Mother Irina Lenskiy (l) edging daugther Olga (r) over 100m in Tel Aviv (Daniel Kimchi) © Copyright
General News Tel Aviv, Israel

Irina and Olga Lenskiy - Mother and daughter, champions together

These days, Irina Lenskiy, Israel’s 100m Hurdles national record holder at 12.80, is waging a fight against time to prepare herself for the upcoming IAAF World Championships inDaegu. Lenskiy suffered a foot injury at the European Team Championships competition in Reykyavik in June, and is hoping to recover quickly enough to compete in Daegu where, at 40, she’ll be among the oldest competitors at the championships.

At the same time, her daughter Olga is already making a name for herself in local circles. At just 18, the younger Lenskiy successfully defended her national senior titles at both the 100 and 200m in early July. Their feat is very likely a remarkable first in athletics, with two generations of the same family leading their nation simultaneously.

A family team in every sense

There were and remain many examples of children following in their parents’ footsteps at the highest level, but never at the same time.

It’s no surprise that Irina has an important job other than her own training: she coaches her daughter, along with father Valdimir, a former sprinter on the Ukrainian national team.

In 2010, Irina and Olga made up half of Israel’s national 4x100m Relay team. The plan was to do it again at the European Team Championships, but that came to an end when Irina pulled up inured just 30 metres into the 100m Hurdles race. Prior to her injury, Olga was hoping to continue her career for another five years – “Almost like Merlene Ottey,” she said – with the hope of competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with her daughter. To make history again.

In June, the mother/daughter team competed together for the first time on the international circuit, sharing the track at the Venizelia meeting in Chania, Greece. “Of course, we stayed in the same room,” Irina said.

Mother Irina finished second in the 100m Hurdles in 13.20 while daughter Olga won Under-23 200m in 24.57. Irina’s season’s best of 13.06 from February is well within the 13.20 Daegu ‘B’ standard.

Olga’s PBs currently stand at 11.81 and 24.38, both set this year. Her immediate goals are the national junior records of 11.78 and 23.95 set by Ester Rot 40 years ago.

Irina has already claimed two of Rot’s records: with her 12.80 in the sprint hurdles in 2002, she lowered Rot’s 12.93 from 1977. That same year she set the national 200m record at 23.15.

“We have lot of respect for Rot, the best Israeli female athlete ever,” said Irina. In 1976, Rot became the first Israeli athlete to compete in an Olympic final, finishing sixth in Montreal in 13.04. That was 4 years after her personal coach, Amitzur Shapira, died in the ‘Black September’ terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, just a few hours before her semi-final.

Competitive juices continue to flow

When Olga clocked her 11.81 personal best in Tel Aviv in May, she finished second. Mom beat her by the slightest of margins, clocking 11.80.

“I never agree to lose to anybody, not even my daughter,” Irina said, smiling. “Olga has more talent than me, but I’ll continue trying to beat her as long as I can. Don’t forget who is Olga’s Lenskiy’s coach.”

The family immigrated to Israel in 1999 with Olga was six years old. Prior to that, Irina represented Ukraine in the 1995 and 1997 World Championships in the 400m Hurdles.

Later, she competed for Israle at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton and in 2003 in Paris, where she narrowly missed the final after clocking 12.89 in the semis. Before the 2004 Olympic Games she was injured and lost her form, and eventually fell from the media radar. But now she’s back in the national spotlight as she hopes to compete in a sixth World Championships.

Most recently, daughter Olga competed at the European Junior Championships in Tallinn, clocking 12.09 and 24.75 in the heats. But there will certainly be more to come from the young rising star. Mother Irina will be sure of that.

Avinoam Porat for the IAAF