Artistic Gymnastics

Russia's Daria Spiridonova on retirement: "I wanted to develop outside of sports.”

The 2016 Olympic silver medallist on the decision to walk away from her sport, what's next, and more

By Scott Bregman and Ekaterina Kuznetsova ·

After a career highlighted by a World uneven bars title and Olympic silver at Rio 2016, Russia’s Daria Spiridonova announced her retirement from gymnastics on 17 February.

“I've done a lot in gymnastics and don't regret about any of it. These were beautiful years that you can remember now for the whole lifetime,” Spiridonova told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview. “During quarantine me and my husband Nikita [Nagornyy], sat down and talked for a very long time about this topic and we took this decision that it's time to finish.”

"Sport is not eternal and you need to live on. Sooner or later, every athlete comes to the understanding that it is no longer possible to perform further, and you need to be a brave person to admit it and declare it," Nagornyy told Olympic Channel. "In this regard, I am very proud of my wife that she came to terms with this, made up her mind and made an announcement."

Since triumphs in 2015 – when she shared the world uneven bars title with three women – and 2016 – when she helped Russia to a team silver medal at the Olympic Games in Rio – Spiridonova has faced challenges in her career, including overcoming injuries. But, she says, that ultimately wasn’t why she’s calling it quits.

“Injuries did not play a major role. After my most serious injuries I still competed at the World Championships, so of course, it was very difficult to recover, very difficult. But with age, it's always a lot more difficult,” she said. “Therefore, I have reached the point where I started to lose interest a little, probably because it felt very difficult and I wanted to develop a little bit further outside of sports.”

Her focus now is on another dream: as an entrepreneur.

“I am very invested in my beauty salon. For a very long time I was excited about this idea - I wanted to open my beauty salon connected to a Mickey Mouse theme or Disney, since I love Mickey Mouse very much,” explained Spiridonova. “So very recently, about three months ago, I fulfilled my dream and now I am fully occupied with it.”

Below is a transcript, translated from Russian to English and lightly edited for brevity and clarity of Olympic Channel’s interview with Spiridonova.

Daria Spiridonova: What gymnastics has taught me

Rio 2016 silver medallist Daria Spiridonova has decided to walk away from g...

OC: Just the last week you announced that you retired from gymnastics. How do you feel now and what has been happening since your announcement?

Daria: Unfortunately, sport cannot last for your whole life. You just need to admit it and understand it. But I feel great, this is my decision that I took after a lot of thinking, it didn't happen that quickly. Now, I am doing well and doing my second favourite thing. In general, all is well here.

OC: Your second favourite thing… can you tell us about it?

Daria: I am very invested in my beauty salon. For a very long time, I was excited about this idea - I wanted to open my beauty salon connected to a Mickey Mouse theme or Disney, since I love Mickey Mouse very much. So very recently, about three months ago, I fulfilled my dream and now I am fully occupied with it.

OC: Going back to your gymnastics career - how did it all start and are you a little bit sad with it being over now?

Daria: Honestly, like I said it was a considered decision, so I feel great, and I've done a lot in gymnastics and don't regret any of it. These were beautiful years that you can remember now for the whole lifetime.

OC: What is the most important thing that gymnastics has taught you?

Daria: The most important thing that gymnastics teaches is patience. The most important thing is willpower and in life, it actually helps a lot because gymnastics develops all muscle groups. It's a lot about the willpower, endurance and patience. It shapes a very tough character.

OC: Were the injuries that you had one of the motivations to leave gymnastics or was it something else?

Daria: No. Injuries did not play a major role. After my most serious injuries, I still competed at the World Championships. Of course, it was very difficult to recover, very difficult. But with age, it's always a lot more difficult.

But eventually, I have reached the point where I started to lose interest a little, probably because it felt very difficult and I wanted to develop a little bit further, outside of sports. It is very tough to combine sports with anything else. It is possible but difficult because all the time you spend at the training camp, you always have trainings, two training sessions every day and it is not quite possible to combine it with something else. Therefore, during quarantine me and my husband [World all-around champion] Nikita [Nagornyy], sat down and talked for a very long time about this topic and we took this decision that it's time to finish.

OC: Your husband Nikita is still a competitive athlete who aims to go to Tokyo and is currently preparing for the next competition. Is it a strange feeling, that he is still training, and you have retired?

Daria: Honestly, no. Everything started for me a lot earlier - all the major competitions and victories. I believe in general everything starts a little later for boys. His biggest competitions are just about to begin and in any case, I am there to support him, he needs to endure and train a lot right now.

OC: During Rio 2016, the Russian team has won a team silver medal and you were part of that moment. What did it mean for you?

Daria: Remembering the Olympics - first of all, it is such a special atmosphere. There are all these sports, all the countries and all are gathered in one place in the Olympic village. There is just so much energy in the Olympic Village and so many emotions. You get acquainted with people, you are training and preparing for the most important competition in life. It is the most serious competition and the most memorable thing for me.... When the boys were performing, they competed first in the medal rounds, and we watched it on TV and cheered for them. They took second place and we waited to meet them, touched their medals and hoped that we would perform as well as our guys have.

OC: Speaking about the Russian women - who should we look out for?

Daria: Currently, we have an active athlete - Angelina Melnikova – who shows very good results, very clean lines, very beautiful. Very beautiful gymnastics, and I think she can confidently compete with the other girls from other countries.

There is a new generation of young girls, growing up and they have very great potential and therefore the main thing is to protect your health and then we will see. The girls that recently moved to the senior team are very strong, they are very good gymnasts. I think they just have to keep working.

There is also Lilia Akhaimova with her cool elements, and she has very powerful, strong legs, so I think she also has chances for individual apparatuses and also for all-around. So, we have very good girls, with big potential.

OC: Aliya Mustafina has become a coach now. Speaking about your plans, do you see yourself in this role too?

Daria: A lot of people actually ask me why I'm not becoming a coach or why I don't train little kids or teach something. But I don't really like it and don't really want to go into coaching. At the moment, I prefer the beauty industry...

OC: In addition to your business, what else does Daria Spiridonova dream of?

Daria: Actually, I have a lot of dreams, but do not want to tell them all because it's all very personal. Now, I develop my social media, TikTok account. This platform became very famous lately, everyone went there, so I got it, too. But mainly I am invested in the salon. Right now, it is my brainchild.

OC: Aliya Mustafina talked about your husband, Nikita Nagornyy, and she said he's a perfect example of how to promote gymnastics. Do you agree?

Daria: Yes, Nikita probably started this whole thing. He started his artistic gymnastics YouTube Channel, and a lot of people watch Nikita's channel, and many ask him not to end the channel, but to continue making more videos.

OC: Looking at upcoming Tokyo Games - what do you think will be an advantage of Russian gymnasts?

Daria: We have a different kind of gymnastics - it is beautiful and full of elegance. Not to say that other countries don't have it. But our girls are very flexible and elegant. Our key is beauty.

OC: Let's talk about your and Nikita’s love story. How did it happen?

Daria: Actually, I went to compete in [Rostov-on-Don, Nikita Nagornyy's homestown], he remembers me from there. I actually don't remember him there (laughs). So, his story begins from when he saw me in Rostov, and mine from the moment when we met at Round Lake, the national training camp.

We got in touch, and for a long time, we were just talking, but it happened rather rarely. We mostly just texted, did not even meet. Then, we had some competitions together, we went to many places and Nikita asked me to date him. And I said ‘Okay, let's try it.’

For a very long time, I was not sure, but then we decided to try, and so we're trying still.

OC: What is it like to combine personal life with sport?

Daria: It's just that we're both athletes and... somehow, it's actually really cool because we understand each other, support each other and in my opinion, it does not interfere with sports.

OC: When it gets tough, who acts as a bigger motivator?

Daria: We're both motivating each other. But Nikita is definitely a big motivator, I think he does a great job at it. He is both a psychologist and motivator.

OC: Did you play any role in encouraging Nikita to keep stay in sports and go for Tokyo Olympics or was it purely his decision?

Daria: It is purely his decision because he always achieves his goals, he always reaches for his goals. And I'm sure he'll succeed. I think we are trying not get into each other's sports life, we try to separate it - he has his life, I have my life. In normal life - yes, of course, we talk and discuss things, but as for sports life, we try not to interfere in each other's choices.

OC: Looking back at your career are there any moments that you regret?

Daria: I'm the one that has absolutely nothing to regret. All that I went through - these were very interesting years, and everything was just getting better. It was very interesting, and I do not regret a single thing. I am glad that I could go through it all, because not every athlete can go through it. It's not easy, it's difficult, you have to give it a lot of labor, a lot of patience, it's a lot of work.

OC: What do you consider to be the most special moment in your career and why?

Daria: Probably the World Championships that I won - it was the most emotional competition. I was there at such a transitional teenage age. I gained a little bit of weight; it was getting a little hard and I felt it.

But I was so ready for these competitions and I wanted to win so much. I knew that I had a chance to win everything. And these competitions will be remembered for life because we also won together with four girls, this was the first time in gymnastics history. I think it will never happen again.

OC: Who inspires you the most in gymnastics and why?

Daria: I always liked Nastia Liukin among gymnasts. She is very beautiful, such a beautiful athlete and I am still following her on Instagram. I really like the way she looks.

I’ve talked with her, she also recently got a dog, so we talked about dogs, sending photos to each other. But, sometimes, we just send each other emojis.