Her Husband's Coach

By Natalia Cherepanova

Sport in the USSR, 8/89    After he won his fourth Olympic gold in Seoul, world swimming record holder Vladimir Salnikov said he owed his success to his wife Marina.  No one saw anything extraordinary about that, because Marina is a coach and it was she who groomed Vladimir for the Games.  By the way, we know of several families in Soviet sport where the athletes' wives have added the responsibility of coaching their spouses to their regular home chores.  World high jump champion Gennady Avdeenko, for example, is coached by his wife Ludmila.  In the Mogilny family of champions this role is filled by wife Olga.

The diminutive Olga Bicherova, a former all-around world gymnastics champion, is immediately recognizable in the gym of the sports facility by Lake Krugloye.  She is the only lady among the coaching staff of the Soviet men's team.

Her husband Valentin Mogilny is doing routine saltos on the mat.  Olga is nearby watching closely.  There seems to be an invisible line connecting the two.

Completing his exercise, Valentin walks over to his wife, patiently hears out her criticism and obediently goes back to the mat.  They behave as if they were all alone -- he and she.  And gymnastics.

"The idea of becoming a coach had never occurred to me before," Olga Bicherova says after the training session is over.  "My sporting career was not that fabulous, you know, though I have nothing to complain about either.  At 15 I was already an all-around world champion -- something so many people never manage in a lifetime.  But then I was plagued by one injury after another.  Time was lost and my coach Boris Orlov had left to work abroad.  But I did not make too much fuss about all that, it's not in my character," Olga smiles.  "I began devoting more time to my studies at the department of journalism at Moscow University."

Valentin was real happy when Olga quit sport.  Now she had more time to do the housework.  And time to spare too.  It was easier to make her put aside the manuals she devoured in great numbers than to take her away from the gym.

Valentin caught sight of his would-be wife a long time ago, when Olga was at the very height of her sporting career.  But what interested him most was not her fame but that she was a nice, good-looking girl bursting with energy and always ready to help.

"I noticed her all right," Valentin smiles remembering those days.  "She did not seem to pay any attention to me. What was I to do?  I had to take the initiative myself."

When Olga began showing up in the gym to watch her husband's workouts more and more often many coaches took this as a whim of newlyweds unwilling to part for long.  Then everyone just got used to it.

At first Olga just watched Valentin train.  Then she delved deeper and deeper into the subtleties of men's gymnastics, becoming increasingly interested in the process.  After than Valentin himself began asking her to watch him execute this or that element. 

Now, two years later, Olga has learnt to see the virtues and shortfalls of Mogilny the gymnast just as well as other coaches of the USSR national team do.  She has proved to be a very demanding coach.  This results in frequent arguments among the spouses which, however, never degenerate into rows and are peacefully settled to the benefit of both.

Valentin has the reputation of an eternal failure.  He often failed to execute the easiest elements and there were frequent injuries on the eve of very important tournaments.  Still, his style has always been considered beautiful and clean.  Experts believe him to be the most elegant gymnast of today.  Still, he has always lacked self-confidence.

The last Olympics were a trying experience for the couple.  Olga saw her husband off to Seoul on the main roster but Valentin never took part in the Games.  For undisclosed reasons he was benched.

"I don't know how Valentin felt in Seoul, but I really was jittery here in Moscow," Olga reminisces bitterly.  "Why wasn't he performing, I wondered; maybe he was injured?  But when he came back I once again saw all the twists and turns of the sporting career and managed to convince myself and then Valentin that this does not mean the end of one's life in sport."

Valentin's luck failed him again during this year's European championships in Stockholm.  He twice committed a silly mistake in the floor exercise by stepping over the mat, which gave him the silver.  Although he won the largest number of medals -- two gold, one silver and one bronze -- at these championships, he was nonetheless upset at having missed the all-around title.

"No matter how important the role of sport in your life, it is not your whole life," Olga says.  "Valentin is studying at the Leningrad Institute of Physical Education now and is going to be a coach.  We have many friends, and we really like to have guests over.  On Sundays we usually go out of town to barbeque and pick mushrooms with my parents who are very fond of Valentin.  His mom and dad live far from here, in the town of Dobropoliye in the Donetsk Region.  We visit them, too.  Valentin's greatest passion there is fishing and he has made me love it too."

"We are going to have a baby soon," Olga told me when we were leaving, though I had already guessed it myself.  "If it is a boy we'll name him Aleksei and if it is a girl, Anastasia.  Sure, this will put an end to our joint work, but not for long, I hope."

Now that she's returned to sport, Olga has decided to stay with it.  Upon graduation from Moscow University she would like to try her hand as a sports commentator on TV.

"Maybe I'll once be commenting on Valentin's performance," she smiles.  "But then I would not be too unbiased, you know."

This page was created on March 30, 2001.
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