Natalia Bystrova: ‘I try to show that a female athlete in bodybuilding can be womanly and elegant’

The athlete from Kazan won two golds at once — in Women’s Physique and Mixed Pairs with Saint Petersburg athlete Usein Salimov

11-time absolute bodybuilding champion Natalia Bystrova gave Realnoe Vremya an exclusive interview immediately on her way from the World Championships in Spain to Kazan. In a talk with our newspaper, the famous compatriot talked about the role of weight training in a woman’s life, the specifics of competition with her student, the brightest rivals from Ukraine and “sacrifices” for the sake of victory.

“I turned out to be not like the others”

Natalia, when did you choose this sport and why?

I chose this sport a long time ago when I was 17 and tried to find out what talents I had, to understand what I needed. I was a slim, graceful girl, however, not tall. And I wanted to be different from the others. Then I tried to both dance and sing. The latter wasn’t my thing. And I found myself when I first went to a gym. It was at College No. 24, in Kirov District, Kazan.

What did your family think about your choice? Who are your parents? Did you have a sports family?

My parents were ordinary people, sadly, they aren’t alive. My father was a master of sports in boxing. But my non-sports mum worried because of my choice very much, she considered it did not make me womanly. I think she suffered because by choosing this sport I turned out not like the others, then it wasn’t accepted to stand out in a crowd. But she not only worried about me but also was very proud of my successes.

Not everybody thinks bodybuilding is a beautiful sport, especially for women, big muscles, prominent veins are associated more with male athletes. What is the beauty of this sport for you?

You are talking about the sport where athletes, indeed, don’t look very aesthetic. It is women’s bodybuilding, mainly American athletes do it. I perform in Women’s Physique, it is a more womanly category, here fewer muscles are demonstrated than in bodybuilding. And my mission is probably to change people’s attitude to this area in our sport. I try to prove that a female athlete in bodybuilding can be womanly, elegant, beautiful.

A lot of female athletes, and such cases are unfortunately found among Russian athletes too, wrongly understand the development tendency in our sport. Some simply don’t see the limits: the point is not to have a lot of muscles, more muscles than an ordinary woman has. Proportions, beautiful muscles, their quality and most importantly the combination with womanliness are important. Though it is clear that everybody has a different attitude to this sport. Sometimes here in Russia, people react inappropriately. But abroad, everything is absolutely different. People respect my work, appreciate me, here I am a star.

“We weren’t taken to the gym for a long time”

How did you join the sport? What did you start with?

I joined this sport a long time ago, not alone, with my friend. We had been dreaming of this for a long time, and boys didn’t take us to the gym because women at that time didn’t use to lift weights.

When and where did you win your first victory on a global scale? Were you surprised or, on the contrary, were you self-confident from the beginning?

My first big victory was on Crete in 2002. I already was quite a mature athlete. For me, it was a complete surprise because it was my first trip. When the judges unanimously praised me so high, to be honest, I was simply shocked. And this victory seriously influenced the development of my sports career later: it inspired confidence in me that I could comply with world standards and moreover, I could set the pace the tendency for the development of this sport.

“We are similar to Ukrainians”

How difficult was it to win this time?

This time the training was very long, even longer than usual, it lasted for six months. And all this time was tense enough psychologically: during the pandemic, there is no guarantee that you will get a visa and travel abroad. In this competition, there were a lot of opponents, 17 athletes in one category, 27 in the other and 10 pairs among which we finished first.

Did you compare your and others’ possibilities?

I never watch athletes backstage, I think it is pointless. The stage itself will show who is better. And first of all, I don’t compete with the rivals but myself, it is my key rule, which is making sure I win all my weak points and after the result the judge will voice I have nothing to reproach myself. This is crucial in the preparation for a competition.

Who are your closest rivals and why?

As experience shows, girls from Ukraine are the most serious, most worthy rivals. They are as beautiful as Russians and train with the same dedication as we do. We are very similar to them.

About health and “sacrifices”

Sport today is not only training and nutrition but also often medication, vitamins and always overloads. Where do you think the border between sport “for yourself” and the sport that requires risking your health is?

I think this question has one strange thing. There is no sport “for yourself.” This is why, athletes, at least I, take advantage of all their possibilities. Most importantly, if an athlete prioritises his health, he perfectly understands that there is an accurate plan one should stick with. The athlete understands that sometimes it is necessary to slow down to make two steps later. If one treats the training smartly, the health risks go down. It is necessary to understand that not all methods are good to achieve a goal. Nowadays it is in general necessary to understand that health is the most important thing.

What else do you have to sacrifice? And why are you ready for sacrifices?

The only thing I have to sacrifice during the preparation for competitions is communication with my relatives, friends. There is little time because there is a clear timetable I cannot refuse. But everybody understands me, even if I go to a birthday or wedding with my food containers. And nobody bothers me, persuades me — everybody knows it is absolutely useless.

About competition and stress

What is competition in sport? How serious is it?

Competition in sport is probably considered differently. In my case, for instance, I trained a girl from Chita, she performs in my category and finished second at the Russian Championship, then second at the World Championships after me. She competed for the first time and understands that she could only dream about it before we met. So our competition is healthy, we rather support each other. Moreover, my work as a coach is also evaluated here. I can not only prepare myself but also get my students through this road. I don’t know what is like for others, perhaps, there can be different variants.

Sports and the fight for success is a huge stress. How do you get rid of stress?

I have always considered that stress stimulates human possibilities in the good sense of the word. Perhaps, this is why I look as if I had 35, not 53. While stress, as a rule, is reduced by sleep. It is the most important thing that can be permitted during the preparation for the competition without guilt. While relieving stress like my clients, with yummy food, this variant certainly doesn’t suit me.

About mission and choice of career

You are a coach. Is it a vocation or consequence of being into bodybuilding that became key in life?

I am a coach who not only works with clients in the gym but also trains athletes for competitions. It is two different specifics, and the business I do gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. I think it is my vocation, and not I chose it.

What is the difference between fitness and sport? Is it the loads because doing sport for yourself is easier?

Fitness is a lifestyle. Clients come to me first to get into shape, then become keen on and choose another option that is called sport. And there are a lot of people who do it.

If not this job, what else could you do?

Also, I love cooking. When you are in sport, it becomes a bit different, there is always a chance of showing off in another area. Perhaps, I will still want it because there are a lot of restaurants. However, they cook delicious but wrong food. It is a problem to cook in a way that people like it and it is beneficial.

“I had opportunities but didn’t have a desire”

You were born in Kazan. What do you like in your native city and its people the most?

Kazan has lately changed a lot. I am proud of my city, I love it and invite all my friends here. I want everybody to know how interesting, beautiful it has become here now. I am lucky, very kind, good-hearted and generous people surround me here, I appreciate their support and attention. Their moral support, the fact that my contribution to the development of sport in Tatarstan is highly praised inspires me very much, gives me energy and a desire to win.

If not Kazan, which city would you choose for yourself and why?

I had opportunities to move to Moscow and even abroad, but I have never had such a desire.

What, if not sport?

You like cars. What exactly do you like? Do you like to travel, enjoy driving or is it more serious?

I love cars, mainly big ones. I have had many cars, but I see only one sense of the car — it is a vehicle.

You are also into dance and culinary. What do you dance? Why did you choose dancing?

Yes, I love to dance. And I do it always when I have time. I like the dance kizomba, I tried my hand at this and was pleased to hear compliments from my choreographer who staged my performances. I am good at free music compositions. If I didn’t join bodybuilding, I could dance.

What is your signature dish? How often do you make it?

Chicken breast is my favourite and signature dish. Perhaps, many will be surprised because almost always I eat chicken breast for dinner throughout the preparation for competitions. It is a grilled breast with pickled onions, fresh vegetables — pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers. And I haven’t been tired of this dinner in such a simple way in the last 20 years.

In conclusion, what would you wish our readers?

I would like to wish everybody to stay healthy, not be afraid to start working out in the gym at any age. There is no need to postpone this moment. While I will share a small secret with women above 40: the older I become, the better body I have.

Interviewed by Inna Serova

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