Updated 1 March 2008
Ilona Usovich, Belarus (400m)
Born: 14 November, 1982, Cherven, Minsk region
Manager: Pavel Voronkov
Coach: Igor Zaharevich
Ilona Usovich was born in the small city of Cherven, 60km from Minsk. The sports choice there was small - football and athletics. Ilona showed a talent for athletics as she was mobile, quick and eager and, in school competitions, she outstripped even boys. But the local teacher of physical culture first saw potential in her elder sister, Sviatlana, and sent her to children's sports school. The girls were very close and Ilona, who was two years younger, showed great interest in what Sviatlana was doing. Her elder sister was an example for her.
The girls liked sports and were keen to be at sports school. Sviatlana was invited to Minsk, to the republic sports school, and Ilona did not want to lag behind. She worked hard and, two years later, she was accepted into the same school. Later both went to the well-known trainer, Igor Zaharevich.
“I always tried to keep step with my sister,” Ilona said. “It seemed to me that she was more talented, than me. At first, I was not sure that I could also run as fast as Sveta. I thought I did not have the natural talent. In school, under the control of trainer Viktoriya Bozhedarova, I ran sprints. She even suggested I change to the hurdles. But it was not for me. Zaharevich made me believe in myself again but insisted I choose 400m.”
The trainer also suggested she lose weight and they began to work on endurance, running cross-country. Ilona did not understand at first how necessary this was to run 400m. She could run the first 100m fast but would have no strength for the last 300m. Her trainer taught her to run it the opposite way round, leaving her strength until the last 100m. In time, she acquired the experience and one day the trainer told the sisters: “I can see you both at the 2004 Olympics, in the 4?400m relay.” At first, the girls did not believe him. But it happened.
Having finished fourth in the National Championship (52.31), Ilona took part in the 2004 World Indoor Championships, in Budapest, in which the Belarus relay team placed second behind Russia. Ilona ran the third leg and Sviatlana the fourth, their first serious success. In the process, they set a national record 3:29.96.
“At the Olympic Games our quartet was ninth,” Ilona said. “The Romanian girls, who made the final eight, have outstripped us by 0.02 sec. I ran at the third stage and in general have shown my best. But we were not downhearted and, after the Olympics, our results picked up. At the (2005) European Indoor Championships, in Madrid, I ran the individual 400m for the first time and missed third place by only 0.01.”
In the summer, during the World Championships, in Helsinki, Ilona just missed out on a place in the final but set a personal record 50.96. It was her first run under 51 seconds. At the 2006 World Indoor Championships, in Moscow, again she narrowly failed to make the final, clocking an indoor personal best 51.53. She followed this with a bronze medal in the 4x400m.
At the European Championships, in Gothenburg, the Belarusian girl already was fifth and set two national records - 50.74 in her heat and 50.69 in the final. She was included in the European team for the World Cup, in Athens, finishing fourth as member of the continent’s select 4x400m squad. Then, at the 2007 European Indoor Championships, in Birmingham, England, she took the individual silver medal, behind Britain’s Nicola Sanders, with a personal record 51.00. Together with Yulyana Yuschanka, Iryna Khliustava and Sviatlana Usovich, she helped Belarus win gold in the 4x400m.
Moving into the 2007 summer season, and the European Cup in Munich, the same quartet took first place with a national record 3:23.67 after the favourites, Russia, were disqualified for a false start. In 2007, at the World Championships, in Osaka, they ran almost two seconds quicker (3:21.88) but, while in other years that would have been good enough for a medal, on this occasion Belarus were only fifth. Ilona reached the individual final too, placing seventh, with two national records (50.53h, 50.31sf). In the final she was just outside her best (50.54).
According to her trainer’s decision, Ilona will run only the relay at the World Indoor Championship, in Valencia, together with her sister. It is not long until the Olympic Games and she wants to save her best for Beijing.
For the time being, Ilona’s greater successes have been in the relay. Why? “I like the emotional and passionate struggle,” she says. “Moreover, in the relay, you must run not only for yourself, but for team also. It helps to keep you in best form.”
400m: 50.31 (2007); 51.00i (2007)
2004 – 52.31; 2005 – 50.96 (52.06i); 2006 – 50.69 NR (51.53i); 2007 – 50.31 NR (51.00i); 2008 – 51.80i.
2004 2nd World Indoor Championships, 4x400m
2005 4th European Indoor Championships, 400m
2006 3rd World Indoor Championships, 4x400m
2006 5th European Championships, 400m
2006 2nd European Championships, 4x400m
2007 2nd European Indoor Championships, 400m
2007 1st European Indoor Championships, 4x400m
2007 7th World Championships, 400m
Prepared by Mikhail Dubitski for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.