Russian artistic swimming star Varvara Subbotina has opened up on her fears about an “obsessed” fan who hounded her on social media as well as the darker side to some of the attention she earns online.
Subbotina, 20, is a four-time world champion who regularly tops lists of her country’s most eye-catching female athletes.
That appeal has earned her growing social media popularity to accompany her success in the pool – but the Moscow-born star admitted in a recent interview with Sport24 that some aspects of being in the spotlight were initially hard to come to terms with.
“Before, it was ‘wow’ for me, but now I react quite calmly, at some moments I even try not to pay attention,” Subbotina said of her appearance in lists of Russia’s ‘most beautiful’ sports stars.
“When I appear top of some list, on the one hand, a flurry of criticism immediately appears, on the other – enthusiastic comments.
“I try not to pay attention because it distracts me. When there is a flurry of criticism, it starts to annoy me, it’s hard.”
Subbotina said the criticism often centers on doubts about the “naturalness” of her appearance – which she has long dismissed.
“For three years now, I’m already tired of telling them, but you can’t prove it to people. I haven’t resorted to plastic surgery, and I don’t plan to do that in the near future,” said the star.
“They criticize me that I behave incorrectly for a synchronized swimmer, that if I display photos like that, I’m in a certain service industry, and so on.
“How can you say that about a girl, just seeing her from a photograph?”
Subbotina admitted that she would be open to doing a photoshoot for a men’s magazine – but only if the circumstances were right.
“I can’t say ‘100% yes’ [that I would], definitely not right now. Maybe later, but for now, I’d probably refuse.
“My coach always tells me: ‘First of all, think about your reputation.’ If I’m doing a shoot for a magazine like that, what will they write about me later? Even more of what’s being written now.”
In a disturbing aspect to her fame, Subbotina recently revealed that she’d been hounded by one particularly persistent fan online.
“Now more people have reacted to this,” said the star after sharing examples of the messages she had received.
“I shared a similar story about a year ago, I was told that ‘everything’s fine, someone’s just kidding.’ But now I understand that this is overstepping the boundaries, I really start to worry.
“A lot of people have written to me about who I can turn to, my acquaintances have friends, relatives, lawyers, who can help with this.
“We discussed it, but I was told: ‘It won’t work to start a case against this person, because there are no direct threats as such’…
“The fact that I shared this, that so many people supported me, made me happy, it made me feel better.
“But until the whole situation is resolved, I’ll remain in constant tension.”
Subbotina said that the person in question had bombarded her with flowers as well as claims that the pair would get married and have children together – before turning nasty and claiming that she “should be treated in a psychiatric hospital.”
“I once again blocked his new account. And he began to write to my younger sister. Just imagine what was in my head: ‘I’m not at home, my sister is at home alone, and this crazy person is writing to her,’” Subbotina added.
“Now, thank God, competent people are dealing with this issue, which frees me from the responsibility to monitor this myself.”
The swimming star admitted that she even gets offered money online for certain services – but either blocks the offending accounts or issues a dismissive response before shutting them off.
“This is immoral at the very least. I say: ‘Do I look like an escort girl?’” Subbotina said.
“After they send that to me, the person either gets blocked, or I first write: ‘Hello, I don’t do this. If you’re looking for this, this isn’t the place for you,’ and then also block them.”
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Subbotina is currently making a return to training after missing the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer when she underwent surgery for a long-running nasal issue.
She was forced to watch on as the all-conquering Russian team took another clean sweep of medals in the artistic swimming categories, but Subbotina has already said she will strive to achieve her dream of glory at the Paris Games in three years’ time.
“My goal, like any athlete, is Olympic gold. It didn’t work out in Tokyo – God willing, everything will work out in Paris,” said the star.