Alina Kabaeva was just a teenager when she took the gymnastics world by storm. Her agility and strength earned her praise as “the most supple woman in Russia.”
In 2000 — during the height of her fame — she met a then-married Vladimir Putin, and her life changed forever.
Kabaeva retired from gymnastics in 2005 and tried out a multitude of career opportunities — singing and then modeling. For eight years she held a seat on Russia’s lower level of parliament, the Duma, run under Putin’s United Russia party.
It was in 2008 that Kabaeva shocked the world by becoming Russia’s rumored “Secret First Lady.”
At the time, a Russian tabloid broke the news that Putin was dating a woman much younger than him — rumored to be Kabaeva — and that he would be going through with a divorce from his wife of 30 years. Shortly after the paper ran the story, they were forced to close, citing “financial difficulties,” the New York Post reported.
Putin divorced his wife, Lyudmila Putina, a former flight attendant in 2013. In 2017, Kabaeva showed off what looked to be a wedding ring during a trip to Italy’s Adriatic coast. However, she dodged questions about her new bling during appearances to promote the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships.
The now 37-year-old Olympic gold medalist mysteriously disappeared in 2018, when it was reported that she was pregnant — and Putin was supposedly the father. A friend of hers told the Daily Mail that she “vanished after giving birth to twins.”
Despite no longer being in the spotlight, her friend claims she has kept up the touching habit of leaving flowers at the grave of the mother of a former gymnastics partner. Every time she visits the area, there’s a card that reads, “With love from Alina.”
Putin is notoriously private about his personal life, and his alleged romance with Kabaeva has never been confirmed, leaving everyone to ask, who is Alina Kabaeva?
Scroll through the gallery below to learn five facts about the Olympic gold medalist.