Athletes and school students inspire Dina’s Olympic comeback
by Greg Campbell
When Australian pistol athlete Dina Aspandiyarova lines up to compete in the 10m Air Pistol at the Tokyo Olympic Games next year, she can thank her coaching stable of over 60 shooters from around the world for being selected to attend her fourth Olympic Games.
Aspandiyarova had retired from shooting after the 2012 London Olympic Games and, soon after, she and her husband, former Australian and Kazakhstan Olympic pistol coach Anatoly Babushkin, headed to Singapore after accepting dual coaching roles.
“We thought it would be an interesting opportunity for me to work as well. Also, it would be an interesting opportunity for our daughter (Kata) to study there as well. But it was so hot and humid we could not bear it,” said Aspandiyarova.
On her return to Australia, Aspandiyarova decided to continue coaching. But instead of flying to different countries to coach her athletes, Aspandiyarova conducts her coaching sessions via the internet, a perfect coaching solution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I train people from all over the world. But with technology so good, we can have live sessions via skype, so I see them shooting live,” she explained.
With COVID-19 not proving to be a coaching obstacle, Aspandiyarova records a logbook on each of her athletes where coaching programs are mapped out and results are recorded.
But to continue to provide her shooters with the best technical information, Aspandiyarova said she needed to return to the Brisbane International Pistol Club and resume shooting herself.
“I started to practice in order to help my shooters to grow. Because of the skype sessions, I thought I needed to resume training to keep my feeling fresh because I have to explain to my shooters exactly what they need to feel, what is going on in their head, or what stage they need to reach,” she said.
“So, I went through all the stages from being a beginner because I had a five year break which seemed like an eternity,” she added.
Practice sessions became more frequent, her own results improved, and the competitive juices, which seemed to have all dried up after the London Olympics, began to flow once again.
“When you start to see something works for you, inspiration grows and you want to become better and better, you need more challenges, so you go to this competition and that competition. It was never about making the next Olympic team. It was about the journey,” she said.
Aspandiyarova’s shooting journey began as an 11-year old girl in her native Kazakhstan when a school friend invited her to come and try shooting in an underground cellar.
“I actually thought it was the same as archery because archery translates into Russian as shooting with a bow and I was very surprise to see a pistol,” she recalled.
In 1992, the former Soviet Union collapsed, and its member states were separated into 15 different countries.
“The national team of Kazakhstan was derived, and I became a member of this team. It became a totally different story and a totally different journey and that’s where I started to grow and travel and win and get more taste of shooting and it became my job as well,” she said.
Aspandiyarova was selected for Kazakhstan to attend the 1994 Asian Games in Japan and she was a member of the 25m Sports Pistol team which won the bronze medal. Her international career will come full circle when she returns to Japan for the Olympics 27 years later.
In 1996, she was chosen as a reserve for the Kazakhstan Olympic team and attended the Atlanta Olympic Games but did not compete. “We had extra quota places than shooters and we were allowed to bring a reserve, and I worked more as a translator,” she said.
The Kazakhstan shooting coach was Babushkin, who was later to become Aspandiyarova’s husband.
Aspandiyarova won outright selection for Kazakhstan at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and finished sixth in the 10m Air Pistol final after losing a three-way shoot-off. Australia’s Anne-Marie Forder captured the bronze medal.
She also competed in the 25m Sports Pistol where Lalita Yauhleuskaya, from Belarus, won the silver medal. Yauhleuskaya’s husband, Sergei Evglevski snr, was the gunsmith to the Australian Olympic shooting team at the 2000 Olympics and he and Aspandiyarova had known each other since she was aged 15.
In the years to follow, Aspandiyarova and Yauhleuskaya gained Australian citizenship and became Australian team-mates and won the women’s pairs 10m Air Pistol gold medal at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
And at the Tokyo Olympics next year, Yauhleuskaya’s son, Sergei Evglevski, will be Aspandiyarova’s Australian team-mate. “I remember him when he was a little boy,” said Aspandiyarova.
Aspandiyarova won Australian team selection for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games where she finished 36th in the 10m Air Pistol and 33rd in the 25m Sports Pistol.
She then won a bronze in the individual 10m Air Pistol and silver in the women’s pairs 10m Air Pistol at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. “I still remember my mistakes,” she said when recalling the individual 10m Air Pistol final.
While the 2012 London Games were her third Olympics, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games has provided a 12-month opportunity to prepare for the longer 60-shot 10m Air Pistol match, rather than the 40-shot match which was the previous Games format.
“I still have this mentality that it is still my job and you are meant to do it well, and if you cannot do it well then there is no point doing it. So, there is always motivation to be perfect and reach the best. Now I have this year, I have to grow,” she said.
While Aspandiyarova is coaching her own athletes, she is also recalling her sporting journey to school students throughout Queensland as part of the Australian Olympic Committee’s celebrated Olympics Unleashed education program.
“I am very lucky to be involved with this program and to travel to different schools and see those kids and their eyes. I am very happy to be involved with this program and be able to inspire kids, share my story and hopefully inspire them and unleash their talent,” she said.
While the primary goal of Olympics Unleashed is to inspire a new generation of Australian children to chase their goals and dreams, the program is motivating Aspandiyarova.
“In fact, it works backwards. They inspire me because I want to match their expectations,” she said.
And if Aspandiyarova can excel at the Tokyo Games next year, she will have completed a full Olympic journey – a journey that will inspire Australian school children and her team of athletes.