Split second timing
On the one hand medal winning gymnast Chrystalleni Trikomiti is just an average teenager. But, writes Theo Panayides, all that changes when she walks into a gym.
Chrystalleni Trikomiti is 17, in fact she's barely 17 (she was born November 30, 1993). She likes CSI, Mr & Mrs Smith, Michael Jackson and her grandma's ravioles.
She'll sometimes refer to things as being "really wow".
She lives in Aradippou, and has five brothers and sisters (she's the third oldest).
But she also has her own Wikipedia page, and several videos on YouTube - including the dazzling routines that won her two golds, a silver and two bronzes at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, giving Cyprus its first-ever medals in rhythmic gymnastics.
In the videos, Chrystalleni looks regal, queen-like. She steps onto the floor, her hair pulled back, her long neck held very straight as she surveys the crowd with a cool gaze. Then she launches into her routines, rolling a ball across her shoulders or twirling a ribbon into kaleidoscopic swirls of colour.
At one point she brings the ribbon up to her shoulder then, in a single firm movement, drops her arm and hurls the ribbon up into the air with all her strength - then drops to the floor, does two somersaults in succession and emerges just where the ribbon is coming down, plucking it from the air with split-second timing. The applause is deafening.
"Crowd reacting as though it was a prize-fight," notes the Australian commentator wryly, already resigned to the fact that Chrystalleni would (and did) beat the Australian gymnast into second place.
The Trikomiti family and sport
In person, sitting at the dining-room table of the house in Aradippou, Chrystalleni's a lot less grown-up. If you're looking for a way to reconcile the down-to-earth teenager at the dining-room table with the self-possessed, supremely confident athlete on the gymnastics floor, Chrystalleni's family is the key to the puzzle.
Simply put, the Trikomitis take sport seriously. Of the six kids, only the youngest at the age of five hasn't (yet) tried her hand at some physical exercise.
The two boys do judo, while the three girls do gymnastics; indeed, Chrystalleni's older sister Loukia just missed qualifying for the Olympics (presumably Beijing) "by a few thousandths".
Mum also dabbled in gymnastics in her time, while Dad races cars as a hobby - as did Grandpa, who was also into Greco-Roman wrestling.
Chrystalleni's made impressive sacrifices in the past two years, albeit supported by her school, which consented to her lengthy absences.
Last summer - the summer before the Games - was especially hectic. She'd wake up around 6am, start the day with a few hours of private lessons (trying to make up for lost school time) then spend eight hours at the gym, with a two-hour break in between.
That was her routine all summer long, even weekends, only allowed one week off when she let her hair down and tried to act like a teenager.
Daily training starts with two hours of ballet-style stretching and leaping, she explains (ballet is the basis of rhythmic gymnastics), then she practises her routines for each "apparatus" - hoop, ball, ribbon and clubs - three or four times.
In the end, it becomes almost mechanical. After having done these routines four times a day, seven days a week, for a year and a half, "I should be able to close my eyes and do them" - which is as it should be, because technical excellence is almost a given in rhythmic gymnastics.
Unlike other sports, you get judged on your whole performance, so intangibles like grace and personality come into play. In Delhi, the crowd loved her.
Even on YouTube you can sometimes hear the locals chanting "Cyprus! Cyprus!" It wasn't (just) because she was technically perfect; it was her style, her character. The audience sensed she had something special.
Appreciation of her achievement
Chrystalleni's now being appreciated on home soil, after her Commonwealth Games triumph.
"I'll never forget, the first days after I came back I was walking down the street and people were asking if I was that girl, and I said 'Yeah, it's me'. It was really wow, because people really showed they were proud of me."
Then again, she also ended up coming sixth overall in those European Championships, and nobody cared.
"In any other sport, if you say 'I came sixth in Europe', it'll be known," she points out. "Rhythmic gymnastics doesn't really exist in Cyprus."
It's remarkable in many ways, the depth and extent of Chrystalleni Trikomiti's commitment in a place where few people devote themselves to sport so intensely (even Marcos Baghdatis had to grow up in France).
"I realised a long time ago that my life is different," she says - yet she's really not so different to most of her peers. What's she like as a person? "I think I'm a very open person," she replies; "People tell me I'm very sociable".
She has friends, spends hours on Facebook and likes to go to parties.
She's very sporty, having also dabbled in judo and go-karting at competitive level, and likes fishing and water-skiing. She wants to study Law and be a lawyer - very few gymnasts continue past the age of 22 or so - and is currently organising 2011 to ensure she finds time for both exams and tournaments.
Probably stick to four hours of training until March or April, then back up to eight. This summer will be just as busy as the last one, with those vital Championships coming up in September. It's a shame, I sympathise, spending her last high-school summer like that.
She shakes her head; "I don't think about it."
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