When Sabina Altynbekova burst onto the global volleyball stage at the 2014 Asian Under-19 Championships in Taiwan she created quite a stir.
Just 17 years old and 1.82m in height (6ft), she was described as too beautiful for the sport even by her then Kazakhstan coach Nurlin Sadikov.
“It is impossible to work like this,” Sadikov was quoted as saying. “The crowd behaves like there is only one player at the championship.”
It was an uncomfortable baptism of fire in international sport for outside hitter Altynbekova, who herself bemoaned: “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.”
Despite the resulting publicity and subsequent modelling offers Altynbekova’s parents reportedly pushed back on anything which would see her building a career on her looks. She just wanted to play volleyball – the media myth did not match the reality.
Six years on and Altynbekova – now 23 – is still pursuing her volleyball dream, but with little of the fanfare which accompanied her entrance onto the world stage.
Where is she now?
A much-heralded spell in Japan followed Altynbekova’s breakthrough when major local sports agency Dentsu acquired her exclusive marketing rights on a one-year deal in late 2015. This was reportedly the first time it had acquired the rights to an athlete from outside Japan.
Altynbekova joined Japanese team GSS Sunbeams in the third-tier V. Challenge League II and there was hope she could fare well enough to claim a spot in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. However her time in Japan was short-lived and she returned home to Kazakhstan.
Since then, Altynbekova has widened her volleyball horizons again to head for Dubai and a professional career with the Al-Wasl club – once famous for having the legendary Diego Maradona as coach of its soccer team.
As well as her association with Al-Wasl, Altynbekova still also plies her trade in Kazakhstan for part of the year. She has been associated with the Almaty club since 2017.
From an international standpoint Altynbekova was not part of the Kazakhstan roster which finished 24th at the 2018 World Championships.
Sabina Altynbekova on Instagram
Sabina, born in Aktobe, Kazakhstan on November 5, 1996, shares her best life with her fans on social media despite being largely left alone by the mainstream news outlets these days.
Her official Instagram page now boasts more than 828,000 followers, who are kept up to date with her life on and off the volleyball court.
Proof of her enduring stardom comes in the way of posts which have seen her pictured with celebrities like Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma and former Barcelona and Real Madrid football star Luis Figo.
Sabina Altynbekova religion
Sabina Altynbekova is Muslim and often posts images on her Instagram page wearing the traditional hijab, and marks special dates in the religious calendar.
She has also posted from holy sites such as the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and her messages like these attract huge response and warmth from her global fan base.
Sabina Altynbekova fashion brand
As befits a star athlete with a big social media following, it was almost inevitable that Sabina Altynbekova would launch her own fashion brand.
And so it was that her S20 brand (in homage to her volleyball jersey number) launched in 2017, operating out of Almaty and majoring on tracksuits, sweatshirts and T-shirts.
Sabina Altynbekova family
Sabina Altynbekova is the daughter of Abay (father) and Nuripa (mother) Altynbekova.