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Former Soviet gold medal-winning gymnast finds opportunity, LDS Church in the U.S.

By Ernie Shannon

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 10 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

“I didn’t want to rush into anything, and Amber was at first just a friend, someone nice and good who helped me," he said. "Then it was something more, and I found myself needing her and she needing me.”

After a year in Oklahoma, Sharipov accepted a coaching position with the Houston Gymnastics Academy in Texas, and Adams followed him there.

“I had several offers, but I chose the Houston academy because of the head coach, Kevin Mazeika," Sharipov said. "I visited the gym and saw how he worked with the athletes, and I liked his philosophy. I wanted to be part of that and help build the program there.”

Mazeika went on to coach the United States’ gymnastics teams at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and to help select the 2012 team.

Working with Mazeika broadened Sharipov’s own coaching philosophy and led to several opportunities to take teams to international competitions. In 2002, he coached American gymnasts to the gold medal at the Junior Pan Am Games, and in 2004, he led a U.S. team to the gold medal at the Junior Pacific Alliance Competition. And in the midst of a new-found professional life, he and Adams married in 2002 and had their first child in 2003.

Spiritual life

While rebuilding his personal life and launching a coaching career, Sharipov reached another crossroads in his life.

“I had come in contact with the church on a visit to Salt Lake City in the 1990s. In fact, someone gave me a Book of Mormon in Russian, but I didn’t think much about religion in those days,” Sharipov said.

His relationship with Adams followed by marriage caused Sharipov to reconsider his spiritual life, and soon he was taking lessons from the full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“As I spent more time with Amber, I learned what her values were and I began to like the church. With my first marriage and family, I didn’t focus on them," he said. "This time around, I decided to focus on my family while still concentrating on my professional goals. I’ve learned I can do both, and the church has made all the difference in my relationships.”

Sharipov was baptized into the LDS Church in 2003 and within two years moved to the University of Oklahoma as an assistant coach from 2005 to 2011. In 2011, a little more than nine years after his marriage to Adams, a decade after coming to the United States and 15 years removed from his gold medal performance in Atlanta, Sharipov was hired as Ohio State University's head coach of men’s gymnastics, capturing one of his primary ambitions when he left Ukraine.

“I applied to get some experience interviewing at that level, but I never expected to get hired,” Sharipov said. “To my surprise, I was offered the position, and we moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 2011.”

'Discipline and endurance'

In the years since his departure from Soviet and Ukrainian gymnastics, Sharipov has learned to balance his own experience of 24/7 devotion to his sport to the realities of training youths today.

“In our sport, you have to be very disciplined. There is no room for error. You can over rotate and you can under rotate, and these kinds of errors can result in injury," he said. "Yet, I understand that the level of discipline I experienced with the Soviet and Ukrainian programs in the 1980s and '90s isn’t for everyone. As long as parents are on the same page with coaches regarding what both want to achieve, it will work.”

As Sharipov describes his Soviet years, performing in the Olympics was easier than practicing. Indeed, how he filled his days as a gymnast with few diversions compared to the multiplicity of diversions at the fingertips of most athletes today underscores the challenges coaches face now.

“If you are not doing enough numbers in practice, then of course you will feel pressure in the competition. With the former Soviet Union, we practiced three times a day, six days a week. That amounted to 35 to 40 hours a week of work in the gym," he said how it was like a full-time job. "For us, it was the practice leading up to the games that was so difficult, and that probably accounted for our ability to perform with discipline and endurance when it counted.

"Today, coaches struggle to maintain the degree of discipline athletes need not only to be successful, but to perform safely because there are so many other things they could be doing.”

He has found both personal tranquility and professional satisfaction, all of which has been built on a spiritual foundation first established in the religiously diverse home of his youth and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.

Ernie Shannon has written several local history books in Ohio and has contributed medical, aerospace and biographical feature articles to a variety of publications.

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