Boryana Kaleyn is undoubtedly one of the most loved Bulgarian gymnasts and the leader of the Bulgarian individual rhythmic gymnastics team. At the beginning of 2022, she seemed like one of the top contenders for the all-around gold at the home World Championships in Sofia that September. But mere hours after the start of the most important competition of the season, rumors started spreading around the „Arena Armeets“ and social media alike – Boryana had withdrawn, due to a health emergency. It was later revealed that she had to be admitted to a local hospital with a high fever and trouble breathing.
„When I got admitted to the hospital… at that point, I could no longer walk.“, reveals Kaleyn for the first time in an interview for the Bulgarian channel bTV.
„I never knew I could collapse physically in such a way, right at the start [of the World Championships] but unfortunately, sometimes you face things you were never prepared for. Maybe the first day [after withdrawing] I truly wasn’t realizing what had happened, but in the next few days, after I started feeling a little bit better, I even watched the competition, I supported Stili [Nikolova], and… I felt a sort of emptiness inside.“
Boryana’s personal coach, Mariana Pamukova, who’s been with her every step of the way since she was 6 years old adds: „Everyone in Bulgaria, and everyone in Boryana’s surroundings, had high hopes for her, we all knew what she was capable of and what she was prepared for. But in the end, every loss is a lesson, and everything happens for a reason.“
„It was a very, very tough moment for me… Truth is, I thought I wouldn’t have the strength to continue [with gymnastics] after [what happened] but what stopped me from retiring was the fact that I want to keep training, I want to keep competing and I think I have so much more to show the world of rhythmic gymnastics. I think I can be much, much better than I was last year.“
It took 3 weeks for Boryana to take a decision on her career.
„I decided to start with lighter trainings, to see how it affected my health, cause knowing I’m doing physically okay was what was most important for me. When I realized I had no problem exercising, I regained ambition and once again started thinking about the next year and the new season, and what competitions I can take part in. I just really, really love what I do and I think I’m gonna have a very hard time deciding to retire when the time comes.“
Pamukova is proud of Boryana’s decision and growth. „I’d say that currently, she’s more motivated than she’s ever been in all her career. I think her deciding to continue training was the right thing to do, cause as I’ve often told her, it’s better to fail than to never have tried.“
In December last year, the Bulgarian RG federation revealed that Boryana’s hoop routine would be set to a song inspired by and composed for her by Emelina Gorcheva called „Boryano, balgarko“ („Боряно, българко“ – „Oh Boryana, you Bulgarian“). The haunting piece is performed by, among others, the string orchestra of the National Musical Academy „Pancho Vladigerov“‘s Academic symphonic orchestra, and the „Cosmic voices“ choir. You can hear a part of it starting at 4:15 in the video below.
„It’s a huge honor for me to have the chance to perform a routine on a piece of music, composed especially for me. I can’t think of any other [gymnast] who can „brag“ about something like that.“ humbly confesses Boryana with a huge smile on her face.
The head manager of the individual team Branimira Markova shared some details of the preparation for the 2023 season:
„We managed to mentally shake off [what happened], we changed all 4 of her routines since it’s much harder to go „fixing“ old ones. We wanted to show her in a different light, to improve her routines, for them to have the maximum [possible] value. That’s why we’re focused on her presenting an entirely new program. Having a healthy atmosphere inside the [individual] team and true competition [between the gymnasts] is something I’m very happy about and work hard on. After our first control training, I analyzed the scores and noticed all the girls were very near each other, which is extremely valuable for our overall preparation and it certainly helps Boryana by not allowing her to slack off. I’d say it’s very motivating for every one of them.“
Mariana Pamukova agrees: „Competition helps all athletes grow and makes them demand more from themselves, in order to prove they deserve their place [inside the national team] and to fight for it. No one’s spot is reserved, everyone needs to earn it by demonstrating [their abilities] and with the way they perform when it matters.“
Recalling the disappointment of her 5th place finish at the Games in Tokyo 2020, Boryana opens up about moving on:
„Honestly, it was difficult, both after the Olympics in Tokyo and after the World Championships last year, but I love what I do and that’s my biggest motivation – feeling pleasure from it, loving [gymnastics], and the fact that I still haven’t achieved my goal – a medal from the Olympic Games.
„I feel like life’s just kept throwing challenges my way“, says Kaleyn who, on top of everything else, has broken a foot 3 times since becoming a gymnast, „Challenges I’ve had to overcome and prove that I’m ready for the success that’s waiting for me. I believe all the hardships I’ve gone through are just preparing me for getting what I deserve in 2024.“