Sofia Raffaeli makes history with two gold medals at Rhythmic Worlds

Earlier in the day, pre-event favourites Daria Atamamov and Boryana Kaleyn withdrew from the competition providing unexpected opportunity

By Scott Bregman
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The opening day of the 2022 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, was - fittingly, given the location - all about Italian Sofia Raffaeli.

The 18-year-old claimed both gold medals on offer, taking the hoop and ball crowns as competition got underway Wednesday (14 September).

In the opening final with hoop, Raffaeli wasted no time, throwing down a massive 34.850 total as the first competitor. That mark, an improvement of nearly two-and-a-half points from her qualifying score, could not be caught with silver medallist Stiliana Nikolova of Bulgaria coming up 1.450 short as the last to go in the final. She scored 33.400. Germany's Darja Varfolomeev took the bronze at 32.150.

It was a final full of historic results. Raffaeli is the first Italian to claim individual gold at the worlds, while Varfolomeev's medal is a first for a unified Germany at the event.

Raffaeli followed that up with a second gold in the ball final. In a mirror image of the hoop event, the Italian competed last, knowing she needed better than 34.100 to pass Varfolomeev for gold. She delivered a 34.900 to take the title, forcing Varfolomeev to settle for silver. Milena Baldassarri of Italy took the bronze with a 32.400.

Earlier in the day, two pre-event favourites, Israel's Daria Atamanov and Bulgaria's Boryana Kaleyn, withdrew from the event. The duo finished 1-2, respectively, at June's European Championships in the all-around.

While the reason for Atamanov's withdrawal was not immediately clear, the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation announced that Kaleyn had withdrawn due to a high fever.

Competition continues Thursday (15 September) with individual qualifications and finals in clubs and ribbon, while Friday's competition sees the group all-around finals where the top three finishers will qualify to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Sofia Raffaeli: I worked so hard for these two golds

"It's a big emotion for me because it doesn't happen every time (to win two gold medals)," Raffaeli said after the medal ceremony.

"I'm so happy because I managed to do my best with serenity and tranquillity."

Asked if she was surprised about her double gold the Italian replied: "No, because I've been working very hard for this all these years and this is what I hoped for today."

"I was only thinking about the apparatus and when I finished my exercise I listened to my favourite song, 'A mano a mano' by Rino Gaetano," she added.

Sofia Raffaeli in action in Sofia

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