Gymnastics coach Murat Kanakaev has coached all over the world from his native Belarus to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. But no matter where he coaches one thing is always the same: the gymnasts.
"Everywhere, I like my job," said Kanakaev, the new head coach of the Flairs Men's Gymnastics Club and the provincial team coach. "I like children. Children in every country are the same."
A coach since 1972, Kanakaev coached two gymnasts on the national team of Belarus, which participated in the 1994 and 1996 European Championships, the 1995 and 1997 World Championships and the 1996 Olympics. Another of his gymnasts in Belarus was the national champion and a bronze medallist at the 1998 World Youth Games and bronze medallist at the 1999 World Junior Championships.
The last four years, he coached in Malaysia, working with children with the national program of development of sport.
"I looked at his resume and I talked to (interim head coach and current) Landon (Mah) and our former head coach and we made a decision that we needed a coach and we would take a chance on Murat," said Flairs past president Lawrence Oystryk.
They offered him the job on July 24. Then the fun really started.
First, the club had to prove to Citizenship and Immigration that there weren't any available coaches in North America. Once that was done, they had to contact the Belarus embassy in Malaysia, which took another three weeks. Then another complication arose.
"When it was just about done and all the paperwork was done, we found out that Murat didn't have the proper passport documentation," said Oystryk. "That took another two weeks because we had to go back to Ottawa, back to Belarus and then back to Malaysia."
Oystryk wasn't totally sure it would happen until Kanakaev, his wife and teenaged daughter finally came down the escalator Oct. 30 at the Winnipeg International Airport.
"That's when my heart skipped a beat (when he saw Kanakaev), knowing that he was here and I actually saw him," said Oystryk.
In just four weeks, Kanakaev's impact is already being felt. The membership is up to 70 boys, the highest it's been in three years. Mah is picking up valuable experience just watching Kanakaev work.
"I'm a fairly young coach and any time you get a chance to work with any higher level expertise is an opportunity you can't pass up," said Mah, who is also the Manitoba Gymnastics Association men's technical committee chairman.
This is not Kanakaev's first time in Winnipeg. He coached Thailand at the 1998 Pacific Alliance championship at the Winnipeg Arena. While his exposure to Winnipeg was limited, it left an impression.
"When he was here, he liked Winnipeg," said Oystryk, who served as Kanakaev's translator. "He liked the people. When he heard that there was a job here, he jumped at the chance."