He's a triple Speed Skating World Champion, a double European Champion and a multiple World Cup winner, but the first time Denis Yuskov put on skates as a kid, he abominated the sport. This season the 1500m World Record holder has set his sights on the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Inzell.
Denis Yuskov (RUS) at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships 2018©Internationsl Skating Union (ISU)
Yuskov was born in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, but moved to Moscow with his parents at a young age. In the Russian capital young Denis became a Speed Skater by accident.
"I went to a sports club aged 11 in 2000. It turned out to be a skating club, but I did not know that at the time. We did a lot of sports and exercise, but we never went skating because there were no indoor ice rinks at the time. Only after one and a half year of dry exercise, a group of kids was taken to a small ice hockey rink and that's where I first set foot on ice.
Denis Yuskov (RUS) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (GER) 2018©Internationsl Skating Union (ISU)
"I really did not like this first skating experience and I never wanted to do it again, but after we left the ice, I saw another group of older Short-Track Speed Skaters on the ice. I was fascinated by the high-speed turns and the skills of these Skaters. That was something I wanted to learn myself too and I was hooked. All that dry training was fun, but this was the real thing."
Pretty soon Yuskov turned out to be a Speed Skating talent and he was picked for the Moscow selection, and later for the Russian Junior National team. His first Speed Skating hero was the 2001 World Cup winner in the 1500m Aleksandr Kibalko (RUS) .
Aleksandr Kibalko (RUS) at the Winter Olympic Games 2006©AFP
"I remember a summer camp we had with the Speed Skating club, when Kibalko came to visit us and he handed out autographs. He was a World Cup winner at the time and I really admired him. Later Sven Kramer (NED) and Shani Davis (USA) became big examples.
"It's always easier to chase when you're the challenger than defend your position at the top. For me, it was a privilege to compete with those Skaters. I remember beating Shani Davis in the final pair of the 1500m at the World Cup in Berlin back in 2013. I’ll never forget that race. I hope that young Speed Skaters will always have examples to look up to. That's what gives them inspiration."
Shani Davis (USA) Denis Yuskov (RUS) and Ivan Skobrev (RUS) at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships 2013©International Skating Union (ISU)
Not only other Speed Skaters inspired Yuskov, Usain Bolt also features in his list of inspirational athletes.
"I admire his grace, the way he runs. I've always wondered how hard an athlete with so much talent has to work to reach the top level."
"I myself have to work hard to be a top Speed Skater in the 1000m and 1500m, but the most important thing is to enjoy what you're doing. I enjoy my sport because it is about growing and development. Sport is about breaking barriers. You have to try to learn every day, whether it's in training or during competition."
Denis Yuskov (RUS) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NED) 2018©Internationsl Skating Union (ISU)
In this learning process, Yuskov was led by two important coaches.
"Thanks to my first coach, Yuri Petrov, I developed as a Speed Skater and I reached the top. Later in the national selection Kosta Poltavets helped me to develop even further as a top Speed Skater."
Although Yuskov already won ISU World Cup Speed Skating and ISU European Speed Skating Championship titles, he says the biggest prize is yet to come.
Denis Yuskov (RUS) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (POL) 2018©Internationsl Skating Union (ISU)
"Like every top athlete I dream of the Olympic Games. Last year I wasn't able to compete in PyeongChang because Russia was not invited. We'll never know if I would have been able to beat Kjeld Nuis in the 1500m, it's sport. But we cannot turn back history.
"Of course I still dream of the Olympics, but we'll have to see whether I will be given a chance in the future. I take it one season at the time. This year my most important goal is the World Single Distance Championships in Inzell."