Former New Zealand gymnast Katya Nosova is now a champion bodybuilder, who was prepared to spend Christmas alone in quarantine to compete in the ‘Olympics’ of her sport. 

Katya Nosova was willing to do everything she could to pose on the world stage in her third Ms Olympia.

Despite a string of disruptions in 2020 through the Covid-19 pandemic, Nosova managed to touch down in the United States in late December for the pinnacle professional event of the IFBB – the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness. 

The 31-year-old was the solo Australasian athlete to compete in “the Olympics of our sport” in Orlando, Florida, and the first ever from the region to qualify and compete on three separate occasions. 

Ms Olympia is the women’s equivalent of Mr Olympia, the bodybuilding contest made famous by Hollywood actor turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Originally from Russia, Nosova and her family moved to New Zealand when she was 16: “for a better life and better opportunities.”

Growing up, she competed in rhythmic gymnastics in Russia and carried on to represent New Zealand in the sport after the move. She won a gold medal for New Zealand at the 2010 Pacific Alliance  championships in Melbourne in 2010 – the highlight of her gymnastics career. 

After a string of injuries, Nosova decided to finish up in her first-chosen sport at the age of 21, but wanted to remain active and to try something different. She started going to the gym and there met her now husband, Max Arefyev, who was involved in bodybuilding. She became hooked too. While Arefyev no longer competes in the sport, he is Nosova’s number one supporter. 

Nosova made it her goal in the sport she took up six years ago to place in the top 10 of international bodybuilding’s bikini division – especially at Ms Olympia. 

Although she finished 16th in the 2020 event, she was eighth in Ms Olympia Bikini in 2017, and has had top 10 placing in events like the Iron Games, the Arnold Classic and won the Sacramento Pro bikini event in 2019.  

Nosova is now waiting for a 2021 international bodybuilding schedule to be determined. In the meantime, she’s training twice a day; early mornings before work are dedicated to cardio sessions and in the afternoon, she focuses on weights and sometimes another cardio workout.

“Until then, we’ll just train,” she says. “That’s the beauty of our sport: there’s always things to work on, there’s always things to touch up and change.” 

On top of her bodybuilding commitments, Nosova has a full-time corporate sales role and takes posing classes on the side. Her posing services will ramp up soon with the NZIFBB events starting in May.

“I’ve got a studio at home and I teach girls how to pose on stage,” Nosova says. “That’s quite a big aspect of the judging criteria, your overall stage presence and poses. I absolutely love it.” 

With the backdrop of Covid-19, the 2020 Ms Olympia is one contest Nosova will definitely remember. But her first Ms Olympia in 2017 is another competition she will never forget.

“That’s where I placed eighth, still the best placing I’ve done and especially because it was the first one,” says Nosova. “And we also got married the day after that Olympia, so that was obviously memorable.” 

There’s a bit of a backstory to their wedding. It was planned – despite many people thinking it was spur-of-the-moment Little White Chapel ceremony when she mentions getting hitched in Vegas.

Earlier in 2017, Nosvoa was scheduled to compete in Sacramento and beforehand Arefyev – then her fiancé – said: “If you win this show, why don’t we get married in Las Vegas?” 

“And I won that show,” Nosova laughs. “So we got married at the Grand Canyon the day after the event.”

Katya Nosova marrying the man who introduced her to bodybuilding, Max Arefyev, in the Grand Canyon. Photo: supplied. 

Even though December’s result wasn’t what she’d hoped for, the fact the event went ahead at all and competitors made it into the US, was an achievement in itself. 

“I think everybody deserves a gold medal,” says Nosova. “Because just to qualify for Ms or Mr Olympia is a big challenge and a big achievement. But to go through the pandemic – that was something really different. But we all did it.” 

Nosova says her decision to fly to the US, for just nine days was “worth it.”

“I’m really fortunate that I had the opportunity to go, that I had the funds to do that,” she says. “Because it’s a self-funded sport and this trip was the most expensive I’ve ever done.

“So there were lots of sleepless nights and a lot of additional stress than there normally is. Athletes from Europe and Brazil couldn’t fly direct to the USA, they had to stay 14 days in a different country before coming to America.” 

To make the 2020 Ms Olympia, Nosova continued her training routine with her coach, Kim Oddo, who’s based in California, through two New Zealand lockdowns. She kept training despite a postponement from September to December, purchased return flights to the US that came with the risk of being cancelled, had to change internal flights four weeks out from the event as Las Vegas went into lockdown and organisers shifted it to Orlando.

And then when she returned to New Zealand on Christmas Eve, Nosova flew to Christchurch and bunkered down on her own in managed isolation for the next two weeks. 

Onlookers may have thought it easier to pull out at the first hurdle, as there were many more hurdles in a year that will be etched in history. And Nosova admits she when the NZ quarantine requirements were introduced she began to question whether she still wanted to go.

“But that’s the kind of sacrifices you make for doing something you really love and are passionate about,” she says.

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