With a nine-year career and a trunkful of medals, Yevgenia Pavlina is one of the most successful gymnasts of the 1990s. Regardless, it still took her a long, frustrating climb before she made it to the top.
Born in Minsk on July 20, 1979, the lanky Pavlina started gymnastics at the age of 7. She trained 48 hours per week at club Dynamo Minsk with Irina Leparskaya and Belarussian master Galina Krylenko. Pavlina made her senior
debut at the 1993 Medico Cup in Austria, where she placed 3rd in the all-around and took two more bronze medals with clubs and ribbon. At the Coupe d'Opale she placed 4th, but the new senior struggled to 17th at the Corbeil International.
Later that year she got her big break, however, at the expense of more famous teammate Larissa Lukyanenko. When Lukyanenko broke her ankle in training, Pavlina, just 14 years old, was called upon to replace her in the 1993 World Championships. She helped the Belarussian 5th-place effort, then went on to place 13th in the all-around.
In 1994 Pavlina was passed over for major international assignments in favor of seasoned teammates Lukyanenko and Tatiana Ogryzko. Pavlina competed at the Julieta Shishmanova Cup, where she won the bronze, and the Spring Cup, where she was 6th.
The following year, Pavlina took on greater responsibility within the Belarussian team. She placed 6th at the European Cup in Italy, then 14th at the European Cup in Russia. At the International of Ljubljana, the fast-moving gymnast scored her first big win; she also won titles with rope and clubs. She followed up this result with another 6th place, this time at the Alfred Vogel Invitational, and 10th place at the 1995 World Championships.
Pavlina was not chosen for the 1996 Belarussian Olympic Team, but she did compete in most major events that year. After a win at the San Francisco Invitational, she came in 5th at the Kalamata Cup, 6th (qualifying round) at the International of Ljubljana, and 4th in the International Hungarian Cup. In Corbeil she notched a 9th-place ranking, and also came in 4th in the team competition. At the apparatus finals-only 1996 World Championships Pavlina managed 6th with clubs, but then redeemed herself with the ribbon bronze.
After the retirement of Lukyanenko, Pavlina stepped up to become the Belarussian number two. At the 1997 Schmiden International, she scored the all-around silver as well as all four apparatus golds. The Derjugina Cup was another success for her; she earned a pair of bronze medals for the all-around and rope. At the Gymnastics Masters competition in Germany, she was awarded medals for each event: silver with hoop, bronze with ball, and gold with clubs and ribbon. Although she didn't fare as well at the European Championships -- 9th all-around -- she narrowly missed out on a medal (4th) at the 1997 World Championships.
With Ogryzko's retirement following the World Championships, Pavlina took over leadership of her team. She was first at the Schmiden International in 1998, and 4th at the DTB Cup (where she also won two silvers for clubs and ribbon and a bronze for rope). But that year's European Championships would be her greatest success. A precise, action-filled, expressive performance gave her the all-around silver, as well as a bronze with ribbon and a gold in the team event. Shortly after, she finished 3rd at the Goodwill Games.
Although Pavlina competed at most major internationals in 1999, she had begun to be eclipsed by teammate Julia Raskina. But she was also the victim of questionable judging. After a third-place finish at Corbeil, Pavlina was knocked to 5th all-around at the European Championships. Costly mistakes with ribbon meant only 11th all-around at the World Championships, where she only managed to qualify to two event finals. She wound up with a bronze for hoop and a close-but-no-cigar finish with ball (5th) -- plus the bitter aftertaste of skewed scoring.
In an interview after the team event at the 1999 World Championships, the outspoken Pavlina remarked, "Frankly speaking, it is annoying to receive lower scores. Rhythmic gymnastics is a battle not only with the competitors, but with the judges as well." When asked what her goal was for the remainder of the meet, the slim brunette would only say, "I cannot say a concrete aim, because there is a problem with the judges. Because of that, I prefer not to have high expectations."
The elegant and innovative Pavlina decided to give up the fight after the competition ended. She retired abruptly, leaving fans to grieve her absence. But not even a year later, Pavlina was back in action, this time as the founder of a Belarussian dance troupe that featured several retired gymnasts.
Yevgenia Pavlina is best known for her for her animated and unusual dance and body positions, and her radiant yet mischievous smile. One of her master works is her darkly dramatic 1998 ribbon, which featured risky tosses and a stunningly original wrap during her final pirouette. She is also well-known for her spunky 1999 interpretation of Carmen with ball, and her wonderfully sophisticated 1999 medal-winning hoop. Pavlina, who was never afraid to experiment with different styles and difficult combinations, has won a dedicated group of fans for her plain-spokenness, as well as for her mature presentation and high degree of artistry.