Updated 30 July 2012
Ekaterina KOSTETSKAYA, Russia (1500m)
Born 31 December 1986, Saint Petersburg
1.68 / 52kg
Lives: Saint Petersburg
Coaches: Olga Kostetskaya, Svetlana Pleskatch-Styrkina
Ekaterina Kostetskaya is probably one of the most exotic flowers in the Russian national team. She had quite an unusual way to middle distance running, she was one of the few Russian athletes to study and train abroad and she has a very intriguing athletics love story. But athletics fans love her not only for all these unique aspects, but mostly for her amazing wins.
Ekaterina’s mother, Olga Kostetskaya, (nee Dvirna) was the 1982 European champion in 1500m, and three times national champion in 1500m and 3000m. Ekaterina’s father, Aleksandr Kostetskiy, was also a high-class middle distance runner, so it was likely that her daughter would at least try to do athletics. “My parents always encouraged me to run, but I didn’t want to; I did ballroom dancing for 5 years, but when I was 13 my partner left me. I was really let down and finally gave in to my mother’s persuasions. At the beginning I didn’t really enjoy training, but little by little I discovered that I could outrun my peers. Since then, I became more interested,” Ekaterina recalled.
Kostetskaya started running middle distances, but one day their family friend Tatyana Zelentsova – another European champion and former World record holder in 400m hurdles – visited their home and invited Ekaterina to try the hurdles under her guidance. There was just one complication: Zelentsova, who currently works with European and World junior champion in 400m hurdles, Vera Rudakova, lived in the USA. After some consideration, Kostetskaya accepted this invitation. In 2001, she moved overseas with Zelentsova, leaving her parents back home. “Luckily I didn’t have a lot of issues with language. In Saint Petersburg I studied at the specialised English school and took private lessons, as my mom always wanted me to speak fluent English. But of course it was tough, especially in my first year. I missed my parents a lot and it took time to get used to this different culture and lifestyle,” Ekaterina said.
But the move seemed to bring her pure benefits. Kostetskaya was a real star at the 2003 high school championships, and still holds All-time USA high school bests in 300m hurdles and 800m. During summers, she would return to Russia to compete at the national championships and she always got on the team for major youth and junior competitions.
In 2003, Kostetskaya became the World Youth silver medallist behind Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic. That same year, she was crowned European junior champion, beating the Czech into third place. In 2004, she focused on the major junior competitions, but was just one step from making it to the national Olympic team. She won the World Junior Championships, in Grosseto, with the world lead of 55.55, also a national junior record. Other winners in Grosseto that year included LaShawn Merritt, Meselech Melkamu, Andrey Krauchanka – definitely good company. Two weeks later, Kostetskaya came in fourth in the national championships final, being the youngest in the race.
The following year happened to be another year of Kostetskaya’s rivalry with Hejnova. The head-to-head took place in Kaunas, during the European Junior Championships. The girls crossed the finish line with the exact same result – a Championship record 55.89 – but the photo finish was strict: the Czech was a few millimetres ahead. Kostetskaya got the gold in the relay later, but it wasn’t as satisfying as an individual win would have been.
“I was disappointed with the silver. It was even more annoying as I was the leader in that race – Zuzanna caught up with me only in the last metres. She was always my main competitor at the junior level, but we were always friendly. We never communicated too much, but we always had some small talk when we met on the circuit, and we still do,” Kostetskaya said.
After graduation from school in Jonesboro, Ekaterina decided to stay in the States and to enter the University. She was recruited by Texas State University to compete in 400m hurdles. From that time, Ekaterina started to work with the University coach, and soon she felt that her progress had stopped. “We didn’t take a lot of time to work on the technique – which is crucial for my event – with the University coach, and I couldn’t improve the hurdling on my own. Preparation for 800m is different: I don’t need a coach nearby to just go for the run. In addition to this, my mother started to come to the States more often to give me some advice,” Ekaterina explained.
In 2007, Kostetskaya won her first 800m meet, the Tyson Invitational (Fayetteville) with 2.03,58 (indoors) and placed sixth at the NCAA Indoors. It became obvious that Ekaterina was a promising middle distance runner.
In her first outdoor middle distance season of 2007, Kostetskaya grabbed silver at the World Student Games with classy a 1:59.52. Crossing that 2-minute barrier one year before the Olympics felt good and it was a sign that the choice of distance was right.
In the Olympic year, Kostetskaya had no problem winning the Russian U23 Championships, but at the Olympic trials she had to push herself really hard. Competition on 800m in Russia is traditionally fierce; anyone in that final could be a real medal contender in Beijing. The final heat was far from tactical, the pace was high and Kostetskaya was handling it. But she crossed the finish line in the fourth place, just 0.03 behind Svetlana Klyuka. Having improved her PB by 3 seconds to 1.56.67, Kostetskaya was apparently out of the Games. After that final she had some time to regret switching distances.
But just prior to the Olympics bad news shook the Russian team. A group of high class female middle distance runners and throwers was accused of doping rules violation. That news was shocking for all of the team, as it cast a shadow on the national coach and national federation. But Kostetskaya was less upset, as with the disqualification of the national champion, Elena Soboleva, she got a lucky ticket to Beijing. “I was upset about my fourth place, but then I started to hear the rumours about the possible disqualifications and the chance to go to the Olympics. When I got the official statement, I didn’t take it too emotionally, I immediately concentrated on getting ready to run,” Ekaterina recalled.
It was destiny. No, Kostetskaya didn’t win the Olympics – she didn’t even make it to the final. But there, in the Olympic Village, she met Steve Hooker. The Australian pole vaulter, the future Olympic and World champion, noticed this beautiful blond and smiling girl that was so tiny compared to him, and couldn’t keep his eyes off her. They started to communicate via Internet and soon it was obvious that they should see each other more often. Kostetskaya started to come to Australia for training camps. Steve also jumped at the first chance to go to Russia. When his coach, Alexandr Parnov, was about to travel to the “Znamensky Memorial” with a couple of vaulters, Steve decided to join the trip, even though neither Kostetskaya nor he were competing in Zhukovsky.
Since 2009, Ekaterina spends about half of the year in total in Australia and the other half in Russia, at home or at the training camps. She always follows her training plans designed by her current coaches – Svetlana Pleskatch-Styrkina and her mother, Olga Kostetskaya. Trips to Australia give her not only the chance to spend time with Steve, but also the place to do the warm weather training.
“No, I’m not offered to change allegiance,” Kostetskaya smiled. “But people there are very welcoming and nice. I can use good facilities for my training and take part in some local meets. For example, me and Steve, we took part in the traditional grass running meet – Stawell Gift. It was a lot of fun!”
2009 and 2010 were rather low on high-class results for Kostetskaya. In 2009 she had only one major championship – the European Team Championships, in Leiria, where she got a silver medal with 1.59.43. Then health issues made her slow down a bit. In 2010, Kostetskaya was only 17th in the 800m heats at the national championships and could only watch her compatriot, Mariya Savinova, shine in Barcelona.
In the winter of 2011, Kostetskaya was not competing, but training and running numerous 5km to 7km cross country races, in Australia, to improve her endurance. In the meantime, two other good Russian 800m runners won medals at the European Indoor Championships – Yevgeniya Zinurova and Yuliya Rusanova. By the 2011 outdoor season, the audience had almost forgotten about Kostetskaya, but she did what she loved to do – she surprised everyone by running two distances at the Russia Club Championships in May: 800m (second) and 1500m. And it was a good try at the longer distance: sixth place with 4:09.58.
When Kostetskaya took the bronze with 1.57.19 in a blistering fast 800m final at the national trials in July, behind Savinova and Rusanova, everybody thought that her name on the 1500 m start list was a joke. When she made it to the final, people suggested that she wouldn’t start. But she was serious about it, and took the silver with a PB of 4.01.77.
For the Daegu World Championships, Ekaterina chose the more familiar 800m distance, as the timetable didn’t allow to double and she realised that she lacked the tactical experience for the 1500m. But her 800m performance was impressive indeed. She made it to the final along with her teammates Savinova and Rusanova and ran very close to her season’s best – 1:57.82. “To get to the final – that was my goal, as in Beijing I didn’t go through the semi-final stage, so I was just staying focused, trying to run in front not to get involved in any kind of
Kostetskaya decided not to make any major changes for the Olympic year and missed the Russian indoor season to get in the proper warm weather training in Australia, relying on the training plans developed by her mother. But in spring she was back to Europe to start competing. She was putting an emphasis on the 800m, but she also ran one 1500m race at the Moscow Championships and got the win with a decent time of 4:04.97, the next day she won 800m in 1:59.03 proving her great shape.
But at the trials things didn’t go as planned. In the first round of the 800m the athletes had to clock a top-8 time to get into the final, so the heats were rich on fast times. Kostetskaya ran the first lap in 59.8 and made an overly impressive spurt to finish in 1:57.46 – the second best result after Savinova, who didn’t plan to run in the final anyway. But the more slow and tactical final race turned into a bitter disappointment. Kostetskaya finished third after Yekaterina Poistogova and the recent European champion Elena Arzhakova. There were a lot of tears that evening, but there were no doubts that Yekaterina would try to make up for this failure on the 1500m. She wasn’t a favourite in this event, one of the strongest events for Russian female runners, but Ekaterina managed to maintain the fast pace set by her experienced rivals Yuliya Chizhenko and Elena Soboleva and outran them on the homestretch. Kostetskaya won the gold, qualified for the Olympics and set a career best of 3:59.28 all at once. Crossing the line she couldn’t hold back tears of joy and relief.
“This was only my fifth1500m race ever! I didn’t even have a strategy; I was just trying to keep up with the leaders. I was too nervous before the 800m final and made a tactical mistake. In my second final I felt much less pressure. By the way, I would have run the 1500m even if I’d already qualified for my main event! I’m happy about going to London, it will be the most important competition of my life. I’m proud to be representing my country. And it’s great that I can share this experience with Steve”, Kostetskaya smiled.
And Ekaterina doesn’t deny that there is another thing about 1500m that always motivates her. It is her mother’s PB: 3:54.23.
400mH: 55.55 (2004)
800m: 1:56.67 (2008)
1500m: 3:59.28 (2012)
400mH/800m/1500m 2002: 1:00.78/2:10.49/-; 2003: 57.52/2:05.95/-; 2004: 55.55NJR/2:11.8hi/-; 2005: 55.89/2:11.35i/-; 2006: 56.75/-/-; 2007: -/1:59.52/-; 2008: -/1:56.67/-; 2009: -/1:59.31/-; 2010: -/2:01.19/-; 2011: -/1:57.19/4:01.77; 2012:-/1:57.46/3:59.28
2003 2nd World Youth Championships (Sherbrooke) (400mH) 58.37 (58.09 q)
2003 1st European Junior Championships (Tampere) (400mH) 57.52
2004 1st World Junior Championships (Grosseto) (400mH) 55.55
2005 2nd European Junior Championships (Kaunas) (400mH) 55.89
2005 1st European Junior Championships (Kaunas) (4x400m) 3:32.63
2007 2nd World Student Games (Bangkok) (800m) 1:59.52
2009 2nd European Team Championships (Leiria) (800m) 1:59.43
2011 5th World Championships (Daegu) (800m) 1:57.82
Prepared by Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2011-2012