ASTANA – Sabina Altynbekova, 18, is a member of Kazakhstan’s women’s junior national volleyball team.
She hails from the West Kazakhstan city of Aktobe. She shot to stardom in East Asia last summer, but not exactly because of her volleyball skill. Rather, Chinese fans took notice of Altynbekova’s natural beauty, which many of her new fans say evokes images from Japanese anime art. In the last few months, Altynbekova has become very famous across Asia, and now in the stands watching the Kazakh team’s performances are fans there for the purpose of taking a look at her and expressing their admiration.
Altynbekova, however, says she remains a very modest person who is trying to use her unexpected popularity to promote Kazakhstan and volleyball.
The Astana Times spoke with the star last week when she visited the capital.
Last season, Kazakhstan’s women’s national volleyball team made it into the second round of the World Cup for the first time in the history of independent Kazakhstan. Is this a fluke, or is this the result of hard work?
Indeed, this is a natural result of our team’s performance, supported by hard work and many hours of gruelling training. Our team has long sought it, trying to show such a result. Undoubtedly, our girls proved to be great. At present, our national team is one of the most experienced ones in the world. Believing that this is not the limit, the Kazakh team should perform even better in the future. In this respect, undoubtedly, we should pay more attention to the new generation of Kazakh volleyball players, who tomorrow will replace the current national team players, and that is what our management is focusing on.
How would you describe Kazakhstan’s volleyball style? European, Latin American or Asian?
I think that we have our own particular playing style, which cannot be confused with anything. I think that our volleyball players should continue following this unique style and hone it so it will positively influence results in the future.
Who is your favourite player or idol?
Since I started to play, my favourite player has been and remains a longtime captain of our team, Elena Pavlova, who was one of the best volleyball players in the world. Choosing from existing volleyball players, I like the leader of the Russian team, Ekaterina Gamova.
Why did you choose volleyball?
At first, I was invited to [play basketball], but I did not quite like it. Later, having watched volleyball for the first time, I felt that it was my sport and made the right decision.
Volleyball is sometimes referred to as one of the most intelligent sports. It is like chess for active people, where you have to move around the court and at the same time think on the fly, taking instantaneous decisions that affect the course of the game. Do you agree with this assessment?
This is exactly the case. I completely agree. Indeed, volleyball is one of the fastest sports, in which it is necessary to think, make instant decisions and respond simultaneously, and the ability to do it affects your future on the court.
What do you think about beach volleyball? Do you like it?
Well, I like volleyball in its classical form more, when there is a team and emotions are simmering. In short, I prefer classic volleyball, which has it all.
I cannot help but ask about the immense popularity that came down upon you last year. How do you and people close to you handle it? In what ways do you want to use this popularity in the future?
The popularity has its advantages. I mean, concerning only sport – representatives of various foreign clubs have started to pay attention to me. It really is a big plus. As for popularity in general, I believe that it is both a challenge and a gift of fate. However, most importantly, people are going to learn more about our country. I have repeatedly stated that in Asia, for example, many people take pictures with our flag and cheer for us.
If you get offers to play abroad from serious foreign clubs, what will your response be?
Why not? To play in a famous foreign club another year or two, to gain experience and improve the quality of my game – in the future, it will contribute to the development and growth of [Kazakhstan’s] volleyball and advance it to a new level.
How do you assess the level of Kazakhstan’s sports journalism?
I find it difficult to draw any conclusions, but I can express my subjective point of view. As a representative of a junior team, I believe that it would not hurt if reporters focus more on the issues of youth sport.