Yekaterina Serebrianskaya (UKR)
Tribute courtesy of Robin Catalano

 

Photo used with the expressed permission of Melissa,
webmaster of Rhythmic Web

On October 25, 1977, in Simferopol, Ukraine, Yekaterina Serebrianskaya was born. Only four years later she began training in rhythmic gymnastics with the famous Irina and Albina Derjugina. Immediately, the Derjuginas recognized their young charge as a natural, heir to a line of champions that had included their illustrious former students Alexandra Timochenko and Oksana Skaldina.

At the 1991 Junior European Championships Serebrianskaya placed 5th in the preliminaries, but did not advance to finals because Soviet teammates Amina Zaripova and Yelena Vitrichenko outdistanced her. Competing for Ukraine the following year, the 15-year-old Serebrianskaya placed 5th again, this time at the World Championships.

In her early years, the lanky gymnast was known as a Timochenko imitator, even performing her hoop exercise to the theme from Phantom of the Opera, just as her teammate had. But as she matured, Serebrianskaya developed an easy elegance that was all her own. In 1993 she counted her first major victory at the European Cup. The statuesque blonde would also take second place at the 1993 World Championships, plus a medal in each of the event finals.

Untimely mistakes at both the 1994 European and World Championships would leave Serebrianskaya out of the medals in 4th, although she would come storming back in the finals of the latter competition, winning gold on each event. 1995 would be Serebrianskaya's biggest yet; not only did she win more medals with rope, ball, and clubs at the World Championships, but also she tied the legendary Bulgarian Maria Petrova for the all-around title. At the 1996 World Championships (apparatus finals only), Serebrianskaya conceded her rope title to Larissa Lukyanenko, but picked up her second gold medal for ball.

In Atlanta, Serebrianskaya gave her own heart pause by making nervous mistakes in the preliminary round of the Olympics. In finals she performed her memorable Kalinka rope routine almost flawlessly, then showed two more strong exercises with ball and clubs. But at the very end of an otherwise clean ribbon routine to Bumble Boogie, Serebrianskaya was forced to stop and repeat a toss when the ribbon refused to fly through the air. In the most controversial Olympic finish in rhythmic history, the Ukrainian was rewarded with a 9.833 -- a higher score than many gymnasts had received for clean routines. This "gift" kept her firmly rooted in first place.

1997 would be a problematic period for Serebrianskaya. Rumors circulated that the usually slim athlete had gained weight, gotten out of shape, and lost her edge. An uninspired showing at the 1997 Europeans (3rd place) would do little to dispel the talk. When the 1997 World Championships finally came around, Serebrianskaya withdrew just before the competition began, citing the sudden illness of her mother (also her coach). This act only fueled the rumor mill, and a headline in Soveyetsky Sport proclaimed, "If Mama Isn't a Judge, I Won't Go!" The Serebrianskayas were locked in a power struggle with the Ukrainian Federation, which was said to favor arch-rival Yelena Vitrichenko, whose mother and coach, Nina Vitrichenko, was sent as a judge to the competition. Wisely, Serebrianskaya kept a low profile until the 1998 Europeans, where she performed some of her best-constructed routines. She again wound up 3rd in the all-around.

Never known for ground-breaking choreography or original elements, Serebrianskaya is instead recognized for her beautiful extension and almost flawless body and apparatus technique. She may not have been the most creative or expressive gymnast, but she combined excellent execution with a supremely self-confident air and amazing consistency. Although she didn't win the crowd adoration of her flashier Russian rivals, Serebrianskaya did earn the titles they never achieved.

Conflict with the Ukrainian Federation did not cease even after Serebrianskaya's solid finish at 1998 Europeans. She finally gave up the fight, quietly retiring that summer. Serebrianskaya, appropriately enough, turned to a modeling career in her post-gymnastics life. She now owns Serebryannya Zvezda (translates to Silver Star), a Kiev-based modeling agency that manages a variety of former athletes.

Update (April 29, 2000). Surprising news from Ukraine: reigning Olympic champion Yekaterina Serebrianskaya will give birth to her first child this summer. According to Serebrianskaya, the father is Igor Voronov, whom she describes as her "ideal man." The former gymnast reports that fame is not an object of Voronov's, and although she declines to mention his occupation she says, "It does not matter to me. I feel very happy when I'm with him." Serebrianskaya hopes the baby will be a boy, but says that if it's a girl she will be a gymnast.

Update (August 29, 2000). According to Sport-Express, Serebrianskaya gave birth to a baby boy on the morning of August 28, 2000. The baby measured 50cm and weighed in at 4kg 700g. Congratulations! Many thanks to KB for this update.

Update (September 27, 2000). According to new grandmother Lyubov Serebrianskaya, daughter Yekaterina and grandson Yevgeny are healthy and well. Also, Yekaterina recently founded an athletes' grant program.

Update (August 25, 2001). Serebrianskaya has closed down operations at her Silver Star modeling agency in Kiev. Serebrianskaya, mother of a 9-month-old son and founder of a new athletic scholarship fund, shut the doors on her business as a result of her hectic schedule. The Ukrainian favorite, who in a newspaper article referred to the agency as "a hobby, a waste of free time and money; entertainment, but nothing more," is now working on penning a memoir and producing a possible fall TV project.

 


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1999-2002. This page was created on September 20, 1999 and last updated on September 27, 2000.

 

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