Svetlana Khorkina of Russia doesn't fit the image of a world-class female gymnast. At 5' 5" she's practically a skyscraper. At 21 she's just about ready for Geritol. Her topless layout in the November 1997 Russian edition of Playboy? Well, few gymnasts are as unabashed in their quest for attention as the coquettish Khorkina, who enters the Sydney Games as the all-around favorite.
By age six, Khorkina was displaying career-threatening signs of becoming a normal-heighted young woman. You'll never be able to swing on the uneven bars with all that length, her coach, Boris Pilkin, told her. Try rhythmic gymnastics. Khorkina balked. Since 1994 she has entered nine finals on the uneven bars at the Olympics, worlds and European championships and won them all. Innovation is Khorkina's trademark. She has moves named for her on every apparatus, including two on bars. After winning four gold medals at the European championships in Paris in May, Khorkina went to the Russian nationals in Moscow and unveiled two vaults and a dizzying combination on the bars.
The woman with the cell phone and the jazzy Renault hopes to become the oldest women's Olympic all-around champ since Czechoslovakia's Vera ?�slavsk� in 1968. She also wants to be a star, as was clear from her Playboy pictorial, which caught her parents and teammates by surprise. Her mother, Lyubov, liked the artistry of the pictures; her father, Vassily, was shocked. Khorkina is coy about boyfriends but seems to enjoy interviews that veer from her sport to her personal life. "I love it," she says of the attention. "I want people to remember me."