Created 27 July 2012
Irina DAVYDOVA, Russia (400 m Hurdles)
Born 27 May 1988, Alexandrov (Vladimir oblast)
1.70m / 58kg
Coach: Nikolay Chemerisov, Aleksandr Sychev
53.87 seconds on 27 May 2012 turned Irina Davydova from a mere contender for a national team spot into the world leader and a serious Olympic medal contender. This result in the 400m H was more than 1.5 seconds better than her previous PB. It was a huge surprise for everyone except from Davydova herself, her coach and her friends and family, as this girl has always been a perfect example of confidence, optimism and grit.
Irina Davydova started running in her hometown, Alexandrov, under the guidance of coach Aleksandr Sychev. “I was twelve years old then and I once decided to join my friend at her training sessions. As most of the kids I started from the school version of combined events: running sprint, jumping and throwing a light implement and later I found my speciality in 400m and 400m hurdles. I didn’t have track and field athletes in my family, but my parents were cross-country skiers,” Davydova said. After school Irina entered the Alexandrov branch of the Modern Academy of Humanities to study law, but she decided to choose part-time tuition to keep training and competing.
For the first several years Davydova’s results weren’t overly impressive. She didn’t win any junior medals on the national level, but had a chance to compete at the European Junior Champion Clubs Cups in 2006 and 2007 in Moscow and Brno respectively. She represented her club “Luch Moscow” and won on both occasions with results over 60 seconds.
But the most important thing was that Davydova was progressing, she was lowering her PBs both in 400m and 400m H on a yearly basis. And another improvement to 58.62 in 400m H in 2008 brought her the bronze of the National U23 Championships.
In 2009 Davydova decided not to skip the indoor season, but to compete in 400m. And this decision proved to be valid: she was second at the Moscow Championships and first at the National Indoor U23 Championships.
Winter speed work made a big difference to her hurdling for the outdoor season of 2009. She lowered her 400m H PB by over two seconds, winning the Moscow U23 Championships in 56.38 and then ran 56.14 to get the gold of the National U23s along with the ticket to Kaunas to the European U23 Championships. But in Lithuania she finished in the 5th position in the final. To win a medal there she’d have had to set a personal best. “It was my first big international competition where I represented Russia. I was very nervous and felt great responsibility, but I enjoyed the experience very much,” Davydova said.
The following year Davydova decided to move to Moscow. “I understood that the conditions and the facilities for training in my hometown were not as good as in Moscow. Luckily I was on distance education and the main unit of my University was situated in Moscow, so this move didn’t affect my studies,” Davydova said. In the capital she started working with Nikolay Chemerisov, the coach of the Olympic relay champion Yevgeniya Polyakova and a number of other Russian male and female sprinters.
In 2010 Irina once again was the best in Russia in the U23 age category and for the first time competed in the final of the senior Russian Championships. However, although she had she set a personal best of 55.74 to win the U23 event, at the senior championships she only managed 57.60, a result which brought her only the 7th place. But she was happy to compete with the Russian elite including her hurdling role model Natalya Ivanova. “I remember when I was a junior I always loved to watch Natalya racing, as she had a perfect rhythm: fifteen steps between every hurdle! And since then this is my goal to achieve,” Davydova smiled.
In 2011 she won the bronze at the National Championships with another personal best (55.48), but lacked an A-standard to go to the World Championships.That meant that she was headed instead for the World Universiade, in China, to win the silver behind European U23 champion Hanna Yaroshchuk from Ukraine. “The Universiade is the second important multi-sports event after the Olympics, so this medal is a big deal. I caught a cold in China, probably because of the air conditioning, but I tried not to feel sorry for myself, as I came there with one goal in mind – to win a medal for my country. And when I did it, I was so emotional that it took some time for me to realize that I actually ran a very fast time – 55.50!” Davydova recalled.
Davydova and her coach didn’t follow the example of the majority of 400m H runners, who skipped the winter season of the Olympic year. They decided to compete indoors in the 400m. Davydova, who had never dipped below 53 seconds in this event before, managed to run 51.94 for the win in her heat at the Russian Indoor Championships. It was the third best time of all the championships; only Olympic relay champions Aleksandra Fedoriva and Yuliya Gushcina ran faster in the final. So, despite finishing the 6th in the final, Davydova (along with Fedoriva) was selected to represent the team at the World Indoor Championships, in Istanbul, where she managed to reach the semi-final.
“I knew that it wasn’t my best event and I got a little bit injured at the Nationals, so the semi-final was pretty much my goal and I was extremely happy that I managed to achieve it. It was my first competition of such a high level, and as I know it was the record championships in terms of international participation, so I’m excited to be a part of it. After Istanbul I knew that I was one step closer to being in the Olympic team,” Davydova smiled.
But in less than three months she found herself a hundred steps closer to her dream, after destroying her personal best with a world-class performance in Sochi. “I was so emotional that day from the very morning. You know, it was my birthday, so I started getting messages and phone calls with the best wishes from the early morning. So I was already happy and excited in the blocks. And of course I was confident that my hard work would pay off. Of course after this result things changed, for example I feel more media attention, but I still don’t realize if it helps me or not,” Davydova said.
It’s interesting how the progress in the hurdles race after an active indoor season in 2012 replicated the same scenario of 2009, but Davydova finds it just a coincidence. “Well, I was with different coach then, it wasn’t that we tried to reproduce anything from the past. We just decided to work really hard on my speed and it was really fruitful,” Davydova explained.
Needless to say, after her performance in Sochi there were many non-believers, as lowering one’s personal best by 1.5 seconds in one year at such a high level of performance seemed hardly possible. But Davydova proved everyone wrong, winning the Pechenkina Cup in Yerino and the Znamensky Memorial in Zhukovsky. And Irina was one of the few leaders of the Russian team that decided to take part in the European Championships, in Helsinki, knowing that just in a couple of days they would have to compete at the National Olympic Trials. “I knew that the season would be tough, that I’d have to run multiple rounds in a couple of weeks, and that’s exactly what I’ve been working on during my training sessions,” Davydova explained.
In Helsinki she wasn’t saving any energy for the Nationals. She gave the final race her all, improving her world leading time and personal best to 53.77. “I was so eager to compete, couldn’t wait for the race. In the semi-final I made some technical mistakes as the track in Helsinki had tricky bends, but I knew that I’d be able to stay flawless in the final. And I’m happy that Zuzana Hejnova was pushing me right until the last hurdle, it helped the result. But in fact I was so happy that I even forgot to look at the time when I crossed the line,” Davydova recalled.
After that impressive performance Davydova was given a wild-card by the selectors, so instead of running another two rounds at the National Championships she could resume training. And she didn’t miss the chance to visit London ahead of the Games: Davydova was invited to the London Aviva Grand Prix meeting. At her first Diamond League outing she took second place behind the Briton Perri Shakes-Drayton, who managed to replicate Daydova’s personal best 53.77. But Davydova is not upset or discouraged for a moment. “My point is that you should never ever give up or spend time being sorry for yourself. You should take every result gratefully, because every result gives you a chance to fix your mistakes and to get better,” Davydova explained. To get the first taste of the Olympic capital was also very important: “I loved the meeting, it was perfectly organized and despite the cool and rainy weather, the stands were full,” Irina recalled.
Of course Irina’s busy life does have moments for some fun. In her free time she likes embroidering (just like her fellow 400m H runner Natalya Antyukh), going to movies and cafes with her friends and dancing at parties (in the off-season only). But this year was the busiest one, not only because of the Olympics, but also due to the graduation from the university. “I’m not sure that I’m ever going to be a lawyer, I haven’t given it much thought yet, to be honest, but the graduation is a great achievement in itself,” Davydova said. And there is no doubt that her hard work and her attitude will lead her to many more achievements on and off the track.
400m: 53.12 (2011), 51.94i (2012)
400m H: 53.77 (2012)
400m H/400m: 2005:1:02.52/56.68; 2006:1:00.27/56.43; 2007:58.55/-; 2008:58.62/-; 2009:56.14/55.58i; 2010:55.74/-; 2011:55.48/53.12; 2012:53.77/51.94i
2006 1st European Junior Champion Clubs Cup (Moscow) (400m H) 60.68
2007 1st European Junior Champion Clubs Cup (Brno) (400m H) 60.82
2008 3rd Russian U23 Championships (Chelyabinsk) (400m H) 58.62
2009 1st Russian Indoor U23 Championships (Moscow) (400m) 55.85
2009 1st Russian U23 Championships (Kazan) (400m H) 56.14
2009 5th European U23 Championships (Kaunas) (400m H) 56.75
2010 1st Russian U23 Championships (Cheboksary) (400m H) 55.74
2011 3rd Russian Championships (Cheboksary) (400m H) 55.48
2011 2nd Universiade (Shenzhen) (400m H) 55.50
2012 6th Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) (400m) 52.76 (51.94h)
2012 sf World Indoor Championships (Istanbul) (400m) 53.02
2012 1st European Championships (Helsinki) (400m H) 53.77
Prepared by Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2012