Ekaterina Ludmilovna Lobaznyuk (Russian: Екатерина Людмиловна Лобазнюк) (born June 10, 1983 in Fergana, Uzbek SSR, USSR) is a former Olympic gymnast who competed for Russia in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, winning three medals. Her name is sometimes written "Yekaterina Lobazniouk".
The second daughter of a gymnastics coach (who is also a former gymnast) and a sports school director, Lobaznyuk grew up in Uzbekistan amid the strife and turbulence of the 1980s. She began her gymnastics career at the young age of six, when her mother brought her to a gym in Fergana; everyone who watched the tiny little girl was captivated by her charm and ability to enthrall. In the 1990s, after the USSR fell apart, the Lobaznyuk family fled to Tashkent due to violence and riots in the Fergana Valley area. The family attempted to join a circus there but, failed. Help came in 1994 thanks to her grandmother, living in Russia at the time; the Lobaznyuks eventually settled in Rubtsovsk, a city of some 170,000 people located in southwestern Siberia.
It was in Rubtsovsk that Ekaterina (known as Katya to her friends and family) met her future coach, Valery Fyodotovich Dianov, and the two quickly became a team. Known for her stubborn character, Katya was nevertheless able to work with coach Dianov while being able to express herself in the feisty and "cute" way she would eventually be known for.
Young Lobaznyuk made her debut as a junior elite gymnast in a children's meet sometime prior to 1996. Although Lobaznyuk fell 11 times during the meet, Russian National Team coach Leonid Arkayev was very impressed with her. In 1996 she placed first in the all-around and first on floor exercise at the Russian Youth Championships (in the Candidate for Master of Sport category) and the next year won four gold and one silver medal at the Russian Cup's junior competition. Arkayev subsequently invited her to the national team's training center, located at Round Lake.
As a member of Russia's national team, Lobaznyuk quickly became a standout thanks to her well-choreographed routines and her spunky personality. In 1997 she won the all-around title at the Charleroi TopGym meet in Belgium, as well as finishing fifth in the all-around (with two additional titles in vault and balance beam) at the International Junior Tournament in Japan. It was at this meet in Japan that she gained the attention of fans worldwide with her cutesy appearance and her amazing floor exercise, choreographed to the music "Hava Nagila".
1998 proved to be a bad year for Lobaznyuk, as she broke her right arm (resulting from a fall off her least favorite event, the uneven bars), and her subsequent absence from the two biggest junior events of the year (Junior European Championships and World Youth Games) led some people to write her off as finished. Fans had nothing to fear, as she healed completely enough at the end of the year to grab a win over Ukrainian gymnast Viktoria Karpenko at the Acapulco Cup in Mexico.
Rise to Fame at the 1999 Worlds
1999 and 2000 were the best years of Ekaterina's competitive career. She was an integral part of the 1999 World Championships team from Russia that won a silver medal, as she picked up the most points overall for her team in the team final. Needless to say, coach Dianov was thrilled. "She performed wonderfully", he was quoted as saying afterwards. Once again, she garnered a lot of attention and many more fans, partly due to ESPN's broadcast of the competition.
Sydney, Australia was the site of the 2000 Olympic Games, and the location of the highest point in Ekaterina's career. She immediately charmed loads of Aussies with her pretty smile, short hair, and constant bounciness. She was also perhaps the top gymnast on the Olympic team, surpassing Svetlana Khorkina and Elena Zamolodchikova, the best known members of the team at the time. Winning a pair of silver medals (on the beam and on team final) and a bronze on the vault was the highlight of many gymnastics fans' Olympics. She did make a few mistakes that probably cost her team a shot at the gold medal in team final. After Zamolodchikova fell off the balance beam, Lobaznyuk wanted to get a 10.0 SV (start value) so badly that she included a move not originally in her beam routine and promptly fell off the side of the beam. Dianov remarked afterwards, "It was a noble impulse and so it was impossible to rebuke her for it". In the all-around final, mistakes also cost Lobaznyuk a medal. Finishing fifth, had she not stepped out of bounds on her floor routine, or misstepped on beam, it was likely she would have won a medal.
2001 was a year Lobaznyuk would love to forget. At the Russian Cup that year, while performing one of her signature Yurchenko vaults, she landed very hard on the mat and collapsed in extraordinary pain; she had to be picked up and carried off by one of her coaches. It was revealed later that she had torn the ACL and MCL in her right knee, and surgery would be needed, which would sideline her for the remainder of the year. She had not one, but two surgeries, since the first one in Moscow, Russia was not performed properly; the second was done in Johannesburg, South Africa, while visiting the city and country for a rehabilitation stint. The second seemed to go well, and she returned to training in late January 2002.
The next month Lobaznyuk attempted a comeback at the Russian National Championships, performing on beam and floor exercise only while her surgically repaired knee attempted to heal. She did OK in the eyes of national team coaches, but not well enough to rejoin the team, as other, younger gymnasts were coming along to take her place. With very little chance to come back for her country, Lobaznyuk made a hard decision and decided to call it quits, retiring shortly thereafter.
|1996||Russian Youth Championships||1st||1st|
|Japan Junior International||5||1st||1st|
|1999||Cottbus World Cup||2nd|
|Tianjin World Championships||2nd|
|2000||Arthur Gander Memorial||7|
|Sydney Olympic Games||2nd||5||3rd||3rd|
|2001||Cottbus World Cup||6||2nd||1st|
2000 - "Hava Nagila"