20 Minutes With The Nurgalieva Twins

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RW Editor Mike Finch sat down this week with the all-conquering Nurgalieva twins ahead of Sunday’s Comrades Marathon. Since their first win in 2003 Elena has won eight and Olesya two titles in a record that is unlikely to be beaten. Only nine-time winner Bruce Fordyce has ever achieved more wins. Most of the questions were answered by Elena who speaks the better English of the two.

Nurgalieva Twins

At the Two Oceans this year there was a big incentive for a record so there was big pressure. So we decided not to do Two Oceans to concentrate on Comrades. We would have had to concentrate too much on speed work.

We are 39 years old this year so we perhaps don’t have many more years left to run at the top.

We live in Perm, which is east of Moscow. There are about 1-million people there and it is an industrial town where they build cars, also space craft and even military. It is near the Ural mountains and sometimes temperatures can drop to -20 degrees.

We grew up in a rural area which is south of Perm. Our father was a physical education coach and mother was an involved in agriculture. We live on a small farm.

We started running when we were at university because when we went home for the holidays we would eat our mothers food, including her pies, and when we got back to university we had got big. We decided we needed to run to lose some weight.

When we were 20 our mother contracted colon cancer. But she recovered and is still alive today. My father has knee problems – he has ‘steel’ knees now. Both of them are retired.

We go and visit my parents during the spring time and help them on their farm. We also help them out with money but they grow most of their own vegetables and they have a cow for milk.

Olesya is married to former track runner Alexei who also works in the military. I live with them because it is easier for us to train and I spend a lot of time with my nephew, Alexandre, who is four years old. When we finish with sport, we will probably live separately.

We also have a brother called Sergei, who is married with a child.

I have a boyfriend but it is not serious yet. Maybe later I will think about a child.

Just because we have won the Comrades so many times hasn’t made us rich. We have to pay tax, pay our coaches and managers and then we need to live for a whole year on that money. Before 2010 we had to pay 38% tax on our prize money.

We are not like track runners who can run every weekend. I run Two Oceans and Comrades.. that is all! So there is always pressure to do well.

When we grew up everyone did cross country skiing. But all the equipment is very expensive like cycling. But running was cheaper. You just need shoes and you can be a runner. It is much more democratic.

In our first half marathon we ran in these cheap Chinese shoes. We finished second and third. The shoes were so bad that my feet we full of blisters. We couldn’t even walk the next day.

We both studied a degree in biology. When we were young we both did very well at the regional biology competition. In Russia you are chosen to study based on your performance at school.

The first time we left Russia was to come to South Africa to run the Comrades Marathon in 2003. Our coach decided it was a race that suited us.

Because we are biologists were loved being able to see so many of the planets and flowers that we only saw in books when we studied.

When we retire from sport I would like to get involved in coaching but Olesya wants to work with children.

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