Sochi 2014: Mum’s the word!
The latest edition of the Olympic Winter Games produced some astonishing performances from women athletes, including a number who now manage to combine top-level competition with parenthood. We pay tribute to four mums who came away from Sochi 2014 with a medal.
Alla Tsuper (BLR)
Competing in her fifth Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, 34-year old Belarusian freestyler Alla Tsuper surprised a top draw field to win the women's aerials title.
The Belarussian had not won an Olympic medal in four previous attempts and arrived at Sochi 2014 ranked just 13th in the World Cup standings.
Yet the veteran, who had taken two years out after Vancouver 2010 to have a child and focus on being a parent, was the only athlete of the final four to pull off a perfect landing to secure gold and end her 16-year wait for a medal.
“At my first Games [Nagano 1998], I wasn’t nervous at all, But it got harder and harder every four years,” admitted the jubilant Belarusian.
“I decided to treat Sochi as if it was my debut appearance at the Games. It worked: I wasn’t nervous at all!”
She did though admit there had been times when she felt her chance to experience an Olympic podium had passed her by.
“I did feel like that for a moment in Vancouver, after I made it to the final and didn't get a medal.
“I thought that was it; but then I had a break for two years, I had my daughter and was offered the chance to have another go. I started training and I did very well."
Her victory, allied with Vancouver 2010 champion Lydia Lassila’s bronze meant that there were in fact two mothers on the women’s aerials podium.
According to Tsuper, maturity and motherhood proved an advantage, as it provided herself and Lassila with an added determination to do well.
"We know what we want and we just go for it!”
And the 32-year old Australian praised her fellow mum and successor as Olympic champion.
“I'm so happy for Alla,” she added. “She's continued to push herself, she's been through some rough patches; she's had a lot to go through as well.
“We're both mums, I know what she's going through and she knows what I've gone through to be here and to be the best we can be.
“She jumped her heart out all this week and is so deserving of this medal.”
Marie Martinod (FRA)
It was the 29-year-old’s first ever major podium, and she explained that the motivation to succeed was very much intertwined with her sense of responsibility as a parent.
“I wanted to show my daughter that the way to achieve your goals is to focus on them,” she explained.
“She needs to understand why I am busy doing press-ups while she is watching her cartoons.”
And four-year-old Melirose was very much in evidence as she celebrated her silver, joining her mother on the podium for the flower ceremony.
It was a remarkable culmination of a journey that had seen Martinod quit the sport in April 2007 to start a family. And she didn’t return to competition again until 2012.
Carien Kleibeuker (NED)
For Carien Kleibeuker, winning bronze in the women’s 5,000m speed skating event completed a fairytale comeback to the rink.
The 35-year-old, who finished the endurance race in 6 minutes 55.66 to join compatriot Ireen Wust and Czech skater Martina Sáblíková on the podium, missed out on Vancouver 2010 to focus on her young daughter Annemijn.
And she was left struggling to believe that her comeback had resulted in a first ever Olympic medal, eight years after her previous appearance at the Winter Games.
“It's actually hilarious. It is just unbelievable. I do this sport for fun and when I got this opportunity, the drive became more and more and it's just great to win a medal,” said the mother-of-one, whose joy was further enhanced by having Annemijn, now five, present at the Adler Arena to watch her finest moment on the track.
Annemijn, who was suitably clad all in orange, was then carried down from the stands by one of the Dutch coaches so that she could watch her mother from close-up during the flower presentation.
A delighted Kleibeuker, reunited with her daughter after a two-week absence, then scooped her up and carried her, piggyback style, around the track.
"It's been very difficult for me, but in the end it was worth it," she said. “She said to me after the race: ‘You thought you had no medal, but you did.’”
Noelle Pikus-Pace (USA)
Valentine’s Day at Sochi 2014 saw a romantic end to a rollercoaster journey for mother-of-two Noelle Pikus Pace, who took silver in the women’s skeleton.
Nine years earlier she had defied the odds to return to competition after a serious injury left her with a shattered leg.
Then at Vancouver 2010 there was disappointment as she missed out on a medal by just one tenth of a second. After that she decided to focus on her family, until her husband persuaded her to give it one last shot.
She describes her dual role as athlete and mother as “a balancing act”, but says that having her kids - six-year old daughter Lacee and two-year old son Traycen - with her in Russia helped her achieve that balance. And they were apparently all too pleased to be along for the ride.
“The first thing that my daughter said when I walked into my apartment was: ‘I love Sochi, can we move here?’” Pikus-Pace recalls.
The 31-year-old added she had also drawn inspiration was British long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe, who had a baby then came back and won the New York marathon nine months later.
“I was having doubts about my ability to compete and then I saw her win that race, showing that mums can come back even faster,” she revealed.