Bezzoubenko leads Canada - with a little help from Russia - in Glasgow

Lori Ewing / The Canadian Press
July 23, 2014 12:46 PM

Rhythmic gymnast Patricia Bezzoubenko looks to her coach at the end of a training session at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

GLASGOW, Scotland - Patricia Bezzoubenko lives with her parents in a tiny rented apartment in Moscow, a bus ride away from the training facility where she practises alongside Russia's top rhythmic gymnasts.

But this week at the Commonwealth Games, Bezzoubenko hopes to climb the medal podium for Canada.

"I want to bring glory for Canada," Bezzoubenko said after a training session in Glasgow.

The 17-year-old was born in Vancouver and has dual citizenship, but the family moved to Russia when she was four, and she's been able to draw on the strength of the sport in a country that virtually churns out top gymnasts like it does hockey players.

The two-time defending Canadian champion almost swept the gold medals at the Pacific Rim championships earlier this year — she won four gold, a silver and a bronze — and rumblings around the rhythmic gymnastics venue in Glasgow have her potentially doing the same thing here.

"We will fight for this," said her coach Svetlana Joukova.

Canada has a tradition of success in the sport at the Commonwealth Games, with Alexandra Orlando sweeping all six gold medals in Melbourne, Australia in 2006.

"I want to repeat this," Bezzoubenko said.

The lithe teenager, who lists Thornhill, Ont., as her hometown, began gymnastics because "my mother wanted her child to be happy and healthy," she said.

She was living and training in Moscow about five years ago when Russia's national team coach contacted Joukova.

"When the coach found out she had her Canadian passport, right away she contacted me, and asked me I would like to look at this girl, because maybe for her there was more of a future for her in Canada," said Joukova, who also coached Orlando. "So we were really grateful for this.

"I think there's more possibility for her (to compete for) Canada, to step up and continue to be in the top. But of course the training facilities in Russia have helped her very much to get in good shape, with good results, good choreography. . ."

Bezzoubenko made her senior debut last season and when she finished 25th at the world championships — missing the 24-person all-around finals "by about .0007" her coach said — Joukova reached out to the Russian national team for help.

So the Canadian now trains in Russia's top facility, alongside the country's top three gymnasts. But it's a costly endeavour — her parents pay $1,000 a month for training, plus another $1,000 monthly for extras such as choreography.

Bezzoubenko wakes up at 6 a.m. every day to take the bus to practice for a day that includes two training sessions, each one lasting up to three hours.

"Basically this is every day like that," Joukova said. "But she is in love with gymnastics."

She travels back and forth to Canada to train with Joukova, but the facility in Toronto is a "bit like a warehouse," the coach said.

She hopes to attend university in Canada eventually, perhaps Vancouver, she said, because of her love for the city.

Bezzoubenko with join Annabelle Kovacs of Vancouver and Montreal's Maria Kitkarska for the rhythmic team event Thursday. The individual qualifications are also Thursday at the SSE Hydro, an arena that resembles a spaceship tilted on its side. The venue can seat up to 13,000, and was officially opened in September of last year with a concert by Rod Stewart.

The individual all-around final is Friday, with the apparatus scheduled for Saturday.

Lori Fung won Canada's only Olympic medal in the sport, when rhythmic gymnastics made its debut in 1984. The sport has individuals or teams of five perform a routine — think Will Ferrell in "Old School" — with clubs, a hoop, a ball, a ribbon and a rope.

Russia has the second-most world championship medals in the sport behind Bulgaria, and 15-year-old Yana Kudryavtseva made history last year in Kyiv, Ukraine, as the world's youngest champion.


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