Ivan Zaytsev: Success is in his DNA
When Ivan Zaytsev was still a young boy, he actually really wanted to play ice hockey when he grew up. Preferably in goal. However, his father then took him to volleyball practice and “it was love at first sight”.
And so it was that Ivan Zaytsev did not go on to become a goalkeeper, but a hitter. He has now established himself as one of the best in the world and is looking to smash his way to victory with Italy at the final round of the FIVB World League in Florence this week.
Zaytsev inherited his extraordinary sporting ability from his parents. His mother, Irina Pozdnyakova, is a former competitive swimmer. And father Vyacheslav Zaytsev is a legend of Russian volleyball. He was Olympic champion in 1980, World Champion in 1978 and 1982 (when he was named MVP), and won the European Championship seven times with the Soviet Union. "Sport has always been important in our family. It is pretty much in my DNA," said Ivan Zaytsev.
Volleyball was also the reason why he was born in Italy. Towards the end of his career, Vyacheslav Zaytsev plied his trade at clubs in the land of volleyball dreams, where his son Ivan was born in Spoleto. Ivan Zaytsev received Italian citizenship and subsequently decided to play for the Azzurri. This did not go down well at first with dad, but he has come to accept his decision. Ivan Zaytsev is undoubtedly a godsend for Italy, and volleyball’s biggest poster boy.
"Ivan is not only an attacker, who regularly scores a lot of points, but is also a man who can make the difference in key situations," said Italian coach Mauro Berruto. Zaytsev’s booming serves are as feared as his brutal smashes. The 25-year-old was instrumental in his country winning the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. Last year he added a second European Championship silver medal to the one he won in 2011, and was also named "Best Server". There was another bronze in 2013, when Italy finished third in the FIVB World League – with Zaytsev named "Best Outside Spiker."
"My greatest strength is perhaps my versatility," said Zaytsev. He started out as a setter, has also played middle blocker, and is now one of the most feared hitters in the world. And he is undoubtedly one of the best-known: his striking haircut and numerous tattoos make him very popular with fans. "I didn't plan to become so famous because of my haircut, it's not marketing or ego, I have had this relationship with my hair since I was a kid," he once said in an interview.
His unique appearance has definitely made him a familiar face. Vanity Fair Italia wrote a story about him, and the ladies are falling at his feet. However, Ivan Zaytsev has been married since last year and is set to become a father for the first time this year. 2014 could be an extremely successful year: the final round of the FIVB World League is followed by the FIVB World Championship in Poland. Ivan Zaytsev already has his hands on one title: he played a key role in Lube Banca Macerata’s title-winning season. However, Zaytsev will leave the Italian league for the first time next season, as he returns to his roots.
"I will play for Dinamo Moscow next season. It will be an interesting adventure. I’m glad that I can often see my parents because they live in St. Petersburg," Zaytsev announced. The multilingual player speaks Russian to his parents, Italian to his wife, who is half Italian, half Irish, and English to her mother. However, the return to the land of the Olympic gold medalists means Russian will soon be considerably more important. Zaytsev will undoubtedly be one of the top earners and poster boys of the Russian League, which is currently regarded as the best in the world.
One very important thing for the ambitious Zaytsev is that he wins titles in Russia – and with his national team. After all, he still has a way to go before he can match his father’s success. However, 25-year-old Zaytsev sees himself as just starting out on his title hunt: "Health permitting, I want to play to the age of 41 like my father." Volleyball really is in Ivan Zaytsev’s DNA…