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International Women’s Day: spotlight on Yoana Yankova

On International Women’s Day, observed worldwide on March 8th, the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) this year wishes to celebrate young talent: meet Yoana Yankova, one of our outstanding interns, who joined us last summer and is excelling both inside and outside the gym.

Yoana in front of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne

A multiple Bulgarian national champion in gymnastics with a law degree from Swansea University, Yoana is currently finishing her Masters in International Sports Law from the ISDE University in Madrid. While she is training to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and supporting the GEF in the fields of  athlete outreach, strategy development and case management, Yoana is also doing another internship for her studies with the sports law firm Ruiz-Huerta & Crespo Abogados in Valencia.

As a side note, Yoana is fluent in Bulgarian and English, speaks French well and played the violin in Swansea’s university orchestra during her studies.


A lot of Yoana’s passion, strength and determination seems to be grounded in her childhood. Both of her parents were elite athletes. Yoana’s father was part of the Bulgarian national team for artistic gymnastics and her mother was an acrobat.

“My parents passed their love for sport in general on to me as we have always watched a lot of sport on TV as a family, not only gymnastics but also football, tennis, athletics etc.,” explained Yoana. She added: “However, for some reason, I fell in love with gymnastics the most, despite my parents actually not being too fond of me taking up gymnastics as they knew from their own experience how demanding of a sport it is.”

Olympic dream

At the age when most gymnasts take up training, Yoana was not able to do so. Her parents were working in a circus and due to the constant travelling, it was not possible for them to sign her up to a club anywhere. Therefore, Yoana only started with gymnastics at the age of nine, once her parents decided to settle and start working as gymnastics coaches.


Due to this late start and her busy school schedule, Yoana had to play catch-up with the other gymnasts at her age, which made her journey to reaching elite level very challenging. She would be in school until 3:30 pm, then go straight to the gym with her parents, and train until 9 pm. However, her dream of competing at the Olympics was irresistible.

Multiple national champion

Meanwhile, Yoana has become a multiple Bulgarian national champion in artistic gymnastics and is training hard to qualify for Paris 2024. Asked about how she manages to combine her academic goals with her gymnastics career, Yoana confessed that it is extremely difficult: “Without a doubt this requires much dedication and sacrifice, but I am used to organising my training alongside my education, managing my time well and staying focused on my priorities.”


“Of course, often there are difficult days when things are not going to plan, when you are feeling exhausted or wondering whether you are doing the right thing, but the important thing which keeps me going in those moments is that I know exactly why I am doing what I am doing. Being clear on your goals and what it required to reach them is essential when you have to manage a heavy routine. And of course, the fact that I enjoy both my work and training makes it much easier to get through the difficult moments.”

Yoana competing

Embracing a dual career

Her two top tips to young gymnasts:

1.       Make sure that gymnastics brings you happiness – this does not mean that you will not have hard moments and that training will always be fun, as to reach elite level in sport, it is necessary to push yourself past your comfort zone. However, doing sport is something which we initially chose to do because of the joy which it brings us, so it is important to remember that. Also, when you enjoy what you are doing and know why you are doing it, it makes it much easier to find the motivation to get through the tough days.


2.      Find a passion on the side of gymnastics which you can continue to develop as a career post-sport. As much as we love our sport and don’t like to accept it, gymnastics is not forever and it is difficult to be able to predict how long your career could be as (unfortunately) most athletes end their careers due to factors outside of their control, such as injuries. Also, our sport is not a professional sport, which makes it financially impossible for many gymnasts to only focus on gymnastics. Therefore, having a passion on the side which you can develop into a career either alongside or post gymnastics can lift a lot of pressure as you have the reassurance that you have something else to fall back on which allows you to enjoy the sport more.


In view of her own pathway, Epke Zonderland from the Netherlands has been a role model for Yoana: “I have always admired how he has been able to become Olympic champion and a qualified doctor at the same time. He is a perfect example that combining sport with education is possible.”

Meanwhile, the woman who has inspired her most is definitely her mum: “She has always supported me and helped me to become the person I am today.”

Giving back to sport

Looking to the future, Yoana said: “I would love to stay involved in gymnastics through my professional career, as I have really been enjoying the work with the GEF and it is extremely rewarding to be able to continue giving back to my sport in a positive way. More generally, I have a big interest in the football sector, as there is such a variety of legal matters involved and I find the negotiation process of contracts and sponsorship agreements really interesting.”


“In terms of my gymnastics career, my Olympic dream continues even though the last few years have been challenging due to injury and, unfortunately, I doubt that I will be able to make it to Paris. As I do not have any income from gymnastics, as much as I would love to try to qualify for the next Olympics, continuing my sports career will depend mostly on whether I will be able to continue training alongside my career as a sports lawyer and also whether my injury will allow me to train at the required level.”

She added: “I would love to one day be involved in developing a system internationally which allows for young athletes to complete their education alongside their sports training. I think that the college system in the USA is great in providing athletes with this opportunity, but unfortunately it is not something we currently have in Europe.”


“I would also love to stay accessible for young gymnasts or athletes who have questions regarding managing what is often referred to as a ‘dual career’ (i.e professional studies/career with sports career), as I think it can be really helpful to share our experience with each other. I would love to be able to help young athletes planning on taking on a similar journey to me.”


For the GEF, Yoana has been a great asset and instrumental in developing the initiative of the GEF Athlete Advisory Panel. We are convinced she will go far!

Yoana doing an internship with a Spanish sports law firm


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