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Olympic champion: Yana Klochkova, the swimmer
That’s how Yana Klochkova, the Olympic champion and four-time world champion, is often referred to in Ukraine. To date, she has set 50 records of Ukraine in 25-meter and 50-meter swimming pools in freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, individual medley and freestyle relay at various distances from 100 to 400 meters. At the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 Klochkova set a world record in a 400-meter medley and a European record in 200-meter medley.
In spite of her very busy schedule, Yana Klochkova kindly agreed to answer questions put to her by Olha ANDRUSHCHAKEVYCH on behalf of Welcome to Ukraine Magazine.
Was there in your life someone who encouraged you to devote yourself entirely to swimming?
You see, the choice of what to do was sort of made for me when I myself was not quite sure what to do with my life. My parents did a lot of sports but they did not pursue a career in sports. They wanted their children, my younger sister and me, to be healthy and athletic. And our whole family was sport-minded indeed. We took part in all sorts of athletic competitions. My first sport was gymnastics and then it was synchronized swimming. The coach Nina Kozhukh must have seen an Olympic hopeful in me and she encouraged me to devote myself to swimming. That’s how it all began.
Did you ever have a wish to try something else in life other than swimming? Did you ever think you could be successful in some other activity?
No, I did not think of that. I’m not sure what I’m going to do in the future but I’m pretty sure my future occupation will be connected in some way with sports. Now sport is the sense of my life. But I’m aware that I cannot stay in swimming and show good results for too long, and that I’ll have to make a decision what to do next some time soon. Frankly, I can’t imagine what I could or would do outside swimming, but time will tell what my next occupation will be. When something that interests me turns up, I’ll pursue a new career. Incidentally, I’ve already been offered to work as a photo model. I did not accept the offer but probably some day I will.
How much time do you spend on workouts and training? Do you do any other sports in addition to swimming?
Well, training takes most of my time. It’s the way it should be in big-time sport. On average I spend six hours a day in training. Two two-hour sessions in the water and two workouts weightlifting in the gym, running, that sort of thing. Every day I swim a distance of about ten to fifteen kilometers. My mother once calculated, using my notes that keep track of my training, that on average every month I swim a distance of 330 kilometers — it’s about the same distance there is across the Black Sea from the Crimean peninsula to Turkey… My strength is medley swimming at competitions. My best results are in medley. As far as other sports are concerned — once in a while I play tennis and basketball. I love gymnastics, both regular and rhythmic. In fact, I began my career in sport with gymnastics. Synchronized swimming is another sport that I do from time to time. And I am fond of watching football.
Is there any time left for private life?
Not much. Swimming takes all of my time. Besides, at the end of the day after training and workouts I’m too tired for anything else. But I’m not worried about it. There’ll be time for everything. The main thing for me is the fact that I’ve found self-realization.
What did you feel or think about when you were awarded the gold Olympic medals?
At the moment when I realize I have won I feel a great joy for my country and for myself too, of course. When I think that my success raises the prestige of my country I feel pride, joy, responsibility — and nostalgia. I knew I had a lot of fans in Ukraine who were glued to their television sets watching me perform. I knew I just could not disappoint them, and I struggled to the very last ounce of my strength to win, never slackening my efforts. After such moments, you begin to see your country and you yourself in a different light. At the award handing-in ceremony they raised the Ukrainian flag and played the Ukrainian anthem — it felt great!
The Games were very well organized, no complaints. Ah yes, there’s one complaint — the terrible heat… There’s one thing in winning that puts an additional pressure on you — when you keep winning for some time, then you just can’t imagine you can lose — but what if something happens at the decisive moment?
Does the negative attitude to you — if there any — of other competitors at competitions influence you in some way?
If there is any what you call “negative attitude” to me on the part of other athletes I just don’t pay any attention to it. If I did, it would sap my own emotional strength and would, in a certain way, be demeaning for me. Why should I think about it anyway? I have to be concerned with my own performance, I should think of victory and forget about anything that can interfere with it. Envious and malevolent athletes will never achieve great success. Fairness in sport will always win in the end.
How many countries have you been to? Did you go to any as a tourist rather than a swimmer?
Oh I’ve been to quite a few countries. I did not like it in the United States. Australia is too far. I liked Italy, Spain, France, European countries where it is warm… I went to Turkey as a tourist for a vacation. I never thought I’d miss my training so much! But then gradually I got into this vacation mood and even liked it. I learned to do scuba diving. I liked that vacation in Turkey very much. I wish it had lasted at least one week longer.
Do you follow a diet? Is there any dish that you like in particular?
Even if you are not an athlete constantly involved in competitions you should, I think, stick to a certain regimen and to a certain diet. I like to eat all sorts of food, particularly the dishes that are cooked at home. I have a sweet tooth too. And I love ice-cream best. Unfortunately, athletes have to be very careful about what they eat and I can’t eat as much as I’d want to.
What do you do for relaxation?
Mostly, I stay at home, watching television, some entertaining shows, talk to my parents. Sometimes I play computer games. I find that I can feel really cosy, snug and comfortable only at home.
Does one have to have any special qualities to become an Olympic champion?
I don’t know if there should be some special qualities but what I do know is that you have to work hard for many years to achieve top results. If even you are very talented, you can’t achieve such results if you do not work hard enough. It does take a lot to win a gold medal at the Olympics — years of training, workouts and a great desire to win.
Now you’re a world champion, you have won four gold medals at two Olympics, what next do you want to achieve? To win more gold medals?
Of course! To win new championships, to win more medals at the Olympics. I’ll soon go into training for the next Olympics to be held in Beijing. I am aware that in Beijing it’ll be more difficult than ever to win because I’ll be at an age when winning at swimming competitions becomes much harder. Already in Athens I had to struggle harder than ever before to win. Probably, I’ll be too old in Beijing to win 400 meters but I’ll still be all right in 200-meter events. The time is coming when I’ll have to think of my own family and of what I shall do with my life when I quit swimming.
What kind of future do you see for yourself and for your country?
Ukraine does face a lot of problems. In swimming for example, there’s a shortage of good swimming pools, of well-equipped training centres and gyms, there’s no proper financing. Maybe, I’ll go abroad for some time to work but I’ll continue to take part in competitions as a member of the Ukrainian team. There are things which are over money. I would like to see my country prosperous and democratic. She has a potential for that and she deserves it too.
Photos by Mykola Bochok