With a display of stunning elegance and control, Russia’s Evgeniya Kanaeva retained her Olympic rhythmic gymnastics title on Saturday to confirm her status as the sport’s outstanding performer.
The three-time world champion scored a total of 116.900 points to finish 2.400 points above compatriot Daria Dmitrieva at Wembley Arena in west London, while Liubou Charkashnya of Belarus took the bronze medal.
Kanaeva became the first person to have won two individual rhythmic gymnastics titles at the Olympics, following her success in Beijing four years ago.
“I’m very happy that I’ve succeeded in two consecutive Olympics and I really appreciate the people who have supported me, like my coach and my parents,” Kanaeva said. “It was great to see lots of Russian supporters in the audience. It’s very important to have that kind of support and people cheering for me.”
The 22-year-old from Omsk top-scored in three of her four routines, keeping Russia on top of the podium for the fourth straight Games after previous successes for Yulia Barsukova in 2000 and Alina Kabaeva in 2004.
Along with synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics is one of only two sports at the London Games that is practiced exclusively by women.
The gymnasts perform floor routines accompanied by music with four pieces of apparatus — a hoop, a ball, a set of clubs and a ribbon — and they are awarded a score by three juries.
Kanaeva had dropped her hoop during qualifying on Thursday, but she made no such mistake during a delightful opening routine with that piece of apparatus and took the lead with a score of 29.350 points.
Rhythmic gymnastics is often described as a cross between ballet and gymnastics, but the ball routine suggests freestyle soccer is an element of the mix as well.
The final clashed with the culmination of the men’s soccer tournament next door at Wembley Stadium, but even Brazil and Mexico’s millionaire players would have marveled at the audacity of Kanaeva’s footwork with the ball.
Like all the gymnasts, Kanaeva displayed remarkable dexterity and flexibility to send the rubber ball rolling around the contours of her body, even cradling it in the small of her back at one point.
After two rotations, she led Dmitrieva by 1.900 points, but a faultless display with the clubs enabled her to stretch her advantage to 2.600 points ahead of the final routine.
Accompanied by Fantasie-Impromptu by Chopin, Kanaeva brought home the gold with a beautifully accomplished 90-second ribbon display that drew roars from the sizeable Russian contingent in the crowd.