Volkova - from Helsinki silver to Osaka gold
Osaka, Japan - As you might expect, athletics talk comes quite high on the agenda in the household of Yekaterina Volkova in Zheleznogorsk, in the Kursk region, south-west of Moscow; the more so when we learn that Volkova’s husband, Artem Mostov ran the 800 metres for Russia in the Sydney Olympics. They have a three year old son, Daniil, incidentally. But there is little question now of who holds the family bragging rights.
Success through superstition?
Volkova took silver in the inaugural women’s steeplechase in Helsinki 2005; two years later she ran away from the field with a scintillating last kilometre, just under three minutes, to win gold on Day Three in Osaka Nagai Stadium.
Her colleague, Gulnara Samitova had set off as if she was going to break her World record of 9.01.59, opening with a kilometre just outside three minutes. But in her interview later Volkova said she was unconcerned.
“After the preliminaries, I had a premonition she (Samitova) would not win, I think she started too fast, so I didn’t try to catch her straightaway. I’m confident I’m good at the end, and when I took the lead, I knew I’d be able to stay ahead.”
Volkova is big into premonitions, by the way, admitting to being very superstitious. “I looked at my watch today, and saw 12.12. That made me think I would win.” But many might have thought she was tempting fate when she raised her hands to the heavens between the water jump, and the final hurdle. It was even suggested by one brave Russian journalist that she was disrespectful to her pursuing colleague, Tatyana Petrova. “Not at all,” she blasted back, “how can you think I was mocking her? I raised my hands to honour the Russian flag, and to thank the spectators for their support while I was in the lead.”
There was quick confirmation of her patriotism. She had literally bounced into the mixed zone – where the immediate post-race interviews are done- wearing a Russian flag wrapped round her waist like a skirt, and by the time of the press conference half an hour later, it was around her shoulders like a shawl. Her patriotic pride extended to as assessment of how things might go for Russians in the steeplechase in the future, including Beijing 2008.
High praise for World record holder Samitova
“We have so many good women in the steeplechase, I’m not even sure yet if I’ll make the team for Beijing.” The corollary to that was silver medallist, Petrova saying, “We’d have been happier is Russians had won all three medals.” And Volkova underlined her respect for World record holder, Samitova, with whom she had roomed in Vladivostock, in the far east of Russia, where the team had stayed for five days in order to overcome the time difference.
“She (Samitova) is the best. There was something wrong with her today. She will be the first one under nine minutes, I’m sure of it.” As for the weather conditions, which most athletes (except winners, maybe?) seem to deplore, Volkova shook her head. “I love running in these conditions, it’s often like this back at home in the Kursk region. It’s my type of weather, it’s one of the reasons I won.”
It might have been different had inaugural champion, Dorcus Inzikuru been competing, but that’s far from certain, given the way the Russians ran. The Ugandan is pregnant, and will doubtless be back at full strength for Beijing, but the most intriguing aspect of what is still a relatively new event for women is how the Russians will cope with the Kenyans and Inzikuru in the coming years. The Russians understand that concentrating resources on events which are generally weaker brings rewards, the more so in a newish event. And steeplechases have been on the track and field athletics programme in Russia since the mid-80s, if your correspondent recalls correctly. But, given the way the Kenyan men have dominated the steeple over the last 30 years, it is hard to believe that the women from the Great Rift Valley will not soon be overtaking everyone else. Jepkorir, who was third, and Nyangau, who set a World junior record in fourth are probably just the start of the wave.
Osaka Double duty?
But the day, or rather night belonged to Volkova. And it may not end there. She won an impressive double at the Russian World Trials, a 9:13.35 Steeplechase and 15:00.02 5000m, and is also selected for the latter event, whose heats are less than 48 hours after this victory. She is yet to decide if she will compete again, saying, “I will see how I feel tomorrow”.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF