Christmas Cup kick starts Russian athletics season

With Moscow set to host the World Athletics Championships this August, several top athletes, including reigning European indoor long jump champion, Darya Klishina, began this year's campaign at the 20th Christmas Cup in Moscow.

­There are eight months to go until Russia hosts the World Athletics Championships for the first time.

With the New Year celebrations now over, several of the country's top athletes gathered in Moscow for the capital's first competitive meeting this year, while many former track stars and current coaches kept an eye on Russia's upcoming talent.

“The Christmas Cup is an important preparation stage for the Russian championship, where the national team squad is determined,”
Svetlana Masterkova, two-time Olympic champion, told RT. “Usually, around 40 per cent of the Russian team consists of Muscovites.”

“This is the opening competition of the season, and we can see the athletes' form and approach,”
Valentin Maslakov, Russia’s athletics head coach, stressed. “Many tournaments will be held this year and, despite there being eight months to go before the world championships, all athletes dream of performing there.”

Over the years, the Olympics have proved to be the swan song for numerous athletes as they hope to retire at the top, after the world's biggest competition.

However, since Moscow was named host venue for this summer's world championships, the prospect of ultimately performing in their home nation has changed the plans of many Russians.

“Long before the London Games, we asked a lot of our stars not to quit the sport after the Olympics as we want to perform well at the home world championships,”Maslakov revealed.

Still, many of those, who competed in London, preferred to watch the competition, rather than take part as they continued to rest after last year's busy season.

Probably, the most notable athlete at the Christmas Cup was European indoor long jump champion, Darya Klishina, who had a poor season last year – failing to qualify for the Olympics – and has a lot to prove in 2013.

And, despite a relatively modest second-placed finish, the 21-year-old remains focused on improving.

“If I'd won gold at the Olympics, then I could relax a little,”
Klishina stressed. “But things went wrong last year and I failed to make it to London. So I need to boost my results, as my dream is to perform at the Moscow world championships.”

The 2013 winter season started with the Christmas Cup, and this year will be one to remember for all the athletes and fans in the Russian capital as the focus turns towards Moscow's first ever World Championships in August.