“Women are bound to have womanly bodies, that’s normal”

By Emma Middleton Journalist

Yoana Yankova recognises that some body types might give you an advantage in certain sports.

“We need to change our mindset”

Yoana Yankova recognises that some body types might give you an advantage in certain sports.
But her point is that we all have different qualities, and women are constantly “breaking boundaries… and being role models for different body types”.
“Being an athlete is not only about what you achieve, it’s also about how you present yourself to the younger generations and how you inspire them… and what you can give back to sport.”

“Eat, sleep, school, gymnastics”

Yoana was always on the move - her parents were circus performers. It wasn’t until the family settled in the UK, when she was nine, that she started gymnastics.
Apparently that’s ‘old’. Not that it stopped her…
Yoana qualified for the national finals aged 10, and went on to represent her home country Bulgaria at a World Cup and World Championships.
Now she’s a law student at Swansea Uni, with the Paris 2024 Olympics in her sights.

“It is, in a way, a brutal sport”

Yoana’s parents are both former gymnasts, and warned her of the sacrifices she’d have to make. Just one of those being the 30 hours of training per week…
“It’s painful and it’s difficult… because my parents had been through that, they possibly didn’t want me to go through it.”
“They said, ‘look, this is the reality, if you’re willing to go for it, then we’re happy to let you, but don’t complain to us halfway through that we didn’t tell you!’”

“We can’t stick to the stereotype of a 14-year-old looking gymnast”

Yoana highlights this “misconception in gymnastics that you have to look a certain way”.
“You’re supposed to be judged on how a move looks when you perform it… not as much how you look as a person.”
But she says that some in the sport still cling on to the 14-year-old stereotype “as a gymnast look”.
“Women have womanly bodies and that’s completely normal, for them to be changing, for this new look to be accepted.”

“Girls should be given a longer time to develop”

“When you turn Senior, it’s classed as something more… it’s a bigger title”.
A bigger title, but during a big life change - puberty.
“That’s where the big mistake is… that development phase happens at exactly the same time girls turn Senior.”
Being heavier and putting on body fat can make it harder to perform some moves, which Yoana says can worsen athletes’ mental health.
She believes that raising the minimum age to 18 would give girls more time to adapt to their new body before being put into Senior competitions.

“I’m quite a heavy gymnast… that’s something I can’t change”

Yoana says that being tall - and heavier - isn’t necessarily a disadvantage.
“Sometimes I feel like we almost work against our own bodies in gymnastics by trying to reduce weight or look a certain way, rather than focusing on our strengths and developing those.”
Yoana says things are moving in the right direction, but…
“The gymnastics community needs to actually look at statistics and facts rather than just the way somebody looks.”

“No athlete should have to decide between becoming a parent and playing”