In his 10 years in competitive sport, Ivan Golubkov’s resume is packed with enough medals to fill an entire career.
A Russian national medallist at age 16, World Cup champion at age 18 and cross-country overall Crystal Globe winner by age 20, the now 24-year-old Golubkov has been progressing in Para Nordic skiing at a meteoric rate.
And he is only getting started.
“I love this sport,” Golubkov said. “I love it madly and, to this day, I can play race with someone at training. I like that. I come out to train in a great mood. This is where I belong. This is me.”
Golubkov was seven years old when he started skiing. Skiing coach Alexander Porshnev had taken notice of the talented boy at an orphanage in Komi Repub-lic, one of Russia’s most northern territories.
Skiing alongside his childhood friend, fellow orphanage resident and future double Paralympic champion Maria Iovleva, Golubkov advanced quickly.
He initially approached the sport as a game in which he chased down his rivals. By 2010, however, he developed a more competitive mindset.
“I started to think more with my head,” Golubkov recalled. “In 2009, 2010 I al-ready understood that I needed to do everything with quality.”
It did not take long for the medals to arrive. In 2010, a 14-year-old Golubkov won a medal at a national-level competition. In 2012 he was a bronze medallist at the Russian Championships.
After another two-year leap, he was a double World Cup champion in Para cross-country. Two years later, in 2016, Golubkov won the overall Crystal Globe in the discipline.
By this point, sport had become his life.
“When you have good results, you think that you should not change anything, that you should go further and further and further,” Golubkov said.
“The most important thing is that the person has the will. If you have the will, then you train. If the person does not have the will and just comes out to train, to make an appearance and that’s it, he will not get any results. You must al-ways come out to train in a good mood.”
Since making his debut at the World Cup during the 2013-14 season, Golubkov has collected three Crystal Globes in Para cross-country and two in Para biath-lon.
This season, in addition to sweeping the Crystal Globes in men’s sitting, Golubkov ticked off another accomplishment, which had eluded him until now.
The athlete shot four clean rounds in the individual biathlon race at the World Cup in Finsterau, Germany in February.
“This is probably the first race in my career where I have shot clean,” Golubkov said. “I am not a stable shooter, but this race went as smooth as butter.”
Home exercise hero
Parts of Golubkov’s career, however, have not gone “as smooth as butter”. De-spite his impressive medal haul over the years, the ski star is still missing some key honours, including those from the Paralympic Games.
He missed qualification to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and could not qualify to PyeongChang 2018 due to the suspension of the Russian Para-lympic Committee.
Although the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced in January 2018 that Russian athletes would be allowed to compete as neutrals, it was too late for Golubkov to try to apply for one of the slots available.
The Russian skier thought about quitting the sport after learning that he could not go to PyeongChang, but by March 2018 he was sending supportive mes-sages to female teammates who were competing at the Games and pushing on with his own training.
“I love this sport. I know that I am still young and there is no reason to quit,” Golubkov said. “I rested, cast all thoughts aside and started training again.”
Golubkov now finds himself in another challenging situation that is outside his control. Like most athletes around the world, the Russian skier has had to adjust his training and competition plans due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Whereas Golubkov would normally train on snow as late as early April, the virus has forced him to train at home, where his equipment is limited to one exercise machine. All the same, Golubkov has stuck to his rigorous training programme as best he can.
“I am doing what I can. Not everything can be done at home. I don’t have a home gym. I didn’t think that things would be this way or I would have prepared somehow. Everything was so sudden,” said Golubkov, who recently started ven-turing out on roller skis to supplement strength training at home.
“You have to keep doing something. You have to keep moving,” he added. “Of course, the house is the house. It’s different, but you still make an effort and try to stick to your regime.”
This was the same approach Golubkov took during the 2018-19 season when Russian Para Nordic skiers were not allowed to take part in international races.
After more than a year of home training and local competitions, Golubkov made his comeback at the World Cup opener in Lillehammer, Norway in December 2019.
It was a major triumph with the young skier winning five gold medals and only missing the podium in one race.
“It was not hard to come back because I was training regularly,” Golubkov said. “Training is everything to me. I value it and don’t want to stop. If you relax a lit-tle, then your results can also drop. By training, you always stay in top form.”
Golubkov went on to win 13 out of the 16 World Cup races he entered this sea-son. And now, once again from his apartment in the Russian north, he is setting his sights on next season.