Alina Kabayeva
The president's girlfriend Alina Kabayeva holds the Olympic flame aloft at the opening ceremony. Reuters

While the spectacle of the world's most expensive Olympics, with its inflatable St. Basil's, technical glitches, unceremonial slip-ups and surreptitious signs of protest, had a global audience captivated, all eyes were on the torch bearers, in particular, gymnast Alina Kabayeva, who also happens to be President Vladimir Putin's girlfriend.

Putin had earlier refuted suggestions that Kabayeva would be afforded the special privilege of wielding the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony.

We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process.
- President Vladimir Putin

"I'm aware of this [speculation that Kabayeva will light the flame]," he said. "I was told of this by [Kremlin spokesman] Dmitry Peskov. These are the usual red herrings. We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process," he insisted.

Nevertheless, on the momentous day of the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony, when the whole world was watching, Kabayeva did in fact take centre stage, as she held the Olympic torch aloft under the critical gaze of the Russian people.

Alina Kabayeva
Alina Kabayeva during the medal ceremony for the women's individual all-around final at the rhythmic gymnastics competition at the Athens 2004 Olympics. Reuters

Other ambassadors of sport afforded the honour were Russian Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, who passed the Olympic flame to Olympic champion wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, and next to tennis player Maria Sharapova during the spectacular ceremony.

While notions of special privileges being afforded the gymnast because of her relationship with the President abound, truth is, she is as worthy a candidate for the role as any of the other torch bearers.

The 30-year-old is one of the most decorated competitors in the world. She won the gold medal in the all-around at the Athens Olympics in 2004, when she was 21. She officially retired in 2007 after the Russian team won gold at the World Championships one last time.

Alina Kabayeva
The gold medal winning gymnast is famed for her signature posed named "the Kabayeva." Reuters

She is acclaimed for her extreme flexibility and even has a move named after her: The Kabayeva, "where you rest your chest on the floor and bring your legs all the way up."

But perhaps what irks the Russians about Kabayeva is the illicit nature of her relationship with the President, which remains shrouded in secrecy.

Putin announced his divorce from his wife Lyudmila after 29 years of marriage, as recently as 2013, though newspaper reports suggesting he was intending to dissolve his marriage and wed new love Kabayeva instead, first surfaced in 2008.

It's alleged that Putin had put his rarely seen wife in a mental institute in 2011, in order to pursue his relationship with the gymnast. Kabayeva has since been made a representative of the State Duma, and the couple are rumoured to have even married in 2013, though the President's nuptials have never formally been confirmed.

A tweet from a former local official from the Caucasus last week appeared to verify the reports.

"I am told that Putin and Kabayeva married today in the Iversky Monastery. All of Lake Valdai cordoned off."

Alina Kabayeva
President Vladimir Putin greets Russian gymnasts Svetlana Khorkina and Alina Kabayeva during a meeting with candidates to the Russian Olympic team for Summer Olympics 2004. Reuters

However, spokesperson for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov was at pains to suggest it was just another case of the rumour mill at work.

"It is useless to call the rumours nonsense," Peskov said. "They did this a hundred times already. Rumours live, what can we do with them? But they have nothing to do with reality."

For the proud Russian people, the ignominy of the President flaunting his consort on a global platform, is almost as embarrassing as his recent barechested show of machismo against the backdrop of the Siberian mountains.

As Komsomolskaya Pravda urges the Russians to "Be Like Putin," the rest of the world looks on in ever greater bewilderment at the daily soap opera that is the Russian President's life.