Svetlana Khorkina's Biography

NEW !!!  You can now read an extract of Svetlana's autobiography, Somersault on high heels.

Young Svetlana Khorkina

Svetlana Khorkina was born 19 January, 1979 in Belgorod, Russia. She started gymnastics at the age of 4 because her mother was worried she didn't eat enough and hoped that sport would give her an appetite.

Svetlana Khorkina and her coach Boris Pilkin

Too tall for artistic gymnastics, she was told to change to rhythmic gymnastics. However, her coach, Boris Pilkin, helped her to create skills adapted to her long and thin body and she persevered in artistic gymnastics.

Svetlana Khorkina Balance Beam European Championships 1992

In 1992, she started her junior international career with the Russian team and finished 5th in the all around at the Moscow World Star. She introduced for the first time two skills that will be named after her, the Markelov release on uneven bars and a gainer flic-flac with a full twist on beam.

Svetlana Khorkina Uneven Bars French International 1993

In 1993 she was particularly successful at the Russian Championships with 3 gold medals (all around, balance beam and uneven bars), 1 silver medal (vault) and 1 bronze medal (floor).

Svetlana Khorkina Floor European Championships 1994

In 1994, Svetlana started to compete with senior gymnasts. Tall, elegant and expressive, she was already different from the other gymnasts. She finished second at the World Championships and first at the European Championships on uneven bars, an apparatus she would dominate for ten years. She introduced a new vault that will be named after her, a round-off, flic-flac with ½ turn on, ½ turn piked back salto off.

Svetlana Khorkina Balance Beam European Championships 1995

In 1995, she won the all around at the European Cup, French International, Moscow World Star, Russian Cup and Russian Championships. She had strong performances during the all round of the World championships. However, she replaced her triple twist with a double twist on floor and finished only second. She became World champion on bars for the first time with an incredible 9.900. She also introduced on bars a skill named after her and an American gymnast, Amy Chow, a Stalder with 1½ pirouette.

Svetlana Khorkina Uneven Bars Olympic Games 1996

1996 was disappointing. She finished only 6th at all around of the European championships because of a fall during the vault. The team final at the Olympic Games was a nightmare. Disturbed by the intense noise of the crowd, cheering for the USA team, the Russian team finish only second. During the all around Svetlana could have reached the podium but she fell on a new release she included on her bar routine and finished only 15th! Qualified for only one final, the uneven bars, she managed to win the gold medal thanks to that new release, a Shaposchnikova with ½ turn, that will then be named after her.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor World Championships 1997

In 1997, the changes in the code of point were expected to badly affect Svetlana. However, she managed to cope with the new rules and became for the first time the all around World Champion. She also presented a new jump on floor (1½ turn in horizontal plan to land in front support) that will be named after her.

In November 1997 she caused a sensation in the gymnastics world by posing naked for Russian Playboy.

Svetlana Khorkina Uvenen Bars European Championships 1998<

In 1998, Svetlana became for the first time all around European Champion with a spectacular floor routine to the music from Pulp Fiction.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor World Championships 1999

1999 was not Svetlana's year. At the World Championships she had not convinced the audience. First, she lost the gold during the team final by falling on her beam routine. Then during the all around she fell on vault and beam and finish only 12th. Lots thought that it was the end of her career but they were forgetting her strong personality and determination!

Svetlana Khorkina Balance Beam European Championships 2000

In 2000 Svetlana had improved on all events and became all around European champion for the second time. She also won gold on floor, uneven bars and with her team and much was expected of her at the upcoming Olympics Games.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor Olympic Games 2000

However the team final at the Olympic Games was frustrating. During the first rotation, Elena Produnova fell on vault, as did Khorkina on her new release, a Ricna (a combination Stalder - Tkatchev), on uneven bars during the second rotation. The third rotation was disastrous with the falls of Elena Zamolodchikova and Ekaterina Lobazniouk on beam. Russia still managed to get a bitter silver medal. During this competition, Svetlana presented a brand new vault, a round-off flic-flac with ½ turn on, tucked forward salto with 1½ twist off, that will be named after her. This vault was extremely difficult according to her height and had a start value of 10 in 2000.

Svetlana Khorkina Vault Olympic Games 2000

Svetlana was the favourite at the all around. She could have won if she was given the chance to compete fairly. However, when she performed on vault, the vault setting was 5 cm too low and made Svetlana fall and loose her chance for a gold medal. During the warm-up, Svetlana complained to an Australian official about the vault but she was ignored. It was only after another complaint of an Australian gymnast, Allana Slater, during the warm-up of the third rotation that the vault setting was corrected. Svetlana did not know that when starting her uneven bars routine. Disturbed by her previous fall, she fell on the same skill as during the team final, the Ricna. Before she performed her beam routine, she was officially informed that the vault was wrongly setting and she was given a chance to redo her vault. She declined the opportunity as her fall on bars had already left her with no chance for a gold medal. Shortly after the end of the all around, the original Olympic champion, Andrea Raducan, was disqualified because of a positive drug test, making this competition even more infamous. Later, Svetlana said on TV that she did not remember what happened in Sydney, this event was somewhere in a video tape but not in her mind. She referred to Sydney like "a black spot in my soul".

Svetlana Khorkina Uneven Bars Olympic Games 2000

Qualified for the four finals, Svetlana competed only for the floor and the uneven bars titles. Indeed, there were three Russian qualified on beam and vault while the rules allowed only two gymnasts per country to take part of each final. As Svetlana was the third Russian qualified on beam she did not compete. On vault, she thought that her team-mate Elena Zamolodchikova had more chances for a medal and thus did not compete to offer Elena her place in final. Thanks to that, Elena won gold on vault. Svetlana was more successful in the event final than during the all around with a silver medal on floor and a gold medal on her apparatus, the uneven bars.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor Goodwill Games 2001

2001, new code, new rules. Nobody thought Svetlana would be still here. But her anger at losing the all around gold at the Olympic Games gave her enough motivation to continue. At the World Championships she was the most successful gymnast over 440 participants with three gold medals (all around, uneven bars, vault), one silver medal (team) and one bronze medal (floor). She presented that year the last skill named after her, a gainer 2½ twist dismount on beam.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor European Championships 2002

In 2002 Svetlana became the all around European champion for the third time even though she fell on vault. Some thought she beat Verona van de Leur only thanks to favouritism from the judges.

Svetlana Khorkina Uneven Bars World Championships 2002

The world championships were more disastrous. Svetlana finished 7th on the uneven bars final with a 7.387 after two falls, on the Ricna and the Khorkina II.

Apart from gymnastics, Svetlana took time off in 2002 to play with a Russian theatre company. She also obtained her doctorate at the physical culture faculty of the Belgorod State University.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor World Championships 2003

In 2003 the 24-years-old Svetlana wrote a new page in gymnastics' history by becoming the first gymnast to win the all around at the World Championships three times. She also became a member of the political party of United Russia.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor European Championships 2004

In 2004 Svetlana missed a podium at the European all around because of a fall on the vault but managed to win gold on uneven bars for the 6th time.

Svetlana Khorkina Balance Beam Olympic Games 2004

At the Olympic Games she appeared extremely thin. Russian level was not the same as in Sydney. Four years ago and a silver medal was disappointing, now a bronze medal on team final was a success.

Svetlana Khorkina Floor Olympic Games 2004

At the all around Svetlana was still waiting for the gold medal she was robbed of four years ago but she didn't manage to achieve her golden dreams and finished second. This very day she said it was the most beautiful day of her life but soon after that she accused the judges of underscoring her vault and of robbing her the gold medal. Accused of bad sportsmanship by her detractors during her whole career, she was heavily criticized for these words.

Svetlana Khorkina Uneven Bars Olympic Games 2004

Qualified only for the uneven bars final, Svetlana fell on HER apparatus, on a very unexpected skill. Last place for the 'Queen of bars', a very sad farewell.

Svetlana Khorkina theatre

Svetlana retired from gymnastics after the Olympic Games. Since December 2004 she has been elected vice-president of the Russian artistic gymnastics federation. She was also elected as a member of the FIG Athlete Commission for the 2005-2008 Olympic cycle.

The 21 of July, 2005 she gave birth to a baby boy (some pictures of Svetlana and her son). Even though she is retired from gymnastics she is still in the news and we can see her regularly on newspapers and Russian TV (Circus with the Stars 2007, as guest in the Russian X factor 2007, etc.). On March 12, 2007, a sport complex named after her was opened in the Belgorod State University, Belgorod, Russia. Recently she was elected as a member of the Russian State Duma, the Russian parliament. She published her autobiography in russian, Somersault on high heels, on April 2008. She was supporting the russian team at the Olympic Games 2008, not as a gymnast but as a TV commentator for a russian channel.

Here is an extract of the biography of Svetlana made by the FIG:

"No one can explain how the 164cm tall Khorkina can manage such fluent execution, of such an extraordinary routine. Her coach, Boris Pilkin dreams up incredible combinations for her to perform on bars, so she is always changing her routine.
Why is she unique on the Bars? It seems that she "feels" the apparatus more than anybody in the world for all the times. She has a feel for continuous rhythm when performing on the bars and extremely elegant style of performance. Her performances on the bars seem fluent and effortless. Some people say she is "like a cat" on this apparatus. At the same time she performs skills of extreme difficulty, constantly changing her routine and adding new original elements. […] Her routine on bars is based on a very efficient combination of elements with turn around the longitudinal axes with flying elements. There no "spare" moments in her routine, each one of her swings ends with an element, which is not the case with the majority of the gymnasts."

Svetlana was a very talented gymnast who has left her mark on gymnastics, not only because of all the medals she won or all the original skills she has created, but also because she included in her routines something that has nearly disappeared from gymnastics: elegance. Her routines were not only tumbling, it was emotion, it was passion.

Svetlana will forever be 'The Queen' of gymnastics.

Svetlana Khorkina Portrait

Many thanks to Ryan for his help to correct my english!