Born: 29 October 1991, Berlin
Height / weight: 1.82m / 94 kg
Coach: Mikhail Mikheyev
At just 21, talented javelin thrower Dmitry Tarabin has a more interesting background than most of his older competitors.
Born in Berlin to the family of a military officer, he already had a professional baseball career, changed his citizenship from Moldovan to Russian, married Olympic medallist Maria Abakumova, and finally made a real breakthrough in the 2013 season, winning the European Team Championships in Gateshead with a PB of 85.99m which put him third on the world season list, and then improved to a world-leading 88.84m at the Russian Championships on 24 July.
It all started at the kindergarten in Germany, where Tarabin was the only child able to do 20 press-ups. His father, a former boxer and at the time a military officer, paid special attention to his son’s physical education.
“My father used to say that a real man must be strong,” said Tarabin. “So we were constantly running and doing press-ups. This made me very different from other kids who had no idea of training at such early age.”
When Tarabin was about six years old, the family moved from Berlin back to the Moldovan republic of Pridnestrovye. “I don’t even remember the German language now, and I consider Pridnestrovye as my motherland,” Tarabin says.
As a schoolboy, he joined multiple sports clubs, including his father’s favourite one – boxing. “Somehow I didn’t like boxing initially, so I only did it for one-and-a-half years,” he said.
“All together, before athletics I tried about 14 different sports. Some I did just for several days, for three years I played tennis, and the most serious one was baseball. I did it for four years and even travelled with the national team to the European Youth championships.”
It was during his baseball career when Tarabin discovered his ability to throw the ball much farther than others. “The problem was that I could throw far but my shots were not accurate. The coaches moved me to the farthest end of the field because of my strong throw, but it was still hard for me to hit the target,” he says with a laugh.
His vocation for throwing far was perfectly suited to the Javelin. At his local athletics stadium, Tarabin plucked up the courage to introduce himself to Javelin coach Alexandr Moiseyenko. After his first training session, Moiseyenko was happy to invite Tarabin to the world of javelin throwing.
For a while Dmitry combined athletics with baseball, but very soon it became evident where his future lay.
“When I just started with the Javelin, we made a bet with one guy, who was older than me and much more experienced,” said Tarabin. “The guy had a PB of 55m, and I could throw only 38m. I promised him that by the end of the year I would beat him. All season I had been working like a crazy man, but in the end I beat him by five meters. That was my first real victory over myself.”
Not yet 16, Tarabin competed for Moldova at the World Youth Championships in Ostrava, where he didn’t get through the qualifying round.
A year later, he was part of the senior team at the European Cup 2nd League and set a PB of 67.39m. After another PB of 69.63m in 2009 at the European Team Championships 3rd League meeting in Banska Bystrica, Tarabin made his decision to leave the Moldovan team and compete for Russia.
“After I graduated from school, I entered the sports college in Moscow and moved there,” said Tarabin. “I started to train under my new coach Mikhail Mikheyev, and the level of preparation and the conditions were much better than in Moldova. Back at home we even had to buy the javelins ourselves.”
As Tarabin had dual citizenship, it did not take long to make his country change official. The IAAF granted permission for Tarabin to represent Russia from 10 July 2010, and already in summer 2010 Dmitry won his first medal for his new country, taking bronze at the World Junior Championships in Moncton.
“Now it sounds funny, but for me the biggest holiday back then was the day when I got the Russian national uniform,” says Tarabin. “I was so very proud that I put it straight on and walked down the corridors of our dorm, and everyone was turning their heads at me. And of course I could not miss the opening ceremony at the World Juniors. I’m still patriotic and really sentimental about such things like walking through the stadium under the flag of my country.”
Tarabin’s result in Moncton was about a metre shy of his PB set at the Russian Junior Championships but was still enough for his first medal on the international stage. And considering the circumstances, Tarabin was really happy.
“My biggest mistake was that a day before qualification I spent four hours playing tennis,” he says. “With another guy from the team we just saw the court, he said that he would beat me, I got too excited, and we ended up playing until we almost died. The next day the guy did not make his qualification at all; I still managed it, but I almost couldn’t feel my body. That was a lesson – no active games before competition!
“Another funny memory from Moncton is the ‘1 dollar for any item’ shop, which we first discovered in Canada,” says Tarabin. “I remember we almost cleared out the shelves, buying different trinkets, signs and all the small things. Now I have no idea why we needed so many of them, but back in 2010 we all bought tons of souvenirs.”
Tarabin’s career was developing step by step. In 2011 he finished third at the European Under-23 Championships in Ostrava and qualified for the World Championships in Daegu. Though he placed only 10th at his first major senior international outing, his trip to Daegu proved to be a significant one as it was where he met his future wife, 2008 Olympic silver medallist Maria Abakumova.
“I first noticed Maria at the training camp back in 2009,” says Tarabin. “I just paid attention to a pretty girl, and only later my friend told me she was a famous athlete. What I loved was her kindness there – Maria used to feed homeless dogs.
“In 2011 we were again together at the pre-Daegu training camp in Vladivostok. We went fishing together, and although Maria was extremely lucky, she let all the fish go back into the sea. I noticed that when she was at the stadium I always tried to throw as far as I could; I just wanted to impress her! Just by chance we were sitting next to each other on the plane to Daegu, and actually I was sorry the flight was so short!”
The next season, 2012, was great for Tarabin’s personal life but his plans to qualify for the London Olympic Games were ruined when he injured his right shoulder at the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava.
His injury healed without the need for surgery, but Tarabin still missed vital preparation time and finished fourth at the Russian Olympic trials. Although Tarabin he had thrown beyond the qualifying standard 16 times during the qualification period and later won the National Under-23 Championships, the selectors still decided not to include him in the Olympic team.
“That was the hardest moment in my career to date, as I’ve always dreamt of competing at the Olympic Games,” says Tarabin. “First I wanted to go to London to cheer for Maria. But then we decided it would be too hard for me to watch the Olympic Javelin competition from the stands. I still have Rio 2016 ahead, and I definitely want to go there as a competitor and not as a tourist.”
As if to balance his professional disappointment, Tarabin’s love story with Abakumova developed like a fairy tale.
“We count 14 February 2012 as the official start of our relationship,” says Tarabin. “On that day I presented Maria with a beautiful bunch of white roses. The main problem was we lived in different cities – I in Moscow, and Maria in Krasnodar. But from February, my endless flights to her place started.
“I would spend a maximum of three days alone in Moscow, and then just bought a ticket and flew to her. We always promised to each other to stay apart for at least two weeks, but I just came to Moscow and the next day was again booking my flight to Krasnodar!”
In autumn 2012 they got married, and Tarabin finally moved to Krasnodar. Although he stayed with his coach Mikheyev, the couple now also trains under Estonian Heino Puuste, the 1982 European silver medallist.
“I hugely admire Mikheyev because he did not change my technique, which is rather unusual,” Tarabin says. “He said it was my personal style which suited me better than the classical one, and I believe he is right. But after getting married we decided with Maria that we would try to be together both at training camps and at competitions.”
“Before, I used to spend about six or seven months in Adler from September to May. That was really hard mentally. But before this season with Maria we spent two months in Adler, then one month in Spain, two months in Estonia. The change was refreshing, and training went much easier than if I had stayed at the same place.”
Tarabin didn’t have to wait long to reap the rewards of his new training regime. In 2013 he set a PB of 85.99m when winning his first senior international title at the European Team Championships in Gateshead. He also finished third at the Diamond League meetings in Shanghai and Birmingham, and finished second in Monaco.
“Maybe the main reason behind my progress is that I was really angry at myself after the Olympic season,” says Tarabin. “This time I was injury-free and had good preparation. I started to pay more attention to sprints and improved my results in the gym. After all, I’m still young – maybe I’ve just matured and my time has come.”
But Tarabin wants to improve even more, and on 24 July at the Russian Championships in Moscow, he threw 88.84m, the longest throw in the world since August 2011. The World University Games champion dominated the event, opening with 84.49m, then producing three more throws over 80 metres before unleashing his huge PB in the last round.
“I was a little tired as I had been training with the World Championships in mind, so I did not expect such a result,” Tarabin told interviewers after his feat.
“I recently watched videos from the 1980 Olympic Games; it was amazing and I hope that the stadium for the World Championships is full because support from the audience is very important.”
When asked about his hobbies, Tarabin names hiking and fishing. Together with Abakumova, they love to spend their free time up in the mountains, enjoying barbecues and beautiful nature.
“I really appreciate that Maria shares my passion and prefers to spend the night in a tent and not in a five-star hotel,” he says. “This just proves we found each other in this world, and she is my best motivation both in sports and in everyday life.”
Personal best: 88.84m (2013)
2007: 69.58m (700g). 2008: 67.39m. 2009: 69.63m. 2010: 77.65m. 2011: 85.10m. 2012: 82.75m. 2013: 88.84m.
2007: 11q World Youth Championships (Ostrava) 62.45m
2008: 4th European Cup 2nd League (Banska Bystrica) 67.39m
2009: 1st European Team Championships 3rd League (Sarajevo) 69.63m
2010: 1st Russian Junior Championships (Cheboksary) 77.65m
2010: 3rd World Junior Championships (Moncton) 76.42m
2011: 3rd European Winter Throwing Cup U23 (Sofia) 78.61m
2011: 1st Russian U23 Championships (Yerino) 85.10m
2011: 3rd European U23 Championships (Ostrava) 83.18m
2011: 3rd Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 80.20m
2011: 10th World Championships (Daegu) 79.06m
2012: 2nd European Winter Throwing Cup (Bar) 79.94m
2012: 4th Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 76.48m
2012: 1st Russian U23 Championships (Yerino) 81.61m
2013: 1st Russian Winter Championships (Adler) 85.63m
2013: 1st European Team Championships (Gateshead) 85.99m
2013: 1st World Universiade (Kazan) 83.11m
2013: 1st Russian Championships (Moscow) 88.84m
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project.