Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Power Behind The Throne

They were always an intriguing pair: the leggy Russian diva with a penchant for the unconventional and the overemotional – a sharp contrast to the measured calm and unrelenting stoicism of her coach. Together, they created magic for over a decade.

You couldn’t have paid John Tesh to voice a more compelling narrative.

The diva in question, Svetlana Khorkina, is remembered for her more-than-a-decade-long reign as queen of gymnastics. But Khorkina’s success was due in no small part to her lifelong coach, Boris Pilkin, who fashioned routines for his pupil that capitalized on her unusually tall figure (nearly 5'5''). Pilkin, the guiding force and power behind the throne, died Thursday at the age of 82.

"[Pilkin] is the one who gives me ideas first,” Khorkina told Reuters in 2003. “The programs are not easy, and I have to work hard to make it happen,” she said.

And together, they did.


As a young gymnast, several coaches suggested she take up rhythmic gymnastics instead, but "her longtime coach stuck by her, she says, when everybody gave up on her," recalled Tim Daggett while commentating on the Uneven Bars finals at the 2000 Olympics, during which Khorkina captured her second consecutive Olympic title on that event.

Under Pilkin's tutelage, originality was a necessity, innovation an artform. And during their time together, Khorkina amassed a legendary collection of accolades that includes: 3 World All-Around Titles, 7 Olympic medals (including two golds), and 20 world medals.

"Her coach, Boris Pilkin, had to figure out new ways to bring difficulty," Daggett said during the 1996 Olympics. "She has a longer body... so she does some unconventional things that work very well."


From what the cameras showed of him, Pilkin was never quite the demonstrative figure that his star athlete was. It didn’t matter; her repertoire of moves spoke volumes for him.

Khorkina was quoted in International Gymnast as saying "He will remain forever in my memory and my heart, my friend in battle," she said. "He did a lot for Russian sport, and for me personally. If not for Boris, I don't know what my life and sports career would have been like."


If the legacy Khorkina left in gymnastics is indelible, then surely Pilkin’s imprint on that legacy is undeniable.


Boris Pilkin R.I.P.

-- Tarasova's Mink


  1. Wonderful tribute to an outstanding coach and man! May he RIP. It's obvious to see the love, admiration and respect that Khorkina holds for him and probably always will. The one person whom believed in her and helped make her dreams come true.

  2. I absolutely LOVED Khorkina's 1997 FX and wished that she would've kept it a bit longer btw

  3. Great tribute to an obviously outstanding coach.

  4. Great tribute! The man created one of THE greatest of all time.

  5. Excellent tribute by Tarasova's Mink. I am looking for quotes Boris made about Sveta. He always had the best lines.

  6. This is an exceptional tribute. Kudos.

    It was commonly stated up until after 1997 that Khorkina's odds of being allowed to stay in the RUS gymnastics program were bleak without Boris. I had read somewhere (probably 12, 13 years ago) that Boris had done some major politiking to keep Sveta in the program because her height was increasingly becoming a problem. If you look at her composition from 1993-1995, there were MAJOR overhauls that coincided with the internal struggle Boris was fighting to keep her in the program. Something about he and Arkayev had arranged a deal where Boris would cultivate Sveta on his own and watch over her every practice, routine, etc. Very interesting... wish I could remember more.

    They had such a very special relationship... probably the deepest, most trusting out of any coach-gymnast pair we've ever seen. He was a man of few words, but people always listened when he spoke about their connection.

    Thanks again for this. Wonderful.

  7. Thank you for posting this!