She approaches the competition floor with confidence, her wide brown eyes filled with excitement and a large grin spreading across her face.
Her eyes quickly shift from a look of confidence to intense focus as she raises her pink ribbon, which matches her leotard, and begins her routine.
She prances and pounces from one foot to the other, strutting across the floor surface and twirling her ribbon as she goes. She tosses the ribbon high in the air, and with every toss it returns to her hand almost magnetically. She does cartwheels, jumps and twirls on one foot, and the smile never fades.
She finishes sprawled out on the ground, twisted like a pretzel, and her smile gets even larger as she allows her grin to expand to its full capacity.
Evgenia Kanaeva, a 22-year-old Russian, is the best ribbon dancer in all of the land.
The bold proclamation is rather indisputable, as most competitors in rhythmic gymnastics cannot and do not come close to Kanaeva's seemingly effortless combination of poise, talent and difficulty.
It’s not just the ribbon dance, as Kanaeva dominates in hoop, ball, clubs and the all-around competition.
Kanaeva is the 2008 Olympic champion in all-around rhythmic gymnastics. She has 11 world champion's titles and has earned 12 gold medals at the European Championships.
"Kanaeva's routines are a great deal more difficult than her nearest rival, meaning that even when she makes an unexpected error others cannot catch her,” BBC gymnastics analyst Christine Sill said. “She is very supple but has great control like a ballet dancer. She is about as certain a gold medallist as you are going to get."
Despite the certainty in her ability and her backstory of success, Kanaeva takes it one victory at a time, saying in interviews that she wants to live in the moment and that each success pushes her forward to the next competition.
Kanaeva began the sport at the age of six, because her grandmother wanted her to fix her posture. Her mother was not a part of the decision because, as a former gymnast, she did not want Kanaeva to suffer through the pain. Once her mother realized Kanaeva did not feel the same physical pain, she supported her gymnastics.
Kanaeva moved 3000 miles away from home at the age of 12, in 2002, to train with renowned coach Vera Shtelbaums at the school of the Olympic Reserves in Moscow. She enjoyed success in the year preceding the Bejing Games and was sent to “defend the honor of Russia,” she said in a documentary.
In the documentary, Kanaeva cited that success is impossible without the support of a coach and having trust and complete understanding between an athlete and a coach.
She said that, without her coach and her mother, she would not be who she is today. One might even say that, without the ribbon, balls and hoops, she would not look nearly as sophisticated on the floor. One proclamation is for certain: Without Kanaeva’s grace and ability, the sport is much less enjoyable to watch.
You can contact Emily Bayci by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EmilyBayci.
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