Russian Women's Team Wants "TO WIN FOREVER" - 17June05-

June 17, 2005

Russia set their sights on world domination for ever
By David Powell, Athletics Correspondent
Our correspondent visits Volgograd to try to discover secret of dominance by women’s team

THEY are the most powerful unit in world athletics and, even without their three Olympic champions this weekend, the Russia women’s team are forecast to win a ninth successive European Cup by the kind of runaway distance that Asafa Powell had over the field when setting his 100 metres world record on Tuesday night. The days of the old Soviet Union may be long gone, but the system still works a treat.

In the Olympic Games in Athens last year, Russia’s women won more than twice as many medals as the United States, the next most successful nation, including five golds. At the most recent international event, the European Indoor Championships in Madrid in March, they won six golds, three times as many as Sweden, the only other country to win more than one.

In Volgograd, the city that gave Russia its three women champions in Athens, Nelli Blinova, a high-ranking coach, holds court at the indoor track. “For ever,” she says. “We want to be first for ever.” For ever may be pushing it, but the foreseeable future is coloured Russian red. In the World Junior Championships last season, Russia took seven gold, eight silver and three bronze medals. Britain’s score? 0-0-0.

While UK Athletics has been backed generously by lottery funding for almost ten years but has little potential to show for it, Russia is holding to a proven formula. Backed by the state, the sports schools, with their talent identification methods and profusion of trained coaches, still produce athletes on a scale other nations in Europe can only envy.

Moscow is less productive than it was, but Volgograd — where life remains rich in endeavour but poorly served for modern forms of entertainment — still has sport at the heart of its culture. Yelena Isinbayeva, in the pole vault, Yelena Slesarenko, in the high jump, and Tatyana Lebedeva, in the long jump, brought Olympic gold back from Athens to the city once known as Stalingrad.

Isinbayeva would have gone to waste under the British system. When Alexander Lisovoy, the sports school coach who trained her in gymnastics from five to 15, concluded that she had grown too tall, he passed her within the system to an athletics coach rather than write her off, believing that her agility could be transferred to the pole vault.

At the sports school where Slesarenko’s talents were developed, Natalya Sawostsnaya, the director, took a group of journalists on a tour. Like Isinbayeva’s former school, it had a clinical look about it, a place where every practical need had been considered but hardly a rouble had been spent on luxury. In one classroom, high jump lessons were being given using two posts with a rope. In another, boy wrestlers were being put through drills. “Please continue in the tradition of the Volgograd Olympic winners,” the message on a diploma signed by Slesarenko for a school competition winner read.

According to Victor Ivanov, the head of the Volgograd Sport Committee, there are 38 sports schools in the region, for children aged six to 16, and half have departments for athletics. “From the age of 16, the most gifted children go to special schools called Schools of Olympic Reserves,” Ivanov said. “They combine general education and sports training.”

Besides these, there are two Mastership Schools in Volgograd, where they train only in sport from the age of 19. There is also an academy that prepares teachers and coaches for the sports schools. The coaches are paid some 17,500 roubles (about £335) a month in a city where the average pay is 5,000 roubles. “We instruct them all to work in the same way, in the same tradition, so they do not use their own methods,” Ivanov said.

Coaches not skilled enough to take athletes beyond a certain level must pass them on. In Britain, some athletes outgrow their coaches, staying with them too long. “The coaches who worked during Soviet times share their experience with younger coaches and pass on traditions,” Nikolai Karatayev, a Volgograd coach, said. According to Blinova, the number of young people engaged in track and field is rising. Our group in Volgograd included two former Soviet athletes, Aleksandr Porkhomovskiy, a 10.12sec 100 metres runner, and Yolanda Chen, a former triple jump world record-holder. They are not so sure of the future.

Porkhomovskiy said that lifestyle changes in Russia threaten not only the interest of young athletes but also the coaching input. “Under the old system, all the coaches were fanatics,” he said. “They still like the sport but they want money now.” Chen said that young Russians who once saw athletics as a means to a good life are less patient today. “People have other opportunities. In the Soviet time, there were not so many,” Chen said.

Yet the women still come to athletics in numbers, which is why Russia can afford to give Isinbayeva, Slesarenko and Lebedeva this weekend off, bring in youngsters and still expect to win the European Cup in Florence. Russia’s men, by contrast, have not won the trophy since 1993. The difference, according to Chen, is that “for women, athletics is one of the top sports, for men it is tenth maybe”. Porkhomovskiy agreed. “For Russian men there is much more money in other sports like football, hockey and basketball,” he said.

I have long believed structure to be the most important general factor to success.

In Strength and Conditioning simply having a coach, being taught good technique and working towards goals is invaluable even if the training is not optamised for the individual - in comparison to the athlete that has to do the learning on thier own.

If you read Yessis’s book on Russian methods you quickly realise that they are super organised, and I always thought it was their structure rather than thier “secret methods” that got them the results. Unfortunitly structure isn’t as glamorous as plyometrics and sports specificy.

Russian women win again
Another four victories on the final day of the SPAR European Cup ensured Russia’s women won their ninth European Cup in a row at the Stadio Luigi Ridolfi this afternoon.

Taking a maximum eight points from four of the day’s seven events – the 1500m, high jump, shot put and 4x400m relay – Russia amassed a total of 131.5 points for their 11th triumph in European Cup history. It has now won all but two European Cups since 1993.

Russian women won 10 of the 20 events over three days of competition and had four second places for a total that has only been beaten twice, both times by Russian teams.

Second this year, in its best ever position, was Poland on 94 points, just one ahead of Germany. The Poles, who have never finished higher than fifth before, leapt from fourth to second thanks to a national record run in the final event of the day, the 4x400m relay, where they chased the victorious Russian quartet home.

Italy and Greece, who finished seventh and eighth respectively, are relegated from the top division, Greece returning to the First League for the first time since 2002.


Yulia Chizhenko gave Russia its first win of the day in the 1500m, holding off the Romanian Maria Cioncan’s brave attempt to win her second event of the weekend. After taking the 800m yesterday, she had to settle for second in the event at which she won an Olympic Bronze medal in Sydney. Chizhenko, who finished in 4:06.76, pushed her team past the 100 points barrier and on towards their enormous total. France’s Bouchra Ghezielle, the fastest woman in the field, made up huge amounts of ground over the last 200m to finish third.

High Jump

Russia notched up another win in the high jump as Tatyana Kivimyagi was the only athlete to clear 1.98m, a personal best for her, and six centimetres higher than Ukraine’s Vita Palamar and France’s Melanie Skotnik who finished second and third respectively.

Shot Put

And it was another personal best, by Olga Ryabinika, that won Russia the shot put. A European Cup winner last year, Ryabinik produced a third round put of 19.65m for the victory, the only throw beyond 19 metres. Germany’s Nadine Kleinart was second with 18.89.

4x400m relay

By the time it came to the final event, the 4x400m relay, Russia’s victory was well and truly in the bag, but below them Germany, France and Poland were separated by just two points with all to run for – Germany on 89, France on 87.5 and Poland on 87.

It was no surprise that Russia won – in 3:23.57 –but they were pushed hard by a Polish quartet that set a new national record of 3:24.61. Ukraine ran well to finish third, pushing them above Romania to fifth place in the standings and guaranteeing their survival in the SPAR European Cup, but Germany in fifth and France in sixth were too far behind.

Romania fought hard to finish fourth in 3:27.78. They finished sixth in the standings but will not be relegated because the track in Malaga, next year’s venue, has nine lanes – enough to accommodate both them and the Spanish hosts who failed to gain promotion from the First League.


Poland’s cause received a huge boost earlier in the afternoon when Kamila Skolimowska twice came from behind to win an excellent hammer competition. The 2000 Olympic champion snatched the points with her last throw of the competition which sailed out to 72.38, close to her personal best of 72.60 and the second longest throw in the world this year.

Italy’s Ester Balastini had given the small but enthusiastic home crowd some early cheer when she moved into the lead in the first round. But Skolimowska responded in the second with her best throw of the year, 70.87. And then, after Manuela Montebrun, the World Championships Bronze medallist, pushed her last attempt out to 71.10, responded to that too with a final wining heave.

World record holder Mihaela Melinte of Romania finished a disappointing sixth, while Germany’s Susanne Keil, the pre-event favourite, was fifth.

100m Hurdles

Russia’s total could have been more for they were predicted to win the 100m hurdles too but lost points when Mariya Koroteyeva, fourth in last summer’s Olympics, could only finish seventh. The honours went to France as Linda Ferga Khodadin edged out Germany’s Kirsten Bolm by six hundredths, equalling her best of the year, 12.73.

“It was a very good time but the victory was very important for France,” said Khodadin. Indeed it was for at one point they were languishing in sixth place.


Perhaps Khodadin’s victory provided inspiration for France’s Christine Arron, for the European 100m record holder became the weekend’s only double winner when she added the women’s 200m to yesterday’s 100m success. Arron ran a season’s best of 22.84.

Running in lane two she held off the challenge of Russia’s Yelena Bolsun who clocked 23.00, one hundredth of a second ahead of Ukraine’s Maryna Maydanova.

“I am no longer used to running two races in two days,” said the 31 year-old afterwards.

Romania’s Ionela Tirlea-Manolache, fifth in 23.26, notched up her 20th European Cup start, extending her own women’s record. That became 21 – equalling Germany’s Marc Blume for the men – when she ran the anchor leg for Romania in the 4x400m relay.

Report by Matthew Brown

(EAA Media Service - 19.06.2005)