European 110m Hurdles champion Sergey Shubenkov was minding his own business in his Siberian hometown of Barnaul, when suddenly, the former World record-holder and double world 110m Hurdles champion Colin Jackson turned up.
Last winter, during an interview, Shubenkov said: “I’ve recently been lucky enough to meet almost all of hurdling’s legends, with the exception of Colin Jackson, and he’s kind of my idol!"
So in early May this year, the IAAF and SPIKES teamed up with Colin Jackson and travelled to Shubenkov’s training session in Siberia, where we had them interview each other.
BBC commentator Jackson improvised, Shubenkov stayed up all night preparing, coming to the interview with a list of questions. This is what happened…
Jackson to Shubenkov:
Colin Jackson (CJ): As a guest in your beautiful city, shall I go first? I’m now 46. Where do you see yourself when you reach my age?
Sergey Shubenkov (SS): To be honest, I have no idea. I’m sure there will be many opportunities once my sports career is over, and I’m confident that doors will open. I could work for the government perhaps, or become a journalist or a coach. What I eventually choose will depend on my circumstances. Perhaps, if I keep winning, I’ll be put in charge of something!
CJ: Tell me how you felt last year when you won your first senior title and became European champion?
SS: I think everyone heard me scream as I crossed the finish line! But when I watched the reruns of the race, I could see the mistakes I made. There was contact with French athlete Garfield Darien twice and, without that, the outcome could have been even better.
CJ: How were things back in Barnaul after your European victory last summer?
SS: People started to recognise me more often. Sometimes – actually, all the time – I would have complete strangers come up to me on the street and say, “Hey, are you Sergey Shubenkov? You’re awesome! Good luck at the Olympics!”
CJ: Do you mind if I ask about the Olympics?
SS: Well, it’s not exactly my favourite subject…
CJ: It’s not for me either (laughing)! But let’s talk about London 2012. I guess you had high hopes after the European Athletics Championships.
SS: Yes, of course. I was hoping for great things, that’s how I approach everything in life. After Helsinki, my coach and I took a break from competing in order to work on my fitness. I was convinced that in London I would be fast. But the atmosphere at the Olympics turned out to be completely different from what I’d expected. I’m not sure how to explain it. I thought OK, all I need to do is go out there and jump the same 10 hurdles as usual. I’ve done that thousands of times, and I had experience: I’d competed at the World Championship in 2011 and I’d met all of my rivals before at various stages of the Diamond League. In theory, there was nothing that could go wrong, but in reality, right after the start, my emotions completely destroyed my game plan.
CJ: Tell me what you expect from the IAAF World Championship in Moscow. I’m sure you’ll have maximum support on your home ground?
SS: That’s true. Every time I compete for the Russian team I feel a huge responsibility, but competing on home ground is an added pressure. I hope it will spur me on; generally, the greater the pressure the better my performance. I find that at lower profile events, like regionals, I can’t make myself give 100%.
CJ: So, you are hoping for a World Championship win on your home ground?
SS: Absolutely. As I said, I always hope for great things.
Shubenkov to Jackson:
SS: Well first of all, welcome to Barnaul, my hometown. Do you like it here?
CJ: So far so good. I’ve had a wonderful experience meeting you yesterday. In the evening you took me to a wonderful restaurant, so I had some authentic food. Which for me is one of the most important things when I go to some new places: to try and experience some local culture.
SS: I’m interested what you think about living in a small city as opposed to a large city. By Russian standards, Barnaul is small. Its population is no more than 600,000. Where would you prefer to live – in London or elsewhere?
CJ: I did all my preparation for every major championship in a small town. Either in my hometown in Wells, Cardiff, which had 300,000 people; or in an even smaller town called Bath which had about 120,000 people. It was always very small places that I felt comfortable in. When you go to the major cities there can be many distractions, other things that may take your focus away from your sport. And I enjoyed being around my friends and my family. They supported me when I ran very well and even when I ran badly.
SS: Let’s talk about your sports career. What is the main reason that you had such a successful career? Did you have a special way of training or preparing for competitions?
CJ: I had excellent training partners who put a lot of time and effort in assisting my performance. So when it was awful weather, when I didn’t want to go training, there were people that literally picked me up and took me to the track. The more training you do, the better you get. I committed fully to my sport. I dieted well, I didn’t go to bed late, I didn’t do any extracurricular activities. I was very focused. I think that is the reason I had such a long career and ended up winning many medals on the way and setting a couple of records.
SS: Now it’s my turn to ask you about your own unpleasant Olympic experience…
CJ: It was strange. In 1988 I was 21, just like you are now. I was enthusiastic and I just enjoyed the whole Olympic experience. No pressure, nobody expecting me to do anything particularly quick. I was number two in the world. So I for me, I was supposed to win the silver: that’s what I should’ve done and I did it. And I was thinking that as a 21-year-old I was too young to win a big title anyway. Four years later, I was 25, more mature and ready to go. I was world number one. I ran very quickly in the first round, but very comfortable. I stopped at hurdle number ten, walked across the line, looked at the clock, saw 13.10 and thought: “OK, I’m in good shape”. For the second round I did no warm-up at all. And it caused an injury. I pulled my left oblique. That was it. I paid a penalty for being overconfident. My training partner went on to win the title and I came in the seventh place. So I was a little disappointed, you can imagine (laughs). I’ve never had a good Olympic experience apart from my very first.
SS: How did you feel when you set your first World record?
CJ: You go to a competition to win, obviously; and when you win so many titles, you change your goals. So for me I was trying to beat that world record. I was thinking to myself: ‘I know that I’m going to win, but I want to know how fast I can run’. I was disappointed in some races, coming close to the World record but not breaking it. And in the end I just thought: go chase them all and win, the times will come to you. And virtually all my records came at the major competitions. I was trying to win and times came to me indeed. You just need to chill out.
SS: How do you feel when your records are broken?
CJ: I expected to feel more emotional about this, but I didn’t. I was kind of happy. The reason for that was I retired as a world record holder.
SS: I know that you tried to coach. How was that and why did you quit?
CJ: Results of my coaching were pretty good. The athletes did well, won titles; but, you know, the athletes are very demanding. They want lots of your time, and it was very difficult for me to give them time, because ultimately I was already building a separate career for myself. So, for me, it was a selfish decision to stop coaching and start doing what I do now. But now I’m mentoring athletes which is, I think, much better. I can spread more knowledge to more athletes.
SS: So what is your career about now?
CJ: I wear many hats as they say. I have my own little company. I also work for the BBC, do lots of projects for them. I have a motivational website for people that try to get inspired. I give them examples of what they do in their lives compared to sports achievements; make them see how they are similar to sports people. I also have a health food company, so the list really goes on and on. But the most important thing is that I’m happy.
SPIKES for the IAAF