On 11 February 1993, in a car heading from the centre of the Russian capital Moscow to the city’s Domodedovo airport, the Russian rhythmic gymnast Oxana Kostina and her fiancé Eduard Zenovka relived the former’s performance at a recent competition in France.
Sixty-three days later, on 15 April, the beautiful gymnast was due to celebrate her 21st birthday.
The couple spoke of their respective plans. Zenovka, a bronze medallist in the Modern Pentathlon at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, was dreaming of gold at the forthcoming World Championships and, beyond that, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Kostina, meanwhile, was determined to make up for her failure to make the team for Barcelona by taking centre stage at Atlanta. She had every reason to feel confident, having taken gold at five events at the World Championships in Brussels (BEL) in autumn 1992.
But then suddenly, and in the most brutal manner imaginable, all of their dreams were shattered.
A lorry crashed head-on into their vehicle. Both athletes were seriously injured and needed surgery in hospital, where Oksana died a couple of hours later. News of the tragedy spread quickly, leaving the gymnastics world in a state of shock.
A few months later in Alicante, Spain, the whole of the international rhythmic gymnastics community gathered for the opening of the 17th World Championships.
In memory of the deceased gymnast, the entire hall was plunged into darkness. Suddenly, a single spotlight picked out a young female gymnast, clasping a bouquet of roses in her trembling hand. The shaft of light followed her, as she stepped slowly towards a podium and placed the flowers on the highest level.
Throughout the hall, a deafening silence prevailed, punctuated only by the sound of tears. Emotions ran high as the rhythmic gymnastics world honoured the memory of one of its brightest stars.
The national selectors overlooked Oxana Kostina for the Barcelona Olympics, opting instead for Alexandra Timoshenko and Oxana Skaldina. However, that setback merely drove her on. A few weeks later, she won five gold medals at the World Championships: individual all-around; rope; hoop; ball; and clubs.
But then, soon after, the Angel of Irkutsk was gone forever.
This article is part of a weekly series in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games as the FIG remembers outstanding previous gymnasts.
Olympic countdown - 100 days to go!
Moskalenko - first Olympic Trampoline Champion
"The Scandal in the KB Hallen"!
Vitaly Scherbo - a legend
Justice triumphed over pride
Sawao Kato - Total devotion
An exceptional show of sportsmanship
The story of Yuri Titov