Lala Kramarenko: 16-year-old rhythmic gymnastics phenom ready to make senior mark
Athletes from Russia have won every available Olympic gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics since 2000, and the Russian Olympic Committee team looks likely to continue that streak at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021.
But Kramarenko, at 16 the youngest potential team member, is the athlete who could perhaps most make a name for herself.
She has her first big chance on the senior stage at the forthcoming FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup in Bulgaria.
Kramarenko is the daughter of former Azerbaijan football goalkeeper Dmitry.
Born in Moscow, she grew up in Azerbaijan, and in 2014 moved from Baku to Novogorsk to train with coach Lyaysan Savitskaya.
She began the sport aged just three – speaking to the Olympic Channel's Ekaterina Kuznetsova in 2019, Kramarenko said she was already able to do the splits even at that tender age.
"I'm not afraid to do anything," Kramarenko said. "[Rhythmic gymnastics] is my life; everything brings me joy."
Her twin sister Diana began the sport with her, but no longer practises it.
"[One day] she came for training and said that she would no longer do gymnastics because it was very difficult for her," Kramarenko explained.
So, while Lala continued in rhythmic gymnastics, her twin instead took up tennis.
"We are different, generally," Kramarenko emphasised, adding: "She's softer than I am. She can [accept losing] in tennis. It's difficult for me to accept losses."
Kramarenko: Early years
Growing up, Kramarenko was mostly homeschooled by her grandmother, a Russian teacher.
In the 2019 interview, she said: "I practically don't go to school. I go only to take exams, so my classmates don't even know me."
However, she has had to grow up quickly as an elite athlete at such a young age – she was still only 14 when she won junior world gold in Moscow.
Asked what sport had taught her at that early age, Kramarenko said: "Probably independence.
"We [her and Diana] are already flying alone; we live alone in Novogorsk constantly. I learned how to be more independent."
Since then, Kramarenko has transitioned to the senior ranks, and is expected to represent the Russian Gymnastics Federation at the FIG Rhythmic World Cup stop in Sofia, Bulgaria, this week.
With the Averinas being rested for the competition after the recent Russian nationals, Kramarenko and fellow junior world champion Anastasia Simakova will be expected to lead the RGF team.
Lala Kramarenko's gymnastics style
Kramarenko, still with an eye on making the Tokyo Olympic team, has lots of inspiration to draw from.
With Kabaeva, Kanaeva, and Mamun's successes all still very recent, there is no shortage of motivation for younger gymnasts in Russia.
"All gymnasts inspire me because they are all brilliant," Kramarenko told Olympic Channel.
"But my idol is Alina Kabaeva. I try to follow her example. She [was] brilliant with everything – on an apparatus, in her turns and her work with the apparatus."
Kramarenko considers herself more of a technical gymnast.
"Technique is easier for me," she said. "With artistry I am not really good at. Irina Alexandrovna [Viner Usmanova, the team's head coach and president of the federation] constantly tells me to smile [more].
"It’s hard for me. I don’t know, because I am more focused on the apparatus and therefore a smile [gets forgotten about]."
She may have reason to smile, if she makes the Olympic team.