Happy Birthday to the Queen of Rhythmic!

Today is Maria Petrova's birthday and I don't know where to start.

She has inspired me greatly and shaped my sense of beauty, style and success to an extent where she is not just an influence, or a role model, she is a source of admiration and joy. Many, many years ago, in 1995, I went to see Maria in practice and, with all of my lunch money that I had saved for months, I bought her this breath-takingly elegant bouquet of white lillies. The flowers were so lavish and beautiful that, when I got into the bus to go the gym where she trained, everyone moved to make room for me. Two people even offerred me a seat. Everyone tiptoed around me so as not to damage the flowers.

This is what beauty does to people: it makes you care.

I have been caring for rhythmic gymnastics for over 20 years now. Because of Maria, I think I always will.

Here she is, more beautiful than any flower, though in black:

I will always be grateful to Maria for making every movement in her routines carry emotional meaning. I will always be grateful to her for never saying "No" to a child or teenager who asked for her autograph. I will be grateful for her for becoming a fair-minded and influential judge, and just for the talented, strong, and graceful person that she is.