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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gymnast Makes Sweet Return




In 1996, Dmitry Karbanenko helped Russia capture the team gold medal at the European Gymnastics Championships in England.


Two years later in the same competition Friday, the 24-year-old Kaliningrad native stood on top of the podium in St. Petersburg.


But this time he was wearing French colors.


His former Russian mates, Alexei Nemov and Alexei Bondarenko, stood a step below him, having settled for the silver.


After marrying a French woman and gaining new citizenship in 1996, Karbanenko now represents France in international competition.


"It's a double sweet victory for me," Karbanenko said after leading France to a surprise win by a mere .14 of a point -- 164.823 to 164.809 -- over the heavily favored host nation. "What happened before is history, and although in my heart I'm still Russian, now I compete for France, and I dedicate this win to my new country."


After winning back-to-back Russian championships in 1994 and 1995, as well as being part of team titles at both the European Cup and the European Championships, Karbanenko thought he would get a shot in the Atlanta Olympics in the summer of 1996.


But when the Russian coaching staff decided to go with a younger lineup, Karbanenko felt he was being pushed off the national team.


"A few weeks prior to the Games, it became clear to me that I would not be in Atlanta," he said. "I decided to go to France to prolong my career there."


At the end of 1996, Dmitry and his French wife, Astrid, moved to Cannes, where most of the top French gymnasts were training.


"I had some mixed emotions coming back to Russia and competing here," he said. "It's always nice to meet old friends ... but obviously I didn't expect the crowd to give me as warm reception as they gave Nemov and Bondarenko. But instead, I got huge support from the French fans."


in the stands, and it was very nice."


When I finally realized that I was no longer needed in Russia as a gymnast,


On one hand,


and see many familiar faces again