Daria Tarasova is undeniably Russia’s most famous wushu star. And likely its coolest too. Her powerful techniques and soulful, stylish performances have made her a champion many times over. As the captain of the Russian Wushu Team, you could always count on her to represent her nation on the podium. Even more, she’s become a global icon of wushu.
With her tons of charm and positive energy, Daria Tarasova might just be wushu’s top ambassador around the world. Young athletes look up to her and crowd around for autographs at international tournaments. She travels to help teach and mentor, strengthening the wushu community across continents.
She is the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for wushu’s inclusion in the Olympic Games. And they even give her a few straight sword pointers to the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach. One particularly awesome experience came after winning gold at the 2013 Combat Games in St. Petersburg — They invited Daria Tarasova to the Kremlin to meet her country’s leader, Vladimir Putin, himself a big wushu fan. Who knew??
Lots of little girls in Russia—if not the world over—dream of being ballerinas or ice skaters. But at a young age Daria Tarasova fell in love with wushu. She began her wushu training when she was 5 years old and never looked back. Now 28, she has twice been World Champion, 15 times European Champion, and took first place at the 2008 Wushu Olympic Tournament in Beijing.
She is captain of the Russian National Team, and also the Wushu Ambassador of SportAccord. Her charisma and leadership did not go unnoticed—at the 12th International Wushu Federation (IWUF) Congress in Kuala Lumpur, they appointed her to the IWUF Executive Board as the official member representing the Athletes’ Committee.
Moscow’s new Wushu Palace opened its doors a year ago, a symbol of how popular wushu has become in Russia. With four floors and eight gyms, the Palace hosted the European Wushu Championships in May and sees dozens of students training there every day. Even in a blizzard or sub-zero Moscow temperatures, you can always find Daria there.
Her busy days are like a blur—she teaches, and she’s training for the next World Wushu Championships in Russia, Kazan to be exact for the first time. No pressure right? With rumors already afoot that Vladimir Putin might attend the games, Daria is looking back to her many world champion titles and hoping to score just one more gold medal.
She’ll be 29—will she retire from competition after these Russian games? That’s anybody’s guess.
“Becoming an older athlete,” she says, “you have to compete with a lot of young athletes. Even on my own team. Still, I train hard with them every day and hope to do my best, as they do. “
Daria Tarasova may have her eyes on the gold in Kazan, but she also wants to keep growing as a martial artist. For the past few years she’s explored new Chinese Martial Arts styles, including Wing Chun and Shaolin, when some of China’s top masters came to teach in Russia. (She won gold medals in both those events in European championships too.)
And then, being a wushu ambassador brings Daria to new places and allows her to meet new people. One of her favorite experiences was teaching and performing wushu at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Nanjing, where the IOC put on an experimental “Sport Lab.” Four “extreme action” sports—wushu, skateboarding, roller sports, and sport climbing—all brought their elite athletes to a high concept park venue where young fans could watch, learn and try them out.
It was one of Daria’s best memories.
“I was there at Sports Lab,” she says, “with other amazing athletes from India, China, Indonesia, Russia, America, Iran and Africa. We all became closer friends, we traded information, we improved our skills, and we showed a lot of young people what wushu really is.”
With good visibility during the YOG, many IOC members also got to visit and learn more about wushu first hand.
Twice Daria has been part of the IWUF wushu presentation to the Olympic Committee—first in Switzerland and then in St. Petersburg. Two years ago she helped present wushu to the Organizing Committee of the Tokyo 2020 Games with other youth-oriented sports like surfing and skateboarding as an additional sport.
“I made a speech,” she says, “and I spoke from my heart and for all the athletes of the wushu world. And I realized that all the people that surround me are more than friends. They are my family.”
Last year Daria Tarasova got married, and now balances home life with training, traveling and teaching—as well as her adorable pet Chihuahua! She also loves to bake cakes in her precious little free time.
“I’m in the training hall from 8am to 8pm every day. I have a 30-minute break for lunch and dinner. But this is my choice. Because my first and true love is wushu. I love this life and teaching, and I love my students. They give me energy and inspire me to keep going.”
Daria’s teaching and mentoring has also been a big contributor to the current success of the Russian Wushu Federation. At every major international wushu event in 2016, her Russian teammates and students have lately been bringing home more than enough hardware to go around.
Kazan will have its challenges. The biggest hurdle Daria is facing is a knee injury which she’s undergoing rigorous physical therapy for. But she’s no stranger to challenges. When she signed on to enter the 2013 Combat Games in St. Petersburg, her weapons specialties were broadsword (daoshu) and staff (gunshu).
But the women’s weapon events at the Games were straight sword (jianshu) and spear (qiangshu)—which she had only started training in for competition 6 months before. Daria believed, however, that she could win.
“I’ve always had an aim, a goal to be a champion. When I didn’t get a medal in my first tournament I just said, well, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. I just trained until I got it. Listening to my national anthem on the podium, it made me so proud of my country.”
She won her gold medal at the Combat Games by 1/100th of a point, beating China’s top athlete at the event. Anything will be possible in Kazan. The dream—that began long ago in a winter-lit Moscow training hall—lives on.