A sickly child Yuliya Zarudneva used to regularly catch colds and flu viruses, so in an effort to combat the problem her father came up with an interesting solution.
He insisted she take more exercise and asked her to run daily the 2km round trip from their home in the southern Russian city of Volgograd to the River Volga.
Zarudneva carried out the request and the illnesses disappeared and now a little under two decades later the Russian steeplechaser has celebrated her finest ever season, landing the European crown in Barcelona and the IAAF VTB/Bank Continental Cup title here in Split.
Her triumph yesterday showed how the 24-year-old has matured into one of the world’s finest at her craft. Skilled technically over the barriers she controlled the race beautifully from the front slowly injecting the pace at key moments of the race before pulling clear of Samsung Diamond League winner Milcah Chemos of Kenya in the latter stages to win for Europe in a competition record 9:25.46.
“Of course the European Championships was a really big event but I’m really pleased to win this event because it is the first time I have won this title,” added Zarudneva.
“I was a little bit surprised because last night I had a bad head and a sore throat and I didn’t sleep very well.”
Front run - a comfortable tactics
When asked whether it was a cold Zarudneva said she thought it was but then added it is a rare instance of a cold these days – certainly when compared to her younger days.
What was eye-catching about the performance in the Croatian seaport was her confidence to take the race by the scruff of the neck from the front. So is this her preferred tactic?
“I’m comfortable in the front position because I can control the race however I want to,” she added.
As a child she dreamt of being a triple jumper because her idol was fellow Volgograd resident Tatyana Lebedeva, the three-time former World triple jump gold medallist.
Yet the daughter of two club standard middle-distance athletes followed in their footsteps and made the Russian team for the 2005 European Junior Championships in the 800m. There she exited the heats of the 800m before finishing a respectable eighth in the European Cross Country Championships in Holland later that year.
The following year she took time away from the sport to give birth to her daughter, Lennochke, who is now aged four, but vowed to take up the steeplechase in the hope of returning to the Russian team. And the move has worked.
Daughter is motivation for success
In 2008 she landed the Russian Under-23 title for her new discipline, but it was her progress the following year that was simply astounding as she improved her personal best from the previous season by 46 seconds to record 9:08.39 en route to silver behind Marta Dominguez at the World Championships in Berlin. Earlier this summer she then avenged that defeat to the Spaniard by beating her to gold at the European Championships in Barcelona.
Besides the personal glory Zarudneva has another special reason to find motivation to succeed and that is because of her daughter.
“I am often away from her because I’m competing or training, so I want her to make me feel proud of me. She is a big inspiration,” added Zarudneva, who is coached by Mikhail Kuznetsov.
And for next season?
“It is all about winning the World Championships,” she adds.
Indeed, she very may well go on the achieve that target and if she does Zarudneva might well reflect on those 2km runs to the River Volga and back as being pivotal to her future success.
Steve Landells for the IAAF