Anna Lyapunova is what you would describe as ‘scarily flexible’, but she has the grace and agility of a gazelle when performing one of her pole or hoop routines at Pole Fit Dubai.
The 31-year-old bagged the 2016 Pole Art Championship title in Cyprus and is now set to take the stage of the first Dubai Pole Cup and World Calisthenics Games to be held on December 8 and 9 at the World Trade Centre.
She sat down with Sport360° to talk about her journey so far and how she stays fit.
Tell us a bit about yourself ?
My name is Anna Lyapunova. I live in Dubai and I am an aerial arts instructor and a performer.
How did you get involved with aerial arts?
Ever since I was a little girl, I was involved in rhythmic gymnastics and then pursued it professionally for 10 years. I was awarded the title of “Master of Sports” in the Republic of Kazakhstan. However, afterwards I got involved in contemporary dancing and eventually found myself gravitating towards aerial arts, as it is a combination of the two things that I excel at, which is gymnastics and dancing.
One of my most recent and proudest achievements was winning the first prize at the 2016 International Pole Art Championship in Cyprus, in the category of semi-professionals.
What challenges did you face when transitioning from rhythmic gymnastics to the aerial arts?
Thankfully I can say haven’t faced too many challenges in my pursuit of gymnastics and aerial arts. I just have a very deep appreciation for my body and I know what it is capable of.
Since both of these disciplines have pretty much the same principles, it wasn’t hard for me at all. However, the only minor concern I had was that in professional gymnastics you are always taught to not show any strain or emotions on your face.
But dancing is a whole new ball game. You have to emote, not just with your body, but your face as well. So, I can say that I struggled a bit with showing my emotions in dancing and expressing myself through dancing.
Afterwards, I decided to give pole dancing and hoops a shot, and I just immediately fell in love with it.
People still seem to have a very negative perception of the aerial arts, what is your take on that?
I respect people’s opinions and I understand not everyone can have the same view on a subject. It is something they are entitled to, but I do believe that it is wrong to just write it off as something bad without at least giving it a shot themselves.
Aerial arts are definitely worth trying before one can jump to any conclusion about it. I am sure, most of the people would appreciate it as a great sport and may find it absolutely beautiful as well.
What do you think of the Dubai Pole Cup and how are you training for it?
It is the first competition for pole in Dubai and it is a very positive step forward, especially in this region. It shows that aerial arts are being accepted as a legitimate sport. I am training very hard for it and let’s see what happens.
I am obviously very excited to be part of this event and I am happy that people will be able to see my performance live, instead of just watching on the internet.
Your level of flexibility can be quite daunting for many, how do you maintain your immense physique?
Everyone can be flexible and it is only a matter of working out and stretching regularly. Sometimes people don’t realise how strong their bodies are and end up not working to their body’s full potential.
I stay in shape with daily workouts. I don’t stick to any diets, but I just try eat clean and healthy. Pole dancing also really changed my life and helped me find a great way to stay active. It has also helped me realise my talents as an artist, choreographer and as a coach.
What is your advice to women pursuing aerial arts?
Do not be afraid and be patient. Love yourself and believe in yourself. You cannot imagine what our bodies are capable of, and one can truly reach their fullest potential if they only try.
The Michael Phelps most of the world knows is the one we’ve literally only seen on the surface. The American swimming legend, widely considered the greatest Olympian of all-time, has come to be defined by the briefest of moments – sometimes nothing more than seconds – spent in the confines of chlorinated water.
During his masterful career, we got glimpses of Phelps’ life outside of the pool – and at times they were glimpses he wishes were left private.
But now that he’s retired for good, Phelps the amphibious medal and world record hoarder is giving way to Phelps the human.
“There are a lot of things I can do now outside of the pool that could potentially be bigger than me winning X amount of medals,” says a relaxed Phelps in Dubai ahead of an Under Armour store opening in Dubai Mall.
“Medals are obviously great and I’ll always love to see them or hold them or talk about them, but I don’t want my career to just be gold medals or world records. I’d like my career and legacy to be bigger than that.
“My competitive side is finished inside the pool, but the goals that I have now are probably bigger than what I had in the pool.”
Bigger than 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which came on the podium’s highest level? That’s setting the bar high, even for someone who has constantly defied the odds.
But now at 32, Phelps has infinitely more life to live than what he’s already spent in the pool. Such is the nature of athletes that their run in sport, and especially their dominance, can only last so long.
There is an afterlife where time, once as precious as the gasps of oxygen Phelps utilised while torpedoing through the water, is suddenly in abundance and the challenge transitions from how to maximise it, to how to fill it.
“Now I get to do things and talk about things that I’ve never really talked about before,” Phelps says.
It may be difficult to fathom, but at one point in Phelps’ life – while in the midst of a transcendent career – he was struggling with mental health illness and substance abuse.
On the heels of floundering (for him) at the 2012 Olympics – “London was almost forced on me” – Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Ten years earlier, at the age of 19, came his first DUI, and in 2009, Phelps was photographed inhaling marijuana.
Following his second arrest, Phelps ultimately checked in to a rehabilitation facility to seek treatment in an in-patient programme.
After dealing with his inner demons behind closed doors for so long, Phelps has recently let the public in to understand what plagued him. He has also joined the board of directors of Medibio, an Australian medical technology company that has developed a test to help diagnose mental health disorders, depression and stress.
Phelps’ message is this: if even he, someone who arguably belongs on the Mount Rushmore of athletes, can grapple with mental illness, then there’s no shame in anyone else battling inner conflict.
“I can honestly say I’ve gone through depression probably a half-dozen times. I have anxiety, I have ADHD, there are things that make me human,” Phelps says. “I’ll get up and talk about it because it’s part of my life and I have nothing to hide.
“Throughout most of my career, I don’t want to say I had a mask on, but some of the times I wasn’t really showing who I was. I think over the last three years I’ve showed this is who I am and this is what you get.
“When it comes to mental health, hopefully we can teach people that it’s okay to not be okay. Look, I wanted to kill myself and I was able to come back two years later (at the 2016 Rio Olympics) and be the happiest guy in the world because I had the right tools around me and I was willing to change. I was willing to get better.”
While the personal fight against mental illness may be ongoing, Phelps has admittedly embraced a paternal role now that he’s more capable than ever of positively influencing those around him.
The reason for that is, well, he’s actually a father now. Phelps’ wife Nicole gave birth to son Boomer 16 months ago and the couple now have a second child on the way.
Outside of being a father to his son – who he holds dear after his own father “was never around when I was a kid” – Phelps has become a sort of dad to the rest of the swimming world.
The transition to that role came at the Rio Olympics, where he was on a United States team full of up-and-coming swimmers who grew up with posters of Phelps on their walls.
“Throughout my Olympic career, I was very quiet and kept to myself because I was going out to compete a mission. So I was always in my own lane,” Phelps says. “(At the Rio Olympics), I felt more like a dad and it’s probably because I am a dad.
“You have a bunch of younger guys on the team. I kind of saw a goal of mine that I had, to change the sport and grow the sport, happening in front of me.
“I think it was the best and most enjoyable part of my career. I think people watching hopefully saw it in my face because I definitely think it was the happiest I’ve ever been. There was no better way to go out.”
By retiring, Phelps leaves behind a lasting legacy but also a sport that, much like athletics with Usain Bolt’s exit, is searching for the next great thing to fill the massive void left behind by its brightest star.
And naturally, those omnipresent records will be the benchmark, though Phelps hopes they’ll be broken sooner or later.
“A lot of people thought what I did was impossible. So if there’s a kid out there who’s truly willing to dream and dream as big as he can that will shock himself, anything is possible,” Phelps says. “If somebody does, great.”
Every athlete is different, but the greats often have competitive fires that can’t be extinguished. Phelps came out of retirement once. Why not again?
Nothing’s impossible, as Phelps himself says, but it’s evident in seeing and hearing him that his focus is now squarely on the next chapter.
“If you’re going to ask if I’m coming back, just forget it,” he says. “I did what I wanted to do and filled that ‘what if?’ For me, I’m very happy to be able to finish on my terms.”
Paul Franks could well be reflecting back on a memorable debut season as first-team assistant head coach at Nottinghamshire come the end of September.
The 38-year-old, who coached the UAE national team briefly last summer on a temporary basis, has only been in his new role since November but in his short time, the former pacer has already shown why he’s highly regarded by the club he served as a player for 19 years.
Working alongside former England head coach Peter Moores, everything has been going according to plan. Not only is promotion to Division One of the County Championship within their grasp, standing atop Division Two with five games to play, but they also find themselves in Saturday’s T20 Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston.
The Outlaws make the short trip for one of the most iconic events in the British sports calendar for only the third time and a chance to make history by etching their name on the trophy for the first time.
Semi-finalists Birmingham Bears, Glamorgan and Hampshire will have other ideas though, particularly the latter who Nottinghamshire will have to stop before even thinking of reaching the final.
Their cause isn’t helped with Shahid Afridi lining up for the two-time champions and the former Pakistan star certainly lived up to his ‘Boom Boom’ nickname on his last outing.
He needed just 42 deliveries to reach his century in the quarter-final win over Derbyshire and Franks is fully aware of the threat the allrounder can pose. “We know he was outstanding in the last game and it was just such Shahid Afridi mode,” he told Sport360°.
“The evidence would suggest that he’s been a little bit more consistent these days so that is something we need to be aware of. We will have plans in place for him but the team have some very dangerous players as well. I think it would be wrong just to keep an eye on him, but we’ll do our homework on them and try and keep them as quiet as possible.”
If Notts taste success at Edgbaston, it would complete a domestic double of both limited-overs competitions. Back in July, the club were celebrating their first trophy since 2013 when they got their hands on the OneDay Cup with a convincing four-wicket win over Surrey.
Most of the headlines were about Alex Hales and for good reason too. The England opener sent out another reminder of why he’s such a formidable force in the limited-over formats by smashing a record-breaking unbeaten 187 off 167 balls.
It was the highest individual one-day score at Lord’s and ensured fellow England international Mark Stoneman’s 144 went in vain.
With the lone T20 and five-match ODI series coming up against West Indies in two weeks’ time, Hales looks dead certain to add to his 97 caps in the limited-over formats.
But with the all-important Ashes series looming Down Under at the end of the year, and still question marks over England’s batting line-up, Hales could well be given a lifeline to resurrect his Test career.
It seems like an outside shot considering that the 28-year-old has not played a five-day game since the fourth Test defeat to Pakistan last summer.
In his 11 Tests opening alongside Alastair Cook, his stats show he’s capable as he scored three half-centuries with a high score of 94 against Sri Lanka last June.
He has again shown glimpses of his patience as displayed by his 218 against Derbyshire earlier this month – the fifth highest individual score in Division Two this season.
Franks, who won one ODI cap, believes a recall is very much a possibility if he can deliver for the remainder of the season. “He’s shown that he has international temperament in terms of his quality in ODI and T20I cricket,” said Franks.
“He’s played in front of massive crowds in the big stage and his record in the last three years has been second to none. I think England will be looking for various combinations in the batting line-up which hasn’t been quite right for me at this stage.
“It’ll probably come down to a few things and I don’t know what the insights are when it comes to selection but I know Alex will certainly be discussed because he is a quality player. I think the timing of scoring runs will clear those situations and the ODI series against West Indies coming up, I’m sure he’ll make a massive impression and give himself the best chance of scoring runs. “I still think with England there are a few players who are not guaranteed a seat on the plane yet.”
One Nottinghamshire player who is guaranteed a seat on the plane, barring injury, is Stuart Broad. He’s a man Franks knows very well having shared the same dressing room since Broad made the move from Leicestershire in 2008.
The right-arm pacer was the talk of the town in Edgbaston when he overtook Sir Ian Botham to become England’s second highestwicket taker with 384 scalps in the first Test thrashing against West Indies. And Franks knew that Broad would always be destined for success even from an early age.
“I first played against him when he was at Leicestershire, before he came to Nottinghamshire. He had that thing about him, whether that was to get people out at times when the other bowlers were struggling or the ability to bowl tightly when the captain needed him and that was when he was a young man,” said Franks.
“I’ve certainly enjoyed working with him closely. He has the cricketing brains and good understanding of cricket, always has an opinion and always happy to have a debate on where he think he can get better.”
Just a day after breaking Botham’s mark, Broad, 31, made it clear there’s plenty left in the tank and that he can continue playing until the home Ashes series in 2019. “It’ll be very much down to his motivation (how long he can continue),” said Franks.
“I think when he has played as much cricket as he has and taken many wickets during that time, very much like James Anderson, he will know when that little bit of edge is going out from the game.
“If it becomes hard work for them, then he will probably know it’s time to move. From the conversations I’ve had with him, Stuart hasn’t given any indication of retirement.”
What has been your experience working with Peter Moores?
Peter is really enthusiastic to the job and his knowledge is outstanding. We have been fortunate where the team has been playing well. That obviously means that’s an easy time to be a coach. He’s supported me massively and at the same time, I’m offering him good support as well and hopefully steering the cricket team to the right direction.
You were part of the England coaching staff for their Test against South Africa at Trent Bridge. What have you made of Joe Root as captain?
He’s settling in quite quickly. He’s been England’s best player and I think he’s been batting in the best position in that line-up. He’s got good people around him with the right support and senior players who have been there a long time. He can be captain for many years.