Thursday, 23 August 2007

Can 2007 be Soboleva’s year?

Yelena Soboleva, the World indoor 1500m record holder and this year’s world leader at 3:57.30, seems to pose a serious threat to succeed compatriot Tatyana Tomashova as the event’s World champion. With an impressive series of four consecutive victories this summer, including the IAAF Golden League race in Paris-St. Denis, the 24-year-old from Bryansk arrives in Osaka with gold medal ambitions in her sights.

First gold medal was for academics

Soboleva received her first gold medal at a graduation party at school. The award is presented to students in Russia who earn their diplomas with excellent marks in all subjects. At the time, the medal seemed to be a good opportunity for Soboleva to receive the best possible higher education. However, the difficult social and economic situation in the country at that time changed her plans. Coming from the poor family, Soboleva could not pay for the expensive studies at the desired faculties – economics and law. Choosing another academic direction, she eventually earned her degree in technology of woodworking industries.

To this day, however, she has yet to use her professional knowledge. Running for fun in childhood with local athletics coach Svetlana Belova turned out to be her real profession. Soboleva’s obvious talent was so evident that after one of her first international competitions she was invited to the famed Moscow athletics club “Luch”.

On the verge of quitting, new coach proves convincing

Meeting another coach from Moscow – Matvei Teliatnikov – became a turning point in her career. It was Teliatnikov who made out of Soboleva the athlete we can applaud now.

“I met him at the moment which was very hard for me,” Soboleva recalled. “It was 2004, and I was just starting to run senior races. And somehow things went wrong from the very beginning: I was seventh in the Russian championship at 800m, fifth at 1500m three days later, and only eighth in the international competition in Tallinn. I am such an emotional person that these results seriously upset me. I just could not stand the stress any more and decided to give up athletics. I didn’t want to always be fifth or the sixth. So I just collected my luggage and returned back home to look for some job. For one month I was doing nothing, only resting.”

But a phone call from Teliatnikov turned her ideas of rest into a dream for the next several months. He suggested that she continue training in his group and she decided to accept the risk and took him up on the invitation. Since then, a month-long vacation has become an important treat Soboleva. Each year at the end of the season she leaves for Bryansk and for 30 days forgets about running.

Chizhenko-Fomenko – rival and friend

The world indoor record in 1500m, 3:58.28, is at the moment the highest achievement for Soboleva. At the 2006 Russian winter championship she broke the record and beat her main competitor - and closest friend on the national team – Yuliya Chizhenko-Fomenko. Chizhenko did not hesitate to take revenge and the next month won the World indoor title in Moscow leaving Soboleva second.

“I always want to finish together with Yuliya,” Soboleva said. “This is the most important thing for me. And who out of us is going to be the first only the race may show. It does not change anything for our friendship any way.”

2007 – Soboleva’s year?

Soboleva skipped the 2007 indoor season to be in best possible shape for summer. For now, that decision appears to be her secret to success. Since June, Soboleva won races at four consecutive meetings: the Znamensky Memorial (800m – 1:59.49 ), the Moscow Cup (mile – 4:15.63, 1500m – 3:57.30), Meeting Gaz de France (1500m – 3:59.91) and the Tsiklitiria Grand Prix in Athens (1500m – 3:58.30). The All-Russian Athletics Federation considered such a series to be enough to let Soboleva miss the national trials for Osaka.

“I usually run 1500m now, but my wish has always been to run the 800m,” Soboleva admits. “But to win the 800m at the Russian championships is now probably more difficult than to become a World champion. I was only fourth  at 800m in Tula at the national trials this year, so I will concentrate on 1500m in Osaka. Of course, I very much hope to win in Japan. I have never won such a big competition in my life. And it seems to me, that the year 2007 is my year.”

Natalia Maryanchik and Eugeny Slyusarenko (www.allsport.ru) for the IAAF

 

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