Story by: Brad Forrest
One of the greatest athletes in track and field history today goes virtually unnoticed, fishing off a Brighton-le-Sands beach and coaching a handful of teenagers in a suburban park each Wednesday night.
In America or Europe, triple Olympic gold medallist Viktor Saneyev, a sprint and jumps coach for more than 20 years,would most probably be lauded in a highly paid, full-time job as a national or academy coach. Here, the still superbly fit 52-year old Soviet born athlete has battled for recognition, for whatever reasons. However the shunning of Saneyev - also the holder of a masters degree in sports science - may greatly benefit the district's athletes and coaches.
On the lookout for an athletics, physical education or fitness coaching job, Saneyev said "I am interested in building a squad of talented jumpers and sprinters. "I will put the time in, of course, if they are prepared to do the same." As he gave generous tips in Peakhurst's Olds Park to outstanding St George Athletics Club State long jump champion, 18-year old Sean Culkin, and Sutherland's club talented Stephen Jacenko, 16, the greatest triple jumper in history must have flashed back to his own youth in Georgia (USSR).
The tall Saneyev, a graduate of the Georgian Sub Tropical Plant Cultivation Institute, won the first of three triple jump gold medals at the extraordinary 1968 Mexico City Olympics. There, with the aid of a tailwind, four jumpers broke world records before Saneyev soared 17.39 metres to clinch gold. Four years later in Munich, he won again...then broke his own world record again with a jump of 17.44 m.
Despite a nagging Achilles injury, Saneyev again had to come from behind in the final rounds to win his third gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, beating American James Butts and the then world record holder, Brazil's Joao Carlos de Oliveira. A year later, the man who denounced all drug-taking and who had even refused his wife's attempts to give him vitamin supplements, finally agreed to an Achilles operation in Finland.
Three years later, at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the still brilliant but older Saneyev should have won his fourth consecutive Games gold medal. Instead, he was robbed by some of his own countrymen, with film evidence supporting Saneyev's claim that he jumped further than the eventual winner, fellow Soviet and Estonian born Jaak Uudmae, 10 years younger than the 35-year old Saneyev. Officials also fouled nine of the 12 jumps from de Oliveira (bronze) and Australia's own Ian Campbell (5th) during the competition, while Britain's Keith Connor - ironically now the NSW Academy coach - finished fourth.
Today, in terms of medals, Saneyev stands behind only discus champion Al Oerter and Carl Lewis in the long jump, each with four consecutive Olympic gold medals in the one event. Saneyev worked for four years as head jumps coach for the USSR athletics team before embarking on a coaching career of his own. When a New Zealand coaching job fell through six years ago, he, his wife Jana and son Alexander settled in Sydney, where despite speaking little English Saneyev became athletics coach and PE teacher at St Joseph's College at Hunters Hill. Living in a tiny hut for five years, he coached St Joseph's to win three GPS titles. When his contract ended, the family found a home in Bexley a few months ago.
His wife, a psychiatrist and community area health worker, says her husband has "good" athletics contacts in the country, but has not been approached for a job with the State or national bodies. "Viktor even offered to help Athletics Australia as a volunteer, but so far no-one has showed much interest," she said.
Saneyev, who now speaks much better English and has gained help from St George coach Peter Tuziak, believes Sean Culkin has the ability to soar more than 8 metres in the long jump if he keeps putting in the work. Culkin, for one, is confident he can realise the expectations of his new coach. "The man has such extensive technical knowledge of sprinting and jumping...no coach has ever shown me so much," he adds.
Cool Running Australia 29.05.98.This article first appeared in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 31 March 1998.