Athlete Profile

Vera Sokolova

  • COUNTRY Russia Russia
  • DATE OF BIRTH 8 JUN 1987
Russian race walker Vera Sokolova (Getty Images)
Russian race walker Vera Sokolova (Getty Images)
  • COUNTRY Russia Russia
  • DATE OF BIRTH 8 JUN 1987


Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.


Updated 14 April 2014

Vera SOKOLOVA, Russia (20km Race Walk)

Born: 8 June 1987, Solianoy village, Chuvashia

Lives: Saransk, Mordovia

Height: 1.51m, weight: 42kg

Coaches: Viktor Chegin, Anatoliy Nikolaev

Vera Sokolova’s bio could be quite standard for a Russian walker from the group of the legendary coach Viktor Chegin: several youth and junior titles, steady progress, and finally the big day – qualification to her first senior World Championships in 2009, in Berlin. But there is one detail that makes Sokolova a unique athlete for Russian race walking. Born in Chuvashia republic and coached by Anatoliy Nikolaev and his wife, 1996 Olympic champion Elena Nikolaeva, At the end of 2008, Sokolova moved to Mordovia to join Chegin’s group. It’s worth noting that Chuvashia and Mordovia dominate the event in Russia and are fierce rivals. Moving from one republic to the other was considered unthinkable. Moreover, Viktor Chegin for many years before had never agreed to take in his group a senior athlete from another region than Mordovia.

Sokolova first tried race walking in the primary school in her home village, Solianoy, in Chuvashia. “There are only about 65-70 houses in my native village,” Sokolova recalls. After several years of light training, she competed at the republic championships in Cheboksary. There Sokolova was noticed by coach Nikolay Rodionov, who invited the talented girl to join his group. At the age of 14, Vera had to leave home and start her serious career in sports.

“First it was very difficult for me,” Sokolova sighs. “At the age when most girls are just having fun, I had to become adult and take care of myself. I was never used to serious training. Moreover, I had to combine it with studies in a new school and new life in a new city. I missed my parents a lot, but there was no time to go to visit them. My village is 60km away from Cheboksary – too far to go if you need to train several times a day and study. During the first few months I was seriously thinking to give up and return back home. Some of my new acquaintances really did it. But then my mother said: “You should be patient and strong. If this is your goal, try to achieve it.”

It did not take long for Sokolova to realise that her goals were realistic. Already in 2002, she qualified for her first World Junior Championships in Kingston (Jamaica). For a girl from a small village it was also the first ever trip abroad. “This was fantastic!” Sokolova smiles. “I remember I was the youngest in the team, so funny. I even needed a signed document from my parents to leave the country, as by Russian law you cannot travel alone if you are below 18. In Jamaica I once went to a beach. I was the only white person there, looked like an alien! In the end there were plenty of impressions, and I was satisfied with the result. 9th place for the beginning was all right.”

After Kingston, Sokolova’s career continued to develop. In 2003, she won the World Youth Championships, the following year came third at the World Juniors. The European Junior title in 2005 and victory in the Junior races at the World Race Walking Cup in Naumburg 2004 and La Coruna in 2006 proved she was getting stronger.  It therefore seemed even more strange when, after 2006, Sokolova disappeared from the international circle. Those three years away from the major events meets could easily have been the end of her sports career.

“In 2003, my first coach Nikolay Rodionov went to work in Turkey,” Sokolova recalls. “I stayed in Cheboksary and started working with Anatoliy Nikolaev, the husband and coach of Olympic champion Elena Nikolaeva. It was great in the beginning, and even now I call Elena my “second mother.” She has done really a lot for me, not only in sports but also in my personal life. But when in 2006 Nikolaev was appointed the Sports minister of Chuvashia, he could no longer go to the training camps with me. And Elena could not leave her husband for so long either.”

When at that time Rodionov returned from Turkey it seemed to be a relief for Sokolova. Training alone in Race Walk at just 20 years of age could not even theoretically bring any results. But even with Rodionov, Sokolova did not have much luck. “I don’t want to comment on this because he is my first coach and I will always be grateful,” Vera underlined. “But at the beginning of 2008 I was left without a team and a coach. To be honest I already gave up and thought it was my end in sports.”

Sokolova eventually returned to her home village, Solianoy. For 8 months she was enjoying life with her parents and friends, and without exhausting training sessions. But then her angel, Elena Nikolaeva, interfered again. “She saw I was pining without sports,” Vera smiles. “And then Elena asked Viktor Chegin to take me to his group. Without her, it would be extremely hard to get there. But Chegin looked at my walking, and said “yes.” This was another new life for me.”

At the end of 2008 Sokolova moved to Chegin’s training centre in Saransk, Mordovia, and started to represent both Mordovia and Chuvashia at the national meets. Another unthinkable thing, considering the rivalry between the two republics.

Training with Chegin cannot be easy for any athlete, but for Sokolova after an 8-months break it was extremely hard. 10 kilos of extra weight caused knee problems. “I was so much ashamed – just arrived to the group, and already needing medical treatment!” Sokolova says. “I lost about 5 kilos already in the first 1.5 months before the New Year 2009. The remaining 5 also went away very fast. Chegin said he regretted he did not take a photo of me when I first arrived. Compared to how I look now, it would be huge contrast!”

A peculiar thing about Sokolova is her small height for race walking – only 1.51 m. “Back in school it was like a draw-back for me,” Vera smiles. “I always had to stand last in the line-up at P.E. lessons, always the smallest in the class! But now I am ok with it. After all, I’ve proved the small height does not stop me from walking fast!”                

Step by step, Sokolova was earning her place in the sun. Already in summer 2009, after less than a year with Chegin, she qualified for her first senior World Championships in Berlin. 14th place was maybe not what she expected, but more than good for an athlete who a year before was about to finish her career. “I know I can do better,” Sokolova says. “But for the first year with Chegin it was good enough. Everything is going on according to plan.”

In 2010, Sokolova was second at the national winter championships and proved to be one of the team leaders. The World Cup in Mexico was the first chance for her to shine on the international senior stage, in absence of the Olympic champion Olga Kaniskina. “We are training together, and I admit that even in training Olga’s pace is faster than mine,” Vera said. “But with everybody else, like Anisya Kirdyapkina for example, I can fight. It is going to be very difficult in Mexico because of the heat and altitude. But I know my goals and promise to do my best not to let them go.”

Sokolova really did her best – but finished only fourth, as the heat and humidity were really too much for her. However, she was the first among Russian athletes and qualified for her first European Championships in Barcelona.

What happened in women’s race walk in Barcelona is probably one of the brightest moments in the history of Russian race walking. Kaniskina, Kirdyapkina and Sokolova swept the podium. Vera was challenged by Spaniard Beatriz Pascual but managed to speed up at the last third of the distance and win the bronze.

“I was walking with the thought that I would rather die than give away my medal,” Sokolova smiled after the finish. “It meant so much for me, it proved that my comeback in sports was not in vain. And the fact that my friends Olga and Anisya took the medals too, makes this day so special! Maybe it was the best day in my life.”

Sokolova went on with her progress, setting the World record in the 20km walk – 1:25:08 in February 2011. Actually, this was not the fastest time in history – Olga Kaniskina in 2009 also walked faster than the record by Olympiada Ivanova. But that time there were no international judges and the record was not ratified. In 2011, the All-Russia Athletics Federation specially invited international judges – as if knowing that Sokolova was in shape to break the record.

In spring 2011, Vera also won the European Cup, in Portugal, and confirmed herself as one of the favorites for the World Championships, in Daegu. She still admitted that Olga Kaniskina was stronger, but somewhere, in the back of her mind, already knew: “I can do anything, I must use my good fortune now as much as I can.”  

However, the world forum in Daegu was again the triumph of Russian race walking – but not of Sokolova personally. Vera finished 11th, while her compatriots Olga Kaniskina and Anisya Kirdyapkina won the gold and the bronze respectively. This disappointing result now seems as a turning point in Sokolova’s career. Before Daegu she was moving up towards the medal podium. After 2011 Vera had two horrifying seasons back to back – and vague perspectives for the future.

In 2012, Sokolova was disqualified at the Russian Winter Championships in Sochi. This was the first – but unfortunately not the last – case of disqualification at a major event in her career. This mistake cost Vera a lot – she did not qualify for the home World Cup in Saransk.

That also meant that Sokolova had the only one remaining chance to make the Olympic squad for London – to win the national trials in Moscow. Any place other than the first one did not guarantee anything, considering the fact that Yelena Lashmanova and Olga Kaniskina had already won places on the team at the World Cup. It seemed that bad luck again knocked on Vera’s door, as two weeks before the race she injured her thigh in training. Sokolova managed to finish the 20 km distance second, despite the pain. But the silver at the national trials meant that Vera had to stay and cure her injury at home – while the winner Anisya Kirdyapkina would travel to London.

However, Sokolova was not going to give up to destiny. She managed to come third at the Russian Winter Championships 2013. Silver at the European Cup the following spring meant that Vera was again there – not on the first roles, but still very close to the World podium and, what is very important, on the national team roster.

The first sign of impending disaster came at the World Universiade in Kazan. At the event that was of great importance for home athletes, Sokolova again was disqualified by the judges for technical mistakes. She still had time to work on her technique before the Moscow World Championships – and made it the main focus in her training sessions.

Sokolova’s tragedy at the World Championships would probably some day make a perfect plot for a movie. Vera had been struggling throughout the whole distance, and finally made it to come into the stadium third. There were only several hundred metres left before the finish line, when Vera saw in front of her the red card. The judges’ decision deprived Sokolova of what would be the fondest memory in her career – the medal of the home World Championships.

“I don’t want even to hear about race walking any more. I give it up right now,” Sokolova emotionally commented right after the race. There were not many people really interested, however. Vera was again somewhere at the backstage, while the main roles were given to Yelena Lashmanova and Anisya Kirdyapkina who topped the results list.

A few weeks later, Sokolova had calmed down and changed her mind. “I want to go on with my career and prove first of all to myself that I can be at the top. Otherwise it would be really devastating – I put so much effort in my training in 2013, and everything in vain!”, Vera commented.

“Right after the finish line I wanted just to dig my head into the sand like an ostrich,” she went on. “I learned that I had the second yellow card only when coming into the stadium. It is still a mystery for me how I managed to get the third one! I knew that I was on the edge, at that moment at the stadium I was focusing fully on each step! I cannot imagine what could go wrong there. But this is life… It shocked me that when I was leaving the stadium, some of the fans cried together with me and said that for them I was still the bronze medalist. Such support gave me motivation to go on.”

And Sokolova went on – again being second at the national winter trials, and qualifying for the World Cup in Taicang. This time she hopes that good luck will be by her side.    

Personal Bests

10,000m Race Walk:           43:11.34 WJR           (2005)

10km Race Walk:                 42:12                      (2009)

20km Race Walk:                1:25:08 WR              (2011)

Yearly Progression

10km/20km: 2005: 44:09/-; 2006: 43:49/-; 2007: -/1:32:56; 2008: -/1:30:11; 2009: 42:12/1:25:26; 2010: -/1:25:35. 2011: -/1:25:08; 2012: -/1:28:06; 2013: -/1:26:00; 2014: -/1:28:32

Career Highlights  

2002   1st        (10,000m)      Russian Junior Championships (Cheboksary)              46:19.9h

2002   9th        (10,000m)      World Junior Championships (Kingston)                       47:59.14

2003   1st        (5000m)         World Youth Championships (Sherbrooke)                   22:50.23

2003   2nd       (10km)            European Junior Cup (Cheboksary)                            47:02

2004   1st        (10km)            Russian Junior Winter Championships (Adler)             44:04      

2004  3rd        (10,000m)      World Junior Championships (Grosseto)                       46:53.02

2004   1st        (10km)            World Race Walking Cup Junior race (Naumburg)       45:29  

2005  1st        (10,000m)      European Junior Championships (Kaunas)                    43:11.34

2006    3rd       (10km)            Russian Winter Junior Championships (Adler)             43:49 

2006  4th        (10,000m)      World Junior Championships (Beijing)                           46:58.21

2006  1st        (10km)            World Race Walking Cup Junior (La Coruña)                   44:49

2009  10th     (20km)            European Cup (Metz)                                                   1:36:43

2009  1st        (20km)            Russian Championships (Cheboksary)                          1:27:33

2009  14th     (20km)            World Championships (Berlin)                                        1:34:55

2009   2nd       (10km)            Race Walking Challenge Final (Saransk)                        42:12

2010  2nd       (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Adler)                          1:25:35

2010   4th        (20km)            World Cup (Chihuahua)                                               1:33:54

2010   3rd        (20km)            European Championships (Barcelona)                           1:29:32

2011   1st        (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Adler)                          1:25:08

2011   1st        (20km)            European Cup (Olhao)                                                 1:30:02

2011   11th     (20 km)           World Championships (Daegu)                                       1:32:13

2012   2nd       (20 km)           Russian Championships (Moscow)                                  1:28:06

2013   3rd        (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Adler)                          1:26:00

2013   2nd       (20km)            European Cup (Dudince)                                               1:29:18

2013   DQ      (20km)            Universiade (Kazan)

2013   DQ      (20km)            World Championships (Moscow)

2014   2nd       (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Sochi)                             1:28:32

Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2014.    


Personal Best - Outdoor
Performance Wind Place Date
3000 Metres Race Walk 12:51.96 Bydgoszcz 07 AUG 2004
5000 Metres Race Walk 21:05.7 Saransk 19 JUN 2005
10,000 Metres Race Walk 43:11.34 Kaunas 21 JUL 2005
10 Kilometres Race Walk 42:12 Saransk 19 SEP 2009
20 Kilometres Race Walk 1:25:08 Sochi 26 FEB 2011
Personal Best - Indoor
Performance Wind Place Date
3000 Metres Race Walk 11:58.44 Novocheboksarsk 11 JAN 2014
5000 Metres Race Walk 21:44.0 Cheboksary 23 DEC 2006
Progression - Outdoor showShow All Graphs
3000 Metres Race Walk Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2004 12:51.96 Bydgoszcz 07 AUG
5000 Metres Race Walk Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2005 21:05.7 Saransk 19 JUN
2003 22:07.05 Kazan 08 SEP
2001 23:06.2 Adler 03 MAR
10,000 Metres Race Walk Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2006 46:58.21 Beijing (Chaoyang Sport Center) 19 AUG
2005 43:11.34 Kaunas 21 JUL
2004 46:53.02 Grosseto 16 JUL
2002 46:10.9 Cheboksary 25 MAY
10 Kilometres Race Walk Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2011 44:03 Olhão 21 MAY
2010 44:51 Barcelona (O) 28 JUL
2009 42:12 Saransk 19 SEP
2006 43:49 Adler 19 FEB
2005 44:09 Miskolc 21 MAY
2004 44:04 Adler 08 FEB
2003 45:22 Adler 01 MAR
20 Kilometres Race Walk Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 1:27:03 Taicang 03 MAY
2013 1:26:00 Sochi 23 FEB
2012 1:28:06 Moskva 10 JUN
2011 1:25:08 Sochi 26 FEB
2010 1:25:35 Sochi 20 FEB
2009 1:25:26 Adler 28 FEB
2008 1:30:11 Adler 23 FEB
2007 1:32:56 Saransk 29 SEP
Progression - Indoor showShow All Graphs
3000 Metres Race Walk Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 11:58.44 Novocheboksarsk 11 JAN
5000 Metres Race Walk Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2006 21:44.0 Cheboksary 23 DEC
Honours - 5000 Metres Race Walk
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
3rd IAAF World Youth Championships 1 22:50.23 Sherbrooke 10 JUL 2003
Honours - 10,000 Metres Race Walk
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
11th IAAF World Junior Championships 4 46:58.21 Beijing (Chaoyang Sport Center) 19 AUG 2006
10th IAAF World Junior Championships 3 46:53.02 Grosseto 16 JUL 2004
IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships 9 47:59.14 Kingston, JAM 18 JUL 2002
Honours - 10 Kilometres Race Walk
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
22nd IAAF World Race Walking Cup 1 44:49 La Coruña 14 MAY 2006
21st IAAF World Race Walking Cup 1 45:29 Naumburg 01 MAY 2004
Honours - 20 Kilometres Race Walk
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
IAAF World Race Walking Cup 2014 4 1:27:03 Taicang 03 MAY 2014
14th IAAF World Championships f DQ R230.6(a) Moskva (Luzhniki) 13 AUG 2013
13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 11 1:32:13 Daegu 31 AUG 2011
24th IAAF World Race Walking Cup 4 1:33:54 Chihuahua 15 MAY 2010
12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 14 1:34:55 Berlin (Olympiastadion) 16 AUG 2009


Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.


Updated 14 April 2014

Vera SOKOLOVA, Russia (20km Race Walk)

Born: 8 June 1987, Solianoy village, Chuvashia

Lives: Saransk, Mordovia

Height: 1.51m, weight: 42kg

Coaches: Viktor Chegin, Anatoliy Nikolaev

Vera Sokolova’s bio could be quite standard for a Russian walker from the group of the legendary coach Viktor Chegin: several youth and junior titles, steady progress, and finally the big day – qualification to her first senior World Championships in 2009, in Berlin. But there is one detail that makes Sokolova a unique athlete for Russian race walking. Born in Chuvashia republic and coached by Anatoliy Nikolaev and his wife, 1996 Olympic champion Elena Nikolaeva, At the end of 2008, Sokolova moved to Mordovia to join Chegin’s group. It’s worth noting that Chuvashia and Mordovia dominate the event in Russia and are fierce rivals. Moving from one republic to the other was considered unthinkable. Moreover, Viktor Chegin for many years before had never agreed to take in his group a senior athlete from another region than Mordovia.

Sokolova first tried race walking in the primary school in her home village, Solianoy, in Chuvashia. “There are only about 65-70 houses in my native village,” Sokolova recalls. After several years of light training, she competed at the republic championships in Cheboksary. There Sokolova was noticed by coach Nikolay Rodionov, who invited the talented girl to join his group. At the age of 14, Vera had to leave home and start her serious career in sports.

“First it was very difficult for me,” Sokolova sighs. “At the age when most girls are just having fun, I had to become adult and take care of myself. I was never used to serious training. Moreover, I had to combine it with studies in a new school and new life in a new city. I missed my parents a lot, but there was no time to go to visit them. My village is 60km away from Cheboksary – too far to go if you need to train several times a day and study. During the first few months I was seriously thinking to give up and return back home. Some of my new acquaintances really did it. But then my mother said: “You should be patient and strong. If this is your goal, try to achieve it.”

It did not take long for Sokolova to realise that her goals were realistic. Already in 2002, she qualified for her first World Junior Championships in Kingston (Jamaica). For a girl from a small village it was also the first ever trip abroad. “This was fantastic!” Sokolova smiles. “I remember I was the youngest in the team, so funny. I even needed a signed document from my parents to leave the country, as by Russian law you cannot travel alone if you are below 18. In Jamaica I once went to a beach. I was the only white person there, looked like an alien! In the end there were plenty of impressions, and I was satisfied with the result. 9th place for the beginning was all right.”

After Kingston, Sokolova’s career continued to develop. In 2003, she won the World Youth Championships, the following year came third at the World Juniors. The European Junior title in 2005 and victory in the Junior races at the World Race Walking Cup in Naumburg 2004 and La Coruna in 2006 proved she was getting stronger.  It therefore seemed even more strange when, after 2006, Sokolova disappeared from the international circle. Those three years away from the major events meets could easily have been the end of her sports career.

“In 2003, my first coach Nikolay Rodionov went to work in Turkey,” Sokolova recalls. “I stayed in Cheboksary and started working with Anatoliy Nikolaev, the husband and coach of Olympic champion Elena Nikolaeva. It was great in the beginning, and even now I call Elena my “second mother.” She has done really a lot for me, not only in sports but also in my personal life. But when in 2006 Nikolaev was appointed the Sports minister of Chuvashia, he could no longer go to the training camps with me. And Elena could not leave her husband for so long either.”

When at that time Rodionov returned from Turkey it seemed to be a relief for Sokolova. Training alone in Race Walk at just 20 years of age could not even theoretically bring any results. But even with Rodionov, Sokolova did not have much luck. “I don’t want to comment on this because he is my first coach and I will always be grateful,” Vera underlined. “But at the beginning of 2008 I was left without a team and a coach. To be honest I already gave up and thought it was my end in sports.”

Sokolova eventually returned to her home village, Solianoy. For 8 months she was enjoying life with her parents and friends, and without exhausting training sessions. But then her angel, Elena Nikolaeva, interfered again. “She saw I was pining without sports,” Vera smiles. “And then Elena asked Viktor Chegin to take me to his group. Without her, it would be extremely hard to get there. But Chegin looked at my walking, and said “yes.” This was another new life for me.”

At the end of 2008 Sokolova moved to Chegin’s training centre in Saransk, Mordovia, and started to represent both Mordovia and Chuvashia at the national meets. Another unthinkable thing, considering the rivalry between the two republics.

Training with Chegin cannot be easy for any athlete, but for Sokolova after an 8-months break it was extremely hard. 10 kilos of extra weight caused knee problems. “I was so much ashamed – just arrived to the group, and already needing medical treatment!” Sokolova says. “I lost about 5 kilos already in the first 1.5 months before the New Year 2009. The remaining 5 also went away very fast. Chegin said he regretted he did not take a photo of me when I first arrived. Compared to how I look now, it would be huge contrast!”

A peculiar thing about Sokolova is her small height for race walking – only 1.51 m. “Back in school it was like a draw-back for me,” Vera smiles. “I always had to stand last in the line-up at P.E. lessons, always the smallest in the class! But now I am ok with it. After all, I’ve proved the small height does not stop me from walking fast!”                

Step by step, Sokolova was earning her place in the sun. Already in summer 2009, after less than a year with Chegin, she qualified for her first senior World Championships in Berlin. 14th place was maybe not what she expected, but more than good for an athlete who a year before was about to finish her career. “I know I can do better,” Sokolova says. “But for the first year with Chegin it was good enough. Everything is going on according to plan.”

In 2010, Sokolova was second at the national winter championships and proved to be one of the team leaders. The World Cup in Mexico was the first chance for her to shine on the international senior stage, in absence of the Olympic champion Olga Kaniskina. “We are training together, and I admit that even in training Olga’s pace is faster than mine,” Vera said. “But with everybody else, like Anisya Kirdyapkina for example, I can fight. It is going to be very difficult in Mexico because of the heat and altitude. But I know my goals and promise to do my best not to let them go.”

Sokolova really did her best – but finished only fourth, as the heat and humidity were really too much for her. However, she was the first among Russian athletes and qualified for her first European Championships in Barcelona.

What happened in women’s race walk in Barcelona is probably one of the brightest moments in the history of Russian race walking. Kaniskina, Kirdyapkina and Sokolova swept the podium. Vera was challenged by Spaniard Beatriz Pascual but managed to speed up at the last third of the distance and win the bronze.

“I was walking with the thought that I would rather die than give away my medal,” Sokolova smiled after the finish. “It meant so much for me, it proved that my comeback in sports was not in vain. And the fact that my friends Olga and Anisya took the medals too, makes this day so special! Maybe it was the best day in my life.”

Sokolova went on with her progress, setting the World record in the 20km walk – 1:25:08 in February 2011. Actually, this was not the fastest time in history – Olga Kaniskina in 2009 also walked faster than the record by Olympiada Ivanova. But that time there were no international judges and the record was not ratified. In 2011, the All-Russia Athletics Federation specially invited international judges – as if knowing that Sokolova was in shape to break the record.

In spring 2011, Vera also won the European Cup, in Portugal, and confirmed herself as one of the favorites for the World Championships, in Daegu. She still admitted that Olga Kaniskina was stronger, but somewhere, in the back of her mind, already knew: “I can do anything, I must use my good fortune now as much as I can.”  

However, the world forum in Daegu was again the triumph of Russian race walking – but not of Sokolova personally. Vera finished 11th, while her compatriots Olga Kaniskina and Anisya Kirdyapkina won the gold and the bronze respectively. This disappointing result now seems as a turning point in Sokolova’s career. Before Daegu she was moving up towards the medal podium. After 2011 Vera had two horrifying seasons back to back – and vague perspectives for the future.

In 2012, Sokolova was disqualified at the Russian Winter Championships in Sochi. This was the first – but unfortunately not the last – case of disqualification at a major event in her career. This mistake cost Vera a lot – she did not qualify for the home World Cup in Saransk.

That also meant that Sokolova had the only one remaining chance to make the Olympic squad for London – to win the national trials in Moscow. Any place other than the first one did not guarantee anything, considering the fact that Yelena Lashmanova and Olga Kaniskina had already won places on the team at the World Cup. It seemed that bad luck again knocked on Vera’s door, as two weeks before the race she injured her thigh in training. Sokolova managed to finish the 20 km distance second, despite the pain. But the silver at the national trials meant that Vera had to stay and cure her injury at home – while the winner Anisya Kirdyapkina would travel to London.

However, Sokolova was not going to give up to destiny. She managed to come third at the Russian Winter Championships 2013. Silver at the European Cup the following spring meant that Vera was again there – not on the first roles, but still very close to the World podium and, what is very important, on the national team roster.

The first sign of impending disaster came at the World Universiade in Kazan. At the event that was of great importance for home athletes, Sokolova again was disqualified by the judges for technical mistakes. She still had time to work on her technique before the Moscow World Championships – and made it the main focus in her training sessions.

Sokolova’s tragedy at the World Championships would probably some day make a perfect plot for a movie. Vera had been struggling throughout the whole distance, and finally made it to come into the stadium third. There were only several hundred metres left before the finish line, when Vera saw in front of her the red card. The judges’ decision deprived Sokolova of what would be the fondest memory in her career – the medal of the home World Championships.

“I don’t want even to hear about race walking any more. I give it up right now,” Sokolova emotionally commented right after the race. There were not many people really interested, however. Vera was again somewhere at the backstage, while the main roles were given to Yelena Lashmanova and Anisya Kirdyapkina who topped the results list.

A few weeks later, Sokolova had calmed down and changed her mind. “I want to go on with my career and prove first of all to myself that I can be at the top. Otherwise it would be really devastating – I put so much effort in my training in 2013, and everything in vain!”, Vera commented.

“Right after the finish line I wanted just to dig my head into the sand like an ostrich,” she went on. “I learned that I had the second yellow card only when coming into the stadium. It is still a mystery for me how I managed to get the third one! I knew that I was on the edge, at that moment at the stadium I was focusing fully on each step! I cannot imagine what could go wrong there. But this is life… It shocked me that when I was leaving the stadium, some of the fans cried together with me and said that for them I was still the bronze medalist. Such support gave me motivation to go on.”

And Sokolova went on – again being second at the national winter trials, and qualifying for the World Cup in Taicang. This time she hopes that good luck will be by her side.    

Personal Bests

10,000m Race Walk:           43:11.34 WJR           (2005)

10km Race Walk:                 42:12                      (2009)

20km Race Walk:                1:25:08 WR              (2011)

Yearly Progression

10km/20km: 2005: 44:09/-; 2006: 43:49/-; 2007: -/1:32:56; 2008: -/1:30:11; 2009: 42:12/1:25:26; 2010: -/1:25:35. 2011: -/1:25:08; 2012: -/1:28:06; 2013: -/1:26:00; 2014: -/1:28:32

Career Highlights  

2002   1st        (10,000m)      Russian Junior Championships (Cheboksary)              46:19.9h

2002   9th        (10,000m)      World Junior Championships (Kingston)                       47:59.14

2003   1st        (5000m)         World Youth Championships (Sherbrooke)                   22:50.23

2003   2nd       (10km)            European Junior Cup (Cheboksary)                            47:02

2004   1st        (10km)            Russian Junior Winter Championships (Adler)             44:04      

2004  3rd        (10,000m)      World Junior Championships (Grosseto)                       46:53.02

2004   1st        (10km)            World Race Walking Cup Junior race (Naumburg)       45:29  

2005  1st        (10,000m)      European Junior Championships (Kaunas)                    43:11.34

2006    3rd       (10km)            Russian Winter Junior Championships (Adler)             43:49 

2006  4th        (10,000m)      World Junior Championships (Beijing)                           46:58.21

2006  1st        (10km)            World Race Walking Cup Junior (La Coruña)                   44:49

2009  10th     (20km)            European Cup (Metz)                                                   1:36:43

2009  1st        (20km)            Russian Championships (Cheboksary)                          1:27:33

2009  14th     (20km)            World Championships (Berlin)                                        1:34:55

2009   2nd       (10km)            Race Walking Challenge Final (Saransk)                        42:12

2010  2nd       (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Adler)                          1:25:35

2010   4th        (20km)            World Cup (Chihuahua)                                               1:33:54

2010   3rd        (20km)            European Championships (Barcelona)                           1:29:32

2011   1st        (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Adler)                          1:25:08

2011   1st        (20km)            European Cup (Olhao)                                                 1:30:02

2011   11th     (20 km)           World Championships (Daegu)                                       1:32:13

2012   2nd       (20 km)           Russian Championships (Moscow)                                  1:28:06

2013   3rd        (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Adler)                          1:26:00

2013   2nd       (20km)            European Cup (Dudince)                                               1:29:18

2013   DQ      (20km)            Universiade (Kazan)

2013   DQ      (20km)            World Championships (Moscow)

2014   2nd       (20km)            Russian Winter Championships (Sochi)                             1:28:32

Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2014.