Gymnasts' friendship rises above conflict at Nanjing Youth Olympics

NANJING, China, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- Their countries are in conflict but two gymnasts at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games are proof that the Olympic spirit is stronger than ever.

Nikita Nagornyy of Russia and Vladyslav Hryko of Ukraine, both 17 years old, are rivals on the podium with a firm friendship that has not gone unnoticed.

During the women's all-around final on Wednesday, the two sat in the stands together.

At training and between performances, they are often in each others' company, chatting and laughing.

Nagornyy, who has won five medals in the men's artistic gymnastics events including silver in the men's all-around final and three golds on individual apparatus finals, counts Hryko as a firm friend.

"I do not see us as competitors. Here, we're not rivals. We respect each other," Nagornyy said. "It is an honour if someone beats you in a fair competition. It's not upsetting. We have a positive relationship and we're happy for each other and we support each other."

Hryko, who won silver and bronze medals in the men's apparatus finals on Saturday night, agreed: "Of course we're friends. We've known each other for two years and we socialise. We hung out at the European Junior Championships [in Sofia, Bulgaria in May 2014] and we've also met at other competitions.

"I travelled to Russia for a competition and we hung out together. We're good friends and of course, at competitions, we're training together."

Hryko, from Kharkiv, in north-eastern Ukraine, acknowledges the effects of the conflict on gymnastics in his country.

"Of course this situation has an impact. They cut the funding for gymnastics. We need new equipment, we should get a new mat. They say they'll get one but, basically, we need money," he said.

"It's really scary now. There's shooting in Donetsk and Luhansk. Here, I'm distracted [by the Games], but when I was in Ukraine I was following what was happening. When the Boeing [aircraft on flight MH17] came down I was afraid to get on an aeroplane.

"Here, it's like a vacation, but I still want to get home sooner rather than later. I miss my family. It's nice here, but I want to go home."

As for the future, both Nagornyy and Hryko have their sights set on the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.

"I still have to try and make it to Rio, of course. I have to get into the team. I'll try very hard and train very hard and make my routines more difficult. This was my last [junior] competition and it went well," said Hryko.

Nagornyy, meanwhile, appreciates that making Russia's senior team will be "very difficult".

"I plan to qualify for Rio but it's not up to me. It depends on how I do and how they see me," he said.

Their friendship is a source of support beyond politics and borders and will no doubt stand them in good stead as they prepare to compete on the senior circuit, and at future Olympic Games.