Anastasia Denisova, first Belarusian WOC medalist

Posted on | September 2, 2016 | Category: News, Newsletter

Photo: WorldofO.com

After Anastasia Denisova met Simone Niggli-Luder at the age of 15, she decided to train hard to improve. Despite her background, coming from a small orienteering nation, she did just that. Now she hopes her results will inspire a new Belarusian generation.

— Anastasia Denisova has to come to the podium for the flower ceremony, the commentator calls through the speakers.

The Belarusian comet gets up, gives an apologising smile and sprints to the podium. The interview with Anastasia Denisova about her bronze medal in the Sprint has just been disrupted by another great, and in her own words surprising, performance at the World Championships in Sweden: a sixth position in Long.

The week in Strömstad was Anastasia Denisova’s breakthrough on the international orienteering scene. Well, a bronze medal in Sprint at EYOC in 2011 and again in JWOC 2013 are good performances, but running her first WOC with three individual top-ten positions to follow was unexpected. Her focus was in the Sprint where she ran a stable race and came third. In the forest, she surprised even herself by getting eighth place in the Middle and sixth in Long.

Showing that a medal is possible

A crucial point in Anastasia Denisova’s way to the top was the EYOC 2008 in Switzerland. She went there without any team leaders or coaches in the age of 15. They only were six Belarusian competitors going by plane with tickets bought one day before departure:

— Our parents were really nervous about our trip. However, it was all worth it! It was cool to see Simone [Niggli-Luder] live and have a photo with her. She was my orienteering idol at that time, and she still is. I cannot say I did really well at that championship, maybe top 30 at Sprint, but from that moment I decided to improve and become faster, she says.

A stable race brought Anastasia Denisova into sixth position at the Long Distance in WOC this year. Photo: WorldofO.com

And so she did. Anastasia Denisova still has the picture with Simone Niggli-Luder printed at home. She will not think of the possibility of young orienteers someday having pictures of her. Instead, she hopes the young orienteers at home in Belarus will get some motivation from her, as a result of her performance at this year’s WOC:

— I hope this will be motivational for our youngsters. It is important to show them it is possible. I have lived in Belarus until a year ago and I have managed to do well, so it is not impossible. You just need to work really hard, she says.

After her bronze medal at JWOC in 2013, she came home with the same eagerness to show it is possible to do well even though you come from a smaller orienteering nation. She had a talk with some of the young runners at that time. She cannot tell if it changed anything, but she hopes the message soaked in to their consciousness.

Proud of her parents

The future for orienteering in Belarus seems brighter with Anastasia Denisova’s results. In her opinion, it is possible to see young Belarusian orienteers run in her footsteps:

— I think many youngsters may have the potential. The thing is to convert it into some results; to wish to work hard for those results. The problem is also the parents, though. It is hard to make them understand and pay for your expenses if they do not have an orienteering background, she says.

With parents coming from an orienteering background supporting her on training camps and in competitions, Anastasia Denisova finds herself lucky:
— I am really proud of my parents. They have done so much. And it has paid off now, Anastasia says, with the knowledge of her parents following WOC live back home in Belarus.

The right direction

As an athlete in Belarus, there is not much economic support. You have to pay your own entry fees, transport costs and living expenses. A palpable example is clothing:

Anastasia Denisova on her way to the finish in Middle wearing her only Belarusian T-shirt. Her performance took her into eighth position. Photo: WorldofO.com

— I have one Belarusian t-shirt. It is from 2012. It was my first one and my only one so far, Anastasia Denisova says.

The Belarusian national coach is one of the runner’s personal coaches, and volunteers to coach the entire team. In Anastasia Denisova’s opinion it is not the Belarusian Federation that is the problem. The hurdle for Belarusian orienteering is rooted in being a non-Olympic sport. All the governmental funding goes to the Olympic sports.

It seems like things are going in the right direction though. Before this year’s WOC, the Belarusian federation decided to support the athletes with approximately half of the WOC entry fees. Anastasia Denisova hopes her results show that there is a reason to put money in the national team and orienteering. And with a medal at the World Championships it might get easier for the federation to get money from the government and through sponsorship.

Anastasia Denisova herself moved to Gothenburg in Sweden last year together with her boyfriend. She did well on the Sprint distance while she was living in Belarus, but has acknowledged that you need to train in different terrains if you will improve in the forest.

The next two years, she will compete for her Swedish club Sävedalens AIK and study economics full-time. She admits that full-time study will be tough, whilst also preparing for next year’s WOC in Estonia, but she is ready for another challenge.

 

See a short interview with Anastasia Denisova shortly after her bronze medal race at WOC:

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