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Interview with Natalya Dobrynska, an Olympic Champion in heptathlon
Natalya Dobrynska, born in the city of Vinnytsya on May 29 1982, is an outstanding Ukrainian athlete, European and world heptathlon champion many times over (heptathlon is an athletics discipline for women, consisting of seven events held over a period of two days; the athletes compete in the 100-meter hurdles, high jumps, shot put, and 200-meter dash; the long jumps, javelin, and 800-meter race).
Natalya Dobrynska was interviewed by Lesya HRYHORYEVA, a Welcome to Ukraine correspondent.
We agreed to meet at one of the cozy cafes in the center of Kyiv. I arrived ten minutes before the designated time, ordered a coffee, and quietly waited for the arrival of my interviewee. She did not turn up at the time that had been agreed on; neither did she appear half an hour later. It was only then that I decided to dial her cell phone number. It turned out she had been waiting for me all this time at another cafe which had a very similar name — but across the square. I rushed to that cafe hoping the inauspicious start would not affect the interview. It did not — we exchanged apologies and smiles, and the exchange of questions and answers that followed proved to be very friendly and easy going.
I read reports from Beijing which said that the heptathlon event at the Olympics proved to be the toughest in many years as far as the competition is concerned. Winning it obviously was all the more exhilarating and prestigious. How did the status of the Olympic champion affect your life?
It was, of course, great to win the gold medal, but frankly I did not experience any particular changes inside myself. And I am very glad I’ve remained what I am. Wining the Olympic gold is a great achievement for any athlete, you feel the euphoria of victory — but this euphoria may make you take things too easy. But I’m back to intensive training, there’s no time to lose. Also, the Olympic gold medal has provided me with a more stable financial situation, and it gives me more confidence and enables me to find means for training. Unfortunately, the economic crisis that has hit Ukraine will not make things for the athletes any easier.
You mentioned ‘the euphoria of victory” — did it come right after the announcement of your victory?
I was overcome by fantastic emotions! In fact, the realization that I was an Olympic champion took quite some time to sink in. Usually, the medals are handed to the winners on the next day after the event, but for some reason the three medal winners in heptathlon were told to rush to the award presentation ceremony right away! It was quite unexpected. The medals were handed to us by Serhiy Bubka, a great Ukrainian pole-vaulter in the past and now a high-ranking Olympic Committee official. Handing the medal to me, he said that he had been sure that I would be the best and win the first place. But it was only when the anthem of Ukraine began to play in my honor than it hit me — “I’m an Olympic champion!” I don’t think I’d be able to describe what I felt then! There was pride and happiness and so much more that I was experiencing. Later, I was greatly moved by congratulations and telephone calls from Ukraine!
Let’s go back to the start of your sports career.
My parents were sports enthusiasts though they had never won any medals. They encouraged my elder sister and me to do sports (Viktoriya Dobrynska specializes in high jump and competes in heptathlon too; at the time when Natalya won the gold medal in Beijing her sister won the heptathlon competition in Finland). I was taught to ski and to swim at an early age. When I was eight my father took me to a sports hobby group and since I was not sure which sport I would wish to go into, track-and-field athletics was chosen. Later, I decided I’d try heptathlon and enjoyed it. My sister was in it too.
My parents provided the first push, so to say, and later sport and everything connected with it grew on me, and I began to thoroughly enjoy doing sports. It’s so rewarding to realize that you can do this or that, that you can overcome the moments of weakness and exhaustion, that you can win! I remember my first “international” victory very well. It happened at the summer children’s camp Artek in the Crimea. There were kids from many countries of the world and I won the long jump competition and was very proud. That win gave me the true taste of victory.
Training and workouts can be really exhausting but I never had a problem of making myself go the gym after classes, or on the days free from school when you could enjoy some idling. Probably at the very beginning there was some reluctance from time to time, but later it never bothered me again, and I fully devoted myself to the most challenging training. I wanted to be in big-time sport, no matter what, even though I fully realized that the life of an athlete is very tough indeed — particularly in Ukraine. There are not enough sports facilities, not enough equipment at the cutting edge of technology — if it is available at all. There are not enough trainers and coaches, particularly of those who can encourage the kids to stay in sports. It’s all very sad and vexing. How can a country like Ukraine do without sports? Sports and PT are prerequisites of good health, but also, the victories at the international competitions raise the prestige of the countries where the winning athletes come from. I feel bitterness and pain for Ukraine when I see all those beautiful stadiums, sport facilities and sports grounds in foreign countries. We in Ukraine should have them too! I do hope that the situation will change for the better some time in the future.
Do the people in the street recognize you?
Yes, sometimes they do but mostly it happens in foreign countries. I really don’t care, I’m not a showbiz star, but it does feel nice when people come up to you and congratulate you on your success, or write you letters, or just encourage you to go on. I find it so surprising when someone in a foreign country is being nice to me, an athlete who is not really well known, not like say soccer players. I know that whole families regularly come to the stadium to watch and to cheer and take photographs. And I wonder why a thing like this happens so rarely in Ukraine?
Do you have anyone in sports or elsewhere who is your favorite?
I’ve never had any idols, if that’s what you mean. Even in my childhood I wanted to be me, with no one in particular to look up to. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad. It does not mean I don’t have certain ideals. I think there is an ideal of a perfect human being who is humane, generous, kind, and so on, but it is not someone in particular.
May I ask you whether you have any interests, or what they call hobbies outside your sport?
Yes, I do. When I’m in the mood for it I paint or write verses. But I never show either my paintings or my poems to anyone. My mother, who is a journalist, studied at an art school, and had a collection of poems published, so probably I’ve inherited my artistic inclinations from her… I love music and want to learn to play the guitar but there’s never enough time for that. I’ve tried myself in modeling and had my photos taken for advertisement. It’s fun but it’s not what I’d like to do in life. With sport it feels very different — it’s struggle with yourself, it’s overcoming yourself, it’s testing yourself to the last limit. Big-time sport is very demanding, it takes all you have to offer — and that’s what I like about it. I like even the physical tiredness that comes after strenuous workouts. And it feels so great to achieve better results — to run faster, to jump higher. Nothing compares to it — no modeling, no fashion shows… I feel the complete fullness of life only when I run a distance a millisecond faster, or jump a half-millimeter higher and achieve this after the most exhausting training. In sport you have to be trying harder and harder all the time, with no respites. When I don’t put in the maximum effort in order to achieve something, I don’t feel this fullness of life, even though doing some other things may be fun…
As a matter of fact, there are a lot of things that I love doing but there’s very little time for them. I do not complain, I just state. I’ve chosen the career of an athlete and it involves a lot of sacrifices. I love what I’m doing, and that’s all there is to it.
But you surely must have some time for relaxation!
Yes, sure. When I have time, I go to visit my parents in Vinnytsya. I stay there for several days and suddenly I feel there’s so much time I don’t know what to do with… After the Olympics in Beijing, we — my husband and I — went to Egypt. The Red Sea resort we were at was great. I swam and played beach volleyball. I can’t spend even a short time just lying on the beach and sunbathing. I have to move, to spend my energy of which, I think, there’s too much…I’ve got a dream — I want to go to a distant island somewhere in the ocean and spend some time there. But I’m not sure I’ll not be bored after a couple of days!
You must have visited quite a few foreign countries where you took part in competitions. Which country did you like best?
France. There’s a very special carefree atmosphere there, something that the French call joie de vivre. I loved those narrow streets in French towns permeated with the fragrance of coffee. I loved their cheese — I’m a vegetarian and I love cheese. The selection of cheese was overwhelming! But I want to live in Ukraine, that’s where I belong.
Any place in Ukraine that you particularly like?
The Carpathians! The landscapes there are of a stunning beauty. I like the city of Chernivtsi in western Ukraine. Incidentally, it’s where my sister lives. When I travel in Ukraine I can’t help thinking, “What a beautiful country Ukraine is!” If it were properly taken care of, it’d be no worse than France, in any respect… I always find something that I like no matter where I go. Every little place has its own attractions and peculiarities that one can appreciate.
You mentioned your husband — is he in sports too?
Dmytro’s my coach. I think he’s having a hard time with me. I admit I can get very temperamental and stubborn at the workouts. I can even throw tantrums. Thank God my husband is very patient and understanding, and he knows how to get me out of my “states.” He’s very good at it. He supports me and encourages me. I believe he’s the best coach for me — he knows what and how things should be done to achieve the best results. We’re in harmony, we’re on the same wavelength. Now I’m training for the next European championship, and there’s a lot to be done to reach the “right condition” for it. I have no problems with shot put (this statement comes as a surprise — Natalya looks very slim and slender, not a typical build for a shot-putter!) but the trick of heptathlon is that you have to be good at all the events...
In my childhood and in my teens I wanted to become a teacher at a day-care center, then a teacher at a secondary school, then a nurse at a hospital, then a bus driver. My parents did not press me into choosing a way of life, they let me choose for myself, and I’m very grateful to them for this. I’ve made my choice and they helped me and supported me at the initial stages and then I continued on my own. I do not regret my choice — in fact, I’m happy with it.
Natalya Dobrynska with her husband and
coach Dmytro Polyakov.
Viktoriya Dobrynska, Natalya’s sister, specializes
in high jump and competes in heptathlon too.