When Mum and I got to Moscow we reported straight away to Irina Alexandrovna Viner. But at first she didn’t even want to see me, because she’d found out that I was 12 years old, which was a bit too old for rhythmic gymnastics. But Mum insisted that she watch me perform in the hall, and Viner eventually agreed.
And so I began practising, performing various elements and jumping all over the place. And incidentally there were some girls in the hall who were members of the Russian team – real stars, you could say. But I was used to always having lots of girls in the hall, so I did what I’d come to do, tried very hard, and didn’t even notice when they started gathering around to watch me. Irina Alexandrovna came over, took a look at how I was performing and asked me if I knew how to smile. I said I did, and she told me to smile and repeat my jumps. So I started again, and at one point jumped so high that I got scared and thought “Good heavens, how did I manage to get up so high that my legs are going down but haven’t hit the floor yet?” Everyone was struck dumb. Viner took me by the hand, led me over to the Russian team’s chief trainer and said “Just look at this astonishing child! How flexible, and how she jumps!” And she kept me on and told Mum to leave and not to come back for three days. The training base was outside Moscow, in Novogorsk, and Mum could barely stop herself from coming back and taking me away from there. That’s how my sporting career began in Moscow.
Irina Alexandrovna is a very high-class trainer. In fact, I would say that the Russian school is one of the best and this is largely thanks to Irina Alexandrovna Viner. She throws herself heart and soul into her work, gives the girls everything she’s got. Sometimes she describes gymnastics as her hobby, but in fact it’s her life’s work. She feels very closely what her trainees are experiencing and knows exactly when to push them a bit harder and when to stop. Sometimes she can be strict and she can even raise her voice, but always in a professional way. I owe her so much. It was she who made a champion of me, who gave me confidence in myself and a belief that I could achieve great things. At the same time Irina’s very human. She won’t force you to practise for no reason. She really feels the girls well. For example, once before the European Championship she sent me on holiday to Turkey for a whole 10 days and told me I wasn’t to practise at all.