Updated 17 July 2012
Yuliya ZARIPOVA (nee ZARUDNEVA), Russia
(3000 m Steeplechase)
Born: 26 April 1986, Svetliy Yar, Volgograd region
Coach: Mikhail Kuznetsov
“Coming from the shade” – this would be the best motto for Zaripova’s career who in two years after childbirth became one of the leading world steeplechase runners. Starting her career on 800m, she tried also cross country running and 1500m before she found her vocation on the steeple.
Yuliya Zaripova was born in the family of a coach and a bookkeeper in a small town, Svetliy Yar, not far from Volgograd. Athletics was a natural choice for Yuliya and her sister Viktoria, as their father was coaching a group of kids. By 15 Zarudneva became one of the most promising young athletes in the region.
“With my father, we were not only running,” Zaripova recalls. “I was also doing long and high jump, even shot putting! He believes this is the basis of physical fitness any athlete should have, regardless of the future specialization. This in the tradition of the Russian coaching school, and I am very grateful to my Dad. Even now, after so many years, I feel like I have the basis which some other athletes lack.”
After graduating from the secondary school, Zaripova had to make a choice if athletics could be her future career. The knowledge of her father was no longer enough for her to progress. At this point Yuliya together with her sister moved to Volgograd to train on 800m with one of the best known Russian coaches Gennadiy Naumov.
“His best athlete was the Olympic champion-1992 in 3000m Yelena Romanova,” Zaripova explains. “For us, with my sister, it was just a different level. New people, new life in a new city, without parents… I think the main thing Naumov did is he made me believe in myself. Before I was kind of shy and lacked self-confidence. Sadly Naumov did not have much time for anything else… Soon I got married, gave birth to my daughter Lena, and while I was pregnant my coach passed away…”
Just at 21, left without coach and out of the national team – this was a real challenge for Zaripova. The blows of fate continued when her supposedly new coach, Olympic champion Yelena Romanova, also died right before their first training…
“It’s hard for me to recall those times,” Zaripova sighs. “Naumov was for me one of the closest people in this world. I am not sure he would have liked me to train with Romanova, but… After his death, she took over his group of athletes. I was going to join them, at least at the very beginning. But when I came to my first training after the childbirth, I learnt that Romanova was also dead…”
Maybe 99 athletes out of 100 would end their career in such circumstances. But Zaripova, even with a small daughter and without coach, still believed some day she would be a champion. Soon she found a person who could make her dream come true. The coach Mikhail Kuznetsov saw in Yuliya a unique talent for steeplechase running.
“To be honest, I was forced by circumstances to make the decision to leave my favorite 800m distance,” Zaripova explains. “The competition on 800m in Russia was too high for me to make the national team. And I needed it as soon as possible because only being on the team I could get the financial support and make a living.”
The choice for Zaripova was between 1500m and the steeple. Having tried both in trainings, she got 100 percent sure that her future was on the longer distance.
“Running the hurdles seemed more interesting than just flat,” Zaripova says. “I enjoyed the change of rhythm, and I’ve always liked learning something new. I think I chose the steeple with my soul!”
As hard times went on, Yuliya divorced her husband and had to leave her small daughter Lena to her parents, while being constantly away on the training camps. This all paid off when, in 2009, she sensationally became the silver medalist of the World Championships, in Berlin.
“Although everybody considered the favorite the World record holder and Olympic champion Gulnara Galkina-Samitova, I always knew I could not be worse,” Zaripova smiles. “Surprisingly, I feared the Spanish Marta Dominguez even more than Galkina-Samitova. And maybe my fears just materialised when I could not speed up at the finish line and let Dominguez be the first.”
This medal made Zaripova not just a member, but a leader of the Russian national team. With surprising confidence for a not quite experienced young athlete, she went on with victories at the European Team championships in Bergen and a strong DN Galan Grand-Prix in Sweden. “I think it’s all thanks to my character,” Zaripova smiled. “If I want something really badly, I would do everything to achieve it. And also I am always thinking about my small daughter who, because of sports, cannot see her mom every day… She is my motivation to prove that this sacrifice was not in vain.”
Before the European Championships in Barcelona 2010, Zaripova faced more hard times. At the Diamond League stage in Eugene she hurt her heel when jumping over the hurdle and could not finish the distance. Several days before the national trials for the Europeans, this injury could have been a small catastrophe.
Fortunately for Zaripova, the coaches’ council released her from the trials. Yuliya had time to recover and for the first time in her life came to the Championships in the role of a hot favorite.
“I was dreaming about the Barcelona gold, I did not want any other medal,” Zaripova smiled. “When I was leaving home, my daughter asked me: “Mom, please, bring me the gold medal!” And how could I disappoint my child?! I think my main mistake before Berlin was that I sometimes thought that Dominguez was stronger than me. For the second time, I was not going to repeat this. Even knowing that Marta would be competing at home, I never let myself even think that I could lose to her.”
In Barcelona, Zaripova realised her plan perfectly. She overtook Dominguez on the final stretch and won the first major international title in her career.
“The following night I watched the video of the race twice,” Zaripova recalled. “And even when watching it, I was afraid to lose! Let alone the feeling I experienced back then on the track! I still cannot believe I really did it, that it’s me who is the European champion, the World Championships medalist… For myself I always remain a small girl who was dreaming to be as strong as people from the TV screen.”
What made the Barcelona triumph even more special for Zaripova was the victory of her close friend, the 800m runner Mariya Savinova. “We started our careers together on 800m, but became really good friends in the last couple of years,” Zaripova explains. “In Barcelona we shared a room in the hotel, and won our gold medals on the same day. I think all the people in the doping control room hated me when I was cheering for Masha so loudly! And afterwards, back in the hotel, we were so full of emotions that we could not stop chatting till 3 a.m.”
Zaripova capped off her great season at the Continental Cup in Split, taking a close win for the Europe Team in 9:25.46 over her African rival Milcah Chemos.
As fate seemed to repay Zaripova for her earlier hard times, at the end of 2010 she married middle distance runner Ildar Zaripov and changed her last name to her husband’s.
“We met each other a couple of years ago when Ildar was looking for someone to compete for his team in the military competition,” Yuliya recalls. “He wrote me on the Internet, and since then we have been chatting and found that we had a lot in common. Finally Ildar invited me to a small vacation in Egypt, where he proposed.”
With the new family-name Zaripova did not lose her inspiration for running. She did only one steeple in 2011 before the World championships, but easily won the Russian championships over her long-time rival Gulnara Galkina-Samitova, who placed 4th.
“Gulnara is coming back after childbirth, and to be honest I did not think she would be my only competitor,” Zaripova admitted. “Lyudmila Kuzmina, who in the end came second, trains in the same group with me, and I knew that she was also very strong. I planned to run around 9:20 at the trials, but 9:23 is also ok, as it was quite an easy run for me. I sped up only on the last 200 m, and had plenty of energy left after the finish line.”
Running only one steeplechase and one 1500m before the World Champs, Zaripova came to Daegu fresh and healthy. “I got sick after the start of the season, so I did not compete anywhere. But I am quite sure that in Daegu I’ll be on the peak. There are lots of new girls who were very good in steeple this season, I’m sure it will be an interesting fight there,” she stated before travelling to Korea.
However what happened in Daegu on the steeple distance one cannot call fight. Zaripova was leading from the very start and till the finish line. At no point of the race did her position look beatable. Maybe only pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva on the peak of her shape could win so easily.
“I was afraid of the Kenyan runners,” Zaripova said after the finish. “They have a bit strange technique of jumping over the hurdles, waving their hands and legs. So I was scared they could accidentally hit me. It was more safe to run in front of the group in my own pace.”
Zaripova’s pace was really high, as in Daegu she set her all-time PB – 9:07.03. “I could run even faster if I had to. But there was no pressure at the finish line, so I relaxed a little bit,” Zaripova smiled.
Yuliya found her perfect pacemaker the following year, at the Russian Olympic trials in Cheboksary. Her main rival, Gulnara Galkina-Samitova agreed to pace Yuliya for the first kilometre. Zaripova posted the third best result in her career – 9:09.99.
“I asked Gulya right before the start if she did not mind to run the first km a bit faster,” Yuliya told the press after the finish. “I am very grateful that she agreed. After the first km I took the lead as it would not be fair to run after her the whole race and then win on the finish line. In the end, I was first, Gulya second – so our tactics did pay off.”
The win in steeple was not enough for Zaripova in Cheboksary. A day later, she ran 1500 m and in the heat set her PB – 4:01.70. Yiliya qualified to the final but did not start there, as she left for the training camp in Kislovodsk.
“I think the Olympic champion in London will have to beat the World record,” Gulnara Galkina suggested and Zaripova agreed. Her perfect time on the 1500 m shows that the record is quite possible.
“I never stop,” says Zaripova about her character. And now she proves that it’s true. Only at the very start of her peak on the steeple event, Zaripova already thinks about changing specialisation again.
“My dream is to run a marathon,” Zaripova smiles. “I am not afraid of new things, I want to try everything. Of course I won’t change the distance now, when my success just came. But some time later I would definitely move. Because, as I like to say, in order to stay alive one cannot stand still.”
800m: 2:05.44 (2005)
1500m: 4:01.70 (2012)
3000m SC: 9:07.03 (2011)
800/1500/3000SC: 2004: 2:10.16/-/-; 2005: 2:05.44/-/-; 2006: -/-/-; 2007: -/-/-; 2008: -/4:16.39/ 9:54.9; 2009: -/4:04.59/ 9:08.39; 2010: -/ 4:10.50/ 9:17.57; 2011: -/4:07.01/9:07.03; 2012: -/4:01.70/9:09.99.
2005 2nd (800m) Russian Indoor Junior Championships (Saransk) 2:08.75
2005 h (800m) European Junior Championships (Kaunas) 2:09.49
2005 3rd (800m) Russian Junior Championships (Tula) 2:05.44
2005 8th (Cross) European Junior Cross Championships (Tilburg) 15:47
2008 6th (3000m SC) Russian Championships (Kazan) 9:55.42
2008 3rd (Cross) European U23 Cross Country Cup (Oostende) 21:24
2009 1st (3000) Russian Indoor Championships (Moscow) 8:54.50
2009 7th (3000) European Indoor Championships (Torino) 8:58.55
2009 1st (3000m SC) Russian Team Championships (Sochi) 9:34.47
2009 1st (3000m SC) Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 9:13.18
2009 2nd (3000m SC) World Championships (Berlin) 9:08.39
2010 1st (3000m SC) European Team Championships (Bergen) 9:23.00
2010 1st (3000mSC) European Championships (Barcelona) 9:17.57
2010 1st (3000m SC) World Cup (Split) 9:25.46
2011 1st (3000m SC) Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 9:23.82
2011 1st (3000m SC) World Championships (Daegu) 9:07.03
2012 1st (3000m SC) Russian Championships (Cheboksary) 9:09.99
Prepared by Natalia Maryanchik for IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2012.