Stanislav Donets (7 July, 1983) is a Russian backstroke swimmer who has enjoyed considerable success at 100m, 200m and in the medley relay, particularly in the 25m pool.
Stanislav’s development and successes came relatively late when compared with other swimmers, but his first international title in 2007 at the age of 24 was a bold announcement to Europe’s and the world’s backstrokers. At the European SC Championships in Debrecen, he won the 100m backstroke in a championship record time, and took silver in the 200m back and 4x50m medley relay.
Four months later at the 2008 World SC Championships in Manchester, he proved that his first European successes were not a flash in the pan, winning bronze medals in both 100m and 200m backstroke, and then beating the much vaunted Americans with his teammates as the Russians won the 4x100m medley relay in a new world record (3:24.29). After getting as far as the semi-finals in the 100m and 200m backstroke at the Beijing Olympics, Stansilav returned to December’s European SC Championships in Rijeka to once again stun his competition by sweeping all three backstroke events – breaking the 100m world record in a time of 49.32 and also the championship record in the 200m as he tied with Aschwin Wildeboer – and taking silver in the 4x50m medley relay, where the Russian team broke the world record in their heat, and then relinquished it in the final.
In 2009, Stanislav swam in his first World Championships in Rome, where he made the final of the 200m backstroke and the semi-final of the 100m. Later that year, the European SC Championships again proved to be a happy hunting ground for him as he once more swept the three backstroke events – this time sharing the 100m spoils with compatriot Arkady Vyatchanin in yet another world record (48.97s) – and set two new world marks with the Russian 4x50m medley relay team (1:32.08 and 1:31.80). As of the beginning of 2013, the medley world record has yet to be bettered. Just a week later, Stansilav broke his fourth world record for the month as he and his teammates won the 4x100m medley relay at the Salnikov Cup in St. Petersburg in a time of 3:19.16, beating the new record set by the Americans two days earlier. This record, too, has yet to be bettered (as of the beginning of 2013).
Success continued in 2010 for Stanislav as he won his first European LC title at Budapest in the 200m backstroke, narrowly missed out on a podium finish in the 100m event, and picked up a silver medal in the 4x100m medley relay. In November he successfully defended his European SC 50m and 100m backstroke titles in Eindhoven – setting a new 50m European record – and won a 4x50m medley relay bronze, before heading for his greatest international achievement to date at the World SC Championships in Dubai. There he won both 50m and 100m backstroke events in championship record times – also setting a new 100m European record – and led the 4x100m medley relay team off with a European and championship record backstroke leg as the Russians picked up the silver medal.
At the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, Stanislav repeated his 2009 result of making the final of the 200m backstroke and the semi-final of the 100m, but eventually the ongoing pain from a long-standing shoulder injury forced him into surgery in November. Unfortunately, the recuperation meant that he missed 2012’s European Championships in Debrecen, and he had not regained form and fitness in time to qualify for the Olympics at the Russian nationals in April. However, with sufficient recovery time he was able to return some impressive results at the end-of-year’s World SC Championships, winning silver medals in 100m backstroke and 4x100m medley relay, as well as a 50m backstroke bronze.
That Stanislav Donets was destined to become a swimmer might well be characterized as pre-ordained, since both his parents are swimming coaches. His father, a physical education graduate from Moscow, met his mother in Stanislav’s home town, Dimitrovgrad, in the southeast of Russia, when she transferred from her studies at the Volgograd Institute in 1977. But when Stanislav was growing up as a youngster, it was a volatile and difficult time as the USSR moved inexorably to its dissolution, and times were tough for his parents, so much so that father Yuri coopted his son into helping to mix cement and tile the local swimming pool. When his mother Olga questioned the hard physical work her son was having to endure, Yuri replied: “Come what may, we have to fix the pool, otherwise we won’t have any work.”
Unlike the rest of his family, who all go by the name of Reichman, Stanislav kept his mother’s maiden name. He and his sister Anna were coached by Olga in their early years, only later moving under Yuri’s wing. He is still coached by his parents today.
While never forced to swim, Stanislav took to the pool in favour of other sports such as gymnastics, and strived to emulate and swim as fast as sister Anna, and to “go from city to city like her”. He never missing a training session, not out of a sense of obligation, but because he “understood that he needed it.” When he was 10 years old, his mother took him to the training base of the Russian national team at Round Lake in the Moscow region, and there he saw the likes of Alexander Popov and other famed Russian swimmers. “I looked at them with my mouth open,” he said. “On one occasion I sat next to a well-known Russian swimmer on a Moscow bus, and couldn’t believe that I could simply reach out and touch him.”
When he left school, he was still small in stature, and (in his own words) “somewhat frail”, especially in comparison with the other swimmers who trained with his parents. His lack of competitive success preyed on his mind, and he felt guilty for taking up his parents’ valuable training without producing results. Consequently, he considered stopping, but his parents encouraged him not to just give up, but to continue working. And even though it was a financial struggle for his parents when Anna went to study in St. Petersburg, they never skimped on his diet, and never gave up supporting him. So he stuck with it, and physically he started to grow, from a “frail” 1,77m to eventually the 1,93m that he is today, and the results started coming.
However, it wasn’t easy in Dimitrovgrad, where there were no 50m pools, and it wasn’t until he made the national team in 2005 that Stanislav started training in the long pool with any kind of frequency. Clearly it’s the main reason that he’s enjoyed more success at the SC than the LC. While he admired Ian Thorpe, Pieter van den Hoogenband, and particularly Popov, he never had a swimming idol, but drew from his own reserves, following the simple but trusted advice of sports psychologist Gennady Gorbunov by repeating a single word to keep him focused in those grueling moments in the latter stages of his important races: “Work, work, work ..." The most memorable moment in his career is still the world record he helped set with his Russian 4x100m medley relay team in Manchester in 2008.
Away from swimming, he likes to drive, enjoys photography, and listens to electro house and hip-hop, with a particular preference for the music of DJ Riga and Basta. Taking advantage of the free time he had in 2012 after his shoulder surgery, he graduated from the Samara State University of Engineering, and married Alina, who he met in 2009. Alongside and equal to his 2008 world record, he ranks his wedding as the biggest event of his life. As far as the future goes beyond swimming, he doesn’t have any definite plans, but would like to learn to play golf, to ski, and to visit Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Unlike other successful swimmers who have moved away from their home town to improved training facilities or simply greener pastures, Stansilav still lives and trains in Dimitrovgrad. “I was born here, I love this city, and I’m not going anywhere,” he says simply but emphatically, even though there are still no 50m pools there (as of 2012) despite promises to build one. Naturally he’s well-known in the town of just over 120,000 inhabitants, is recognized in the streets and stores, and enjoys discounts from various establishments such as his car repair service, whose owner called him to congratulate him after his gold medal in Dubai. Stanislav’s down-to-earth nature emerges as he reflects. “The phone call from normal people like him are far more important to me than any discount.”