The home stretch: former USSR track star now resides at SF State’s field

Volunteer Coach Morris Lozovatskiy stands on the track at Cox Stadium Monday, March 17. Photo by Jenny Sokolova / Xpress Volunteer Coach Moris Lozovatskiy stands on the track at Cox Stadium Monday, March 17. Photo by Jenny Sokolova / Xpress

Moris Lozovatskiy carries a folder with him wherever he goes, which these days is only to the track at SF State.

It’s stuffed with tattered newspaper clippings of his accomplishments, both in Russian and English, mixed in with photos of athletes he has helped guide over the years, and a few in black and white from his decathlon days on the dirt track in Kiev.

His wife passed away in 2004, so now he lives alone in Parkmerced, a short walk for him over to the track at SF State everyday. It is what keeps him healthy and happy.

The 77-year-old former athlete worked as a head track and field coach in Kiev for 29 years.

And since 1994, he has been a volunteer coach at SF State, faithfully returning day after day to train countless athletes.

“I feel much more stronger and young being here, this is what I need,” Lozovatskiy said.

He said he had a very hard life in the USSR, born in a generation where many youths lost their fathers in World War II, including his own. His mother moved to Moscow to live with her sister, and so as a young boy, he remained in Kiev with his sister and her husband.

He found a home on the dirt track flying beneath his sneakers, where he was discovered at 13 years old by an instructor who watched him one day.

“The coach was my second father,” he said. “He taught us how life is; he believed in us very much.”

As a young boy, he stole and ran from the police, but his coach, someone he looked at as a father after losing his own, protected and guided him to a better life.

“(Coach) said to me, ‘Don’t do this anymore, instead of stealing, come to the stadium,’” he said.

When Lozovatskiy was 18 years old, he became a professional athlete for the Ukraine in the 100m and long jump, and soon was a USSR champion in the decathlon and record holder in long jump.

In 1957, he ran the 100m in 10.5 seconds, a personal record.

“I’m very weak, I’m not very strong,” Lozovatskiy said. “(So I thought) but maybe, I am very fast.” In 1991, he moved to San Francisco with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, to join his sister who immigrated 19 years prior.

“When I came here at 54 years old, I was deaf and blind,” he said. “I didn’t speak any English.”

After working in upholstery for 10 hours a day, Lozovatskiy attended English class with 100 students at night in San Francisco.

“Somebody talk(ed) in Spanish, somebody talk(ed) in Japanese, in Russian, whatever language,” he said. “My teacher said ‘if you want to start talking in English, go to athletic coaching.’”

Naturally, he chose track and field. And since moving to the U.S., he has coached youth, high school athletic clubs and college athletes all over the Bay Area.

“I’m happy…this is my work, this is what I love,” he said.

Head coach Tom Lyons said Lozovatskiy works specifically with a few athletes because he prefers that set-up a lot better.

“He knows a lot about every event, and he’s always willing to give some insight,” Lyons said. “I enjoy traveling with him and hearing about all his history and experience as an athlete and coach.”

Record-breaking high jumper Tiana Wills has been working one-on-one with Lozovatskiy for the last few years, and although his English is not the easiest for her to understand, she said they have found ways to communicate through pictures and videos.

“He’s gotten me so far. I feel like everything he says is right even if I don’t agree sometimes,” she said. “He says he is lonely at home because his wife died a few years back and his son and granddaughter are grown up.”

She said the team is his world, and he tells the girls he loves them like he loves his own grandkids. He cares about their health, happiness and success.

“Whenever I’m sick he makes me drink polish tea,” Wills said as she tossed the thermos he handed her into the worn track bag slung over her shoulder.

He said he will continue to help her if she needs him after she graduates and continues on to compete on the Olympic level. “I very much care for them and I love them,” he said of his athletes at SF State.

He is a survivor of colon cancer, and has had a total of five operations. Since his most recent in 2012, the cancer has subsided.

Though Lozovatskiy said he misses his home in Kiev from time to time, he does not want to go back. The dirt track is now his home. And so Moris Lozovatskiy continues with his daily routine, walking to the track everyday, and adding to that folder he carries with pride.

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