It’s OK if Yulia Tchekaleva’s name doesn’t roll off your tongue. But you might as well get used to reading it.
The 29-year-old Russian has enjoyed a breakout season in more ways than one, notching two bronze medals at World Championships in back-to-back races (the 10-kilometer freestyle and 4×5 k relay) in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Tchekaleva went on to place third in last weekend’s 30 k freestyle mass start at the Holmenkollen World Cup in Oslo, Norway. It was her fifth medal of the season, including her silver from the pre-Olympic World Cup skiathlon in Sochi, Russia, and bronze in the 5 k freestyle at the early-season World Cup mini tour in Kuusamo, Finland.
And all this came less than a year after having a baby. Before she gave birth to her son, who turned 1 on Jan. 9, Tchekaleva was more of an unknown. She didn’t have an individual World Cup medal and didn’t make the 2009 World Championships or 2010 Olympics, yet today, she’s Russia’s leading woman.
FasterSkier sat down with Tchekaleva, who spoke through a translator, after anchoring Russia to bronze in the 4×5 k at World Championships. She dedicated the medal to her son and her family.
FasterSkier: How difficult was it to return after having a child?
Yulia Tchekaleva: My husband is my private coach so I didn’t even imagine that everything would be so fast and easy to return back to skiing. The first five months after the baby was born, I was training at home, I was feeding baby with my milk, and I was training with my husband only.
FS: When did you start training with the national team again?
YT: From the beginning of June 2012. In two months after I started training with the national team, I felt even in two months very, very, strong and with the same physical shape and state as it was before. Even better.
FS: How much did you train during your pregnancy?
YT: Nothing at all. During pregnancy no training. The season of 2011 stopped and I finished training. When I understood that I am pregnant, I stopped training. I felt my body, my shape, I felt so tired after the season so I just wanted to have rest and to enjoy the pregnancy. So it was nine months of rest, it was a vacation, a holiday. When I gave birth to the baby, I just wanted to start training. It was a very, very strong feeling to start training again.
FS: What does the World Championships relay medal mean to you?
YT: When I got a medal in the individual, I didn’t feel as emotional. After [the relay] race I feel more emotions, more happiness, more everything, because we didn’t expect it until the last moment. So there’s much more happiness for the country.
All the girls are very, very happy because for most of them, probably some of them this will be the highest feeling and medal of their career. That is why they are really happy.
— Audrey Mangan contributed reporting
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Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.