Uliana Nigmatullina: “I hated skiing as a child”

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An athlete, an excellent student and just a beauty. All this is about one of the strongest biathletes in the country – Uliana Nigmatullina. At the Beijing Olympics in 2022, she won two Olympic medals – silver in the women’s and bronze in the mixed relay. A year later, she received a diploma, gave birth to a daughter and returned to training. We met Uliana in Sochi, at the Russian International Olympic University (RIOU), where she, along with fifty other famous athletes, was trained in sports management. They talked about how to climb the Olympic podium, is there life after sports, how much do skis cost and why meditation is needed.

– Ulyana, it is not very common to see athletes not at the stadium or in the hall, but within the walls of the university. Why did you decide to study sports management?

– After graduation, she entered the Udmurt State University with a degree in tourism organization. Now I have decided to continue my education. I began to look for suitable educational institutions. In the field of sports, I have never been attracted to coaching – my interest lies in the field of management, for example, in the work of a team manager, travel arrangements, events. Many of my colleagues began to advise the Russian International Olympic University in Sochi. Unlike other options, not only the sports management program itself suited me, but also the schedule. In other educational institutions, it is necessary to study for two years with full-time attendance. Couldn’t afford this. I am an active athlete, I only had a year of maternity leave. And according to the Master of Sports Management program, studies are divided into modules. My daughter Aina was born on the day the winter module ended, and this was my only absence from classes. Another important factor was that I became the winner of the annual charity competition of the Russian Olympians Support Fund and RIOU, as a result of which I studied on a grant. It seemed to me that I was going to university for knowledge of management in sports. But study also gave me a kind of inspiration. There are many athletes in our group: both Olympic champions, and athletes of the All-Russian level, and those who have already completed their careers, and those who continue to compete, as well as people who are organizers of major sporting events. Communication with them allows you to take a fresh look at sports, to see this industry from a different angle: while you are performing, you look a little one-sidedly. For example, I also answered a very important question for myself about why the state needs sports.

– Share why?

– It is generally accepted that sport is out of politics. But we see that this is not the case. Sport is, first of all, an element of the prestige of the country, a tool for representing your state in the international arena.

– Speaking of the international arena. You participated in two Olympics – in Pyeongchang and Beijing – and both times represented our country under a neutral flag. There is a lot of debate about this – is it worth it to go to the Olympic Games in this status? Today, Russian athletes are offered to participate in the Paris Games as refugees…

– Of course, at the first Olympics, in Korea, everything was incomprehensible. How is it without a flag, which stickers to stick on, which ones to remove. But I want to say that there are no problems or difficulties on the part of the athletes. We do everything the same as in regular Games. Everyone understands perfectly well that Russia is speaking. And the atmosphere at the Olympics is always very friendly. We did not feel any restrictions – only the support of our colleagues from other countries, as if there were no sanctions.

– For medals at the Olympic Games, athletes receive good prize money. Is sport more about money?

“Sport is definitely an idea. Prize money is not the main thing, but they are very supportive of the athletes. For example, in biathlon we are given equipment, but each high-level athlete buys additional equipment himself. For example, several sets of skis, you need to find the perfect ones in order to achieve the result. One pair of good skis – fifty thousand rubles. As in business: you must first invest in order to get a result later. In our country, there is such a system that the sport of the highest achievements is supported by the state and athletes cannot live without the state, just like the state without them. The sponsorship system is very poorly developed.

– How do you generally assess the level of Russian biathlon? Who are our main competitors today?

– The last season, 2022, when I competed, the team finished at good speeds, I think they did not lose them. I do not like to talk about competition in sports, so I will not name rivals, but simply strong athletes. Of course, these are Norwegians: their approach to preparation is striking, which is very different from ours. They prepare no more and no less, but the mood is completely different, the atmosphere in the team, the equipment. The French are very strong. Perhaps because they have a lot of athletes from the highlands. I also try to spend a lot of time in the mountains, but they are born there, it means a lot. In our country, of course, there are quite good conditions for training. But there are shortcomings in the bases in the middle mountains. For example, I train in Terskol, but there are not enough tracks for roller skis. In Sochi, the number of training tracks at the ski and biathlon complex was also reduced: not all of them were used – as a result, some were transferred for tourism purposes.

– Has the current situation affected the outfit and equipment?

– I haven’t felt it yet. There are skis left over from pre-sanction times. And the Russian Biathlon Union is looking for opportunities to bring to the country the skis of those manufacturers that were used before. I had a contract with Fisher, but now it is impossible to continue it. Russia has its own skis, but they are more designed for the level of children’s schools, juniors. Someone has Russian rifles, made in Izhevsk, someone has German ones. I have now switched to the new Antchus rifle, I used to work with this one in my childhood. In domestic rifles, I liked the simplicity of design, simple maintenance. But I decided not to stagnate, to try to change inventory this season.

– Your daughter is only four months old, and you have returned to training. What starts are you preparing for?

– To be honest, I didn’t understand before why I should continue my sports career after the birth of a child. Now it became clear: additional motivation. Not because my daughter will be proud of my achievements, I just feel her constant support. Of course, I still don’t understand how the season will turn out, I just started to restore my energy level. I plan to take part in the Commonwealth Cup in September in Sochi and in the Russian Cup, the stages of which will start in December in different cities of the country.

– Your husband Ilshat is preparing you, he is your coach. They say it’s better not to work with relatives…

– Often training takes place remotely, so we do not get tired of each other. And some internal switch works. In training, I am a disciplined athlete, just like everyone else. I even address by name and patronymic, so as not to differ from other members of the team.

– What is the main thing in biathlon – physical training or psychology?

– Psychological stability. We each have our own temperament. Along with physical training, I also deal with my own mental state. Sometimes I involve psychologists, before going to bed I do meditations. I think that the coach found a way to talk to me, communication often takes place before the start, and the wrong word can change everything. I’ve come to the point where it’s better to prepare individually. In adolescence it is good to work in a team, but then a more fine-tuning is needed, taking into account injuries, the psychological state of the athlete.

– With your sister Anastasia, you host the “Two Things at Once” podcast, in which you talk about professional sports and life after it. How relevant is this?

Let’s start with the fact that I really love podcasts. When I do household chores, I always listen. The year before last, my sister, who also professionally engaged in biathlon, ended her career. In December, she left big sport, did not know what she would do, but she had a hobby – cooking, and in the same month she began working as a cook. And we started discussing the topic of ending a career and changing jobs in a podcast. But I realized the whole problem, already studying at the Olympic University. Among athletes, almost no one knows what he will do after the end of his career. Most athletes can only, as they say, run. I especially felt this when I was on maternity leave, I had free time and thoughts: “Is it worth continuing?” In fact, it is very scary to finish with the sport, especially when you have been doing the same thing for a long time, you have reached high positions. Before you is the unknown. And education helps you get your bearings. By the way, I want to devote the next podcast to the return of athletes from the decree. There are many positive examples. For example, with Kristina Reztsova, we won Olympic medals on the day when her little daughter turned one year old.

– Today, you are a famous athlete, but how did you come to biathlon, remember?

– Certainly. Biathlon is a very popular sport in Udmurtia. In our region, there is still a very good children’s sports school, a boarding school for this sport. My parents were skiers. Therefore, at the age of ten, my father took me to biathlon classes. He warned me that this was a camp. However, I forgot to mention that sports. Of course, I was shocked by the loads. On the first day we studied the structure of the rifle. Despite the fact that I hated skiing in general in my childhood, I constantly wanted to break them, joint ski trips with my parents were just a torment, in biathlon I started to succeed very quickly, I began to win prizes at city-level competitions. Such victories motivated me.

– Will you give your daughter to biathlon?

– Why not, if she will fit and she will like this activity. Biathlon is a fairly safe sport. If you practice correctly in the gym and do not fall on roller skis, then injuries can be avoided.

– Ulyana, in conclusion, please give some advice to the guys who are just coming into the sport. How to get on the Olympic podium?

– Do not consider that playing sports is a complete limitation, see opportunities in them. Someone will say that you have no childhood, walks, free time. But in the future, the payoff is much greater than the loss. Cool environment, sports community seems competitive, but in reality it is a very warm environment. Sport gives the opportunity to travel, communicate with the whole world. But the main advice I would give to my parents… In many ways, I managed to achieve results, because my parents invested in me, gave me time, took me to training so that I could quickly and conveniently get to them, bought good skis, high-quality equipment. Childhood support is very important.

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