Talking to European Girevoys (3)

mark stapleton

This week I have been talking to Gireviks – coaches, experienced athletes and novices – about their year with Kettlebells. I was keen to see some different perspectives on the competitions and training opportunities in 2012, and hear about their personal goals for 2013. Today: Mark Stapleton

Can you tell us about your involvement in the European Girevoy Sport scene this last year?

“Well firstly I got involved in kettlebell sports in 2010. Since that time we have really tried to promote kettlebell sports and open it up to as many people as possible in Ireland and UK. So the last year has been pretty busy. This year I represented Ireland in the European championships in Belgorod Russia. I was lucky to get a silver medal at this tournament. During this trip I attended meetings with international governing bodies involved in kettlebells in Russia. We discussed issues surrounding kettlebells internationally, and problems individual countries may be having with the international governing bodies. Myself and my coach Anton Anasenko put forward a few requests and ideas that could help the international kettlebell organisation and in particular promote it in UK and Ireland. My training partner Eddie Sheehan and I also competed in the Tasifa Games in Lithuania representing Ireland. We also hosted a big tournament in Ireland – this was our 3rd year running this tournament and our 4th big championship.

In October I returned to Russia, to train with my coach Anton Anasenko and on this trip we organised for the first time in history a group of coaches from the UK and Ireland to go training and get quailified in kettlebell sports at one of the top physical education universities in Russia. The individuals have now been chosen and we depart for Russia on the 28th Feb 2013. This will have a major effect on kettlebell sport in Ireland and UK, as soon we will have Russian trained coaches not only in kettlebells, but sports physiology, psychology, periodization programmes for kettlebell sports , history of kettlebell sports etc.

At the same time we have set up the Girevoy Sports Union (GSU). We are coaches and lifters from Ireland and UK  and already we are a huge group. Our president is Anton Anasenko. For those that don’t know him, he is World, European, Russia champion and record holder for the last 10 years + and one of only three men to ever do over 170 jerks with 32kg. He is widely accepted as the best kettlebell lifter in the world today (pound for pound) so we have huge things happening for kettlebell sports next year. J

I also attended the IGSF world championships in Milan with my team and members of GSU from Scotland and England. This was an amazing trip, I witnessed my training partner Eddie Sheehan do 115 jerks with 32kg setting a new British and Irish record, and firmly placing him as the best lifter in our countries by far!! He was also awarded his official Master of Sports, the first person in the UK or Ireland to receive this rank officially. He actually achieved this in the 2011 World Championships but it took 1 year to get this rank processed, because usually this title is only awarded to Russian/Ukraine citizens.

I was also very happy to see my athlete (Adam Hazelwood) win a medal at the world championships, and he is the first Englishman to ever win a medal at a World Championships.I also witnessed my good friends from Scotland become the first people in Scotland to win medals at a world championship.

GSU also taught two big workshops in the UK this year (in Manchester and Newcastle). So in short, it has been a very busy year. Both personally with training and travelling, also with the founding of a new kettlebell sports federation, and in my coaching athletes in Ireland and the UK.”

Do you think we are seeing a growth in interest in GS in the UK ?

Yes there is a huge interest and growth in the sport in the UK. There is a a good number of people  I am coaching in the UK. And they all have clubs and are promoting GS. I think in a few years there will be a major GS club in every big city in the UK.

How did your training days in Manchester and Newcastle go? What was the standard like? What did you learn from the experience?

Absolutely fantastic!!! We met a great number of people for the first time. The standards were very mixed as you have a lot of new people to kettlebell sports so they are still very much beginners and then a number of athletes with a few years’ experience now. But what I did notice was the HUGE potential in UK. For the last few years Ireland has been way ahead of UK in the level of kettlebell athletes that are competing, but I foresee that within the year UK will take over Ireland. The reason is simple: in the UK you have a bigger population, and what I have found is that you have high level athletes from other sports moving into kettlebell sports, so you have people with a good base for sport already. They know what it means to be dedicated and train, they are serious, and of course they are in great shape already. In Ireland I have found that you have more people that have started kettlebell as a hobby and more of a weight loss type thing and  they have moved into the sport for something new, but these people are not high level athletes already, they don’t have a background in sport, and are not in top shape already. This is of course a general picture and there are exceptions but on a whole this is what I am seeing

In the UK most of my athletes have a background in participation in high level sports and have moved into GS. The facilities in UK from what I have seen are superior to Ireland. This is why we have spent so much time promoting and working with athletes from UK, I feel that most the potential and future for the sport professionally at a high standard lies in the UK!!

I know you are keen for Kettlebell Sport to acquire a National Governing Body. How can this be achieved?

Well this is actually a very complex and detailed procedure. We have been talking with the Irish sports council and our members in Scotland and England have been doing the same with their respective governing bodies. There are a number of things that must be in place. Firstly membership is very important. There is a min number of clubs and members that need to be part of an organisation; also we should be connected to an international governing body. Then of course there are things like bank accounts etc. So this is no small task, and this interview wouldn’t really be the place to go into all the details. As I fear we would certainly bore the readers!! I have so far attended 2 Meetings under IUKL (Belogorod & Tasifa Games) and then one under IGSF (Milan). Many people are talking about getting kettlebell sport into the Olympics, but I don’t think these people understand how difficult that is,  and I don’t really want to divulge too much at the moment. But truth be told I can’t see it happening anytime soon.

At an international level a world organisation would have to join sportaccord this can be done through a few ways but these four criteria would have to be fulfilled

1)      The sport or activity which the international federation controls does not conflict with or is not in rivalry with an already existing member of sportaccord.

2)      The applying international federation is the only federation governing its sport on a world level

3)      For summer sports, the international federation must have at least 40 active members federations from at least 3 continents

4)      The international federation must comply with the world anti-doping code

so when you look at this, if the truth be told, we are a very long way and it will probably not happen in our life time. I believe GS is only officially recognised in 5 countries so far. We have two major governing bodies at a world level so far (IUKL and IGSF) and of course most countries at national levels now  have many different federations.

You have been training fairly recently out in Russia with Anton Anasenko. How demanding a regime does he instigate for his athletes? What did you learn out there that you wanted to bring back to the UK?

Haha, let me tell you about training with Anton Anasenko. His training motto is “live or die”. The training program at its base level is the same as all other top level coaches and athletes, 6 days per week. Of course the intensity and volume of training differs for each athlete depending on a number of things like age and of course his /her goal… when I was in Russia I trained alongside my coach and his athletes, these men are all in their prime early 20’s and the training was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.. Huge volume of kettlebell lifting and every second day really hard cross country runs with intervals.

What I would like to mention is that many people think oh, the Russians can do this because they have done it from such a young age etc. And then you hear people say it’s okay for them that’s all they have to do is lift kettlebells, i have a job and family. Well so do they!! The lads I trained with all came straight to the gym either from a full day at university or from a day’s work. The truth is I watched new people start with Anton.. The major difference is that they are willing to work hard and are dedicated. No excuses. They are there at training, and of course technique!! Anton is I feel the most technically superior lifter I have ever come across. And you see it with all his athletes: it’s not about brute force, it’s about soft relaxed natural power. So, what did I bring back from Russia? Of course I have learned training protocols and methods of teaching, but more importantly the philosophy and mental attitude and approach to training!! The balance mentally and physically, correct lifestyle (diet and rest) lifting the kettlebells and training is of course a major part of the sport, but after living with my coach for 4 weeks (2 weeks at a time in 2 trips) I learned more about the mind’s approach to lifting and training. This is the hidden secret I feel that allows these athletes to get the major results. I certainly have learned to coach better after watching and being coached by this amazing man.


I am sure you keep in touch with Girevoy enthusiasts elsewhere in Europe. Many of us have been watching the surge in competitions and training days across Europe. What do you think of the standard of competitions in Europe?

The standard is rising all the time, and of course some countries are ahead of others. What I usually look at is , are the men lifting 32kg and women 24kg. Taking this into account, the level in Europe compared to Russia and Ukraine is still very low. Of course each country seems to have one or 2 athletes on these professional weights but the majority of lifters are lifting weights that would be classed as an amateur or junior level elsewhere.

Now the actual standard  of the competitions in the sense of how they are held I still think is extremely low in Europe. Why? I think people do not know the protocols of how to hold official competitions. We do not have trained judges. For instance you have competitions that are held in people’s gyms, with athletes judging and competing at the same time!! This is not correct. It seems that a lot of times people are just hosting a competition to make money!!

But at the same time this does give the sport exposure. However I feel if the sport is to grow, each country needs to have a governing body that has standards and criteria that must be met in order to host a competition. A poorly run and judged competition leads to athletes usually be counted for bad reps. And like any other sport the level and standards must be controlled, set and maintained by the officials running them. If they are run like fun days out for the family then the level will stay low. I would like to see in Ireland a professional governing body and an amateur governing body. That way, standards for athletes that want to compete at a professional level internationally will be met. And amateurs can also compete but at different competitions and under different federation. A bit like amateur boxing versus professional. It’s just a thought I have had. In Russia all kettlebells are run under RGSF, but they have different levels and competitions, like professional, student military, police. And so you can maintain standards in each competition depending of the level of the athletes. This also makes competition fair: you won’t have professional athletes competing in student comps for instance. It allows newer or not as skilled athletes to win something.

Some European countries are very new to competitive Kettlebell lifting. What advice would you give to clubs just starting out?

If you are a new club starting out, first I would make sure you have a reasonable level yourself before instructing others, a weekend, week, month course is not sufficient training to learn and be able to perform all the lifts correctly. Myself and Eddie Sheehan after learning kettebells and getting certified we trained ourselves for 1 year before teaching others.

When you have enough experience with kettlebells I would advise teaching kettlebells in 2 major categories, sport and fitness. The technique is the same, just the goal is different. Sport is to compete and get results with number of reps. Fitness could be from losing weight, toning up. This will help your club with membership. But again I can’t emphasis enough that if someone is going to teach the sport , they must firstly have attained a reasonable level themselves, (I think CMS level) .For instance I watched young women who are students at an agricultural school begin training wth Anton in Russia, in 2 weeks I watched them come to training 6 days per week. For about 3 hours a time. And at end of 2 weeks with personal instruction by Anton they were already snatching 16kg!!!!

Dedication and correct technique is what will help your club grow.. And a coach must lead by example. If he wants dedicated students he must be or have been (in case of retired older athlete) one himself. So many people are jumping on the band wagon and teaching kettlebells purely for financial gain with no skill, results, or ranks themselves and as the sport grows we will see a surge in people teaching kettlebell sports or girevoy sport in their club… but are they qualified to do so!!? So if you are new and want to get a club or group started in trainingthe sport, I would advise to maybe to get a high level athlete over to your club and run a weekend where you will be taught everything and then as a group you can train what you have learned. There are many Russian athletes now doing seminars so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Next I would advise clubs to be careful about what federations they get involved with, there is a big “power struggle” behind the scenes and each group will tell you they are the best, but what you must ask yourself as a club or coach is what is best for me and my athletes!!? Am I being asked to pay silly amounts of money to these people (I would not pay more the 250 euro for 2 days training with anyone in the world!!! I don’t care how good they say they are)

Tell me about 2013 please

GSU has two major comps: 9th Feb in Scotland, and after 2 days training with Rudnev Sergy and Alesandr Khostov.
and 27th april Manchester. GSU championships date will be set shortly

What about your personal goals for 2013?

On the actual lifting side of things, I wish to increase my result in 32kg biathlon to 70-80 jerks and 120 snatches. but I really want to get a chance to do a 10min set with 24kg and 28kg !!! It’s been a long time and I feel I can do 140-150 jerk and 200 snatches with 24kg and 100-110 jerk and 140-150 snatch with 28kg.
In the last 2 weeks I have had long cycle back in my training programme with longer sets of 7-8min with 24kg and 28kg, and that has also made we want to set a new personal record with these weights as its been well over a year that I competed in Long Cycle seriously.

I plan to compete in a number of international competitions and make a few more trip to Russia to train with my coach.

With regards to GSU my goal is to increase its membership and have professionally run Girevoy Sports clubs throughout Ireland and UK, and also have a full calendar of events (competitions and workshops)

Next year we will take a large group (GSU) to the world championships and I’m very much looking forward to seeing my friends and athletes compete. This time next year I will have at least 6-7 athletes competing professionally at an international level. Oh I almost forgot my important project…. build the junior team.

My junior team has been going from strength to strength, they just completed their first 10min sets with 20kg biathlon. and our goal is to be ready to compete with 24kg Biathlon and Long Cycle by summer 2013. They are already training with 24kg but their goal is big numbers. They want to beat the adults in 24kg biathlon  and I believe they will. The future of the sport lies in the young. This is something I am passionate about and really enjoy coaching junior who are dedicated and driven… who knows we could have future world champions!!

mark stapleton3





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