Updated 4 May 2008
Tatyana SHEMYAKINA, Russia (10/20km Walk)
Born: 3 September 1987, Makarovka, Saransk region
Lives: Saranck, Mordoviya
Coaches: Vera Nacharkina, Viktor Chegin
Makarovka, a small village 5km from Saransk, is the home of Tatyana Shemyakina, the 2007 Osaka World Championships 20km Walk silver medallist. When Shemyakina finished primary school at the age of 11, the family moved to the republic’s capital, Saransk, but still it took her another four years to come to race walking.
“In these four years I tried so many sports - for example, dancing - but I could stay in none of them for more than several months,” Shemyakina said. “I was very active and could not concentrate. Moreover, I got involved in not a good company of teenagers. I don’t think I would have had any future had I stayed with those people a bit longer.”
When Shemyakina was about 15 she met her first coach, Vera Nacharkina. Vera is coaching at the famous Olympic Centre in Saransk under Viktor Chegin, one of the founders of the Russian dominance in race walking. Nacharkina just came to the class where Shemyakina was studying and gave a brief insight into race walking. Such practice is a usual way in the centre of hiring new athletes.
Shemyakina and several other girls joined. Soon she was showing the best results among her peers. “I started with race walking late but I was showing very good progress,” she recalled. “The results came fast and this is probably the main reason why I decided to stay in this sport.”
Nacharkina was building a relationship with Shemyakina step by step. “In the first years she was expelling me from training rather often,” the athlete recalled. “She accused me of non-sporting behaviour, said that I looked and behaved like some small terror, like a boy, and not a young woman. But, after the first successes, I got more serious. There are no problems like that now.”
In 2004 Shemyakina won the junior Mordovian Championships at 3km. Considering the level of competition in the republic this victory should not be underestimated. “I have a friend training in the same group with me – Yelena Shumkina,” Shemyakina said. “Coaches had always been praising her for good technique. I was dreaming to be better. In the Mordovian Championships 2004 I beat her for the first time and felt really proud of myself.”
Shemyakina’s weak point is poor health. This is a paradox that makes her laugh but almost all her main victories were achieved when she was feeling sick. “First I have bad luck to fall ill and then I am lucky to get over it in the competition,” she smiled. This also started from the 2004 Mordovian Championships - in the morning, before the start, she woke up with a high temperature.
In 2006 Shemyakina won silver at the World Junior Championships, in Beijing. After that she agreed with Chegin to miss the Russian Championships in the winter in order to save power and try to compete with adults in summer. Shemyakina went to the training camp to the South (Adler), but soon had to come back home with a serious back injury. “I probably felt a bit relaxed and slightly gained weight. This could have caused the injury,” Shemyakina admitted.
Shemyakina returned to Saransk. Race walking was not good for her back but she was allowed to use running in training. The back steadily got better, so Shemyakina decided to take part in the winter national championships. “This was my first time walking 20km,” she said. “The goal was just to feel how it is, nothing more. I could not count on anything, as running workouts are obviously not enough for race walking. As a result I did not follow the right technique and did not finish.”
In the summer Shemyakina was 5th at the national championships (20km) and qualified for the European U23 Championships in Debrecen, Hungary. “Even my coach admitted: nobody in our group trained as hard as I did at the end of the winter of 2006,” she said. “I was short of time because of the injury and had much work to do. There was simply no time for rest – so I worked for weeks without a day off.”
The victory in Debrecen with a European U23 record (1:28:48) was achieved again in spite of difficulties. At the final training camp in Moscow, Shemyakina went down with food poisoning. “The catering in Moscow was not great and I had eaten something wrong,” she said. “I was feeling weak in Debrecen and I was very much surprised to win.”
This Debrecen appearance helped Shemyakina to make the Russian team for the World Championships in Osaka. She was the youngest in the team and again was struck with injuries. The whole Russian squad was getting ready for Osaka in Vladivostok, as it has similar weather conditions. Shemyakina, for the first time in her life, had to cope with such heat and humidity.
Moreover, in Vladivostok Shemyakina suffered a leg injury. “It was not that serious, just a sprain, but of course everybody, including myself, got nervous,” she said. “I have to thank our doctors. They did everything in their power, and may be even a little bit beyond, so that I would be able to start in Osaka.” In Japan Shemyakina had nothing to lose and, at 19, won the silver medal.
However, Shemyakina got the first warning of her career from the judges. Never before had judges doubted her technique. “I was shocked to get this notice,” Shemyakina said. “I know my technique in Osaka was awful. The coaches got tired of shouting at me. Probably because of the injury, I could not catch my right movement.”
After Osaka many things changed for Shemyakina. She got known in the republic. The governor presented her with an apartment in a new house. “It is not ready, so I cannot move there,” she said. “Now I live in the Olympic centre and we have perfect conditions here. But a personal apartment – of course it is something special for me.”
The 2007 season finished for Shemyakina with the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in September. She started the distance in the leading group but could not keep the speed and did not finish. “I felt exhausted after such a hard season,” she explained.
At the start of 2008 season Shemyakina has already improved her PB to 1:25:46 at the winter Russian Championships in Adler. Her time was quicker than the world record but guaranteed Shemyakina only third place. The winner, 2007 world champion Olga Kaniskina, recorded 1:25:11 but the mark was not ratified by IAAF as international referees were not present.
“Am I a little bit envious of Kaniskina when I lose to her?” Shemyakina questioned. “No, we are training together and we are the best motivation for each other. Of course, in the women’s team quarrels happen but Olga is such a calm person. We have never had any serious splits. I perfectly realise now she is the main hero. And what have I done that is so special? I know people who have won the Olympics several times while I was only second at the World Championships. It’s nothing to feel extremely proud of.”
Shemyakina and her coaches have set the goal of qualifying for the Olympics 2008 in Beijing. To make the team she has to be in the best 8 at the World Cup in Cheboksary (and also in the best 2 among the Russians), or win the national championships in summer. “Everything is possible but only if I am healthy,” she said. “I am not sure I will manage to qualify for Beijing. I will do everything in my power but I am young and I know my time to win will definitely come in London 2012.”
10 km Walk: 43:57 (2007)
20 km Walk: 1:25:46 (2008)
10/20km Walk: 2005: 45:47/-; 2006: 44:51/-; 2007: 43:57/1:28:48; 2008: -/1:25:46
2006 5th Russian Championships (10km)
2006 2nd World Junior Championships (10,000m)
2007 5th Russian Championships (20km)
2007 1st European U23 Championships (20km)
2007 2nd World Championships in Athletics (20km)
2008 3rd Russian Winter Championships (20km)
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.