I never thought I would be an athlete. I just loved movement.I loved to be active, to run and climb, swim and play with the ball. No one in my family or environment did regular sport – it just wasn’t part of our lives. When I was 8 or 9 years old, in Autumn, I built a High Jump pit from left-over vegetable crates. I took 2 planks and put nails every 5 cm so I could raise the High Jump bar. After practising for a few days, I organised a competition in our garden with my friends… my first experience with winning and the emotions of victory in sport. My mother said that after this competition it was my job to dig all the earth we had trodden on and packed down to restore the vegetable garden. I did this with pleasure!
I started athletics when I was 14 and I wanted to be a high jumper. I joined the local squad and started training. I won my first competition in High Jump and Long Jump and I beat people who had been doing training sessions for 1 and 2 years. I jumped 1.55 HJ and 5.10 LJ. I had no spikes and the landing was on mats on a wooden floor. It was very basic by today’s standards, but I was hooked on the adrenalin of training and winning- I know now that the passion I had for this was destiny, but I didn’t have any understanding of this at that time. At this age I didn’t specialise in one event, but trained generally – sprint, all jumps, strength etc.
My coach convinced me that I actually wasn’t tall enough for High Jump, so I started training for Triple Jump. After 8 months of training sessions and in one of my first competitions I came third in the regional competition. I lost by 1 metre to second place and 2 metres to first place. I made my first life choice – to focus on Triple Jump. This was one of the best choices I have made in my life!!
To improve my leg strength, my coach told me that I needed to do ‘hops’. In winter I did ‘hops’ in the snow. I woke up before school and jogged to the snowy stadium (probably 10-15 mins), put plastic bags over my shoes and did ‘hops’ for about 30 metres: 5-10 sets for each leg… A jumper needs leg strength to jump and I wanted to be a jumper!! Later, I understood from a methodical point of view, that this was not the right process, but it was great to build determination; which is sometimes much more important that the correct methodology in sport and in life.
At 17, I won the USSR Youth National Championship and was included in the list of recognized potential youth–and started to earn my first money from sport. USSR helped and supported athletes who defended the ‘honour’ of the country.