Fairy tale comes true for Anastasia
If modern-day fairy tales do come true, Anastasia Khamova might well be living one.
The captain of the 15-a-side Kazakhstan team may have a famous name but her achievements rank up there with anyone called 'Anastasia'. 'Many young girls and women like my name, as they associate it with the Disney story or the pop star of the same name.'
Her effervescent smile cannot belie the mix of pride and humility still pumping through her veins after helping change the course of rugby sevens forever.
The 29-year-old from Almaty was one of six players from around the world who presented the case for rugby to return to the Olympics. Final rehearsals in Lausanne and then London led to the ultimate presentation: An audience with the 140-strong board of the IOC in Copenhagen last October. 'Whereas normally countries play against each other, in this case the group of six individuals from around the world became a unique team,' she said.
Like any sporting success, it is not the individual that wins, it is the team.
'Like a good game, there was the incredible desire to win for all of us as a team. There was much emotion. There was more pressure than in a game of rugby. Even if you are competing at the top level, there is your whole country behind you. In this case we felt the whole of the rugby world was behind us. And we didn't want to fail.
'In my speech, I spoke from the heart. That was not difficult, as I believe in rugby, and spoke in my native Russian tongue. I talked about Kazakhstan as an unknown country for many, and as a lesser known rugby nation.'
In effect, Khamova had the whole of her country behind her. 'Although my country is unknown to many, my family, friends, the whole country watched the presentation to the officiators on the internet. This announcement to have rugby sevens in the Olympics will be important for all Kazakhstan people, it will be important for the game of rugby around the world.'
Kazakhstan declared itself an independent country in 1991 and rugby has since grew quickly for women. In a reversal of the norm, women took the lead. 'Women have been competing internationally in rugby since 1994, whereas men only started to qualify this year,' she said.
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country and bordered by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
'It is regarded as Eurasia and for this reason I was chosen as I have competed in many rugby World Cups,' Khamova said. 'Kazakhstan is regarded as Asia. I always enjoy competing against Hong Kong in the Asian Five Nations. Last year, we were second behind Japan. I've been playing rugby for 10 years and I like it for the fight; the emotional fight. I like the skills, speed and challenges ... and I like strategy.'
Khamova says she will not play in the Olympics in 2016. 'These days, I play 15-a side rugby. I hope to be doing at the Olympics in Brazil what I am doing at the Hong Kong Sevens this weekend. I will be refereeing.'
Whatever she does, she will never forget her IOC journey. Nor will she forget the friendships forged. 'More than any other sport, rugby is like a family. Rugby people all over the world always unite and help each other. I spoke of this in my presentation ... Those nine days in Copenhagen gave me a new family that I will never forget.'