The Only Gymnast That Mattered: The Svetlana Khorkina Story

Thank your lucky stars because the Olympic Channel has brought us the sustenance we’ve always needed but have never been able to express—a vital documentary profile of earth’s only true citizen, Svetlana Augustus Khorkina.

And you can bet your ass I’m breaking down the extended version, not that 9-minute one. If anyone has ever warranted an extended director’s cut that’s more than twice as long as the original, it’s The Svets.

First question: What sort of rider demands do you think she had for this shoot? Because 100% she doesn’t show up for less than four Faberge eggs and a shoebox containing the foot of her greatest rival. Bare minimum.

I would gladly turn to a life of arson to find out what happened behind the scenes here.

We begin with pea-in-her-pod Alexei Nemov, who spends the entirety of this thing volunteering nonspecific comments about her (his) greatness, while looking kind of constipated with confusion about why this documentary isn’t about how hot and insufferable he was in the 90s.

Yep, that’s the one right there.

Yada, yada, yada, Khorkina invented gymnastics, no one has ever been as important as her, blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, French Lady informs us that a diva is magical, you can’t catch her. (Uh DOY! We know.)

OK so French Lady’s research for this interview consisted entirely watching NBC fluff pieces. Same.

Emilie Le Pennec tells us about “a certain attitude” Khorkina has. Yes. A certain attitude. One might, for instance, term that attitude “ostentatiously delusional and egomaniacal.” A “rococo Medusa” if you will.

Also, the Olympic Channel is really into shots of Khorkina’s hair from the 2000 gala, and correct.

Khorkina invented Justin Timberlake in this moment, and the court will hear no further arguments.

“You’re not some rag!…They can’t just get rid of you!” announces the sister for no reason, acknowledging the great international conspiracy against Svetlana Khorkina, where a secret cabal of powerful capitalists meets at the bottom of the ocean to try to destroy her greatness by convincing the population of earth that she is, in fact, a rag.

Moving on from the montage portion (why would anyone ever), we take a road trip to Sveta’s ancestral home, Belgorod, where she’s sure as hell not not going to drive herself there like some farm person. Please. You know Khorkina hasn’t had to drive her own car since 1998, does not know how to use a microwave, and has no idea what a banana costs.

But a trip to Belgorod can mean only one thing: a visit to the parents.

I KNOW. THE PARENTS. Haven’t you always wondered?

So, item #1, there’s a cabinet full of crystal and china that also just has a portrait of Khorkina sitting up in there for some reason. And you know she put it there herself.

Just keeping all the valuables together.

Item #2: the house. Obviously I’m obsessed with this gaudy central tableau of tea sets and cakes and china and golden candelabras and trashy-ornate chairs and cabinets and Khorkina being all “LET THEM EAT GAINERS”—plunked right in the middle of an otherwise normal, casually appointed lake house where human beings would live. I want to talk about it all day long.

I’m commissioning a show called CSI: Khorkina’s Parents’ House. It will run for 16 seasons.

Episode 1 is entirely dedicated to that sombrero sitting on top of that cabinet in the upper right. What’s going on there?

Real talk: Do you think they brought this stuff in the for occasion, or this is just…the taste level?

Also there’s a whole watermelon sitting on the table.

Dig in?

Meanwhile, the dad utters exactly zero words the entire time, which is painfully accurate. Of course he has literally never spoken. And the mom is…oddly normal?

I kind of like her? She’s just making normal-mom comments about how she was worried Sveta would get injured in gymnastics (and Khorkina’s like, “shut up you old bag—I would die a thousand deaths for the glory of my country!”), and she’s excited to show baby pictures and whatnot.


Even when Khorkina was a little baby WWI pilot (?), the resting bitch face was live coast-to-coast. I’m wildly obsessed.

At tea, we learn the origin story of Khorkina participating in gymnastics—that she wouldn’t eat, so her parents signed her up for gymnastics to get her to eat more.

Oops. Did they not read the brochure for Central District Eating Disorder Work Camp and Gymnastics closely enough?

Moving on to Chapter Tall, we learn that Khorkina is 78 feet tall, that no one had ever been tall or thin before her, and that she invented INTERNATIONAL LOOK and also gymnastics and all sports and things. History class complete.

Once Khorkina and Boris Pilkin worked together to invent tall, Khorkina was ready to compete at the 1996 Olympics.

It also becomes clear at this point that we’re going to spend a lot of time with fun-crazy Khorkina in this documentary and not a ton of time with bitter-insane-horrible-views Khorkina, which is…fine. Because we go to the 1996 Olympics, and it is accompanied with no discussion whatsoever of the awful American KFC garbage tubs that louded the Russians out of team gold. And later on, she doesn’t even say anything mean about Carly Patterson. So, we’re leaving out some things.

Even given a director’s cut, I still very much need a deleted scenes segment and a blooper reel, is what I’m saying.

So anyway, Khorkina’s “ain’t nobody got time for this” salute won her bars gold in 1996.

Which, she informs us, means we now have to deal with her.

I mean…I can think of some other choices also?

But 1996 was only the beginning. As French Lady tells us, “In three years, she became the only gymnast that mattered.”

OK, did Khorkina write the script for this too? I imagine her behind the camera mouthing everyone’s lines for them. “The. On. Ly. Gym. Nast. That. Mat. Tered.”

Speaking of the only gymnast that mattered, it’s time to visit THE STATUE (because of course there’s a statue), which ushers in the “speaking about herself in third person” portion of the show. You know that portion.

“This statue is dedicated to Svetlana Khorkina, two-time gold medalist in gymnastics.”

“In other words — me!”

Well, I think we’ve got her headstone sorted. No comment has ever encapsulated Svetlana Khorkina better than “in other words — me!” In my mind, she bursts into rooms shouting that on a daily basis.

The Khorkina statue is actually not bad as far as statues go. It’s a fair likeness and isn’t just a horrifying, indeterminate smudge like most statues are.

I mean, let’s recall the Martha head, which is obviously just a mid-puberty boy.

Khorkina cannot stop mimicking her pose on the statue. Here. There. Everywhere. Bouncing around.

“That’s how the sculpture of gymnast Svetlana Khorkina was born.”


But there is one key difference between Khorkina of present day, and the Khorkina in the statue. The statue has a ponytail, which provokes the greatest part of the entire documentary, Khorkina attempting to do a sound-effect representation of having a ponytail (not a thing), and the sound that comes out of her is a laser.

Do you think she thinks that lasers come out of her ponytail? Yes and yes.

Moving on to the Svetlana Khorkina Sports Center of Khorkina Khorkiness, Svetlana points out all the places where her name is written on things, because of course she does.

Yeah, we got it, sweetie. The pointing really brings it home.

We also need to discuss this jacket with tigers and chains on it. DD’s flying to Russia as we speak.

On to Khorkina’s performance style, she tells us that her floor routines would be a one-on-one conversation with every spectator in the room.

Yes, and the conversation went something like this:

“She really used theatrics.” I mean no need for the past tense there. Are you even watching what’s unfolding here?

I know it’s not even Khorkina talking then, but it’s too irresistible. You could have just played this screenshot for 26 minutes. The rest of this is variations on a theme.

Moving on to the 2000 Olympics, Khorkina was perfect and everyone else was terrible and there was no chance she wouldn’t win because she was 60 Simones better than every other trash compactor there.

Until it was stolen from her.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that a rehashing of the circumstances of the Sydney Vault Disaster is unnecessary, but what is absolutely necessary is this GIF, as my life was pointless until this moment and now it has meaning.

It’s everything I have ever needed or felt.

So, yes, Khorkina had already gone on to anger-fall on her Ricna on bars because life is a cruel, pointless joke, so she felt no need to vault again when the option was presented because she couldn’t win. Winning being all that matters and such.

I love that there’s no attempt to pretend otherwise. There’s no “and the life lesson was, always fight through to the end.” There’s no “the point of the Olympics is to do your very best and try and soak in the experience.” Everyone’s just like, “Yeah, well she couldn’t win so only an idiot would vault again, der.”

We are then treated to a tale of how Svetlana went missing after the tragedy of the all-around final, and I’m in heaven. I imagine her wandering through the forest in a nightgown being all, “Who am I? Where am I?” and they have to come find her with one of those big nets.

Turns out, she just went shopping and to get a haircut. Then how long could she even have been missing, really? They told this story like she was gone for 46 hours and they had to call the police or something.

So her sister found her in the forest and reminded Khorkina that there were still gold medals to be won, and Khorkina went, “THE PRECIOUS?????” and then she was fine again. SADNESS CURED.

Yeah, our girl’s back.

For the 2000 event finals, Khorkina got a haircut that accurately predicted men’s fashion in 2014.

And that haircut singlehandedly won a consecutive Olympic bars gold, and also whatever this was.

You know what’s fun? The narrative that ANYONE ELSE would have given up after the all-around final, but not A CHAMPION like KHORKINA.

No. No one else would have (or did) give up after the all-around final. This is not a special development. The only unique thing here is the only Khorkina would have made such a big show about how she might give up, so that everyone had to run around telling her how great she is.

Meanwhile, we need to spare a moment for Elena Zamolodchikova, who has to roll up at this documentary to tell us how important it was for the team and the nation of Russia that Khorkina came back and won bars gold, even though Zamo won two event gold medals at the exact same time, compared to Khorkina’s one. I can’t start with that.

Back to the Svetlana Khorkina Training Center starring Svetlana Khorkina—which has her name on the building and on a plaque, you guys—Sveta has gathered all the little gymnasts to reveal to them the most important thing to do at the beginning of every practice.

And we were all like, “Uh oh.”

Because there was a 50% chance it was going to be, “Do a murder.” “Turn to a teammate and tell her she’s fat.”

But apparently it’s…getting in line? OK.

And then Khorkina just starts shouting, “GET IN LINE! WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?” for no reason because a true performer always gives the audience what it wants.

The bouts of random screaming, apropos of absolutely nothing, are an essential part of this piece. Inspirational art.

I am truly living for Girl in the Middle being like, “What’s this bitch about?”

You will be an Olympic champion some day, my star.

Moving on to the “I’m a coach now” chapter, Khorkina is a coach now.

She begins by making a bunch of five-year-olds walk around in a circle, telling them to suck in their stomachs, just like we’ve always dreamed. Her other coaching techniques include sound effects, telling you that the girl who’s going right now is better than you, and revealing that the key to floor exercise is feminine elegance.

Great and cool. Champion achieved.

“Svetlana was always our captain,” volunteers Zamo.

I mean, yeah. Can you imagine otherwise? Blood on the walls.

Did you guys know that Svetlana is famous throughout the world? Because she’s famous throughout the world. Famous famous. Whole world.

A shot of old people dancing in the street for no reason means it’s time to visit Sveta at “work.” Where she has a very work job and does a lot of work.

“My job consists of working for the good of Russian sports.”

Thank you for your specificity. That’s basically what Elizabeth Jennings would say when Paige asked what her job was. “My job consists of working for the good of Russia.” Mmm. Yes. Also the murders though.

I love all this pretending that her job isn’t just “BEING KHORKINA in everyday life.” And that that isn’t the most valuable and honorable of all professions anyway.

But what I love even more: the starring moment where Khorkina just randomly starts shouting on the phone and then slams it down.

“What do jobs are? Shouting on phone? I CAN DO!”

I know she’s actually a terrible person. I know this in my head. She’s also my hero.

Khorkina then starts rambling about trees and branches and how everything comes from gymnastics—i.e. her.

Sure. Whatever.

Oh. I’m sorry. Did you think there wasn’t going to be an acting portion?

Because there’s an acting portion.

In 2003, Khorkina starred as Venus at the Moscow Art Theatre. What play this even was? Unclear. But we are assured that EVERYONE just BEGGED her to play THE LEAD and that this is the BIGGEST THEATER in the country, and that she is the best most important actress ever and invented acting. Done and done.

To the 2004 Olympics!

Did you know that, going into the 2004 Olympics, Khorkina was once again the only gymnast in the world, and everyone thought she was going to win, and it was the dream of all creatures great and small that she would win gold in the all-around.

…and she didn’t.

Please award 1000 shade points for cutting straight from “she was the elegant queen of gymnasts and perfect glorious swan and everyone wanted her to win” directly to Carly’s “you put your right hand in, and you PIVOT all about” floor choreography.


So anyway, silver medal, nothing else happened at those Olympics, and Khorkina has no thoughts whatsoever about Carly Patterson winning the all-around. None.

To the legacy!

French Lady informs us that Khorkina has 8 elements named after her.

Nellie Kim is like, “Snip snip snip.”

So, yeah, Khorkina has 4 elements named after her in the current code of points.

There’s also the round-off 1/2 on, 1/2 turn to back pike on vault, which was condensed with the Podkopayeva and is no longer its own skill. There’s also the Markelov, for which Khorkina’s name was just randomly removed for no reason. There’s the hop 1.5 shushunova, which was also removed from the code because 1/2 turn variations are no longer recognized as separate on floor. There’s also potentially the gainer triple on beam (has that ever been named after her in the code?).

Maybe she’s right about that international bottom-of-the-ocean conspiracy.

Khorkina informs us that having skills named after you is more important than winning an Olympic all-around gold medal because she didn’t win one because it means people are forced to say your name a lot of times on the television box.

Life lessons with Svetlana Khorkina: People saying your name is the most important thing. Who’s Curly Patterman?

In conclusion, Svetlana Khorkina is now in a grey suit wearing a giant butterfly broach and sneakers in Red Square and we would have it no other way.

This moment, particularly the giant butterfly broach, makes her think about the glory of Russia and patriotism and the fight against fascism—and I’m 44% worried she’s about to raise an army and start conscripting locals to march on…anyone. Everyone.

You guys, I am LOST. She’s doing beam turns. On the paint.

Sveta assures us that she still has much to do. For sport. And for Russia.

Um…we good though?

What I’m saying is…please don’t.

34 thoughts on “The Only Gymnast That Mattered: The Svetlana Khorkina Story”

  1. I laughed so hard at this article. Thank you so much. *runs off to DVR this*

  2. nellie Kim is like “snip snip snip”
    that killed me!

    Actually no, every word of this article killed me.

  3. Watching “Chernobyl “ on HBO and reading this post is the best ever! Any thoughts on why they are broadcast in the same week?

  4. This is better than episode 3 of season 8 GoT! We have been building up to this!

  5. Her head on the statue is weirdly square I thought? Not that bad of a statue though. The comparison with the Martha Head was brilliant though, has a more awful statue ever been created ever?

    Brilliant commentary as usual Spencer.

    1. Have you seen Brandi Castain’s bust in the Soccer Hall of Fame? Trust me if you are in it for terrible statues that’s a great one. Google it.

      1. Hoooooooh boy. No I hadn’t seen that and wooow (insert Owen Wilson gif here!). I stand corrected. The Martha Head looks like an incredible likeness when compared to the bust of Gary Busey pretending to be Brandi Castain. Just, wut.

        That’s just f***ing insane. What were they thinking of!

  6. To be fair, Khorkina is right in that she was a special gymnast. I mean, it’s been 15 years since she last competed and she still is mentioned on a regular basis and gets posts written about her on the gymternet. Carly Patterson was the better gymnast in Athens but no one really brings her up if it isn’t in relation to Khorkina’s complaints (and yes, I realize I sound like Sveta lol).

    Loved your The Americans reference!

    1. +Ilana–To be fair, Khorkina is mentioned and written about regularly 15 years after she last competed because, AND ONLY BECAUSE, she is in Spencer’s words ‘bitter insane horrible.’ Also the most megalomaniacal bitchcunt ever to disgrace the sport, or have you never seen footage of her behavior at competitions, her being interviewed, and her being quoted? LOL!

  7. Is there not a subtitled version? I NEED SUBTITLES!!! Waaaaahh!

    1. There are subtitles on the Olympic channel video, at the bottom of the video press the icon with “cc” on it and select your preferred language.

      1. Ah! Thanks for that information. I also found a subtitled version on YouTube. Hmm… who knew?

    2. There is. When you’re watching in the bottom right there’s a little keyboard looking thing. Click on it to choose subtitles in your preferred language.

  8. I know many will cry heresy, but Khorkina was sort of an ugly gymnast. Her vaults, in particular, were a mess. All you saw were knees and elbows twisting frantically around before crashing onto the mat. I really didn’t find her lines to be very pleasing to the eye. And her affiliation with United Russia, and all their anti-LBGT policies, makes her not a very good person. We really shouldn’t celebrate her until she denounces Russia’s oppressive laws against the gay community.

    1. I think her gymnastics are pretty unpopular with the current majority of gym nerds. There’s lots of love for several of her 2000 and 2004 teammates but I never see anything for Khorkina other than shock and laughter at her weird ego and maybe grudging appreciation for the amount of new skills she innovated.

      1. It will be a hot Siberian January before I acknowledge her triple twist dismount from the beam. It was so clearly a 2.5 with a .5 hop.

    2. Her form on every event was especially awful in 2004. How she even won an AA silver with that abortion of a beam routine is insane.Anyone else performing a routine like that would have scored in the 8.8 – 9.0 range. Her floor was barely watchable and she had a mistake on bars but was given the benefit of the doubt there too. In any other Olympiad, she would have placed 10th or lower with those performances.

      I think her current “job” might be just trying shake down/blackmail Russian oligarchs for money to help fund Russian sports doping. I can’ t imagine her being a good coach and hope those scenes were staged.

      1. @Mary Lewd Someone else who uses my name for Wretched! LOL! Finally some plain truths on exactly how lousy Khorkina’s form and routines were in Athens. She hardly even deserved top ten placement, much less a medal. Thank *gawud* Biles is about to displace her from her last important ‘record’ and Khorkina can then rot in the acid of her own toxic hatreds.

    3. Mostly agree but also I don’t think many people really celebrate her. I mean Spencer is making fun of her ridiculous ego and personality this entire post. Granted, maybe giving her no attention at all would be better, but also…. it’s just too entertaining not to. She’s a maniac. And a joke to most I think. Russia has serious issues but I think the fact that Khorkina defends their stance actually works AGAINST them since her insanity is well known.

  9. So can we all agree Sveta is a Slytherin?
    Gosh, that woman has a massive superiority complex, always has. BUT I can totally understand how devastated she was in Sydney, because it was totally out of her control. she missed because of a stupid mistake which hasn^t been rectified properly. What I wonder is what would have happened if she had gotten 2nd behind Raducan and gotten the gold because of the banned substance, how she would have spun that story.

    1. She gave Andreea that cold during podium training. Went right up to her and sneezed in her face. At least that’s what I’ve always imagined.

      1. and she also conspired with that dumb as a bag Romanian dr. to have him give Andreea that banned pill.

    2. @tamilevi Actually, no. She missed because of a stupid mistake which resulted in do-overs for everyone whose score was affected BUT THE POINT IS that she immediately on her next (and best) event had a divabitch fit, with her usual hideous sociopathic attitude, and fell again. Had she, like every other gymnast in the competition, continued to do her best regardless, she would still have had a good chance. She DID IT TO HERSELF.

  10. Another comment from me: Just watched the Nadja Doc on the Olympic channel, I think it^s also a legends episode, and she seems so humble and down to earth (except that read oldie car but I am guessing that`s bart`s doing) in contrast to Khorkina. The difference is really striking in my opinion. She does seem to enjoy the spotlight a bit but she also does so much good with her work for Romanian children and the Special Olympics, so she can have the spotlight.Anyway I have always had a soft spot for Nadia so maybe I am not entirely objective

  11. According to Wikipedia she also shares the stalder 1.5 on bars with Amy Chow. Maybe they were thinking of that rather than the gainer triple?

    This has led me to read the named skill section of the code again and GAH. I regret it every time. An 11 year old in their first Excel class would do better. I 100% believe they remove people’s names from skills because they don’t know how to add new lines to that table. Can’t they find anyone to do it? I would do it for free tbh.

  12. DD heading to Moscow BAHAHAHAHA! Pretty sure someone will have and a tiger and chains themed floor music next year.

    Also, who read “Who am I?” in the Derek Zoolander voice. I so saw that entire commentary.

  13. The cut from Khorkina to Carly on floor caught my eye when I was watching the video, but your description and gif of it made me lose it completely. The person who made that edit should be canonized.

    I think the most important lesson is that, even if your attitude is so terrible that you blow off the opportunity to re-do an event during all-around, by showing up to event finals, you are a brave champion who overcame adversity. Bonus points if you show up with a new haircut like you’re celebrating your singlehood after a bad breakup. Yas gurl, you show that all-around competition what he’s missing yaaaaaaassssss.

  14. There is a lot of haterade here but she was such an elegant gymnast. Those lines. Even if she was imbuvable personally, she was stunning on certain apparatus. A great French word meaning undrinkable.

  15. Meanwhile, blogging like a 15 year old diva into your 30s is eternally funny. Honey badger never gets old. Or does it?

  16. I am DEAD with this deep analysis of the most important gymnastics documentary in the history of the world about the most important gymnast in the Universe. I think her rider was “we are not going to even mention the 1996’s TFs and the AA and neither the 2000’s TF”.

    And, believe you me, the tackiness of her parent’s house is really toned down for Russian standards. I don’t think they put all of these stuff for the film.

    About Zamo, I also got uncomfortable with her telling about the great feat that was Khorkina winning gold on EF while herself got 2 golds (despite Khorkina writing in her memoirs that she should have gotten the gold on Floor over Zamo). That also makes me wonder whether Zamo sabotaged herself in the AA. Her worst event, the balance beam, went on well and she didn’t fall. She only had two events to do (Floor and Vault – where she would be the Olympic champion a few days later). I think Khorkina would have never forgiven Zamo if she would become the Oympic AA champion.

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