Alina Kabaeva is a 2004 Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics. Because she is dating Russian President Vladimir Putin, she could be the one to light the Olympic torch at Sochi's opening ceremonies. Putin, of course, denies this. He's also never confirmed his relationship with Kabaeva, which began sometime around 2008. On state television on Wednesday, Putin insisted:
I’m aware of this [the speculation that Kabaeva will light the flame], I was told of this by [Kremlin spokesman] Dmitry Peskov. These are the usual red herrings. We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process.
There is a slim chance that Kabaeva will actually light the Olympic flame. But the believability of the story illustrates how cartoonish Putin's become. It would be in no way out of character that the leopard-petting, often shirtless president would get to see his girlfriend perform this Olympic honor.
Putin announced his divorce from his wife Lyudmila in 2013, which was a long time coming. In 2008, newspaper reports surfaced that Putin was going to leave Lyudmila to marry Kabaeva. Then the State Duma (Russia's lower house of parliament) voted to "allow authorities to suspend and close down media outlets for libel and slander." Despite the vote, Putin's never been able to quash the rumors. Kabaeva is now a deputy, or representative, of the State Duma. Putin might have actually married her in 2013.
But Kabaeva's real accomplishments are in the field of rhythmic gymnastics. She's one of the most decorated competitors in the world (really only fellow Russian Evgenia Kanaeva's got her beat). She won the gold medal in the all-around at the Athens Olympics in 2004, when she was 21. She officially retired in 2007 after the Russian team won gold at the World Championships one last time.
Her strength is in her extreme flexibility, even for very flexible rhythmic gymnasts. She even has a move named after her, "the Kabaeva," where you rest your chest on the floor and bring your legs all the way up.
Sometimes she balances a ball on the small of her back or swings a hula hoop around her legs. Here, she extends "the Kabaeva" by bringing her legs completely over her shoulders.
She also perfected the backscale pivot. Fans call her "the Legend."
This photo, from her early training days, is still passed around on Tumblr by obsessive gymnastics fans.
And her is she in more modern times, posing for Russian Vogue in 2010.
Look for her at the opening ceremonies.