Updated 18 July 2012
Sergey BAKULIN, Russia
(20km/50km Race Walk)
Born: 13 November 1986, Insar, Mordovia
Coach: Viktor Chegin
Born in the same town, Insar as the 2009 50km World champion, Sergey Kirdyapkin, Bakulin is still trying to follow Kirdyapkin’s footsteps. They both started race walk under the same coach – Alexey Naumkin, although naturally Bakulin joined the group much later. Up to about 13 years of age (8th class in school) Sergey had been competing in running events – a natural career start for many race walkers.
“I specialised in the distances from 1500 to 5000 m”, Bakulin recalls. “I think it’s just some basic training that will later pay off in any other athletics event you’ll choose”.
In his 8th year in school, Bakulin went to a regional running competition. There he was noticed by one of the legendary coach Viktor Chegin’s assistants and was invited to join the group. But naturally for the Mordovian system, it was not Chegin who taught the young boy the basic principles of race walking.
“Chegin is working only with the best of the best”, Bakulin explains. “When I moved to Saransk, I was first training with Viktor Parvatkin, then several months with the family couple of Konstantin and Vera Nacharkin, and only then moved to Chegin. It was in 2004, when I was a junior and candidate for the Master of Sport, according to the Russian system”.
Curiously, Bakulin did not have much success in the junior category. His only victory was in 2005 at the Russian Championships in Izhevsk. Before that he never made it to the podium. “I was very stable, but lacked brilliant races”, Bakulin explains. “After Adler, I was 6th at the World Race Walking Cup in Spain and qualified to my first European Championships in Göteborg. This made me believe that I was still progressing”.
In Göteborg Bakulin finished 5th – quite promising for a 20-year-old athlete. In 2007 he did not qualify for the World Championships in Osaka, but was third at the U23 European Championships in Debrecen. The 2008 season was even more disappointing – disqualification at the World Race Walking Cup in Cheboksary meant Bakulin would not go to the Olympic Games, in Beijing. With extremely strong Valery Borchin, Stanislav Morozov and experienced Ilya Markov on the team, the home World Race Walking Cup was Bakulin’s only chance to qualify.
“With my coach, we have been working a lot on my technique after 2008”, Sergey sighs. “If you get disqualified, and for me that was not the first time in my career, you should pay special attention to technical aspects. I am watching lots of videos even now and try to copy the best walkers. For me the etalon is Sergey Kirdyapkin. Not because we are from the same town, but because I really believe his technique is almost ideal”.
The following year, 2009, Bakulin first tried to move to the longer distance. He finished 1st at 35km on the national winter Championships and qualified for the European Cup, in Metz. Fourth in France and second on 50km at the national trials was again very good for the beginning, but not enough to qualify for the 2009 World Championships, in Berlin. It would be definitely more than enough in any other team in the world, but not in Russia.
Bakulin’s reasons for moving to 50km are obvious. The competition on the longer distance is visibly lower than on 20km, where Russia has the Olympic and World champion, Valery Borchin. Sergey himself does not deny this: “Yes, I thought we have more than enough people on 20km, and it was so hard to make the team. Maybe on the longer distance I would have better chances. Although to be honest, I am not that happy to change my specialisation. I feel I still have not realised my potential on 20km”.
On the World Race Walking Cup 2010, in Mexico, Bakulin still decided to walk 20km. “It’s going to be too hot for 50km, and also high altitude”, Sergey explains. “It would be really dangerous for my health to walk 50km there. I don’t know how much time I would need to recover after this… And I plan to do the best I can next year, which will be pre-Olympic. So I would not risk everything in Mexico”.
In absence of the reigning World and Olympic champion, Bakulin, maybe for the first time in his career, was going to be Russia’s main hope. Moreover, if he was the only Russian in the top-6 this would mean automatic qualification to the European Championships, in Barcelona.
In the heat and altitude of Chihuahua, the Russian team – which did not include some of the strongest specialists – was not at their best, managing just three individual bronze medals (of which two with the juniors). Bakulin was in the lead group, along with compatriot Andrey Krivov, until mid-race, but fell back in the second half, finishing seventh, while Krivov went on to take the third bronze for Russia and the automatic qualifying spot for the Europeans.
Bakulin therefore had to earn his selection at the national championships four weeks later. He returned to the 50km and placed second, securing the ticket to Barcelona. In the Catalan city, Bakulin took bronze in the race won by, Yohan Diniz – his first medal other the longer distance.
In June 2011, Bakulin won national championships, in Saransk, improving his PB to 3:38:46, making him the fastest of the year coming to the World Championships, in Daegu.
Bakulin ran very much his own race in Korea, not chasing Yohan Diniz or Nathan Deakes, who took the initiative in the first half of the race. He finally overtook the Australian at 32km and led till the tape, accumulating a sufficient lead so that when he slowed in the last 5 km, he was still clear of his challengers.
His compatriot Denis Nizhegorodov passed another Australian, Jared Tallent, in the last kilometre to make it a 1-2 for Russia.
“At the World Championships in Daegu my strategy was to maintain an even pace throughout the distance. When Diniz accelerated I didn’t try to chase him. I paid no attention to positions, just focused on the speed instead. And this strategy turned out to be fruitful. For the first time in my life I felt so bad after the finish. My muscles were cramping. It seems I was too dehydrated,” said the new World champion after the race.
“My experience at the Barcelona European Championships gave me a lot. I made a number of conclusions on tactics, we also adjusted the training. At the 50 km event competition experience is crucial. You see, most of the big championships’ medalists are in their thirties,” added Bakulin, who at 24 was one of the youngest in the race.
I’m very satisfied with the dynamics of my results. I love statistics so I always study the figures. My results are increasing steadily year by year. My training now is targeted for the Olympics, I hope to do well in London.
In 2012, like others in his training group, Bakulin’s only race before the World Race Walking Cup was in the indoor 5000m at the Russian Winter meeting in Moscow, where he place third.
On the streets of his home base, Saransk, Bakulin aimed to reaffirm that his youth was no handicap to aim for gold in the longest race in the athletics calendar. However Sergey managed to finish only 5th, losing to his compatriots Sergey Kirdyapkin (1st) and Igor Erokhin (2nd).
“I am ok with Sergey’s result, I had planned before it would be something like that”, coach Chegin commented. “Bakulin has got a place on the Olympic team as a World champion. So at the World Cup he did not have to think about how to qualify. He walked after huge training volumes and just lacked freshness.”
“It is always bad to lose on home soil, but I try to stay calm,” Bakulin said. “We had started training for the Olympics before the World Cup. So it was not my main goal to win it.”
Together with other Russian walkers, Bakulin has been getting ready for the Olympics at the national team base in Kislovodsk. “When it is getting especially hard in training I am thinking about my father,” Bakulin says. “He used to work at the factory as a welder. It was very difficult for him to make a living with the family of three children but he never complained. Sometimes he took me with him to hunt or fish. When I think about those times on the distance, I get some additional power to keep walking.”
10km Race Walk: 39:03 (2006)
20km Race Walk: 1:18:18 (2008)
50km Race Walk: 3:38:46 (2011)
10km/20km/50km: 2006: 39:03/1:19:54/-; 2007: -/1:19:14/-; 2008: -/1:18:18/-; 2009: -/1:20:52/3:52:38; 2010: -/1:24:05/3:43:26; 2011: -/-/3:38:46; 2012: -/-/3:46:14
2005 1st Russian Championships (Izhevsk, 10,000m) 41:30.5
2006 4th (2U23) Russian Winter Championships (Adler, 20km) 1:19:54
2006 6th World Race Walking Cup (La Coruña, 20km) 1:20:10
2006 5th European Championships (Göteborg, 20km) 1:20:50
2007 3rd (2U23) Russian Championships (Cheboksary, 20km) 1:19:14
2007 3rd European U23 Championships (Debrecen, 20km) 1:23:33
2008 2nd (2U23) Russian Winter Championships (Adler, 20km) 1:18:18
2008 DQ World Cup (Cheboksary, 20km)
2009 1st Russian Winter Championships (Adler, 35km) 2:24:25
2009 4th European Cup (Metz, 50km) 3:52:38
2009 2nd Russian Championships (Cheboksary, 50km) 3:54:37
2009 1st Universiade (Belgrad, 20km) 1:20:52
2010 1st Russian Winter Championships (Adler, 35km) 2:27:42
2010 7th World Race Walking Cup (Chihuahua, 20km) 1:24:05
2010 2nd Russian Championships (Cheboksary, 50km) 3:58:07
2010 3rd European Championships (Barcelona, 50km) 3:43:26
2011 1st World Championships (Daegu, 50km) 3:41:24
2012 5th World Cup (Saransk) 3:46:14
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2012.