Ghent (BEL), 6th November 2004

She laughs easily, but all the same her face is taut. Together with Yelena, you can say Sjoesja, Zamolodchikova (22) the World Cup in Gent presents 1,54 meter and 46 kilogram of flexibility, technique, grace, strength and elegance.

Gent, the topsporthall. Beads of perspiration on the faces, swinging legs, supersmall people who tame different apparatus without showing mercy. On a bench in a corner we find Yelena Zamolodchikova. Her English is soso, and so Nikolai Koeksenkov translates. The 15 year old gymnast who won bronze at the European Junior Championships lives since three years in Belgium with his father and coach, Yuliy, and talks Dutch excellently. And Zamolodchikova? She frolics verbally with the other gymnasts, laughs and talks the whole time. She answers with short sentences, although she's kind and likes interviews. Appearing in Playboy like the illustrious star, Katarina Witt, doesn't appeal to her, she says: "No, I don't think that is correct."

How did it all start for you?
"When I was seven I saw a competition on TV, and I immediately liked it. No, I didn't fell for a star: when you're seven you don't know any names. I fell for the sport: the competitions, the audience that shows a lot of sympathy, the eagerness to become better, the elegance of the routines. The most beautiful is the floor exercise, because you do your routine with music. My favorite music for floor is the Prodigy."

What do you say?: The Prodigy?! If you were saying Tjajkovsky... But music in between Kraftwerk and Nirvana, hard dance, unalloyed technopunk?
"Yes, I like fast rhythms. I choose the music myself by the way, I don't think I asked my coach permission. She didn't make a problem of it neither (laughs)".

How does a normal week look for you?
"During the week I stay at the national training centre in Moskow, an hour driving from home. At least when there's not too much traffic, cause that's a real plague. Oh well. Get up at 6.30. First training at 7 a.m., breakfast at 8.30 then rest. Second training at eleven hours, till 13 or 13.30. Then massage, eating and rest. A third training follows from 17.30 to 19.30. After that dinner, swimming pool or sauna. After that it's time to go to bed. The next day it's the same, they day after again (laughs). Except on Thursday, then there are only two trainings on the menu. I'm doing this since 1996, so since I was 14. And it's most likely that I go on until the Olympic Games in Peking in 2008. After that I want to become a coach."

A very hard life. Are you sometimes sad, do you ever cry?
(silence, uncomfortable) "Yes. But after the Games I had a lot of free time to rest. And to party (laughs)."

A good remedy against the lonelyness: a cellphone, so you can call your boyfriend. Does your coach allow a cellphone and a boyfriend?
(fast but short) yeahyeah, it's allowed. Both are.

You live in Moskow. Do you like it there?
"It's super in Moskow, my whole family lives there. The city has become better than it used to be, more beautiful also. But It's not like I'm a star there."

What do you mean, not a star? Two gold medals at the Games, one silver (in Sydney 2000), this year a bronze? Not a star?!
"Yes, but at the games in Athens my country won 92 medals, of which 27 were gold: we were third in Team Final. There are so many top athletes here."

Your father died in May 2000, just before Europeans, a couple months before the Olympic Games.
"Yes, he helped in fighting the nuclear disaster in Tsjernobyl, in 1996, he was a major in the army. He got infected by the radiation, and died slowly. If I'm angry at the government? (hard look) Yes. The year he died I just did my best at the Europeans and the Games, there was no other way, was there? During Europeans I told nobody that my father had passed away. Why would I? I won two silvers and a bronze, and at the Games 2 individual golds and silver with the team. Like I said: I just did my best."

Are you rich now?
(laughs) "What's that? To be rich? In 2001 I got an appartment from President Putin, where my mother and I live. Since then I'm also an officer in the army, lieutenant. And I have right to free social security, lifelong free living and public transportation."

by Frank Van De Winkel - Het Nieuwsblad from
English translation by Siegrid Dero

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