In Memory of
Oksana Kostina

1972 - 1993

Oksana Kostina practicing her ball routine during a training session
for the 1992 World Championships in Brussels.

Photo used with the expressed permission of
Kathleen Notredame.

Tribute courtesy of Robin Catalano.

Possibly the only rhythmic gymnast who is beloved by almost every rhythmic fan, Oksana Kostina was born on April 15, 1972 in Irkutsk (Siberia), Russia. As a competitor for the Soviet Union and later Russia, she earned an incredible 14 World and European Championship medals -- 9 of them gold -- in her tragically short career.

A baby-faced, 17-year-old Kostina debuted with an excellent 5th place finish in the preliminary competition at the 1989 World Championships. She narrowly missed a trip to the all-around final after a drop at the end of her ribbon routine, but cemented her up-and-coming status with a pair of silver medals: one for the team competition, and one for her exquisitely dramatic and original ball exercise. 1990 would see her match that all-around finish at the European Championships, where she aided the Soviet gold-medal effort. Later that year, she would snag an impressive clutch of medals at the prestigious Goodwill Games and Gymnastics Masters competitions.

At the 1991 World Championships, Kostina found herself missing finals yet again despite a strong 4th-place finish in preliminaries. As in previous years, she would be passed over for international assignments in favor of more famous teammates Alexandra Timochenko and Oksana Skaldina. But a fantastic start in 1992 surely seemed her ticket to the Barcelona Olympics: she placed 3rd at European Championships -- just behind Timochenko and two notches ahead of Skaldina -- and went on to win the CIS National Championships. However, when the Olympic team was finally announced, a devastated Kostina discovered that she was the odd woman out once more.

Frustrated with what many felt was the Unified Team's favoritism toward Skaldina, Kostina and her coach, Olga Butanova, defiantly made the trip to Barcelona. Kostina trained with the British team for a short time before the Russian Federation ordered her home.

When the dust had finally settled after the controversial 1992 Olympics, Kostina emerged as the undisputed queen of rhythmic. A rare sweep of all 5 golds (two of them tied) at the 1992 World Championships proved that she was no longer in the shadows. Indeed, her every exercise brought thunderous roars of approval, and her blues-guitar ball routine -- in which she executed several original traps and seemed to feel the music through every part of her being -- provoked a near frenzy of cheers.

On February 11, 1993, just three months after her well-deserved victory, disaster struck. Kostina and fiancé Eduard Zenovka, who was driving at the time, were involved in a car crash. Both were rushed to the hospital, where the 20-year-old Kostina died several hours later from internal injuries. Zenovka, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist in modern pentathlon, was also seriously injured. More significantly, he was charged with drunk driving in the incident. He would recover, though, and go on to win the silver medal in the pentathlon at the 1996 Olympics.

Kostina left behind a legacy of beautiful gymnastics characterized by ballerina-worthy body technique, crisp apparatus handling, and captivating choreography. Although several of her routines stand out -- her enchanting 1989 hoop to "It Ain't Necessarily So," hauntingly elegant 1989 ball, 1992 blues ball and jazzy rope (which included her peerless right-left-right split leap combination) -- she is best remembered for her ability to interpret music, and for a unique delicate quality that she expressed in every performance. Oksana Kostina may be gone, but as the myriad tributes confirm, she is most definitely not forgotten.

Kostina was born on April 15, 1972

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© 1999-2002. This page was created on July 17, 1999 and last updated on December 22, 1999.


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