One may wonder, what 30-iest Jubilee Munich Marathon of 2015 has to do with Soviet-era Minsk back from 1971? Very little, to be honest. Apart from the fact that in 1972 Munich held XX Summer Olympic Games.
A year prior, athletes from 121 countries compete in trials, to be a part of national Olympic teams.
I’d like you to meet my mom, Lyudmila Yurievna Verhovodka-Osmolovska, gold, silver and bronze regional and national medalist in tennis singles, mixed doubles, and doubles in 1961-1971.
History of Belarusian tennis is not easy to decipher. Back in the day, tennis wasn’t a mass spectator sport. Many sport records of 1950-60 are difficult to recover.
Post-Second World War, in the late 50ies, early 60-iest, nation which lost 30% of its total population including children and elderly, was still recovering from the war wounds.
It was not uncommon to stumble upon ammunition even within the city limits during new construction. In fact, to this day no one can guarantee that one of the buildings from the 50-iest doesn’t stand on a field mine or air missile.
My mom was born in 1947, and in 1961 she was 14 years old, when she won her first local tennis championship among teenagers. The number of medals and trophies grew exponentially over time.
Few years earlier, first national tennis association was formed and in 1960 Arkadiy Eidelman, fresh graduate of a national Sport Academy, began to train youngsters.
My mom and Arkadiy Eidelman
Life and sport were primitive back then. Lack of facilities and equipment was compensated by the desire to rebuild the country and defend its name in the world stage competitions. It is then, in late 60-ies and early 70-ies, Soviet athletes began to dominate sport arena in gymnastics, hockey, track and field.
Later, in 70-80 Soviet tennis picked up and foundation built a decade earlier propelled many of Arkadiy’s athletes: Maxim Mirny, Sergey Teterin to name a few renowned world-class Belarusian tennis athletes.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was done in high tech facilities with full support. Quite the opposite.
Tennis players used primitive sport equipment and training techniques. Needed to work up leg muscles - take 10kg dumbbells, and walk 10 x 400 meters in squat position. Done with that? 10 rounds around the track at 5k pace. Finished there? Take your rockets and practice ‘against the wall’. Hours and hours of hard work.
Between training sessions. Enjoying early spring.
Back in the day, travel and regional championships were the best motivation for young athletes.
Here is my mom in the high-altitude training camp (a few shacks by modern standards) in the mountain ridges of Almaty, Kazakstan.
Natural hydration after a long run. Spring water - no packaging required.
The best form of acknowledgement were not the medals and trophies (though as a child I grew up surrounded by those), but what used to be considered ‘valuable gifts’. Rudimental form of sponsorship in its early form.
Photo camera FED, Soviet copy of German Leica - envy of many players.
Young soviet athletes worked hard, but also played hard. Sport camps, labour camps (you had to dedicate part of your time to general construction and farming regardless of your occupation), didn’t prevent youngsters from having fun.
Official non-smiling photos for the newspapers didn’t reflect the joy and adventurous spirit. The harder it gets - more positive you become.
Back to Munich.
After I made up my mind about taking part in Munich marathon, I sat down with my mom to discuss challenges ahead of me. I just entered the world of running earlier that year with my first ‘official’ races. But full-length marathon, full 42 km or 26.2 miles, was a distance I had difficult time with.
During one of my trips to Europe, I stopped by and we had a talk. Up until today, at the age of 68, my mom is in better shape than I am. She is my coach, my inspiration and example of how hard work and perseverance can overcome any obstacle.
How do you fight fatigue, I asked her - you push thru, the pain is only temporary. Focus on the movement forward, one step at a time. Stay positive. Enjoy the run more than your time or your pace. Very first time is a passage into unknown. Take time to reflect, appreciate what you can do.
To capture that, I asked her to give me one of her medals as a reminder of that funny, positive, adventurous spirit.
And after much debate (please understand, no matter how difficult life circumstances were over the years, medals and trophies never left our house), she offered me her gold medal in singles from Minsk 1971 championship.
I thought - this will be very symbolic. My mom didn’t make it to the Soviet Olympic team in 1972, and now I could take her gold medal to the Olympic Stadium, 45 years later.
As I ran the course, I enjoyed every minute of it. I had my game plan (I’ll cover that in a separate technical post), but with every step I got closer to the finish line, I thought of the hard work my mom had put into her tennis career and into every victory.
At 36 km mark (22.5 miles), I had a smile on my face.
My friend, Dani, who supported me on the course said to me later - you look better at 36 km mark than you did at 32 km. To be honest, I was in pain - the thought of me doing this as a tribute to my mom, helped me thru that.
At 39 km, with 3 km to go, I squeezed cold metal in the palm of my left hand so that I could feel it cut thru my running gloves - euphoria, tears, acknowledgement that my mom didn’t get a chance to compete in Munich, but now I do - pushed me beyond my fitness abilities.
As I entered the Olympic Stadium, the same tunnel Frank Shorter took, when he won gold medal for US Olympic team in marathon, I couldn’t help but to smile, holding mom's medal in my left hand.
I raised my hand and ran around the track to the finish line. I enjoyed every step of that journey and I could care less about the time, pace or overall positioning.
I love you, mom - I don’t say this enough. You are the one who is the raw example of endurance and perseverance in my life. Thank you for setting the bar so high.
P.S. Lyudmila Verhovodka/Osmolovska finished her sport career in 1972, at the age of 25. She went back to her major - chemistry and worked for several decades on nano-polymer materials for soviet space industry.
Today, at the age of 68, she teaches chemistry at Belarusian State Technological University, published several books and doesn’t have plans to retire. All these years she is an avid tennis fan and uses every spare minute to follow sport news and tennis championships, though she never was a part of ‘sport family’ and official gatherings.
She played and won matches with her partners, Elena Sinitsina, Tatyana Perminova, Lyudmila Nonoshinkaya, Valentina Surina, Sergey Teterin, Sergey Leonuk under the leadership of Arkadiy Eidelman.