Russian Athletes of the Year, 2013 Edition, by Elena Dyachkova

Aleksandr Menkov, by

Yelena Isinbayeva, photo by

Elena Dyachkova is one of our new columnist. Elena is providing us a view from Russia. Ms. Dyachkova spent several years writing for Russian athletics, and RunBlogRun has asked her to provide her view of our world sport, but with a specific viewpoint understanding Russian athletics. 

We hope that you like it! 

Russian athletes of the year. 2013 Edition by Elena Dyachkova

Menkov and Isinbayeva named Russian athletes of the year, Klyugin receives his first award as a coach, Chaly recognized as a rising star

The All-Russia Athletic Federation annual meeting on December 3rd traditionally hosted the election of the best athletes and the best coach of the year. Athletes of the year are selected by regional delegates during the annual meeting, plus the results of internet fan voting are taken into account. The "breakthrough of the year" category introduced in 2009 started off as a fan-only voting with both male and female sections. From this year on it's mixed and works the same way as the main nomination. Coach of the year is selected by the delegates only.

The Male AOY award went to the World champion in the long jump Aleksandr Menkov. It was an easy choice as this year Menkov won almost everything he could: he claimed gold medals at the European Indoor Championships and World Championships, for the second time in a row took the Diamond League title and narrowly lost the World Universiade to Luis Rivera despite setting a personal best (8.42m). In Moscow he also set the Russian record of 8.56 m. 

Interestingly, Menkov started off as a high jumper (PB 2.15m), despite not being impressively tall. He focused on the long jump only in 2009 to win the European Junior Championships and take part in Berlin 2009 Worlds. From that point it was a road to the top: finals in Daegu 2011 and London 2012, bronze in Istanbul 2012 and, finally, the World title and the national record. 23-year-old Menkov is one of the most ambitious yet humble athletes on the team. When he entered the mixed-zone in Moscow after winning the gold, the first words he said were: "Well, I just got lucky..." Sasha (Menkov's fans, you should learn this - this is a Russian short name for Aleksandr, rather than Alex) is also well-known for being a bit superstitious (once, after winning a meeting despite having a flu he told journalists he probably had been jinxed by his opponents), not liking to jump at the Nationals and not liking to make six attempts at any meeting whatsoever. Menkov was born in a cold Siberian city Krasnoyarsk and still does most of his training there. This year has been remarkable for him off the track as well - in June he got married and on the 27th of August his wife gave birth to their daughter. So Menkov will start the season 2014 with new responsibilities and, of course, a new level of motivation.

Women's AOY choice was an easy one as well. The queen of the pole vault Yelena Isinbayeva, who doesn't need a further introduction, made her fans (as well as one-day meeting organizers) nervous after taking a last-moment decision to skip the entire indoor season of 2013. Then Jenn Suhr probably made her nervous after breaking Isinbayeva's World indoor record. But in the summer Yelena made a long-awaited victorious comeback to the sector to draw impressive crowds to the "Luzhniki" stadium during the World Championships' pole vault final and to win back the gold that she lost in 2009 and 2011. 

The Moscow 2013 poster girl's victory is somewhat a symbol of the event's success, so we can't blame the delegates for overlooking the achievements of another Russian - 21-year-old Yelena Lashmanova. The World record holder in the 20 km race walk in 2013 was impressively consistent. In February Lashmanova won the Winter Russain Championships clocking 1:25:49, just 47 seconds shy of her record. Then she was dominant at two international races in Rio Maior and Sesto San Giovanni and, of course, at the home World Championships. These three victories made her an overall winner of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge. With all that she didn't even make a top-3 of the fan voting and the IAAF AOY long-list. Well, the race walking often finds itself overshadowed by arguably more glamorous track and field disciplines and marathon running.

The award for the best coach went to the Olympic champion Sergey Klyugin. He has already coached another high jumper to the Olympic gold - Ivan Ukhov. But this year he received the award for the achievement of another athlete - World Champion and Diamond League winner Svetlana Shkolina. Sergey had also been working with a newly crowned European Indoor Champion Sergey Mudrov. Not long before Goteborg 2013 they split, but Klyugin, of course, made his contribution to Mudrov's victory. It is the first time that Klyugin claims this award, however, several times it went to his own coach Evegniy Zagorulko (for Olympic success of Andrey Silnov in 2008 and Anna Chicherova in 2012). 

The breakthrough of the year award was given to the 400 m hurdles representative Timofey Chaly. In 2013 19-year-old Timofey lowered his personal best from 50.80 to 49.23 and won the gold of the European Junior Championships. Russians had already gotten used to the team veteran Aleksandr Derevyagin being the only one to break 50 seconds, so Chaly got a wild-card for Moscow 2013 right away and made it to the semi-final. Incidentally, four more Russians this year set "under 50" PBs. Two of them, Denis Kudryavtsev (21) and Aleksandr Skorobogatko (19) are in the same age category as Chaly, so their rivalry can seriously propel the development of the event in the country.

If there was a female breakthrough of the year nomination, I would give the award to the 22-year-old pole vaulter Angelina Krasnova. She improved her PB from 4.50 m to 4.70 m. And the best performance came at the big event - it brought her the gold of the European U23 Championships. Angelina was also consistent in her first senior international championships: fifth at the European Indoors and seventh at the World Championships. And pole  vault also seems to be regaining once lost competitiveness in Russia with three more young women setting personal bests this year: Anastasiya Savchenko (4.73 m), Anzhelika Sidorova (4.62 m i) and Lyudmila Yeryomina (4.50 m i).

And these increased levels of competition and emerging young athletes in the majority of events in Russia this year is by far the most important takeaway from the competition result of the year. Well, extra points to the Moscow 2013 legacy!

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