Updated 6 August 2008
Tatyana LEBEDEVA, Russia (Long Jump/Triple Jump)
Born: 21 July 1976, Sterlitamak, Bashkiriya
1.73 / 63kg
Coach: Vyacheslav Dogonkin.
“I can’t imagine my life without athletics,” Tatyana Lebedeva says. And it’s hard to imagine modern athletics without Lebedeva. It’s not even the thing of her titles – Olympic champion and reigning World champion in the Long Jump, twice World Champion and World indoor record holder in the Triple Jump, Golden League jackpot winner 2005 etc. It is the thing of her personality. First place at the World Championships five months after childbirth, parachute jumps and crazy hair styles, Indian philosophy studies and charity actions for sick kids – this is Lebedeva, Bright and original, purposeful and thoughtful.
Year 2000, Sydney: first Olympic Games in Lebedeva’s career. She came to these Games as a favourite, with aa considerable season’s lead at 15.32m. The favourite’s status became questionable after only the first attempt, when Bulgarian Teresa Marinova jumped 15.00. Lebedeva fought until the very end. At her 5th attempt she jumped 15.00. One attempt left – and the last chance for Lebedeva to become the Olympic champion.
“Before my last attempt I so much wanted to listen to the national anthem,” Lebedeva said. “There was the victory ceremony for our high jumper, Sergey Klyugin, at the time. I wanted to wait until the end of it, but organisers called me out to jump before the start. To be honest, I just did not manage to concentrate. I did not realise my chance. But I was sure I would make my conclusions and take revenge.” The revenge took place very soon – in the 2001 at the World Championships, in Edmonton. Lebedeva was unbeaten with a 15.25 leap.
Year 2003, Birmingham: first World Indoor Championships for Lebedeva after childbirth. She gave birth to her daughter, Nastya, in September 2002, and already in March 2003 competed in the World Indoors! She was far from the medals with only a 14.09 jump, but her comeback to the international scene five months after giving birth was exceptional. “Before I was dreaming about the pregnancy like lying on the bed and doing nothing,” Lebedeva smiled. “But, when I got pregnant, I missed sports so much. I even saw jumps in my dreams! On the tenth day after Nastya’s birth I was walking her in a carriage near the stadium. I could not stand the temptation to come to say ‘hello’ to my coach and my fellows. Athletes from my training group, half joking, called me to join them. And what do you think – on the next day I put on my sports clothes, let Nastya in the carriage stay nearby, and started training.”
Lebedeva’s wish to compete in the indoor season was considered another joke. “My coach said I was crazy”, Lebedeva said. She was not in a hurry to win but she just had so much energy that could not wait. For this energy, and huge training volumes, she was described as “a person with electronic batteries”. These batteries kept her going and facilitated plans that any other person would consider impossible.
Year 2003, Moscow: combining Triple Jump with the Long Jump is not a new idea but Lebedeva is one of the few who has done this at the highest level. She first tried the Long Jump in a major competition at the Russian Challenge in Moscow, some weeks after the victorious World Championships in Paris. The reason was simple – the Triple Jump was not on the programme but Lebedeva wanted to fight for the prize money and compete before her home public after her big international win.
The results in the Long Jump exceeded expectations – 6.82 and the first place. “I am so grateful to my manager, Aivar Karotamm, who suggested I do Long jump in Moscow,” Lebedeva said. “After Paris I was very self-confident and decided to try. Actually, after the Triple Jump, the Long Jump seems so easy! If I was rational, of course, I would have switched to Long Jump long ago. But I have my own goals and ambitions and do not want to follow the easiest way.”
Year 2004, Athens: the second chapter of Lebedeva’s Olympic story and this time it was about willpower. Lebedeva came to the Olympics as a hot favourite and reigning World champion in Triple Jump. But, as in Sydney, she did not manage her best performance at the most important moment. “I was all the way repeating to myself that I must win,” Lebedeva explained. “I could not get rid of these thoughts. That’s why I did not manage to jump far at the first attempt I panicked. I was not mentally ready that something could go wrong.”
Lebedeva’s bad luck was that her bad day coincided with the inspiration that came to the Cameroonian Francoise Mbango. Five jumps over 15m – and Lebedeva, with a 15.14 leap in the fifth round, was only third. This bronze was undoubtedly a defeat. “For me only the first place exists,” Lebedeva whispered at the victory ceremony.
In Athens, Lebedeva had one remaining chance – in the Long Jump – to prove her ambitions. And she had only one and a half days before the qualification round to recover and leave all negative emotions behind. Lebedeva found inspiration in her friend from the same town of Volgograd – Yelena Isinbaeva.
“The day after my bronze I was watching Lena’s Olympic final,” Lebedeva recalled. “She was struggling at the beginning, could not pull herself together and finally was only one attempt away from losing. And, at this particular moment, I saw how she managed to change everything. How she realised all the months of training behind her, how she won and set the World record. I was almost in tears of happiness when she won. And I told myself: ‘Look how great she is. She fought and won. You must do the same’.”
Lebedeva did exactly the same – she fought and won the Long Jump, just two centimetres ahead of her fellow Russians, Tatyana Kotova and Irina Simagina. She made her dream come true and won the Olympic gold, although not in the event she was first planning to win.
Year 2005, Helsinki: the World Championships became, for Lebedeva, another fight – this time with her health. A leg injury did not allow her compete in the final of the Triple Jump, after she had qualified with 14.15, and she withdrew. “If it was the Olympic Games I would compete even if later they had to cut my leg off,” Lebedeva explained. “But there will be more World Championships in my career and I had no right to risk my health. It was very hard for me to make this decision but I believe it was right.”
Later the season Lebedeva added another victory win to her collection, winning the Golden League jackpot of one million dollars. She was ignorant to fierce critics in Russia about her refusal to compete in Helsinki, allegedly wishing only to win money but not fight for her country. She returned to Volgograd and donated 10 per cent to an orphans’ home. “I believe one must share,” she said. “What you save would rot together with you. What you give would be yours forever.”
From this year, Lebedeva has been engaged in a charity helping another Olympic champion from Volgograd, the high jumper Yelena Slesarenko, take care of a house for sick kids. It is an ongoing effort as they provide what they need constantly. “The only advice I gave Yelena Isinbaeva when she won her share of the Golden League jackpot last year and asked me who to help was – never give them money,” Lebedeva said. “Unfortunately, Russia is still a country where your money would easily be stolen by governors and kids never see it. That’s why I am always eager to buy for kids a playground, music centre or a micro oven, but I never give my money directly to the house.”
Year 2007, Osaka: this World Championships seemed to Lebedeva a reversal of Athens 2004. She started with a gold medal in the Long Jump, again sharing the podium with two other Russians, and followed on with ‘only’ silver in the Triple Jump. “I understand I need to be completely healthy to win in the Triple,” Lebedeva said. “It was the injury that did not let me jump farther. And I can officially say – at the Olympics 2008 I want revenge. My main goal there is to win the Triple Jump. I have some titles in Long. Now it’s high time to win the Triple.”
In winter 2008, in Finland, Lebedeva underwent surgery on the Achilles tendon. She completely missed the indoor season and, when she came back in the outdoor season, she was not the brilliant Lebedeva we used to see. “Athletics is not Formula 1 where your starting position is crucially important,” she said. “It does not matter if now I am ranked 5th or 10th in the world. In my career, sometimes I have come to the main start with the season’s lead and lost, sometimes vice versa. I believe in Beijing I will be in my top shape.”
Probably every second interview with Lebedeva ends with a question about her hair style. Extravagant Tatyana has already competed with three-coloured-hair, red hair, and so on. “I think I would not surprise anybody in Beijing,” Lebedeva smiles. “A woman changes her looks when she needs some extra emotions, extra motivation. In Beijing I will be over motivated, so I won’t need additional factors.”
Additional factor of success for Tatyana used to be the mental support she received from her confessor Sri Chinmoi. The famous writer, musician and philosopher living in the US, Sri Chinmoi invited Lebedeva and her family to his home and shared with her the ideas he believed in.
“Before I didn’t think why I live, what I had come to this world for, what I can give to people,” she said. “But Sri Chinmoi opened my eyes and helped me to find the answers. In the past after every loss I was so upset that wanted to give up sports. But he said: ‘Look around, there are so many people who are sick and poor, but they are happy. You are young and healthy. You can see the sunrise every morning, you can do so many good things. You must be grateful for what you have’.”
Lebedeva realises that her life in sports won’t be endless. In spring 2008 she entered the Diplomatic academy in Moscow. But she is not going to get down to studies until after the Olympics. In Beijing Lebedeva again competes at two events but her main focus will be the Triple Jump.
“I have been thinking and thinking about what sports and my life in sports exist for,” Lebedeva said. “Many people don’t understand why we get big money just for jumping or running. But I remember my feelings this summer, when I saw Yelena Isinbaeva breaking the World record in Rome. I was at home watching TV late at night, and afterwards I was so happy, I so much wanted to share it. I even woke up my friend and training partner, Oxana Udmurtova, because I could not wait until the morning to tell her.
“Next day at training I was almost flying, I was jumping better than I had jumped for ages. It is what you call inspiration. If some yardman sees my jumps and cleans two streets instead of one, if a workman at the factory makes more details after my competition, I would consider my sporting career had sense. Inspiring others – that’s what it is all about.”
Triple Jump: 15.34 (2004), 15.36i (2004)
Long Jump: 7.33 (2004), 6.98i (2004)
Triple/Long: 1993: 12.94(13.13i)/-;1994: 13.69/6.65; 1995: 13.88/-; 1996: 13.62/-; 1997: 13.56 (13.89i)/-; 1998: 14.45/-; 1999: 14.94/-; 2000: 15.32/-; 2001: 15.25/6.71i; 2003: 15.18/6.82; 2004: 15.34 (15.36i)/7.33; 2005: 15.11/6.70; 2006: 15.23/6.97; 2007: 15.14/7.15; 2008: 14.92/6.88.
1994 3rd (Triple) World Junior Championships (Lisbon) 13.62
1998 2nd (Triple) World Cup (Johannesburg) 14.36
1999 4th (Triple) World Championships (Sevilla) 14.55
1999 3rd (Triple) Grand Prix Final (Munich) 14.66
2000 1st (Triple) European Indoor Championships (Gent) 14.68
2000 2nd (Triple) Olympic Games (Sydney) 15.00
2001 2nd (Triple) World Indoor Championships (Lisbon) 14.85
2001 1st (Triple) World Championships (Edmonton) 15.25
2001 1st (Triple) World University Games (Beijing) 14.81
2001 2nd (Triple) Grand Prix Final (Melbourne) 14.61
2003 1st (Triple) World Championships (Paris) 15.18
2004 1st (Triple) World Indoor Championships (Budapest) 15.36
2004 1st (Long) World Indoor Championships (Budapest) 6.98
2004 3rd (Triple) Olympic Games (Athens) 15.14
2004 1st (Long) Olympic Games (Athens) 7.07
2004 2nd (Triple) World Athletics Final (Monaco) 14.96
2004 2nd (Long) World Athletics Final (Monaco) 6.72
2005 2nd (Triple) World Athletics Final (Monaco) 14.86
2005 5th (Long) World Athletics Final (Monaco) 6.49
2006 1st (Triple) World Indoor Championships (Moscow) 14.95
2006 1st (Triple) European Championships (Goteborg) 15.15
2006 1st (Triple) World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 14.82
2006 1st (Long) World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 6.92
2006 1st (Triple) World Cup (Athens) 15.13
2007 2nd (Triple) World Championships (Osaka) 15.07
2007 1st (Long) World Championships (Osaka) 7.03
2007 3rd (Triple) World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 14.72
2007 1st (Long) World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 6.78
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF “Focus on athletes” project. Copyright 2008