13 MAY 2013 Feature Moscow, Russia

Darya Klishina combines beauty and power

Darya Klishina (SPIKES magazine)Darya Klishina (SPIKES magazine) © Copyright

Supported by the IAAF and Russian athletics federation, SPIKES has a Russian edition this year, with three issues coming out ahead of the IAAF World Championships in Moscow this August.

However, several of their great articles on Russia’s top athletes have been translated into English and will be reproduced on www.iaaf.org

The first is a feature on the Moscow-based Long Jump star Darya Klishina.

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With her good looks, long legs and considerable talent, long jumper Darya Klishina is the blonde-haired future of Russian track and field. At the IAAF World Championships in Moscow this summer, Klishina will try to show that beauty is indeed powerful.

“Go away! Now!” someone screams from the bowels of the CSKA track and field complex in Moscow. A grey cat streaks past and down the stairs. Darya Klishina looks rather stern: you can't blame her. The cats living in the basement go out on to her home track at night, and use the jumping pit as a toilet. It is no surprise that she doesn’t enjoy her early morning landings!

The ‘number one beauty of Russian sport’ (an unofficial title bestowed by a 2010 internet poll) is used to things going against her.

In 2011, Klishina injured her foot while stretching just before the World Championships final, and was forced to jump through the pain before surgery and a lengthy period of rehabilitation. The following summer, she was back in shape for the Russian Championship but failed to qualify for the London Olympics.

She repeatedly insisted in interviews that her spirits remained high, and that there would be more than one Olympic Games ahead of her. Now, six months on, as we are sitting down for a chat on the now cat-free staircase, Klishina admits: “Yes, I was feeling really bitter.”

“The worst thing was that I was actually in perfect shape,” says Klishina.

“My coach [Olga Shemigon] and I had worked really hard: and it was all for nothing in the end. The Russian Championship was my first competition of the summer.

“I didn’t have the chance to get into the rhythm of the competition, of the jumps... I’ve learnt my lesson. This winter I’ve jumped in competitions twice as much as usual. It’s been my own decision.”

Klishina, 22, still qualifies to take part at under-23 championships but being such a star, she’s under a lot more pressure than her competitors.

The history of Russian sport already counts a number of beautiful blondes who failed to secure any major wins, like tennis player Anna Kournikova. Staying with the tennis analogy, could Klishina be the next Maria Sharapova – known not only for her looks, but for her achievements as well?

“Maria and I met at Wimbledon a year ago,” says Klishina. The first thing I said was: “Wow, I didn’t expect you to be so tall! I don't think I am short but it turned out that she is much taller than I am.” At 1.88m, four-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova is eight centimetres taller than Klishina.

Teenage freedom

A World youth champion back in 2007, Klishina dreams of winning her first senior World Championships title in Moscow but is yet to compete at the Luzhniki stadium. Having the World Championships on home soil is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“When I heard that the World Championships were to be held in Moscow, my first thought was: ‘Oh great, I don't need to travel anywhere to get acclimatised!’ And I was happy because finally all my friends and family will be able to come and support me.”

Klishina’s parents always look forward to welcoming her back to Tver, a small city 165km north-west of Moscow. Her father was once a high jumper with a PB of 2.15m, and her mother works in a local research and development centre. In the early years, they weren’t afraid to let their 13-year-old daughter go off to the capital alone to chase her sporting dreams.

“My parents gave me a lot of freedom,” says Klishina. “Even when I lived in Tver, we rarely saw each other. I would leave for school at 8.15am, come back home, eat and do my homework; then take a bus across town alone, with a change on the way, to train at volleyball.

“I would come home around 9pm, have a quick supper and go straight to bed. My parents always understood and approved of my choice to go into sports. But it must have been very hard for them to let me leave.”

Fast and sharp, Klishina had every chance of succeeding as a volleyball player had she not been spotted, aged 12, by the young coach Olga Shemigon at a regional track and field championship. From then on Shemigon, who had never coached a world-class star before, and Klishina, a small girl alone in a big and strange city, worked the ‘mine field’ together.

“At first, my parents called me several times a day to make sure I was okay. They wanted to know whether I’d eaten and got safely to my dorm, whether anyone was upsetting me. I was lucky Tver was not too far away, and I could go home at weekends. But I quickly made friends in Moscow, and when I finished school, I started renting a flat. Today, I can’t even imagine my life any different.”

Klishina confidently calls Moscow her home, and provincial Tver feels suffocating. “I love visiting my parents, for me it’s a time to relax but I soon start missing the rhythm of the city.”

Model behaviour

Her status as a national beauty puts a lot of pressure on her and, even to training, Klishina is sporting cute plaits. In the social media world, every photograph gathers thousands of ‘likes’ and excited comments.

"I’m approached by all kinds of people, not just by men,” says Klishina. “Kids, girls, and even old grandmas on the street ask for autographs. Unless people are pushy, I don’t mind. On the contrary, I am pleased to have their support.”

These days, Klishina is represented by IMG, an international marketing agency. Her main aim is not to get distracted by sponsorship deals but to keep training and competing. She knows that without her long jumps, Klishina risks becoming just another pretty model.

“All major photo shoots are scheduled in advance, two weeks minimum. My coach always has the last word. If you had wanted to shoot me a couple of hours earlier, I would have said 'no’. I had important technical training. I can’t reschedule the training because of a photo shoot or an interview.”

Chasing Chistyakova

Does she feel like a star? Klishina shakes her head. At a recent master class, Klishina was the one queuing for the autograph of her role model, Galina Chistyakova. The 1989 World indoor Long Jump champion set the current World record of 7.52m when she was 25.

Klishina, like Chistyakova, has tasted success with a European indoor gold medal. In fact, Klishina first did so in Paris in 2011, and regained her title in Gothenburg in March this year.

Chistyakova believes that Darya Klishina is capable of beating her record, and one day jumping further than 7.52m.

“Darya is naturally built for long jumping: she is tall, slim, long legged,” says Chistyakova. “Physically she is very gifted, and capable of beating my World record. I haven’t studied Dasha’s jumping technique in detail but I think she can add to her length.

“It’s very important for Darya to be able to cope with all the attention surrounding her. I know how difficult it is to compete with the media chasing you. It’s important for her to aim high. People get excited that, at 22, Klishina achieved a personal record of 7.05m but at that age, I’d jumped 7.29m and that was after having my daughter Irina aged 20.”

Cooking with Darya

At 1.80m tall, Klishina weighs only 57kg. And it's not just her genes. Klishina's slim build is due to her passion for cooking.

“I like grocery shopping, coming home and inventing new dishes,” says Klishina. “When my friends visit me, I cook either meat or fish in the oven, and my favourite side is vegetables, stir-fried or baked. I’ve just bought a convection oven.

“As for puddings, I don’t care much for sponge cakes but I do love sweets and cheesecakes. I don’t follow a strict diet but I try to eat healthily. A packet of crisps for lunch isn’t for me, and I always try to buy a kilo of tangerines instead of sweets for at home.”

Natalia Maryanchik for SPIKES magazine

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