July 24, 2008 / 2:06 AM / in 10 years

Harry Potter fan Semenova is Russia's hope

LONDON (Reuters) - Russia’s gymnastics pride could be restored in Beijing by 15-year-old Ksenia Semenova who hopes to emulate the Olympic asymmetric bars success of her idol, Svetlana Khorkina.

At last year’s world championships Semenova, then 14, won Russia’s only gold medal with a series of elegant swings and deft catches between the bars.

She also captured the European title this year to underline her credentials for the August 8-24 Games.

“Before the European championships I was not even thinking about the Games. But now there are thoughts about a medal. Gold of course,” she told Russian daily Izvestia.

Russian gymnastics hit an all-time low at the last Games in Athens when their athletes failed to win a single gold for the first time since joining the Olympic competition in 1952.

Although crowd favorite Khorkina picked up the all-round silver and a team bronze, she finished last in the bars final — the apparatus on which she won gold at the two previous Games.

Semenova is still a long way off the five world titles and two Olympic golds on the bars that Khorkina managed, part of a total of seven Olympic medals and 20 world championship medals, and remains in awe of her.

“She was always my idol. I like everything about her, her appearance, her character, but of course the main thing is the way she performed on the bars,” she told the www.peoples.ru website.

The pair could not be more different.

Where Khorkina oozed a sophisticated elegance, Semenova has a more childlike eagerness and Khorkina towers over her 1.40-metres successor by 24 centimeters.

Khorkina courted the media while Semenova is shy.

“I’m perhaps not used to the microphones and dictaphones. All the time I think if I say something wrong, you will write about it,” local media quoted her as saying.

Along with her leotards and gym shoes, one other thing Semenova will be packing for the Games is her favorite book.

“I will definitely be taking Harry Potter to Beijing.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here ; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china

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