Updated 31 July 2008
Yuliya GOLUBCHIKOVA, Russia (Pole Vault)
Born: 27 March 1983, Moscow
1.73m / 54kg
Coach: Oleg Diazdinov
Yuliya Golubchikova started her career in the same way that Russia’s two major women Pole Vault stars, Yelena Isinbayeva and Svetlana Feofanova, began theirs. She dedicated more than six years to gymnastics, achieving good results, but switched to Pole Vault one day when she was invited to try it and thought: “Why not?”
Evgeny Bondarenko, the present coach of ex-World record holder Feofanova, was also Golubchikova’s first Pole Vault coach. Her early results came even faster than Feofanova’s and, at 15, she jumped 3.70m. But the promising start hit the buffers and, for the next two years, she was unable to improve by even one centimetre.
By contrast, Feofanova gained a minimum 20cm a year so it was small wonder that Bondarenko directed all his attention towards her. At 17 Golubchikova had to train alone for the whole season in Moscow while her coach was travelling abroad with Feofanova.
The easy option would have been to finish with sports, think about getting an education, and choose another way in life. But Golubchikova chose, in December 2001, to change her coach.
Her new coach, Oleg Diazdinov, had been practising only for a year. But together they progressed and, in January 2002, Golubchikova improved her PB to 4.00m. Her 2002 outdoor season went even better. She cleared 4.35m and finished second at the World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica.
This seemed to be her breakthrough, the start of the new life and career. On a wave of success, she returned home but, unexpectedly, she decided to extend her season to one more event – a meeting in Finland. But, in one of the jumps, she fell on her neck and broke a neck vertebra.
With such an injury any movement may be fatal and, for two days, Golubchikova had to stay at the local hospital in Finland. Not before long, the famous Russian pole vaulter, Radion Gataullin, who was Golubchikova’s manager, decided to transport her to St. Petersburg by ambulance. There Diazdinov was already waiting and by another ambulance took her home to Moscow.
The choice of the doctors was critically important. Had they made the slightest mistake during surgery, Golubchikova would never have been able to walk again, let alone jump. The two vertebrae were fixed just by a wire. This was the only way to save the mobility of the neck and the chance for a future in sports. “I did not realise back then how serious the situation was,” Golubchikova said. “I thought – ok, I have to stay a little bit in bed, but soon I will go out and start training. The most peculiar thing is that it turned out this way.”
After three months’ treatment Golubchikova ignored the recommendation of the doctors to continue medication and started training. This is her character – to go forward despite the difficulties, despite the common sense. “I am not sure I would behave the same way now,” she said. “But, back then, I was not afraid at all. I had never had any injuries in my life before. I did not think this could be dangerous.”
During her three months out Golubchikova put on ten kilos but, after a month of training, they were gone. The surgery took place in September but, come the summer, Golubchikova managed to clear 4.30m.
However, for the next two years she could not raise the bar any higher. She could jump 4.30m in any shape, in any weather conditions, but once the bar was just a little bit higher, all technique was gone. “I even thought of giving up sports,” she said. “I was travelling alone, without a coach, as the organisers hardly covered even my own expenses.
“Just imagine – being abroad, alone, without a foreign language, and with huge poles. Now I cannot understand how I managed to survive, to save all my belongings and return home. I was thinking of stopping. Patience cannot be endless.” But Diazdinov insisted: “You will come to your result. You will definitely come. You just need more time and more practice than others. You are special.”
And the result came, starting from the winter of 2007 - 4.70m indoors at the Moscow Championships, the win with 4.65m at the Russian Indoors, and finally the biggest success in her career, the silver medal from the European Indoor Championships, with a PB 4.71m.
“Speaking about physical conditions, nothing changed for me,” Golubchikova said. “I was physically ready for this result years ago. My main problem lies in psychology. When I lose, I lose first of all to myself. You know, for example, most athletes psychologically lose to Isinbayeva before the start. Even when she jumps 4.66m, like in 2007 in Ostrava, and there are several people on the sector ready to jump higher, nobody can perform the right jump in the right moment. It is not the story about me. My emotions are only between me and the bar, no matter who are the competitors.”
The 2007 World Championships, in Osaka, was the first major outdoor tournament for Golubchikova. She finished 6th (4.65m) but had the chance to be higher: “I could have jumped higher in Osaka, but I spent too much emotion on the third jump at 4.45m,” she said. “I’ll never forget how I was standing out there and thinking: ‘That’s all, just one more jump and you go home.’ I managed it but too much energy was gone. I even cried for the whole of the next night in Osaka remembering this jump.”
The 2008 indoor season was difficult for Golubchikova. She did not qualify for the World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, being only third at the Russian Championships with 4.60m. But only four days later, in Athens, she won with a new PB and world leading mark (4.75m). How can the world leader not qualify for the World Championships? This is again the story about Golubchikova and her psychology.
“At the Russian Championships, I had to be first to qualify,” she said. “Yelena Isinbayeva was released from the trials, so we had only one place left. And there were five athletes more or less equal. I had no room for a mistake and this turned out to be too much pressure.”
Golubchikova’s 4.75m is, in a way, unique, as it was the 14th jump of the day for her. She had problems on every height starting from 4.40m up to 4.65, but cleared 4.70 on the first jump, 4.75 on the third.
“This is OK for me,” she said. “I need to jump more to stay calm. But in Athens the thing was also in the pole. I have been trying new poles this season and still I am not quite used to them.” She used the new poles up to 4.60m then returned to the old one but, because the old poles are softer, she believes that 4.75 is the maximum that she can jump with them.
She made 17 jumps overall in Athens, attempting 4.80m. Only Isinbayeva, Feofanova, American Jennifer Stuczynski, and Poland’s Monika Pyrek jumped higher last year.
“Last season, when I was in best shape, I jumped 4.50 in training and 4.70m in competition,” Golubchikova said on her perspective for the summer season. “Recently, in the last four training sessions, I was jumping 4.70m and quite confidently. So I think I may hope for a minimum of 4.80m. I know I am ready for it.”
Going into the Olympics, Golubchikova’s summer season has been inconsistent. On the one hand, she improved her outdoor PB by 3cm to 4.73 for victory at the European Cup in Annecy, France. On the other hand, she has produced several disappointing performances below 4.60.
However, the main goal – to qualify for the Olympics – was achieved. At the national trials, in Kazan, 4.65 was enough for Yuliya to secure second place and an Olympic spot. “I was so happy,” she said. “I could not believe it. I thought I would need to jump a minimum 4.70, but as my main competitors Tatyana Polnova, Aleksandra Kiryashova and Anastasiya Shvedova failed earlier, 4.65 turned out to be enough.
“Generally, I am always a bit afraid of big competitions where you don’t have any room for mistakes. If it was my choice, I would cancel all national trials and pick the team just by season’s bests,” she said, laughing. “But the main thing is that I managed to control myself and jump in Kazan exactly as high as I needed.”
At her last pre-Olympic event, the Herculis meeting in Monaco, Golubchikova jumped 4.71 and finished second to Isinbayeva. “This gives me confidence,” she said. “I won’t object if the Olympic podium is the same as in Monaco!”
4.73 (2008); 4.75i (2008)
2002: 4.35; 2003: 4.30; 2004: 4.30; 2005: 4.40; 2006: 4.60; 2007: 4.70/4.71i; 2008: 4.73/4.75i.
2002 2nd World Junior Championships (Kingston) 4.30
2005 9th Universiade (Izmir) 4.00
2007 2nd European Indoor Championships (Birmingham) 4.71
2007 7th European Cup Super League (Munich) 4.30
2007 2nd Russian Championships (Tula) 4.70
2007 6th World Championships (Osaka) 4.65
2007 5th World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 4.60
2008 3rd Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 4.60
2008 1st Athina 2008 Permit meeting 4.75
2008 1st European Cup Super League (Annecy) 4.73
2008 2nd Russian Championships (Kazan) 4.65
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008