Ranking the Most Successful Juniors in Gymnastics History

Note: I decided to highlight the names of two Ukrainian gymnasts featured in this article. At the bottom of this article is a statement on Ukraine explaining why I did this.

This article is my best attempt to determine who was the most dominant gymnast ever in junior competition in the history of women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG). Unlike other projects where I have presented data in the past, on this occasion I want to emphasize that the methodology may not be the best and the final results shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Rather, this data is meant to provide only a fun insight on which gymnasts achieved the most success as juniors and is not to be taken as a true reflection of how all juniors compare to each other.

The rankings are as follows:

11 Points: Svetlana Boginskaya

9 Points: Viktoria Komova

8 Points: Tamara Lazakovich

7 Points: Ecaterina Szabo

6 Points: Alexandra Marinescu, Daniela Silivas, Elena Levochkina, Giorgia Villa, Svetlana Ivanova

5 Points: Armine Barutyan, Elena Gurova, Galina Ionas, Karin Janz

4 Points: Aliya Mustafina, Amelie Morgan, Cristina Bontas, Elena Brazhnikova, Elena Eremina, Kana Yamawaki, Laurie Hernandez, Lavinia Agache, Natalia Karamushka, Rusudan Sikharulidze

The full list ranking the results of 190 total juniors can be found here.

Ecaterina Szabo (Left) and Lavinia Agache (R)

To explain the methodology:

I only used the results from five international competitions. I felt it was unfair to use domestic results at the National Championships level because different WAG programs have varying degrees of difficulty at the domestic level.

The five competitions in question are Druzhba, International Junior Championships, Junior European Championships, Youth Olympic Games, and Junior World Championships. The historical significance of these five events and why I hold them in high regard was a topic I have covered in a previous article.

Using these five competitions as a benchmark creates a massive bias in favor of European and Japanese gymnasts. This is the reason for my disclaimer in the introduction of the article that these results aren’t to be taken too seriously. There were few options to produce a statistical formula that didn’t feature a bias in favor of one particular region, era, or program.

Svetlana Boginskaya in 1985

Note: Japan was the permanent host of the International Junior Championships which is why Japanese gymnasts perform exceptionally well at this competition and thus the data is skewed in their favor.

Another major obstacle is that some iconic gymnasts intentionally choose not to participate in high profile junior competitions or few junior high profile competitions existed in her era. The most notable example of this is Nadia Comaneci who competed in several dozen competitions as a junior during a four-year period and won nearly all of them. But Nadia only occasionally competed in a major junior competition. After easily trouncing the top juniors as a 12 year-old, Nadia spent the bulk of her junior career competing against senior-aged gymnasts in competitions that provided stronger competitive fields and better prepared her for the 1976 Olympics.

Another issue with the results was including the Junior European Championships while excluding all other continental championships. This was done because the Junior European Championships are well documented with a complete set of results going back to the 1970s, as well as having results where one country didn’t overwhelmingly dominate the final standings as China and the United States tend to do with their respective continental championships.

Viktoria Komova

The data itself counts only medals won in the All-Around at these five competitions, it then utilizes my “points” system where I award 3-points for a gold medal, 2-points for silver, and one point for bronze. In the case of a tie both gymnasts get the full point total.

In a second set of data, I did something that I have never done before. Whereas a gymnast in senior competition can theoretically compete in an infinite number of Olympics and World Championships (insert Oksana Chusovitina joke here), that’s not the case in a junior competition. Most juniors have such short careers, they often appear in only one major junior competition at the international level before age limits render them ineligible.

In my data only 16.8% of All-Around medalists in junior competition won All-Around medals in two different competitions. Whereas at the senior level that figure is significantly higher at 38.1% of All-Around medalists accomplishing the same feat.

Aliya Mustafina (L) and Tatiana Nabieva (R)

To account for this, I created a second set of data where I took the “points” data and added a multiplier system where I multiplied the number of points each WAG has by the number of different competitions she won an All-Around medal at. Winning an All-Around bronze in two different competitions is thus superior to winning an All-Around gold medal in just one competition.

The reason for this was that Olga Mostepanova won two All-Around medals at Druzhba and the Junior European Championships which are the two most difficult junior competitions to win an All-Around medal at. But she was lower in the rankings than gymnasts who won only a single All-Around gold medal at the International Junior Championships which typically has a weaker competitive field.

For this reason, I felt a multiplier was necessary to rectify this disparity and give a more accurate reflection as to who the best juniors in WAG history truly were. At the junior level quantity is often a better indicator of future success than quality. If you were to choose between a junior gymnast who has two All-Around bronze medals or one with just single All-Around gold medal, the gymnast with more medals (of lower value) is statistically more likely to achieve success at the senior level.

Aliya Mustafina

Out of 190 gymnasts in the data, 32 of them won All-Around medals in multiple junior-level competitions and thus gained spots due to the multiplier rule. Of those 32 gymnasts, 72% of them went on to win medals at the senior level in World Championships and/or Olympic competition. Of the 28% who didn’t, nearly all of them were Soviet juniors who failed to do so only because the USSR program had so much depth they were prevented from appearing in a major senior-level competition.

It can’t be emphasized enough that it is not the type of medal a junior gymnast wins, but how often she is able to be in a position to win medals that best indicates whether she will become a future star. Hence the reason I applied the multiplier rule and why I feel it is a significant improvement.

The data with the multiplier rule included can be found here.

Alexandra Marinescu

Family Relations

There are only four Bulgarian gymnasts in the data out of a total of 190 gymnasts. But for two of those four, they are mother/daughter. The gymnasts in question are Maya Blagoeva and Silvia Mitova.

There is one other “family relation” in the data. Russian gymnasts Natalia Ziganshina and her sister Gulnara Ziganshina both won junior All-Around medals.

Viktoria Komova truly was one of the strongest juniors the sport had seen in decades and I hope this article provides better understanding as to why she was so highly touted entering the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

Concluding Thoughts

Of the four highest ranking junior gymnasts in this data, all four of them achieved major success in senior competition. All four of them (Komova, Boginskaya, Lazakovich, and Szabo) won an All-Around medal at the Olympics and combine for 16 total Olympic medals.

I am strongly considering expanding the data to include Junior medals won in Event Finals as well as upgrading Jesolo to become the 6th “major” junior competition.

Elena Davydova (L), Natalia Karamushka (M), and Elena Naimushina (R)

Statement on Ukraine

This article was created as a direct response due to the outbreak of war in Ukraine. There are two Soviet-Ukrainian gymnasts who were high ranking juniors that hail from cities that have been deeply impacted by the fighting. The first is Svetlana Ivanova who currently lives in Germany, but is from Mariupol. The other is Natalia Karamushka who is from Kharkiv and currently lives there.

These two cities have borne the worst of the fighting. Kharkiv is located just 20 miles from the Russian border. Despite suffering heavy fighting from almost the very first day of the war, remarkably it continues to hold out. I have no information regarding Natalia Karamushka’s current whereabouts or status.

Mariupol is the worst place to be in all of Ukraine right now. The city has been encircled and cut off from the rest of Ukraine. It is currently experiencing a brutal siege that has triggered a humanitarian crisis resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians each day. While Svetlana Ivanova is safe in Germany, she has been unable to contact her family in Mariupol since the siege began ten days ago. Kharkiv is the city where Ukrainians have been suffering the longest. Muripol is the city where Ukrainians have been suffering the worst.

As a result of these developments, Natalia Karamushka and Svetlana Ivanova have been on my mind as of late. Which has since given me the inspiration to talk about their status as high ranking juniors and I wanted to produce an article that provided the proper context as to just how successful these two gymnasts were, the cities they represent, and the country they call home.

Svetlana Ivanova (bottom) posing for a photo with a gymnast from a Scandinavian competition.

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