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Olympic medalist Madeleine Radukanova enters her "Year of Thanksgiving"

Photo: Facebook / Мадлен Радуканова

When you set foot on the highest of peaks, and reach out your hand, you realize that above you are only the sky, the sun, and the stars. At that moment, the best thing you can do is to lower your eyes and gaze back at the long and bumpy road you have climbed with so much pain. Look with humility into your heart and pay respect to all the invisible lending hands, which have saved you from falling.

Hello, dear friends. My name is Madeliene Radukanova. In 2021, I became Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The medal is recognition for many years of hard work, but the real reward came from you, the audience. My heart is filled with gratitude to everyone who helped me reach the most coveted sports achievement award.

With these words, the Diamond Champion announces her "Year of Thanksgiving". Her ambition is to meet as many children and young people as possible, talk to them and maybe raise their hopes and motivate them. Each month she will be in a different place to support, give advice, inspire, and encourage children to dream.


"My most important word of advice for them is to be kind and grateful, because today these two qualities are extremely important - says Madeleine, who has already visited the towns of Pleven, Aitos and Plovdiv, and will soon visit Smolyan in the Rhodope Mountains. All in all, it's good to pass on the good example to young children".

Good examples she had plenty in her life. The contacts with the Golden girls of Bulgarian rhythmic gymnastics, the closeness to her idols Iliana Raeva and Maria Petrova, and the daily example of her own father - the football player Milen Radukanov, gave her strength to endure all hardships, so that one day she can step on the Olympic peak.

But when she is on the verge of fulfilling her dream, physical pain strikes her with the ravaging power to erase her entire conscious life.

"At the Olympics, we didn't know what the diagnosis of my leg pain was. We thought it was some kind of inflammation - nothing that serious, Madeleine recalls. - After the first routine in the finals I couldn't imagine how I was going to survive the second, but I gritted my teeth and knew it was now or never. This was the moment I just had to push myself hard so our team could defeat the whole world and prove that we were the strongest and the best."

Did she assume even for a moment that she might not make it onto the Olympic carpet? "It wasn't an option, I would have done it even if I was missing one leg," she replied without a second thought.

The day after the Olympics - when she woke up and realized she would never step on the gymnastics mat as a competitor again - did she feel in limbo?

"It certainly doesn't evoke sadness in me. This stage of my life is over in the best way possible, says Madeleine. - And I had already told myself before the Olympics that this would be the end of my sporting career. So there is absolutely nothing to be sad about - I have given everything to this sport and I have taken an awful lot. I'm happy with the fact that I'm not training or going to the gym at the moment."

Although they are no longer gymnasts, the girls in the ensemble remain connected. One of their ideas is to hold master classes together. The first one will be in France and then they might organize one in Bulgaria, why not, Madeline notes. She herself has just taken the exam to become a judge in her sport, and she intends to try her hand at coaching one day. For now, though, she is enjoying the freedom, the adrenaline of winning a valuable Olympic medal and the exhilarating meetings with the children.

"We probably won't all continue in gymnastics, as some of us have other goals and dreams," Madeleine explains about her teammates. But we try to stick together because we believe we are much stronger that way.So we're going to do things that bond us, and we'll definitely continue to be friends."

And in the meantime, they are emphatic to the tragedy in Ukraine. In personal correspondence over the Internet, they are giving courage to the Ukrainian gymnasts scattered around the country with their families. The girls of Bulgaria's Diamond Ensemble do not rule out the possibility of sending a message of peace following the example of many world stars.

English version: Elizabeth Radkova

Photos: Facebook/ Madeleine Radukanova
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