Perhaps not all of you, knew that before becoming a double Olympic champion, Russia's Elena Zamolodchikova went through enormous emotional pain as only four months before the Olympics she lost her father.


Lena's father was a soldier and in 1986 he was one of the early liquidators who were on site during the Chernobyl accident. Unfortunately he was exposed to excessive doses of radiation which led to worsening health and a devastating diagnosis in 1998: leukemia. Fighting the illness, he promised that he will be alive at the time of the Olympics to see her become an Olympic champion, but God had a different plan.


 At 7 years old, little Elena told her parents she wants to do gymnastics and started with three training per week. By the time she reached eight years old, she was going to the gym  five times a week. Things were getting better and better, until the age of 13 when she went through a hard time and couldn't  make herself go to training. She wanted to quit. Neither her mother nor her coach Nadejda Maslenikova who was also her godmother, could make her change her mind.  


And it was her father who made her return to training “You promised you’ll become a champion” he said. Indeed, she returned back to training to fulfill the promise she made to herself and to her father.




Only a few weeks before the European Championship, coach Nadejda found out about the sad news that Elena’s father had died. That day, she let Lena finish her training first and then approached her: “You know Lena…”, but Lena had already felt it and said “I know… can you imagine this…” She didn’t want her teammates to see her crying and went to the park that day and cried alone. 


The next day she came to the training as if nothing had happen.


During the Olympics in Sydney, Lena went through good and bad moments. The first days seemed to be a continuous chain of bad luck: she didn’t qualify neither for the all-around final due to 3 per country rule, nor for the vault finals where she finished 9th.


Then,during team finals she along with her teammate Yecaterina Lobazniuk fell during their balance beam routines which cost what could have been their first Olympic gold medal. 


Nonetheless, she was given a chance in the AA final. Her teammate Elena Produnova offered her, her place. Elena was performing well up until she went on floor exercise and had a fall on her easiest tumbling pass. Hadn’t it been for that mistake she would have become the All-around Olympic champion. Unfortunately, she finished in sixth position.



It was the event finals that brought her the immense joy of fulfilling her promise. In the vault final, she was given a second chance to prove herself where teammate Svetlana Khorkina gave up her spot for her. And she didn't just win a medal, she became the Olympic champion on this event. And the moments of glory did not end here. 


In the floor final, she performed her difficult routine perfectly and outscored all of her competitors and became a double Olympic Champion, fulfilling the promise she made to her father.

Written by Anastasia Bostanaru

Photo by Sing Lo

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