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Khorkina Heads to Milan
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Three-time world and European all-around champion Svetlana Khorkina plans to attend the upcoming European Championships in Milan.

The Olympic-champion-turned-politican is a vice president of the Russian Gymnastics Federation and since 2007 has served as a deputy in the Russian Duma, or parliament. She attended the recent Russian Championships in Bryansk, where junior Aliya Mustafina won the women's all-around title.

Svetlana Khorkina (Russia)

Khorkina won the world all-around title in 1997, 2001 and 2003, and the European all-around title in 1998, 2000 and 2002. She won five world titles on uneven bars, and gold medals on the event at the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000. She retired in 2004 after her third consecutive Olympics, and became a mother to son Svyatoslav in July 2005.

Khorkina, who celebrated her 30th birthday on Jan. 19, offered praise for the 14-year-old Mustafina.

"I really like her," Khorkina said. "With the right approach to training and the right attitude, this girl can really turn out to be something. It's a shame that because of her age she cannot compete at the European Championships. After all she won the all-around over Ksenia Semyonova, shared the gold on beam with Ksenia Afanasyeva and won medals on other events. The two Ksenias and the rest of the gymnasts need to celebrate that there is a new generation which pushes them, does not allow them to relax and forces them to improve their skills. The presence of competition and healthy rivalry is the engine that drives the training process."

Afansyeva, Semyonova, Yulia Berger and Kristina Goryunova will represent Russia in Milan. Afanasyeva and Semyonova, 2008 Olympians, are still not 100 percent following post-Olympic injuries, but Khorkina told newspaper "Rossiya Gazeta" she expects strong results from the pair in Milan.

"Injuries and health problems are commonplace in sports," she said. "It cannot and should not serve as an excuse. At the European Championship they need to go for the gold or not go at all."

The European Championships will be the first under the guidance of new head coach Alexander Alexandrov, who returned to Russia last fall after 14 years in the U.S.

"With this coach I took my first steps on the Soviet national team," she said. "He plucked me from the youth team. Under the direction of Alexandrov I began my career. I remember the 1992 [Moscow Stars] when among all those grown-up gymnasts, real masters, I placed fifth."

Khorkina said it remains to be seen whether Alexandrov will have success again after his years abroad.

"[His time in the U.S.] won't hurt, but whether or not it will help we will see," she said. "We need to wait for upcoming competitions and to bring intermediate results. Before the 2012 Olympic Games is where we are starting in any case. My legendary coach, Boris Vasilevich Pilkin, said that two years prior to the Olympic Games, you need to be competing your Olympic routines, you need to perform those elements and combinations you will do at the Games."

Khorkina recently visited the new gym in Saransk where former Russian head coach Leonid Arkayev is coaching.

"The kids asked me to change my clothes, get on the bars, the beam, jump on a trampoline," she said. "Before this I hadn't done a handstand for four years. But I did it with great pleasure."

The European Championships take place April 2-5, and will include competition for men's and women's senior all-around and individual events.

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