When Aneliya Nuneva, the 100m silver medalist at the 1986 European Athletics Championships and one of Bulgaria’s most successful athletes, emigrated to the USA upon retiring from competitive sport, many could be forgiven for assuming that her contribution to track and field in her homeland was over.
However, more than 20 years after her greatest performance on the track, Aneliya returned to Bulgaria and the sport that she loves, earning her country’s nomination for a 2013 European Athletics Women’s Leadership Award in the process.
“I enjoyed running from when I was 12-13 years old,” Aneliya recalls. “I was the fastest and I always took first place in competitions in high school. I started to train professionally after I graduated and I was successful straight away – I improved the Bulgarian records in 100 and 200m in the same year.”
A career of World and Olympic finals followed, before Aneliya’s priorities changed.
“After the end of my professional sports career, I moved with my family to the USA. There I was fully dedicated to raising my son,” she explains. “He is a professional skateboarder now and I moved back to Bulgaria four years ago.”
Upon her return, Aneliya wasted no time in reestablishing links with the athletics community and she quickly became involved in a number of big projects.
“After 20 years actively engaging athletics, I would like to convey experiences to young people and to promote sports development, particularly athletics,” she says.
This desire to promote sports has resulted in Aneliya, with the help of colleagues, reviving an important international meeting in the town of Ruse, as well as refurbishing the town’s athletics stadium.
“The Mladost Meeting was an international competition for boys and girls that took place between 1970 and 1992 in Ruse,” Aneliya says. “Athletes from the former USSR, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Czech Republic, Romania and France took part in it and it was a springboard for a lot of talented athletes. 20 years later, me and my team, which consists of ex athletes, decided to revive this event in order to better promote athletics.”
Dobromir Karamarinov, President of the Bulgarian Athletics Federation, acknowledges the importance of Aneliya’s work: “She is one of the most popular and revered Bulgarian athletes,” he confirms. “And thanks to her valuable contribution and work, the Mladost meeting has once again become a very important part of athletics life in Bulgaria and the region.”
Aneliya’s work didn’t stop there, however. She also worked to ensure that the city’s track was of the requisite standard for competition.
“My main activity has been to improve sports infrastructure in Bulgaria,” she comments. “We have renovated the running track at the city stadium and our aim is to apply to host European and Balkan championships in athletics for competitors up to 18 years old.”
Again, Aneliya’s work is highly valued by her federation. “She has helped to design, construction and opening of a new athletic track in the town of Ruse,” says Mr Karamarinov. “She actively participates in athletic life and works to improve sports facilities in the city.”
Yet Aneliya’s contribution to the sport in her home town is more than her practical work. “Aneliya Nuneva is a charismatic person,” Mr Karamarinov affirms. “Thanks to her, many children have decided to take part in athletics. With great desire and energy she gives her experience and knowledge to the training of athletes. She is an example for young people.”
Thanks to Aneliya Nuneva, those young people are better equipped to enjoy all that athletics has to offer in both competition and training.
The European Athletics Women's Leadership Awards
The aim of the European Athletics Women's Leadership Awards is to recognise the behind the scenes work and accomplishments that have helped to make the winners role models for other women in athletics. Coaching young athletes, officiating, setting up and managing clubs . . . their achievements are as varied as the individuals themselves.
In 2013, 26 women including Aneliya, were selected for the award by their national athletics federations. The next edition of the awards will be in 2015 with details to be announced soon.