Reflections on equestrian sports with Viktor Ugryumov
Viktor Petrovich Ugryumov is a prominent Russian equestrian athlete and Olympic champion. We talked with him about the history of Soviet sports, Olympics-80 and, of course, about the training of modern athletes.
Viktor Petrovich, tell us please are there equestrian sports in Russia today?
Oddly enough, today there is horse riding: so many horses and so many athletes. Plus, many people now can afford to engage their children in equestrian sports.
But how was it before?
There were sports societies. You know them very well, they were: Spartak, CSKA, Urozhai and others. Equestrian schools and clubs were at their disposal. Every society had several schools. They admitted students so they could pass the initial training for the army, learn how to saddle up, show horses, turn left and right, jump over an obstacle. That process took several months, after which a student was assigned a class, a Voroshilov rider. In fact, it meant that if a person comes to the army, he would have a clear idea of where the horse tail and where are the horse mane were. Then a trainer determined who would be fit for a sporting career and who would not. After all, he had to form the national, republican team.
In addition to that, trainers provided educational information: they would go to schools and talk about their dedication to horses. At the time I got into such an equestrian school brought by my trainer. So have done it. Students had to be recruited each year. It was necessary.
Does this mean that equestrian sports were developing in close collaboration with the preparations for the army?
Exactly. The Olympic Committee even had the Special Division which covered the so-called applied kinds of sports - fencing, shooting, biking and horseback riding. It was called the Division of Applied Sports. Why applied? Because those sports were viewed as applied to military training.
Tell us please how was the national team formed?
Formerly the were the national teams: a national team of Uzbekistan, one of Kazakhstan, one of Armenia and so on. A total of 15 teams. The Soviet national team was formed from their strongest representatives. The national teams competed against each other and each of them had their own categories who they had to beat to be on the horse. I came to Belarus from Uzbekistan, and, for example, we had to beat Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine. And what is important, athletes could always find their place in their national teams because the sport was a mass sport at a time.
How did the training of Soviet athletes go? How much did they have to work to perform at the Olympics?
They trained a lot, of course. For example, Elena Petushkova worked with her horse for four hours. She honed all the movements of the horse and the rider. And a lot of time was devoted to the conversations with a trainer. It was an opportunity to analyze errors and learn from the experience of the older generation. And now, to show the results, one has to work with lots of horses and not always can find some time for a conversation with a trainer.
The organization of competitive process should also be noted. It was subordinated entirely to the logic of caring for an animal. There was no such a large number of starts as there are now - athletes and horses were given the opportunity to rest and recover. Training of horses has its periods: preparatory, transitional, competitive, and recovery ones. The preparatory period included general physical training, then special one and then there was taking part in a competition.
Tell us please about the Olympics-80. How was it?
All my life I dreamed of becoming an Olympic champion. In 1976, I went to Montreal being sure that I would return with a medal but it turned out that two of my partners on the national team were not able to show the result. And at that time we were the fourth. And at our Games, we were the first.
Because of the boycott of the Olympics-80 in Moscow, did you have such a feeling that you could not compete against the best?
The victories of our athletes at our Olympic Games were logical. Elizabeth Toyer became the first in Moscow and before that she had won the European Championship. I was there the sixth, Karachev, the fifth. Our team was the second and at the Olympics-80 we became the first in the team event.
And what can you say about the organization of the Olympics, compared with Montreal?
I was proud that the Olympics held in Moscow had such a high level. For example, it was very easy to get from the Olympic village to the horse base for athletes: buses were departing every 10 minutes. In Montreal, there were a lot of volunteers but only two buses a day to the base. Of course, you could ask volunteers to help you get there but it took time.
What features would you note in the dressage competitions?
Dressage is always about judging. A judge is closely watching how you do this or that element. But if you're making something of yourself then you will be appreciated.
What do you think, do our athletes need a specialized equine education such as they have in Denmark or the United States?
It is very important to understand what you want to do in principle: to perform, to train or to prepare a horse. There are the professions of a trainer, horse-handler and, actually, athlete. However, I am advocating that an athlete should have a general education. I have everyone studying in Belarus. You would ask me why? If you are not successful in your sports career, it will not be your trainer’s headache what you would become.
What would you like to wish to our athletes?
You have to be committed.
What do you think, will our athletes show good results in the near future?
It happens during the competitions that along with the legends of sport there come unknown athletes and show stunning results. The reason for it: a good horse, concentration. Remember the duo of Andreas Helgstrand and Mattina in Aachen. It is possible that soon our starts will shine as well.