Marfa Ekimova became the first English rhythmic gymnast to win a Gold medal in an All-Around final when she became All-Around champion at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, which marked her Commonwealth Games debut. Alongside her fellow English rhythmic gymnasts Alice Leaper and Saffron Severn, Marfa came away with Bronze in the Team event, and she qualified for the finals of Ball, Hoop and Ribbon. In September, Marfa was competing at her second World Championships, however, she had to withdraw due to injury after competing on the first day in Sofia, Bulgaria. At this year’s Rhythmic British Championships, Marfa won Gold in the All-Around, Hoop, Ball and Clubs, and she also won Gold in the All-Around at the 2022 Rhythmic England Championships. Further competitions where Marfa has competed include the World Championships in Kitakyushu in Japan, the European Championships in Tel Aviv, and she made her senior international debut for Great Britain at the 2021 European Championships in Varna with Alice Leaper and Gemma Frizelle. During her time as a junior, Marfa won Gold in the All-Around, Rope and Ball, Silver in Clubs and Bronze in Ribbon at the 2019 English Championships, and she currently trains at West London Gymnastics and working on new routines for the next season, with her sights set on the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Having been shortlisted for the SportsAid One-to-Watch Award, Marfa was recently announced as the third place recipient. Catching up with Marfa, we found out about becoming the All-Around champion at her Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham, her success at the Rhythmic British Championships this year and her time competing at the European Championships in Tel Aviv.
This summer, you made your Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham, do you remember how you felt finding out you’d been selected to represent Team England and how was it competing in front of a home crowd at a major international multi-sports event?
I was competing at a World Cup when my coach said that we were having a Zoom meeting with the head of English Rhythmic Gymnastics. I found out that I had been selected to represent England at the Commonwealth Games. It felt surreal. I knew I had qualified first in all of the selection events, however, deep down you never know. We had to keep it a secret at the time and it was a difficult secret to keep from all of my family and friends, but it was definitely an incredible feeling, knowing that I was going to represent my home country at the Games.
It was my first multi-sports event and it was definitely a very different and interesting experience like no other. Competing in front of a home crowd was a feeling I will never forget. The support I felt before I even stepped onto the carpet was out of this world! I’m beyond thankful. The energy I got from the roaring crowd completely blocked out any stress or nerves I had, and I went out to perform my best for those people!
You were the first English rhythmic gymnast to win a Gold medal in the All-Around final, how did you find the experience becoming the Commonwealth All-Around champion?
It was a dream come true. After the qualifications, my All-Around ranking was 4th, with mistakes in the last two routines, so I knew that if I pushed myself even harder, I would be able to fit into the top three. It was absolutely incredible hearing the English Anthem play and seeing the flag rise up! Watching back photos and videos I get a wave of emotions and it still feels surreal…
What was it like qualifying for and competing in the finals of Ball, Hoop and Ribbon?
Finals was the very last day of the competition so I just wanted to enjoy competing in the amazing arena one last time and perform my routines to the maximum.
What did you enjoy most about competing with your England teammates Alice Leaper and Saffron Severn and how was it coming away with the Bronze medal in the Team final?
Me, Alice and Saffron don’t train at the same club, however, we had a Commonwealth Games preparation camp before the Games which gave us a chance to work together and bond as a team. This really helped us for the Team medal as we are individual gymnasts, but we all had our minds on the same goal and we were absolutely ecstatic when it came true.
How did you stay focused throughout your competitions at the Commonwealth Games and how was it staying in the athletes village?
I stayed focused by concentrating on each day at a time. I knew that all the hard part of training and practicing was over and all I had to do was show my best.
The athletes village was an experience on its own! There were so many athletes from all types of different sports from around the world. They were all so supportive and always rooting for you when it’s your turn to compete. When I came back with the Gold medal, all the volunteers and athletes would be clapping around the village and it’s just amazing that everyone was so friendly and supportive.
In September, you were competing in Sofia at your second World Championships before having to withdraw due to injury, how was the competition going?
In September, I competed at my second World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was working very hard towards the competition as it was my last chance to perform these routines before changing and upgrading the programme. The first day went very well: I performed two clean routines with the hoop and ball, however, overnight, my knee swelled up very badly and I was unable to walk the next day. My coaches and I made a decision to withdraw me from the competition, which was very heartbreaking as I wouldn’t have given up this opportunity, however, my injury was so bad, I just had to stop…
What was it like competing at your first senior World Championships last year in Kitakyushu?
Competing at my first World Championships in Japan last year was an incredible experience as I had never competed at a competition that level before. I was so proud to be there to represent Great Britain, as well as train on the carpet next to the best gymnasts in the world!
Can you tell us about your time at the European Championships in Tel Aviv earlier this year?
My second European Championships was another amazing experience. We went with a whole team of juniors, seniors and a group. The preparation was tough beforehand, but I loved performing on the big arena and I was very happy with the result.
You made your senior international debut for Great Britain at the 2021 European Championships in Varna alongside your British teammates Alice Leaper and Gemma Frizelle, what do you remember most from this competition?
When I was little, my mum always promised me that one day we would go and watch a Europeans, Worlds or World Cup together as spectators, but I had never imagined that I would be there not as a spectator, but a participant! Standing next to my idols for the first time was a real “pinch me” moment. It was my first major championships and it was the start of my senior career. It was lovely going with my teammates as we supported each other and I was the youngest.
At this year’s Rhythmic British Championships, you won Gold in the All-Around, Hoop, Ball and Clubs, how was this?
British Championships is definitely a hard competition mentally, as everyone is fighting for the title. We would compete two pieces and only a few hours later the same two pieces for finals. I remember receiving my All-Around trophy to then just putting it aside straight away because in two minutes I was on for the Clubs final. I definitely enjoyed performing in front of the home crowd and cheering for all the other younger gymnasts.
What was it like winning All-Around Gold at the 2022 Rhythmic England Championships in May?
Before the pandemic, I was junior English champion so I was working hard towards the Championships to keep my title, but having a home crowd once again really boosts my confidence and performance, so I really enjoyed that competition.
You had a successful junior career, which included you winning Bronze in the All-Around, Rope, Clubs and Ribbon at the 2019 Rhythmic British Championships and Gold in the All-Around, Rope and Ball, Silver in Clubs and Bronze in Ribbon at the 2019 English Championships, what are some of your favourite memories from competing as a junior rhythmic gymnast?
As a junior, I definitely enjoyed travelling around the world for international competitions and Cups. I did qualify as reserve for the Junior World Championships in Moscow 2019 and was on the road to take part at the Junior European Championships in Kiev, Ukraine, but due to COVID and all the restrictions, Great Britain took a decision not to take part. My highlight would definitely include the English Championships as that was a big start for me.
What is a typical training day for you and can you tell us about training at West London Gymnastics?
I train five days for around 30 hours a week. A typical day for me will start with warm-up in a small studio and then I move to the gym for routines. When I come home, I do ballet and conditioning as well as stretching and any handling, which I didn’t complete at the gym.
West London Gymnastics Club is my home. The girls and coaches are my family, we train for hours every day and I couldn’t be more grateful for all the support I receive from them. I’m so lucky to be part of West London Gymnastics!
You were shortlisted for SportsAid’s One-to-Watch Award, how did this feel?
I felt so honoured to be nominated as Top 10 for the One-To-Watch Award. It was a great feeling to be selected from around 1000 great athletes from the whole country!
Where does your love of rhythmic gymnastics come from and how did you start?
As a child I was super energetic, so my parents signed me up for different sports and activities, however, rhythmic gymnastics very soon became my passion. I would watch it on the TV for hours and be mesmerised by this beautiful combination of music, dance and skills. I would watch older girls at my club knowing that, one day, I want to be just like them.
How do you like to spend your time away from gymnastics?
I play two musical instruments – piano and bassoon. I also like to read and spend time with my family. On days off, me and my mum enjoy going to the theatre, cinema, concerts or musicals. It’s a lovely way we can both relax and spend time together.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
At the moment, I am working on my new routines and preparing for the new season. I am training towards World Cups, European Championships, World Championships and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
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