Bulgaria’s Short Track Speed Skaters do not have to look far as they complete their preparations for the coming ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in the country’s capital, Sofia. Not only is one of the nation’s most celebrated Olympians an all-time Short Track legend, she is also the national team coach.
Evgenia Radanova (BUL) at the Winter Olympic Games 2006©AFP
“She inspired me to take up the sport and now she is my coach,” Katrin Manoilova, one of Bulgaria’s brightest young talents, said of legend Evgenia Radanova. “I am so glad I have her by my side. She is so experienced and I learn every day from her.”
It is little wonder Manoilova does not find it hard to get out of bed and head to the ice track at dawn every day – coach Radanova’s record is nothing short of remarkable.
In 2000, Radanova became a World Champion for the first time, winning the 500m in Sheffield, England. A year later she broke the World Record in the same distance before becoming the first Bulgarian to win more than one medal at an Olympic Winter Games by grabbing both 500m silver and 1500m bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002. Radanova then took a little break from the ice, hopped on her bike and promptly qualified to represent her country in track cycling at the Athens 2004 summer Olympic Games. If that was not enough, she rounded things off by returning to Short Track in time to claim another 500m silver at the Turin 2006 Games.
Meng Wang (CHN) and Evgenia Radanova (BUL) at the Winter Olympic Games 2006©AFP
“I love the way she skated and everything she did,” Dimitar Georgiev, Bulgaria’s lone Men’s World Cup skater, said. “I always listen to her. She has done so much in sport. It’s pretty cool that she did cycling as well as Short Track – it’s tough enough to do one sport.”
Dimitar Georgiev (BUL) Edin Brankovic (BIH) Ivan Martinic (CRO) at the European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Bulgaria has had a tough time of it since Radanova hung up her skates, with the nation failing to win an Olympic medal since Turin 2006. But both Georgiev and Manoilova know it is certainly not down to a lack of effort on behalf of their famous coach.
“She is tough on us but kind, it depends on how well we are training,” Manoilova said. “We train twice a day every single day with just Monday to rest, ‘Happy Monday’.”
Katrin Manoilova (BUL) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (GER) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
The 20-year-old may just be the one to bring back the Radanova-style glory days for Bulgaria. Three years ago, she won 500m and 3000m Mixed Relay bronze medals at the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games before helping Bulgaria finish seventh in the Ladies’ 3000m Relay at the 2016 European Championships – part of a run of four consecutive top-10 European finishes for the team, from 2014-2017.
A nasty cut on her hand, suffered in late-2018, has somewhat stalled Manoilova’s progress this season but the Sofia resident is hopeful home advantage will make all the difference once the World Championships get underway.
Katrin Manoilova (BUL) at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I am sure I will have extra power,” Manoilova said. “I am really excited to compete at home, in front of my parents and friends and family. I hope the stadium will be full, we will do all we can. We are improving as a squad.”
For Georgiev, the World Championships offer a host of young people the chance to do just what he did.
“I started at five years old, I watched other people skate and I really liked it and that was it,” he said. “A few years later I did my first competition and it was really cool.
Dimitar Georgiev (BUL) Ward Petre (BEL) at the World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2015©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I hope lots of new people in Sofia are going to learn about Short Track and lots of kids come. Some of my friends know about Short Track but others don’t yet know about it and I hope those ones will be there.”
Both Georgiev and Manoilova are adamant that Short Track offers things no other sport can compete with. For Georgiev it is the mixture of “speed, adrenaline and overtaking” that does it, while for Manoilova it is the way Short Track “gathers people from all over the world and shapes you as a person”.
It is a more than potent mix and one they and all the Bulgarian team, including the revered Radanova, cannot wait to show off to the world in Sofia, from March 8-10.
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