Photos: Nao King, Rob Alton, The Agency Photo, Stefan Csaky, Irina Sadovnik.
As many of us prepare to go into lockdown (some of you may already be) with the corona virus pandemic that already is causing havoc to our daily lives and routines. It’s hard to find something to be positive about, but then I think about the UCI Women’s Flatland World Champion, Irina Sadovnik. Irina is able to bring a smile to everyone’s faces on the tense contest floor, her positive energy is infectious.
It struck me that throughout the last 11 years of running Flatmattersonline I haven’t interviewed many female riders if any at all?! As I discussed with Irina, I felt awful about this, and decided it was time to do something about it.
We have been working on this interview since the UCI World Championships where Irina not only won the world title, but she did it a ruptured meniscus in her right knee!
Travis Collier once said “if you so spread positive energy, nothing but positive energy will comes your way”…
I can’t think of anyone who deserves some positive energy, than the woman that makes all the flatland community smile with her personality. and positive outlook on life.
It’s time to get into it, and find out all about this incredible woman. I asked Irina to dig deep, and she came through with an in-depth insight into her life of which I knew hardly anything about. I am sure I speak for everyone in the flatland community, when say I hope Irina makes it back to riding asap, she is already missed!
Show some respect, ladies and gentlemen this is part 1 of the long overdue, Irina Sadovnik FLATMATTERSONLINE INTERVIEW!
Introduce yourself for the readers of Flatmattersonline?
Hey there, My name is Irina Sadovnik but most of my friends call me “priMa”. Apart from being a passionate BMX Flatland rider here are some more facts you might be interested in: I am 35 years old, mostly in a happy mood, sometimes stubborn, artificially blond, my zodiac sign is Taurus, my favorite food is vegetable curry (actually it’s pizza but I am trying to make a good impression here), I am definitely more a dog than a cat person and musically I am not very talented but that doesn’t hold me back from singing enthusiastically.
Both of my parents are gym teachers, so being into sports from the early beginning on in my life is most probably a genetic predisposition. I did ballet and rhythmic sports gymnastics for a long time (that’s also were my nickname comes from) and was also into riding horses, playing tennis, volleyball (beach and indoor), did acrobatics and run two half marathons. Not to mention, I even hurt myself and either ended at the hospital or with ankle braces for men to help with the pain. I started riding Flatland in 2002, around the time when I moved to Vienna for studying genetics and microbiology. I was also riding a bit park in the beginning as we had some ramps and a foam pit at our old riding spot. But yeah, what should I say – I recognized soon that my heart belongs to flat ground.
Meanwhile I did my PhD in medical science and work as a Postdoc in a laboratory in Vienna. I am senior scientist, yes already senior and mainly focus on the characterization of leukemic stem cells and the effects of age-related clonal hematopoiesis. Due to these time-consuming studies, I did a longer break from riding, but as Flatland was always my passion, I got back to it with a lot of motivation and try to ride as much as I can next to work.
How do you pronounce your surname? I always feel I get it wrong…
Using phonetic transcription, I would put it like this: [sa:’dofnik]. So you more or less pronounce it as you read it. Just think a bit of a Russian accent, and you got it right..
Are you originally from Vienna?
No, I was born in Klagenfurt/Carinthia in the south of Austria. It’s a nice and small city surrounded by a lot of high mountains, beautiful lakes with drinking water quality and breathtaking landscapes. Super nice place to life or make holidays.
Before you won the World title I had written done what’s the highlight of your year? (2019) But you won the world title? Tell me about it, the knee injury and behind the scenes stuff?
Honestly, I still wake up once in a while, and can’t believe that it really happened. This whole year was incredible and I am super thankful for all the great memories, and yes ending the season with getting the first UCI World Champion title was for sure my highlight of 2019.
The day after the FISE World Cup was already the first day of the Urban Cycling World Championship, starting with a riders meeting and practice the day after. I really felt a bit like in the movie “groundhog day” like Flatbible described it in one of their posts. I am not the most experienced contest rider, so participating in two big contests in a row was a bit exhausting but also a lot of fun. The more I was happy about that Coach Martti was present and supporting me all the time during the World Championship, that Coach Sebastian texted me really often, and that so many lovely people on site and back home cheered for me.
The contest venue was in the center of Chengdu in a very nice park. Everything was perfectly organized, and the contest floor was super good and solid. All girls rocked the practice and we were ready for the qualification the next day. Julia Preuss qualified first for the finals with a super great run where she pulled all her hard combos, followed by Misaki Katagiri who is such an impressively consistent, and amazing rider. I got in 3rd while Eri Funatsu qualified in 4th position. Celine Vaes, who spreads such good vibes and progresses a lot and Katya Kruglova a multi-talent in riding Park, Street and Flatland showed great riding as well and rocked the stage. I was totally happy with half of my run until I suddenly felt disorientated on stage; that’s when things started getting a bit messy. After the qualification I had another training session. At one point, I jumped from one side of my bike to the other. I can’t really recall what happened or in which position/angle I landed on the peg, but I can remember that I immediately felt a burning and sharp pain in my right knee. I didn’t even fall but I had to sit down and chill for a while to digested this small shock. Then I got back on my bike and rode for another 10-15 minutes. As my muscles were still warm my knee felt okay but also instable. So I thought/hoped that I just overstretched it. When we (my fourpegsbmx teammates Gilles, Sietse and me) pedaled back to our hostel, we stopped at a supermarket and bought some frozen food to cool my knee, which was already quite swollen and painful at that time. Lucky me, the next day was a day off for us girls, so my knee could get a bit of a rest. When I woke up that day I had a lot of pain, was limbering when walking and it was really hard to flex my knee, so I barely could get over a certain angle when pedaling. However, I decided to go to the venue to get my knee checked by Trish. She is the physiotherapist of UCI and could help me a lot – thanks so much Trish. She already taped my tennis elbow and was able to stabilize my knee with some more tape as well. I looked a bit like a living advertisement for Rocktape.
The next day was the big day of the finals. I was so happy about the big support of so many lovely people: Martti helped me a lot to stay positive and focused, Sebastian supported me so much from back home, and Sietse and Gilles are the best team mates ever. My knee felt also a bit better, being taped gave me more stability and so I felt as ready as possible for the finals. And then it happened; I had my first ever touchless run during a competition and totally freaked out afterwards. I was so happy, emotional, relieved and also totally touched by the fact that so many people were happy for and with me as well. In that moment I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility that I could win this competition, I was just super stoked that I could have shown what I worked so hard for. It was the first contest for me where girls got live scored. So it was super exciting to watch Misaki and Julia riding and waiting for their scores to appear on the board. When the last score of Julia came in, and I realized what just happened, I immediately started to cry like a baby and shout out loud at the same time. I can’t explain all the emotions, which came up in that moment but it was overwhelming, epic and somehow surreal. My adrenaline level was out of any range, and I couldn’t stand still because of all the positive energy in my body. And what made this moment really special for me was, that so many lovely humans shared this joy with me. That even filled me more with love and happiness. Another unforgettable moment was when I got the UCI rainbow jersey and when they played the Austrian anthem at the ceremony. Man, that was giving me goose bumps.
How was the drug testing in China?
Actually, it was a quite interesting experience, as I never had a drug test before. For sure I’d rather celebrate with my friends after winning the title than peeing in a cup when a nurse is watching but that’s part of the game. Everybody was super friendly and they explained in detail how everything works and what will be done. The only thing, which was a bit annoying, was that I couldn’t fill that cup at once. So it took me some time and 3 refills to reach the 90ml level. Yeah, that’s the problem when you go like 4 times to the toilet before your final run because you are so nervous. But the guy doing the drug test with me was super nice, so we used the time to chitchat. I just worried a bit about that I wont make it on time to the men’s final. But I managed to be there 5 min before they started so everything was fine.
Did you see a difference already in your life winning the rainbow jersey?
I am super stoked about that some very exciting things happened after winning the rainbow jersey. Several BMX homepages reported about the world championship, I got featured in some Austrian newspapers, I made it to the Austrian and American TV, got honored for the first time in my life by the Carinthian governor and sports director for my sportive achievements, I am now part of the Team “Kärtnen-Sport/KELAG” and also get support from the Austrian Cycling Federation. I got some requests for video projects, interviews and shows and I got nominated among 5 other athletes for being the Carinthian of the year (in the sport category). I was also overwhelmed for getting the “female flatlander of the year” award from thebloombmx due to your votes – thanks so much! In addition, seeing my friends and family going totally nuts for me and all those lovely people out there sending me their congrats, deeply touched me.
So, for sure all these things had a very positive impact on my life but If that’s going to change it in any way; I don’t know but I will definitely try to use that attention I get right now to promote Flatland and give something back to the sport.
Update us on your injury?
When I came back from China, it turned out that my ACL was torn and I had a small rupture in my meniscus. The first 2 days in hospital were mentally and physically very exhausting but it got better hour-by-hour then. So I was really super stoked about the fact that by day 3 post surgery, I already walked around without crunches (at least in my small flat) and by day 4 I could bend my knee already up to 70°. I had to wear a brace which allowed me to flex my knee from 0-70° for 4 weeks, then 2 more weeks on 0-90°. Now I am working on getting back my muscle strength and knee flexibility, which will take a while. Insane how fast muscles shrink or get inactive when you don’t use them for a while but I am very happy with my progress so far. Meanwhile, I already cruise around with my MTB and am allowed to start running, which are big steps for me. When my flexibility will be a bit better, I will install a front brake, put my seat post really high and will cruise around on my BMX. However, until I will be able to do tricks on my bike, or any stop and go sport will take several months. So I am practicing patience and take the best out of this time to do as much as possible for riding apart from being on my bike.
Being coached by Martti Kuoppa?
Ohhhh yes, I am super stoked and proud to be in Martti’s team and part of MK format. We started working together several months before China. I immediately fell in love with his style of coaching and explaining tricks (with videos, photos and verbally) and his attitude regarding riding and on life in general is amazing.
He has always been one of my favorite riders, has so much contest experience and an incredible knowledge about BMX and as a cherry on the top, he is such a great and super dedicated guy. I really profit a lot of being coached by him and I am super excited about the steps we go together.
Let’s talk about your personality? Always smiling, good times only! What’s your outlook on life?
Yes, usually people know me as a happy and smiling person, butfor sure everybody has her/his bad days, and sometimes it’s hard to cope with certain problems. But most of the time the problem is not the problem; the problem is the attitude we have about the problem. So it’s similar to the “life gives you lemons, and you make lemonade out of it” story. If you want to see the rainbow – you have to handle the rain first. We definitely grow with the challenges in our lives and in my opinion everything happens for a reason, even if it’s hard to see it (immediately) sometimes. Having that in mind, I usually can’t resist smiling and having a good time!
Describe your riding style?
I am totally into rolling tricks, most probably due to the great longtime influence of Coach Sebastian (Grubinger). I love the feeling of riding brakeless, because it gives me a certain flow. My riding style is mainly front wheel based but I definitely want to get stronger on the back wheel as well.
During competition I try to use a minimum amount of safety nets, and try to get straight to the point without fillers. I would call it: complex simplicity.
How do you feel the woman’s class going?
The level of riding is getting better and better each year and the female BMX scene is definitely growing again and getting stronger. However, I think it still will take some time to have more women competing at contests, and to further improve our skills and riding techniques. BMX is still a young sport in contrast to e.g. soccer, and as mostly men dominated it over the first years or decades, it’s even more in the beginning for us women. But take a look at Japan, France or Russia; there are already so many talented young female shredders out there eager and motivated to learn new tricks and I am super stoked to see how fast they progress. So, I am sure that we’ll get there and wish everybody a successful and pleasant journey.
I also want to take the chance here to point out some big supporters of the female BMX scene like flatlandbmxgirls (I love you Marie and we appreciate a lot that you show the skills of female flatland riders worldwide), thebloombmx or RadGirls who help us extremely to show that girls rock on their bikes, to connect with each other and to motivate us. The same for flatmattersonline, fatbmx, globalflat and others reporting about all these amazing riders and events out there; they have such a great impact on Flatland and help to keep that fire burning and spreading. Thanks a lot for your support and the time you dedicate to BMX.
What keeps you smiling?
That’s just me: having fun, smiling and following my dreams.
I am healthy (injured but still healthy), I can afford the life I want to have (simple but good), I have a passion for something which makes me super happy, I live in a peaceful surrounding, and most important I can share my happiness with a lot of lovely friends and family. So, I don’t see any reason to not smile.
For sure not every day can be the best, and I had to go through very hard (non-smiling) times already as well but I try to make the best out of each day. Seeing it from a scientific point of view, smiling even releases endorphins, which are responsible for making us feel happy, and they also help lower stress levels. So smiling helps us to keep smiling – what a successful circle.
Hope you all enjoyed Part 1 of the Irina Sadovnik, any ladies out there reading this. It would be great to hear your view points on the interview? Let’s all stick together as a community, and get through this hard time…Part 2 next Friday!