Maria Grozdeva at the Time of the Great Shot
Maria Grozdeva is 37. Twenty of them she spent in a battle with the most accurate shooters in the world. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, she stayed out of the podium, but this summer in Croatia, she shot a ninth European title. Thus, she reminded that her Queen of Shooting crown is not made of lost bullets, and that she’ll be among the most serious contenders for tens on the target at the 2012 London Games.
Maria Grozdeva’s best hits, however, are not her Olympic and European records but her three children– Christo, Valeri, and Magdalena. How does the cold-blooded shooter deal with the role of a mother is what our story’s about. It also involves the now defunct Bulgarian sibyl Vanga, who forecasted Princess Diana’s death, the breakup of the USSR and of Czechoslovakia, and the Kursk submarine disaster.
Barcelona’92 was Maria’s first Olympics. Before taking off for the Games, the future champion learned an old prediction from her father. Way back, her grandma visited Vanga to inquire about her grandchildren’s prospects. The clairvoyant from Petrich revealed that the boy would be very studious, while for the girl, she said, “I see her with a star on her forehead”. “Then, I told to myself: ‘It’s written. Whatever I do, I’ll take my medal.’ This is what happened, indeed”, rewinds Maria Grozdeva. The shooting master avows that she was never standing out with iron discipline. “Everybody in Barcelona was restrained, was hiding from the heat and was practicing, while I was every day at the beach, to the fitness room and to the sauna. All those counter indicated things, yet I got a bronze medal. Later, I took quite a lot of medals the way of the same logic– that I couldn’t escape my fate.”
It’d have been too naïve if Maria relied upon her lucky star alone. Every single day, she’s training with the handgun, spends a few hours at the gym, and runs or bikes in the South Park.Come the time of the great shot, she also wishes herself luck. Because “nothing works out if today is not your day”. “I’m thinking of nothing else during these fractions of a second. I visualize the shot, the movement, the trajectory”, says the champion. The holder of a bunch of titles is categorical that a second or a third place is not a defeat. “You can’t always be No.1. I’m pleased with every accession to a final, because it gives me a chance to win a medal. I’m not angry if I’m second or third. I may get irritated a bit only if I was leading but failed in the final and missed out the first rank. However, this never happened to me, I’ve rather been with a low ranking and moved upwards. I’m always rejoicing at the prize, whatever it is. Medals are not won easily nor so often”, says Maria Grozdeva.
A sight from the top
“It’s lonely at the top” is an oft-repeated celebrity cliché. With Maria, this statement sounds differently. “It’s not lonely at all at the top. Lots of people show up that tell you ‘You’re great!’, ‘You’re tops!’ They’re subservient but then, when you fall down, you don’t see them anymore. It even occurred that some turn they heads the other way. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, great many were expecting that I’d get a medal in the first competition but I failed. The tension was very high and on top of all, I was forewarned that the President would come to watch me. My nervousness wasn’t perceptible externally or as a pulse. Yet there was something that made me feel out of there, to feel insecure and to fail achieving a good shooting.
I recall how we had a walk in the Olympic Village. We were on one sidewalk and spotted some acquaintances on the other. We waved to greet them but they looked the other way. Five days later, when I got a medal from the other event, the very same people were obsequious,” recollects the champion.
Maria’s handgun has to do with her family, too. Shooting is precisely what brought together the champion with her husband, Valeri Grigorov. Before forming a couple, he was her trainer. Two years before they met, Valeri’s marriage had disintegrated. After they wed, Maria received his son Christo as her own kid. “I had no problem at all. Quite the contrary. I was composing myself that even if we have no other children, we do have Christo. The relationship we have, his mother and I, is perfect,” says Grozdeva. When the ex-wife comes to Bulgaria, all the family is constantly together. “I hope little Valeri and Magdalena will follow suit after Itzo– he’s not a smoker and doesn’t drink alcohol. I recall how since the age of nine he was coming with us in the training camps at Belmeken. He’s now 22 and is of great help in raising his brother and sister. He takes care of them; he’s always driving them somewhere with the car.”
Contrary to the expectations, the champion is not an ambitious mother and doesn’t insist that that her kids follow her track. “I’m not ambitious for myself, let alone for the kids. I wouldn’t force them into doing anything. Whatever they like, they’ll do it. I’m like every mother– I may spoil them and I may exact upon them, I may be nervous and may be composed.”
A family member in his full rights is the dog Jack, a Jack-Russell terrier. The pup is inseparable from his masters even at the beach and barks familiarly at Maria when she gets too lost in chatting with some fan. And fans of her are really numerous– from 8-years old pests to upper-class ladies of venerable age in their walk through the park.
* Earned a Master of Sports designation at 14. Won her first Olympic medal at 20– Barcelona 1992
* Participated to five Olympiads. Won a medal in four of them. She decorates herself with gold from the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games. She kept bronze “souvenirs” from Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996. In Athens, in addition to the gold in small-calibre handgun, she also won the bronze in the 10-metre pneumatic handgun shooting.
* Nine times European champion. This summer, she earned her most recent title from the championship in Croatia.
* Mother of three: Christo, Valeri, and Magdalena. Christo, 22, is from her husband’s earlier marriage. Valeri is 9, Maggie– 6. Her husband, Valeri Grigorov, is her trainer.
* Holder of the European and Olympic records in small-calibre handgun shooting
* Takes frequently part in charitable initiatives. Helps kids from Bulgarian orphanages. A customary participant to the “Out of Love for Life” marches, organized in support of the struggle against breast cancer.