Russian long jumper Darya Klishina, at just 20 years of age, can already boast many accomplishments, including the titles of World Youth and European Junior champion, and the gold medal from the 2011 European Indoors, in Paris. But Klishina’s fame in her own country comes not from her sporting triumphs; based on the results of an online poll, Klishina was declared “The sexiest Russian female athlete of the year.”
This was not by chance – Klishina is doing in the media sphere something her fellow athletes either cannot or feel shy of doing. But Klishina poses almost nude for men’s magazines, gives outright interviews and… still long jumps better than anybody in Russia in her age group.
“I would never miss a single training for a photo shoot or an interview,” Klishina explains. “Athletics is a priority for me. But I believe my PR activities are also necessary. I want to make my sport more popular, and unfortunately it is impossible if you only jump. I cannot say that I love all this media attention, but I recognise it as a part of my job as an athlete.”
Now being a star is really Klishina’s job: this spring, she signed a contract with global marketing agency IMG. Klishina is the first Russian athlete ever to work with IMG, which specialises mainly in tennis and golf players.
“I am very proud that I am now a part of the IMG team, and hope that, with their help, I would progress both as an athlete and as a public person,” Klishina said.
With her great looks and excellent results, Klishina appears to be a new leader in Russian athletics. While Yelena Isinbayeva is now struggling to make a comeback, Klishina debuts at the World Championships in Daegu with a confident No. 2 ranking in the seasonal world lists and a personal best of 7.05m.
Track career begins at 11
This all started nine years ago in the Russian town of Tver, 135km from Moscow. Klishina’s family was never involved in professional sports, although her father – now a manager – high jumped 2.15m in his youth. Her mother worked as laboratory assistant at one of the scientific institutes. Klishina started her sports career with volleyball – she was tall and fast, and did well in the sport. But after four years, at 11, Klishina changed to athletics.
“My father thought that an individual sport would be more suited to my character. I started, as most of the Russian kids, with heptathlon, but soon it became evident that shot put was definitely not for me,” Klishina laughs. “I ran sprints and long jumped, till a year later my present coach, Olga Shemigon, noticed me at one of the regional competitions.”
At just 13, Klishina had to leave her parents and go to Moscow for training. She was the first top-class long jumper in Shemigon’s coaching career – but Olga immediately understood that hers was an outstanding talent.
“I did not really have a choice – I wanted to progress, and it was possible only in Moscow with Olga,” Klishina says. “Of course it was hard in the beginning. But I was always a self-reliant person, and moreover, I very quickly fell in love with Moscow. I adore its fast rhythm, where there is always something happening and lots of places to see. I cannot sit still, I always run, am always in a hurry, and for me Moscow is a great city. When I come to Tver I get bored.."
“I started renting a flat in Moscow since I graduated from school, and feel very comfortable to live on my own. I do miss my parents, but I can always come to see them on the weekend,” Klishina continues.
On the long jump runway, Klishina was never bored. At just 15, two years after the start of her professional career, she won the Russian Youth Championships with 6.33m, and also the European Junior Champions Clubs Cup in Moscow, competing with athletes several years older than she.
The rest looked like a fairy tale – from year to year Klishina was reaping gold medals from all the main competitions. The World Youth, European Juniors and multiple national titles in different age groups… In 2010, Klishina set the Russian junior indoor record with 6.87m, missing by just one (!) cm the World All-time best of German Heike Drechsler. She debuted in the senior ranks at the World Indoors in Doha, but with a 6.62m jump remained only fifth.
The following summer, Klishina jumped over seven metres for the first time in her career; her 7.03m mark, set at the Znamenskiy Memorial, became another national junior record for Klishina.
“In Zhukovskiy, I was 13 cm before the board when I jumped,” Klishina sighs. “When I saw the video I was about to cry – my jump could have been so much farther. Unfortunately, the run up is still a main problem for me. I usually cannot jump exactly from the board, and steal precious centimetres from myself.”
“With her sports talent and amazing looks, I hope Darya could be the new face of world athletics. She has the potential to break the World record,” said back then in Zhukovskiy Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, former World record holder in long jump and now first vice president of the All-Russia athletic federation.
In spite of all the glory, the main goal in 2010 for Klishina was not achieved. At the national trials, in Saransk, she was only fifth with a 6.73m jump and did not qualify for the European Championships, in Barcelona.
“I did not stand the pressure,” Klishina admits. “Everybody was talking about my trip to Barcelona as if it was already a fact. But for me, the trials in Saransk were the first senior national outdoor championships ever! I felt like my head and my legs existed separately from each other, and was so nervous that I could not relax and just perform my best jump. I still lack the experience, so competing at the commercial meets like the Diamond League stages psychologically seems much easier.”
First senior success at 2011 European Indoors
Klishina broke this psychological barrier already the following winter – in 2011, she became the European Indoor Champion.
“Not a huge achievement, but I needed this title to feel like I have won something in the seniors,” Klishina concluded.
Her winning streak continued in the summer, with victories at the European Team Championships and the European U23 Championships, where she set another PB – 7.05m.
“To be honest, before the competition I was thinking more about qualifying for Daegu than about the PB,” Klishina smiled. “The team management had promised me the ticket to Korea if I won in Ostrava with a good result. I am very happy that I managed to jump my PB – this proves I still progress.”
Faithful to her commitment to make athletics more popular, Klishina finds time for PR even in the process of preparation for the World Championships. At the end of June, she travelled to London and saw several matches at the Wimbledon tennis championships.
“We exchanged a few words with Maria Sharapova, who is also an IMG athlete,” Klishina says. “I love tennis, and sometimes play it at my trainings. I had business talks with my managers in London, and combined it with visiting Wimbledon.”
Was she ever asked to be a top model? “Plenty of times!” Darya laughs. “People called me, wrote me letters, invited me to different castings – but I always said “no.” I cannot imagine my life without athletics. I love moving, running, achieving my goals, and just walking on the catwalk is definitely not what I want.”
Natalia Maryanchik for the IAAF
Ed Note: This feature was prepared for the IAAF’s Focus on Athletes Project. Click here for more profiles. Additional profiles will added and updated regularly as the World Championships in Daegu approach.