Former World Champion Russia's Tatyana Lebedeva in the women's Triple Jump final (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 17 February 2010 – Moscow, Russia

For busy Lebedeva, retirement is not yet an option

Moscow, RussiaWhen she received her silver medal in the Long Jump on the final day of last summer’s World Championships in Berlin, Tatyana Lebedeva wasn’t very happy at all. The 33-year-old veteran understood that serious injuries in the Berlin lead-up prevented her from achieving more in both horizontal jumps, but she was nonetheless disappointed that her hip injury didn’t mend in time. That alone was reason enough for the Russian, with multiple titles to her name, to decide to not yet hang up her spikes.

Living the motto, ‘no pain, no gain’

Lebedeva competed in Tallinn a few days after Berlin, but had to withdraw after just one leap and returned to her home in Volgograd and tended, if briefly, to family life. On 1 September she and her husband Nickolai celebrated a holiday of sorts, her seven-year-old daughter’s first day at school. She then decided to continue her season.

Lebedeva is among the breed of athletes who become accustomed to pain and learn to withstand it. She often says that in sport, the highest standards are now impossible without pain. In her case in the horizontal jumps, where the “strokes” and the pressure on her heels, legs and hips are enormous.

“If I made the final,” she said, referring to the World Athletics Final, “I had no right to refuse to take part in it, pain or no pain. I’m always fighting to win and to participate.” She finished third in the Long Jump and sixth in the Triple Jump in Thessaloniki, then capped her season with a 14.72m leap in Shanghai, a season’s best.

Only upon conclusion of her Asian tour did the three-time World Triple Jump champion begin to consider her future. She realised that her injured leg always needed at least one week’s recovery after any competition. If not, the pain simply becomes virtually unbearable, making it next to impossible to compete. Each jump was turning out to be a kind of a torture. So she decided to take an extended leave – for her and for her leg - at a resort near Volgograd, where she spent a fortnight in a resort house with Yelena Slesarenko, the 2004 Olympic High Jump champion. The resort was far removed from the main roads, with only two television channels in operation. There no familiar faces, no journalists, and just a bit of easy exercise that didn’t produce any unpleasant influence on her leg.

Already a politician, career in diplomacy on the far horizon

She also took a lot of books with her - Lebedeva is an assiduous student at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow. The intensity of the 2009 summer campaign forced her to miss one of her six exams, specifically, in international relations theory. There was a dilemma for her whether to fly to the Moscow Academy or to continue with technical training that was so crucial in the final days prior to the World Championships. Finally she decided to sacrifice the exam in order not to lose two days to flying between home and Moscow and back home again.

It’s important to bear in mind that these days Lebedeva is not just at athlete. In several years – touch wood - she will receive her diploma that will open new horizons and new chapters. She may become a diplomat, or perhaps work in the public sector in a ministry or municipality.

She is also involved in politics. Lebedeva is a member of the Volgograd local parliament where she represents Russia’s current ruling party. Naturally, she is mostly responsible for sport and physical culture. She knows quite well all the problems that exist in this realm and is working to solve them.

So, there is athletics, politics, the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, and her daughter’s first year at school. Quite a full plate indeed, even for someone who is far from being an internationally recognized champion who is still striving for new victories in two major events.

Undergoes yet another surgery

Yes, after deliberate consideration Lebedeva decided to continue with her sport career. So she decided to visit her doctor in Finland – one initially recommended by Sergey Bubka – for a check up to fully prepare herself for the 2010 season. But the diagnosis was serious. She was told that she required another Achilles surgery. But if she took that route, it would mean not running for three months.

That news came as a shock to Lebedeva, who didn’t expect her injury to be that serious. But she made her decision quickly. She recalled that on the eve of the World Championships, she wasn’t able to take any practice jumps, which seriously affected her technique. Yes, she decided, she would undergo the operation as soon as possible to recover before the end of the winter. It was her third such surgery for the third consecutive year.

Again, she took to crutches, but this time, her daughter was not afraid of seeing her mother walk with them. The little one had gotten used to her mother’s operations and their consequences.

After two weeks, Lebedeva resumed light training but at the same time attending meetings at the Volgograd Duma, or local parliament. She has little time to spare these days. A follow-up visit to her physician confirmed that recovery has been going well.

In 2010, targets are Diamond League and Barcelona

Winner of the 2005 Golden League Jackpot, Lebedeva now has the inaugural Diamond League on her mind. The only decision to be made is which event she’ll contest. She said she’d prefer the Triple Jump if her doctor consents. If she’ll have to wait before she can up the intensity of her training, then she’ll choose the Long Jump.

She’s also targeting the European championships in July. As the defending champion, the competition in Barcelona may be her most important. With her history of injuries, consistency in the Diamond League may be difficult. But with a stronger focus on Barcelona, the continental title could turn into a fierce battle. And as she’s shown in the past, Lebedeva always arrives battle-ready. Pain, or no pain.

Nickolai Dolgopolov for the IAAF