Updated 26 July 2012
Andrey SILNOV, Russia (High Jump)
Born 9 September 1984, Shakhty, Rostov Oblast
1.98 / 83 kg
Lives: Dolgoprudny (Moscow Oblast)
Coach: Evgeniy Zagorulko
Shakhty is a small town in the southwest of Russia built around coal mines. It has only 158 square kilometers in area and 240 thousand inhabitants. Shakhty may not have the best sports facilities in the world, but it is included in the Guinness Book of Records book for having the most Olympic champions per capita. Nine Olympic champions and one Paralympic, to be precise. The most recent contribution to this amazing statistics was made in 2008 by the high jumper Andrey Silnov.
“I first came to the indoor track when I was seven years old, for company with my elder brother Konstantin, who was a triple jumper. At first, I only observed the training sessions and competitions, but then I started to run and jump as well,” Silnov recalls. High jump turned out to be his most successful event. He seems naturally built for this event. He inherited his remarkable height and physique from his great grandfather. But all natural abilities require hard work to earn benefits. “Of course, weight is essential for jumpers. And we do restrict ourselves sometimes. If I ate everything I wanted, I don’t know how much I would weigh in at. For example, I need to be careful with desserts and bakery. Yes, I have a sweet tooth!” Silnov smiled.
Under the guidance of coach Sergey Starykh, Silnov was building up slowly, being almost unseen on the world and national youth and junior scene. In 2003, after Andrey had succeeded at the National U23 championships, Starykh had the idea of his longtime friend Evgeny Zagorulko, coach of Olympic Champion Yelena Yelesina and world champion Tamara Bykova, helping to develop the talent of this athlete. After one year of work with this experienced and strict coach, in 2005 Andrey started to consistently jump over 2.20. He made it to the final of the National Indoor Championships and ended up in seventh place with 2.20 and one week later won the National Indoor U23 Championships with 2.24. In summer he set a PB of 2.28 in Kazan and was included in the team for the European U23 Championships in Germany, but could only manage 2.23 in the final to get ninth place.
The big breakthrough happened the following year. Silnov jumped a huge PB of 2.35 in February, at the traditional “High Jump with Music” meet in Arnstadt, to be considered one of the medal contenders for the Moscow World Indoor Championships. But Russia is famous for having the fiercest battles for the major championships “tickets”. Silnov jumped 2.32 at the Nationals only to share the bronze with his peer and training partner back then, Ivan Ukhov. Both prodigies were out of the home World Championships while the gold and the silver there were taken by Russians Yaroslav Rybakov and Andrey Tereshin respectively.
Silnov had to wait until the summer of 2006 to be remembered by the athletics fans as an unknown blonde Russian guy who, with a straight face and not a single sign of piety or fear, destroyed all medal hopes of Stefan Holm, the renowned world leader. Silnov dared defeat Holm and another Swede Linus Thörnblad on their home soil – at the Göteborg European Championships. And it’s hard to blame the Swedes for being not at their best, because the Russian had to set the PB of 2.36 to win. Later that season, in Monaco, Silnov even managed to improve to 2.37.
The big hopes of Silnov and his coach were related to the Olympic year of 2008. But first they had to solve the team selection problem. Having such rivals as Rybakov, Ukhov, Tereshin, Shustov, Dmitrik, Voronin in the roster, one couldn’t rest on the laurels even for a second.
That year Silnov happened to be only a reserve for the World Indoors and, having placed fourth behind Rybakov, Tereshin and Voronin at the summer Nationals he was also out of the team for the Olympics. Almost out. The Russian selection policy guarantees the place on the team for the top two at the National Championships. The third team member in each discipline is determined by the coaches’ council. But in 2008 there was actually no third place in the high jump. Tereshin and Vyacheslav Voronin shared the second with 2.32, Silnov, Ukhov, Aleksandr Shustov and Aleksey Dmitrik placed from fourth to seventh, all with 2.30. It seemed that there was no hope. But Silnov was not the one to give up. “Of course, I was frustrated. I knew that I was in excellent shape. I had much more than 2.30 in me. We scheduled the peak performance for the Olympics. After the Nationals I could have given up, started lying on the couch and lamenting not being on the team. But with the support of my coaches, my friends and my family, and with the feeling that I have nothing to lose I decided to take another shot at my dream,” he explained.
After the National Championships he took two days off, went to Shakhty to have a pep talk with Starykh, to meet friends and give himself up to his favorite hobby – fishing. This short escape was enough for Silnov to get himself together and to continue the fight.
It happened in London, less than a week after the Nationals. Silnov, for the first time in his life, soared over the bar at 2.38 to become the world leader. You can’t even imagine how many phone calls from fans, experts and even sports officials the head coach received that day. In the end, Silnov was selected on the team while Voronin and Tereshin had to take part in a rematch for the ticket to Beijing during the final training camp.
Having caused this much fuss, Silnov didn’t have the choice at the “Bird’s Nest”: he had to win. And he did to Holm and other titled competitors exactly what he did two years before. The same straight face, the same audacious look and even the same winning height. “I was very focused during the competition. Actually I thought that I’d need to jump 2.42 to win, so I didn’t relax for a moment,” Silnov said.
Olympics are the most important competition ever for any athlete. It’s common that, after a successful outing at the Games, an athlete takes a break for recovery. One needs to take some decent rest, which can in fact turn into an endless caravan of photo shoots, TV appearances and interviews, and taking time to treat minor and major injuries that were disregarded for the sake of the big victory. That was the case of Silnov. He had injured his Achilles tendon before Beijing and it was impossible to bear the pain anymore. So his post-Olympic year consisted of undergoing a surgery, wearing a cast, doing conditioning sessions as well as receiving numerous honors for his victory.
In 2010, Andrey declared that he was ready to return to competition at the highest level. His performance statistics showed that he was ready indeed – he started winning meets with the results over 2.30, but for two seasons he always ended up one position lower at the Russia Championships, than he should have to be on the national team.
You can ask any of the Russian high jumpers and they would tell you that it’s harder to become the national champion than the World champion. Indeed, those are the two titles that still escape Olympic and European champion Silnov. While in 2010 he hinted that his foot still was bothering him, in 2011 Andrey admitted that the pain was gone, the preparation was thorough and he was eager to go to Daegu. His rivals from 2008 weren’t a threat any more. Voronin had turned into a coach, Tereshin had been underperforming for a while. And Rybakov, after the successful 2009 World Championships, was in the middle of the same recovery process that Silnov had just completed. But the new stars were there: World indoor champion Ivan Ukhov, European champion Aleksandr Shustov and then world N.2 Aleksey Dmitrik. Someone had to be the fourth in this company and it was Silnov. Apparently he wasn’t on the team. But he proved once more that he never gave up. Andrey went to the London Diamond League meet and won in a dramatic competition with the future World champion and his Russian rivals, clearing the world leading height of 2.36. But this time, the national coaches were adamant: he was out.
One of the questions that Silnov has to answer in every interview is: “What does it feel like to have your biggest rival, Shustov, as training partner?”: (By the way, their group included one more pair of rivals – World champion Anna Chicherova and Olympic champion Yelena Slesarenko, while Ivan Ukhov is now coached by another Olympic champion and Zagorulko’s apprentice, Sergey Klyugin). Both Silnov and Shustov answer identically: “We can be friends out of the competition. We do all but technical sessions together, we get along well, but when we enter the stadium during the meet, we must be like real gladiators – that’s what our coach teaches us to do.”
Approaching the Olympic season, it was important for Silnov to make the team for the World Indoor Championships. He had an impressive buildup for the National Indoor Championships, jumping two world leads in Moscow within one week: 2.35 and 2.36. At the Russian Championships he jumped 2.34 and took the silver, losing to Ivan Ukhov on countback. In Istanbul Silnov overtook Ukhov, but they both lost to a talented youngster from Greece Dimitrios Chondrokoukis. Silnov wasn’t overwhelmed with his silver: “I was preparing myself mentally for more impressive heights, but I couldn’t get the perfect execution from myself. I was in too much of a fuss, I’d say. And the judges had to stop the competitions many times due to the final heats, which didn’t help either. But, all in all, the winter season was a decent step towards the Olympics.”
The World Indoors’ experience was not about winning this particular meet, but to recall what it feels like to jump in the national vest after almost four years of absence, and, of course, to break a spell. Silnov doesn’t believe in any spells, though: “I believe in God, so I find it sinful to be superstitious. In fact every superstition has the logical explanation. For example, it’s said that if a black cat crosses the road ahead of you, you’ll have no luck. The reason is simple: in the old times if the cat jumped out of the bushes in front of you it meant that there was a burglar waiting to assault you, so you just had to be careful.”
But Andrey believes in traditions. Besides dipping in ice cold water when it’s -20o C outside every year on Epiphany day, he has a kind of tradition of jumping world leading marks in London. “It would be weird to deny that this tendency exists. And I hope that it will continue this year.” But Andrey doesn’t feel extra pressure from already having an Olympic gold around his neck. “I don’t get why journalists always say that I’m going to defend my Olympic title. This title is different from all the rest. It is given once and forever. There are no ex-Olympic champions. I tasted the glory in 2008, I had all those celebrations, receptions. So I will let my rivals worry this time. If I don’t win in London, I’ll move on to the next one and start preparations for Rio. That’s my job,” Silnov explained.
The Russian had an opportunity to check that tendency before the Olympics, but this year he decided not to participate at the London Diamond League Meeting. Moreover, prior to the Olympics Silnov competed only three times and only in Russia. His first two outings were not as good as he wanted them to be – only 2.21 in Sochi and again in Yerino. But his third performance of the season was part of the most spectacular competition at the Russian Championships. Five finalists improved their PBs that day and to get a medal along with a ticket to London one had to jump 2.35 or higher. The mighty four: Silnov, Shustov, Ukhov and the world vice-champion Aleksey Dmitrik were the only athletes to clear 2.33, but Dmitrik was the first to quit the competition at 2.35. Then the fight was purely tactical, with no extra pressure about making the team, as all the medallists would confess later. But they didn’t relax after the “mission London” was accomplished. In turn, Silnov cleared 2.37 on the first try, Ukhov skipped this height, but set a new PB and world lead at 2.39. And both Ukhov and Silnov tried to clear 2.41 for the pleasure of numerous fans on the stands. This time Silnov seemed content with the silver: “I’m glad as I’m on the Olympic team, I somehow knew I would have to attempt 2.41 today, and the only jump, that I had left for this height was not too bad.”
Andrey admits that the most important thing for him is to keep moving forward. And this motto applies not only to his sports career. He graduated from the Southern State Service University as an IT-specialist and in the meantime he works on his PhD thesis paper in this area. Moreover, in 2011, following the example of his fellow athletes Tatyana Lebedeva and Yelena Slesarenko he entered the Diplomatic Academy. By the way, Silnov is not a stranger to politics. In 2010 he was elected to become a deputy of the Shakthy City Council. “I think that it’s not unnatural when athletes start doing politics. Who are the politicians in fact? They are people who achieved something in life, who have their own opinion and valuable life experience. Athletes conform to those standards. As a deputy, I do a lot of work for the city. We build roads, sports playgrounds, we finally managed to renovate an indoor track, now we have the stadium in our plans. It’s extremely important to give the young people a chance to lead a healthy lifestyle,” Andrey said.
But big politics or a coaching job will apparently have to wait. After the Olympics the World Championships 2013 will already be looming on the horizon and it will be a great challenge for Silnov to conquer this summit for the first time in his career on home soil – in Moscow.
2.38 (2008) / 2.37i (2008)
2001: 2.10; 2003: 2.10; 2004: 2.15; 2005: 2.28; 2006: 2.37; 2007: 2.30 (2.36i); 2008: 2.38; 2009: 2.21; 2010: 2.33; 2011: 2.36; 2012: 2.37
2005 9th European U23 Championships (Erfurt) 2.23
2006 1st European Cup (Malaga) 2.31
2006 1st European Championships (Göteborg) 2.36
2006 2nd IAAF World Cup (Athens) 2.24
2007 11th World Championships (Osaka) 2.21 (2.29 in q)
2008 1st European Cup (Annecy) 2.32
2008 1st Olympic Games (Beijing) 2.36
2012 2nd World Indoor Championships (Istanbul) 2.33
Prepared by Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2012