Dubai: August 20, 2016 is a day that ace gymnast Margarita Mamun ranks as the best of her life so far. The 21-year-old Russian, with strong roots in Bangladesh (yes, incredulous as it may sound), was at the top of the world after being declared the all-around winner in rhythmic gymnastics at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
While bagging gold, the gymnast also set a new Olympic record under the 20-point judging system with a total score of 76.483 points, surpassing the previous mark score set by fellow Russian, Evgenia Kanaeva.
Six days later, Mamun’s world came crashing down when news came that her 52-year-old dad Abdullah Al Mamun, a marine engineer by profession and the hero in her life, had succumbed in his fight against stomach cancer in Moscow.
Margarita, or Rita, as she is often called, was born in Moscow to a Bangladeshi father and Russian mother.
Her father, Abdullah had come to Russia on a scholarship from his village in Kashipur, Rajshahi district in Bangladesh. Her mum Anna was a former rhythmic gymnast and the two met and married in Moscow — the alliance giving Rita both Russian and Bangladesh citizenship.
“To me, he (dad) was always my hero,” Mamun said as she allowed her moistened gaze to drift into the distance during a chat with Gulf News while on a brief visit to Dubai to attend the inaugural edition of the Dubai Youth Olympic School School Ryhthmic Gymnastics last month.
The competition was endorsed by the General Authority and Youth and Sports Welfare (GAYSW) and Dubai Sports Council (DSC) and held at the Al Habtoor Tennis Academy, Al Habtoor City in mid-May.
One of the priorities before world champion Mamun now is to make a visit back to her dad Abdullah’s birthplace in Kashipur in Bangladesh sometime in October or November this year.
“I have now decided that I need to go there and visit my dad’s family. This will be my first visit to them after his demise,” Mamun said.
Mamun was a frequent visitor to Bangladesh during her early years but once she was selected to be part of the national team and she chose Russia for obvious reasons, Mamun could not find the time to return to her roots.
With each passing year she got more involved in her sport, finding very little spare time to make the trip in search of her roots.
And then came the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro and the sad demise of her father last year. The urgency to make the trip back to Bangladesh has grown even stronger since then.
Termed as The Bengal Tigress, ‘Rita’ was initiated into the sport by her rhythmic gymnast mother Anna as a seven-year-old — “too old to start”, by her own admission.
During her early years, Rita represented Bangladesh at international competitions. However, with limited opportunities in her father’s country and other laws in vogue, she had to choose a nation — and no prizes for guessing that she chose Russia over Bangladesh.
Over the years, Mamun rose to being the world No. 1. Her first taste of being the best came in 2013, after which she fell down by a spot to No. 2 in 2014 and 2015, only to reclaim her world No. 1 once again in 2016.
“He (Abdullah) was always there for me. All along I had shared something so special with my dad and when I heard that he was no more, and that too when I was at possibly the happiest moment of my career and life. This was the medal I had dreamt to get all my life and he was always with me at every step. When it came to sharing this joy, one of the most important people in my life just slipped away. I still find that difficult to handle,” she admitted.
Mamun toughened herself though with time. “Not just for myself, but for the sake of my mum and my brother [Philip], I had to be strong,” she said.
“At first, it looked too cruel to me. My dad had always been with me, and he could cherish what I had accomplished for a mere six days. It has taken me some time to get used to this thought. Time is a great healer and one day perhaps I will understand the greater plan in store,” she shrugged.
Her younger brother Philip has been in touch with Abdullah’s family. “In fact, Philip even knows a bit of the language [Bengali] and he has promised to take time off and accompany me and my fiance [Russian swimmer Alexander Sukhorukov],” she revealed.
Tokyo 2020 and starting a family with Sukhorukov is now part of her future plans. “Who knows what lies ahead for me? May be Tokyo 2020 Games or even get married or maybe even both,” Mamun added.
Name: Margarita Rita Mamun
Date of birth: November 1, 1995
Nicknames: Rita or The Bengal Tigress
Countries represented: Bangladesh, Russia
Residence: Moscow, Russia
Medals so far:
Olympic Games: 1 gold
World Championships: 7 gold; 6 silver; 1 bronze
European Games: 1 gold; 1 silver
European Championships: 4 gold, 5 silver