By THE CANADIAN PRESS
GLASGOW — Patricia Bezzoubenko watched the Maple Leaf go up and wiped a tear from her eye.
It was a remarkable moment for the rhythmic gymnast who has lived most of her life in Russia but was overjoyed to win gold for Canada on Friday.
“Gosh, so proud of my country and for my coaches and my parents,” she said with a shy smile.
The 17-year-old captured her second gold medal of the Commonwealth Games, winning the individual all-around title a day after she led Canada to a victory in the team event. Later Friday, swimmer Katerine Savard made it a double-gold day for Canada by winning the women’s 100-metre butterfly in a Commonwealth Games record time of 57.40 seconds.
Canada is fifth in the overall medal standings after two days of competition with nine (four gold, one silver, four bronze). England and Australia have 32 medals apiece, followed by host Scotland (15) and India (10).
More gold could be coming for Canada as Bezzoubenko is poised to climb the podium several more times when she competes in the four individual events — hoop, ball, clubs, ribbon — on Saturday. She could potentially win all four.
“I will try,” she said.
Bezzoubenko scored 59.175 points to claim gold, while Francesca Jones of Wales was second with 57.350 and teammate Laura Halford won the bronze with 56.225. Maria Kitkarska of Montreal was eighth.
Canada has four gold medals at the Games. Swimmer Ryan Cochrane won the men’s 400-metre freestyle race on Thursday.
Bezzoubenko was born in Vancouver but her parents returned with her to Moscow when she was just four.
When Bezzoubenko was 13, Russia’s national team coach placed a call to Canadian coach Svetlana Joukova — who is Russian-born — suggesting she take a look at the young gymnast with dual citizenship.
Now Bezzoubenko, who lists her hometown as Thornhill, Ont., trains with Russia’s top gymnasts in Moscow, a privilege that was facilitated by Joukova, and that costs her parents about $2,000 a month. The family lives in a tiny rented apartment there.
It’s a partnership that’s paying off for the sport in Canada.
“Yes, the Russians are the best in the world , so she’s being exposed to the best in the world, you can’t really ask for more than that,” said Jean-Paul Caron, a consultant with Gymnastics Canada and its former president and CEO. “And she can come back and share that with the others.”
The gymnasts have been training together for the past three or so weeks, and Kitkarska said she’s been watching Bezzoubenko train and perform with a keen eye.
“She’s very young, but she’s training very hard and she has goals and I’m sure she’ll achieve them because she’s an amazing gymnast and an amazing performer and I really love her routines. All of them,” said the 18-year-old. “I love her.”
Bezzoubenko’s programs come with much higher degrees of difficulty, so even if she drops an apparatus — which she did with the hoop on Friday — she still has the potential to win.
“She’s taking risks,” Caron said. “A lot more difficulty, a lot more movement of the apparatus, a lot more difficulty spinning with the apparatus in the air, also the flexibility that she obviously has.”
Glasgow represents Bezzoubenko’s first major Games experience, so it’s a crucial stepping stone to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“This is very important, it’s like first step, she feels like it’s a mini Olympic Games,” Joukova said. “She’s really going to fight for Rio so for her this is amazing experience. It’s very important for her to feel that everybody cares about her, everybody loves her, and everybody is behind her, to support her and give her more power. This will stay strong in her mind.”
Canada has had a long tradition of success in the sport at the Commonwealth Games, but there’s been a gap since Alexandra Orlando swept all six gold medals eight years ago in Melbourne, Australia.
Joukova, who also coached Orlando, said she’d love to see Bezzoubenko repeat that sweep. She’ll have to clean up her hoop routine however. Bezzoubenko, who won the Canadian junior title three times and the national senior title the past two years, was fifth after the hoop, but was first in the ball, clubs and ribbon to win the gold.
“I didn’t do good with the hoop. I think I just was not good concentration, but I’ll try to make the other ones good,” she said.
Overall, it was a strong day for the young athlete coming on the heels of a late night after Thursday’s gold in the team event.
“I’m very happy that Patricia did these results, she’s been working very, very hard,” Joukova said. “We finished very late (Thursday), arrived at the village around midnight, maybe not enough recovery. But she has to survive, she has to go, she has to feel the pressure and she has to fight.
“I’m very happy for her first Commonwealth Games.”
Kitkarska and Annabelle Kovacs of Vancouver were the other two members of the victorious team. Kitkarska was thrilled with the response from back home.
“Social networks went crazy, Facebook and Instagram, people were so happy for us, everybody was just ’I’m so proud of you guys.’ It was amazing support,” she said.
Her only minor disappointment was that few people were still awake Thursday night to welcome the gold medallists home to the village.
“It was empty, but some people saw our medal, they were cheering for us,” Kitkarska said.
Savard, from Pont-Rouge, Que., added Canada’s second gold in the pool when she outraced England’s Siobhan O’Connor and Australia’s Emma McKeon.
Elsewhere, Dorothy Ludwig of Langley,B.C, won bronze in the women’s 10-metre air pistol event. Ludwig finished with a score of 177.2 points, behind Singapore’s Shun Xie Teo and India’s Malaika Goel.
Alix Renaud-Roy of St-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Que., won a bronze medal in the women’s 70-kilogram judo event. Renaud-Roy defeated Australia’s Catherine Arscott by ippon in her bronze-medal match.
“I’m happy. I didn’t know what to expect,” Renaud-Roy said. “I fought against some tough girls. This is the first time judo has been included in 12 years and I feel lucky to be a part of it.”
England’s Megan Fletcher, who beat Renaud-Roy in the quarter-finals, went on to win gold. Moira de Villiers of New Zealand won silver and Scotland’s Sally Conway won the second bronze.
Jonah Burt of Whitby, Ont., won bronze in the men’s 81-kg judo event, beating Robert Nicola of Cyprus in his bronze-medal match.
England’s Owen Livesey, who beat Burt in the semifinals, won gold. Tom Reed of England took silver and Boas Munyonga of Zambia claimed the other bronze.