. Later in 1981 she made the successful transition to the senior level,
scoring her first of a historic nine Yugoslavian Senior National titles.
At the 1981 World Championships,
Reljin placed 17th -- an impressive result for a new
senior gymnast from a country not known for its rhythmic program.
After a disappointing 30th-place finish at the 1982 European Championships,
the elegant 15-year-old bounced back to 22nd all-around at the 1983
World Championships and 13th at the World Cup (where she was 7th with clubs).
In the 1984 Olympics, Reljin gave a
clean, charismatic performance that charmed both the Los
Angeles audience and judges for 5th place, ahead of several
better-known competitors. Following up on this success, at the fully-attended
1985 World Championships the versatile Yugoslavian put in four excellent
exercises to finish 11th. She also qualified to finals with her favorite
apparatus, clubs, where she was 5th. In addition, she won the 1985 Medico
Cup in high style, pocketing gold for the all-around and each apparatus.
A flawed performance at the 1986
European Championships meant 18th place -- and resolve to
improve. After finishing 8th in the all-around at the 1987 World
Championships, Reljin, whose clean technique and difficult tricks rivaled
the top gymnasts, strutted to 6th with rope and 5th with clubs. She then
went on to rank 3rd at the prestigious 1987 Brother Cup. Mistakes dipped her
to 19th at the 1988 European Championships, but the best was yet to come.
Despite a ribbon drop and a hoop
routine that had to be restarted when the pianist missed
his cue, Reljin showed superb, creative work at the 1988 Olympics
and was rewarded with 9th place. This competition was also her second
Olympic Games, an accomplishment only a handful of gymnasts can claim.
Reljin's intriguing exercises buoyed
her through the 1989 World Championships, which were held
in Sarajevo. She achieved her greatest world ranking here,
coming in 6th in the all-around and qualifying to three event finals
(she was 5th with rope, 5th with hoop, and 7th with ball). Even though she
wasn't a medalist, she received the most enthusiastic crowd response of any
gymnast, and her ball routine caused a round of cheers that threatened to
halt the competition.
Milena Reljin has demonstrated a
number of entertaining exercises over the years, but her
most memorable routines came during the latter part of her career.
Her elegant 1987-1988 hoop, which featured risky foot tosses and dramatic
dance, was so beautifully crafted that even today it stands as a hallmark
of what a rhythmic routine should be. Also from this period, Reljin's
fast, very modern ribbon routine showcased her excellent dance skills,
crisp apparatus technique, and feel for the music. But perhaps her finest
routine was her 1988 clubs, a speedy, innovative exercise filled with wonderfully
extended leaps, quick mill work, and photogenic balances and flexions.
In 1989, after 11 years in the
sport, Milena Reljin retired from rhythmic gymnastics. She
studied at the University for Physical Education in Belgrade, and
stayed in the city to coach. She and her husband Nenad Tatic, the Secretary
General of the Yugoslavian Ski Federation, have three children: 5-year-old
Mina, 3-year-old Djordje, and 1-year-old Dunja. Reljin, who enjoys music
and theater in her off hours, is now a coach, training all levels of gymnasts,
from selected beginners to the best senior athletes. Her accomplishments
easily qualify her as Yugoslavia's finest rhythmic gymnast.
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