Natalia Ilienko (URS)

Photo by Tom Theobald.
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For a thorough listing of Natalia Ilienko's competitive results, please visit Gymn Forum's Ilienko biography.

Natalia Ilienko was born on March 26, 1967 in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan. She began gymnastics under a husband and wife team, the Popovs. Natalia's talent for the sport was recognized early, and her development was transferred to Yuri and Natalia Capenko's care at Dynamo.

Natalia burst onto the international scene in 1979, winning a pair of golds at the Junior Friendship Tour (Druzhba; 1st T and 1st AA) and competing in a number of prestigious invitationals (e.g., 3rd AA at the Chunichi Cup). Early on, Natalia's gift for the floor exercise was evident. At the 1980 Coca Cola Invitational, British commentator aptly remarked, "...this girl has tremendous mobility, her body flows like water!"

That same year she was one of three Soviets selected to compete at the Junior European Championships in Lyons, France. Natalia had a rough meet (in Soviet standards!), finishing 6th AA and failing to rally back in the event finals (8th BB, 7th FX). Natalia rallied back the following year, at the 1981 Europeans in Madrid, placing 4th AA and 4th on bars, and medalling on the balance beam (silver).

Photo by Tom Theobald.
Check out Tom's photography site!

Were it not for her medal on beam at Euros several months before, and her first place finish on beam at the 1981 Soviet Championships, it's likely that Natalia's 10th place finish at the championships would have jeopardized her spot on the Soviet's World Championship team that year. Fortunately, Natalia did make the team. She committed errors during team optionals on bars and beam, but the strength of the Soviet team that year is evidenced by the fact that the girls finished nearly 5 point in front of the silver medallists (the Chinese). Moreover, all six Soviets finished in the top 6 after team optionals! Natalia told World Gymnastics magazine, "I am very happy to be a member of the world championship team. This joy is made no smaller because I have committed two faults. I hope that the former will happen many times more, while the latter never again."

Natalia absolutely dazzled the crowd during the floor event finals. She danced to the music of Rossini's menuette, and choreography of Natalya Marakova (now at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy). This floor routine should be remembered as one of the best in the history of women's artistic gymnastics.

Natalia was a key member of the Soviet team for the next few years to come. At the following World Championships, in 1983 in Budapest, Hungary, she and her teammates retained their world title. Natalia surely would have been an Olympic gold medallist were it not for the Soviet's devastating boycott of the 1984 LA Games. Instead, Natalia and her teammates competed at Olomouc, in the "Alternate" games.

Natalia retired from gymnastics soon after. Some ten years or so ago, she accepted a coaching position in England. (Former teammate Elena Naimushina declined the offer, and recommended Natalia). Natalia works as both a coach and choreographer in England. One of her former students was British star Zita Lussak!

Now married to British coach Gary Jarvis, Natalia now goes by the surname of Ilienko-Jarvis. She has taken up sports aerobics with great success. Competing for her adopted country, Natalia placed first in the Dutch Open Championships in 1998 and has competed for Great Britain at the World and European Sports Aerobics Championships. She was also the British Women's champion in 1997/1998.

Gary and Natalia now work at their own Sports Aerobics club, Heathrow Sports Aerobics Club. Here, Natalia works as coach and choreographer. The two have enjoyed success with this new endeavor, traveling abroad with their competitors. Natalia is also a Brevet judge for the sport.

In mid-April 2001, son Maxim was born. Weighing in at over 4 kg at birth, Natalia says that baby Maxim is big, "just like his Dad!" Congratulations to Gary and Natalia! 

. This page was created on April 28, 1999 and last updated on October 30, 2005.


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