Lilia Alexandrivna Podkopayeva (Ukrainian: Лілія Олександрівна Подкопаєва; Russian: Лилия Александровна Подкопаева (Liliya Aleksandrovna Podkopaeva); born August 15, 1978 in Donetsk) is a retired Ukrainian gymnast who became the 1996 Olympic all-around champion, the 1995 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships all-around champion and the 1996 European Women's Artistic Gymnastics Championships all-around champion. Achieving feats marked by few other gymnasts, she is widely regarded as one of the best gymnasts in history.
Podkoypayeva was often referred to as the "complete package" gymnast, possessing equal qualities of technical skill and artistic expression and muscular power. Her routines were known for their melding of balletic, expressive choreography, clean execution, impeccable form and extremely difficult skills. In addition, Podkopayeva was known for being strong on all four apparatus, without an obvious weak event. These qualities, along with her regal presentation, lead to her nickname "Queen Podkopayeva" and is also endearingly called "Lilipod". She was the originator of two skills that are still included in the Code of Points: the Podkopayeva vault and a double front half-out salto on the floor exercise.
Podkopayeva was introduced to gymnastics at the age of five by her grandmother. As a junior, before the breakup of the Soviet Union, she briefly trained at the Soviets' renowned Round Lake gymnastics facility. At the 1996 Olympics, Russian (and former Soviet) head coach Leonid Arkaev noted that Podkopayeva was the gymnast with whom he most missed working. In Ukraine, Podkopayeva trained at the National Training Center in Kiev under the tutelage of former European, World and Olympic gold medalist Ludmilla Tourischeva.
Podkopayeva made her senior international debut in 1993. Only 14 at that year's World Championships, she placed 16th in the all-around. She qualified for the vault final, but crashed on her first attempt and finished last. In 1994, Podkopayeva's competitive fortunes improved immensely. At the 1994 World Championships, she finished sixth in the all-around — a ten place improvement from the previous year—and won a silver medal on the balance beam. At the European Championships, she earned four medals, winning gold on the floor exercise, silver on the beam, and bronze in the vault and team events. She also qualified for the all-around and the uneven bars final, where she placed fifth and sixth, respectively. Podkopayeva also did well at the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, where she won the vault title, placed 4th in the all-around, won a bronze medal with the Ukrainian team and a silver on floor.
Podkpopayeva competed in the 1995 World Championships with a new set of routines and an optimum physical condition. Due to her past inconsistencies, she was widely considered to be an underdog. However, while other more decorated gymnasts faltered, Podkopayeva had the meet of her life, winning the all-around title. She beat Svetlana Khorkina of Russia and Lavinia Miloşovici of Romania, who finished second and third respectively. In the event finals, Lilia excelled again, taking another gold medal on the vault and silvers on the uneven bars and the beam. Her contributions in the team competition also helped the Ukrainians to a fifth-place finish, allowing them to qualify a full team to the 1996 Olympic Games.
In early 1996, Podkopayeva was seriously injured when she fell from the beam in practice, fracturing two ribs. She recovered sufficiently to win three gold medals at the 1996 European Championships in the all-around, bars and floor finals. In the all-around, Lilia pushed her childhood idol Svetlana Boginskaya into second place. She also won a bronze on the vault.
As the defending World and European Champion, Podkopayeva was a favorite at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In the team competition she was able to post the highest scores of the Ukrainian team, helping them to a fifth-place finish. But on the vault in the team finals, she had two major mistakes and nearly injured herself on her first vault. She fell on the second vault, failing to qualify to the vault finals. She qualified in first place just ahead of the 1993 and 1994 World all-around champion Shannon Miller to the all-around final, where she had a strong performance and won the gold medal. In doing so, she became the first female gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title as a defending World Champion since Ludmilla Tourischeva in 1972. In addition, Podkopayeva also became the first female gymnast since Tourischeva to hold the European, World, and Olympic all-around titles at the same time. She also became the first, and to date, only Olympic all-around champion to come from a team that finished outside the medals. She dedicated her title to her beloved grandmother, who had died just three weeks prior to the Olympics. Podkopayeva won a second gold medal in the floor exercise final and a silver on the beam — becoming the only female gymnast since Nadia Comaneci to win an individual event gold after winning the all-round title in the same Olympics.
Podkopayeva originally intended to continue competing after the 1996 Olympics, and she was a part of the Ukrainian team at the 1997 Worlds. However, injuries forced her to sit out Worlds and to later retire.
Life After Gymnastics
Podkopayeva is currently the Ukrainian United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS. She is married to Ukrainian businessman Timofei Nagorny. They are the parents of two children: Vadim, adopted in Ukraine in July 2006; and Karolina, born in November of the same year. However, as of 2009, Lilia has divorced Timofei and the two share custody of their children.
Podkopyeva is still actively involved with the sport of gymnastics, and is Ukraine's Ambassador of Sport to the Council of Europe. She was certified as an international brevet judge in 2004, and also coaches extensively in the U.S. and Ukraine. In Ukraine, Podkopayeva founded the Golden Lily tournament. The event, started in 2002, has evolved from an international gymnastics competition to a gala exhibition. She has additionally worked as a television personality, hosting a show entitled "Aerobics for Champions."
In 2006, she won the Ukrainian version of Dancing With the Stars, and represented Ukraine at the Eurovision Dance Contest 2008 with Sergey Kostetskiy.
|1992||Massilia Gym Cup||10|
|Birmingham World Championships||16||8|
|International Mixed Pairs||3rd|
|Brisbane World Championships||6||2nd|
|Stockholm European Championships||3rd||5||3rd||6||2nd||1st|
|Dortmund World Team Championships||5|
|St. Petersburg Goodwill Games||3rd||4||1st||2nd|
|Sabae World Championships||5||1st||1st||2nd||2nd|
|1996||Birmingham European Championships||1st||3rd||1st||1st|
|Atlanta Olympic Games||5||1st||5||2nd||1st|
|1997||Lausanne World Championships||4|
1994 - "Hava Nagila"
1994 (Worlds) - "Karelia" by the Spotnicks
1995 - "In a Persian Market" by Ketelby
1995 - "Boublitski' by Paul Mouriat
1996 - "The Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro"