What a difference 12 months make for Russian team-mates Svetlana Shkolina and Natalya Antyukh. While Shkolina has seen her fortunes soar this year, Antyukh has plummeted from the dizzy heights she occupied in 2012.
At the London Olympics, Shkolina made her bow into the world’s high jumping elite with bronze behind fellow Russian and star of the bar Anna Chicherova.
Over on the track, Antyukh was scorching round the Stratford oval in imperious fashion to collect 400m Hurdles gold, becoming the sixth-fastest woman in history.
But 2013 has presented an entirely different picture. While Shkolina created one of the upsets of the IAAF World championships in Moscow by taking gold, a dejected Antyukh exited her home championships at the semi-final stage.
“Yes, it was frustrating,” agreed Antyukh, “but nothing was broken. It wasn’t ideal, but that is sport and I am completely aware that we are athletes, not robots. What am I supposed to do? I am flesh and blood.”
Her season’s best of 55.20 did not even come at the World Championships but at the national trials on the same track one month earlier. It was Antyukh’s slowest season’s best since switching back from the 400m flat to the hurdles.
Despite converting bronze to gold in the space of 12 months, Shkolina – who is not renowned for her effusiveness – had to defend herself before the Russian media against her low-key reaction to winning the World title.
“What do you expect me to do?” she said. “Some people jump for joy, but I express my emotions more modestly. That’s the way I am. I don’t specifically hold back. Jumping for joy is just not me.”
In contrast to Antyukh who did not win a single race this year, apart from her heat in the trials, Shkolina enjoyed a full house of victories. Even after winning the World title, she maintained her discipline.
Realising that outright victory in the Diamond Race was within her grasp, she was not about to drop her guard. “I arrived in Brussels in good shape and I did not feel particularly tired,” she said.
“I knew I had victory within my grasp and that motivated me to keep my shape for the final meeting of the season. I always believed I would win and I am now extremely happy about winning the Diamond League as well as the World title.”
Retirement not an option
Now 32, the idea was floated that Antyukh might be considering retirement after such a low-key campaign, but she is having none of it.
“I am not even thinking of it,” she said. “There is next season (European Championships in Zurich), then the season after that (World Championships in Beijing) and then it is the Olympics again in Rio, God willing. But for myself I have already made the decision. I will not retire,” she emphasised.
As for Shkolina, she is basking in the congratulations of her supporters instead of fending off questions about retirement.
“Fortunately, just as everyone started to congratulate me on winning the World title, they continued after I had won the Diamond League,” she said. “Relatives, friends and acquaintances believed that I would win, they expected it. And when so many people believe in you, it creates and gives you extra strength and energy.”
Four years and two different clubs separate Shkolina and Chicherova. Since both have reserved personalities, they may seem cold towards each other, but Shkolina is adamant there is no real enmity.
“We are not friends. We enjoy a normal, warm but strictly professional relationship. We do not have anything to do with each other outside competition. When I am on the High Jump fan I try not to look at anyone else. Usually, between jumps, I watch the competition in other events.”
No more relays for Antyukh
While Shkolina celebrates, Antyukh is philosophical about this season. “Last year I won everything. It is not possible for God to give you everything and then even more. He had to take something away and he went and took a medal from the Worlds.
“It just did not work out. It was not the track so I cannot blame that. Before I would have cried and been upset, but now I take it all very calmly.”
She can hardly complain. In an international career stretching more than 11 years, apart from Olympic gold, two silvers and a bronze, she has won World Championship medals in both the 400m and the 400m Hurdles, as well as the 4x400m indoors and out.
But one thing Antyukh is definitely going to retire from is the relay. “There are plenty of girls for that so I am going take a rest,” she said.
Shkolina is more concrete about her plans. After a month of rest, holidaying in Turkey, it will be back to work with a view to the winter season and the IAAF World Indoor Championships to be held in 2014 in Sopot, Poland.
“After my holiday is when I shall begin serious training,” she insisted.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF