Svetlana Khorkina, athlete

At first glance, Svetlana Khorkina would seem an unlikely choice for Russian Life’s list of rising stars. After all, her star began rising long ago by modern gymnastics standards. Plus, after her numerous blunders at the Sydney Olympics, some observers were quick to cross her name off the list of world gymnastics leaders.

But of course there is much more to this story. First, despite her problems in Sydney (which were largely attributable to judges setting the vault too low), Khorkina still came home with a gold medal for the uneven bars. Second, at 23, Khorkina’s career is far from over. In fact, it could be seen as a classic story of success in the face of adversity. Four years after her first all-around gold in the World Championships, Khorkina once again captured this prestigious title at the competition in Ghent (Belgium) last November. Teammate Natalia Zhiganshina place second, while Romanian Andrea Raducan came in third. With this feat, Khorkina became only the fourth female gymnast ever to win back-to-back World Championships (the others were the Russians Larisa Latynina and Lyudmila Turishcheva, and American Shannon Miller).

“I can’t believe I won on the apparatus [vault] which I don’t consider my strongest. For me, this victory is very important—you know why ...” said a beaming Khorkina after the competition.

The Associated Press was particularly effusive in its praise of the graceful young star: “wearing a special outfit—midnight blue velvet with sequined shoulders and a bustier neckline—Khorkina dazzled spectators with her trademark floor exercise, which became a victory dance to a harp and castanets ... The cute & sexy Russian gymnast ... showed all the poise and confidence of a veteran.”

On the uneven bars, the young Russian showed off a nearly flawless technique. On top of her all-around gold, Khorkina also brought back from Ghent two gold medals in individual competitions: on the uneven bars and the vault (both of which she stumbled on in Sydney).

Khorkina has yet to reveal her post-athletic plans. But it is notable that she has not yet said “no” to her third Olympics. “Age is not the main thing,” she said. “It all depends on the desire to work and of course on the coach.” Khorkina has been working with the same coach, Boris Pilkin, for the last 16 years.

But for the next few months Khorkina is taking a break from sports. She reportedly wants to take a whack at television. And why not? Her Olympic colleague, synchronous swimming gold medalist Mariya Kiselyova made an impressive debut on NTV this year, so why not the attractive, smart and talkative Svetlana?

Khorkina also is in the process of signing an endorsement contract with a Japanese cosmetics firm and is working on her dissertation at the Institute of Physical Culture (on the use of software in studying gymnastics exercises). There is also a love in her life—the  “ beloved one” to whom she dedicated her most recent gold medal—the man who instilled confidence in her, urging her to “go and perform as she wants.” Khorkina said she thus dreams of “simple female happiness.”

And then there is also her hometown of Belgorod, where she is the most respected citizen, and where she takes particular pride in the recent opening of a state university in the city.

Had Khorkina lost this World Championships in Ghent, her ill-wishers would still be gossiping: “See, she should have quit after the Olympics.” But instead, Khorkina has shown her true mettle. As Sports-Express observer Elena Vaytsekhovskaya noted, the day has yet to come when one can say there is a replacement for Khorkina on the Russian team: “Some have more complex combinations, some stronger nerves, but we still set our hopes only on her. We believe that Svetlana will come to the apparatus, smile and do something which just a few minutes earlier seemed absolutely impossible.”

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