“They regularly visited gymnasium physical education classes to pick out promising students, and I was plucked out of my school for tryouts before coming in at the top of their little class of gymnasts. The Soviets weren’t as bad as the East Germans in that we weren’t relentlessly doped up with anabolic steroids, but the training program was still merciless: a medal at the Olympics was a matter of national security. They altered my state records to make me seem two years older than I really was, to keep me competitive longer.”

“But it wasn’t just that–we were suddenly pulled out of obscurity into the elite, something few managed in the ‘egalitarian’ society they had at the time. My family was given an apartment near the IOC complex in Moscow, jobs, and a stipend. My father was so proud; I know because he would sometimes come to practice to watch me. Once he even bought me an ice cream afterwards, which brought the coach to our door, red-faced, the next day–we girls were on a strict diet, you see.”

“We girls had private tutors, and most of the lessons were in English–we were expected to gain mastery of the language with an American accent in hopes of romancing Yankee athletes and pumping them for information–or better yet, bringing them back as defectors. But it never came to that; I was left off the 1988 Olympic team after I sprained my ankle, and by 1992 the country had collapsed–no more apartment, no more stipend, no more team.”