From Krasavina to Ulzhabaeva. 11 best female climbers in the post-Soviet space today

Irina Kuzmenko. Photo by Nikita Tsarev

In one of the previous articles we talked about the world’s climbing elite. Let’s fill in one more gap and highlight the most stellar female sport climbers on the territory of the former USSR.


By Alexey Sergunin
Photos: Courtesy of climbers


Maria Krasavina

One of the most honored climbers of Russia for the tenth year in a row pleases her fans with international competitions medals. As she started in 2010 with bronze at the Moscow stage of the World Cup, she can’t stop. The last success is silver at the autumn European championship-2019 in Edinburgh. Contrary to all forecasts and expectations, it was Maria, not her luckier friends in the course of the current season of the national team, was able to reach the final, where she lost only to Alexandra Miroslav from Poland.

“Of course, I’m glad and happy to have won a silver medal,” says Krasavina. – This season has not been very successful for me. There were no medals at international competitions, moreover, I couldn’t even make it to the top four. And if in Moscow I was far from optimal conditions, and then purposefully missed two Chinese WC stops at spring, then by the summer events in Europe I came ready to compete. But instead of fighting for medals I made mistakes, something was going wrong. Perhaps, because of the new sequence of holds on the climbing wall.

But in Edinburgh I did really well, showing the best times of my season. I do not exclude the reason is that high speeds among girls (world record is 7.10 seconds! Wow!) adds motivation, makes them look for new approaches to training. Edinburgh itself is beautiful, of course, but what upset me was the cold at the venue. It was very cold. It took a lot of energy to warm up well. I’m freezing a lot, so it was very uncomfortable.

Maria is not only representative of the world’s climbing elite. She lives very diverse life.

“Life is short, you have to try and learn a lot of things,” – says the 28-time World Cup medals winner. – That’s why I have a lot of hobbies. I don’t like to waste time sitting on the sofa by the TV. Of course, sometimes you can afford it, too. But life without hobbies, in my opinion, is degradation. So I aspire to try and learn something new all the time.

However, it all started with climbing in 2002.

“When I was 12, Daddy brought me to the climbing section,” – continues Krasavina. – My parents are former alpinists. I had no goals, no ambitions. No one forced me to do anything. If I wanted to – I went to practice, if I didn’t want to – I didn’t. And since then the desire not to go arose very rarely, because I liked to climb. Relationships with my classmates at school weren’t great, so climbing was such a safe space for me. After school I ran to the climbing wall.

Photo by Leonid Zhukov

At that time, I even went to competitions without ambition. There was no desire to get into the 16 strongest, although it sounds ridiculous, of course. I performed and was happy. I was just going to have fun, get high. Then I got the task to fulfill the standard of the master of sports, to get into the national team, etc. So my hobby has affected my life. I still think that I am not working. Although Stas (Maria’s husband. – A.S. note) scolds me for it. He says: “Salaries are paid – paid, you train a lot – train, so don’t think up.”


But Maria doesn’t live by climbing only.

“Another sport passion in my life was ice climbing. And again, on a semi-professional level. I went to competitions, won medals, but never took this sport professionally and seriously. And my passion for ice climbing was born out of a desire to spend more time with Stas. He went to the competition, and I thought, “Why am I don’t go and perform?” That’s how my ice climber career got started.

My training was strange. Five times a week I went to a climbing gym and fulfilled the plan of my coach Sergey Sergeyev, preparing for the international season, and once a week – on Saturday – went for ice climbing. This is how I performed for five seasons. I fulfilled the standard of the master of sports of international class. I wanted to become a Honored Master of Sports, but it did not work out. I didn’t win anything. I was on the podium at the World and European Championships, in the overall World Cup, but without the first places. Perhaps one day I would return to ice climbing and get what I want. Although I don’t want to do it now, but I won’t guess, we’ll see”.



And that’s not all. Masha is very excited to talk about surfing and pole dancing.

“First time I’ve tried surfing on my honeymoon. I didn’t want to just lie on the beach, so we went to Bali. Surfing was really good. After that, we still went to Portugal for the same purpose. But I like surfing only in warm countries to ride in shorts and swimsuit. But the climate in Portugal and the cold Atlantic Ocean didn’t impress me very much, rather the opposite. Unfortunately, it is still impossible for us to go to Bali for month or more.

And my last new sports hobby is pole dancing. It’s a crazy. The pole gives me energy, lifts my spirits. I love dancing in general. And pole dancing helps me open up my new side. Now because of the competition, I took a break, but I think that after the World Cup in Xiàmén, I will buy a season ticket to the pole dancing again and have fun!”

To be completely honest, Masha spends her leisure time not only in the gym.

“I loved to cross stitch since I was a child. It calms me down, brings me into balance. I embroidered with beads, just recently tried a new thing – diamond embroidery. Sometimes I draw with Tanya (daughter. – A.S. note), sculpt from clay“.

The most delicious Maria’s activity is creating pastry masterpieces!

“I even tried to make some business out of it for a while, but I realized: sports and pastry are incompatible things. If you do both professionally. And to do it on average level is not for me. And while I’m staying in sports. But I make cakes for the holidays: for family and friends. I try to make sure there’s always marshmallows on the table. Tanya asks for cookies, which is understandable.

I got interest for pastry after the wedding. I ordered a cake for the event, chose it from a big list, I could not even imagine that there was such a variety. We used to have ordinary homemade cakes in the family with no special design. They were delicious, mostly. And when I saw how beautiful might be a cake, I really liked it, I caught fire and decided to learn how to do it. And now I pamper myself from time to time. Even one day we laughed with Sergei Sergeyevich. If several weeks of training are not very successful, I bake a cake and bring it to the climbing gym – and everything goes smoothly! It is possible that at the next championship of our region I will organize marketplace with my eclairs, which have won the hearts of climbing fans at past starts.


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3rd place at European Championship 2019!😉 also bronze for my love ❤️@vadim_timonov and silver for flexible @sergmurmiu So happy and so pissed off at the same time! Congrats to the girls @urska.repusic 😘 and @vitalukan 💪🏻 Бронзовая медаль Чемпионата Европы! Я рад и в то же время очень расстроен! Фигачим дальше 💪🏻 Так же, лапушка @vadim_timonov тоже завоевал бронзу ❤️ а ещё и гибкий @sergmurmiu бахнул серебро! • • • @scarpa_russia @scarpaspa @beal.official @verticalsport @bite_russia @russiaclimbing #scarpaspa #scarpa_russia #wearebeal #bite_russia #bouldering #bouldern #competition #zakopane #climbingeuropeanchampionship2019 #climbing #klettern #escalade #ifsc #ifscwc #ifsceuch2019

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 Irina Kuzmenko

The real discovery of the European Championship-2019 in bouldering, which took Polish Zakopane, was the pupil of the Krasnoyarsk climbing school now living in St. Petersburg, Irina Kuzmenko. Having won bronze, Irina became only the second Russian female climber to win a medal at the Euro. The first award (gold) in 2004 in Lecco was won by Irina’s fellow countrywoman, a world bouldering legend Olga Bibik.

“The medal in Poland was a surprise for me,” – Kuzmenko does not hide her emotions. – Perhaps because I stopped waiting for something at all. Waiting takes a lot of time, which can be spent on achieving goals and spending time with the person you love”.

In Kuzmenko’s life there is a place not only for climbing, but also for her husband Vadim Timonov. Also, by the way, a famous sport climber.

“At time off after competition season Vadik and I take a bunch of crashpads and go to the rocks. We roas through the woods, sometimes get cold, looking for rocks, and when we find them, we climb. Choose new projects in the evenings, study the routes… and so on and so forth. Last year I climbed my first 8A problem, this year – the first 8B – not only for me, but also for the entire Russian female bouldering. Perhaps, I wouldn’t like to do anything else, I have a feeling that this is what I need. For this winter we have already planned a rather long trip to the rocks. We’ll go together, walk through the snowy woods, looking for craigs, eat the most delicious pasta and cheese for dinner and dream about to climb our projects tomorrow”.

Irina and Vadim are not only strong athletes, but also excellent chefs.

“During the season we pay a lot of attention to home comfort and cooking, inventing new recipes, constantly experimenting. Vadik is the boss while baking strudel, I’m an Italian chef: I cook everything from salads, pastas, pizzas, lasagne to casseroles, sauces and even homemade bread. I believe that it is important to create together a place where both would feel warm and comfortable”.


Elena Krasovskaya

Elena became the youngest world champion from Russia. It happened in 2016 in Paris, when Krasovskaya was only 16 years old.

“I thought I miraculously got into this competition, it was already a great joy for me. I was aiming for the semifinals, although I didn’t know what to expect from a competition of that rank. Well, getting to the final of the bouldering was a huge surprise. And how happy I was being near the strongest climbers in the world, climbing with them and learning. After all, before I saw them only through the laptop screen, while they were participating in cool videos”.

“O sport, you’re life!” – That’s the motto Elena’s whole family lives with.

“For as long as I can remember, I was always in an atmosphere where the active lifestyle was one of the main guides. My parents did not sit still. If it was a day off, it was either a hike or a bike ride or some other activity. It’s always been a voluntary thing in the family, they just show it by example. And, of course, it gave us constant push, which later bore fruit, such as climbing.

Also, from a young age my parents taught me that every person needs constant versatile growth to feel the inside harmony, to be confident and complete personality. Therefore, the awareness of the importance of combining aggregate development in completely different spheres of activity was put aside in my mind.

In addition to sports, I was fond of drawing, singing, even wood carving and stone-cutting, and tried to play the piano a little bit. Now I dedicated myself to sport career, at least in the near future, so it becomes difficult to find time for other activities because I invest as much as I can to my sport.

But still, I try to pay attention to other spheres from time to time. It all helps to a certain extent in sports life. For example, traveling to competitions I discover a lot of interesting places and got inspired by the views, local infrastructure, people. So I want to capture, catch and remember every detail. I would like to convey not only the visual part, but also the mood, the atmosphere of the moment. It fills me with some inner strength and harmony, helps me to feel myself. And that caught condition immediately affects you. For example, the mood before the start. I think certain moments of one activity give their echoes in another, which is why their kind of symbiosis is so necessary”.


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ТАК НЕЧЕСТНО!!! Нечестно, что когда мы нашли классный район в Австрии, полазали на нем один день в хорошую погоду с компанией крутых девчонок и парней, которые поддерживают на всех трассах, разложили для себе проекты, включать в Австрии нескончаемый дождь. Не знаю форма у нас хорошая или это сектор такой "стендовый", но я смогла разложить по движениям 8с, а Лерка 8а. Поэтому молимся завтра на хорошо погоду и прилив сил, чтобы успеть в это окошко замочить новые для нас категории. Ну а сегодня мы просто ходили в поход на высоту 2837 метров около 6 часов. В прошлом году после похода в 30 км, я вылезла первую 8б, Киря 8а, посмотрим может мы создадим новую традицию😎 Огонь фотографии от @ekaterinaveretenina #climbingteam #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_is_my_life #climbing_lovers #climbing_lover #climbinglife #climber #climbing_worldwide #climbingcomps #climb #climbingtrees #climbingholds #climbingwall #climbinggirl #climbing #sport #sports #sportlife #rock #like4like #likeforme #life #fotografia #adventure #travelblogger #travel #travels #travel_greece #adalar

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Daria Veretenina

Dasha is one of the most talented young Russian climbers. She has no achievements at the international level yet, but in Russia Irkutsk climber has already collected a lot of prizes.

And Daria found her way to climbing through mountaineering.

“The thing is that my parents are my coaches, and my dad is a master of sports and multiple Russian mountaineering champion, since he was a young man, spent a lot of time on rocks and in expeditions”, – says Veretenina. – And when you’re a child, all you can do is to be in the place where your parents are. That’s why from a very young age I used to crawl under and touch rocks. A more conscious acquaintance with the natural terrain happened at the age of 12, when I climbed my first route (Nif-Nif) in Crimea. The first climb was very scary, so all the subsequent routes have terrified me. Only last summer I finally managed to overcome the line that was bothering me, and although I still feel fear, it does not bother me so much, and on the rocks I enjoy and have fun.

Probably my best result on the rocks at the moment is climbing 8b in the French district of Ceuse. The best because the area is severe, for real “guys”, and the categories there are not just tough, but even a little undervalued. But the most memorable climb was my first 8a, in the same Ceuse, when I was working on the route for two weeks, working, thinking I couldn’t do it anymore, and on the last day, to the cries of fans, I jump at the end of the rouye, from where I fell many times, and clip the last quickdraw. True, at that moment, in addition to joy, I felt anger, mentally repeating the words: “I climbed it, how I wouldn’t have climbed it, I was working so hard”.

But last summer I’ve climbed two 8c, one with one fall, the other with two, but I only tried it twice, there wasn’t enough time. And also I worked on 9a that I tried occasionally.

As for the sports results, with each start my performance grows better and the distance from the top athletes becomes smaller. The 7th and 8th places in the European Boulder Championship are very pleasing and upsetting at the same time, because I missed one top and didn’t get to the final. I think that with my coaches we are working in the right direction and that hard work will be rewarded sooner or later”.

Rock-climbing is good, but Dasha is a pretty creative girl. Not only reads, but also writes books!

I love to read and draw. Yeah, like that, trivial and simple. I don’t watch movies, I read books on which they are based. I like to take photos and to dream. I remember the moment, when I wanted to start writing stories myself, and since athletes are aspiring and narcissistic individuals, I started to write them. (Smiling.)

I publish my stories on the special website, where people share their books, while others read and discuss them. In my portfolio there are a few complete stories and half of the book. It was long ago. Now I train too much to write and I am afraid a little to read what I wrote. Today I perceive a lot of things in a completely different way.


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Наверное это был самый тяжелый старт для меня, эмоционально…😔 В Китае на Этапе Кубка Мира я травмировала ногу, но к сожалению, уже не смогла отказаться от участия в Мюнхене. Задача была выйти на старт и быть в протоколе. Было очень тяжело выходить на каждую трассу и понимать, что ты не можешь даже попытаться что-то сделать, нога совершенно не слушается в ортезе, при нагрузке резкая боль. Выходила на 5 трассу с мыслью: «Только бы не расплакаться» … . Спасибо всем кто поддерживал меня! Очень тяжело быть последней… . После старта попробовала полазать скорость, в ортезе это оказалось практически невозможно, нога не сгибается. Попробовали затейпировать, больно. Позвонила тренеру и решили отказаться от участия в Чемпионате России. Это было не простое решение! Я до последнего думала что все получится, я смогу потерпеть, успею восстановиться, но нет… Понимаю, лучшее что могу сейчас сделать, пропустить старт, сделать перев, вылечить ногу и хорошо выступить на летних Этапах и Чемпионате Мира😊 Всем удачи на Чемпионате Росси! Покажите свой максимум! Буду болеть и смотреть трансляцию!💜 . 📸 @thecircuitclimbing 😍 . #campcassin @camp_russia #germany #munchen #worldcup #climbing #bouldering

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Julia Kaplina

One of the fastest climbers on the planet was winning almost every category of the competition. She set world record nine times! Of all the different titles Kaplina only has no World Championship gold, but there is silver-2012 and bronze-2016. By the way, the world forum in the French capital was the brightest in the climber’s memory.

“Despite all the difficulties of that cimpetitions, which included a double qualification (cancelled the results of the first one due to a malfunction of the starting system), an error in the second qualification, the restart and tears, the World Championship in Paris is something special, – goes back seven years, Julia. – The finals went very calmly and assembled! I remember how I got to the semifinals and I was already happy, I understood that I performed for International Master of Sports status, I was glad of results and opportunity to be here and now. It was my second adult start and first final. Despite the second place in the World Championships, I often remember these competitions and think I could have won if I was less happy to get to the finals”. (Smiling.)

Considering that the climbing season usually starts in March and ends only in November, Julia adds yoga and crossfit to the off-season preparation for climbing and gym.







Olga Yakovleva

The vice-champion of the World-2012, four-time Russian bouldering champion, who took gold at climbing event in 2001 for the first time, is still in line. The wife and mother of the two boys continue to perform, train and take care of the kids.

In March this year (2019 – editor note), Olga became the bronze medalist of the Cup of Russia in Voronezh in her favorite discipline bouldering, contrary to all forecasts and expectations of skeptics. And this is far from the limit! In the third decade of November, two more starts are waiting for Yakovleva in Moscow – All-Russian Bouldering Competition and Combined Russian Championship. For this start she is responsibly preparing, however, as well as the entire sports career, which is more than 20 years.

Olga’s daily life is on schedule.

“I live in an active mode, – says Vadim Antipov‘s pupil. – In the morning kids taking off: the elder – to school, the younger – to the garden. Then I go to my training, climb in different gyms time to time. There is no problem with training gyms in St. Petersburg. Only when I plan to climb lead, I cooperate with somebody to belay each other. Then by lunch time I have to come home, feed kid, do homework and take him to the sports section.

I’m working as an instructor on a climbing wall a few times a week. While I’m training, my husband’s babysitting. This is our everyday life.

We try to go for a walk together by family on weekends when it is not cold, or we go outside the city”.


Asel Marlenova

Kazakh climber is one of the most titled Asian youth speed climbers (considering continental events). She has four victories in the Asian championship: she has won in Singapore, Iran (twice) and Malaysia.

Asel achieved the greatest success at the 2016 World Championship in Guangzhou, where she won a bronze medal among juniors. In the final race, she was 46 hundredths of a second ahead of Russian Yulia Panteleeva.

“I was purposefully preparing for the competition in China”, – says Asel Marlenova. – In 2013 and 2015 I did not perform well, I was not ready psychologically. That’s why I longed to win a medal at my last youth event at the world level. The day before the speed competition, I saw my portrait as an avatar of other athlete in VKontakte social network. At first, I did not understand, I thought it was some kind of a joke. Then, other athletes, over and over again, also put my photo as their avatar, and it made me so excited that I just couldn’t react with a bad performance.

In my time off I watch different movies, I like comedies, action movies, and much more. Recently I read the book “Pride and Prejudice”, a very interesting novel. Then I watched the movie, although you know how it ends, you still worry about the characters“.


Elena Timofeeva (Markusheva)

A student of the Sverdlovsk climbing school not only is a multiple winner and prize-winner of various international competitions (both in Europe and in the world), but also regularly gets to the finals of adult competitions – events of the World Cup, European and World Championships. The season-2018 was the most successful for Elena. In April in Moscow she became a bronze medalist, and in May – won silver in Chóngqìng, China, where her husband, Dmitry Timofeev, became the winner.

But most of all Elena remembers last year’s WCstop in the Russian capital. “That day, April 22, for the first time in my life, the competition atmosphere was so inspiring that I wanted to run faster and faster. There was no fear and no worries about the performance, there was only drive”, – said Timofeeva.

Elena’s on a little career break right now. “Every athlete faces the need to rest and ‘recharge'”, – explains the 23-year-old climber. – And now it’s time. I think I can get back to the beginning or middle of the next international season”.

But the pause in sports is not reflected in Timofeeva’s way of life: “Even now I spend most of my time on a climbing wall. “Now I’m working as a coach for climbers. Besides, there are two interesting topics: first – mobile rehabilitation, second – interior design. For the first sphere I am currently studying at the magistracy. And I am just beginning to study design”.


Victoria Meshkova

Victoria, without a doubt, is the best Russian climber in lead for the last five years. Her assets include not only two synchronous victories at the main start of the season – the national championship (in the XXI century only Yana Chereshneva – now Churikova, Yevgeniya Malamid and Dinara Fakhritdinova can boast of this kind), but also medals of European and world championships. This year Victoria is fighting for one of the Olympic licenses under the keen guidance of Dmitry Sharafutdinov.

“Because of the extremely busy competitive season you can do very little besides climbing, – analyzes Victoria Meshkova. – A lot of training camps and travelling. But I still like to read or do anything with my hands (knit toys, make postcards). I’m very fond of cooking: I like to experiment, recently began to be interested in Japanese cuisine and culture in general. At the same time, I continue to study at college as a physical education teacher. It helps me to understand a little bit more about the training process.


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Иногда я чувствую себя, как на этом фото. Вроде совсем близко к своей цели, а вроде так далеко. Объявляю минутку поддержки, если у вас есть желание, напишите мне что я справлюсь🙈 . . Sometimes I feel myself like on this photo. The goal seems to be so near and so far at the same time. I announce a moment of support, if you want, you can write me that I will be able to handle everything🙈 . . . 📸 @jorgosmegos #scarpaspa #scarpaclimb #campcassin #nihilclothing #nihilclimbing #noplacetoofar #livethelifeyoulove #feelgoodwear #simplebutspecial #madeineurope #notjustforclimbing #rockfanatics #climbing #lead #trainhard #gymlife #climbinggym #iloveclimbing #climbing_lovers #climbing_is_my_passion #climbingtraining #climbing_worldwide

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Eugenia Kazbekova

The daughter of the legendary Natalia Perlova and Serik Kazbekov won the only international medal in 2010 – won the world championship in Edinburgh in lead climbing. Since then a lot of water has leaked, but now Eugenia is one of the rising stars of world bouldering.

At the August World Championships in Hachioji, Zhenya reached the final, where she was one step away from the podium – in fourth place. Success in Japan was not accidental. In Munich (May) Kazbekova already reached the final (5th place). “I have some of the most memorable competitions, but of course, the World Cup and the World Cup in Munich stand apart”, – Yevgeniya said. – These are my best results in bouldering and my brightest emotions and memories”.

A native of Dnepropetrovsk (now Dnepr) is constantly studying something new for herself.

“I live by training, travel, competition, rocks and self-development. I graduated from music school in piano class, I love violoncello and I learn to play it too. I am fond of languages, I speak Russian, Ukrainian, English, I study French and I plan to start learning German”.

The Ukrainian climber was the first one in the world to climb 8а route in 11 years (“Time Ч”, the Red stone, Crimea, 2007) and 8b+ in 13-year-old age (“the Parallel world”, the Red stone, Crimea, 2010). The tougthest category on the rocks that she climbed at the moment is “Gullich 8c+” (Crimea).


Tamara Ulzhabayeva (Smirnova)

Tamara is the only climber from Kazakhstan to win a medal at the World Championships. It was in 2011 in Arco, where Tamara Kuznetsova overpassed World Champion of that time Chinese He Cuilian in the race for third place. Ulzhabayeva’s assets also include prizes at the World Extreme Games, Asian Championships and Cups.

Two years after Arco Tamara moved to another city, and this affected her training process. “I had a confrontation with my coach Vladimir Selivanov, and I wanted to change something in my life”, – recalls the athlete. – As a result, I moved from Shymkent to Almaty. I reconciled with the coach, of course, and he still supports me. However, I train myself, in fact. Listening, realing, learning, I try to put everything i discover into my practice and into work with children.

For the last five years my level has not increased, it’s stopped: it is hard to train yourself. I am still part of the national team of Kazakhstan and have not left it, only in the decreet. Now I am a young mother: my child is one year and three months old. But this does not stop me from performing. I’m training, and I want to try to win a license for the 2020 Olympics at the upcoming Asian championship. If it doesn’t work out, then after the competition my husband and I will try to give birth to another child, in general we want to have three or five children!

Besides climbing, I spend all my time at home with my family. I tried to climb drytooling at Kazakhstan level, to find out what it is. I also performed on rocks only at the national level. There were some competitions on rocks previously. But now, unfortunately, this discipline is slowly dying. There are some festivals left, I will probably perform at them in the future to shake myself up.

When I find the time, I go to the mountains. Both in winter and in summer. It’s twice as pleasant in winter, because you can go down from mountain on a butt or a snowboard. In general, all my hobbies are connected with the mountains and the rocks or other sports activities. In our city everything is available: a bike, yoga, skating. It’s just that for me a day in the mountains is much more interesting and attractive than going to a nightclub.

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