Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Yana Kudryavtseva: 'Crystal Statuette' suffers for sport - not art

By Gary Morley and Olivia Yasukawa, CNN
November 20, 2013 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
HIDE CAPTION
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
Russia's rhythmic princess
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yana Kudryavtseva is youngest all-around champion in history of rhythmic gymnastics
  • The Russian was just 15 when she won the title at the world championships on August 30
  • Her father won an Olympic gold medal as a swimmer and she dreams of emulating him
  • Kudryavtseva's national coach is wife of Russia's richest man and trainer of many champions

CNN's Human to Hero series screens every week on World Sport. Click here for show times, videos and features.

(CNN) -- Casually warming up on the mat, Yana Kudryavtseva slips into a pose that would leave a contortionist gasping in admiration.

One leg keeping her upright and the other pointing toward the ceiling, her torso arches back at a mind-boggling angle while her head rests behind the supporting thigh, with both hands on the floor.

It's more "Matrix" than "Blade Runner" -- but there are no special effects here.

"My dad was rather reluctant to let me do this sport, as he knew how hard it would be," the 16-year-old rhythmic gymnastics champion tells CNN's Human to Hero series.

Aleksey Kudryavtsev, in fact, knows all about the rigors of being an international athlete.

A swimmer, he was part of Russia's 4 x 200 meters freestyle relay team that won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

"I got into rhythmic gymnastics when I was four years old. My dad brought me there," Yana recalls.

"He knew my future coach, so when he brought me to meet her, she told him I have to start training.

"She also convinced my dad that I have to go into gymnastics. Eventually he let me do the training to improve my flexibility, body posture and body shape. As it turned out, this sport has actually become my entire life."

And Kudryavtseva has made her father proud.

This year, while still just 15, she became the youngest rhythmic gymnast to ever win the all-around title at the World Championships, in Kiev in late August.

Check out England's biggest female sport
Brazil's beach volleyball king
Badminton duo's big smash

Rhythmic gymnastics -- "a beautiful and womanly sport," says Kudryavtseva -- incorporates balls, clubs, hoops and ribbons in its performance.

"For a gymnast to be successful, she needs to strike a balance of everything within herself. She needs to be graceful, flexible, perform all elements, turns, maintain co-ordination -- she has to have all of that.

"If, for example, she only has co-ordination and nothing else, she will not succeed."

The world title was but a small step on the way to her main goal, an Olympic gold medal, and she is quick to reject suggestions that rhythmic gymnastics is not worthy of the Summer Games status it was given in 1984.

"Some of the authorities would like to remove rhythmic gymnastics from the list of Olympic sports and turn it into art. I think this would be wrong, as rhythmic gymnastics is a true sport -- we train around six hours per day, and sometimes spend entire days in the gym."

Ask Yana which of the four disciplines she prefers, and you will get the kind of look most people would give when told to give up air or water.

Read: England girls 'need to get nasty'

"I love them all and cannot lay emphasis on any of them. I might offend one of them!" she retorts.

That sort of focus comes from years of dedicated training, but Kudryavtseva does not believe she has missed out on a normal childhood.

"I cannot say I sacrificed anything. I train for myself, to achieve sports goals, and I do not sacrifice anything," she says.

Cliff diver masters amazing twists
Maxime Charveron's BMX masterclass

"Rhythmic gymnastics is my life, everything I currently need. When I am performing, I feel something very special -- something which the audience can never feel."

Nicknamed the "Crystal Statuette" and famous for her ball-spinning tricks as well as her spectacular ribbon routines, Kudryavtseva is continuing Russia's dominance of the sport over the past decade.

"Russia is full of very good gymnasts. Even the substitutes' bench is full of very professional gymnasts, and competition is high," she says.

Read: The 'mermaid' of Barcelona

"Even those gymnasts who do not represent the country at competitions are still very high-level professionals and if I would have to compete with them, it would be tough."

Kudryavtseva's first mentor was Elena Karpushenko, and now they work under the supervision of national coach Irina Viner -- the wife of Russia's richest man Alisher Usmanov, and the trainer of multiple Olympic champions.

"We are on good terms with Irina Alexandrovna. We sometimes have conflicts with a coach, as all gymnasts do, but in general we have a good relationship," Yana says.

Together they choose the music and work on the choreography at the elite Novogorsk training center based outside Kudryavtseva's home city Moscow.

Read: 'Beast' of Japan - or Peter Pan?

From civil war to the football pitch
Female judoka breaks new ground

"There are different levels of difficulty of elements," she explains. "If co-ordination is good, it is easier to learn difficult elements. In my case it usually takes one or two weeks to learn new difficult elements."

Despite having achieved so much at a young age, she says her coaches have kept her humble.

"I cannot say I have accomplished really a lot. Like Irina Alexandrovna Viner says: "When you're on the victory podium, you're a queen, but when you come down from it, you're nobody.'

"You cannot be too proud of yourself. I am just like my teammates, we're all equal."

While some of Russia's elite athletes move into politics after their sporting days are over, such as tennis star Marat Safin, Kudryavtseva's goals are much more in keeping with those of the average teenage girl.

"I would like to get a good education, get married and have kids," she says. "I haven't thought about my future job yet."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Seema Tomar has stared down the barrel of poverty and prejudice to become one of the world's leading trap shooters.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Seema Tomar created history when she won a World Cup medal in 2010 and recently won double gold at the Asian Shotgun Championships.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
Hurtling down a mountain side at 50 mph on a bike isn't everyone's cup of tea. But for Rachel Atherton it's a zen-like experience.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
In the twinkle of an eye, Israel Folau has accomplished what most athletes would be happy to achieve in an entire career in not one, but three sports.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
Helgi Sveinsson was a promising handball player until bone cancer forced his left leg to be removed. Undaunted, he picked up a javelin.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1935 GMT (0335 HKT)
Nguyen Van Chieu has fostered the growth of the Vietnamese marital art since the 1960s, helping the sport go from strength to strength.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1809 GMT (0209 HKT)
Carissa Moore is a double world champion and she's still only 22 years old. Her exploits on the ocean are making waves both in and outside surfing.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Playing pro ping pong is a bit like running the 100m while playing chess, says Ai Fukuhara.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
Guor Mading Maker's story makes most sporting tales of triumph over adversity look like a walk in the park.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
The comparison might irk Michael Jackson purists, but it's easy to see why Kilian Martin's fans liken his fancy footwork to the late "King of Pop."
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1341 GMT (2141 HKT)
Olympic hero Kosuke Kitajima is hoping to inspire a new generation of Japanese swimming stars ahead of his home 2020 Toyko Games.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0935 GMT (1735 HKT)
Much may have changed in post-Communist Romania, but its production line of gymnasts continues to generate champions.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Taking time out to eat a homemade chocolate cake is hardly the conventional way to win a mountain race, but don't tell Emelie Forsberg.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
He grew up in a surfing party town on the U.S. "space coast" and has conquered waves in the world's most exotic locales.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Christian Taylor knows all about putting his best foot forward -- but the Olympic triple-jump champion has had to rewire his muscle memory.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in her native Bali.
ADVERTISEMENT