Russia’s Olympic hopeful talks about her Rio Dream.
I’m so proud of how women’s golf has embraced the Olympic Games. It doesn’t feel real that in 50 days time we will be teeing off in Rio because this is something I’ve been looking forward to for years. I’ve a special reason for being excited, as one of my best friends is an Olympic gold medalist and he has given me the inside line on what to expect from the Greatest Show on Earth.
The tennis star Yevgeny Kafelnikov won the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and he is someone I see every time I go back home to Moscow. We play golf with him a lot, sometimes for money or other side bets, he’s very good and likes the competition.
Given this type of access to a world champion, I always pester him with questions: how did it feel on the podium, when you got your medal? What’s it like mixing with the greatest athletes in the world in the Olympic village? How can I win a medal for Russia?
His response is always the same: there’s no way you’ll experience so much excitement as you experience at an Olympics. So just go and do it and make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Growing up in Russia we would gather around the TV to watch the closing ceremony, it always looked so much fun and I know this year it’s going to be awesome. My dad is going to come over so it will be extra special.
The Olympic Games is huge in Russia, and tennis is the other sport I’m looking forward to watching, I’ve watched Maria Sharapova become a star and I always wanted to be a tennis player. My hope is that I can achieve for golf what Maria has done for tennis in Russia. Many people know about golf in Russia and it’s getting bigger in terms of profile.
The Olympics will only add to that momentum and I’m very aware that many more people will be looking out for my performance, and I welcome the greater recognition that goes with it. To me, the best thing is when you come into your country, give your passport over at passport control and they say: ‘Oh, we know you! We’re going to support you at the Olympics!’
In Russia, the Olympics has always been built up and people have grown up with Olympic sports and it’s so important for them. Everybody, every person I know, will come and watch it and support their own players. As a result of golf’s reentry in to the Games, it’s my hope that more juniors will pick up the game and realize that it is not a sport that is only played by rich people. I came from a normal family, not a rich family, and I managed to get here on the Ladies European Tour and I’ve played here for a long time. My background should be a spur to others and I hope that parents will look at me and say that I managed to play in the Olympic Games for the first time and tell their own kids that it’s possible.
I know how important it is to enthuse our children because I have a three-year-old daughter of my own. Whenever I’m home I spend time with her and have already introduced her to golf. She has a little set of clubs, so she is more than welcome to play a round or pick it up as a sport if that’s what she wants to do in the future.
Of course it’s a healthy sport for girls and in America you see so many fathers playing golf with their daughters. It keeps them together as a family and more tied so it’s a great sport in that respect.