Oleg Markov was born in Belarus, is the son of a world champion pole vaulter, speaks Russian at home and is studying to become a geologist. If things go the way he hopes, he will be drafted to an AFL club at the end of November. “It’s probably not the most usual way that people make their way to the game,” he said. “But everyone has to find it in their own way.”
Markov was just a few months old when his parents left their home near the Russian border for Adelaide, and has asked enough questions to understand their reasons for moving so far away: they were young, with a baby boy they wanted to raise somewhere safe.
“They wanted a better way of life, so they thought to themselves, ‘Where else in the world could we go?’
They thought Australia was a pretty multicultural place, so that’s how we ended up here.”
Oleg was five when his father won a world pole vault title, old enough to understand what Dmitri had achieved, and can remember hanging around with Vicky and Liz Parnov, waiting while their father, Alex, trained his dad. Both girls made their own way into the same sport but Oleg never felt the same inclination to try, despite showing some talent at high jump.
He did, however, learn how to live and train like an athlete simply through growing up with and sticking even now with a warm-up routine more often seen on athletics tracks.
“I do like to psych myself up. I have this thing where I actually relax myself by getting really psyched up, it’s just what I’ve always done,” he said. “People joke about it and look across at me and they wonder what I’m doing. It’s something that really does help, when I get myself into that zone.”
Markov first started kicking footballs in the schoolyard, and realised quickly that he could jump a little higher than the other kids, and kick the ball just a little bit further.
It was another couple of years before he joined his first team, and even now watching a game on TV with his father feels “more like a trivia night, him asking the questions and me having to come up with all the answers.
“When people at work ask him which position I play, he gets a stick, draws a circle on the ground and points out where I usually stand. He’s still learning, but he loves to come and see me play, so does my mum. They don’t really understand the game, but they always support me.”
Markov has progressed since to North Adelaide, and was hoping to play in the midfield for South Australia during this year’s under-18 championships until he broke his collarbone, twice.
It was the first time he had been badly injured and while he got back three weeks earlier than people said he would, it turned out he should have listened to them. “I was really unprofessional the first time I hurt myself,” Markov said.
“I played in my first game back and it felt fine. There was bumping and there was tackling, everything was good, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the next game that the ball started rolling out of bounds. I stopped still, then started to turn around and just got cleaned up by a bump. I heard the crack straight away, and just knew.”
Markov had learnt his lesson and took his time from there, but was able to squeeze in six late-season games and give recruiters a bit to think about. While it took a few weeks for him to feel confident enough to hurl himself at balls he never used to think twice about, he was quick, exciting and, funnily enough, high leaping.
He hopes one of the clubs will choose him at next month’s draft, but if not, he will get back to the environmental science course he hopes will get him into geology or palaeontology one day, and to his start-of-the-season goal of making it into the North Adelaide senior team.
In the meantime, he wants to enjoy his week at the draft combine, and take in every experience.
“I’ve fallen in love with this game and I’m still learning a lot about it, so everything I can see and do is valuable to me, and I want to enjoy my time here and learn from it,” he said.
“There’s a lot of really good players here and it’s good to see what they’re like and what they do. I want to take in some tips from them and talk to all the clubs, and really just learn more about what footy’s all about and take as much out of it as I can.”
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