Nearly 16 years after the Sydney Olympics, Tatiana Grigorieva is still reaching for the sky.
The 40 year old, who shot to fame winning silver in the women’s pole vault at the 2000 Olympics and retired in 2007, has returned to the sport to foster a new generation of gifted track and field athletes.
“I̓’ve got my energy back,” Grigorieva tells WHO. "Reflecting on the eve of my retirement, I think I was quite drained, emotionally and mentally, and I didn’t even have a desire to go back either as an athlete or a coach, but now I̓’ve got this passion back. I’m very happy.”
Grigorieva is training students at a private school in Brisbane.
"When I found out she was our coach, I was like, how crazy to think I'm being coached by an Olympic athlete?" says student Melissa Watkin, 18. "It's been absolutely amazing."
Grigorieva's journey back to her sport began a couple years ago when she started being approached to work with new talent.
After taking on her current role, "I said, you know, it just feels too good," Grigorieva says with a laugh. "I just realised, even though it has been a while, I've got lots of experience and lots of knowledge and I've got the energy to start sharing it and giving it back."
During her 10-year career as a pole vaulter, Grigorieva won bronze in the World Championships in 1999 and came in second to American Stacy Dragila at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, winning silver in front of the home crowd on Sept. 25—the same night Cathy Freeman took gold in the 400m.
"It was the first Olympic Games for women’s pole vault." she says. "The competition was bright and we just stood up and said, 'Hey, you know, that’s what women's pole vaulting is about—it's fun, it's exciting, it's great to watch and it's even better to be in it!’”
Life after the Games has been sweet—literally.
After retiring from the sport, she and partner Plamen Milanov opened a gelato café in Brisbane.
"It just came natural, my retirement,” says Grigorieva, a former Russian hurdler who migrated to Australia in 1997.
She stepped out of the spotlight following her sixth-place appearance on Dancing with the Stars in 2007 and became a mum to son Makar, now 7, and daughter Sophia, now 6.
Motherhood “was the most wonderful thing,” says Grigorieva. “Even though Sydney was absolutely massive, nothing compares to having a child. So this competitive part of me fell asleep for a little while and I became a mum, and it was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me." ”
Now Grigorieva has a new legion of fans. Student Grace Sheppard, 17, says, "she always shares her Olympic experience with us. She's very open and willing to talk about it, and I can talk to her about anything. She's a very down-to-earth lady.”
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