Updated 11 August 2012
Maria SAVINOVA, Russia (800 m)
Born: 13 August 1985 in Chelyabinsk
1.72 m/ 58kg
Lives: Podolsk, Moscow region
Coach: Vladimir Kazarin
The world may have lost in the face of the World and European champion on 800m Maria Savinova an ambitious badminton player. Up to 15 Savinova was professionally playing badminton in her home town, Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, and never thought of an athletics career. This was the time when Maria was noticed by her first coach, Tatyana Maslova.
“I decided to go to the athletics club to accompany my friend,” Savinova recalls. “She soon gave up athletics, but I am still here! It was quite a late start at 15 years of age, but I had a good base of physical fitness after 6 years in badminton. First I was doing sprints – from 60 to 400m, but soon it became obvious that 800m running was my best event. Although I still have a dream to qualify for the Russian 4x400m relay, and I think it is quite realistic for me now.”
No wonder that having started athletics only at 15, Savinova never showed great results in junior events. She never qualified for the World or European Championships in the junior or youth category, and actually hardly made the national team.
“Of course it was not nice to see only the backs of my competitors,” Savinova says. “But I always remembered that I was still progressing. And my coach told me that I had to wait and my results would come.”
It took Maria four years of competitive running (from 2003 to 2006) to realise that her progress had actually slowed town. At that point Savinova moved from Maslova to her present coach, Vladimir Kazarin, and started training with his group in Yekaterinburg.
“I think everything I’ve achieved is thanks to my coach,” Savinova smiles. “It was all so fast, we started only in December 2006, and already that summer I lowered my PB by almost 5 seconds! Of course it’s a pity I still could not qualify for the Beijing Olympics, but… I believe there are no wonders in this world, and to be honest, back then I was not quite ready for the Olympics.”
New life in the new city and with the new coach made Savinova a completely different athlete. In 2009, for the first time in her career, she won the national indoor championships and went to the European Indoors as a favourite. In Torino Savinova did not let down the expectations and won with a PB of 1:58.10.
“I think this was one of the brightest moments of my career,” Savinova says. “Just imagine, a girl from nowhere, who has never won any big medals even on the national level, becomes the European champion! And the main thing I think was the change in my psychology. My coach really made me believe that I could not lose in Torino, that I was the strongest. He likes to say that I should think on the track, that I am like a chess player. So I waited for the right moment to attack and did it!”
After the Torino triumph, Savinova finally made it to the elite of Russian 800m running. In the event which has been traditionally strong in the country for many years, Savinova appeared to be the brightest leader and the only medal hope for international events. In summer 2009, in Cheboksary, Savinova brilliantly proved this, when – again for the first time in her career – she won the national outdoor championships in 1:59.01. However the hopes for a World Championships medal did not come true when, in Berlin, Savinova finished 5th.
“I think I did not win because of my lack of international experience,” Savinova explains. “I lost psychologically, because I let other things distract me from the track. First of all, I started complaining to the press and to our team officials why Janeth Jepkosgei from Kenya had been included in the final although she fell down in the heats. And then, I could not stay away from that situation with Caster Semenya. I was almost late to leave my hotel room for the stadium in Berlin because I could not stop reading news on the Internet whether she would compete in the final or not. This was my lesson: think first of all about yourself, no matter what happens to your competitors!”
After the 5th place in Berlin, ambitious Savinova was almost crying. This was the change in the girl who, some three years before, could not dream of even coming to the World Championships. “People often ask me how it is possible to progress so fast,” Savinova smiles. “And my answer is simple: find your coach! Kazarin changed maybe some minor things in my training, but they gave huge impact on the overall result. And after all, I finally got ready for medals both physically and psychologically. Before I was too young and had spent too few years in the event.”
Savinova’s progress continued, as in winter 2010 she again won the national indoor title and after that the World Indoors, in Doha. This time she did not pay attention to any of the competitors and was clearly the fastest on the final stretch.
“My biggest impression of Doha was not even the gold medal,” Savinova laughed. “A day before the start, we with several other girls decided to have a little walk. We were dressed properly, no minis of course. But still the cars were stopping and signalling, some local men tried to follow us… I think I have never in my life felt myself more a star than that!”
Being serious, the victory in Doha – the first World title in Savinova’s career – was quite logical from her step by step progress. “I would not forgive myself if I had lost,” Savinova smiled. The home celebration took quite long, as she missed the start of the outdoor season and also did not compete on 800m at the national outdoor trials. Again, for the first time, the coaches’ council admitted that Savinova as a bright leader did not have to fight for the place on the team.
“I am not used to such an attitude and I was pleading my coach to let me run at the trials,” Savinova explained. “He finally let me do one heat on 1500m. I was then watching the 800m final and my heart was crying: how can they run without me?! I so much wanted to be on the track… But now I realise maybe it was wise to save the energy for the European Championships.”
In Barcelona. Savinova had more than enough energy to take the title and become the European champion. “I realised I was going to be the first some 50m before the finish and started smiling,” Savinova recalls. “My boyfriend even sent me an SMS: “Aren’t you ashamed of smiling on the track like this?! You should respect your competitors!” Of course it was a joke. To be honest, that night after the finish I watched the video of my race three times. And I still could not believe that me, Masha Savinova from Chelyabinsk, and that strong and fast girl from TV are one and the same person! The strange thing is that I have always dreamed to be a star. But now, when I have all these titles, I still do not feel like a star at all.”
Savinova could have added to her titles also the IAAF Diamond League trophy. Before the final stage, the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels, Savinova was sharing the second place in the Diamond race with Alicia Johnson, from the USA. However, the Russian finished the race second, losing to Janeth Jepksogei from Kenya, who took the diamond and the prize money. “Of course I was disappointed, but not that strongly,” Savinova admitted after her race. “I was tired after the Europeans and Jepkosgei was obviously fresher, so there is no reason to blame myself that I have not done everything I could. Let’s wait for the next year, maybe my time for diamonds will come then!”
Savinova ended her 2010 season with one minor disappointment. She finished only third for team Europe at the Continental Cup, in Split, losing again to Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei from Kenya and Jamaican Kenia Sinclair. “I still cannot be stable throughout the whole season. I was just feeling exhausted in Split,” Savinova commented.
But maybe there was also another factor. Savinova’s thoughts in Split were for sure already in Moscow, where she in late September married her boyfriend, Alexey Farnosov. He is a 1500m runner and trains in the same group, with Vladimir Kazarin. After the official wedding ceremony, the couple went to the athletics stadium. Mariya put on the spikes and ran right in her wedding dress!
“We tried to be original,” Savinova smiled. “We both spend most of our time on the track, so it was definitely a place to visit on the wedding day.”
“I’ve never felt that Alexey was envious of my career,” Savinova says. “Just like I say to him: now I am better, but someday I will have to stay at home with our child, or maybe just my results would go down, and you will have to earn money for the family. In sports everything changes so fast, and I believe very soon we will compete at the championships together. Alexey is now progressing very fast. Maybe I am his motivation, his proof that everything is possible. I do hope someday Alexey will make me feel proud, and I will have to send SMS to congratulate him for his victories!”
Savinova had an easy 2011 indoor season, where she competed just at several meets inside Russia, including the “Russian winter,” in Moscow. “I wanted a lot to compete more, but my coach said: “Masha, wait, you will need your energy later.” I did several indoor starts just to show that I am still in the game, not to make it like I miss the whole season,” Savinova explained.
She came back in summer, being even more self-confident, and again did not compete much, saving the energy. Savinova won the European Team Championships, in Stockholm and posted her PB 1:56.95 at the Russian trials.
Is she now coming to the World Championships in Daegu as a favourite?
“You know, in our event there are always some surprises,” Savinova says. “Every major championships we have a new sensation. Remember Janeth Jepkosgei, Pamela Jelimo, Caster Semenya… I have already learnt my lesson from Berlin: in Daegu I will try not to think about my competitors, and just try to show my best.”
In Daegu Savinova earned the nickname “Bolt in a skirt.” First of all, because of the way she celebrated her victory – all smiles and cheers. And secondly, because she admitted she had the slowest reaction time because she was afraid to make a false start, like Bolt did.
“I was so nervous that I preferred to wait a little bit longer, to be on the safe side,” Savinova commented. “Generally I start the race slowly, I just feel more comfortable with this pace. When I start too fast I don't have enough speed on the finish line. Of course it was hard to control my emotion in Daegu and not to rush to catch Semenya and others on the first lap. The fact that I kept my head calm brought me the title.”
Mariya's coach, Vladimir Kazarin, said after the final that Savinova was wise like a chess player. Her perfect tactics brought her victory over Semenya and also the new PB – 1:55.87. This made Savinova a hot favorite before the London 2012 Olympic final.
In her 2012 outdoor season, Savinova did not compete much, and even refused to run in the final of the Russian championships. There at the trials she also set her 400 m PB – 51.43, that which proved that Mariya's speed training went well.
“I am nervous and I don't want to say anything before the Olympics. Semenya and other girls can make lots of surprises. And it's easy to guess what I actually expect from the Games, although they are the first in my career,” Savinova said before flying to London.
2003: 2:08.38/2:08.20i; 2004: 2:07.43; 2005: 2:07.03; 2006: 2:05.91; 2007: 2:00.78; 2008: 2:01.07/1:59.46i; 2009: 1:57.90; 2010: 1:57.56. 2011: 1:55.87; 2012: 1:57.42
2003 3rd Russian Indoor Junior Championships (Volgograd) 2:10.04
2004 2nd Russian Indoor Junior Championships (Volgograd) 2:10.76
2005 7th Russian U23 Championships (Tula) 2:07.03
2006 h Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 2:06.92
2006 h Russian U23 Championships (Kazan) 2:05.91
2007 2nd Russian Indoor U23 Championships (Volgograd) 2:03.90
2007 6th Russian U23 Championships (Tula) 2:03.27
2007 h Russian Championships (Tula) 2:03.63
2008 3rd Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 1:59.46
2008 h World Indoor Championships (Valencia) 2:06.72
2008 h Russian Championships (Kazan) 2:03.60
2009 1st Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 1:59.45
2009 1st European Indoor Championships (Torino) 1:58.10
2009 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 1:59.01
2009 5th World Championships (Berlin) 1:58.68
2009 4th World Athletics Final (Thessaloniki) 2:00.72
2010 1st Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 2:00.78
2010 1st World Indoor Championships (Doha) 1:58.26
2010 1st European Championships (Barcelona) 1:58.22
2010 3rd Continental Cup (Split) 1:58.27
2011 1st European Team Championships (Stockholm) 1:58.75
2011 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 1:56.95
2011 1st World Championships (Daegu) 1:55.87
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2012.