In January 2009, 18-year-old Darya Klishina, the reigning world youth long jump champion, was at the CSKA Indoor Arena in Moscow, absorbing every word being spoken by long jump world record-holder Mike Powell at a master class.
For years later, at the same venue, Klishina was helping another long jump world record-holder, Galina Chistyakova, to host a similar master class for the next generation of athletics stars.
During that time, Klishina evolved from a prodigious youth to a powerhouse, one of the most consistent jumpers in the world. She has jumped at least 6.90m every year since 2010 and was ranked in the top 10 in the world every season, except for 2012.
She has a 7.05m personal best and has won gold medals at the IAAF World Youth Championships, European Junior Championships, European Under-23 Championships and two at the European Indoor Champions. But she is yet to triumph at the senior level on the global stage.
Beijing could be the place where she finally fixes that.
Klishina doesn’t like making predictions for upcoming championships, but she is certain that serious changes made coming into this season has set her up for big things.
She came to athletics from volleyball, at the age of 11. Just two years later she moved from her native Tver to Moscow to train with Olga Shemigon all on her own. This move marked the beginning of Klishina’s professional career and the start of a learning curve, for both the athlete and her young coach.
Eventful years followed. She won the world youth title at 16 with a respectable 6.47m jump, the European junior title at 18 with a personal best of 6.80m, and an improvement of the Russian junior record to 7.03m the following year at the 2010 Znamensky Memorial.
Klishina was attracting attention not only with her performances, but also with her appearance. Soon she became one of the most sought-after personalities in Russian athletics.
Coming into the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Klishina was second on the world list with 7.05m, but a foot injury sustained in the final shattered her dreams. She jumped through pain and tears to finish seventh with 6.50m. For the first time in her career, Klishina had to undergo surgery.
Her rehab went well and she didn’t even miss the following indoor season, but her next two seasons did not go to plan. In one of the most competitive events in Russia, Klishina couldn’t make the Olympic team in 2012. And in 2013, she missed out on the home World Championships podium, placing seventh in Moscow.
Something had to change.
Just as she had done 10 years prior, Klishina left home all on her own, only this time for a more distant destination. IMG, her management group, offered her the opportunity to work at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida with coach Loren Seagrave.
“I decided to go there for two months to see how it works out, and those two months flew by so fast,” said Klishina. “It’s not very typical for me, because normally even at the warm-weather training camps, when all the Russian team is around, I’d be ready to pack and head home after just four days.”
Klishina admits that it wasn’t the immediate improvement that made her return to Florida full-time in preparation for the following season; it was mostly the mental comfort and good atmosphere. The year-round warm weather and proximity to the ocean might have helped, as well.
“I didn’t have thoughts about having to go to training,” she said. “I was actually looking forward to it and enjoying every session, that’s why time flew by so fast.”
Over the years of work with her long-time coach Shemigon, Klishina almost perfected the form of her actual jump. Seagrave agreed on that too after their first jumping session. The approach is where the most improvements have been made over the last year.
“We are trying to make the last steps before the board quicker and to maintain the speed while planting the foot,” said Klishina. “I’ve had some ups and downs this season, because it takes more time for muscles to adopt new movements after years of being used to performing in a different manner. So I have to let my head take over, before it becomes automatic.”
The chemistry in Seagrave’s group – which also includes Italian sprinters Libania Grenot and Gloria Hooper, British hurdler Jack Green and US long jumper and sprinter Tianna Bartoletta – contributes to everyone’s success, as well. The results speak for themselves: most of the group members will be reunited in a couple of weeks at the IAAF World Championships.
“If we have a free evening, we often go to the movies or to a bowling alley together,” said Klishina. “Coach also loves to cook and does it well, so sometimes he invites the whole group for a dinner at his house.”
But what is the relationship like between Klishina and her training partner Bartoletta, who also happens to be her biggest rival? “We always train together, we travel to all the meets together, us two and coach Seagrave,” said Klishina. “There is no rivalry between us in in training and we talk in the sector at competitions too.”
The 24-year-old admits that Bartoletta is faster, so Klishina benefits from trying to keep up with her US friend during speed workouts. Klishina, in turn, helps Bartoletta in technical aspects.
But in Beijing they will both be trying to bring home the gold medal. Klishina had a bye for the national team, which allowed her another month of uninterrupted training in Florida while the battle for team berths unfolded in Cheboksary.
Currently standing at fifth on this year’s world list with her 6.95m winning jump from the European Team Championships on home soil, Klishina is ready to give it her best in Beijing. But when it comes to the kind of distances required to win in the Chinese capital, she is reluctant, as ever, to make any predictions.
“I never think about that ahead of time,” she said. “This season the level of results is very high, so it’s going to be a tough battle.”
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF