News01 Nov 2004

Double take


Olesya (l) and Elena Nurgalieva (r) running in the 2004 Frankfurt Marathon (© Victah Sailer)

Olesya Nurgalieva thinks she prefers the marathon now, and that’s not just because she has beaten her twin, Elena twice in row at the 42.195 kilometres distance, whereas Elena has won their last three ultra-marathon encounters.

Marathons, Ultras, XC skiing, teaching...

Following her victory in the Frankfurt EuroCity Marathon yesterday (Sunday 31 Oct), Olesya, the younger by ten minutes said, “After the Comrades (Marathon, 87k) this year, I was in the recovery tent for an hour. My legs were so stiff, and I was badly dehydrated. It takes six weeks to recover.  We have already signed a contract to do the Two-Oceans (another South African ultra, 56k) again next March, but after that I think we will concentrate on marathons”.

Elena agrees, which seems apposite, since the twins pretty much do everything together. Now 28, they were cross-country skiers together, coached by their father, Leonid. And they were both biology and physical education teachers at the university in their home city of Perm in the Ural Mountains, around 2000 kilometres east of Moscow.

World Gold coaching connections

They started running with Elena Popova in small club races about four years ago, and Popova, who helps her husband, Sergey coach World champion and Olympic 1500 metres silver medallist, Tatyana Tomashova, persuaded the twins to branch out.

“They were 24 then, that’s a good age to take up the marathon, their bodies were mature,” says Popova, 43, who was a Soviet Junior 1500 metres champion herself, and only gave up competition to concentrate on coaching four years ago.

The twins display Russia on their tracksuits, but their Asiatic features betray their membership of the Udmurt people, indigenous to the area around the Urals.

Full-time Professionals

They have run around 15 marathons in the last four years, but admit they switched to ultras last year, since the competition was not so strong.  Their best marathon times before yesterday were 2:36:08, when Olesya beat Elena by 14 seconds to the Podgorica Marathon title in Montenegro last year, but their manager Sergey Krasnoschekov thinks the course was probably a kilometre short. So Olesya’s win in Frankfurt, in 2:29:48, with Elena a second behind represents a healthy leap.

“We decided to take it seriously and become full-time professionals,” says Elena. “So we gave up the teaching posts three months ago, and this is a big satisfaction”.

A place in the sun

With temperatures already plummeting in Perm, when they left for Frankfurt, it was minus five Celsius with snow – “we couldn’t train properly for two weeks, even the track was closed,” says Olesya –  they are intent on a bit of sunshine.  “At least ten days, in Thailand, or Turkey or Egypt, somewhere warm,” says Elena.

In fact, they flee Perm in the winter anyway, and train either in the North Caucasus town of Kislavodsk, or at the famous Black Sea resort of Sochi.

They have thought of moving elsewhere to live, but the potential location is one thing they don’t agree on.  Olesya is tempted by both the beauty of South Africa and the people – “they are so friendly”. But Elena says, “too far away”.  Then they agree that western Europe, which they have barely seen could be a compromise.

One thing is for sure, after yesterday’s run in Frankfurt they should be getting invitations to a lot more major marathons.

Pat Butcher for the IAAF

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