Russia pushes to add men to rhythmic gymnastics

MOSCOW (AP) The dominant nation in rhythmic gymnastics, Russia, called Wednesday for men to be allowed to compete in one of the last single-gender Olympic sports.

Rhythmic gymnastics, where athletes perform complex routines to music using apparatus such as a ribbon or ball, has remained women-only despite an International Olympic Committee push for greater integration across all sports.

Russia has won every gold medal in the sport since the 2000 Olympics and the head of the country’s rhythmic gymnastics federation, Irina Viner-Usmanova, told Russian media she is ”absolutely behind (men) taking part” in her sport, especially now that ”there are women in boxing, football and weightlifting.”

Viner-Usmanova is a former member of world governing body FIG’s technical committee for rhythmic gymnastics, but the organization has no plans to allow men to compete.

”We all really want to have men’s gymnastics, but the current leadership of the FIG for rhythmic gymnastics doesn’t want to accept it even as a non-Olympic sport,” she said in comments reported by the R-Sport agency. ”Ask the girls, they’re fed up with having gymnastics without men.”

Rhythmic gymnastics is the only women-only sport on the Olympic program besides synchronized swimming, which included men for the first time at the world championships last month with a mixed duet event. Wrestling allows women to compete in its freestyle events, but not the Greco-Roman form of the sport.

At the Winter Olympics, Nordic combined is the last men-only sport after women competed in Olympic ski jumping for the first time last year.

This story has been corrected to show that Viner-Usmanova is no longer a member of FIG’s technical committee.