'My life was divided between sport and struggling with this illness': Russian gymnastics star Soldatova opens up on bulimia battle
The four-time world champion, 21, was forced to deny Russian media reports last week that she had been admitted to a Moscow hospital after a suicide attempt.
Soldatova issued a firm rebuttal of those claims in a powerful video message on Thursday, and appeared for a Grand Prix gala show in Moscow this weekend.
However, the recent reports have led to the gymnastics star – who is a fan favorite around the world – to open up on her battle with bulimia.
“This story has gone on for two years, I’ve had this affliction. It’s very hard for me to speak about it. In addition to sporting issues – fractures, injuries – I’ve had another illness which has constantly affected me,” Soldatova said in an interview with TASS.
“I told my trainers about it only in the summer of 2018, I prepared myself for several months before I could tell them that I really needed help.
“It’s a frightening illness. When I told [my coach] Anna Vyacheslavovna [Diatchenko] I cried, I talked with her for three or four hours. I’m grateful to her and Irina Alexandrovna [Viner-Usmanova – president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation ], they really supported me.
“Every time when I faced the choice: sport or my health, I always chose sport.”
Soldatova – who is a four-time world champion in two different disciplines and has also won gold and silver medals at the European Championships – said that she had found sanctuary in gymnastics while her struggles with bulimia raged on.
“It’s impossible to treat bulimia easily, you need certain prerequisites at a genetic level, the illness would have appeared any way.
“Thankfully, I got into gymnastics, which in the past few years has offered me highs – training, talking with my trainers, but in the evenings I would go out onto the street and cry, because I didn’t know what to do. Life was divided between my battle with the illness and this beautiful sport.”
In September of last year, Soldatova lost consciousness at an event in Portugal, leading to her being left out of the Russian team for that month’s World Championships.Also on rt.com Russian world champion gymnast Alexandra Soldatova sparks concern after passing out at competition
Soldatova said that she had tried not to betray any signs that she was struggling physically and mentally.
“In the past two years I haven’t spoken with anyone at the [training] base in Novogorsk, I ate alone, went everywhere alone, at the beginning I didn’t even know that there was this kind of illness, I didn’t know what was going on with me, even though I understood something wasn’t right.
“My health got worse, and no one would understand what was up with me,” she said.
The gymnastics star urged others struggling with eating disorders to take the first step of admitting that you have a problem and seeking help.
“I want to tell anyone who is also suffering from bulimia that the hardest part is admitting it… but when I told my trainers, they were a mountain [of support] for me,” she said.
Soldatova said that her battle has been a long one of ups and downs, and that even after she had left hospital for treatment last year, she continued to feel worse.
“I stayed in hospital twice, got treated, drank a lot of vitamins. I competed at the European Championships in 2019, the results were OK, but the condition of my health was terrible.
“I didn’t tell Viner about it, because for her the health of sportswomen was first, but for me it was sport. If she had known how tough it was for me, she wouldn’t have allowed me to compete. But I was so happy to compete and I tried to do it with dignity.
“After the European Championships in 2019 I said that I was ready to be treated, at a hospital or wherever necessary. They found a clinic for me, but I wasn’t there for long, I quickly felt better, and that was my mistake – I said I was ready to train.
“But after training, everything got worse again and [Irina] Viner said that I should first fully recover, feel more confident in myself, and that health is the most important thing.
“I stayed in hospital for a month, I was always in contact with [my coaches].”
Soldatova even revealed that she had won gold at the 2018 World Championships in Bulgaria – where she claimed victory in the team and ribbon events – while in the middle of her physical struggles.
“I missed the European Championships in 2018 because of a fracture, and my body became so fragile it was frightening,” she said.
“At this turning point I battled with bulimia, recovered in a month, and in September won gold at the World Championships.
“You can’t imagine what I see when I look at that medal. It was an unbelievable summer in 2018, I simply believed in myself like my trainers did.”
Soldatova was not included in the Russian team for this weekend’s Grand Prix stage in Moscow, although she did attend the awards ceremony – receiving a warm reception from the crowd – before appearing in Sunday’s gala performance.
Soldatova said she is taking a career break and is “not in a rush” with her treatment, acknowledging that “professional sports and bulimia are not compatible, especially when you need full strength at the Olympic Games.”
She said, however, that she was eager to return to training as soon as she was ready.