Silnov adds to Shakhty’s Olympic record reputation
The score 16 – 4 is an important one for Andrey Silnov. It is the result of the vote in the Russian Olympic Committee that sent him to Beijing. Originally, it may be recalled, he was not in the squad, finishing fourth in the Russian championships.
But when he set a world season’s lead of 2.38m in London, second thoughts were the order of the day. Inevitably that put a deal of pressure on the European champion to deliver and that he duly did. But how did he experience that pressure?
“I am grateful to the people who decided that I should come to Beijing and all the people who supported me,” he said. “I felt I had no alternative but to win gold here in order justify their faith in me.”
But did he not think he should phone Andrey Tereshin, the man whose place he took and thank him? “It was the decision of the authorities. I don’t think I have to call anyone,” he said.
Highest concentration of Olympic medallists in the world
Apart, that is, from his parents who are at home in Shakhty, Silnov’s home town near Rostov on Don. “I hardly see them of course, even though I live there with them. I am travelling so much. But they were at home watching and supporting me.”
They may not be the only ones in Shakhty watching because they are used to Olympic champions. Shakhty, population 220,000, is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as having the highest concentration of Olympic medallists in the world, the most famous being weightlifter Aleksy Alekseev. Now they can add one more.
So how did the new Olympic High Jump champion get into the sport? “My elder brother was a member of the local club – he practised the Triple Jump – and I decided I would have a go. I started in athletics at the age of seven. I tried everything first, but as I grew I realised that the High Jump might be a better idea.”
Silnov’s height, 1.98m, does not come from his parents but from his grandfather who was 2m tall. Silnov’s father was a miner and his mother is a factory worker. Shakhty – the name means mine shafts in Russian – is famous for its coal-mines which suffered greatly during privatisation when many were shut down.
Two years ago Silnov became European champion, but last year in the Osaka World championships he was out of the medals. What did he do that was different this year: “Well, I don’t want to go over that again. Briefly, I tried to correct all the mistakes I made last year and during this competition I consulted my coach after each jump so the he could correct my technique,” he said.
Now that he is newly crowned Olympic champion his life was bound to change. Had he thought about it? “Not really. It’s a bit too soon to think about that,” he said.
He had generous words for the former Olympic champion, Stefan Holm, who finished fourth: “I was a bit sad that Stefan did not win silver because he has been a great ambassador for the sport. He is a great sportsman.” Holm finished out of the medals in fourth.
At 23, eight years Holm’s junior, Silnov takes over the mantle that Holm wore for four years. Does this victory represent the emergence of a new generation of high jumpers? “Generations always change. It is normal,” said Silnov. “It happens and will continue to happen because none us is young forever.”
Silnov has a duo of coaches who look after him. When at home in Shakhty, he is coached by Sergey Starykh who was his first mentor. It was Starykh who took him to his first national title three years ago, the Russian indoor under-23 crown. His second coach is Yevgeniy Zagorulko who took Yelena Yelesina and Sergey Klyugin to 2000 Olympic golds.
An IT graduate at the Southern Russian State Economics university, when not competing or training, Silnov takes himself off fishing. But the interest does not end there. If he makes a catch he takes it home and cooks it for his family. It may, however, be some time before he can find time for his hobby now that he is Olympic champion.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF