As the world prepared itself for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, much attention was given to the talented Russian team. From team leader Svetlana Khorkina to power athletes Yelena Zamolodchikova and Elena Prudunova, it would be easy to be overshadowed among this group of talents. But another star emerged from Russia during this quad—the beautiful lines and pixie face of Ekaterina Lobaznyuk.
‘Katya’, as she is known, gained many fans for the great routines she performed at the 1999 World Championships. Her top notch beam work showcased her impeccable rhythm and choreography, as well as a standing Arabian—long before it was a skill du jour! Her floor exercise featured her own interpretation of Hava Nagila (long before the 2012 Olympic floor champ used it!) Katya’s strength in her double layout and bhs-whip-2.5-punch front pike combined with her charming dance and artistry was such a reminder of the Soviet gymnast from the 1980s that if you look her up on YouTube, many of the recommendations will take you to 1985 World Champion Oksana Omelianchik.
By the following year, Katya had upgraded her vaults—a double twisting Yurchenko and double twisting Tsukahara, making her a threat in the all-around. Though her team had several falls on their way to a silver (including Katya’s miss on a jump sequence, trying to maintain her 10 SV), Katya walked away with two more medals from Sydney after a fifth place finish in the AA (fourth after Andreea Raducan was stripped of her medal). Her strong vaults gave her a bronze in that event, and her fluid and high-difficulty beam struck silver.
Watch her win that silver:
There was much excitement and anticipation for Katya in the next quad, where her difficulty, combinations, and precise form would fare well with the new code. But a torn ACL and MCL on vault at the Russian Cup derailed this great gymnast’s career. Unable to keep up with her teammates after her two surgeries, Katya’s retirement came as a sad announcement to the gymnastics community who mourned a career cut short.
After retiring, Katya moved to Canada, where she is coaching and mentoring young gymnasts. Hopefully, her students will find a way to combine their difficult skills with grace and charm, just as Katya did.
TCG caught up with Katya recently. She talks about her life now, and reflects on her gymnastics past….
You have posted video on your FB of some very talented little girls doing beam work- tell us a little about who you teach.
I am coaching two groups of girls, ages 5-9. My approach with coaching is to have fun and to be safe. The girls enjoy listening to me tell stories about my gymnastics life, I sometimes show them tricks too!
When and why did you choose to come to Canada?
My Mom had moved here ten years ago, her plan was to bring the whole family but I was still in university in Moscow. As soon as I finished I joined my mother in Canada. My father and sister decided to stay in Russia.
Tell us a little bit about your life these days? I hear you were working with your mother and have a little boy Alexei…..
I am not working with my mother anymore, she is at a different gym now that is near by. Every so often our girls will actually compete! My son Alexei is now five and started gymnastics at the club I work at. I hope he takes to it and chooses gymnastics as his sport. So far he does a handstand and what he thinks is a cartwheel.
When did you first become a coach? Was it difficult to make the adjustment from doing skills to teaching them?!
I first time I coached was in South Africa. I was invited as a guest coach to help raise awareness to my sport. It was hard to change my mindset from doing skills to teaching them. On the other hand, I found it easy relate to the girls and understand where they were coming from. From the start of my coaching career, I always tried to help my girls to not be afraid of learning new tricks and to enjoy gymnastics.
Few people know you were born in Uzbekistan and lived there as a small child until you left. What are your memories of that time?
The only thing I remember is being at my gymnastics club with my mother coaching me.
Looking back, what is your greatest gymnastics memory?
Being a gymnast, travelling the world and observing how differently each country approached gymnastics. Of course being at the Olympic games was the purpose, focus and highlight of my whole career.
Who was your personal coach and what was the most valuable thing he/she ever taught you?
My first coach was mother. When we moved to Siberia we met Valeri Dianov who along with my mother coached me until the Olympic games. My coaches taught me to set your mind on your goal and never give up, my mother would say “as long as your heart is beating you can achieve anything”
Which other people had the greatest influence on your gymnastics career and why?
My fans my family and friends. They always offered encouragement and support through every step of the way.
Which gymnasts were your idols and why?
I always loved Svetlana Boguinskaia. She was graceful and determined. My coaches always used her as an example and that encouraged me to strive to be more like her as a gymnast.
What advice would you give a young gymnast considering an elite career
Its hard work but if you set your mind to it and if you are strong enough, you can achieve your goals not only in gymnastics but in anything for the rest of your life. I would tell them that as long as your heart is beating you can achieve anything!
Article: Kristen Ras
Interview: Brigid McCarthy
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