Updated 3 August 2012
Valeriy BORCHIN, Russia (20km Race Walk)
Born: 11 September 1986, Povadimovo village (90km from Saransk, Mordovia)
Coaches: Alexey Desinov, Sergey Klimkin, Viktor Chegin.
If the records for how long you need to become an Olympic champion were registered, Valeriy Borchin would surely become the World record holder. He started professional athletics only at 17 and, three years later, won silver at the European Championships in Göteborg. It took him only two more years to win the Olympic title. In his only 6th year in the sport, 22-year old Borchin has already proven himself.
Borchin’s first sport – weightlifting - sounds unlikely for a future race walker. “I was in my 4th year at school when I started weightlifting,” Borchin recalled. “I did not like it. After about three to four months I stopped, but I’ve never felt sorry. I think you should try everything in life.”
After weightlifting, Borchin switched to the sport that seemed more natural for Mordovia, the republic famous for its endurance sports traditions. “I started middle and long distance running,” Borchin said. “I was mainly specialising in 3000 and 5000m, although I competed only at regional level and never was professional. As all Mordovian children, in summer we were running and in winter skiing. I can say that even now cross country skiing is one of my favourite sports.”
In his 10th year at school, at about 16, Borchin got a knee injury. Running became painful, and even skiing was not possible with his aching leg. Still Borchin had got used to a certain way of life and did not want to give up sports. The way out was found in race walking. At 17 Borchin joined the group of his first coach Sergey Klimkin. “Since then my suffering started,” Borchin smiled.
“The first half a year seemed real hell,” he continued. “When you just start race walking, naturally the technique is bad. But when you go on walking with this bad technique, everything hurts so much – every muscle, every joint in your body. Moreover, before I had never been professional and my training volume increased dramatically. I felt like a dog, coming home with the tongue on my shoulder and dreaming only about how to lie down somewhere and sleep.”
Why did he still stand this hell? Age 17 is the time to decide between an athletics career and student life. Moreover, at 17, when Borchin started race walking, most of his future competitors had already been practicing it for years. “17 is really too late,” Borchin explained. “The easiest way is to start at about 6, because children are more flexible and can catch the right technique from the very beginning. I think if I had started at 17 from nowhere there would be no chance. But I still had some base of physical fitness left from running and skiing, which helped a lot. In almost a year I became a world class race walker. Why I did not give up in the start? You know, we, Mordovian people, are like rams. If we have a goal, we would stop at nothing on our way to reach it. So stubborn!”
In 2004 Borchin met the guru of the Russian race walking – the head of the Mordovian school, Viktor Chegin, who had established a conveyer-belt of Olympic champions in his centre in Saransk. To get to the training group of Chegin – in Russia this is sometimes harder than to get to the national team. “It was some regional competition,” Borchin recalled. “Once Viktor Mikhailovich saw my walking he immediately said he wanted to take me to the next training camp. God knows what he could see there in my performance. The more I get to know Chegin the more amazed I am about his talent. Sometimes in training, when I am walking and he is running nearby, he can give advice and correct my technique even without looking at me! He just feels and knows everything.”
The year 2005 seemed to be the end to Borchin’s fairytale of a village boy becoming a champion. In winter he was second in the junior race at the Russian Championships in Adler at 10km – a great result for a boy who was only in his second year in the sport. However, in June 2005, Borchin was given a one-year ineligibility punishment for the use of a prohibited substance (ephedrine). He did not give up the sport and started training for the senior distance of 20km. In June 2006, just four days after the end of the disqualification, Borchin for the first time in his career walked 20km in competition at the Russian Championships, and surprisingly won it. This was his first national title.
“To win the Russian Championships was extremely hard,” Borchin said. “In fact most of the leaders represented Chegin’s group, so we were competing between each other and that made it even harder. I was one of the youngest, with no experience of international competition at all. So, when I won the race and qualified for the European Championships, this was quite a surprise.”
Goteborg was not only Borchin’s first international competition, it was also his first trip abroad. “My eyes were wide open and sometimes I felt completely lost,” Borchin recalled. “So many foreign people around, speaking languages I did not understand, looking and behaving so different from my country. It felt like I found myself in another world.”
The competition itself was a world familiar to Borchin. He achieved second place with a huge PB (1:20:00) – nearly two minutes better than he had walked two months before at the national trials. Only the Spaniard, Francisco Javier Fernandez, an athlete almost ten years older and with many more titles than Borchin, was faster. “I hardly made this silver,” Borchin said. “I had two cards from the judges, and there was a huge risk I’d get the third. When judges don’t know you it’s always hard. Only now, when I am the Olympic champion and they know my technique, they let me go as fast as I can. When you are young and unknown it’s always hard. Of course I was very happy with my silver, nobody expected it. For the first international outing it was a great result.”
The year 2007, after a hard 2005 and a victorious 2006, was a disaster for Borchin. Not from the very beginning – first he won the Russian Winter Championships in Adler with a PB of 1:18:56. His second international competition at the European Cup in Leamington, England, did not work out; he finished only 9th. The European Cup was, for Russians, one of the qualification events for the World Championships, in Osaka, and Borchin did not make the team at that meeting. He was sent to the European U23 Championships, in Debrecen, Hungary, where he posted a victory and thus qualified for the senior World Championships.
What happened in Osaka Borchin does not like to recall even now, mainly because he simply does not remember much from that race. “It was terrific heat,” he recalled. “I started walking, was among the leaders, but suddenly I was like I switched off. I fell to the ground and then came round at the medical centre.” It was a heat stroke. Borchin’s body did not stand extreme Japanese heat and humidity.
Beijing 2008 had in prospect for Borchin heat and humidity again. But first the goal was to qualify there. Borchin finished second before the home crowd at the World Cup in Cheboksary, again losing only to Javier Fernandez from Spain. This met the qualification criteria – to be in the best 8 overall and at the same time in the best two Russians.
“I would not say that in Beijing I was focusing on revenge, but definitely I remembered my two losses to Fernandez,” Borchin said. “Fernandez, Jefferson Perez from Ecuador – they are all much older and more experienced than me, but this does not matter. When I lose to someone, I always try to understand why. Why, if I am training as hard as I can, if I have a great coach and all conditions for success, someone still can walk faster?”
In Beijing, Borchin did not lose. He won the Olympic title and the first athletics gold medal for Russia in the Beijing Olympics. “I perfectly realise that alone I am no one,” he said. “This victory could be possible only thanks to my coaches, masseurs, the government of the republic of Mordovia, and even the cooks. There were so many people who supported me all the way, who believed in me. For me race walking is not just an individual sport. When I walk, I feel responsible for the work of all the people behind me. I am the one who became the Olympic champion, but the truth is that I could have never achieved this alone.”
Faithful to the team spirit, in Beijing Borchin incidentally took part in another Olympic gold for Russia. The flowers he presented to Gulnara Galkina-Samitova played a part in her Olympic title and World record at the 3000m Steeplechase. “This was so funny,” Borchin smiled. “Next day, after my victory, we had a ceremony at the Olympic village with Russian officials. They gave us some presents, diplomas and also flowers. When I was walking back to the room I met Gulya. I never needed these flowers, she was a nice Russian girl, and I presented the flowers to her. She was so shy and first refused to take them. Her coach hardly talked her into it! Next day she won the Olympics and said she would place these flowers in the hall to bring good luck to the whole Russian team. Unfortunately, I had already left Beijing and could not see if she really did that.”
After the Olympics, Borchin’s life did not change in many aspects. As did all the Russian Olympic champions, he got the prize money and BMW jeep from the government, huge respect and popularity in his home republic. But, in terms of race walking, he was still working as hard as ever. “The only difference is that in 2009 they released me from the trials,” Borchin explained. “As the Olympic champion I was included in the team for the World Champs automatically. Instead I could compete at the two stages of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge, get more experience of the international outings and earn some prize money.”
At the 2009 World Championships, Borchin did not disappoint expectations. He won it in amazing style, leaving no chance to his opponents. After he added the World title to his collection of European and Olympic gold medals, Borchin only smiled: “I am not used to big numbers of fans, signing autographs, giving multiple interviews. I don’t feel comfortable in the crowd. In my soul I am the same boy from the village who is shy to be at the centre of attention.”
In Berlin, Borchin also wrote a new chapter of “The story of Valery and his lucky flowers.” Remembering how he brought good luck to Galkina-Samitova, in Berlin Borchin presented his flowers to another Russian girl – Olga Kaniskina. This was actually a safe bet, as the following day Kaniskina easily won her 20km walking distance. “I will try to give the flowers back to Valeriy so the Russian team will get some more gold medals,” Kaniskina laughed after the finish.
Nobody knows the fate of those flowers, but the fact is that, in Berlin, Russian race walkers achieved an unprecedented record and won all the three gold medals. Sergey Kirdyapkin was the winner of 50km distance.
Borchin missed the start of the 2010 season to recover from his triumph. But just 8 days before the European Championships, in Barcelona, he got injured in training. “I hoped I would be able to walk on analgesics,” Borchin said. “But my leg swelled and the doctors said it was a crack in my instep bone. I was so sorry to miss the Europeans, especially because I let the team down. It was too late to make a change, and so we had only two walkers on 20km.”
At the 2011 World Championships, in Daegu, Borchin again had to face his number one enemy – the heat. In Osaka 2007 he lost the battle, in Beijing 2008 he took revenge. Borchin prepared for the next round at the altitude training camp and ignored the acclimatisation camp in Vladivostok.
“That was the decision of our coach, Chegin,” Borchin explained. “I fully trust him. Beijing proved that I can stand the heat, the humidity, the jet lag… I think I should just focus on my preparation and not search for excuses beforehand.”
And Borchin’s trust proved well-founded, as he retained his crown, working his way up from 15th position at mid-race to the lead at 15km, gradually increasing the gap over the followers to close 31 seconds ahead of compatriot Vladimir Kanaykin.
“We were lucky with the weather in Daegu. It was cool. But all the same, we decided not to dash, go at our own pace and adapt because of high humidity, Borchin explained after the race. “Two competitors dashed ahead, but we were not afraid. We were trying not to let them go far away. If we let them pass us at least for 200 meters, it would be more difficult to catch them. But fortunately we could reduce the gap. The last 5 kilometers of the 20km distance are a very important part of the race, so you have to do all your best. You don’t think about anything. I didn’t care about warnings from the judges. I looked ahead. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“Today’s victory wasn’t easy for me; to defend the title is much more difficult than to win the first medal. You are unknown when you start for the first time. But if have some titles, everybody wants to be like you, to beat you. The last season was unsuccessful for me. I missed the European Championships in Barcelona because of injury, so my victory today is doubly important for me.”
The World title, together with his wins in Rio Maior and Sesto San Giovanni, also allowed Borchin to sweep first place in the overall IAAF Race Walking Challenge.
After concluding 2011 without a defeat in his five races, Borchin competed only once in 2012, over 5000m indoor at the Russian Winter meeting, closing in 18:16.54i, to equal the fifth best All-time mark.
At the World Race Walking Cup in his home base of Saransk, Borchin was extremely motivated to continue his winning series, but it did not happen. Valery finished only 10th, which was his lowest placing in the recent years. After the finish line Borchin looked disappointed but still he knew that the main thing was yet to happen. He came to the World Cup straight from the training camp and competed under huge training volumes.
The World Cup in Saransk was Valery's sacrifice to make his big dream to become twice Olympic champion come true.
10,000m: 43:18.0 (2004)
10km: 38:11 (2009)
20km: 1:17:38 (2009)
10,000m/10/20km: 2004: 43:18.0/-/-; 2005: -/39:56/-; 2006: -/-/1:20:00; 2007: -/-/1:18:56; 2008: -/-/1:17:55; 2009: -/38:11/1:17:38. 2011: -/-/1:18.55; 2012: -/-/1:21.29
2005 2nd Russian Winter Championships, Junior race (Adler, 10km) 39:56
2006 1st Russian Championships (Saransk, 20km) 1:21:48
2006 2nd European Championships (Goteborg, 20km) 1:20:00
2007 1st Russian Winter Championships (Adler, 20km) 1:18:56
2007 9th European Race Walking Cup (Leamington, 20km) 1:21:13
2007 1st European U23 Championships (Debrecen, 20km) 1:20:43
2007 dnf World Championships (Osaka, 20km)
2008 1st Russian Winter Championships (Adler, 20km) 1:17:55
2008 2nd World Race Cup (Cheboksary, 20km) 1:18:21
2008 1st Olympic Games (Beijing, 20km) 1:19:01
2009 1st Russian Winter Championships (Adler, 20km) 1:17:38
2009 1st Race Walking Challenge (Wuxi, 20km) 1:19:31
2009 1st Race Walking Challenge (Krakow, 10km) 38:11
2009 1st World Championships (Berlin, 20km) 1:18.41
2011 1st Race Walking Challenge (Rio Maior, 20km) 1:18.55
2011 1st Race Walking Challenge (Sesto San Giovanni, 20km) 1:19.43
2011 1st World Championships (Daegu, 20km) 1:19.56
2012 10th World Cup (Saransk, 20 km) 1:21.29
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2009-2012.