Though Lyudmila Yezhova faces stiff competition to fulfill her goal of winning the balance beam title this weekend at the Pacific Rim Championships in San Jose, the four-time world medalist said she is simply thrilled to be competing.
Lyudmila Yezhova GrebenkovaYezhova, who turned 26 March 4, retired in 2005 after winning a bronze medal with the Russian team at the 2004 Olympics. She married fellow 2004 Olympian Georgy Grebenkov in 2005, but returned to training in 2006.
"I couldn't live without gymnastics and without performing," Yezhova told IG in San Jose.
Yezhova competes Saturday in the women's team competition with senior teammates Anna Myzdrikova and Alyona Zmeu and juniors Viktoria Komova, Violetta Malikova and Nailia Mustafina. Russia, which did not send a senior team to the 2006 Pacific Alliance Championships (now known as Pacific Rim), competes in the first of two subdivisions Saturday.
"This is a first-rate team and we're going to do our best," Yezhova said.
Yezhova told IG she hopes to win the individual title on beam Sunday, though she will have to overcome competitors like two-time world balance beam champion Nastia Liukin (USA) and 2006 world bronze medalist Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (Canada).
Yezhova trained full sets on beam and bars during Thursday evening's podium training, and did a dance-through on floor exercise.
"In order to qualify to the Russian Cup [in June] I need to do the all-around, which is why I keep up on all four events," she explained.
She plans to compete bars and beam only in San Jose, where she also serves as a mentor to her teammates.
"Mila helps all of us a lot," Mustafina said.
Mustafina, 11, was not yet born when Yezhova made her major international debut at the 1996 Junior European Championships in Birmingham, England. Yezhova won the bronze on beam with the signature pass she still performs today: Onodi, front aerial, side somi.
Yezhova, who now competes under her married name of Lyudmila Grebenkova, trains at Moscow Dinamo with her husband as her coach. She's added new skills on balance beam, including a roundoff, layout to two feet and a double turn. Learning new skills as a veteran is not as difficult as it seems, she said.
"It's not as easy as if I were 16 years old, but one good thing is that I'm not growing anymore so my body is stabilized, which helps," she said.
Though she was not selected for Russia's squad for the upcoming European Championships, Yezhova is in the running for a second Olympic berth. She has won three World Cup medals on beam in the past six months: gold at the 2007 Glasgow Grand Prix, bronze at the 2007 DTB Cup and bronze at the 2008 Doha World Cup.
"I have a good chance of being on the Olympic team and I will do everything possible to represent Russia in China," she said.