Rhythmic Gymnastics in Europe
INTERVIEW WITH LITO ALEXIOU
Today we had the opportunity to interview Lito Alexiou, a half-Greek, half-Australian former rhythmic gymnast, currently living in the UK, where she has recently completed her degree in Business and Marketing, at Coventry University. We have decided to expand our horizons and explore not just a different team sport, but also another geographical area, and learn more about sports in Europe.
Q: How long have you been practising sports?
A: I did rhythmic gymnastics for 15-16 years. When I started university I was a cheerleader for one year, and now I am doing circus training for the past two years.
Q: What inspired you to start practising rhythmic gymnastics?
A: My parents wanted me to practice a sport, so they allowed me to try out different options and decide for myself. Rhythmic gymnastics was the first sport I’ve tried. I really liked it, so I’ve decided to pursue it.
Q: What did you like most about rhythmic gymnastics?
A: I really enjoy stretching and how disciplined I have become. Although I am not practising anymore I am still training, and it really helps me stay healthy and in shape.
Q: What was your main goal as a rhythmic gymnast?
A: When I was young I mainly cared about the competition - I wanted to be ‘the best’ and an example for everyone. I also really wanted to travel and do competitions. Now I want to keep on training and maybe perform again in the future, whether booking jobs to perform or even music videos for example - I am keeping this option open.
Q: How did you feel before your performances?
A: I felt like everything had to be perfect - my make-up, my hair, the routine. I was really nervous. Before the performance we would repeat the routine and stay close to our teammates for encouragement. Between my team and our competitors’ there was often body-shaming, subtle fights, and passive-aggression since everything was so competitive. I am still competitive to this day [laughs].
Q: How did you prepare for performances?
A: Preparation involved a lot of effort, shouting, and crying. It was very intense and there was a lot of pressure on us to perform well. We would even get light ‘warning slaps’ if we our posture wasn’t correct. Normally, before performances we would train from 6 AM, go to school and back. On weekends we would train 3-5 hours a day. Nowadays I still train almost every day, although not performing - it relaxes me.
Q: Did you have to follow a specific diet?
A: We had a very strict diet! We could not eat bread and pastries, souvlaki (traditional Greek food), fast food, canned foods, chocolate / most sweets, nor drink frizzy or sugary drinks. Red meat and pasta were only allowed once in a while. Being healthy was extremely important so we were encouraged to eat fruits and veggies, and drink plenty of water. There was also quite a lot of body-shaming in order to make us feel bad about our weight, so we had to be really careful.
Q: Could you please tell us a little about your coach(es)?
A: We had two coaches. Maria Klouvatou, Greek trainer, well-known for leading big teams like Dias Melission; and Ivo, her husband, who has joined later on. He is a famous Bulgarian Olympic trainer. They were very specific. When training us, they wanted us to execute everything perfectly. One of them was a bit scary sometimes, but it was for our own good. The other one was more relaxed, but when he did get angry, he would get very, very, very angry! They were good coaches - very strict, very consistent! I am grateful for that!
Q: How do you think rhythmic gymnastics has impacted your daily life?
A: I still don’t eat chocolate for over 11 years since I was not allowed back then [laughs]. Gymnastics has taught me many things like being punctual, following a strict diet, creativity, leadership, communications, listening to coaches and being obedient. I became very disciplined. On top of these, I have also discovered a lot about human nature, especially how tricky it could be to maintain genuine connections, friendships, or teamwork in competitive environments because of jealousy, fights, the desire to ‘be the best’, and so on. But the friends that I did make back then are friends for life!
Q: What was the biggest seat-back you have faced as a rhythmic gymnast – a time where you were almost about to quit? How did you overcome it?
A: My parents have stopped me at some point because the exam season was approaching and I had too much studying to do. I went back afterwards and some girls from my team were bullying me saying “You’re letting down the team”, even if I was still in shape and I did not fall behind. I have continued despite everything.
Q: Nowadays, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A: During my free time I like to watch YouTube videos, create jewellery and marketing content for my business (Instagram: @_alexioul_), and be consistent with my training.
Q: What is your perception of gymnastics in Japan and / or Eastern Asia?
A: I actually did some research into how they train while I was still practising, with online resources. They focus on flexibility from really young ages, they seem like ‘little soldiers’. I thought that their training was too serious, painful, and intense, sometimes even leading to surgeries and health issues.
Q: Have you got any questions about the sports culture in Japan, or more generally Eastern Asia?
A: Sure, I have some questions, not limited to gymnastics only:
Do they have a strict diet, or can they indulge more?
Do coaches ever shout at, hit, or pressure their students till the point where they start crying?
Thank you for you time! If you enjoyed reading this article, please share your experience with sports, so that we can all expand our cultural knowledge on this topic.