BURNABY — A new language. A new culture. A new life.
It’s safe to say that Vladislav Tsygankov has faced a lot of new hurdles along a path that has taken him over 8,000 kilometres from Moscow to the Burnaby Mountain campus of the Simon Fraser Clan.
This weekend, however, in a moment rife with full-circle symbolism, the emerging superstar with the Clan track and field team will face some old hurdles, the same ones he abandoned four years ago as he left Russia, intent on athletic re-invention in a new country.
On Saturday, as a part of the Clan’s first road trip of its new outdoor season, Tsygankov will compete in the 400-metres hurdles for the first time on North American soil at a meet in San Francisco’s Bay Area.
It’s significant because before his arrival in Burnaby as a long jumper and this season as a 400-metre runner, it’s the event that was his specialty as a member of the Russian youth national team.
Tsygankov, in fact, has been so successful in the long jump and 400 metres that he now holds the GNAC record in each, both of which he competed in at the recently completed NCAA Div. 2 indoor national championships.
Yet ask the 21-year-old criminology major to describe his own athletic identity, and the answer is rooted more in the past than the present.
“It’s complicated,” he said earlier this week. “But I think I am shifting more back to the 400-metre hurdles. That’s funny because in a couple of days I’ll be running my first race after a real long break. There is a mix of nervousness and high expectations.
“It’s not that they didn’t want me as a hurdler,” he says of the Clan. “I presented myself to them as someone who wanted to exclusively do jumps. That was my idea.”
A NEW RUSSIAN ROCKET
Brit Townsend will admit that “luck and timing” played the largest part in landing an elite-level athlete who had grown up training in the demanding Russian sports machine.
“We basically got somebody that was pretty well-trained, not just physically, but mentally,” the longtime head coach of the Clan track and field program says. “He already knew what he had to do to be a great athlete. We could see from the start that he was driven to be the best he could be. He is the real deal.”
What made Tsygankov unique from his fellow Russian teammates was his desire to pursue, with equal purpose, both his athletic and his academic passions.
“First of all, university sports is much more developed in North America than in Russia,” he says. “Back home, the option is to be an athlete or to pursue academic things. I still wanted to do both.”
So Tsygankov began to research the places where he could both major in criminology and compete in athletics, and the best place he could find was Simon Fraser.
Yet to tick all of the boxes he needed for admission, Tsygankov needed to upgrade his academic resume, and that meant spending a year-and-a-half at Fraser International College, a pathway school located at SFU.
Unable to train with the Clan over that period due to NCAA regulations, Tsygankov footed the bill to hire a coach to insure his form would not falter.
“He came to see us and we researched what he needed to become eligible and he even added some extra courses to make that happen,” marvels Townsend. “He worked extremely hard to do what he needed to get here and be NCAA-eligible.”
The results speak for themselves.
The self-starting Tsygankov has not only come into his own as a junior with the track and field program as an NCAA All-American, he has also begun a community policing career in Vancouver’s West End.
WELCOMING HIS OLD HURDLES
Growing up just outside of Moscow, Tsygankov’s introduction to track and field came at the age of nine following the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.
“My grandmother wanted me to try the sport,” says Tsygankov, “because a person born in my town, Yuriy Borzakovskiy, won the gold medal in the 800 metres and became a local hero.”
Tsygankov showed steady progress, eventually relocating to Moscow for high school.
In 2011, as a member of Russia’s national youth team, he competed in the 400-metre hurdles at the European Youth Olympic Festival in Turkey and finished third.
Tsygankov, however, produced some disappointing results in the discipline over parts of the next two seasons, and thus in 2013, as he looked to come to SFU, decided “Canada would be a fresh start for me in the long jump.”
Now three seasons into his Clan career, what has unfolded for Tsygankov is the emergence of all of his dynamic skills as a runner and a jumper.
“It’s a bit like Ruky Abdulai in that he is such a great athlete,” Townsend says, referencing the former Clan female great, a 2008 Olympian who went on to set the Canadian long jump record.
“I am not saying he is at the international level in all of his events, but he can certainly make an impact at the university level.”
Tsygankov was not a polished long jumper by any stretch when he first came to Canada, and running straight 400’s were foreign to him until this season.
Yet to dominate in those two events (GNAC records of 47.61 seconds in 400 metres, 7.43 metres in long jump) to the degree he has?
And then to state that the 400-metre hurdles is likely his true calling?
“If we knew at the start of the season that he would break the GNAC record in the 400 metres and then become an All-American in both, we would have been pretty darn surprised,” Townsend says. “But as the season has gone along, we’ve seen what is possible for him.
“And there is more to come because he is the type of athlete that mentally and physically can go on after university and reach that higher level.”
Which brings us to this weekend and his first crack at the 400 metre hurdles on North American soil.
“Ideally, I just want to see how I run and then I will have a better understanding,” says Tsygankov, whose personal best in the event is 54.49 seconds set back in Moscow in 2013.
“I think my main goal this (outdoor) season would be to try to make nationals in the 400 hurdles. But combining that with the long jump is pretty tough.”
But so too has been navigating all of the other hurdles placed in his way.
“He just wanted it bad,” says Townsend, “and not just athletics, but an education, to be able to graduate from SFU and leave with a degree. It’s got to be a real challenge when you come from so far away. But he is the real deal.”
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