Sunday, September 6, 2009

Some Break-ups are for the Best

(Oksana Knizhnik)

All I can say is that I am so glad the Soviet Union broke up when it did.  Because if it didn't, there were so many gymnasts training inside that country that we may never have been lucky enough to see perform for the ridiculously deep Soviet team.  When the country broke up into independant states, each country got the gymnasts born within their newly drawn borders.  

All of a sudden girls who were down in the middle ranks- which by no means meant they were untalented, far, far from it- were up in sure contention for places on the National Teams of their various new countries.

One of these girls was Oksana Knizhnik, who some might recognise as the freakily pale gymnast from Ukraine with the great split position.  She was born in 1977 and trained in Russia at Lake Krugyelov with many of her more recognised and utilised contemporaries, but suddenly discovered herself acting a key member of the freshly baked Ukrainian Team between 1994 and 1996.  She told the International Gymnast magazine;

"The dissolution was partly good and bad.  What was good, was that gymnasts who would not have had much of a chance to compete for the Soviet Union now have the opportunity to compete for their own republics"

(Knizhnik's Eponymous Move)

Even as one of the Ukrainian mainstays in that middle period of the nineties, Knizhnik is  rarely remembered compared to her more well-known team mates like the Lilipod, Teslenko and Karpenko, but Knizhnik was a gorgeous gymnast.  Her talents were particularly recognisable on beam and floor, though she was a strong vaulter too.

I personally adore her on beam.  Her signature flexibility move rivals many of the best.  Her layout mount was great, and I loved her handstand to split at the end of the beam. AND she did a double stag ring leap.  I LOVE IT!!!
 I have posted this particular video, because even though she falls on the mount, the rest of the routine is fabulous, and because others ones on youtube don't always include her flexibility skill.

Or watch it HERE

Though Knizhnik was a wonderful gymnast, she wasn't included on the Ukrainian Olympic Team in 1996, and was only called on to perform when Karpenko injured her hand.  Knizhnik put on a great performance in the compulsories, though she was a little nervy.  She competed in three events in the team optionals too- not bars.
Her leaps in the very balletic, very trick compulsory floor were incredible, however, rivalling even those who who at the top, like Bogey, Miller and Onodi, for amplitude and height.  
It is a pity she couldn't carry that over to beam, where her leaps were a little low.  But that was due to the nerves and the pressure of staying on (if Amanar could fall in that beam set, anyone might!!) I am sure.

Or watch it HERE

Knizhnik retired from gymnastics after the 1996 Olympics and soon married, had a baby boy and began coaching gymnastics.  As far as I am concerned, we were very fortunate that things happened the way they did so we got to witness her incredibly deer-like grace and original and exciting  variations on skills while we did, instead of her having remained in obscurity in Round Lake until she retired.


  1. Oh my, eat your heart out Nastia, and Shayla Worley and all those other gymnasts who claim flexibility as their trademark.

  2. Completely agree with the poster above. Thanks for the great memories. From that '96 Ukrainian team I also enjoyed Zelepukina, another talent on beam. I don't think Youtube has many videos of her though.

  3. Khnizhnik was on the 1996 UKR Olympic team. Definitely. She reminds me a bit of Dementieva LOL! Also IIRC Zelepukina was almost completely blinded relatively soon after Atlanta - I don't recall how though :(