At first glance Lviv’s latest female celebrity appears to have come off the same conveyor belt of super stars which churns out the country’s endless supply of beautiful, confident young ladies who Ukraine’s decorate TV screens and advertising billboards. However, Olena ‘The Hunter’ Ovchynnikova may look comfortable in front of the cameras but she is no mere pop starlet or iconic movie star – in fact Olena is a newly-crowned kickboxing world champion who also has the looks and the style to become a living legend in both Lviv and beyond.
In mid-September Olena was cheered on by a capacity crowd in her adopted home city Lviv as she defeated Morocco’s Imam Glabu Chaeivi to be crowned undisputed K-1 Rules World Kickboxing Champion in her division. The fight was the culmination of a lifelong dream for the 22 year old Ukrainian, who now appears to have the world at her feet as a box office attraction without equal in the world of female fighters. While female kickboxing may not be everybody’s cup of tea, there have been few ladies in the sport until now with such potential to grab the attention of both the international audience and advertising dollars. As Olena prepared to begin her reign as a world champ, she sat down to chat with Lviv Today.
Congratulations on become world champ, Olena. How big a challenge was your championship fight?
Winning a world title belt was a dream I have haboured since childhood. This particular fight was quite tricky for me because it came following a six-month period in which I had been injured and as a result had not had any high-level tournament experience to keep me sharp. I was suffering from a broken hand before this break, and had actually tried to fight on 7 occasions prior to my break with only one hand, which is no easy task. I also fell ill just before the fight itself, leaving me with no choice but to face what was a very difficult opponent with a fever. Nevertheless, it is easy to point out weaknesses or make excuses, but I never stopped believing in victory and now I am very proud of my achievement.
You are currently not only a world champion kickboxer but also an undergraduate student. Is it difficult to combine the two?
Yes, I manage to find time both for my sporting career and for my education. I am currently working to complete a master’s degree at the Lviv Institute of Physical Culture.
You compete in a sport that has traditionally been seen as very masculine. How does the atmosphere in women’s kickboxing compare to the ambience in the men’s division?
I can’t honestly say that I have many friends in my sporting life – I think it would be more accurate to talk about acquaintances. There are far fewer competitors in women’s boxing so at this stage there is logically less competition, but although women’s bouts are not yet particularly popular, they are attracting more and more attention and are becoming more technically accomplished.
As a newly crowned world champion, how do you see your future?
First of all I plan to defend my new World Champion title at least 3 times, which is the minimum number of successful defences required in order to keep the belt for life. As well as my new K-1 world title belt, I have a number of other belts that I will also have to defend if I want to keep hold of them! In the longer term I see my future lying in expansion into other types of professional contact sport and mixed martial arts. I would like to become world champion in a variety of different disciplines.
Your adopted hometown is Lviv and your favourite city in the world is Venice – where would you rather spend your free time?
Both cities can boast of breathtaking architecture and the spirit this produces is often surprisingly similar. I would say that Venice is particularly romantic, with its endless singing and bouquets of flowers creating a playful, flirtatious mood. Lviv also has an air of romance about it, which I feel when walking the city street during the late evening. Both places are special and have their own unique ambience, so I would not know which to choose!
As a dedicated sports star where do you choose to relax and socialise in Lviv?
I am not really very fond of spending time at parties and discos. As far as I can remember I have only ever been to discos twice in all my time in Lviv. Such places are simply not my style. I am a huge fan of nature and active pastimes like volleyball, football, riding, motorcycle sports and other outdoor activities.
Are you a fan of hiking in the Carpathian Mountains?
In general I am a big fan of the Carpathians and have spent a lot of free time hiking in the mountains, but unfortunately this year I did not find the time.
As someone who was born and grew up in central Ukraine, what do you like most about life in Lviv?
I am not native Lvivite and grew up in Dnipropetrovsk, but I moved to Lviv almost two years ago because the city and its sports organisations offered me a better chance to pursue my education and my professional fight career. Today I am very proud to be able to represent Lviv as an international champion. If I were to compare Lviv with my original hometown of Dnipropetrovsk, I would say that Lviv is far more compact and is soothing for the soul. I love to be round the city and enjoy walking around the High Castle area in the city centre – in fact I go running up and down the fortifications every single Saturday as part of my training!
Lviv Today is West Ukraine’s first English language magazine – do you speak English?
Personally I don’t speak English but I often ask my coach, who does, to translate your magazine for me! On a more serious note, I intend to learn English up to conversational level on the coming months as this is a requirement for access to the huge American fight market. If I want to fight in America I will have to respond to questions at press conferences and give interviews to the media, so it is essential for me to learn. In general it would be a big help because I find myself travelling a lot. I will soon be going to Austria to participate in a kickboxing world championship.
How do you manage to communicate when you are travelling abroad?
Whenever I am outside of Ukraine I employ one simple trick to make my life easy – I do not communicate at all! I do have a lot of fans abroad who might like to communicate with me, and they are welcome to write to me at [email protected]
What is your usual daily schedule?
Following a big fight I like to take a break, especially at times like now when I have a number of injuries to recover from. In general I am not a big fan of watching TV and prefer to spend free time reading books or with my friends and boyfriend.
You must receive some interesting fan mail. Do your fans ever send you love letters?
Receiving regular confessions of love has become part of my daily life, but I don’t take any of them seriously.
What kind of man usually attracts your attention?
I couldn’t tell you any one specific detail as all people are unique, but I try not to take a person’s position or status into consideration before I have gotten to know them. I am certainly not someone who tries to put labels on people or categorize them.
Where do you see yourself in ten year’s time? Do you have any dreams to become famous as a pop singer or show business star?
To be frank I have no talent for singing and simply hope to have a long and successful sporting career. I still have many goals to achieve and much that lies ahead as a professional fighter. Later on in life I can see myself trying my hand at other ventures and like the idea of learning new talents, but I plan to do my best to make room for sports
throughout my life.