Stella Salapatyska (BUL)
Tribute courtesy of Robin Catalano

1995 European Cup (Italy): 9th AA (tie)
1995 European Cup (Moscow): 9th AA (tie)
1995 Medico Cup: 11th AA, 4th clubs, 2nd ribbon (tie),
1995 International Tournament (Slovenia): 2nd AA, 1st ball, 1st ribbon
1995 European Cup Final: 9th AA
1996 Coupe d'Opale: 9th AA
1996 Happy Rhythmic Days: 1st AA, 1st rope, 1st ball, 7th clubs, 1st ribbon (tie)
1996 Chichmanova Cup: 1st AA
1996 Corbeil International: 11th AA
1996 European Championships: 5th AA, 7th ball (tie), 7th ball (tie)
1996 World Team Championships: 2nd T, 3rd AA (tie), 1997 Chichmanova Cup: 1st AA, 1st rope, 1st hoop, 1st clubs, 1st ribbon
1997 Deriugina Cup: 4th AA, 6th rope, 3rd hoop, 5th clubs, 5th ribbon (tie)
1997 Corbeil Cup: 4th AA
1997 Chichmanova Cup: 1st AA, 1st rope, 1st hoop, 1st clubs, 1st ribbon
1997 European Championships: 7th AA, 6th rope, 7th ribbon
1998 Coupe d'Opale: 2nd AA
2000 Julieta Shishmanova Cup: 2nd AA, 1st rope (tie), 3rd hoop, 1st ribbon 

From Plovdiv comes yet another great Bulgarian gymnast: Stella Salapatyska, who was born on April 25, 1979, was primed to become the next in a long line of hometown champions. But Salapatyska, unlike many of her teammates, was never the type to take orders without question. Unfortunately for the rhythmic world, her coach's intolerance for this type of behavior cost an exceptional gymnast her career.

A gold in the team competition and bronze in the all-around at the 1993 Junior European Championships were Salapatyska's serve of notice to the elite rhythmic scene. After the retirement of Bulgarian fixtures Maria Petrova and Diana Popova, Salapatyska established a foothold in the international rankings in 1996, placing 5th at European Championships, 11th at Corbeil and 3rd at the World Team Championships. In 1997, she placed 7th at the European Championships and 4th at the Derjugina Cup and Corbeil. She also made a clean sweep of all the golds at that year's Shishmanova Cup.

Her one-of-a-kind routines included great difficulty and unusual, angular body positions. She punctuated each exercise with a variety of exciting tosses and innovative catches, as well as first-rate apparatus technique and body line. A mischievous theatricality set her apart, along with the world's most perfect double illusion turn. In addition, Salapatyska was the rare Bulgarian gymnast who combined that system's pure technique, fine dance, and spot-on pirouettes with excellent flexibility.

In 1997, Salapatyska was training for the World Championships when she and teammate Maria Gateva had an argument with the national team coach, Neshka Robeva. Robeva threatened to quit her post if the federation did not reprimand the two gymnasts. As a result, Salapatyska and Gateva were suspended from the national team for two years. Despite an official appeal, their sentences were not lifted.

Salapatyska entered the National Sports Academy in Sofia and turned to former Bulgarian standout Iliana Raeva for training. In 1998, she competed on behalf of club Iliana at the prestigious Coupe d'Opale, where she came in 2nd all-around and won three golds (rope, hoop, ribbon) and another silver (clubs). But with the passage of time, Salapatyska recognized that her window of opportunity in this fickle sport was quickly closing. She finally decided to retire in 1999, joining the coaching staff of the club that took her in during her troubles.

It's a shame, really, that the greatest Bulgarian potential since Petrova was never given her chance to shine. While we may never know the truth about the coach-student conflict, one fact remains: Stella Salapatyska will be remembered as one of the most tragically squandered talents in rhythmic gymnastics history.

Update (April 29, 2000). Salapatyska makes a comeback! After just two months back in training, Stella Salapatyska placed second at the prestigious Julieta Shishmanova Cup. Salapatyska's return was no doubt prompted -- at least in part -- by the resignation of Bulgarian head coach Neshka Robeva, who was responsible for suspending the gymnast back in 1997.

Stella Salapatyska with Elisabeth Paiseva
Photo by Tom Theobald. Check out Tom's photography site!

1999-2002. This page was created on June 30, 1999 and last updated July 2004.


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