A 17-year-old girl from Kazakhstan has created for herself and for her sport an unusual stardom through her looks and social media. Her name is Sabina Altynbekova. Her sport? Volleyball. And her fans number in the thousands.
"They came in droves, undaunted by rain and heavy winds as Typhoon Matmo passed through Taiwan," the Straits Times said of her fans at the 17th Asian Women's U19 Volleyball Championship in Taipei, "the team they cheered for lost on Wednesday, but it did not dampen their spirits." The report went on to say that even though many of her fans were from Taiwan, they were carrying Kazakh flags.
At the time of this writing, the number of followers of her Instagram account equaled 257,494. Her massive popularity has created many "fan" accounts, some of which claim to be official. This problem caused Altyunbekova to address the issue personally over Instagram:
Why the sudden interest in a teenage volleyball player from Central Asia? Many blame her beauty.
"Fans just stare at her and they are not following the championship any more," The Daily Mail translated a response from Vesti, a Kazakh newspaper.
Not only is the press complaining, but her coach is as well. “It is impossible to work like this,” her coach Nurlan Sadikov told Tengrin news, according to Sportskeeda. ”The crowd behaves like there is only one player at the championship.”
Altyunbekova, herself, has not been quite sure how to handle this sudden level of popularity.
"Honestly, I myself was very surprised. I am a simple, ordinary girl from Kazakhstan, who just wants to bring his country in international competitions benefit to our country ranks high. And I was struck by the popularity," The International Business Times translated from her interview with Vesti, “I was flattered at first but it's all getting a little bit much. I want to concentrate on playing volleyball and to be famous for that, not anything else.”
Image via altynbekova_20, Instagram