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Maria Gigova
(rhythmic gymnastics) Maria Gigova

The first real star to emerge from the rhythmic gymnastics scene was Maria Gigova. Guigova's astonishing achievements during the formative years of the sport have given her a firm foothold as one of the top 10 rhythmic gymnasts of all time.

Guigova was born April 24, 1947. She became enamored of the sport in her teens, and saw her first success in 1965, when she placed 6th at the Prague World Championships. She dropped to 9th place at the 1967 World Championships, but won her first title with hoop, an event she would dominate for the next six years.

When the World Championships were held in Varna, Bulgaria, in 1969 Guigova was on top of her game. After winning the all-around by an imposing .450 points, the swift-moving athlete swept gold medals with hoop, rope, and in free exercise, and also added a silver with ball for good measure. Although her margin of victory was not quite as wide at the 1971 World Championships, Guigova qualified to all four finals and grabbed two more golds (hoop and ribbon).

By the early 1970s, other gymnasts were starting to catch up with the rhythmic virtuoso. Guigova tied Soviet Galima Shugurova for the title at the 1973 World Championships, but received the best crowd response of all the gymnasts. Indeed, the audience applauded throughout her ribbon exercise, where, raved International Gymnast magazine, Guigova was "constantly in conversation with the fanciful ribbon." The now 26-year-old veteran also won yet another hoop title and took a pair of bronze medals for clubs and ribbon.

The work of this supremely talented gymnast is characterized by great speed and difficulty. In fact, Guigova was the driving force behind the rising level of difficulty that began in earnest in the early 1970s. Her record 4 hoop titles is still unmatched, attesting to her superiority with this apparatus. But one of her most memorable routines is her 1973 ball exercise, choreographed to the music of composer Dimitar Vultchev. In this exercise, Guigova demonstrated cutting-edge flexibility, spectacular high apparatus tosses, and an unheard-of catch while lying on the floor. The risk, originality, and soulful presentation she displayed set the pace for every gymnast who succeeded her.

Three-time world champion Maria Guigova finally retired in 1974. Following the completion of her education, she became a member of the FIG Technical Committee, a post she held from 1978 to 1992; she also served as the head of this committee for twelve years. In 1978, the legendary gymnast was named vice president of the Bulgarian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, and in 1982 she became the federation's president. In 1999 after a 10-year hiatus, during which she served on the Bulgarian federation's Administrative Council, Guigova was once again named president of her country's governing gymnastics organization. Her 13 World Championship medals -- a record that has been broken by only four of her compatriots -- have cemented her status as Bulgaria's original golden girl.

During the last FIG Congress in Rome, nominations for the RG Technical Committee were made. Guigova has been elected to the panel

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