Calendar girls: Female Russian sports stars who made headlines in each month of 2018 (PHOTOS)
We are fast approaching the end of 2018, with all 12 months of the year proving action-packed and full of records, sensations and scandals in the world of sport.
Amid all the headlines of glorious victories and devastating defeats, female Russian stars from the world of sport gained plenty of acclaim for their record-breaking achievements as well as eye-catching social media posts.
RT Sport recaps 2018 month by month, looking back at some of Russia’s best and brightest female sports figures who captured the imagination.
1. January – ‘Hottest’ Russian football referee Ekaterina Kostyunina
Russian female referee Ekaterina Kostyunina was dubbed the country’s ‘most beautiful football official’ in 2018.
The 23-year-old dreams of gaining FIFA accreditation and officiating in major tournaments, including Champions League and World Cup matches.
An active social media user, Kostyunina has nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram – an audience which is constantly growing, mainly because of the revealing snaps she frequently posts.
The ‘hottest whistle-blower’ said that she’s never had any trouble on the pitch, and on the contrary often receives flowers after matches from players.
2. February – Curler Anastasia Bryzgalova
In February, Russian curler Anastasia Bryzgalova won bronze at the PyeongChang Winter Games together with her husband Alexander Krushelnitsky.
However, alongside her podium finish it was her fascinating beauty that also made Bryzgalova a social media bombshell, with internet users comparing her with Hollywood actresses Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox.
Some even said they had suddenly become interested in curling thanks to Bryzgalova’s beauty. The Olympic story soured, however, when following the Games the curler was stripped of her medal after her husband failed a drug test.
I don't really understand curling but Anastasia Bryzgalova has made me a fan. pic.twitter.com/3ERpMIjaDI— R Y N O 🦏 (@arewhyinoh) February 8, 2018
3. March – Lyubov Tkach (heptathlon)
Track and field athlete Lyubov Tkach represented Russia at various international events, including the 2015 World Athletics Championship and 2015 European junior competition.
In 2012, Tkach attracted the attention of athletics pundits by winning the national junior championships and three years later she grabbed silver at the European U23 Championships in Tallinn, Estonia.
Her main personal bests are 6,151 points in the heptathlon (Cheboksary 2015) and 4,368 points in the indoor pentathlon.
4. April – FK Yenisey football team
In April, members of the Russian women’s football team FK Yenisey pledged to take part in an ‘erotic’ photoshoot if they won the league title.
The club announced the promiscuous promise on Twitter, sharing a picture of their blonde defender Natalia Morozova posing on the pitch with a team jersey draped over her bare chest.
Если выиграем чемпионат России, то всей командой проведем эротическую фотосессию с кубком и медалями! pic.twitter.com/XBBmIHjf33— WFC “Enisey” (@wfcenisey) April 19, 2018
The idea was met with criticism from some social media users, who suggested that the team had found a cheap reason just to strip off.
Much to the disappointment of many, the semi-naked photos didn’t take place as the players failed to win the coveted title, finishing the season in seventh place.
5. May – Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova
In May, Russian tennis ace Maria Sharapova competed at Roland Garros, producing her best result at a Grand Slam following her return from a 15-month ban.
The 31-year-old reached the quarterfinal, where she was beaten by Spain’s Garbine Muguruza.
Five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova returned to action in April of 2017 after sitting out a doping disqualification for using prohibited medication meldonium.
In 2018 the tennis icon was named among top five highest-paid female athletes by Forbes, having earned more than $10 million over the past year.
6. June – From skiers to photo models
Irina Kovalenko, one of the Russia’s top ski sprinters, turned into a photo model for a day in June.
Resting from the frosty bite of the Russian winter during her off-season, he has turned into a model for Max Marmur, internationally acclaimed portrait photographer.
7. July – World Cup beauty Maria Liman
Along with Nemchinova, Maria Liman also set pulses racing at the World Cup during June and July.
The 24-year-old gained social media fame after posting a host of racy Instagram pictures showing her decked out in the red, white and blue of the Russian flag, with captions offering support for the boys in their home World Cup campaign.
The brunette has taken part in a host of top modeling competitions and has graced the pages of Playboy magazine. She’s also seen in front of the camera as a presenter on Fashion TV.
8. August – Russian synchronized swimming team
Russia’s synchronized swimmers are lovingly dubbed The Mermaids, and produced yet another golden performance in August by taking a golden sweep at the newly-introduced European multi-sport championships co-hosted by Glasgow, Scotland and Berlin, Germany.
The invincible squad, which has remained unbeaten for more than a decade, grabbed the titles in all disciplines they participated in, including solo, duet and group.
9. September – Spartak presenter Yulia Ushakova
Yulia Ushakova, a presenter on Russian ice hockey team Spartak Moscow’s website, made the headlines in September after the club shared a revealing photo on Twitter.
The racy snap showing the semi-naked TV-host provoked an uproar on social media, with Spartak being embroiled in a “sexist row.”
Ushakova later explained that she posted the image of herself wearing nothing but her underwear to her Instagram account without knowing the club would use it.
The picture of the presenter lying scantily-clad on a treatment table later sparked a hot debate online as to whether the image was discriminatory.
10. October – Russian ‘striptease’ star Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
Russian talent Elizaveta Tuktamysheva shattered the world of figure skating in October after delivering a provocative exhibition dance at the season-opening Grand Prix event in Canada.
Skating to the tune of Britney Spears’s ‘Toxic’, the Russian skater stripped off her flight attendant jacket, showing off her black lingerie and sending the crowd – and many watching around the world – into meltdown.
Tukmatysheva’s daring dance set off a social media bomb, with many skaters copying the provocative part of her routine under the hashtag #TuktikChallenge.
11. November - Natural Truth project
In November, the Russian Olympic Committee in cooperation with international corporation Siberian Wellness set up a special social project named “Natural Truth”, which united athletes representing different sports.
The project was aimed at inspiring people to overcome problems by telling real stories of professional athletes and the challenges they have faced during their sporting careers.
Russian sports stars, including European champion curler Anna Sidorova and world bronze medalist in women’s hockey Anna Prugova, revealed the “naked truth” of professional sport.
12. December – Russian national handball team
In December, Russia’s national handball team produced a fantastic performance at the European championship by reaching the final of the biggest continental tournament.
In the gold-medal game Evgeny Trefilov’s squad was beaten by the reigning world champions France.
Trefilov had previously dubbed his team “the most beautiful in the world” after they beat France to claim Olympic gold in 2016, and despite their loss in the European final, the team won widespread praise for their performances.