Catch Dina Averina while you can

At 20, the Averina twins - Dina and Arina - are already thinking about life after sport. When they do retire, it will be together. But the European Games gave one of them a chance to go it alone.

By Rory Jiwani

The career of a rhythmic gymnastics star is a short one.

Russian pair Margarita Mamun and Yana Kudryavtseva were 20 and 18 respectively when they took gold and silver at Rio 2016.

That would prove to be their last competition.

The 20-year-old Averina sisters - identical twins Dina and Arina - have stepped up seamlessly to maintain their nation's domination of the sport.

The top priority for the Averina sisters is qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and, like their predecessors, they almost certainly won't be around for another Games.

When they do decide to bow out, they will do so together.

"It would be tough to do this on your own, going to the competitions, training, all without the support. That would be more difficult." - Dina Averina talking to European Gymnastics

The pair have scooped almost every major individual title in this Olympic cycle.

Arina, known as Arisha to Dina and her friends, was originally selected for the European Games in Minsk.

But it was Dina who got kitted out last week in Moscow before the team's departure for the Belarusian capital.

Russian rule in rhythmic gymnastics

The Averinas have kept their nation firmly on top in rhythmic gymnastics, with the identical twins almost as hard to separate in competition as they are to distinguish in person.

Russia have won all 10 Olympic titles awarded in the sport since Sydney 2000, taking a one-two in the individual competition in 2004, 2012, and 2016.

Since Rio 2016, only compatriot Aleksandra Soldatova has threatened the Averinas' dominance.

At the 2017 European Championships, Dina and Arina won two titles apiece in individual disciplines and teamed up with Soldatova for team gold.

Then at the World Games in Wroclaw, it was Arina who came out on top with three golds to Dina's one.

At the 2017 World Championships, it was Dina's turn to shine with three gold medals, including the all-around title, to Arina's two.

In 2018, Arina won the only gold at stake at the European Championships - the all-around - but suffered a first real career setback in qualifying at the World Championships in Sofia when she had a ribbon malfunction.

That mishap meant Soldatova was the sole Russian in the final and she took gold as Arina secured just two individual bronze medals, in the hoop and clubs.

With the trio triumphing again in the team competition, Dina came home from Bulgaria with five golds to take her tally of world titles to eight.

This year, the pair have been very even again.

The European Games test event at the start of May went Dina's way, but two weeks later they split the four individual gold medals on offer at the European Championships in Baku.

Dina Averina out on her own at the European Games

Dina's appearance in Minsk without her sister is a rare one.

Usually they compete against each other and, while it is not the first time they have been separated, it is a situation they have had to adjust to.

"It used to be very difficult, but now we are a little used to it. You just learn to." - Arina Averina speaking to Match TV

The sisters are very close and, in an interview with European Gymnastics, admitted that they "decide absolutely everything together" when it comes to their routines.

Dina - the younger of the two by 20 minutes - also revealed that they would almost certainly not be competing at Paris 2024.

"In five years, I don't think that I will be involved in gymnastics." - Dina Averina speaking to European Gymnastics

She added, "I won't become a coach because I see how difficult it is. You spend the whole day in the gym. I think after my gymnastics career I simply want to have a rest from all that!"

Arina said, "We will be studying, I think. I want to study economics."

For all their similarities, the duo certainly have their differences.

Arina said, "We have completely different characters. I'm softer while Dina is more tough."

Dina said in May, "As we grow up, we are becoming more and more different. Each one has her own character, her own style, we change and grow. I grow by myself, Arisha by herself."

But when it comes to their sport, they are back to being mirror images.

"If you consider such things as flexibility, work with the object, then we are absolutely the same." - Dina Averina - Dina Averina speaking to Match TV

'Demon Dina' was on the podium for all five events in Minsk, winning three golds - in the hoop, the ribbon and the all-around.

She had to settle for silver in the clubs and bronze in the ball with victory in both of those disciplines going to Linoy Ashram of Israel.

Ashram is now a genuine threat to the Averina sisters and Russia's vice-like grip on rhythmic gymnastics with a year to go to Tokyo 2020.