06 MAR 2012 General News

Chegin, the man behind the Saransk Race Walking dynasty - IAAF Race Walking Cup

Gold medalist Valeriy Borchin of Russia (c) celebrates with silver medalist Vladimir Kanaykin (l) and Luis Fernando Lopez of Columbia after the mens 20k walk during day two  (Getty Images)Gold medalist Valeriy Borchin of Russia (c) celebrates with silver medalist Vladimir Kanaykin (l) and Luis Fernando Lopez of Columbia after the mens 20k walk during day two (Getty Images) © Copyright

How much does Victor Chegin mean to Saransk race walking where the IAAF World Race Walking Cup takes place on 12-13 May?

Just about everything is the short answer.

The centre where some of the world’s greats train, and from where they are plotting an iron grip on the Cup on home turf, is named after him.

In fact, the training facility a couple of kilometres outside the centre 600k east of Moscow used to be called simply ‘Start.’

It has been in fifth gear for the last five years as non-stop as Olympic, IAAF World Championships, World Walking Cup and IAAF Challenge victories have piled up outside Chegin’s door like a delivery man emptying his supermarket van.

The ‘big boss’, his own tongue-in-cheek description, is hungry for more and it's a brave punter who bets on anyone else getting a look-in when the Cup hits town on the weekend of 12-13 May.

Chegin built on the success in 1995 at the Gothenburg IAAF World Championships where 18-year-old Irina Stankina became the youngest-ever gold medallist.

Since when, the 50-year-old has ‘worked’ every political, social and other opportunity to get the funding that keeps the medal production line in full order. This correspondent was playfully grabbed by the arm and marched over to the president of Mordovia at one such function in the recent past.

What was being said became an immediate mystery to non-Russian speakers, but one nodded benignly as one does when events sail over the head.

Mr. President smiled at Chegin and then at me in turns, as the supercoach urged and cajoled with the intensity of a Hyde Park speaker.

After the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin where Chegin’s charges clean-swept all three walking golds, he not only got the centre renamed after him, he got his home republic’s highest honour.

As a Mordovian sports website gushed: “All the citizens of Mordovia know this man by sight.

“The Race Walking Centre of the Olympic Training was named after him. He is the only full Cavalier of the Order of Glory of Mordovia Republic.

“He is an honored citizen of the Republic of Mordovia. His intravitam monument will be erected soon. Thanks to Victor Chegin’s diligence the Republic got the results the whole world is talking about.

“At the presence of thousands of spectators, the Head of the Republic of Mordovia gave him the highest degree of the Order of Glory. He is the father of all the victories of our race walkers.

Chegin’s word is law at the Chegin Centre as you might expect.

Technicians, medical staff, cleaners, cooks and coaches stop what they’re doing and stand to attention as he passes.

If it all has the whiff of a kind of Russian sports royalty, this man is heir apparent.

What did come as a surprise was his ability to stop trains in the middle of nowhere.

As the IAAF Challenge party was about to leave for the 12-hour train ride to Moscow, Chegin and a subordinate boarded the waiting carriage with four or five strong-looking rucksacks.

What they did then was to start dispensing copious bottles of expensive vodka to all and sundry, but carried on doing so as the train chugged into life.

After much back-slapping and other good wishes, the train eventually stopped in the dusk around 30 minutes later – with not a single habitation in sight.

What was there at a level crossing was a big car. Out of it got someone Chegin obviously knew, because the Big Boss and the entourage were greeted warmly before climbing in the back.

This is what the rest of the world take on at the World Cup, where not only will the likes of reigning Olympic and IAAF champions Valeriy Borchin and Olga Kaniskina toe the line, but anything up to 15 others of both sexes, senior and junior, plan to change Chegin’s intense stare to a smile as they cross the finish line.

Paul Warburton for the IAAF