Monday, June 18, 2018

Svetlana Vinnikova - Russia's muaythai women stay focused during World Cup 2018

All eyes on Russia at the moment, but of course there are plenty of fighting sports there too. Just a bit hidden at the moment by that giant Football. I talked to muaythai champion Svetlana Vinnikova about women in sport, and her own road to gold.

If you told Svetlana when she was 19 that she would be a world champion fighter and travelling the world to compete, she would have been excited about the travel but horrified at the idea of full-time sport. Hating sport in school, and not even a fan of gym-class she came across muaythai and fell in love with the sport's technical challenges. 

Svetlana fights usually at 63.5kg but dropped down to 60kg for The World Games last year - taking gold. And at her usual weight she holds world titles and European titles with IFMA. So she knows her stuff.

She says: "Muaythai is not only what happens in the ring, it’s your life too. I became more confident, more independent. I am stronger physically than five years ago but it's also a style of life so you never give up, I feel I am always going forward." 

Away from the ring, she works with Reebok Russia to promote women's sport. Not an easy sell in a country which still leans towards the hair + makeup = woman school of thought. In an interview with Men's Health RU, she has to point out that just because she can fight in the ring, she doesn't go around beating up men. She says we should remember men are stronger than women  - but adds jokingly that this doesn't refer to skinny men in tight jeans.

Her Instagram is packed with video of her teaching young girls how to kick and punch. Nothing fancy, but giving them an opportunity to find a different way to be.

Work - talking to Svetlana and Ekaterina Vinnikova at an IFMA muaythai event in Croatia
Speaking about muaythai itself, she says it's the strategy which gives her focus, it's about making a plan to succeed. She definitely made a good plan during The World Games - there were three days of fighting so she had to make weight each day. That means no drama-weight cuts, just steady on the scales every time. Pretty impressive - and facing opponents who were competing in their comfort zone.

She says: "And the best thing about muaythai is that it’s hard to be in it, to train, to compete, to work-out, to try and to succeed, to rise above myself. I hate things that are easy and simple!"

And the gym she trains with in Moscow is clearly doing something right, as her sister Ekaterina is also an elite level fighter. When I spoke to the two of them at an IFMA event, she joined in, saying: "It is a stereotype that girls can’t cope with pain like men do. I think we can compete among ourselves, we don’t damage each other. This is a sport, and an art; muaythai is not just about fighting. Everyone should find one sport they like – we don’t know how we'd live without muaythai."

Follow Svetlana Vinnikova on Instagram @svetlanavinni

and Ekaterine Vinnikova @katyushkavinni

Great video here of the Vinnikova sisters training.


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