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Dateline, Richmond… Dec 17, 2002

Russian to Capitalize

Soviets' training methods hawked by entrepreneur

BY MCGREGOR MCCANCE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER

Dr. Sergei Beliaev recently started Super Sport Systems LLC, a computer-based training program for professional athletes and for others with exercise and fitness goals.
(ALEXA WELCH EDLUND)

Even the weekend warrior now can train like a Russian super-athlete. Using years of data amassed during the former Soviet Union's Olympic-training research, a Richmond entrepreneur has developed a computer-based method of improving athletic performance.  

Broadly defined, Sergei Beliaev's business represents "commercialization of Russian sports knowledge to the world." More narrowly defined, and a sharper marketing approach, is that Super Sport Systems LLC aims to make people run faster, swim better and compete at a higher level.

"We optimize the ability of each individual body to achieve its best performance," said Beliaev, a former member of the all-Russia junior cycling team.

Sounds like a cable-TV infomercial. But Super Sport Systems and Beliaev already have their fans, including University of Richmond women's swimming coach Matt Kredich. Check Kredich success>

Resume

Born: May 8, 1956, in Essentuki, Russia

Career: 1999 to present, president and founder, Super Sport Systems LLC; 1990-1998, visiting professor, Virginia Commonwealth University; 1995-1996, head coach, CYCOR professional cycling team, Richmond; 1995-1997, head coach, Ukrainian National Cycling Team in United States; 1987-1990, executive, National Marketing and Sports Industry Ministry, Leningrad; 1987-1989, head, Department of Foreign Economic Relations, Leningrad Sports Committee; 1982-1987, international events manager, State Committee for Physical Culture and Sport, Moscow

Education: master's degree, 1977, doctorate in human performance science and sports education, 1982, State Central Institute of Physical Education, Moscow; MBA, 2001, VCU

Sports activities: former assistant coach to Tour DuPont Russian national cycling team; former head coach, Moldova Olympic Reserve Training Center in Cycling; official USSR Ministry of Sport representative to 1986 Goodwill Games

Family: wife, Olga; daughter, Julie, 22; son, Peter, 17

"He's got a tremendous product," Kredich said. "While he's confident of that, he's also never forced it on anybody."

Beliaev's story is one of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in action - and a love of competition. Putting his new business in context requires a review of Russian training methods of the past few decades. According to Beliaev and his mentor, Dr. Sergei Gordon of the Moscow State Institute of Sports, the former Soviet Union established research centers in the 1950s and'60s to develop a scientific approach to training Olympic athletes. Beliaev said the institutes operated on a simple mandate: "Create a dominant athlete." 

Instead of becoming a dominant athlete himself, Beliaev moved toward the field of sports science. He came to the United States in 1990 as a nine-month visiting professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, focusing in international sports administration. Beliaev decided to stay much longer. "This nine months has lasted 12 years," he said, grinning. The United States would provide him a chance to find out if his innate business sense is on target.

"It was clear to me that there was a tremendous product," he said. "But Russia itself did not represent the market. Russia was not able to consume what it had created." During the 1990s, Beliaev and his former mentor led the development of the software that would become the Super Sport Systems product. Russian skiing, speed-skating and cycling teams used the approach the same way UR, James Madison University and other U.S. athletes use it today.

UR swimmers began using the system last fall. By midseason, Kredich could see better times he attributed, in part, to Beliaev's programs. "They're swimming faster, and since there are very specific goals for them every week, there's always a benchmark against which I can measure their progress," Kredich said.

JMU men's swimming coach Matt Barany used the system last fall and also saw times improve faster than normal during the season. "I like it because so much of swimming is science, but there is no hard database that anybody can resource and reference," he said. "[Beliaev] has given me all the research to support what I've known. But he does it in much more detail." Barany describes Beliaev as a savvy entrepreneur who is willing to incorporate suggestions from customers into the program. "He clearly knows the language of sport."

While anyone can use the system, the company's clients tend to be amateur coaches and athletes in endurance sports: running, cycling, rowing, swimming, triathlons. In simple terms, here's how it works:

An athlete enters personal information, including age, gender, height, weight, heart rate and personal best times in his event or sport. He also enters performance goals and decides when he would like to reach those goals. That's when the database, algorithms and former Soviet research take over.

Beliaev's program produces a tailored training regimen designed to reach the goals in the selected time frame. "You get your training workout for every day of the year or season you select," he said. The whole system is Internet-based, through Beliaev's Web site.

Beliaev's experience as an entrepreneur quickly taught him the hard knocks of trying to build a startup business. "It's not an easy pass. There's a lot of uncertainty in what you are doing," he said. "But there's much more joy in terms of pride in what you do and how you do it."

Beliaev holds a green card, allowing him to work in the United States. For now, he continues to maintain citizenship in Russia. But he said the United States, whether it is Richmond or the many cities he visits for his company, feels like home. "Regardless of what city, I feel like I am a free man. I am free to make my decisions, to rent a car, take a plane," he said. "It's great feeling."  


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