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Illya Kvasha, a young diving champion
The European Swimming, Diving and Synchronized Swimming Championships that took place in March 2008 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, revealed to the continent a new name in diving: the winner in the1-meter springboard and the silver medalist in the 3-meter springboard, Illya Kvasha.
The talented 20-year-old sportsman from Mykolayiv was named the best sportsman in Ukraine in March by the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine. The head of the NOCU, Serhiy Bubka (earlier, the most famous pole vaulter in the world), noted that the performance of Illya Kvasha at the European Championships in Eindhoven was a real breakthrough for the young Ukrainian athlete — the medals that he had won allowed the talented young man not only to become the leader of the Ukrainian national team but also to be regarded as one of the leading divers in the world. Illya Kvasha was interviewed by Maryna GUDZEVATA who was among the first to greet him with his victories.
Congratulations on such a high achievement at the Championships and the award of the Olympic Committee. How do you feel?
Today I’m so popular: journalists, cameras, interviews! You know, sometimes it’s pleasant to be the object of attention (smiles). It was also a pleasure to meet the legendary Serhiy Bubka and receive an award that is important to me. I have to say that this award is not just mine, but it also belongs to my coaches and trainers — Serhiy Humenyuk and Tetyana Maryanko. In my native Mykolayiv, almost every day people come up to me and tell me that they watched me compete on TV, that they cheered for me, and are now proud that their fellow countryman is a European champion.
This was your first “adult” international competition. What did you feel standing on the pedestal?
My first thought was — I have won the gold! When they announced my name and I had to go to the pedestal, it was maybe the first time in my life that I felt my legs go weak. And when I heard the national anthem of Ukraine, I can tell you without exaggerating, that there were tears in my eyes. The silver medal is not less dear to me, since I won it in an Olympic discipline. And I was second only to the legendary Russian Dmitry Sautin.
Were you counting on winning such high awards?
To be honest, the thought never entered my mind! But the trainers were betting on me, and said: “You can do it!” The training plan was to bring me to a high result level already this year. At the Olympics, I will compete in only one discipline — the individual 3-meter springboard diving. It’s a shame that the 1-meter springboard that I became the European champion in is not part of the Olympic program (Olympic springboard diving is limited to the 3-m competition)
... For the 3-meter springboard, according to the general degree of difficulty, my program is completely competitive — the same as with the leading athletes of the world. The only thing that’s necessary is to perform the dive without any mistakes.
Do you expect to win in Beijing?
If I win the gold — it’ll be like something from a Sci-Fi story (laughs). In diving competitions judges are willing to forgive seasoned divers certain mistakes. But they won’t treat so kindly someone young like me. Also, the main competitors in our sport are Chinese, and in Beijing they will be “in their own water,” and that will help them a lot. Chinese divers win mostly because of their perfect entry into the water. To make it into the final is my “minimum program”— in other words, to make it into the top 10.
Is there anyone among the famous divers that you compare yourself to?
My idol — the already mentioned Dmitry Sautin. And, I think, not only mine, but every diver’s. In his 34 years he still wins. Dmitry has won all of the possible awards. For example, he is an 11-time champion of Europe, and a 3-time Olympic champion. In Beijing, he will also be my competitor. Earlier, it was difficult competing alongside such an athlete, but after this European Championship, I’ve gained in confidence and my knees don’t shake anymore (smiles).
Could you tell us a little about the beginning of your life in sport…
My mom took me to the swimming pool when I was 8. In the beginning, they didn’t want to accept me into the swimming group — I was tall, taller than other kids, and also maybe I was not in the best shape physically. The rejection made me very sad. Mama asked the trainers to give me one more chance, and Serhiy Humenyuk agreed on a one-month probation period. Now he often tells about how he nearly lost a talented boy 12 years ago (laughs).
Who was the first to see a future champion in you?
That was Tetyana Maryanko, my second trainer. As it turned out, Serhiy Humenyuk left our town for a long time, and it was Tetyana who became my trainer. When I was around 10 years old, it was she who noticed that I have a great potential.
What were your first, childhood impressions of training?
The only thing I remember is that I liked to jump, and kept asking: Let’s go higher, higher! I had no fear at all.
How did you manage to combine school and training?
It was difficult. Morning workout began at 6:30, and then I had classes in school. After doing my home assignments, I had workouts again, and I did my training until evening. In my younger years I wanted to give it up more than once, but my mother and father insisted that I continue doing my sport. Right now, I’m very grateful to them for that.
Are they also athletes?
No, not at all! I don’t even know why they insisted on my going ahead with swimming and diving so much at the time. But they thought I was on the right track, and they kept giving me their encouragement, particularly during my adolescent period.
Can you describe your day? What takes most of your time?
I still have two training sessions a day: a morning one at 8:00, and an evening one at 5:00. But on Saturdays, only one workout. One good thing is that I don’t have to get up so early, and I don’t go to classes every day— I’m a student at the Institute of Physical Culture and Sport of the Volodymyr Sukhomlynskiy Mykolayiv State University. On the other hand, I have much more responsibility — I know that everyone is awaiting the highest results from me.
What do you do to chill out?
I have one-and-a-half days for this. Somehow, I find time to socialize with friends, go to the movies, or a nightclub. But only those that don’t have to train the next day can allow themselves to have a “night life.”
You often take part in international competitions abroad. Do you get to see anything in foreign countries you go to besides swimming pools?
Yes, I do. We usually go to competitions for 10 days, of which five are free. After you’ve taken part in the competitions, you have every right to feel yourself a tourist…In Malaysia, for example, I really liked Kuala Lumpur, where I took part in the youth championship of the world. I was impressed by the skyscrapers, and above all, by the Petronas Towers. From the top of them, you can have a bird’s eye view of the city. Being there was like being exposed to all the newest technologies — everything was so ultra-modern. And at the same time the jungles come so close to Kuala Lumpur!
In Europe it was Holland that amazed me: Everything is very neat, clean, everything is done with great care. It’s immediately clear that people love their land, take care of it, think about the future and their children and grandchildren who will live after them. We have to learn this kind of attitude toward our native land.
It’s no secret that many Ukrainian sportsmen are invited to compete for other countries, where they are guaranteed much better training conditions and more money. Have you been approached with such offers?
Not yet. But I can say now that I would not agree. Mykolayiv has a great training base of a European standard and athletes can get quality training for competitions and win. And anyway, no matter what it’s like anywhere else, home is the best!
Have you already thought about what you would like to do after your sports career comes to an end?
Yes, I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t made up my mind what to do with my life yet. But I don’t want to be a trainer — that’s for sure! (smiles). I would like to get another higher education in a field that is not connected with sport — maybe an education in economics or in management. But for now all of my thoughts are concentrated on preparing for competition at my first-ever Olympics.
The only thing that’s left is to wish you good luck and to promise to cheer for you.
Thank you very much.
Photos by Dmytro LYSENKO
Illya Kvasha was second in 3-meter springboard
only to the legendary Russian Dmitry Sautin.