With its traditional crown in artistic gymnastics slipping further during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Russia sought solace in its continuing mastery of the rhythmic discipline of the event. Without a single medal to show on the artistic side it had dominated throughout the years, it fell to a prodigy from Siberia to rescue them from a complete medal wipeout at the Beijing National Indoor Stadium.
Ever since taking up the sport at the age of six, Evgenia Kanayeva had shown herself to be highly adept at wielding the hoop, ribbon, clubs and rope after being introduced to the sport by her grandmother.
With Russian rhythmic gymnastics in such a powerful state – Alina Kavayeva’s gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004 was the country’s second straight title – it took time for the blossoming Kanayeva to emerge from the pack.
But her selection at the 2007 European Championships in Baku after Kavayeva pulled out through injury was the break she needed. She grasped the opportunity with both hands and contributed to the team’s gold as well as taking the individual honours in the ribbon.
Her seemingly effortless grace and co-ordination in all aspects of her sport marked her out from the crowd and the Baku breakthrough signalled the start of her crushing domination in the sport.
Come the heat of competition in Beijing, Kanayeva had her first world team title under her belt and was ready for her assault on the individual event in China.
When she scored a modest 17.85 for the rope in the opening round of qualifying, it would be the only time in the competition that she would be trailing. She comfortably qualified for the 10-woman final, topping the marks for the remaining three disciplines. For the final she chose four routines with high difficulty values, and executed one after the other so well that the contest took on more of the air of an exhibition.
She never scored lower than 18.85 to win by a massive 3.7 points and ensured Russia won their third consecutive gold in the most graceful and breathtaking display of timing and skill.
On any other day Inna Zhukova would have won gold for Belarus but she had to be content with silver, while Ukraine’s world champion Anna Bessonova took bronze.