Lalova-Collio: "It's been a great journey and I don't want it to end"

Ivet Lalova-Collio
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Bulgaria's Ivet Lalova-Collio is targeting her fifth Olympic appearance in Tokyo in 2021

European Athletics launched a brand new series on Instagram Live last night called #AtHomeWith which was presented by Great Britain's 2016 European long jump silver medallist Jazmin Sawyers and will feature some of the most recognisable and popular faces in European athletics.

Our first #AtHomeWith guest was Bulgarian sprinting great Ivet Lalova-Collio who joined us live from her home in Sofia. Lalova-Collio talked about how she reacted to the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games, how her husband Simone Collio helped her to love athletics and why winning gold in the 100m at the European Championships in Helsinki 2012 was the most significant race of her career. 

How is lockdown for you? What is the situation for you?

We are here in Bulgaria now. We had to cut short our training camp in Tenerife when things really changed in Europe so we came back to Bulgaria.

We are fine here. We have a state of emergency - we are not under a lockdown - but we have a lot of restrictions. We can't go to parks, tracks are closed, gyms are closed but it's your choice if you want to go out but we all prefer to stay home as much as possible.

It's tough times for people who train like us! We run in the streets but I keep saying that athletics is a 'poor' sport - we don't need that much to do what we do. We run, we jump, we do the basic things the human body can do although we try and improve them into something superhuman. Even if we have to run on the street or have to run on the stairs in our building, we are going to make it!

How did you feel when you heard Tokyo 2020 was postponed? 

I think we felt the same way. It's disappointing because things were so planned - we were planning when exactly to get to Tokyo, planning our tickets, planning our camp before the Olympics. It was pretty organised and life after that was pretty organised month by month.

At first I got scared because it means it was really serious. If they postpone the Olympics, it's serious. In time, it's not only about Olympics - it's about lives, it's about life, it's about economics and what's coming after. It grew bigger and bigger. 

I was really disappointed but I've heard so many times that we will have to wait to make our dreams come true. Every injury, every time the doctor is coming to say this and that. We've been there but if we have to wait one more year, I will wait for it and train and work even double.

How are you filling your time at the moment?

If I organise myself around training and what I have to eat and around sport, it's easier so the days goes almost like normal. It's all about training, resting and recovery. I spend more time cooking - I really want to eat good and I keep telling people 'don't worry so much about exercise,' be careful because if you stay home all day, you end up eating so be careful about that so I pay more attention to diet.

Your first Olympics was in Athens in 2004. We are so far on from that so what keeps you so motivated and enthusiastic?

Well I guess I must really love it! There is always something inside me that tells me I can do better, I can go for more next time so I keep going. I love to learn and I think that is one of the most important things in our life in our careers - you never stop learning things, to explore things what's best for you. It's been a great journey and to be honest I don't want it to end, I never want it to end.

When you started, did you always dream of a long career?

Both my parents were track athletes so I guess it was meant to be, I couldn't escape from it - from a little girl, it was track, track, track. I'm really thankful my first coach saw something in me because I was so skinny, I was running so funny. I saw a video of myself from 20 years ago when I was 16 and I was thinking 'is that me?!' It started like a joke but then I started to like it, I started to to win and the fire really starts and suddenly it became my job and my life and I love it. I wouldn't change it.

You can tell you have a real love and passion for the sport. Do you think that was always there or did that serious injury in 2005 help to spark your love for it.

A big injury is the biggest test of how strong and deep your love for the sport is...but to be honest, I learned this from my husband [Simone Collio]. When I met him, I saw in him someone who was having so much fun, was working so hard and is so talented and I thought 'OK, maybe I'll try to live it like this.'

I came from another country, another school of athletics in Eastern Europe where things should be hard and tough otherwise it is not going to work. His attitude of his group and is coach was a big change for me. I felt a big freedom - I was working harder but I was enjoying it more.

Which race would you say has had the biggest impact on your career?

I think that's definitely Helsinki 2012 and my European title in the 100m because I broke my femur in 2005 at the beginning of my career. It happened three months before the World Championships in Helsinki and I actually watched it crying my eyes out, wishing I was there, I'll be back and I'll be running 10.7-10.6.

This helped me in those tough moments to keep going and keep loving what I do and when I won my first European title in the 100m exactly in Helsinki seven years later, it was such a special moment. I cried so much at the ceremony. I think we all cry at ceremonies but I cried even more there!

How proud are you of the Ivet Lalova Sprint Academy and being a role model for young Bulgarians?

I love it, it was back in 2012 when I started it. I'm so proud of them - they have become my biggest motivation because they look up to me and they came to track because of me so I feel responsible for them. I love to give them the opportunity to start training, to know what track is, to make them feel proud when they watch me at the Olympics, World Championships or European Championships. It's really great and when I visit them, there is so much love. You have so many babies who grow in front of your eyes. It's one of my dreams and I would really love to keep it alive in the future.

Have you started to think about life after athletics?

I never stop thinking about it. I broke my leg when I was 20 so I had to live with the idea I might never make it back. The first thing the doctor told me was 'You will be OK but don't think you will be back on the track sprinting again.' I didn't believe in it at the moment but I faced the reality that for some time I would have to live a normal life...I had to fight with so many fears starting over and over again.

I like to expand my plans. I'm working on it and this plan is getting better and better. At this moment it's so important we don't stop. Even if we can't train, use this time to really figure out your life and things we would love to do besides the track. I don't like to think about it 'after', I like to think things go parallel and one day you are on the next cloud!

Do you think you at 20 would be surprised by who you are now?

Yes! I was thinking I would not go further than 30 but nothing in my life happened the way I planned it! I’m happy with the way things are and sometimes I think we have to be led by life. Let life tell you what will happen because it’s beautiful.