Updated 09 July 2012
Anna CHICHEROVA, Russia (High Jump)
Born: 22 July 1982, Erevan, Armenia.
1.80m / 57kg
Coach: Yevgeny Zagorulko (Second coach: Vladimir Chicherov)
Anna Chicherova started jumping at the age of 7 under her father, who used to be a professional high jumper himself. Training went smoothly until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Chicherova’s family moved to Russia – to a small town, Belaya Kalitva, in the Rostov region. There Chicherova went on jumping under Alexei Bondarenko, as her father had to leave coaching to make a living and became a railway station worker.
At 17 Chicherova went to Moscow to enter the Russian Sports Academy. Eventually she had to change coach once more, so she started training with Alexander Fetisov. At first things seemed to turn out well. In 1999 Chicherova won the World Youth Championships, in Bydgoszcz, Poland, with 1.89. In 2000 she finished 4th at the World Junior Championships (1.85) in Santiago, Chile. However, by the end of 2002, her PB of 1.92 was only 3cm higher than her best jump in 1999.
“I was thinking of giving up,” Chicherova recalled. “Four years of hard work without any progress – what’s the sense in continuing? I decided to go and ask Yevgeny Zagorulko to become my coach. If he had refused, I would have just gone back home and forgotten about High Jump.”
Zagorulko agreed. Chicherova joined his group in August 2002 and, without any rest after the summer season, started her preparations for the indoors. By the winter she was 6kg lighter and much stronger physically. “I don’t want to compare the level of my two coaches,” Chicherova said.
“You know, every athlete is individual, we may need completely different things. With Zagorulko my training became more systematic. He implements different exercises he has invented himself especially for jumpers. Now I spend much time in the gym lifting weights. These all are the reasons of my progress.”
The progress back in 2003 was indeed tremendous. In just six month Chicherova improved her PB by 12cm – from 1.92 to 2.04. On 7 January 2003, at the Christmas Cup in Yekaterinburg, Chicherova jumped a national record 2.04. “This was just an absolute shock for everybody,” she said. “People were saying: “Either we are dreaming or you have done something with yourself. It’s sports, not a fairy tale. Zagorulko just made me realise my potential. I at last managed to give everything I could in competition. Probably just my time came. After all, I got more mature, got older and stronger – this is also important.”
“I’ve never been more relaxed than in the winter of 2003,” Chicherova added. “Nobody was expecting anything from me, so I just went out and tried to enjoy my jumps.”
The bronze medal from the 2003 World Indoor Championships, in Birmingham, was the first serious adult medal for Chicherova. Although she did not reach her PB and jumped 1.99, the medal was undoubtedly a success. “Of course I was absolutely happy to win a medal and to make such a progress,” she said.
“Again, it was really easy mentally. I was free of any burden of expectation. The bronze was really great! I think never again after Birmingham would I feel this relaxed. That bronze turned me into one of the favourites. I was aware that, from now, on people would expect something from me.”
Such expectations for the 2004 Athens Olympics had to be lowered as aponeurosis plantaris kept her out of jumping for three months. She could swim, do some power exercises, but not jump. Only two weeks before the national Olympic trials did Chicherova get back to jumping.
Victory with 1.98 was again a fantastic result in her circumstances. However, miracles are rare and, at the Olympics, Chicherova was sixth (1.96) while her compatriot, Yelena Slesarenko, took the gold medal and jumped 10cm higher. “It was a kind of disappointment but, on the other hand, I was happy at least to be there, at my first Olympic Games,” she said. “Now all I remember are the crowds at the stadium and, in the Olympic village, everyone agitated. But so much happened afterwards that Athens now, for me, is a remote memory not a nightmare at all.”
Chicherova managed to take revenge for Athens, at least partly. In 2005 she won the European Indoor Championships, in Madrid (2.01). Until the World Champs 2011 in Daegu, this remained her only victory at the major senior international competitions. “Sometimes I wonder why, in all these years, with not bad jumps, I’ve managed to win only one tournament,” Chicherova said back then.
“There are a number of reasons. There were injuries. There were bad days for me when I could not concentrate, although generally I jump my best at the big events. And there are competitors who are really strong too.”
The year after the Madrid victory (2006) was, in Chicherova’s words, “a nightmare.” Indoors her season’s best stood at 1.96 but, in summer, she never managed to jump higher than 1.95. As a result, she was only seventh at the European Championships, in Göteborg, with 1.95. And, in the 2007 European Indoor Championships, in Birmingham, she did not place much higher, finishing equal sixth while clearing only 1.92.
“This was just a black stripe in my career,” Chicherova said. “I know why that happened and tried not to repeat my mistakes later. You know, the preparations for the indoor or outdoor seasons are always held in different ways. For the indoors, you have much time to train and not so many competitions afterwards. Then for the outdoors, it is the opposite – little time for training and lots of competition. By 2006, I was tired, I could not recover from the indoors when I already had to start training for the outdoors. This led to the injuries but not high jumps.”
Chicherova managed to recover by the national trials for the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. In Tula, she jumped 2.01 and took first place (Slesarenko did not compete). In spite of this breakthrough, she went to Osaka as an underdog, Blanka Vlasic and Slesarenko being the favourites.
Vlasic won with 2.05 but Chicherova and the Italian, Antonietta Di Martino, surprisingly shared second place on 2.03. “Right after the competition I was sure I was third,” Chicherova smiled. “I somehow missed that Di Martino jumped 2.00 also on the second attempt, like myself. I was so happy to learn later that we shared the silver.
“In Osaka it was very important for me to prove to myself that I can jump high. After all these months of problems, injuries and struggling I wasn’t sure that my muscles still remembered how to jump two metres and higher. Silver at the World Champs with the PB – this was great!”
The year 2008 for Chicherova was full of ups and downs. She practically missed the indoor season, including the World Championships, in Valencia. Then she started the outdoors with good jumps at 1.96 and 1.97, went down at 1.93 at the Moscow Open in June, and stopped competing for two weeks to recover her technique. Chicherova was back at the Russian Cup, in Tula, jumping 2.01 and then, at the Olympic trials in Kazan, 2.03 for first place, again ahead of Slesarenko.
“I have tried many times to find the answer to why I jump well at the major events but cannot be stable during the whole season,” Chicherova said. “It is probably because it’s hard for me to concentrate at some commercial tournaments. I jump well if I think the event may be the last one in my life. Then yes, I just go out and give on the sector everything I have. But it’s hard to stay concentrated like that for long.
“I am so happy I managed to jump 2.01 at the London Grand Prix, right after the Russian Championships. This means two metres is now my stable level, I can jump it more than once. Before the Olympics it is very important to gain confidence like that.”
Despite her two jumps over 2 metres in a row, at the 2008 Olympics Chicherova was again an underdog. The top favourite, Croatian Blanka Vlasic, seemed to be unopposed. But Vlasic finished second after sensational winner, Belgian Tia Hellebaut, while Chicherova once more proved she was able to show her best at major tournaments. The Russian got the bronze for an excellent 2.03 jump, that equalled her PB from 2007.
“I was trying to jump 2.05 and fight further but maybe I still was not ready for that jump.” Chicherova admitted. “Some days before the Olympic competition, I caught a cold and was not feeling perfect. And during the competition I was almost singing the Russian anthem! The thing is there was an award ceremony of our 4x100 m relay team. There was a pause on the sector, and I was so happy for the girls that I was almost singing. Their example proves that in sports luck is as important as your shape. I am completely happy with my bronze, I have many competitions ahead to try to win the gold.”
In the year 2009 Chicherova did not have many competitions, though. She completely missed the indoor season because of surgery on an ankle joint. The surgery was performed in Finland, in January. For a week, Chicherova had to stay in plaster, and afterwards the rehabilitation period took unexpectedly long. “In June I again went for medical counselling to Finland, and my doctor said the leg was not looking properly. I was so disappointed, I really hoped the surgery would solve all my problems,” Chicherova said.
However, at the Russian trials 2009 Chicherova performed a confident jump on 2.00 metres and once more posted a victory over the Olympic champion, Yelena Slesarenko. She came to the World Championships in Berlin being in the shade of the duel between Blanka Vlasic and Ariane Friedrich, but in the final produced her season best 2.02 and won the silver, behind Vlasic.
“On the eve of the World Championships I had a dream,” Anna says. “As if someone was suggesting me a silver medal, and I was crying: “No, no, please, take it away, I don’t want silver, I want gold!” Unbelievable, but in the morning I remembered from my dream that a medal in Berlin was not round. I checked it in the Internet and discovered that the medal was really rectangular! What to say, I am really happy that after the surgery I managed to win a medal. But I feel like only half of my dream came true in Berlin.”
It was the irony of fate that, in the following, months, Chicherova learnt that her long-time rival, Yelena Slesarenko, was going to join Zagorulko’s training group. The coach agreed to counsel her without asking Chicherova’s advice beforehand.
“It was a surprise for me to see Slesarenko at my training, but I feel ok with it,” Chicherova admitted. “We have different programs and each do our own work.”
Zagorulko is known in Russia for his tough training methods. “I’ve noticed Zagorulko behaves differently with men and women,” Chicherova said. “I believe that, with women, he is more strict. Probably this is because he is now mainly working with men, or I don’t know why. But I don’t know anyone who could coach me better than he does. With him I first jumped two metres. He was the person who made me realise my potential. We really have an understanding and I believe he can lead me to even higher results.”
The higher results had to wait – as in 2010 Chicherova took a maternity leave. Missing the European Championships, in Barcelona, in autumn she gave birth to her daughter Nika. Anna first came back to the sector only in January, and started serious training two months later.
“First I was terrified – I was so weak after such an interval in training,” Chicherova recalls. “But then, very fast I felt how I was gaining shape. I so much enjoyed my trainings that perhaps, if I could know it before, I would have taken the maternity leave earlier! Fortunately my weight was not a problem, I gained only 6 extra kilos. In summer 2010 it was extremely hot and smoggy in Moscow, I just did not want to eat much.”
The story of Chicherova’s comeback resembles a fairy tale. In the end of May, after just two months of serious training, she won the Russian Team Championships, in Sochi, with the then-World leading jump at 1.96. She was like a different person – always smiling, shining from inside.
“I think only after the birth of Nika I found my harmony,” Chicherova explained. “Before I could not even answer what was the sense of my living on this planet. Now I definitely know that it is my child. And this helped me to focus on the main things and not to worry about the small ones, as I used to do before.”
In summer 2011, Chicherova was again jumping as she did in 2003 – completely relaxed, without any burden of expectation. The young mother came to the Russian Championships in Cheboksary and sensationally beat the national record, setting her all-time PB – 2.07m. And what is maybe even more important – Anna has finally found out why she could not do anything like this before.
“Before, I lacked concentration and self-confidence,” Chicherova explained. “But that day I was firm – it was my birthday, and I wanted only the Russian record as a present. I did not have any doubts even when I twice hit the bar at 2.07. I knew that I would jump it, and nothing could stop me.”
Coming to Daegu as the undisputable World leader, Chicherova had a perfect chance to finally win the first major championship in her career. Before, just knowing it would be huge pressure for Anna. But before Daegu she only smiled and said:
“Anyway, my child is less than one year old, and how I feel this season is already amazing,” Anna said. “I did not peak my shape on purpose, it just came by itself. I am sure I can improve my jumps before Daegu, as I have huge space for progress. You know, thanks to my lovely child, I now fly in my soul – and may be this also helps to fly over the bar?”
Flying over the bar was exactly what Chicherova did in Daegu. She jumped 2.03 m on the first attempt, as all her previous heights, and defeated Vlasic who needed one exra jump to fly over the bar on this height. They both tried to jump 2.05 m, but neither was successful. “I didn’t watch Blanka’s last jump on 2.05 m, that could again leave me with the silver,” Chicherova admitted. “I was thinking – Why I am such a fool that could not jump 2.05 myself?! Maybe the reason was that I caught a cold and could hardly speak. Maybe that I felt pain from my old injuries, it was a bad day for me. I try not to talk about my injuries to the media, it always looks like I find excuses. But I am so happy that finally I won the gold! Any other medal for me would be a disappointment.”
With the new title, it was as if Chicherova started her new life. In her third meet of the indoor season in Arnstardt, she set another Russian record – 2.06 m. And in all her 6 competitions in 2012 she jumped over 2 metres. Anna initially planned to miss the World Indoors in Istanbul for better preparation for the Olympic season. But such dominance was a huge temptation to go to Turkey and try to win another title.
“I was afraid to go to Turkey because of my knee injury,” Chicherova explained. “I thought I could need treatment, and this case it would be better if I started it earlier. Otherwise I would have no time for recovery ahead of the Olympics. But my knee feels ok now, I am almost healthy. I just enjoy my jumping, and that’s why I go to Turkey. I guess it’s not a surprise for anybody, but I can confirm it – I go to Istambul only for the gold medal. I’ve got enough of silver and bronze ones, now I want some gold!”
This time Chicherova’s dreams did not come true. Anna jumped only 1.95 m and was surprisingly defeated by American Chaunte Lowe, who came back international competition at the beginning of 2012 after giving birth to her second child.
“In Istanbul I lost not just to Lowe, I lost to myself”, Chicherova said. “Right before the competition I felt a sharp pain in my back. I did not know what it was, but I could hardly run. So considering the circumstances, I was more worried about my health conditions than about the second place.”
After the World Indoors, Chicherova took some time for treatment. The doctor’s verdict was that the pain appeared because her body was not ready for extra training volumes after pregnancy and the birth of her child.
“The doctors said even ordinary women sometimes had such problems,” Chicherova explained. “But it does not make things easier for me. In early spring I missed about two months of training and was way behind in my preparation. In the Olympic season I planned to do totally different things than my body now allows me to do. Still I am positive, I believe in myself.”
Chicherova was forced by the sponsor obligations to open her outdoor season internationally, at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene. Surprisingly, Anna won the competition with 2.02 m jump. This was a good sign: although the pain in her back still remained, it still let Chicherova jump high.
After her Daegu victory, Chicherova had got a bye from the Russian trials and could train for the London Olympics. Still she decided to compete in Cheboksary, which was only her 3rd competition outdoors. Anna jumped a season lead of 2.03 m and even tried the new national record at 2.08 m.
“I dreamt that everything would be like it was here last year, when I could almost fly, but I had to put up with reality,” Chicherova said after her victory. “I had very few technical trainings this season, so from this point of view my jumps were not ideal. Physically I am satisfied with my shape, I run even faster than I did last season.”
Chicherova announced that the Olympics in London would be for sure the last Games in her career. Anna’s plan is to stop after the home World Championships 2013 in Moscow. The 30-years-old Russian already has the bronze from Beijing 2008, and no need to say this time in London she is interested in a different kind of medal.
“I do not feel as I am a favourite of the Games,” Chicherova says. “You never know – I do not exclude the possibility that Blanka Vlasic would compete, or any of the girls could jump very high in London. But I know I have my dream. And it will be my last chance to make it come true.”
2.07 NR (2011); 2.06i (2012)
1999: 1.89; 2000: 1.90; 2001: 1.92; 2002: 1.89; 2003: 2.04i; 2004: 2.04i; 2005: 2.01i; 2006: 1.96i; 2007: 2.03; 2008: 2.03; 2009: 2.02; 2010: - ; 2011: 2.07 NR. 2012: 2.03/2.06i NR.
1999 1st World Youth Championships (Bydgoszcz) 1.89
2000 4th World Junior Championships (Santiago) 1.85
2001 8th World University Games (Beijing) 1.85
2003 3rd World Indoor Championships (Birmingham) 1.99
2003 6th World Championships (Paris) 1.95
2004 2nd World Indoor Championships (Budapest) 2.00
2004 6th Olympic Games (Athens) 1.96
2005 1st European Indoor Championships (Madrid) 2.01
2005 4th World Championships (Helsinki) 1.96
2005 1st World University Games (Izmir) 1.90
2006 3rd European Cup, Super League (Malaga) 1.92
2006 7th European Championships (Goteborg) 1.95
2007 5th European Indoor Championships (Birmingham) 1.92
2007 2nd World Championships (Osaka) 2.03
2008 1st Russian Championships (Kazan) 2.03
2008 3rd Olympic Games (Beijing) 2.03
2008 2nd World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 1.99
2009 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 2.00
2009 2nd World Championships (Berlin) 2.02
2009 2nd World Athletics Final (Thessalonica) 2.00
2011 1st Russian Team Championships (Sochi) 1.96
2011 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 2.07
2011 1st World Championships (Daegu) 2.03
2012 2nd World Indoor Championships (Istanbul) 1.95
2012 1st Russian Team Championships (Sochi) 1.97
2012 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 2.03
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2012.