Iryna SEKACHOVA, Ukraine (Hammer Throw)
1.63; 75 kg
Born: 21 July 1976, Vasil’kov (Kiev region)
Coaching by Tetiana Zenkova
When Iryna Sekachova was only four years old, her mother had to go to work in the Perm region of Russia. Under USSR internal policy, many Ukrainians and Russians from central regions went to the interior to help in the development of small towns and Sekachova’s mother worked on the building of a new factory in Perm as an odd-job worker. At the age of seven, Iryna began school. “I was a very assiduous pupil but a big fidget and madcap,” Sekachova recalled.
“I liked different sports, such as volleyball and basketball. There was only one place for sports in our little town and no coaches. At the beginning of the 1990s we went to the gym every evening because it was fashionable at that time. When I finished school I thought: ‘Maybe I can be educated as a coach and come back here to train little children’. That is why I decided to come back to Ukraine for my further studies.” But Sekachova didn’t realise that she could not enter into the Sport Institute in Kiev if she was not a sportsperson.
In 1993, at the age of 17, Sekachova came back to Vasil’kov to live with her grandmother. Two months after her arrival, on 2 September, her new neighbour took her to athletics group coaching by Mykola Melnychenko. Sekachova was 17 when she saw a hammer for the first time. “I remember that the coach promised me: ‘If you really want to be a trainer, I can help you get into the Institute next year.’ But he also gave a warning: ‘I’ll expel you from the group if you miss two lessons’.”
Since then Sekachova has been on time for every training session during her 15 years in athletics. In November 1993 she took part in her first competition and threw the 3kg hammer 37m. During 1993-94 winter the temperatures in Ukraine fell to 15-25 degrees below zero but Melnychenko’s group trained only outdoors. “I was shocked,” admitted Sekachova. “All our training, from running to throwing and lifting, took place in a little stadium covered by snow and ice. I was often ill, but I was afraid to skip training and become an outcast from the group. I dreamed about the Institute.”
In July 1994 Sekachova became a student of National University of Physical Culture and Sports in the Ukrainian capital. She had daily training. Three times a week her coach came to Kiev and every weekend Sekachova returned to Vasil’kov (25km from Kiev). In 1996 Sekachova won her first international competition with a best attempt of 55.42m. It was a meeting in Grodno between national teams of Belarus, Ukraine and Poland.
In May 1998, after successful final examinations at University, and gaining an athletics coach and teacher of physical culture diploma, Sekachova achieved 60.00 in the Ukrainian Cup. One month later she won the National Championships, in Bila Tserkva, with a Ukrainian record 62.83, earning a place in the team for the European Championships, in Budapest. “I remember that I did not have throwing footwear, which made all the athletes and coaches in the Ukrainian team smile,” she said. “The former General Secretary of the UAF, Alexander Kolenko, found me the specialised shoe but it was too large. The weather was rainy and I felt like a cow on ice.” In Budapest she failed to reach the final, with a modest qualifying mark of 55.37.
During the 1999 season Sekachova improved the national record to 65.93 on 2 May in Koncha-Zaspa (the centre of Olympic preparation nearest Kiev) at the Sinitsky, Kanaki and Vystavkin Memorial meeting. In July, she went to the World University Games, in Palma de Mallorca, but threw only 59.14 in qualification and failed to make the final. After returning home, she learned of her mother’s death. “In those days, there were no mobile telephones and nobody revealed to me this tragedy,” Sekachova said, in tears. “It was terrible that I was not there for my mother’s funeral.”
Despite the shock, Sekachova returned the next summer with a new national record (69.53) at Kiev Championships on 16 June. It met the IAAF A standard for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “I was a novice at the Olympics,” Sekachova remembers. “We arrived in Australia four weeks prior to the beginning of the Games and, by the time my competition began, I was tired and exhausted from training in a different climate and waiting.”
In Sydney, again Sekachova did not progress beyond the qualifying round and, during the next two years, she was unable to improve. But the 2002 European Cup, in Annecy, France, proved a turning point in convincing her of her international class. Although she achieved only 66.88, she finished third and beat Poland’s Olympic champion Kamila Skolimowska.
On 23 May, 2003 Sekachova set her fourth national record and looked in good shape for the World Championships in Paris. “If you ask me what was happened in Paris I could not answer,” she said. “I remember nothing. On the day of competition I woke up with a temperature below 40 degrees and, several times before the start, lost consciousness. I told my coaches about my condition only after the competition.” She failed to reach the Final, throwing only 61.23.
The 2004 Olympic season was the most successful in Sekachova’s career. In 10 of her 13 competitions she threw over 70m. On 12 June she set a national record 74.16 at an international meeting in Kiev and, one week later, won the European Cup in Bydgoszcz, Poland, with 71.91.
For the first time in her life in an important championship, Sekachova survived the qualifying round in Athens (71.63) and took 8th in the Final (70.40). She was full of energy and power to prepare for the next season, like a new motor. But, in December 2004, further tragedy overshadowed her life.
“My grandmother, with whom I had lived in Vasil'kov was hospitalised before the New Year Holidays after a cardiac attack,” Sekachova recalled. “For three days I did not sleep and I did not depart from her hospital bunk. My grandmother died in my arms in agony.” Sekachova began to cry. “I was in depression. For a month I did not go out of my apartment and I ate almost nothing. I became thin and lost 15kg. It was impossible to know the hammer thrower in myself.” She wanted to leave athletics but her friend and coach persuaded her to come back.
In 2005 Sekachova threw over 70m only once (70.30), to win at the National Championships in Kiev. However, she placed sixth at the World Championships, in Helsinki, with 69.65. But during the next summer, only one day after her birthday on 22 July, she threw 74.31 for a Ukraine record. Her and her coach’s next step was impulsive.
They decided to begin a new training experiment but it did not produce the desired results. Sekachova finished eighth at the European Championship, in Göteborg, with only 69.08, and she did not compete at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka because of bad shape and poor results. In 2007 she achieved 71.83 at her first season’s competition in Kiev, on 20 April but threw under 68m in every other competition that season. On 3 July she lost the National Championships for the first time in 10 years, finishing third (65.86). The training experiment had failed.
The 2008 Olympic year began with terrible news. Coach Melnychenko was taken to hospital where doctors were forced to amputate a leg because of exacerbation of insular diabetes and severe gangrene. Now, while he is in recovery, Sekachova must train herself. “I have a lot of practical and theory knowledge to train myself,” she said. “I don’t want to take a new coach before the Olympics. My life has not been easy. That is why I am used to being independent and being able to make decisions.”
Despite this latest setback, on 2 July, Sekachova rewrote the national record (74.52) for the seventh time. She won the Ukrainian championship, in Kiev, and secured a place in the Olympic team. “I was in very good shape before the Beijing Olympics,” Iryna says. “I had been throwing near 75m at my last tests in training. But in China I had big problems with acclimatisation. We were off by just one or two days.”
In Beijing, Sekacova didn’t make it through the qualifying round with a very modest result, 67.47.
In October 2008, Iryna changed coach. Sekachova’s new preceptor, Tetiana Zenkova, is a former heptathlete. “There is no harm in that” Iryna adds. “Firstly I just asked Tetiana to help me with physical preparation between competitions seasons. But she took a great interest in hammer throwing. She is reading a lot of specialised literature, she is taking a lot of consultations and she is studying every day. But the most important thing is that we understand each other. I’m proud to say that my coach is my friend.”
The 2009 summer season began for Sekachova at the end of April; with the win at the local throwing event in Kiev she achieved her season’s best 73.07. However, she took only 9th place at the first European Team Championships in Leiria in June, throwing 64.78. “Maybe the new rules are good for spectators, but not for the athletes, especially in the field events” Sekachova sums up. “I had an invalid first attempt which was over 70m. But after that you cannot think about achieving a good result, you just think how to bring some points for your team and not finish with ‘zero’”.
In July, Sekachova became 13-times National champion (including 3 winter titles) and booked her ticket to the Berlin World Championships.
“I know that to enter the Final in Berlin I should throw near my best result of this season. I believe I can do it. This year I competed in some international events. Well, I was not too convincing in my performances, but I gained big experience on how to compete with my closest rivals. I sure I was wrong in the last years, when I was preparing for major events just in my home stadium. I’ll try to do my best in Berlin.”
A single woman, Sekachova said with a smile: “My family now is just me and my cat – eight years old and 9kg in weight, Blue Russian breed.”
Hammer Throw: 74.52 (2008)
Hammer Throw: 1993: 39m (3kg); 1996: 55.42; 1997: 56.46; 1998: 62.83NR; 1999: 65.93NR; 2000: 69.53NR; 2001: 67.00; 2002: 68.70; 2003: 72.96NR; 2004: 74.16NR; 2005: 70.30; 2006: 74.31NR; 2007: 71.83; 2008: 74.52NR; 2009: 73.07
1998 dnq European Championships
1999 10th World University Games
2000 7th European Cup
2000 dnq Olympic Games
2002 3rd European Cup
2002 dnq European Championships
2003 dnq World Championships
2004 1st European Cup
2004 8th Olympic Games in Athens
2005 6th World Championships
2006 3rd European Cup
2006 8th European Championships
2007 8th European Cup
2008 dnq Olympic Games
2009 9th European Team Championships
Prepared by Liudmyla Iakusheva for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2009.