21 AUG 2009 General News 21 August 2009 – Berlin, Germany

Kirdyapkin clinches three-for-three for coach Chegin

Russia's Sergey Kirdyapkin in the men's 50 Kilometres Race Walk in Berlin during the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Getty Images)Russia's Sergey Kirdyapkin in the men's 50 Kilometres Race Walk in Berlin during the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Getty Images) © Copyright
Berlin, GermanyLike the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, Sergey Kirdyapkin collapsed in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate today, his muscles finally giving up on him. But that was only after he crossed the landmark finish of the Men’s 50km Race Walk almost three minutes clear of the field to complete an unprecedented treble for Russia.

Never before in the World Championships or Olympics had one country produced the winners of all three walks. Make that one city. Or one coach, Viktor Chegin.

All three gold medallists – Valeriy Borchin (Men’s 20km), Olga Kaniskina (Women’s 20km) and now Kirdyapkin – are coached by Chegin in Saransk. Nine years ago, when people looked at Kirdyapkin, they saw an 800m runner struggling to get below two minutes. What Chegin saw was a future world-class race walker and converted him.

“When he saw that I didn’t quite have the potential in middle distance he advised me to do race walking,” Kirdyapkin said after regaining the World title he had won in 2005 but lost when he fainted while defending it  two years later, in Osaka.

“Me and my first coach, Aleksey Naumkin, decided to try (race walking) and we followed the system of Viktor Chegin - and now we see that it works,” Kirdyapkin said. “But when I started race walking I didn’t know anything about Viktor Chegin or the results of his athletes.”

Chegin runs one of two race walking training centres in Russia, the other being in Cheboksary. Kirdyapkin explained how it works. “Viktor Chegin created in the Republic of Mordovia, and in (the capital) Saransk, a very special racing school of road racing and race walking, where every kid who wants to do road races or race walking can start in athletics at any age,” Kirdyapkin said.

“He works with the kids and then there is a selection procedure under which he takes the best prospects into his group and trains them under his own system. We also have special support from the head of Mordovia, Nikolay Merkushkin.”

The 29-year-old Kirdyapkin’s triumph was especially pleasing after his 19-year-old wife, Anisya Kirdyapkina, had been upset at narrowly missing a medal in the Women’s 20km Race Walk on Sunday. Kirdyapkina finished fourth and her husband was on a mission. “I was after revenge and that happened today,” Kirdyapkin said.

“We always follow the tactics that our coach advises us to follow. It happened in the same way with Borchin and Kaniskina and today my coach also gave me advice on which tactics to follow. He told me to start slowly then speed up continuously until the end of the race.

“I found it quite difficult towards the end and, when I finished, my muscles stopped and I could not move. I want to thank my coach because the last four years were not very good for me and he helped me to find myself and to win this race.”

Kirdyapkin has had a rollercoaster career, his two World Championships gold medals standing way ahead of his next best accomplishments – 2nd place in the 2005 European Cup and 6th in the 2008 World Race Walking Cup. Too often he has given the impression of a dead man walking, failing to finish not only in Osaka but in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Unlike Borchin and Kaniskina, who were preselected, Kirdyapkin had to qualify and, needing to win the Russian title in Cheboksary in June to gain his place, he succeeded in doing so. Still, though, he came to Berlin as the Russian No.2, behind World Record holder Denis Nizhegorodov, who failed to finish today.

When Kirdyapkin wins, he wins well. In Helsinki, in 2005, he took the title by 3min 17sec. Today he won by 2:41. Of his country’s sweep of the gold medals, he said: “It is the first time in history and I am very happy it is the Russian team who made this unique event.

“Concerning the toughest moment of the race, it was when I realised that Nizhegorodov and two Australian walkers (Luke Adams and Jared Tallent) were far in front of me. Then I felt the Norwegian (silver medallist Trond Nymark) was practically stepping on my feet from behind and I had to speed up. That was really tough but in the end it all worked out for me.”

A recreational athlete in his teenage years, Kirdyapkin moved from his native Insar to Saransk in 1997 to take a degree in chemistry at the local university. It was not until he graduated in 2000 that he switched from middle distance running to race walking.

And, like Berlin itself, the new model has replaced the old to much better effect.

David Powell for the IAAF