When Opportunity Knocks
Gymnast Victoria Iakounina talks about her journey from Uzbekistan to the United States.
Jan. 10, 2007
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
By Dan Dugger, MSU Sports Information
The United States is often referred to as the land of opportunity, and for Michigan State senior gymnast Victoria Iakounina, that phrase couldn't be more true.
The journey of Iakounina begins across the Atlantic Ocean, in the country of Uzbekistan. Born in the town of Tashkent, some 250 miles north of Afghanistan, Iakounina was born into a family of celebrated gymnasts.
Her parents, Olga and Guennadi Iakounina, competed for the Soviet Union National Team throughout the 1970's and through their influence, Victoria became a solid competitor in the gym by the age of five.
Although gymnastics proved to be an enjoyable aspect of her adolescence, not everything in Iakounina's life was as pleasant. Living in the politically-torn Soviet Union, opportunity was harnessed by circumstance.
"Once the Soviet Union broke up we just felt like we had to move to a nation where I would have more opportunities growing up," said Iakounina. "There are a lot more opportunities in the United States, especially for women."
When the chance to coach gymnastics in the United States arose for Iakounina's parents, the decision to leave Uzbekistan was not very difficult.
"My dad had been to the United States once as a gymnast when he competed, and we just felt like if we ever had an opportunity to come out here we would," said Iakounina. "And that's just what happened. My parents got jobs as gymnastics coaches out here and they took that opportunity to start a new life for our family."
The influence of her parents didn't break when Iakounina crossed the United States border - the phrase "mom and dad" became interchangeable with coach. Iakounina competed for her parents in the years leading up to her anticipated arrival at Michigan State, and found the experience to be extremely rewarding.
"There was always just a ton of trust between us, said Iakounina. "I knew then that they were extreme experts in the field of gymnastics, and we had the family bond and coach-athlete bond as well."
The 2004 Big Ten Freshman of the year credits her father in particular for the development of her gymnastic ability.
"My dad is very focused on detail, he's really technique-oriented, said Iakounina. "Once I learn a skill with him - it sticks, I trust in him to teach it right."
That attention to detail has stuck with Iakounina as she has competed for Michigan State, and it hasn't gone unnoticed.
"Victoria is a very meticulous athlete, who can step out onto the floor and perform her skills so precisely," said her coaches. "She performs her routines exactly as they should be and does so with extremely exquisite lines."
In addition to focusing on the details of gymnastics, Iakounina's parents stressed the importance of achieving academic success above all else, and Iakounina has done just that.
Along with being a member of the Honors College Student Advisory Council, Iakounina has earned both Academic All-Big Ten and NACGC/W Academic All-America honors twice. With graduation around the corner, Iakounina truly grasps the importance of her studies.
"Academics and education is going to stay with me for the rest of my life," said Iakounina, who is currently in the process of applying for medical school.
Iakounina is no stranger to achievements in the arena of athletics either. She is one of two Michigan State gymnasts to ever be awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Year. In 2006, she helped lead the Spartans to a second-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, and hopes to guide her team to another trip to the podium in 2007.
With the start of the gymnastic season just around the corner, Iakounina is hoping to add to an impressive collection of accolades as she leads the gymnastics squad in her last season as a Spartan.
"Being a senior, I have nothing to lose, its exciting to train this year," said Iakounina. "I want to go out strong."
With an already impressive resume, both academically and athletically, Iakounina is sure to be successful wherever opportunity arises.