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Olympic Champion Svetlana Boginskaya
By  | Published  06/3/2006 | Features | Rating:
“My main job is to be a mother”

The difficulty of the motherhood task notwithstanding, the legendary gymnast, who now lives in Houston, Texas, has enough time to be a successful business woman.




In the national sports gymnastics team of the USSR, Svetlana Boginskaya from Minsk, had a nickname goddess. The name fit Svetlana well not only by virtue of a word play [the word for god in Russian is Бог – read as bogh], but also because of her exceptional elegance. With her queenly posture, her beautiful figure, and her femininity, Svetlana was stunningly different from other girls that dominated world gymnastics at the time. Svetlana Boginskaya won three gold medals at Olympic games, received five world champion titles, and triumphed as the champion of Europe nine times… A complete listing of her victories will easily fill several pages…

I met with Svetlana at the ceremony of her induction into the World Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Even today, at the age of thirty-two, she continues to be a goddess – slim and good-looking she was the favorite of the crowd gathered at the event. The great number of yesterday’s and today’s stars of gymnastics did not dim her splendor a bit.


- Svetlana, is it true that Nadia Comaneci was “guilty” of forcing you to become a gymnast?


- Before taking on gymnastics, I was involved in ice-skating. After I watched the gymnastics competition at the Moscow Olympics, I told my mom that I wanted to be like Nadia Comaneci. I dreamed to be on TV screens and I wanted to become an Olympic champion… My mother took me to a gymnastics school. I said to my first coach that I intended to become a champion at the Olympic Games. She did not laugh at me. She said: “You know, Svetlana, you can do it. To get there, you will, of course, have to abide by three rules. The first one is that you must practice a lot. The second one is that you must practice a lot. The third one is that you must practice a lot.” It took me nine years of intensive training to get to my first Olympics and to make my dream a reality.


- It was the 1988 Olympiad in Seoul. There you received four medals. Apart from those victories, what impressed the 15-year old girl from Minsk at the Olympic Games?


- It really was a culture shock for me. For the first time in my life I saw black people. Almost all photographs that I made in Seoul feature me standing with African American athletes. It was surreal. When I’d see black sportsmen, I approached them and asked if I could take a picture…

My first trip abroad afforded similar experiences. When I was nine, I went to Germany. We were given around twenty dollars to spend as pocket money. I used all my money to buy bubble gum. We simply did not have it in Belarus.


- Svetlana, you hold many titles that commemorate victories. Which of your triumphs and accomplishments are especially dear to you?


- The most memorable success for me was my victory in Barcelona at the Olympics in 1992. We were there as a unified team for the last time. The Soviet Union had already disintegrated, but we still went there as one team. We knew well that when we divide into separate countries, – Russia, Belarus, Ukraine – it will no longer be possible for any of us to forge strong teams. Overall, we were correct in our judgment. In my native country of Belarus, gymnastics today is not developed as well as in other countries. Even in Russia it is difficult to build a good team.


- The national team of the Soviet Union was so strong at the time that every one of its members could rightfully expect a victory. Who among the girls was your rival?


- Frankly speaking, I should say that everyone who made it to the national team was a rival. We certainly were friends. At the same time some rivalry existed among us. In gymnastics there are good days and there are bad ones. We did not know who would win on a particular day. One of my chief competitors was Elena Shushunova. She won a gold medal in Seoul in 1988.


- Very many Russian gymnasts now live and work in the United States. Are you keeping in touch with any of them?


- I communicate with Tatiana Gutsu. She took gold in Barcelona. Today, she lives in Illinois and works as a coach. I correspond with Tatiana Lisenko as well. She, too, took part in the 1992 games. Now she lives in San Francisco and is studying to become a lawyer. She chose a very different path for herself. I am sure that she will be very successful with her new career. I also talk to Svetlana Khorkina. She decided to give birth to her child in the U.S.


- Is Svetlana going to end her career in gymnastics?


- I can’t say for sure. Gymnastics is now becoming a sport not only for young people. While, in the past, some gymnasts relinquished their career at the age of 15, nowadays one can still compete at 20 or even 25. We have an example of Oksana Chusovitina from Uzbekistan. At the age of 29, she still competes for Germany’s national team. She also has a child. Svetlana Khorkina is very talented. She may come back into sports.

- There were many speculations surrounding the competition between Svetlana Khorkina and young American gymnast Carly Patterson at recent Olympic Games in Greece. In Russia, some say that there was prejudice against Svetlana in favor of Carly, who is a coached by Evgeniy Marchenko in Dallas. From your objective viewpoint, was there any prejudice towards the Russian side?


- The outcome of the competition, I think, was completely unbiased. I watched the routines on television and was very excited for Carly. Svetlana went through her routine well, but it was not difficult enough. Carly’s elements were more complex. She earned her victory 100 %.


- Svetlana, what happened in your life after you quit sports? How did you come to live in America? We do not hear very many things about you anymore...


- Many gymnasts who were famous in the past want to have their name remembered and repeated all the time. I am not a person of this kind. I did what I wished to do. Today, I do not what to live in the past. I want to live in the future, to accomplish something in the future. My future is, above all, my family. I moved to the United States and married an American. I have two beautiful children and my main job is to be a mother. Nobody will be able to raise them better than I… I am quite happy in the U.S. It is easier for me to live here than in my home country. I love my country of Belarus very much. I love Minsk. On day-to-day terms, however, it is more convenient to live in the U.S.


- Where do you work now?


- I have two businesses that I run. One is an on-line store of gymnastics attire. My second company is involved in organizing gymnastics summer camps. I advertise all over the United States and young gymnasts from all around the country come to train with me during summers. There are many people in this programs and admission is limited. In one summer, I am typically able to work with 300 to 400 children.


- Your son and your daughter go to these camps with you?


- The daughter goes with me. The baby, Brandon Alexander, is too small. He just turned two in November. The nanny looks after him when I am away. This past year, my mother was, unfortunately, not able to come and visit us. She was denied an entry visa. She usually helps me in such cases.


- Does your husband William have anything to do with sports?


- No. He works in the entertainment industry. He has his own company. William is an excellent person. I am very lucky with him. We’ve been married for nine years and he still courts me. I am very touched by the manner, in which he treats his mom. He gives her flowers on his own birthday and thanks her for having given birth to him… He is very caring. He treats children very well. I am a typical non-Russian woman. I will candidly confess that I do not cook at home. If you come to my house, I will not be able to put anything on the table. I’d take you to a restaurant… William cooks, does the laundry, and cleans the house. I wanted to iron a shirt for him recently. He told me: “Don’t worry. I know exactly how much starch to use.”


- Svetlana, would you admit that gymnastics is a very difficult and, at times, dangerous sport. It would suffice to remember the tragedy of Elena Mukhina… Would you want for your daughter Anechka to be a gymnast?


- How many tragic cases similar to that of Elena do you know? Not many. In my opinion, gymnastics is the best sport. It gave me a lot. My daughter is doing gymnastics now. When my son gets old enough, I’ll direct him to enter gymnastics as well. I’d recommend the sport to other parents.              


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