Nine-time rhythmic gymnastics world champion Bianka Panova has lived in Singapore for just two years, but the Bulgarian has been impressed by the talent she has seen at her academy - to the extent she believes having a Singaporean rhythmic gymnast at the 2024 Olympic Games is not a tall order.
Panova co-founded the Bianka Panova Sport and Art Academy here in 2015 with business partner Daniela Michaely, who is the academy's director.
Speaking to The Straits Times at the academy campus in Bukit Merah yesterday - exactly two years after it opened - Panova said: "Rhythmic gymnastics is a relatively young sport in Singapore. It has only been around for about seven years, and it's already one of the sports being considered for Direct School Admission... it's amazing how it has progressed over the past seven years.
"Singapore, despite being a small country, has so much talent."
The 48-year-old, who has coached Italy's national junior team and Belgium's national gymnasts, believes the future of the sport here is "very positive", but emphasised that there needs to be more support in order to hone the potential of local gymnasts.
"I see how many talented girls Singapore has and they are no different from the Bulgarian girls.
"They have all the potential and we have to work within the system to build them up - more competitions and exposure," she added.
"The national sports association is doing its best to promote the sport and I think the focus on academic achievements has expanded to sporting achievements.
"So if more schools support the long training hours, it will be a great help to the athletes here."
About 100 students aged between four and 14 are now enrolled in her academy. There is also a waiting list of 80 names.
Despite all of Panova's achievements, including becoming the first rhythmic gymnast to win a clean sweep of all five gold medals at a single World Championships in 1987, she was full of praise and admiration for her students.
"You can learn so many things from them each day and I'm really proud to work with them," she said.
"I have a husband, two sons and a dog who is also male, but destiny has given me so many daughters."