Updated 19 July 2012
Yuliya GUSHCHINA, Russia (100/200/400m)
Born: 4 March 1983, Novocherkassk, Rostov region
Lives: Moscow region
174 cm/ 63 kg
Coach: Valentin Maslakov
At 29 years of age, Gushchina already has a long profile. Olympic champion 2008 in 4x100m relay and silver medallist in 4x400m, twice World Indoor champion, medallist at the European champs… This all was achieved thanks to Yuliya’s unusual talent – she is one of the few top athletes who can combine all three flat sprints distances. In different times of her career Gushchina preferred 100, 200 or 400m. Now she comes to the London Olympics as the current World N.3 on 400m.
Yuliya comes from the small Russian town Volgodonsk (she was born in Novocherkassk which is nearby), which is known mainly because of the terrorist attack back in 1999. By this time Gushchina had already left for the regional capital, Rostov-na-Donu.
“My parents in Soviet times used to work at the state company,” Gushchina says. “But in the early 1990-s they were fired, the same as many people in the country. So they had to start their own small private business. Curiously my family had nothing to do with sports. My parents got interested in athletics only after I started to compete.”
Gushchina started athletics at 12, when she got noticed at school competition by local coach Vladimir Drotik. Yuliya was tall and thin, and was visibly faster than any of her fellow girls. Under Drotik, Gushchina progressed fast. At 16 she already moved away from her parents and the coach to the best training centre in the region.
“I had to be responsible, to learn how to take care of myself,” Gushchina recalls that times. “I lived alone in the dorm, together with other girls. That was the time when I met Tonya Krivoshapka, who later became my good friend. I always knew that Tonya was very talented, but she had a hard period and showed her best results a little bit later than I did. Nevertheless, it had nothing to do with our friendship. We can talk hours without a single word about athletics.”
Still in Rostov-na-Donu, Gushchina qualified on 200m to the World Junior Champs 2002, in Kingston, where she was 5th in the semi-final. At the time she combined 200 and 400m, paying less attention to 100m.
“It was long before Usain Bolt set his records, and at the time I thought I was too tall for short sprint,” Gushchina smiled. “I believed a sprinter should be short and muscular. So I tried to focus on 200 m, and ran also 400 m for endurance training.”
One of the things that will always make Yuliya remember her time in Rostov-na-Donu will be a tattoo on her left shoulder. “It is a butterfly. I like them a lot, I have also gold ones – ear rings and pendants. I think butterfly symbolises the sense of freedom, of enjoying life. The tattoo is not temporary, it is forever. To be honest, I am thinking of making another one on my stomach, but I am not sure.”
In 2004 Gushchina met coach Valentin Maslakov, who actually changed her life. Now the head coach of the Russian national team, at the time Maslakov was coaching only sprinters. Gushchina again changed her place to live and moved to a different dorm in Podolsk.
“I had been dreaming about my own flat for years, but I was way too young and inexperienced to be able to actually buy it,” Gushchina said. “But before the Olympics 2008, local authorities in Moscow region offered me a very big discount for a flat in a new house. So finally I had my own place to stay… It was incredible – before sometimes I had no place to leave my bags between the flights to competitions.”
“At the time when I joined them, Maslakov had enough stars in his group,” Gushchina recalls. “My favourite was Galina Malchugina, who already stopped competing several years before me. She specialised on my favourite distance, 200 m, and her running style was so beautiful. I could just sit and watch her running like a beautiful picture. Maslakov back then said: “Yuliya, don’t be shy, you can be better than her.” Curiously, some four years later, Gushchina became Olympic champion in the relay together with Malchugina’s daughter, Yuliya Chermoshanskaya.
In her first years with Maslakov, Gushchina focused primarily on 200m. She was 6th at the World Championships 2005, in Helsinki, and a year later became the silver medallist of the European Championships 2006 in Göteborg. This medal is up to date her only individual podium at the World or European champs.
“This is my pain,” Gushchina comments. “I have plenty of medals at home, but most of them are for the relays. I want to prove that I am good not only on the team but individually, but… It is hard for me to run against athletes from the USA or Jamaica. Maybe it is the goal of my whole career – to win something against them.”
As the time was getting to the Olympics 2008, in Beijing, Gushchina’s coach started to talk about switching to 400m. It seemed evident that on 200m and in the 4x100m relay Yuliya could hardly hope to medal. On the opposite, 4x400m relay was the real medal chance – maybe not for the gold, but for silver or bronze for sure.
“With my head I realised that coach was right,” Gushchina says. “But emotionally I was afraid of running 400m. There was so much pain on this distance. I had to train much more than before, and I was not used to long endurance runs. Of course I did 400m in juniors, but it was on a different level. When we were getting ready to the Olympic season, I really was in pain most of the time. Sometimes I hated my body that could not cope with these volumes.”
The hard work actually paid off. At the Olympic trials Yuliya was 4th on 200m and sensationally won 400m. This meant she qualified to Beijing in two relays!
“I could not believe how I won 400m, it was a huge surprise,” Gushchina smiled. “I thought 50.12 was way too slow for a national champion. Maybe other girls were nervous, and I did not feel any burden of pressure and could show my best.”
The newly crowned national champion, in Beijing Gushchina again proved that she was the best in Russia. She finished 4th in the Olympic 400m final in 50.01, just 0.08 short for the bronze. “I was really happy, it was beyond my expectation,” Gushchina said after the individual final. “To be honest, my goal for the final was not to be the last one. Looking at the PBs, other girls seemed much stronger than me. So I decided to take the risk – and ran first 300 m faster than I usually do. I hoped that on the last 100m I would be able to speed up following my competitors. These last 100m were really the hardest in my life.”
Gushchina appeared to be one of the busiest athletes at the Olympics. After the individual final, she ran the final of 4x100m relay, and the following day 4x400m. And in the short relay together with Chermoshanskaya, Polyakova and Fedoriva, Gushchina became one of the sensations.
It was an amazing coincidence. First the Americans got disqualified in the heats. And then, in the final, the Jamaicans also lost the baton and Russian Yuliya Chermoshanskaya sprinted to the finish line not believing that she was going to be the champion.
“This was the race of my life,” said later Gushchina who ran the third stage. “I cry every time I see the video, I just can’t stop the tears. I think after that final I became a different person. More deep, more independent, maybe. It has nothing to do with star sickness. I know of course that we were lucky, and I admit that any of the Jamaicans is generally faster than any girl of our team. But this is the magic of the relay – we had worked a lot on passing the baton, it was our main bet – and we won. While the Jamaicans and the Americans counted on speed and lost.”
With the Olympic gold around her neck, Gushchina ran in Beijing also the first leg in the 4x400m. She perfectly ran her lap among the leaders, but later Anastasiya Kapachinskaya lost at the finish line to American Sanya Richards. Gushchina was the first who came up to Kapachinskaya after the finish and reassured her that everything was alright.
“I would never blame Nastya,” Yuliya said. “Richards is a great athlete. It is not shameful and quite understandable to lose to her. It is only our fault that the gap between us and the Americans was not big enough before Richards’ and Kapachinskaya’s stage.”
After Beijing, Gushchina’s life changed dramatically. She got plenty of invitations to different talk shows, tried herself as a top model, enjoyed her new car presented personally by the Russian president… Quite logically her sports results started to fade. In 2009 she qualified to the World Championships only on 200m and was eliminated in the semi-final. In April 2010, at the training camp in Portugal, Gushchina injured her thigh. She decided to postpone the surgery till autumn, but all she could achieve in the outdoor season was the 4th place in the 4x100m relay at the European Championships in Barcelona.
In September 2010 Gushchina married her long-time partner and former international 400m runner Ivan Buzolin, who is now the manager of the Russian team. “Our wedding was in style of the 1960’s,” Yuliya smiled. “Ivan even had a red scarf. I really like the music of the 1960’s and I wanted something unusual – not just ordinary white dress and black suit like everybody has.”
A month after her marriage Gushchina had surgery on her thigh in Moscow. “My husband was much more nervous than me,” Yuliya said. “I even did not tell him the exact date of the surgery but he somehow felt it and came to visit me in hospital several hours after I was out of the operating room.”
The rehabilitation went well, but to be on the safe side Gushchina decided in the pre-Olympic 2011 season to focus on sprints – 100 and 200m. This meant that she did put up with the fact that there was no chance to win an individual medal at the World Championships in Daegu.
But with the speed work done in 2011, Gushchina worked on her endurance in winter and already in 2012 seemed to be a much stronger 400m runner than ever. She was second at the Russian trials with the amazing PB 49.28, which is also the third result in the world top-lists.
“When I looked at the screen after the finish line I could not believe my eyes,” Yuliya comments. “I was not even sure that I was theoretically able to run that fast! This all is again thanks to my friend Tonya Krivoshapka. She started her race so fast that I tried to catch the gap and keep up with her pace.”
At the Olympics, in London, Gushchina is again likely to run in both relays, and also 400m. Although she is officially not qualified for 4x100m, there is no doubt that if Yuliya proves her good shape at 400m, coach Maslakov would be eager to place her on the team. During the last pre-Olympic training camp in Moscow Gushchina seemed fully concentrated. And Maslakov joked: “Yuliya does not eat enough, I am so angry! She needs power to run all her races, but I cannot make her eat dinner properly.”
100 m: 11.13 (2006)
200 m: 22.53 (2005)
400 m: 49.28 (2012)
100/200/400 m: 2002: -/23.92/53.26; 2003: -/23.58/51.94; 2004: 11.65/23.06/-; 2005: 11.50/22.53/53.81i; 2006: 11.13/22.53/51.26i; 2007: 11.36/22.75/-; 2008: 11.33/22.58/50.01; 2009: -/22.63/51.06; 2010: 11.46/22.80/52.04i; 2011: 11.30/22.88/52.18; 2012: -/22.95/49.28.
2002 (200) 1st Russian Junior Championships (Kazan) 23.92
2002 (400) 3rd Russian Junior Championships (Kazan) 53.26
2002 (200) sf World Junior Championships (Kingston) 24.12
2003 (200) 1st Russian U23 Championships (Cheboksary) 23.58
2003 (400) 2nd Russian U23 Championships (Cheboksary) 51.94
2003 (200) 5th European U23 Championships (Bydgoszcz) 23.59
2004 (200) 5th Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 23.65
2004 (4x400) 1st European Cup (Bydgoszcz) 3:26.04
2005 (200) 2nd Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 23.46
2005 (200) 1st Russian U23 Championships (Tula) 22.78
2005 (4x100) 1st European Cup (Florence) 42.73
2005 (4x400) 1st European Cup (Florence) 3:23.56
2005 (200) 1st Russian Championships (Tula) 22.62
2005 (200) 6th World Championships (Helsinki) 22.75
2005 (200) 6th World Athletics Final (Monte Carlo) 23.18
2006 (400) 6th Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 52.07
2006 (200) 1st European Champions Clubs Cup (Valencia) 23.09
2006 (4x100) 1st European Champions Clubs Cup (Valencia) 44.04
2006 (100) 1st European Cup (Malaga) 11.13
2006 (4x100) 1st European Cup (Malaga) 43.71
2006 (100) 2nd Russian Championships (Tula) 11.35
2006 (100) 5th European Championships (Göteborg) 11.31
2006 (200) 2nd European Championships (Göteborg) 22.93
2006 (4x100) 1st European Championships (Göteborg) 42.71
2006 (100) 5th World Cup (Athens) 11.39
2006 (200) 4th World Cup (Athens) 22.96
2006 (4x100) 2nd World Cup (Athens) 42.36
2007 (200) 1st Russian Indoor Championships (Volgograd) 23.39
2007 (60) h European Indoor Championships (Birmingham) 7.31
2007 (4x100) 1st European Cup (Munich) 42.78
2007 (100) 5th Russian Championships (Tula) 11.38
2007 (200) 3rd Russian Championships (Tula) 22.97
2008 (400) 3rd Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 51.73
2008 (4x400) 1st World Indoor Championships (Valencia) 3:28.17
2008 (200) 1st European Champions Clubs Cup (Vila Real) 23.04
2008 (4x100) 1st European Champions Clubs Cup (Vila Real) 44.10
2008 (4x100) 1st European Cup (Annecy) 42.80
2008 (4x400) 1st European Cup (Annecy) 3:23.77
2008 (200) 4th Russian Championships (Kazan) 23.05
2008 (400) 1st Russian Championships (Kazan) 50.12
2008 (400) 4th Olympic Games (Beijing) 50.01
2008 (4x100) 1st Olympic Games (Beijing) 42.31
2008 (4x400) 2nd Olympic Games (Beijing) 3:18.82
2008 (200) 7th World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 23.37
2009 (200) 1st Russian Team Championships (Sochi) 22.63
2009 (400) 1st Russian Team Championships (Sochi) 51.11
2009 (200) 1st European Team Championships (Leiria) 23.01
2009 (4x100) 1st European Team Championships (Leiria) 43.35
2009 (200) 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 22.71
2009 (400) 7th Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 51.12
2009 (200) sf World Championships (Berlin) 23.24
2009 (4x100) 4th World Championships (Berlin) 43.00
2010 (400) 6th Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 53.11
2010 (4x100) 1st European Team Championships (Bergen) 42.98
2010 (200) 5th Russian Championships (Saransk) 22.93
2010 (4x100) 4th European Championships (Barcelona) 42.91
2011 (4x100) 2nd European Team Championships (Stockholm) 43.12
2011 (100) 1st Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 11.38
2011 (200) sf World Championships (Daegu) 23.26
2011 (4x100) 6th World Championships (Daegu) 42.93
2012 (400) 2nd Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 51.92
2012 (4x400) 3rd World Indoor Championships (Istanbul) 3:29.55
2012 (400) 1st Russian Team Championships (Sochi) 50.26
2012 (400) 2nd Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 49.28
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2012.