Evgenia Kanaeva: The greatest rhythmic gymnast of all time
Russian rhythmic gymnast Evgenia Kanaeva won countless European and world titles during her glittering career, the pinnacles of which were the Olympic gold medals she claimed at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
A devoted student of the sport
Born in the Siberian city of Omsk, Evgenia Kanaeva was introduced to rhythmic gymnastics at the age of six by her grandmother. The youngster quickly stood out for her enthusiasm and dedication, staying on in the gym to practise with the ribbon, ball, clubs and hoop long after her colleagues had gone home.
At the age of 12 she went to Moscow to continue learning her trade, winning a number of international junior competitions and ultimately attracting the attention of Russia’s team coach Irina Viner, who invited her to join the national team training centre in the outskirts of the Russian capital.
Rise to the top
On graduating to the elite, Kanaeva found her path to the Russia team blocked by Athens 2004 Olympic champion Alina Kabaeva and a clutch of other highly talented and more experienced gymnasts.
An opening presented itself, however, when Kabaeva picked up an injury just before the 2007 European Championships Baku (AZE). The youngster made the most of her opportunity, winning the ribbon competition and helping Russia to the team title.
That same year, she formed part of the Russia team that took gold at the worlds in Patras (GRE), and underlined her precocious talent by claiming the all-around title at the 2008 Europeans in Turin. Then came the biggest achievement of Kanaeva’s burgeoning career to date as she turned in a stunning performance to beat Belarus’ Inna Zhukova to Olympic all-around gold in Beijing by a full 3.5 points, this despite being the youngest finalist at only 18.
In a league of her own
Possessing unrivalled grace, coordination and technique, Kanaeva dominated her sport in the years that followed, backing up her Olympic triumph with unprecedented clean sweeps at the 2009 and 2011 world championships, held in Mie (JAP) and Montpellier (FRA) respectively. In the first of those meetings she collected gold medals in the ribbon, rope, hoop, ball, all-around and team events, a feat she repeated two years later, when clubs replaced rope on the schedule.
During the course of her record-breaking career she has won 17 world titles and 13 European titles and recorded 18 World Cup final victories and 15 Grand Prix final wins, a haul no other rhythmic gymnast can match. As if that were not enough, she also swept the board at the 2009 World Games in Kaoshiung (TPE) and at the 2009 and 2011 Summer Universiades in Belgrade (SRB) and Shenzhen (CHN) respectively.
A first in London
Kanaeva retained her Olympic all-around crown in emphatic style at London 2012. Producing a typically brilliant and innovative performance, she finished well clear of compatriot Daria Dimitrieva to become her sport’s first ever double Olympic gold medallist.
“Gymnastics has been part of my life since I was six years old,” she said afterwards. “Since that time I have practiced every day, eight hours a day so I'm delighted to have won golds at two Olympics. It was not my target to be a legend but I do like the sound of it. I love gymnastics and I want the audience to remember me.”
In the wake of her London triumph, Kanaeva announced, at the age of 22, that she was ending her competitive career to move into coaching.