Personality: Nadezdha Chemezova


Anita Lonsbrough

Can you think of any female Russian swimmer who has won gold at world level before 1999? No, it is impossible! Think of the men and immediately names such as Popov, Salnikov, and Sadovyi spring to mind. But at the World Short Course Championships in Hong Kong, 18-year-old Nadezdha Chemezova rejigged that negative statistic when she swept to victory in the 400 freestyle.

Nadezdha's brother is the reason for her taking up swimming. He was the one who took her to the pool when she was just eight. Her hometown, Kamensk-Uralsky, is small with just one factory where her parents and brother work together with most of the other townspeople. At the age of 15, Nadezda moved to Pervouralsk to train with a club. During her first training camp she lost 8 kg. But even in her new surroundings, there are no other girls for her to train with, so her training partner is Denis Jarin. Coming from such a background, the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games scared Nedejda because of the huge numbers of people. She placed 23rd in the 400 freestyle. Chemezova also learned just how difficult it was to win, but as she admits, "It did make me want to win."

Nadezda's first taste of success came the following year at the European Championships in Seville. She collected silver behind Ireland's triple Olympic gold medallist, Michelle de Bruin, in the 200 freestyle and was sixth in the 400, which was won by Dagmar Hase, Germany's 1992 Olympic champion. The Worlds followed in 1998, where she finished 9th in the 200 and 14th in the 400 freestyle.

On the third day of competition at these World Short Course Championships, the Russian teenager made her first major breakthrough on the swim scene. She qualified fastest for the final of the 400 freestyle in a personal best of 4:08.11. She improved that time to 4:05.23 to take gold.

Chemezova has had a scholarship offer from the University of Hawaii, where a spokesperson said "We can offer her money of $20,000 a year; in Russia she gets $2,000 and it's freezing!" However, her coach, Dimitri Shalagin, naturally does not want to lose his star pupil.

Nadezdha Chemezova, RUS
PLACE Sverdlovsk, USSR
HEIGHT 5 ft. 9 in. / 172 cm
WEIGHT 133 lbs / 60 kg
HOME Pervouralsk, RUS
REPRESENTS Pervouralsk
COACH Dimitri Shalagin
99 SC Worlds 1st 400 free 4:05.23, 6th 4x200 free
98 Worlds 9th 200 free 2:01.19, 14th 400 free 4:16.51
97 Europeans 2nd 200 free 1:59.97, 6th 400 free 4:13.81
97 Nationals 1st 200 free 2:01.50, 1st 400 free 4:16.78
96 Olympics 23rd 400 free 4:21.33