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Updated 28 January 2014
Aleksandr MENKOV, Russia (Long Jump)
Born 7 December 1990, Minusinsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai
1.76 / 74 kg
Coach: Sergey Mochalov, Vitaliy Kravchenko
If an athlete says that he is from Krasnoyarsk, the city in Siberia where the average yearly temperature is 1.3o C, your first thought is that he represents a winter sport. But Aleksandr Menkov has never even tried to ski. He chose athletics and his achievements show that it was a right choice.
It was Aleksandr’s older brother, Vladimir, who chose athletics first. Once he took his 8-year-old sibling to the training to try jumping – at that point it was high jumping - and since then they were regularly going to the track together. “I was rather good for my age. I won a silver at the Russian Indoor Junior Championships with 2.13 m and my PB was 2.15 m. But I wasn’t a really promising high jumper as I’m just 1.76 m tall. So I decided to try long jump,” Aleksandr said.
Aleksandr was the first to switch to jumping in sand, his brother made the same move one year later. “My brother is a bit taller than me, but to be competitive in high jump in our country, one needs to clear at least 2.30 m which is a problem with our height. Vladimir saw that I have good results in long jump and decided to join me. However now he is trying bobsleigh, and I stick to athletics,” Menkov explained.
Menkov still does a significant part of his training back home in Krasnoyarsk. “There is an indoor arena in our city, a hotel nearby. There is a Sports College of Olympic Reserve where I used to study. The stadium has been recently renovated. Of course, we can’t work out outdoors too often in our city due to the weather, but we often go to training camps, so that’s not a problem,” Menkov said.
2009 was the first year of long jumping for Aleksandr. His first big competition was the Siberia Indoor Championships, where Menkov took the win with a 7.79m jump. Summer season started off with the second place at the Russian Junior Championships with 7.73m, and then – a huge improvement to 8.16m at the Siberia Championships. This result still stands at the statistic books as the Russian Junior record. “I was overwhelmed after that jump. I experienced a real euphoria about reaching the eight-meter mark! I couldn’t sleep at night for a week probably,” Aleksandr said.
Even more experienced Russian long jumpers don’t produce “over 8m” jumps regularly, so the coaches immediately picked Aleksandr to represent the Team Russia at the first European Team Championships in Leiria. But a lack of international experience resulted in the 6th place (7.78m). Lessons were fast to be learned. In one month at the European Junior Championships Aleksandr was strong and confident. 7.98m was enough to get the gold. And it was also enough to earn him a spot on the team for the Berlin 2009 World Championships without having to compete at the National Trials. But the level of competition in Berlin was yet too high for a 18-year-old jumper and he failed to qualify for the final. “Leiria was my very first international competition. Of course it’s memorable for me. It’s a pity I couldn’t execute my jumps. I tried so hard to treat this competition as any other meeting, but still ended up too nervous. I was very inexperienced at that time. In Berlin the same thing happened. There I felt the pressure of responsibility. Anyway, I liked the competition very much, to my mind, it had a unique atmosphere,” Menkov recalled.
In 2010 Menkov kept leaping over the 8m mark (four times in total, with a seasonal best of 8.10m), but he couldn’t beat his PB and most importantly, couldn’t produce the best results when in mattered - at the Russian Championships. So he was not included in the national team, neither for the Doha World Indoor Championships nor for the Barcelona European Championships.
Important improvements came in 2011. During the indoor season Menkov improved his PB by 1 cm and won the silver at the Russian Indoor Championships. It didn’t get him on the team for the European Indoors, but it was a pleasure to finally be on the national podium.
The outdoor season for Aleksandr started with an impressive winning streak. First place at the World Challenge in Dakar (8.16m). Just in a week – a huge PB of 8.28m in Kalamata (Greece). Being the national season leader Menkov was awarded a ticket to Sweden for the European Team Championships. And in Stockholm he was awarded the gold medal. The result was very satisfying (8.20m), but even more satisfying was the fact that he outperformed the Swede Michel Torneus, experienced Chris Tomlinson from the UK and even the European champion Christian Reif from Germany. “My consistency in that outdoor season came with experience. Me and my coach, we had to learn from our previous mistakes. I had some technical issues with approach and take-off phase that caused hamstring injuries during the previous three winter seasons. In 2011 we finally handled everything properly,” Aleksandr revealed.
The European U23 Championships looked like an easy ride as no one from Menkov’s competitors could reach the 8-meter mark, while he jumped 8.08 m. But it was not as easy as it appeared to be. “During the qualification round my legs were cramping. I had been lucky to produce a good first attempt so that I could get a needed rest. In the final my muscles were fine, but I wasn’t really pleased with my landing technique, even in my winning jump,” Aleksandr said.
Winning in Ostrava, Menkov already knew that he got a wild-card for the World Championships from national coaches. Just like two years before. But this time the outcome was different. He successfully made it to the final and placed sixth with 8.19m. “Before the competition I set myself a goal – to get into the top 6. No, really! It turns out that the mission is accomplished,” Menkov said in the mixed zone. But he didn’t look satisfied at all, as he was certain that he had more in him. And it was true. After Daegu, he placed second at the Diamond League final, in Zürich, and won prestigious competitions in Berlin, Zagreb and Nice.
His second competition of the 2012 indoor season – the “Russian Winter” meeting in Moscow – made Menkov the world leader with 8.24 m. Surprisingly, that day he didn’t feel well at all. “I recently caught a cold, so I had to compete with fever and headache. I’ve been lying in my bed for two days before the competition. Luckily, that win got me a bye into Worlds. I dread competing at the Nationals. There is some kind of a fate – I always get injured there. Maybe it’s not a fate, maybe there are even sorcerers involved,” Menkov explained with no hint of joking.
The Istanbul 2012 World Indoor Championships brought Menkov his first senior international medal – the bronze. But he missed the gold and the silver only by 1 cm. The Russian was leading until the 5th attempt with 8.22 m. But then Henry Frayne and Mauro Da Silva responded with 8.23 m jumps. The last leap of Menkov was huge, but he fouled. It took some time for the happiness about getting that medal to sink in. “I was mostly upset about my last jump. It was so great, if I only didn’t foul it would bring me the win and probably a PB. But this was my strategy – to run the risks after making that leading jump. Now all I have to do is to work for the Olympic success,” Menkov explained in the mixed zone.
That work was done both on and off the track. Menkov was spending time watching the videos of past champions as well as ones of his competitors. “I can’t say that I like the technique of one particular athlete. But I’d single out the Olympic champion from Panama, Irving Saladino. Our techniques have much in common, but there definitely is something for me to work on. It would be great to compete against Saladino one day,” Aleksandr said.
Menkov definitely was hoping to face Saladino at the London Olympics. It was time to get busy winning a ticket to go to the UK. Aleksandr opened his outdoor season 2012 with a win at the Doha Diamond League meeting with 8.22 m followed by second place in Rabat (8.10 m) and third place in Rome (8.17 m). “I prefer competing on the international circuit. There are always a lot of spectators that know athletics very well and cheer for us passionately; the level of competition is high. It’s more exciting than taking part in Russian meets,” Menkov explained.
But in 2012 he finally had some competition on the national level as well. The junior Sergey Morgunov set the Russian junior record of 8.35 m in June improving Menkov’s previous record and becoming the national leader of the season. This time it was he who could escape the National Trials, while Menkov had to head to his least favourite competition and prove his shape. And he was impressive: he only made four attempts and set his season’s best of 8.24m. “It’s always better to do your best during first attempts. I believe there is no need to make all six jumps at each and every competition. I save my six jumps for the most important events of the year. For example, for the Olympics,” Menkov said.
But London turned out to be a disappointment. Aleksandr needed all three attempts to qualify for the final and placed only 11th after jumping only 7.78 m. And there was even no face-off with Saladino, who didn’t get into the final after fouling all three attempts in the qualification.
“It took me a week or so to re-focus and set myself a new goal for the rest of the season - to win the Diamond League trophy. And I did it. Of course, it doesn’t compare with the Olympic medal, but that win certainly made me feel better,” Menkov admitted. It turned out that the Olympic final was the only competition of the outdoor season when the Russian didn’t manage to jump further than 8 metres.
The Diamond League trophy gave Menkov a confidence boost and in 2013 he didn’t miss a single opportunity. He started his indoor campaign by jumping 8.22m at a small regional meeting in Siberia, then he won the Russian Championships with respectable 8.18m and set a personal best of 8.31m at the European Indoor Championships to claim his first international gold in career.
Summer also started with a personal best - 8.31m set at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting in May. And it was only a beginning. 8.39m at the Prefontaine Classics, 8.36 at the European Team Championships and 8.27m at the Birmingham Diamond League event made a series of three straight wins.
Aleksandr was a clear favorite at the World Universiade held in Kazan, Russia. He was leading until the fourth attempt when Mexican Luis Rivera set the national and competition record of 8.46m. Menkov managed to step up his game and also improve his personal best to 8.42, just 4 cm shy of the national record (Leonid Voloshin, 1988), which ironically equalled Rivera’s result, and still placed second.
So the home World Championships Moscow 2013 turned into a re-match between the Russian and the Mexican. Menkov was unstoppable. He finally reached the National Record, breaking it twice during the final - 8.52m in the third attempt and 8.56m in the fifth. Entering the mixed zone after the victorious competition, Aleksandr looked relieved to have fulfilled all the expectations at once. And his first words were: “Oh, I just got lucky!” But after the first emotions receded, he analysed his season: “It’s actually good that I lost in Kazan, it made me more hungry today. I knew that it would be hard for Rivera to replicate his ideal jump that he managed to perform in Kazan, but the level of competition in our event is very high, so anyone could have stepped up. As for the National Record, I knew I had it in me for a long time, and it was the moment to pull it off. I forgot all my injuries and pains today and managed to deal with that usual adrenaline rush.”
But the most important event of the year was still ahead. It wasn’t even the second straight Diamond League victory. It was the birth of Menkov’s first daughter Nika on 27 August. “It is my greatest gift and victory this year. I got to spend a month with my family after the season, but then I got back to work. I do miss my loved ones very much and it kind of affects my training, distracts me in a way. I will probably have to start taking my daughter to training camps soon. Luckily, she is a very calm kid, unlike myself,” the champion revealed in an interview for RusAthletics.com.
Despite having an eventful year on and off the track in 2013, Menkov decided not to skip the indoor season of 2014 and give the World Indoor title a shot. “I want to jump the qualification standard early in the season and make sure I’m competitive. If I don’t feel that I’m in decent shape, it won’t make a sense to go to Sopot. Because I have only one goal - to win,” Aleksandr said.
8.56 NR (2013)
2009: 8.16 NJR; 2010: 8.10; 2011: 8.28, 2012: 8.29, 2013: 8.56 NJR
European Team Championships (Leiria)
European Junior Championships (Novi Sad)
European Team Championships (Stockholm)
European U23 Championships (Ostrava)
World Championships (Daegu)
World Indoor Championships (Istanbul)
Olympic Games (London)
European Indoor Championships (Göteborg)
European Team Championships (Gateshead)
World Universiade (Kazan)
World Championships (Moscow)
Prepared by Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF “Focus on athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2011-2014