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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Forging Glory With Fists and Feet

ST. PETERSBURG -- Every morning Natalya Larionova runs around the Peter and Paul Fortress and thinks about punching somebody out.

It is part of her training as a world champion in kick-boxing, a sport that until recently was off-limits in Russia.

"I was not cut out for the ordinary female life," Larionova, 23, said of her admittedly unusual career choice. "Four years ago, when previously forbidden sports began to develop in Russia, I became a kick-boxer. I wanted to fight. I like it."

But for Larionova kick-boxing, in which boxers strike with both fists and feet, offers more than the thrill of fighting.

"Kick-boxing is beautiful," the trim athlete said. "It is an art form in which you use your strength, technique and mental power. I am moved by the desire for victory, by the desire to move further towards self-perfection."

Incongruous as it may seem in a family of intelligentsia -- Larionova's father is a biologist, her grandmother, a professor of psychology -- both Larionova and her younger brother are kick-boxers.

Larionova's slender fingers were not always curled in a fist, however. She used to paint as a restorer. But now her small hands pack a big wallop: In June, Larionova, the 1993 European champion and 1994 Russian champion, won a world title in Federal Full-Contact Karate Association kick-boxing in Montreal. Her dream is to become world champion in the two other forms of the sport, overseen by the International Sport Karate Association and the World Kick-Boxing Association.

That dream is applauded by her boyfriend Stas, 26, who is also a kick-boxer. They met in a training hall and first fought as a pair. Now they attend each other's contests, supporting each other -- literally -- if necessary. As Stas' mother, Ludmila, noted: "When Stas is knocked out, Natasha is always there. She picks him up in her arms and takes him out of the ring, and vice versa."

Stas said, however, that his tender feelings for Natasha have never moved him to want to stop one of her fights -- because he's never seen her badly hit. "So far, I have only seen her hitting people painfully," he said.

Kick-boxing has taken the couple to the West, which they see as a nice place to make money, but not a place to make a permanent home. Stas has also combined his fighting career with work in films. He plays the lead in the Russian movie "The Medium," opposite sex-symbol Yelena Kandulaynen.

The fighting couple do not spar with each other. "I can allow myself to knock her out only in a nightmare," Stas said. "And I hope that Natasha does not have a desire to beat men in the ring."

"No, I am not ready yet," said Natasha thoughtfully. "I cannot compete with male strength, but I think that it is possible to defeat a man in a fight. The most important thing is the aspect of surprise."

For all her athletic prowess, it is not Natasha's strength that Stas most admires: "What I really like about Natasha is her femininity," he said.

Stan admits to hoping that Natasha leaves the sport someday to become a housewife, but Natasha has something else in mind once her boxing days are over: a career in politics or business.

But for now, she thinks of only one thing as she does her laps around the walled fortress: Three years ago American kick-boxer Ramona Gatto beat her at the ISKA World Championship in Moscow. Natasha wants to confront Gatto in the ring later this month at the FFKA championship in Canada and, this time, win.