21 AUG 2008 General News

Kaniskina builds on Osaka success and walks to Olympic record

Olga Kaniskina: world 20km walk champion last year, Olympic champion this year (Getty Images)Olga Kaniskina: world 20km walk champion last year, Olympic champion this year (Getty Images) © Copyright

The head of the Mordovian government Nikolay Merkushkin may wish he had never thought of the idea of rewarding Olga Kaniskina after her IAAF World Championships win in Osaka. On that occasion she was given the keys to a two-room apartment in her home town of Saransk, capital of Mordovia, so what can she expect this time round?

What prize?

Before she came out to Beijing, Kaniskina asked the president what an Olympic victory was worth, but he was clearly expecting her to do well because this time he was not ready to commit himself: “I haven’t thought about it yet,” was the answer.

Had she heard from him after her victory on a rainy morning in Beijing? “No, but I’ll learn what he is going to give me when I get back home,” she said.

One call she did get was from her brother who is a kind of talisman to the 23-year-old. He sent her a good luck message before her win in Osaka and this morning when she woke up, a new message was waiting: “He wished me good luck,” she said. “But the good-luck charm does not always work,” she explained. “Sometimes he’s abrasive, but he is special to me and it’s important for me to hear from him.”

Apart from that all the family – “I’ve got an extensive one” – were watching on television back home.

Mathematics is the future

Certainly, if you are going to be a race walker, Saransk, around 650km east of Moscow, is one of the best places in Russia to come from. It has one of the only two Olympic race walking centres in Russia – the other is Cherboksary – and last year an indoor track and field facility was opened as well as a race-walking course in a park area.

Kaniskina is the only athlete in her family, but her brother practised Greco-Roman wrestling and an uncle was a boxer. She has been race walking for ten years, but has only trained seriously for the last four. She is coached by Vladimir Chegin, a man she attributes all her success to.

In the meantime, her other interest, mathematics, is on hold. She is on sabbatical from the state university of Mordovia where she is in her fourth year, but her studies have taken a back seat of late: “My professors know that I take a serious approach to my studies, but at the moment I only work when I have time. But in the future I shall devote my life to mathematics. There is no doubt about that,” she said.

Amongst her hobbies, she cites reading old French authors as one of her favourite pastimes.

One thing that Kaniskina appreciated was the torrential rain that fell during the walk.

After days of hot, humid weather, the rain came as a relief. Last year in Osaka she found it too hot, “but the weather was much better here,” she commented.

Wanted to walk faster

Nonetheless, despite demolishing the Olympic record by over two and a half minutes, she was “disappointed with the time. The problem was that I could not go as fast as I wanted, but it was enough under the circumstances,” she said.

Two years ago, the novice Russian captured silver at the European Championships in Gothenburg. Then she went one better at the World Championships. Just how important was the win in Osaka as a prelude to events in Beijing?

“The one thing winning the World championships gave me was confidence,” she said. “However, winning a global title is easier than holding it, but it acts as a springboard for working harder. It makes you more determined to hang on to what you’ve got.”

Now that she has Olympic gold safely around her neck, she will take some time to take a look around Beijing before heading off back home for the meeting with the president.

Maybe a car would not be a bad idea to go with the flat? “No, I don’t need a car,” said Kaniskina. “I prefer to walk.”

Michael Butcher for the IAAF