Updated 13 July 2012
Gulnara SAMITOVA-GALKINA, Russia
Born: 9 July 1978, Naberezhnie Chelny, Tatarstan
1.68m / 54kg
Coaches: Gennady Suvorov, Minulla Chinkin
Gulnara Samitova first appeared on the international scene in 2003 with her 3000m Steeplechase win at the European Cup, in Florence. Some weeks later she made history at the Russian Championships, beating the World record with 9:08.33. In July 2004 she improved the World record again, and by seven seconds, to 9:01.59. However, the women’s Steeplechase was not on the Olympic programme for Athens 2004, so Samitova had to switch to 1500 and 5000m.
She was third at 1500m in the 2004 World Indoor Championships, in Budapest, but this remained her only significant success at this distance. Samitova also won 1500m at the National trials but the result - 4:01.29 - did not hold the prospect of Olympic glory. At 5000m, her chances were far more optimistic. At the National Championships she ran 14:53.70 with something in reserve and chose this distance for the Olympics.
But Athens 2004 does not hold fond memories for Samitova. She ran 15:02.30 and finished sixth. “Not so bad for the debut but she was ready to run much faster,” Samitova’s coach, Minulla Chinkin, commented. “I think I overtrained before Athens,” Samitova said. “Until the last moment I hoped to compete in two distances and 1500 and 5000 need completely different training. It was a good lesson for me to set clear goals and not waste my energy. We have a good saying about it – if you try to catch two hares at the same time, you will catch none.”
After Athens Samitova completely disappeared from the track. The suggestion that she could be pregnant proved wrong. Also no injuries or suspensions were reported. She never announced the end of her career but just left without any farewell. But, in 2006, she came back – under the name Samitova-Galkina and with focus only on the steeplechase.
Gulnara’s husband is a former international 400 m runner, Anton Galkin. They married in 2004, immediately after the Olympics. “It was very hard time for both of us after Athens,” she said. “He got a two-year ban from the competition. I was completely exhausted physically and mentally after all this pressure of the Olympic year. My dream was to enjoy family life, to be a wife and probably a mother. I really wanted to have kids. I just needed some rest and change in my life. That’s why, for a year, I was not training at all, and then step by step got back to the track.”
After her marriage Gulnara started competing with double surname, as did Anton. His new name Galkin-Samitov surprised everyone. “It was his idea that we both would compete under double surnames,” she smiled. “I wanted just to change mine as most women do.”
Samitova-Galkina made her comeback in the Znamensky Memorial 2006 with the season’s leading time – 9:14.37. Her performance after a two-year break was even more surprising considering that, in the meantime, she had left her coach for many years Minulla Chinkin. “When I started training again, my coach was already 76,” she recalled. “It was physically difficult for him to follow me at the training camps, to stand all this crazy tempo of training and competitions. He advised me to ask Tatyana Senchenko to take me, as she is one of the leading endurance coaches in Russia.”
Senchenko was shocked to see Samitova-Galkina at her group. Training the then Russian record holder at 5000m, Liliya Shobukhova, and marathon runner, Galina Bogomolova, Senchenko had never before worked with the Steeplechase. “She said she had no idea how to coach me with these water and high barriers,” Samitova-Galkina laughs. “But I reassured her that what I needed was endurance and with steeples I would cope by myself. Really, I am very grateful to Tatyana Senchenko that, at 55, she was not ashamed to learn the new discipline and was sitting up at night reading textbooks.”
The partnership with Senchenko, however, did not last long. In 2007 Samitova-Galkina switched to work with the head coach of the long distance running group at the national team, Gennady Suvorov. When at home Gulnara consults with her first coach, Minulla Chinkin. “I like working with Suvorov because I am training mainly with men,” she said. “They can lead me as a pacemaker at the hardest moments. There is no inner competition in the group as it was with Senchenko.”
The 2007 World Championships, in Osaka, was a huge disappointment for Samitova-Galkina. World record holder and the author of the season’s leading time, she went to Osaka to win her first World Championships gold, but instead finished 7th, far from any podium chances. “I hardly finished the distance in Osaka,” she said. “In the second half I did not think about the speed at all, my goal was just to reach the finish. I think my pace at the start was too fast for the heat and high humidity and I did not manage to keep it up. I am that kind of person – I don’t want just to win, I want to run fast! I took a risk and lost, but that’s how it happens in life.”
Her motto – “win with fast times” – is holding firm again in the Olympic year. “I want to be the first woman in history to run under 9 minutes,” Samitova-Galkina announced. “I know it is realistic for me.” However she admitted that in the hard weather conditions in Beijing the victory was the main point on her agenda.
“First I wanted to focus only on the Steeple in the Olympics, as I am the World record holder there and the 3000m distance is ideal for me,” Samitova-Galkina said. “I ran 5000m at the National Trials just for training but surprisingly finished second after the national record holder Liliya Shobukhova. But the result was so good that I thought – why not to try to double?”
In Beijing Samitova-Galkina 100 percent used her chance to make history. In spite of her modesty before the start, she ran the World record 8:58.81 and became the first female Olympic champion in steeple chase and the first woman to break the 9 minutes barrier. “My coach asked me to start the first kilometre in 3.02,” Galkina-Samitova explained. – “When I ran 2.58 instead feeling completely fresh I understood it would be the World record. I thought it would be much hotter, that’s why I didn’t plan the record. But on the day of our start the weather was perfect. Great weather, amazing stadium, fast track, my good shape – everything came together in my record run!”
However she did not do as well in the 5000 m, where she finished only 12th in 15:56.97. Still Samitova-Galkina is not one to criticise her opponents. She is friends with the World champion, Yekaterina Volkova, and does not miss a chance to compliment Dibaba and Defar, who were her main opponents in the Olympic 5000m. “I saw the World record run by Dibaba at the Golden League stage in Oslo because I also competed there,” she said. “All I can say – it was beautiful! She was running unbelievably fast from the very start and it was very wise of her to slow down a little some laps before the finish and then speed up. To watch running like this is real pleasure.”
Unlike most Russian Olympic champions, after the Beijing win Galkina-Samitova had almost no celebration at all. She ended the season with the 9:21.73 win at the World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart, and immediately started her preparation for the next season. In October Galkina-Samitova won the Russian Cross Country Championships, in December quite unexpectedly she took part in the European Cross Championships in Brussels. “I did not specially train for those Champs, it just ideally fit my training schedule,” Galkina-Samitova explained. “Cross country running differs a lot from the track, with all these uphills and mud. I don’t plan to switch to it, but I use it a lot in training.”
Galkina-Samitova came to Berlin with the second best time of the season, 9:11.58, and a three-race win streak in her three steeplechase events that year. She was released from the Russian trials in Cheboksary as the reigning Olympic champion and decided not to compete at her second distance – 1500m. “I had an idea to try to double in Berlin, and as I had been doing much speed work 1500m would be an option. But later together with my coach we decided to refrain from it. I’d better focus on my favorite steeple and not waste my energy. I’ve never in my life been a World champion. In Berlin it’ll be all about the place, the time this time will be for me on the second place.”
Galkina-Samitova, in her pre-Berlin interviews, never told about the problem that did not let her train and even live normally. At the Golden League meet in Rome, when landing after the water jump, she had hurt her knee. Gulnara managed to finish the distance, but after that had to exclude the barriers from her trainings. She again hoped only on her endurance. But on the third steeple in the World Championships final, the knee was in pain again. Running actually “on one leg,” Galkina-Samitova managed to finish 4th. She was that much disappointed that she ran through the mixed zone without saying a word. Only several days later, her coach Gennady Suvorov announced that Gulnara could hardly walk and would probably need surgery.
Galkina-Samitova was ready to come back in the 2010 outdoor season. But life is unpredictable – in winter the World record holder discovered that she was pregnant. Instead of becoming the World Champion, another of her dreams came true – to become a mother. On 24 June 2010, Galkina-Samitova gave birth to a daughter whom she called Alina.
“It was harder than to win Olympic gold,” Galkina-Samitova smiles. “I did not care about my trainings, about extra weight, I just wanted to be always with my Alina. When I discovered that I was pregnant I immediately stopped running. But I like walking, and even on the day when I was taken to the maternity hospital I had walked for a couple of hours.”
When Alina was 3 months old, Galkina-Samitova got back to trainings. Her goal was to come back and compete at the Olympics in London. The 2011 season had to be like a rehearsal of the Olympic year.
Gulnara managed to win the European Team Championships, her first major international competition after child birth. However the time – 9:31.20, was far worse than she expected. Later in the season Galkina-Samitova tried to qualify for the World Championships in Daegu but finished only 4th at the national trials.
“The coaches still said that I could go to Daegu,” Gulnara told. “One of the ladies who finished ahead of me withdrew from her place, so I had my right to be on the team. But I knew my shape was not good enough to win a medal. And travelling to Championships like a tourist, just to see what is going on, for me sounds terrible. So I preferred to stay at home and start training for the Olympic season.”
Galkina-Samitova did not waste her time, as in the 2012 season she again started to resemble her 2008 self. While Gulnara was absent, Yuliya Zaripova became the new Russian steeplechase star, winning both the European and the World Championships. Galkina-Samitova had to put up with the fact that she was no longer the leader.
“Yuliya is very strong, and it is interesting to compete against her,” Galkina-Samitova commented. “But it has nothing to do with our personal relationship. At the Russian trials, Zaripova asked me to help her on the first few laps, I agreed and she then helped me. I did not have a goal to win over Zaripova at the trials. I just wanted to qualify for London.”
Galkina-Samitova’s time from Cheboksary – 9:25.92, is still far from her best days. But Gulnara is sure that in the month before the Games she would be able to lower it by half a minute!
“I think the future Olympic champion will have to run under 9 minutes,” Galkina-Samitova says. “So this is my goal – to try to repeat my result from Beijing. If I do this, even if someone will be even faster, I will be satisfied. You know, I am ok even if someone will beat my World record. I wanted to be the first woman in history to run under 9 minutes – and here I am, and nobody can ever beat this.”
3000m Steeplechase: 8:58.81 WR (2008)
1500m: 4:01.29 (2004)
5000m: 14:33.13 (2008)
1500/5000/3000m Steeplechase: 2001: 4:13.88/-/-; 2003: 4:15.78/14:54.38/9:08.33WR; 2004: 4:01.29/14:53.70/9:01.59WR; 2006: 4:19.89/-/9:53.83; 2007: 4:03.31/-/9:11.68; 2008: 4:03.31/14:33.13/8:58.81WR. 2009: 4:02.34/-/9:11.09; 2010: -/-/-; 2011: 4:18.10/16:06.09/9:29.75; 2012: 4:12.82/15:29.97/9:24.60
2003: 1st (3000m SC) European Cup, Super League (Florence) 9:40.89
2003: 1st (3000m SC) Russian Championships (Tula) 9:08.33 WR
2003: 1st (5000) Russian Championships (Tula) 15:04.58
2003: 7th (5000) World Championships (Paris) 14:54.38
2004: 3rd (1500) World Indoor Championships (Budapest) 4:08.26
2004: 1st (5000) Russian Championships (Tula) 14:53.70
2004: 1st (1500) Russian Championships (Tula) 4:01.29
2004: 6th (5000) Olympic Games (Athens) 15:02.30
2006: 6th (3000m SC) Russian Championships (Tula) 9:53.83
2007: 7th (3000m SC) World Championships (Osaka) 9:30.24
2008: 1st (3000m SC) European Cup (Annecy) 9:35.32
2008: 2nd (5000) Russian Championships (Kazan) 14:33.13
2008: 1st (3000m SC) Russian Championships (Kazan) 9:08.21
2008 1st (3000m SC) Olympic Games (Beijing) 8:58.81 WR
2008 12th (5000) Olympic Games (Beijing) 15:56.97
2008 1st (3000m SC) World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 9:21.73
2009 1st (1500) Russian Team Championships (Sochi) 4:03.62
2009 1st (3000) European Team Championships (Leiria) 8:46.88
2009 4th (3000 m SC) World Championships (Berlin) 9:11.09
2011 1st (3000 m SC) European Team Championships (Stockholm) 9:31.20
2011 4th (3000 m SC) Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 9:32.07
2012 2nd (3000 m SC) Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 9:25.92
2012 9th (5000) Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 15:29.97
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF “Focus on athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2012.