Yuri Borzakovsky, athlete

Runner Yuri Borzakovsky can’t say for sure if he has what Russians call “a speaking name”—borzoi/borzaya means wolfhound. But, true to his family name, he runs fast and light. And his style is not unlike a cunning hunter of wolves.

“Borzakovsky’s run takes your breath away,” wrote Sport-Express editorial board member Sergei Rodichenko. “At first, you are desperate: ‘Why is he lagging behind so much?! Sure, you know it’s his usual tactic, but still you fear for him. Then, after about 500 meters, despair gives way to admiration: he catches up with his rivals, then leaves them behind … and with each step his lead grows ... Unbelievable!”

Rodichenko was writing about Borzakovsky’s stunning victory in the 800 meter race at March’s Indoor Track and Field Championship in Lisbon. Borzakovsky’s gold medal winning time of 1:44:49 trounced defending champion Johan Botha (South Africa), who won the silver and Andre Bucher (Switzerland), who won the bronze. He hung back after the start, letting Botha and Bucher battle one another, then let loose his final kick in the last 150 meters, sweeping past both runners and leaving Botha nearly two full seconds behind.

In the winter, Borzakovsky won the European Indoors Championship in Belgium and dreamed of challenging world champion and record holder Wilson Kipketer in Sydney. But slow recovery from an injury hampered Borzakovsky’s performance. He placed just sixth after letting the leader get too far ahead.

Borzakovsky, who was born (and still lives) in Zhukovsky (Moscow region), could have followed in the footsteps of so many of his fellow “Zhukovians,” joining the ranks of aerospace workers and engineers that work in the town’s numerous airplane factories and design bureaus. Indeed, Yuri did quite well at school and his parents didn’t want him to become a professional athlete. “Up until 1997,” he recalled, “my dad and mom kept telling me, ‘Yuri, with your potential, you need to be a top student.’ But then, when they realized I had enough time for both practice and school (and, when I brought home my first [prize] money), they approved of my sporting endeavor.”

Borzakovsky began as a distance runner (3 and 5 km), but then developed a liking for mid-range distances and the 800 meters became his favorite. He said running two laps at the stadium suits his character best.

When, at the World Youth Games-98 in Moscow, Borzakovsky ran his two laps in 1:47:7 (a phenomenal result in youth sports), he made his final decision and turned pro. And now he has brought home the fruits of his decision: $40,000 in prize money from Lisbon. It is a welcome turn for many reasons. Not least of which is that Yuri got married in November 2000 and, until recently, has lived in a communal apartment with his parents.

Russia has not had a world caliber mid-distance runner like Borzakovsky for many years. And Yuri himself is well aware of his potential. “With age comes the ability to assess one’s potential soberly,” he said. “I showed the third best result in the world ever, and I am no longer a novice.” He thinks he could shave more than a second off his indoor time of 1:44:49. Even so, that would still put him a second behind Kipketer’s world record of 1:42:67. But to this Borzakovsky has a simple answer as to how to best the Danish world champion: “practice.”

Borzakovsky said his childhood idol was Sebastien Coe, and Borzakovsky’s coach said his pupil has what it takes to reach Coe’s level. After all, he is no longer a “young prodigy from Russia,” but the holder of the World and European titles.

Despite that, Borzakovsky does not suffer from what Russians call “zvyozdnaya bolezn” (“stardom disease”). “I am no star!” Yuri told Sevodnya daily shortly before his triumph in Lisbon. “Guys from my neighborhood know pretty well that I am the same man I have always been: just a sociable guy from a small town. But I am happy that many have begun respecting me.”

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