Russian athletics: ARAF Ignites new stars, by Elena Dyachkova

RunBlogRun asked the Russian journalist, Elena Dyachkova to write a series of columns for our audience on Russian athletics. Elena has done a wonderful job. In this column, Elena reminds us how important it is to develop the future stars of the sport. 

Luzhniki Stadium.jpg

ARAF ignites new stars, by Elena Dyachkova

All-Russia program of kids' master-classes supported by the Coca-Cola Foundation brings athletics' stars to the country's regions to inspire the new generation.

By 2011 Coca-Cola Russia had already served as a partner for kids' clinics at the IAAF Indoor Permit "Russian Winter" meetings for a few years. So the company representatives suggested that the All-Russia Athletics Federation should apply to the international Coca-Cola Foundation for a grant to carry out a series of master-classes in different cities. The Federation gave the application a go and received the grant on the first try. That's how the countrywide program "New "Russian Winter" Stars" was born.

The first season of the program stretched over the first half of 2012 with the title event being once again held during the "Russian Winter" meeting. The titled British sprinter Dwain Chambers, who now dedicates a lot of his time to working with youngsters, hosted a sprinting master-class and a Q&A session for kids. During the autograph session he was assisted by the legendary long jumpers Bob Beamon and Igor Ter-Ovanesyan. Chambers also took time to speak to the event's volunteers - students from a sports management program.

The first season of the project consisted of just six events that were mostly held not too far from Moscow - in Yerino and Zhukovsky in Moscow Oblast (hosted by coaches Sergey Arabadzhev and Yekaterina Podkopayeva respectively) and Kaluga (hosted by the titled 400 m runner Olesya Zykina). The biggest events, however, were held in Kazan during the all-Russia finals of a school combined events competition "Youth Spike". Two master-classes with about 300 participants each were hosted by the middle distance runner Anna Alminova and the World relay medalist-turned-coach Tatyana Chebykina.

The idea behind the program was to use the existing kids' competitions as bases for the master-classes and to use local athletes and coaches as hosts. This way the events got a chance to give back to the local community and to benefit from expanded media coverage, as local champions inevitably attract attention of regional media. The culture of kids' clinics in Russia is somewhat underdeveloped and both star hosts and organizers didn't have an extensive experience in this area, so there was no universal model of a master-class. In turn, the hosts got to choose the format that was the most comfortable for them individually. It made the project even more exciting, as the events ranged from a pre-competition warm-up from Zykina and Podkopayeva to an aerobics fitness-class with elements of running-specific strengthening and stretching exercises from Alminova.

The first season of the program saw around 1200 kids aged from 12 to 15 as participants and over 6000 spectators. Following the success of 2012, the ARAF received another donation from the Coca-Cola Foundation to keep the project going. 

During the season 2012/13 the "New 'Russian Winter" Stars" program re-visited its previous locations and added new ones, such as Volgograd, Samara and even Barnaul, all the way in Siberia. In Volgograd the kids' clinics were hosted by Olympic champions Yelena Slesarenko and Tatyana Lebedeva. These two renowned athletes had been organizing kids' competitions in their hometown for a while, so the master-classes turned out to be a valid addition to these competitions' agenda. 

Athletics in Samara region benefited from the appointment of Nikolay Merkushkin as a governor in 2012. Beforehand Merkushkin was a governor of Mordovia, the Mecca of Russian race walking. Shortly after assuming the office in Samara, Merkushkin made sure the "Governor Cup" athletics meeting was revived and improved. And the meeting included a kids' master-class hosted by the former Olympic high jumper Gennadiy Belkov.

Events in Yerino and Zhukovskiy were led by recently retired Olympians who had already started working as kids' coaches: the hurdler Mariya Koroteyeva and the pole vaulter Pavel Gerasimov. The title event - kids' clinic at the "Russian Winter" meeting was all about the succession of generations: Darya Klishina assisted the long jump World record holder Galina Chistyakova in teaching the kids the basics of the event. For the autograph session they were joined by the kids' favorite Dwain Chambers.

The program greatly benefited from the Moscow 2013 World Championships. As a part of the event's promotional campaign, the IAAF assisted the ARAF in inviting their ambassadors to Russia. The outstanding middle distance runner Wilson Kipketer came to snowy Kazan in the end of March to host a master-class at the "Youth Spike" final. Over 500 children, who weren't even born when Kipketer set his 800 m World record, were eagerly repeating every movement of the host, attentively watching his races on the video screen and nearly tore the star athlete apart during the autograph session.

The master-class that the World indoor record holder Colin Jackson co-hosted with the Russian record holder Sergey Shubenkov as a part of his surprise visit to Barnaul was a lot different. Small group of local athletes of various ages got an opportunity to get individual attention from Jackson and even to race him over the hurdles. The final event of the program was the clinic hosted by the long jump World record Mike Powell. In fact, Powell and the kids were the first athletes ever to try out the Moscow 2013 long jump pit as they stepped on the renovated Luzhniki track not long before the participants of the IAAF World Challenge meeting.

Overall the second season of the program saw over 1500 participants and over 9000 spectators. For the 2014 the ARAF aims to expand the program to Yekaterinburg and Naberezhnye Chelny (Tatarstan region) and to increase the attendance and publicity even more. The title event of the program on February 1st in Moscow will be hosted by three recently retired stellar jumpers. First of all, Moscow kids will get a chance to meet the four-time World champion in the long jump Dwight Phillips. Russian stars - Olympic champion and World champion Tatyana Lebedeva and high jump World champion Yaroslav Rybakov - will assist Phillips in demonstrating the drills and answering kids' questions.

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