Finished first in Dakar. Became first among the Games Ambassadors

Sergei Kariakin first got behind the wheel of a quad bike at the age of 13, won his first racing competition at 14, and became the first Russian to win the Dakar Rally in the Quads category at 25. Organizers of the upcoming Games got to sit down and have a talk with the famous Ekaterinburg native who became the first Ambassador of the 2023 FISU World University Games. Yet another first!

- Sergei, allow us to congratulate you on this important and responsible role. Let us begin with a brief outline of your biography for the readers only now discovering motorsport for themselves. For a long time you farther worked at a civil aviation plant and your mother worked as an accountant. How come you have become a racing driver?

- That is a big question. There was no one, as they say, with speed in their blood among neither the family nor the immediate surroundings. It just so happened that I grew to love this activity. What most important is that I have managed to connect my life with it. I am very happy about it but my parents are still baffled that their son has followed a career in sport.

- Your father worked in aviation. Was there a chance that we could see Segei Kariakin, the aviation pilot, rather than the racing driver?

- My father worked in the helicopter industry for a long time. I love the sky and do fly a lot, but only as a passenger. To tell the truth I only flew on a helicopter once. That was when I broke both my arms during one of the Dakar rallies and had to be evacuated by air. I have always wanted to fly in a helicopter but not like that (laughs). I also spent a few years in my youth attending an aircraft modeling club, but that's about it.

- About your first competitive experience. You have tried yourself as a racing driver at a rather young age. How did that happen?

- I received a quad bike as a gift from my father. I would constantly drive it around. I was on it every day and every evening. I would always want to race someone. It became a real passion. I was 13 when I took part in my first competition. It was somewhat of a young fighter's course. A year later I scored my first win. From the first day that I sat behind the quad bike's wheel I wanted to compete, wanted to win. This has become an established opinion of mine: to be the best, to strive for the top. That is how I live.

- Did you do any other sports in your youth?

I have spent almost 10 years doing sambo. Plus the aircraft modeling club, I have mentioned before. It was not the most physically demanding activity but it taught me a lot on the technical level. Endurance, patience, quality of work - all these things help a lot in motorsport.

- The path from the first victories to the Dakar début took you about 10 years. At what point did you get an idea to compete at the famous rally raid? Do you remember it? Alternatively, perhaps someone has influenced you?

It was nothing special, to be honest. That person was my father. We were having dinner and watching the Dakar Rally, discussing our truck drivers' victories. That was when I had the idea: "Why not Dakar?". So just like that, spontaneously, and somewhat randomly, we have decided. Started preparing and eventually went.

- How were you preparing in terms of the physical condition?

I have been physically well-built ever since I was young. Sambo and constantly driving the quad bike really helped with that. In our sport, the necessary endurance is acquired through practice. Before my first Dakar Rally, I participated in many Russian competitions. Became the Champion of Russia and won other prestigious races. I thought Dakar was going to be no different because I was always finishing way ahead of my competition...

- But?

- But the level of sportsmanship, speed, and preparedness my team and I witnessed there left me in complete awe. My placing after the first stage was in the thirties. Easy to say I was shocked when older competitors were passing me with ease.

- You realised that the competition was on a completely different level and you really had to pull yourself together, correct?

- After just a few days I have scored a win on a special stage (First Russian in the Quads category - note Ekat-2023). Just 3 years later I scored the first overall win (First Russian in the Quads category - note Ekat-2023). In 2020 I became the silver medalist in the lightweight vehicles’ category. Our team aims for the win in this category. I am certain we will get it.

- How do you stay in shape during the long rally raids?

- I always warm up before the start. There are obligatory recovery treatments after the rally. You think it is nothing but sitting behind the wheel. However, it puts a colossal strain on you. Your body is constantly tense from the shaky off-road driving and extreme weather conditions. You must always stay in control. The strain we go through is insane.

- Occasions when vehicles need repairs during the course of the race add more pressure...

Yes, this is most likely the most extreme form of fitness (laughs). Speaking of repairing the vehicles during the stages, I have to point out how important the team is. Considering the conditions, they have to work in, their contribution to the final result is indisputable. I strongly believe that success lies in teamwork.

- You have not only won Dakar, but other races as well. Are there starts more difficult than that?

- No. Dakar is the hardest one. That is where the highest level of competition is.

I did not receive any special treatment at the university

- Let us come back home to Ekaterinburg. A few words about your education. You have two degrees (In 2013 Sergei graduated the Ural Federal University and became an engineer specialising in "Gas and steam turbine units and engines". In 2018, he graduated the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration with a degree in "Federal and municipal management" - note Ekat-2023). This means you were studying and at the same time competing in tournaments, correct?

- That is correct.

- Did the universities assist you with the studies?

- They demanded knowledge and attendance from me. I did not receive any special treatment. Obviously, when competitions and lectures conflicted with each other, I had to compromise with the teachers. I had to catch up on the missed material by studying with other groups. However, I would always do the tests, homework, and exams, even if later. I have always tried to study and would find the time. I believe it to be important.

- How did the universities react to the famous student?

- Some people would recognise me. However, I was never widely famous. That is because our sport is less public than some others are. I do not really feel the fame and renown. Nor do I really need it. I am comfortable as is.

- Were you participating in the university's sport activities?

Not really. I simply did not have the time for that. I have already had a family and a job in addition to the competitions.

Getting the point that sport is awesome across to children

- You have a wife and three kids. Will we see a Kariakin sport dynasty in a few years?

- I do not know about that. Children choose their own path. I would certainly like to pass on my experience. Nevertheless, if I cannot - that is fine as well.

- Do you have your kids do sports?

Of course. They have all started with attending a swimming pool and can swim rather well. They have tried themselves in a few sports but have settled on artistic gymnastics, tennis, and climbing. My wife plays a lot of tennis. She and I love jogging in the evening.

-Do you have enough time to spend with your family considering your tight schedule?

- I would definitely like to spend more time with them, since there is no such thing as too much time with the family. However, work is very important. I believe that children should see their father as the leader, a person who will support the family in any situation. Personally, I also find time to play hockey and do boxing.

- How do kids react to your performances? Certainly, you get recordings of their reactions to watch.

- The kids are proud of me. This is a great incentive for me to keep winning and to be a role model. If not just my kids, but others as well, follow my example - even better.

- Is your children's driving school an example of that?

Yes. Our driving school has been open for four years now. We hold several classes every week. We actively work with orphans and school students and are already having first successes. Children are captivated with incentives and excitement. Moreover, the hobby is useful and positive. I am really trying to get the point that sport is awesome across to the children.

Becoming the first Ambassador is a great responsibility

You were the first Russian to win the Dakar Rally (In the Quads category - note Ekat-2023). You have now become the first Ambassador of the 2023 FISU World University Games. What are your thoughts and feelings about that?

- Undoubtedly, this is a great honour and a great responsibility. I really have to rise to the occasion here. Ekaterinburg is an amazing city, and we need to properly represent it and prove to the entire world that we truly deserve to host the Games. I will gladly help the organizers with that!

- How will the Games affect Ekaterinburg?

- This means investments and an impetus for the city's development. This means more attention and higher status for the city. Using other major tournaments as an example, we can say with confidence that the infrastructure the city receives as a legacy works for the citizens in the long run.

What sport, apart from motorsport, out of the disciplines at the Games could you see yourself participating in?

- Motorsport (laughs)

- No chance for anything else?

- No. I like the speed and the adrenaline.

- What about outside the program of the Games?

Perhaps Alpine skiing. I like it a lot.

- Do you believe there is a chance that motorsport can, in some capacity, become a part of student games or similar competitions?

- This is a tough question. You see, motorsport does not align with the idea of Olympic disciplines. The role of the vehicles is far too great. They are sometimes more important than the human factor.

- So, it is the vehicles competing, rather than humans or countries?

- In a way.  However, as in any other sport, in technical sports people know their heroes and stars. Know where they are from and which country represent.

- What sport would you compare with a rally raid?

- If we talk about endurance over long distances - an Ironman Triathlon.

- Have you given any thoughts as to which 2023 WUG competitions you would like to spectate?

- To be frank with you, not yet. But I will definitely make a schedule of the events that I will go to. One hundred percent.

- What is the most colourful place in Ekaterinburg that you would recommend guests and spectators of the Games to visit?

- In Ekaterinburg, you absolutely have to take a walk along the Iset river embankment (A river that flows through Ekaterinburg - note Ekat-2023). The beauty there is out of this world and it has everything for comfortable leisure.

- And in the region?

Deer Springs (National Park in the Sverdlovsk Region 100km from Ekaterinburg - note Ekat 2023) is a great place. Also, the town of Sysert. It is an ecologically clean place with a wide range of tourist activities.

- What would you say to the participants and guests of the Games?

- I want to wish everyone coming to the Games to enjoy the competitions and their time in Ekaterinburg. I wish athletes worthy performances and let the strongest among the strong win!