Updated 08 August 2008
Ilya MARKOV, Russia (5000m, 10/20 km Walk)
Born: 19 June 1972, Asbest
Height: 1.78m; weight: 65kg.
Lives: Krakow, Poland.
Coaches: Alexander Krasilnikov (1986-95), Vasily Semenov (1995-2004), Robert Korzeniowski (2004 – to date)
“I am living evidence that Race Walking in Russia exists not only in Mordoviya,” Ilya Markov said with a smile. He is also the evidence that it is possible to race at the highest level up to 36.
Markov was born in the small town of Asbest in the Ural. He started Race Walking at 14 under his first coach, Alexander Krasilnikov. In juniors, Markov won the World Championship (10,000m track) in 1990 and, in 1994, made the senior national team. In 1995, Markov was 4th in 20km at the World Championships, in Göteborg.
At the 1996 Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Markov was second in the 20km Walk behind Jefferson Perez, of Ecuador. “In that race I know it was in my power to beat Perez, I was physically able to win,” Markov said. “But I made a tactical mistake. I started the finishing spurt at the last 3km, which was too early. I was young and, actually, silver was great for me. Nobody expected it, including myself.”
The four years between Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 were the most successful in Markov’s career. In 1998 he won the European Championships (20km) in Budapest and, in 1999, the World Championships (20km) in Sevilla. Unlike in Atlanta, Markov approached the 2000 Olympics as one of the hot favourites. However, a car accident destroyed his hopes and he finished 15th in Sydney. In the circumstances, this was a fine achievement.
“A month before the Games we were having the final training camp in New Zealand,” Markov said. “One of the team managers met me in the airport and we were heading to the hotel. Suddenly we were smashed by some other car. I got a serious back injury. The doctors were sure there was no chance for me to compete at the Olympics. But this was my dream. I could not give up that easily. So I raced, although 15th place was, at that moment, really my maximum.”
The profit lost with the potential Olympic medal is impossible to measure. “I never went to court and did not get any compensation from the driver of that car in New Zealand,” Markov said. “The accident was for sure his fault. But it’s impossible to prove that, but for this accident, I would have won in Sydney.”
At the 2001 World Championships, in Edmonton, still competing over 20km, Markov regained his position near the top. At a dominant Russian podium Markov (2nd) stood between the champion, Roman Rasskazov, and Viktor Burayev. “The championships in Edmonton are still special for me,” Markov said. “First, because we were three Russians on the podium. Second, because it still remains the last successful World Championships in my career.”
In the 2003 World Championships, in Paris, Markov was only 8th, although his time was 19sec quicker than he recorded in Edmonton. What was missing? “I really feel I am getting older,” Markov said. “I need more time for rehabilitation. The training routine seems harder. And lots of young guys come out always ready to occupy my place.”
The 2004 Olympics, in Athens, were expected by most specialists to be a swansong for Markov. For the Russians, the first qualifying stage was at the World Cup, in Naumburg, Germany. There Markov was only one kilometre from the finish, and a place in the Olympic team, when he was disqualified. The last chance to qualify he also missed, finishing third at the trials with places awarded to the first two. “I was thinking of ending my career,” Markov recalled. “But I decided to give myself the last chance. This chance is called Robert Korzeniowski”.
The winner of four Olympic gold medals (3 at 50km, 1 at 20km) from Poland, Korzeniowski retired after his 50km triumph at Athens 2004. Markov, who is only four years younger than Korzeniowski, recalled: “We are old and very close friends. One day, in 2004, I came up to him and asked him to be my coach. He answered that this would be an interesting new challenge for him.”
Markov went to Poland for training but still kept a place to live in Russia. Gradually, though, he was spending more and more time in Poland and, in 2005, he moved there full-time. “Now I rent an apartment in Krakow and speak Polish fluently,” he said. “I am even planning to build a house for my family here.”
The relationship between Korzeniowski and Markov is not typical coach/athlete. Their friendship still remains the basis. “He does not give me any commands,” Markov explained. “Robert writes the training plan, we discuss it, and only if we both agree, do I start to fulfill it. If I feel I need something else, I tell him, and we can make changes at any time”.
The World champion and the Olympic medallist from Spain, Francisco Javier Fernandez, is now also training in the same group with Markov. “The competition in training does not bother me,” Markov said. “We three, with Robert and Javier, are really very close. Robert now can’t stand our tempo in Race Ralking but he walks for pleasure to keep fit. Believe me, when you work with friends, with people you trust, it feels really great”.
Beijing 2008 will be the last Olympic chance for Markov. “I won’t wait another four years till London 2012,” he insisted.
The goal to qualify looked challenging. At the World Cup, in Cheboksary, Markov needed to be in the top 8 (and in the best 2 Russians). Otherwise he would have to win the Russian Championships in summer to get the Olympic place. “My plan is to win my last Olympic medal in Beijing,” he said. “I know I can peak my form only once a season, so this peak definitely must come in August. However, I first had to qualify for the World Cup in the winter trials in February, now I have to be fit again to qualify for the Olympics. It’s hard but it’s my last chance. I will give all the power I have to use it.”
In Cheboksary Markov used his best advantage - experience. By the middle of the distance he was walking 4th, with Fernandez being first and another Russian, Valery Borchin - second. "By the 10 km mark I realised I would not win the race, - Markov recalls. - To be honest, even before the start I was almost sure Fernandez was going to win. As we train together I saw he was in a perfect shape. So on the second half the most important thing for me was not to get any judges' notices and just walk to the finish. I was 4th and in the best two Russians - everything needed to reach my goal to qualify".
Markov's goal to qualify was achieved, but the victory from Fernandez was impressive indeed. Will Markov be able to beat his training partner at the Olympics? "I'll try", - Ilya smiles in answer, as his coach Robert Korzeniowsky is joking: "I've started forming my own team - Team Korzeniowsky. If we look at the results of the World Cup in Cheboksary, my team was second overall after Russia. Francisco won, Ilya was fourth and the Irishman Robert Heffernann - ninth. In Beijing it will be a tough battle but I believe in my guys. I don't want to say anything specific about one of them. What is most important - we are all friends. This is probably the secret of success".
At 35, Markov is the only athlete in the Russian Race Walking team training abroad. “I like to be independent,” he said. Only Korzeniowski influences his training process. “I very seldom go to the training camps with the national team,” Markov explained.
Markov is thinking of following Korzeniowski’s path - win at the Olympics then move into coaching. “I think that, after Beijing, I will become a coach, probably in Poland,” he said. “I know I will never be a fierce and authoritative coach. I like democracy. And I would be happy if I have the chance to share my experience with some young athletes.”
5000m: 18:41.44 (2000)
10 km: 38:21 (2006)
20 km: 1:18:17 (2005)
5000/10km/20km: 1992: -/-/1:23:27; 1993: -/-/1:20:19; 1994: -/-/1:24:07; 1995: -/-/1:18:53; 1996: 19:12.79/-/1:18:48; 1997: -/-/1:18:30; 1998: -/-/1:19:46; 1999: -/-/1:18:50; 2000: 18:41.44/38:42/1:20:53; 2001: 18:46.96/38:22/1:19:36; 2002: 19:48.0/39:01/-; 2003: -/-/1:20:05; 2004: -/38:46/1:19:25; 2005: 19:07.27/38:52/1:18:17; 2006: 19:01.24/38:21/1:18:18. 2007: 19:20.38/38:25/1:18:56; 2008: -/-/1:19:04.
1990 1st World Junior Championships (10km)
1995 4th World Championships (20 km)
1996 2nd Olympic Games (20km)
1997 3rd World Race Walking Cup (20km)
1998 1st European Championships (20km)
1999 1st World Championships (20km)
2000 15th Olympic Games (20km)
2001 2nd World Championships (20km
2003 8th World Championships (20km)
2007 9th World Championships (20km)
2008 4th World Race Walking Cup (20 km)
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008