The world over, she is simply referred to as The Queen. The legend that she is today, it is but natural that Yevgenia Olegovna Kanayeva truly deserves this, and possibly much more.
One look at her achievements and an amazing collection of 17 World Championships and a further 13 European crowns comes first to mind. But this happens to be only a tip of the proverbial ice berg.
In her march towards legendary status, Kanayeva has won two gold medals at as many Olympic Games – the only rhythmic gymnast so far to do so. She is also the only gymnast to receive a perfect score under the 30-point judging system, something she achieved twice – at the 2011 Grand Prix Final in Brno and at the 2012 Grand Prix in Vorarlberg.
Further, at the 2009 World Championship in Mie, Japan, Kanayeva became the first rhythmic gymnast to win all six titles. She repeated the feat at the 2011 World Championship in Montpellier, France, equaling her own record. She also shares the record for most individual world all-round titles with Maria Petrova, Maria Gigova and fellow Russian gymnast Yana Kudryavtseva. But Kanayeva is the one of only two gymnasts to have won all three titles without being tied – an impossible thing due to the existing tie-breaking system – even though she never was tied for a title.
Her exploits, though, took her through a roller-coaster ride. And in 2009, Kanayeva was awarded the title ‘Merited Master of Sports in Russia’. After her second Olympic gold medal, Kanayeva, along with fellow Olympic gold medalists, was awarded the ‘Merit of the Fatherhood IV Degree’ at the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And that was the closest she came to being a royal.
After all her achievements, and over a comparatively short sporting career of seven years, Kanayeva still remains simple and calm about her achievements. “I am just a plain girl who has achieved a lot in my discipline through hard work and dedication,” she smiled as she related to Gulf News through an interpretor.
“First it was my parents who pushed me into being what I am today, and then there was my team who helped me perfect things to be what I am. I had a talent and they saw it in me and helped me achieve great things. It is these people who need to be given the credit for what I am today,” she added.
Following her second success at an Olympic Games in London, Kanayeva retired with a nagging injury hastening the process. But by then she was known the world over for her consistency, elegant routines and high level of technical difficulty. On her way to a gold medal in Beijing, Kanayeva finished a clear 3.75 points clear of silver medalist Inna Zhukova. And then four years later, at just 22 years, she became the oldest gymnast to win her second gold. Less than a year later, in July, Kanayeva was awarded the ‘International Fair Play Award’ in the Sport and Life category.
“I have no where to hide,” she smiled.
“My success in my sport tells my story in full. I started off with four hours of training per day when I was just beginning while so tiny [at six years old]. Gradually, the training times got bigger and bigger. Gradually I was doing eight hours a day, and then closer to competition it was even ten hours daily. That is what pleases me most today. I worked hard and achieved everything through this hard work,” she added.
“If you ask me about all these glory things, I don’t even want to talk too much about these as I feel these belong to time. Now it is time to think about more important things, and among these is that I want to reach out to young children and help them take the next step in their careers. They deserve to have this opportunity. They need a novelty to help them achieve their dreams. I learnt from the best and now I will continue educating others so that they can benefit and also achieve,” she stressed.
“I’ve said it in the past. It was never my target to be a legend, but I do like the sound of the word. I love gymnastics and I want people to remember me,” Kanayeva stressed.
And that is a major part of the challenge for the 27-year-old gymnast. “My biggest challenge that is dear to my heart is to give our young ones a sense in loving this sport. Once they love doing something then they will automatically be dedicated and the results will follow. I have done it, and I can show them how to do it for themselves,” Kanayeva smiled.
Name: Yevgeniya Olegovna Kanayeva
Nickname(s): Zhenya, The Queen
Born: April 2, 1990
Age: 27 years
Birth Place: Omsk, Soviet Union
Height: 5.7 1/2ft
Years in national team: 2005 to 2012