Golden race

[b]Alexandra Gerasimenya becomes Belarus’ first ever world swim champion in prestigious 100m freestyle[/b]Gerasimenya showed her outstanding talent quite early — perhaps, even too early. At 16, this smiling girl appeared from behind more experienced Yelena Popchenko and Anna Shcherba; in 2002, during the European Championship in Berlin, she won her first adult medal, coming third in the 50m freestyle.“My philosophy is not to guess at the future. You should work hard and then leave it to fate; this is the route to success,” says Alexandra. Who would have thought nine years ago that the sensible words taught by her coach would prove true? At that time, neither Sasha nor her numerous fans in Belarus would have dreamt of her taking the swimming world by storm. Her German European Cham-pionship bron-ze was soon followed by two more European medals and her first gold — at the World Cup round in Berlin for 100m freestyle.
Alexandra Gerasimenya becomes Belarus’ first ever world swim champion in prestigious 100m freestyle

Gerasimenya showed her outstanding talent quite early — perhaps, even too early. At 16, this smiling girl appeared from behind more experienced Yelena Popchenko and Anna Shcherba; in 2002, during the European Championship in Berlin, she won her first adult medal, coming third in the 50m freestyle.
“My philosophy is not to guess at the future. You should work hard and then leave it to fate; this is the route to success,” says Alexandra. Who would have thought nine years ago that the sensible words taught by her coach would prove true? At that time, neither Sasha nor her numerous fans in Belarus would have dreamt of her taking the swimming world by storm. Her German European Cham-pionship bron-ze was soon followed by two more European medals and her first gold — at the World Cup round in Berlin for 100m freestyle.
Sadly, in the summer of 2003, testing found prohibited drugs in her body. It was a bolt from the blue. There was an investigation, with rumours of sabotage, but the International Swimming Federation (FINA) Doping Control Commission stood firm, banning her for four years and annulling her previous awards. At the tender age of 17, she went from being a Belarusi-an heroine and swimming star to shame. It was enough to ha-ve broken even the strongest of sportswomen, but
Sasha received sup-port and comfort, helping her to relax and bide her time.
Fortunately, the initial four-year disqualification term was halved. Nevertheless, those two years were a hard trial for her, endured with stoicism. Her official return in 2005 was a triumph. She went through to three finals, winning the European 50m bronze in Trieste and, one year later, claimed European silver in the 50m, officially marking her return to the elite.
The moment of truth for Sasha and Belarusian swimming came at the World Championship in 2007, which was the first world event for the 21 year old sportswoman. It shuffled Olympic licenses and was tricky for Alexandra. On the one hand, she captured a pleasing silver (few Belarusians can boast such an achievement). On the other, it was not an ‘Olympic’ medal. As a result, at her first Olympics, she found herself competing against the world’s best, performing well in freestyle distances only, which left her in rather disappointing 14th place in the semi-final 100m.
Later, her competitors sported the latest swimsuits, made from friction-reducing materials beyond the scope of Belarusian textile technology. She also returned from Rome without medals, although took two European awards towards the end of the season. However, these seemed like peanuts to Sasha and two more years passed before she reached the level she was aiming for.
Hints of her potential began a year ago, at the European Championship in Budapest. FINA’s Technical Committee banned high-tech swimsuits, allowing Sasha to claim silver in the 100m freestyle. Finally, she became the European champion in backstroke.
“I was eager to do well at the European Championship and was curious to see how my competitors would perform when relying only on their own efforts — without the help of ‘rubber skin’,” asserted Sasha at the time, with meaning. Naturally, she was no less passionate about the last World Championship. Had her medal arrived in Beijing, her satisfaction would have been even greater but Sasha was still pleased by her 100m freestyle performance. “I never dreamt of it. It’s an absolute surprise! Gold medal in the 100 metres!” Nobody had seen it coming; until last year’s European Championship, the 100 metres was not her strong point. She qualified for the finals with the worst result, seeming not to have enough strength to swim the double length.
Today, nobody cares about these thoughts. Eight years after Yelena Popchenko’s triumph, Alexandra Gerasimenya became the second Belarusian world swimming champion and our first ever in the prestigious 100m freestyle.
“I can’t say that this race was the best of my career,” Sasha said after finishing. “My time could have been better. On the other hand, the final was just as I’d planned with my coach, Yelena Klimova. I have nothing to complain about and hope that my main victory still lies ahead.”
Naturally, she is thinking of the Olympic Games in London, which Alexandra will attend not only as one of the strongest swimmers of our time but as a main candidate for Olympic gold. She could re-write the history of not only Belarusian but world swimming.
“After the last World Championship, I was offered Russian citizenship,” confesses Gerasimenya. “I was offered an attractive package of car, flat and a salary dozens of times higher than my currently wage. However, I refused, as I have other values and goals. I plan to take a short rest and will then start training for the Olympics. My status should be maintained!”

By Dmitry Komarovsky
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