Name: Elizaveta Tishchenko
Hometown: Kiev (Ukraine, USSR)
Country: Russia, since 2004 I have been permanently living abroad, first in Germany and since 2007 in Switzerland
Years in the sport: 1985-2013, 1991-2004 (Russian National Team)
European Championships – Gold 🥇 in 1993, 1997, 1999 + 2001
Olympic Games – Silver 🥈 in 2000 + 2004
FIVB World Grand Prix – 🥇Gold in 1997, 1999 + 2002 Silver 🥈 in 1998, 2000 + 2003, Bronze 🥉 in 1993 + 1996
World Championship – Gold 🥇 in 1991, Bronze 🥉 in 1994, 1998 + 2002
5x FIVB World Grand Prix Best Spiker.
4x European Championship Best Spiker
1x World Championship Best Spiker.
How did you get started in your sport?
My farther is a former national team (USSR) volleyball player. I was introduced to the sport as long as I can remember but it was my dad who took me to a volleyball school when I was 10. He is a tall man and it was obvious that I would be tall as well – perfect for volleyball.
What was it like when you officially retired?
Officially I retired after the Olympic Games in Athens 2004 because of my multiple knee injuries. It was painful both literally and because of losing in the Final against China. I was very tired, and I needed some break from the sport. However, I later continued to play in the German and Swiss leagues until 2013, but it was not the same level. My retirement came very natural as I simply exhausted my health, energy and motivation. I guess I played as much as I could considering my injuries and my age.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Since I retired from the sport, I have dedicated a lot time to education and career development. I have been working at the International Volleyball Federation since 2009: I am lucky to work in the sport I love and know; and I would like to further grow as a sport marketing/commercial professional and a person, contribute to the popularization and commercialization of my sport – to make an impact as a female manager and a former player.
What was your biggest challenge as an athlete and how did you overcome it?
Overcoming yourself every day, sacrificing such things as family, friends, keeping a diet and to find a motivation is already a challenge for every top athlete. My greatest challenges were always my injuries. When you have desire and willingness to play but there is something which cause you physical pain, it is tough.
What has been your biggest challenge since retiring from sport?
To convince everyone that I am not only a former professional athlete but a competent marketing & commercial professional.
Best advice that you have been given?
Never give up and keep smiling
Travel. I have been to 96 countries and I hope to visit most of the countries of the world until the end of my life. I love exploring the unknown and there are so many things to discover!
The music that I listen to normally reflects my mood and the level of my energy. Classic music gives me inspiration and calms me down. I love Rachmaninov and the 2nd piano concert with orchestra is my favourite. I can also jog and listen to Italian opera.
From the mainstream music l like “Imagine dragons”, “Coldplay”, AND “Red Hot Chili Papers”.
What was the best part of competing?
Actual competition, adrenaline spikes and to you’re able to see how your mind and body could go on a completely different and earlier unthinkable level. In case of victory – an incredible level of satisfaction and completion. Every loss is also a lesson and constant reflection on how to improve, avoid mistakes and reach this prefect point when your body, mind and your team could work as one.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela
If you could train with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Serena Williams. I am just curious to see how she does it and what does it take to be like her.
If you could have competed in another sport what would it be and why?
Tennis. There are lots of similarities with volleyball, but tennis players are on their own, there is usually no team. You need to have incredible psychological strength and stamina. It could have been interesting to experience those feelings as a solo athlete.
Favourite place you competed?
Asia in general. Japan, Hong Kong because of the incredible fans who love and appreciate volleyball. Fans from those countries are very loyal and some of them are still following me after all those years.
Did/do you have any special warm up routine?
Yes, I did but it was standard for volleyball players. It is very important to keep your hands warm – your main tool in volleyball and sometimes I used gloves for warm-up if it was too cold in the stadium.
What time is your alarm set for?
Ice cream or cake?
What do you do on your rest days?
I spent as much time as I could with my family and with my son. I like to do outdoor activities, hiking, exploring new places, museums, read when I can, and cooking.
Last non-food item you bought?
Tickets to a ballet gala in Geneva.
Do you have a lucky number?
9 is the number I was playing under all my career. I consider it lucky.
Best thing you’ve done in the past 3 months?
Spent holidays with my son and my husband
Strangest thing you’ve ever witnessed?
In one of the competitions in China after a match the Brazilian and Cuban players started to fight. It was the first and last time when I saw a physical fight in volleyball as we are normally a non-contact sport. It was a nasty scene in front of at least six thousand spectators.
*Note: We attempted to locate a video of the fight, but were unsuccessful.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
From my mum who always told me to learn from everything and from everyone. The more you know the better for you, whether it is learning a new language, new skill or simply reading a new book.
Scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Left my family when I was only 15 and moved from Ukraine, Kiev to Russia (at that time it was still one country) 3000 miles away from my home to pursue my dream – to play volleyball on one of the best teams in the world. Two years later the Soviet Union collapsed, and I happened to be at once in a different country and divided by the border from my family.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what one person and thing would you like to have?
A book with an instruction on how to survive and to get off the island.
What would be your perfect meal?
A healthy one: good quality products, lots of vegetables, little fat, seafood of all kind.
What performance are you most proud of?
There are many of them but in 2002 I’ve received the award at the FIVB World Championship as “Best Spiker of the Year”. I have to admit, I was unstoppable, and I was at the peak of my form but it didn’t help my team win the World Championship. We lost the semi-final against the USA and ended up with the bronze medal.
Hardest sport moment you had to push through?
Participating at the Olympics 2004 three month after surgery on both knees was not easy and very painful. According to my doctors I needed six months to recover but I desperately wanted to play at the Olympics and I forced myself to do so. I believe that if I would have not been recovering after the knee surgery, we could have become the Olympic Champions. My team would have needed me in my best shape.
What have you learned from sport that has helped you in other parts of your life?
To work hard, to be resilient, to never give up and to fight to the end, work under pressure and to keep a cold head under the most stressful situations. There is always a solution, you just need to switch on the right mode and to take the right decision.
Favourite place to eat?
Sushi place in Tokyo. It is always an art eating sushi in Japan.
If you had to travel either forward in time or backward in time, which would you choose? Why?
It is tempting to go backwards and to change e.g. one point in the Olympic Final 2004 (we were leading 2:1 and it was 23:21 in the fourth set…just two points) which could have turned the game and make us eventually the Olympic Champions, but I would not do that. I am happy with my life as it is now, and this loss formed me and my character and my further life. I just know that if you have a chance – USE IT! There will be no rewind button.
What is the most unusual, challenging, or creative workout you’ve ever done?
As a part of training we did a lot of sports dancing (aerobic like) and gymnastics with a lot of exercises that are not easy to perform by the tall girls. This was the purpose to make us better coordinated, flexible and agile and to control our bodies.
I wouldn’t keep one as a pet, but I am fascinated by cats. From the small to the largest ones such as tigers, lions, cheetahs. I love the way they look, their moves, independence, graciousness and explosiveness.
Dream job besides an athlete?
My job is a dream job.
What motivated you to keep training?
Results and self-satisfaction as well as sense of responsibility towards the team. The more you train the more it is difficult to stop as it would be a pity to waste all the time and sacrifices you had done before. The feeling of letting your team down is awful.
Favourite time of year?
Of all the people you have trained with over the years, from whom have you learned the most and why?
Nikolay Karpol – my coach and a legend in the world of volleyball. He might beat the Guinness record next year as he is coaching already for 50 years. He was more than just a great coach; he was a teacher who formed our personalities.
How many hours did you train at a given week?
On average we trained 30 hours per week but during special intensive physical preparations it could go up to 36 hours.
Best memory you have from a time when you were training?
A feeling of being a part of the team, unity with your teammates. It is very special in team sports where you have support, trust and reliability which goes beyond the field of play. I miss it in the normal life where people tend to be more individualistic and not team oriented.
If you could trade places with anyone for a day who would it be? Why?
I think it could be something having to do with singing – skill I never had but always admired. Imagine being Beyoncé or Freddy Mercury where your voice is god’s gift and makes people crazy.
What are you plans for 5 years down the line?
I want to progress and grow as a professional. I am also very curious what my son will be like when he turns 15. He is nearly 10 and plays soccer now. When I was 15, I already made my mind and started my professional career as an athlete.
What accomplishments outside of your sport are you the most proud of?
I guess I have a successful career after my active sport life. I am proud of my academic accomplishments that allowed me to be where I am today.
Too many of them. I love reading and I read a lot. As a Russian I adore Russian classic literature and Nabokov or Dostoevsky are among my favourites. “The Brothers Karamazov” of Dostoevsky influenced me a lot.
What did a typical day of training look like?
7am – wake up
7:30am – breakfast
9am-11:30am – first training (could include work in the gym with weights)
1:30pm-4pm – rest (day nap)
4pm – snack
5pm -7:30pm- evening training
8pm – dinner
8-11pm- video (preparation to matches), massage, physiotherapy, free time
11pm – bed
Anything people be surprised to learn about you?
As a girl I dreamt I would be a ballerina.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you/others while training?
There have been so many funny moments that it is hard to think of any in particular. Once we were in Japan and we finished a competition. So, my teammate and I decided to celebrate at the end in the hotel room with a can of beer, which was normally a taboo on our team. On nearly every floor there was a vending machine where you could buy beer with coins. It happened that we needed to go to another floor as the machine was not available on ours. In Japanese hotels you could always find a typical kimono robe and we were both dressed in those.
We decided to avoid taking the elevator (we wanted to be discrete) and took the stairs. Once we bought the beer, we returned to the stairs and wanted to go back to our floor, but we realized that the doors were locked from the outside of the stairs (normally they are used in case of emergency). We started to panic as we looked pretty stupid in those robes and we both had a beer in our hands. We tried each floor and the only door that was open led directly to the reception. We had no choice but to take this way and take an elevator up to our floor. It was a very funny scene in the Japanese hotel with two tall volleyball players dressed in kimono, hiding beers behind their backs. Luckily nobody from our staff saw us. I laughed a lot about this adventure with my friend.
Best movie and tv series?
A lot of them but I became a big fan of Game of Thrones and can’t wait for the release of the last season.
Favourite food while training?
Anything what could give me energy and a feeling of satisfaction and at the same time would have “good calories”. I was on a diet all my career and couldn’t afford eating whatever I liked or wanted.
Results you’re most proud of?
The fact that I competed at three Olympic games and won two silver Olympic medals
What inspires you?
My 9-year-old son inspires me a lot. Bringing up a child teaches me every day how to be a better person. To learn how to be patient, to listen carefully, to teach the right things to a person who absorbs everything from you like a sponge requires a lot of responsibilities, how to not abuse the trust of someone who looks up at you.
Do you have a saying or motto you live by?
Never postpone for tomorrow what you could do today.
I try to live by this every day whether it is my private life or my professional one. It requires a lot of discipline and is not always possible, but I try and start my day with making my bed.
What did/do you enjoy most about your sport?
Incredible teamwork and the intelligence of the game, opportunity to express yourself and even being aggressive by hitting the ball hard but at the same time not having a physical contact with your opponent.
Advise that you have for someone starting out?
Follow your dream and do what you like and not what your parents ask you to do.
What was the most crucial part of your training?
Overcoming yourself every day at every practice, pushing the boundaries of your abilities.
Anyone you would like to thank?
My parents for supporting me with everything, my coach Nikolay Karpol who believed in me and trusted me for nearly 14 years in the main six of both my club and the Russian National Team.
My husband for guiding me after retirement and helping with the transition and development of my new career outside sport.