Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia wins the men's 800m (© Getty Images)
After a solid indoor campaign in which he won four of five 800m contests, reigning Olympic 800m champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy firmly set his sights on defending his Olympic title in Beijing.
The popular Russian, who turned 27 in April, skipped his usual one or two-month spring leave from training, and just two weeks after his 4x400m Relay duties at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia, he began a month-long training stint in Cyprus.
Return to Cyprus for pre-season training
“I had one practice a day, sometimes two, which lasted 2 to 3 hours, recovering after the winter season,” Borzakovskiy said of his routine on the Mediterranean Island, where he put in between 90 and 100 kilometres per week.
“At first I lived about four kilometres from the sea, and then moved into the mountains. I lived and trained for three weeks at 1200-1900m altitude above the sea level. It’s not the first time I went there, and I like the training base very much. They have a good stadium but this time I did not use it, I ran cross instead.”
Besides a few basketball games with training partners, Borzakovskiy did little else, he said, besides “sleep and rest.”
Borzakovskiy returned to his home in Zhukovskiy, just outside of Moscow, to spend a few weeks with his wife Irina and their two sons, Yaroslav, six, and two-and-a-half year-old Lev. The visit was brief, as he then left for Kislovodsk, the resort in the Caucuses Mountains, for another three-week training session.
“This will be enough to lay the foundation for further training at home, in Zhukovskiy, in June,” Borzakovskiy said. “In Kislovodsk I continued running crosses and began some speed work, because the main endurance base was created in October and November.”
In July he is planning to spend 10 days in Kasan, training for the Russian Championship which will be held there. “After the national championships I shall return home for a couple of days maybe, and then leave for Irkutsk (Far East of Russia, close to China) for the last stage of training before Beijing. My coach plans a couple of weeks there to acclimate before the Olympics.”
At the moment, Borzakovskiy said, “I train twice a day, six days per week. With this I need 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night and one-and-a-half hours of sleep in the afternoon.”
He takes Sundays off, and incorporates Russian saunas –banyas—into his regimen as well. “On Wednesday or Thursday I usually have one practice, and instead of the second one I go to a banya, and on Sunday I have banya too.”
Race plan taking shape
Besides the national championships in Kazan, Borzakovskiy is planning several competitive outings, but not a full slate.
“I can’t now tell which competitions I shall go, my coach usually determines this. As far as I know, for sure, it is Monte Carlo (29 July) and Stockholm (22 July). I can’t give the exact date now because I am usually told about it a week in advance when the tickets are delivered to me.”
His life as an athlete is very much a family affair, particularly in the kitchen where his wife Irina insists on running things.
“I like to cook and used to cook tasty food, but my wife does not let me now,” Borzakovskiy explained. “She says that it is the women’s job to cook, and everyone must do their job, and she does all cooking at home.”
“My favourite beverage is freshly made apple juice and my favourite dish is sauerkraut soup which my wife cooks and I like lamb most of all meats. I stick to a diet only during competitions, and in between only observe a strict meal regime – I eat three times a day, at the same time, and never late at night.”
In Beijing, no favourites, and nothing for granted
Analyzing his victory in Athens four years ago, along with a strong knowledge of what has and can transpire in an Olympic final, Borzakovskiy knows that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted as Beijing approaches. And certainly won’t go out on a limb to make any predictions.
“The Olympic Games is a competition in which any athlete can win quite unexpectedly,” he said. “And this is so because it takes place once in four years and it is hard to prepare from a psychological view point.”
“Even distinguished athletes, such as Wilson Kipketer for example, the World record holder, the strongest athlete in the world in the 800m, was second in Sydney in 2000, though he could easily win. He was the strongest, in my opinion, in Athens but psychologically he was not ready. He wanted to win there very much and started his finishing kick too early. That is why, I think, he lost. This was his tactical mistake.”
In Beijing, he believes there are a slew of contenders who will all be solid podium threats.
“I do not know exactly who will come to Beijing. But judging by the winter season results the main candidates for getting into the Olympic final are Wilfred Bungei, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, the Athens silver medallist, Yusuf Saad Kamel, and Abubaker Kaki Khamis, the Valencia gold medallist. He is young, only 18, but has got quite high result and good chances to get on the Olympic podium. But anything can happen. Take for example the World Championships in Helsinki, only one year after the Olympic Games in Athens. Mulaudzi was in excellent form, but did not even get into the final in Helsinki.”
Yevstratov, coach, teacher and mentor
Borzakovskiy is an experienced athlete, an Olympic champion, but he can’t imagine his sporting life without his coach, Vyacheslav Yevstratov, who has more than 50 years of coaching experience and who has been training him for 11 years.
“The coach writes the plans and chooses competitions suggested by the manager,” Borzakovskiy explains. “For me, it is unreal to prepare for any season without my coach. He sees everything during practice: the techniques and tactics of running, the psychological condition, and gives useful advice, which is very important for me.”
“I don’t need the help of psychologists like some other athletes. Once, when I got into a car accident a couple of years ago, my coach invited a psychologist. However, all tests showed that I was in a better psychological form than the other athletes from our group. Maybe they were stressed out because they were also students. I am in quite good psychological condition and have good control over myself. But all this is possible thanks to my coach, who teaches me this.”
Kipketer still the idol
He may have beaten him in Athens four years ago, but Borzakovskiy still looks to Kipketer, whose 1:41.11 World record has stood for more than a decade, as his idol.
“I think he is still the most ideal 800 metre runner. When I was younger I thought that he did not make any mistakes at all. But now I understand that there are some mistakes in his technique. When he runs his body is very straight, like a pair of compasses. If he leaned forward a bit, the push could be much stronger, and he could run even faster.”
“I, at least, use such running technique. If I keep my body straight, I will not get into my rhythm and the speed will be slow. When I lean forward a bit I get into my rhythm and my speed increases. Due to this Kipketer lost to me at the finish more than once.”
“Maybe Wilson is more comfortable with such technique. Michael Johnson, for example, ran with his hip forward and considered it the most ideal techniques. Everyone has their own, and Kipketer too, and it did not prevent him from becoming many times a World champion, European Champion, Olympic medallist and holder of several world records, of course. He is worth being taken for a model.”
One post-Olympic appointment – holiday in Egypt
Obviously the focus this year is on Beijing, but Borzakovskiy already has plans beyond his Olympic title defence bid: a return visit to Egypt. For a holiday, of course.
“After the summer season I am planning to go to Egypt for vacation with my family and friends. Last year I was there for the first time and I liked the Red Sea very much.”
In Hurgada, Borzakovskiy and family swam, enjoyed the sun, and caught some very big fish.
“I was lucky and caught a big fish, about 10 kilograms, called ‘Tiger’. Just a half hour later a very tasty fish soup was cooked for us. We also caught barracuda, which was fried, and very tasty too.”
“This year I would like to see the pyramids for which we did not have enough time during our previous visit.”
Yelena Kurdyumova and Sergey Porada for the IAAF