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European and world champion and artist of the legendary Cirque du Soleil: the incredible story of Taganrog city native who conquered the USA

Cirque du Soleil (“Circus of the Sun”) is one of the most famous entertainment companies in the world that completely reinvented circus arts offering spectators a fusion of highly professional acrobatic numbers and theatrical production with plot and choreography. The legendary circus’ touring shows are sold out all over the world, but the main part of the team performs with various shows in Las Vegas. A regular participant in one of these shows, Mystere, is an immigrant from Russia, Sergei Kovalev. Sergey gave ForumDaily an exclusive interview about how a young athlete from the city of Taganrog became a three-time European champion and a member of the world-famous circus troupe.

Photo from the personal archive of Sergei Kovalev

Flight magic

Sergey started playing sports even before he turned four, initially in a children's gymnastics club in his home city of Taganrog. Eventually the boy realized that his favorite was jumping on an acrobatic track. Sergey recalls that the only obstacle was his height, which made it difficult to perform some exercises.

New opportunities opened up a few years later, when in '2001' several coaches decided to explore trampolining, an area of gymnastics which, in their opinion, was best suited to Sergey’s abilities. The boy began trampolining quite late for this sport - by that time he was already thirteen years old.

«I remember that I was an awkward teenager, and the beginning was rather difficult for me: the bones had already grown, but I had not yet managed to gain the necessary muscle mass. In addition, the guys who trained with me started doing this a year and a half earlier, and have already made serious progress. But there was only one group, and I had to "catch up" with them in the process", - the athlete recalls.

Sergey says the difficulties were more than compensated by the amazing sensations that the jumps gave - a genuine feeling of flight, a feeling of weightlessness, as though you are hovering in midair. The champion notes: he never had any fear of heights, and was always attracted by sheer vastness of unlimited space.

«The main thing that helps to fully experience the flight is muscle memory. When the movements become automatic, and the body itself does what it needs to do, you may no longer think about the next movement, and completely surrender to the feeling of flight, control and develop it", - Sergey says.

A New Twist

In '2003', Sergei already got into the youth national team of Russia and completed under the auspices of the International Gymnastics Federation. He was only fifteen years old.

«At that time, I was literally short of one tenth to get to the finals, but with only two years of training, that was a serious achievement. In any case, I did not think to stop. My parents and coaches instilled in me the habit of going to the end, despite the difficulties. Besides, I was wondering what would happen next, around the next bend.”, - he recalls.

The future did not disappoint the young athlete. In '2008, Sergey won a gold medal in the team competition at the European Championship in double mini-trampolining. This was followed by silver at the World Championships in '2009', bronze (this time in individual competition) at the new European Championships in '2010', several gold and silver medals followed. At one of the international competitions, while still a teenager, Sergey met a scout from Cirque du Solei. Even since that meeting he has been dreaming of getting into this circus.

«However, at that time I began to enjoy real successes in sports, I was already on the national team, and therefore I felt responsible. I was really proud that I had the honor to represent my country and compete under its flag.", - the athlete admits.

Meanwhile, Sergey began to help his coaches to train children, and eventually became a coach himself, which also added a sense of responsibility. In '2011', Sergei got married, and although he continued to communicate with people from the Circus of the Sun, the young man felt that now was not the right time for a drastic change in life. In '2015', the couple had a daughter, and this also delayed the prospect of moving.

«By that time, serious changes were already taking place in the country. Prices began to rise sharply, while salaries remained at the same level. In addition, new requirements were put forward for working with children. In fact, I had to be a coach, a cleaner, and an accountant, and handle all the paperwork - all at the same time. At some point, I saw that I simply did not have time for my family. Then I realized that it was time to change something", - the athlete recalls.

Photo from the personal archive of Sergei Kovalev

A dream come true

At the end of '2017', Sergey went into the IT field, having mastered programming on his own. However, cherishing his teenage aspirations, he created an account on the Circus of the Sun website and posted his resume there. Those accounts represent the database of potential candidates for the circus troupe. Soon Sergei received his first job offer from Cirque du Soleil to participate in a touring show.

«Since I already had a family, and was not ready to be away from them for long periods of time, and it was problematic to bring my wife and small child with me around the world, I refused. At the beginning of 2018, a new opportunity arose to go to Canada, to the circus' headquarters and try my hand at board jumping, which is quite close to the trampolining. At the same time, I was offered a contract in IT. But my wife and I decided that this might be the only chance to make our dream come true. I ended up flying to Canada and spent 3.5 months there", - he admits.

Sergei began a series of intense workouts in parallel with dance classes.

«After this program, even my wife said that I had changed. I used to be just an athlete, but now I have become an actor. On stage, you really need to get used to the role, because otherwise the viewer immediately sees that someone is out of the team. However, I myself felt that I was not yet good enough to get a contract.", - he admits.

However, out of the five training team graduates only two were offered to come back. Sergei was among them. A few months later, the second training program began.

«The moment of taking off from the board is fundamentally different from the trampoline, and my previous reflexes at first quite hindered me", - the Russian recalls.

During the second training session, Sergey felt much more confident, and even helped other Russian-speaking participants to translate the coaches' advice into Russian. The upshot of this sessions was a permanent contract. Sergei and his family moved to Las Vegas. By the way, his manager and colleagues unanimously say: a young man from Russia has become the most valuable acquisition for the circus.

«Sergey performs not just difficult, but literally death-defying tricks. We cannot think of any other artist in our team or in the circus as a whole who has achieved this level of excellence. Ever since he started to perform in Mystere, the popularity of the show has increased dramatically, and virtually every performance featuring him is sold out“, they note.

Photo from the personal archive of Sergei Kovalev

Legendary Vegas

Sergey admits that initially he only knew Las Vegas only from gangster films, but the city turned out to be very diverse.

«Eventually, we found a quiet, green area, with many parks and lakes around. I didn't realize there were places like this in Vegas. As for the Americans, I have met many foreigners when I was competing. I always got on well with the Americans, and here I managed to meet real friends who helped us during the pandemic without asking anything in return”, he says. According to him, here in the US, there're great development opportunities for him and his family.

Sergey says that there are no age restrictions for playing sports, including jumping. He knows cases when people started training even at '70' years old.

«The older you are, the better you need to listen to your body, feel what you can do at the moment and can not. But other than that, it's never too late to get started.", - the athlete is sure.

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