Maria Savchuk, water polo player for Uralochka and Russian junior national team, has had her share of ups and downs.
In 2009 she and her teammates celebrated their victory at the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. 2011 was somewhat a decline for Maria, with national team only fourth at the World Championships. Yet moments as such only forge athlete’s character. This year Maria is going to prove that her previous mistakes were no more than an incident.
Q: Maria, your father was a skier. It would only seem logical if you became one too. How did you end up in water polo?
A: I did start with skiing. Then one day we started going to a swimming pool. Our coach told me I could learn to swim and join her group at the pool, so I agreed. It wouldn’t hurt I thought. And this is how I started my learning, which I’m still doing by the way! Next thing I knew I was doing water polo, with Margarita Eduardovna Skalina, who taught us the basics of ball handling. My next coach was Mikhail Nikolayevich.
Q: Was it tough to get used to? Skiing is an individual sport, and polo is all about team work.
A: It was a little hard at first, especially when Margarita Eduardovna started coaching me. There were four of us, and it was our first real-game training. We were lost, and would not know what to do. I can steel remember Aygul Nukhova yelling at me as I did not know what to do next!
Q: Was this more of a hobby or did you consider going professional?
A: At first I thought it was going to be an ordinary sports club. The realization of responsibility came after my first European Cup in Hungary, where we became third. We might not have won, but we represented our country still! We felt it during all the meetings, receptions, and celebrations. As we started to be capped by our national team, the feeling of responsibility grew stronger.
Q: What was your first victory?
A: My first victory… It came in 1991, at the Russian National Championship in Volgodonsk. My first official game was for Chelyabinsk’s team though. I was not on the national team yet, so they let me play for Chelyabinsk. That was incredible! My first time at a Championship this big – I cannot begin to describe what I felt!
Q: Does one get used to winning? Or do you value each success?
A: Victory is never the same, it feels different every time, because you realize how long it took you to achieve it. And it was worth all the effort! Even the long 4 months of training that preceded the victory were worth it. Winning is a unique feeling, but it’s a great one too!
Q: And how do you get over your losses?
A: Losing always feels bad! You’ve done your best, you’ve been preparing. Not being rewarded with a result disappointing, but on the other hand it gives you an idea of what you need to work on.
Q: Your gold in Khanty-Mansiysk must be one of your brightest memories?
A: World Cup is the biggest thing you can win, so yes! I haven’t felt anything quite like it ever since. All victories matter, but a World Cup is always special for an athlete.
Q: Didn’t that success give you the star syndrome?
A: No, nothing of a kind! I didn’t even think that I could just relax and stop training. Like I said: every championship matters, take our national championships, for example. You always want to prove yourself best.
Q: Do you feel better when playing at home?
A: You get a lot of support at home – from your relatives, friends, fans. The atmosphere in other cities is different. Of course, we try not to pay too much attention to that, but home is still best.
Q: Your training starts early in the morning. How do you make yourself get up? I bet you'd love to get more sleep!
A: Every time I get up, I realize I don’t want to start training! (laughs) And I do feel sleepy, that’s for sure. But you get up just because you know you have to! You’ve got to work no matter what. Can’t live without it! There are days, you know, when you wake up and start collecting your things to go training. And then you realize it’s your day off!
Q: Aren’t you jealous of normal people, who don’t have a regime to follow?
A: I am sometimes, everyone needs to rest once in a while. Go out for a swim or a walk… On the other hand I understand they never experience what we do. The training, team spirit, taste of victory – all of it.
Q: Is there anything else other than sport in your life?
A: Only my studies! Want it you have to study. I mean sporting career is not eternal, and you have to make something of yourself in other life spheres. But to return to your question between athletes and ordinary people, when I was in my graduation class, I noticed how different I was from my mates. We were coevals, yes, but our attitudes to life were so unlike. Even their jokes would seem childish to me. There were problems I could solve on my own, while they would just sit and think what to do! Or they would be exasperated against having to donate 50 rubles! This seemed really childish to me! My classmates still had to ask for pocket money, if they wanted to go out, something I've never done since I was 14. I just had to make it on my own. Все Being an athlete means growing up earlier, becoming independent, and taking responsibility for your actions. Take team spirit – it’s not something you can experience by just socializing with your peers.
Q: Don’t you and your teammates get tired of each other?
A: We do sometimes! But it’s only temporary. We are girls after all – we get emotional. Sometimes you just don’t like something, or Mikhail Nikolayevich tells you off, or somebody gave your boyfriend the wrong look – and there you have it! But it passes. Like in a family.
Q: How do you feel about everyone discussing the coming European Cup? It’s still two months to it, and people are expecting nothing but victory from you.
A: I’m fine with it. I just keep in mind that I need to prepare myself. No matter how hard the training, you have to sweat it out. I know my goal, and I know how many people out there are supporting us, hoping we can win. They long for this victory no less than we do.
Q: What’s the edge of our team?
A: We were always good at counterattacking. We have fast players, who know how to get away from their opponent and score a goal. We are also known for our team spirit and solidarity. Mikhail Nikolayevich does a lot to keep our spirits high. Thanks to him we go camping, organize shows, play basketball and football etc. All of this makes us the team that will make its supporters proud in the coming September.