Speed skater Skobrev hopes to add to his medal count in Sochi

The Olympic speed skating program in Sochi kicks off on Feb. 8 with the men’s 5,000m event. One of the favorites is Russia’s Ivan Skobrev, a two-time medalist in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

In the 5,000m event in Sochi, Skobrev’s main competitors are members of the Dutch team, including the 2010 Olympic champion and reigning world champion Sven Kramer and his two teammates, Jorrit Bergsma and Bob de Jong. Source: Vladimir Baranov / RIA Novosti

Ilya Trisvyatskiy, special to RBTH

When the speed skaters toe the line at Adler Arena on Feb. 8 for the men’s 5,000m event, Ivan Skobrev will be going for gold. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, Skobrev took bronze in the 5,000m event and silver in 10,000m. The following year, he won gold at the 2011 world all-round speed skating championship and the European all-round speed skating championship. He also holds several medals in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters and team pursuit, as well as several Russian records.

“I have been provided with unbelievably good conditions for training in the run up to the Olympics,” said Skobrev. “The goal is to win gold in Sochi. I already have Olympic silver and bronze; now I crave gold. I hope to succeed, but there are many reasons why things can go wrong. Still, I have worked hard, and I definitely aim to win a medal.”

Ivan Skobrev was born on Feb. 7, 1983 in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk. He seemed destined to become a speed skater. Skobrev’s mother holds the Master of Sport International Class title in speed skating and his father was a Master of Sport National Class in the sport. Nevertheless, Ivan says that when he was a boy, his mother told him to put academic achievements before sports. His father, however, focused on making sure Ivan could train to become a world-class athlete.

When Skobrev’s parents emigrated to the United States, he remained behind in Khabarovsk where his grandparents helped him find his first sponsor.

“At one point I won silver at the junior world championship and made $1,000 in prize money,” Skobrev said. “The question was, what next? I wanted to achieve some personal growth. Should I pursue my studies, or focus on my speed skating career instead? After all, it’s all well and good to skate just for the sake of it, but this can and should also be a job that pays my bills.”

The turning point in Skobrev’s career came when he met Italian coach Maurizio Marchetto. Soon after beginning to work with Marchetto, Skobrev won several major titles. Marchetto managed Skobrev’s training program during the preparations for the 2010 Olympics.

“The period when I worked with Marchetto was when I learned to understand the limits of my body, and the maximum I can squeeze out of my body to achieve victory," Skobrev said. “That is when I reached the level sufficient to win medals. Marchetto is an excellent specialist."

After Vancouver, the Russian national team got a new head coach, Konstantin Poltavets, who had worked for many years in the Netherlands, a major speed skating nation, and learned all the latest techniques there. Skobrev then left Marchetto, who became one of the coaches of the women’s team shortly afterwards. He currently works with Alexander Kalinin, although Poltavets is also closely involved in shaping Skobrev’s training program.

“Skating is not only hard physical work,” Skobrev said. “It also has a major intellectual component. I am very glad that Poltavets, who has 15 years' experience working in the Netherlands, is now using his skills and energy to train Russian speed skaters. I have no need to look elsewhere for coaches anymore. After I started to work with Poltavets, I became an all-round speed skating world champion. But Marchetto and I remain on excellent terms. I am very grateful to him.”

Skobrev began the latest season by setting a new Russian record in the 5,000m at the Salt Lake City stage of the World Cup. He started preparations for the season back in May, which is unusually early, especially given that this is the year of the Games. This season, he has trained in Cyprus, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Skobrev finished eight in the 5,000m event at the December stage of the World Cup, but observers say this is no indication of how he will perform at the Games since Skobrev has always been very deliberate with his training program, aiming to reach his peak physical shape in time for the main event of the season.

In the 5,000m event in Sochi, Skobrev’s main competitors are members of the Dutch team, including the 2010 Olympic champion and reigning world champion Sven Kramer and his two teammates, Jorrit Bergsma and Bob de Jong. Skobrev’s biggest competition at the 1,500m distance comes from his own teammate, Denis Yuskov, who was recently named one of Russia’s Top 10 athletes by journalists.

To conserve his energy for the Olympics, before Sochi, Skobrev decided to miss January’s European all-round speed skating championship in Hamar, Norway; he also missed the World Cup stage in Astana, Kazakhstan. Coach Poltavets approved of the decision to miss the events, however, it means that Skobrev has not faced off against his main rivals much in this season. Although the strongest Dutch speed skaters have also decided not to take part in several recent events.

Skobrev has been full of praise for Adler Arena, which will host the speed skating events in Sochi. “It’s is pure pleasure to train and to skate here. The ice is good, as good as in Europe. I can’t say it is super-fast, but it is certainly not slow, either.”

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