Buryak made headlines when she pulled 6:25.0 for 2000m at February’s European Indoor Rowing Championships in Poland. It may have seemed that this performance came out of nowhere, but Buryak has been a regular on the World Rowing scene for a number of years. She first made the Ukranean national team as a junior over a decade ago and instantly found success with a silver medal in the women's quadruple sculls.
Since then Buryak has remained on the national team switching between the quad and the double sculls and occasionally in the women's eight. She raced in the double at the London 2012 Olympic Games. But it was Buryak's time off the water and on the indoor rowing machine that really caught the eye of the rowing world.
World Rowing talks to Buryak about her beginnings in rowing and how inability to get on the water has helped forge her indoor rowing prowess.
World Rowing: Why did you start rowing?
Olena Buryak: It’s a long story, many years ago my mum tried to row and my older sister also tried. At the age of 12 I tried at the same rowing club as my sister. I rowed for one year, but then thought I should try something else like piano. In the end, it was too difficult and so I kept rowing.
WR: You are tall (193cm), are your parents tall as well?
OB: My mum is 21cm shorter than me, and my father 10cm shorter. I'm not sure what happened (laughs).
WR: So, you first competed internationally at the junior championships?
OB: Yes, in Banyoles, Spain (2004). It was great. It was my first championships and we won a silver medal (at 16 years old). It was very important for my coach and for me. That’s why I want to perform better every year.
WR: Have you done mostly sculling? Which do you prefer, sculling or sweep?
OB: No, I have two medals in the eight too. I like both, but had no partner to do a pair as there was always too much difference in height.
WR: You went from the quad to the double and back. How does the boat selection work?
OB: We have many selection races in Ukraine. I look at every training session like it is the last one of my life. Sometimes the weather or my health conditions are not good. So that's why it is not my choice, it’s just life. I wanted to row in the single, but for three years in a row I lost out by two seconds (during selection). That’s why I’m in the double.
WR: Tell us a bit about your training programme.
OB: We mostly train in Ukraine, but now because of the war we have no money to go abroad. But we still go abroad a few times a year to train. Last year it was Egypt and Germany. This year it is Italy. We need to pay our own costs for training and it is very expensive as my salary is small. So for the winter we stay in Ukraine and train hard on the erg in the gym.
WR: Did this help to make you fast on the erg?
OB: Erging is just in the winter. I don’t like to train on the erg in the summer as it changes my technique. But sometimes I need to do ergs because I can’t run every day. I need to train 5-6 hours a day, but I can’t run six hours a day. So, that’s why I train on the erg as well.
WR: Tell us about your indoor rowing World Record at the European Indoor Rowing Championships?
OB: It was a nice performance in Poland. I didn’t want to go, but was convinced to go. I prepared two weeks for it. That was nice!
WR: What went through your mind during the test?
OB: This year it was hard for me as on my erg screen I couldn’t see the projected time. Then I noticed a big screen on the side on which I could see my projected time, so I rowed looking to the side. It was very nice as so many people from many countries were encouraging me.
WR: Are you the fastest on the erg in your team?
OB: Yes, but not the fastest on the water.
WR: How does it feel to know you are the fastest women on the ergometer in the world?
OB: Nothing special really. I know that I can do better, but I want to do it in stages to make many records. Maybe every year one second, like Sergei Bubka (Ukraine's famous Olympic Pole Vaulter) did 1cm better every year for 25 years… I would then be 50 years old and die on the erg (laughs).
WR: How long do plan to keep rowing?
OB: I don’t know, it’s life. I told my husband that I want to have children and a family. My husband told me: 'Please, row to the Olympics and then children.'
WR: What motivates you?
OB: Everything motivates me! One of my biggest motivators is a group on Facebook called 'sub7'. They're in the United Kingdom and they invited me to join. Every month they have a new challenge like 5000m, 500m, 2000m. I do all the challenges and send them my times. My times motivate them (the whole group). They say that I’m fantastic and ask me how I do it. They say: 'You crazy horse!' (laughs). So it motivates me that I motive them. It’s really fun.
WR: Is there something special about rowing, would you do another sport?
OB: Diving. I have a tattoo of diving. I do free diving and my record is 22m, this is my hobby when I don’t row.