This is Me: Timur Dibirov
What do you know about Timur Dibirov? You can probably tell us he's won the EHF Champions League twice. And you know he's won national titles with Vardar like a 1,000 times. But what do you know about him? The real Timur Dibirov? Well, in the latest in our This is Me series, the legendary left winger explains his background and his roots in Dagestan. His story is one with a deep connection to the importance of traditions and family values and it's one you cannot afford to miss.
This is Me: Timur Dibirov
My roots lie in Dagestan
I was born in Karelia, a North-Western region of Russia bordering on Finland. My parents studied there at the university, but when I was three, the family moved to the south of the country – to Stavropol. This is where I grew up, and I don't remember anything from living in Karelia. In fact, I have never even been there afterwards.
My father is from Dagestan – this is a republic of Russia in the North Caucasus, near the Caspian Sea. A lot of different ethnicities live there, and my dad belongs to one of the biggest: the Avars. So I've always identified as an Avar and a Dagestani. My mom is "pure" Russian, but I was raised as a Dagestani, because, as I was taught, ethnicity is determined by father.
I have a lot of relatives in Dagestan, and when I went to school, I spent all my holidays there. I stayed both in the capital city Makhachkala and in small villages. Even now I regularly visit there. When Vardar won the EHF Champions League, we had a nice celebration in Makhachkala – not only with my relatives but also with the local sport officials who gave me some nice presents. People always welcome me very warmly in Dagestan, and I know that they follow my career.
In general, people in that region of Russia are very warm and hospitable. Whenever possible, I always try to convey it to the people, to serve as a Dagestani ambassador in a way. Unfortunately, there are some negative stereotypes about that area, but I would like everyone to come there for an excursion and see that our people are extremely welcoming. They respect family, elders and traditions. And the region itself has a lot to offer – the sea, the mountains, gorgeous nature…
As I said, there is a large number of ethnicities in Dagestan – Avars, Dargins, Kumyks and Lezgins to name four, but they all get along very well. There are different languages, too, and when I was a kid and visited my grandmother, she taught me a local version of the Avar language. At the time, I spoke it very well, but then I lacked practice, and now unfortunately, my knowledge is a bit rusty.
Dagestanis love sport, but I don't know any handball players coming from that region. If I had grown up in Dagestan, I would most likely also have taken up wrestling, or perhaps boxing or judo – but not handball. Everything depends on local traditions, and North Caucasus, Dagestan in particular, has very strong traditions in wrestling and martial arts.
Now the most famous Dagestani in the world is probably Khabib Nurmagomedov, a mixed martial artist. I don't know him personally, but we have some mutual friends, and of course I followed his career. I also know a number of other athletes from that region. Combat sports are raised to cult in Dagestan, and even boys from elementary school try to learn the basics. I think that such love of sport can only be beneficial – after all, it leads to a healthy lifestyle! And the man, the head of the family, should always be able to protect his loved ones.
When I was a kid, I wasn't involved in wrestling, but I did many other sports – football, basketball, handball. I really liked it, and now I think that I probably was destined to become an athlete. I liked it so much and played football in my yard, basketball at school gym classes, and so on. At the same time, my parents let me know that studies are also very important, so maybe I was not the best student, but definitely not the worst either.
My dad named me Timur in memory of a good friend of his who passed away at a young age. There were no athletes in my family, but I have always loved sports. Even now, I follow everything: handball, football, volleyball, hockey, basketball. I watch both European competitions and, for example, NHL or NBA. I can't think of any sport that I would not like to watch. I played for the Russian national team for 15 years, and we often had training camps in Novogorsk near Moscow. Athletes from other sports also got together there, so I have a lot of acquaintances in different sports, and we can always find a common language.
My wife Irina Dibirova, nee Poltoratskaya, is also a handball player who later became a coach. We met quite a long time ago, when I played in Togliatti when I was about 20 years old. Irina is actually four years older than me, but it has never been a problem. Yes, she had more titles than me at the time, but relationships between a man and a woman should be based not on glory and trophies, but on mutual feelings.
My wife finished her playing career quite early, at just 29. But it is not because I wanted her to do it – she did it because she was determined to dedicate herself to the family. Now we have two children, a nine-year-old son Murad and a five-year-old daughter Tiana, and Irina is perfectly happy with her decision to retire early. After all, she has won almost everything during her career, except Olympic gold. And as a husband, I fully supported her.
Between 2016 and 2018, Irina was a head coach of the women's Vardar team, and at first it was not easy as our children were still small. But we learned to deal with the situation, and my wife did well in that job, guiding her team to the EHF Champions League final twice. They lost in extra time in both cases, which is almost a lottery. Working at Vardar was a big experience for Irina, and as a coach, she learned something new every day.
Now I play at Vardar, and she stays with me in Skopje, but I don't think her coaching career is over. In December, she is going to get a Master Coach license, so probably she will have a chance to get back to work in future.
Just like my father, I married a Russian, so we have a mixed family, also in terms of religion. My wife is Orthodox, while I'm Muslim, but we respect each other's traditions and celebrate both Christian and Muslim holidays. Mutual respect is very important for a family.
As a practicing Muslim, someday I want to perform the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. I will do it when I finish my career and have more time. When I was a child, my grandparents taught me how important it is to visit Mecca and to learn prayers.
I also raise my children in Muslim traditions. And do I want them to become handball players? It should be their own choice, because each person is an individual. I want them to be honest and decent people, to develop their personalities and to know the right values. I don't want to impose anything on my children. Each person is an individual and not someone's copy.
I have been living in North Macedonia for already eight years, and it already feels like my second home. I like the country, and I see that people treat me with respect. In Skopje, I felt comfortable from the very beginning. If I had moved, for example, to some North European country, it would have been much more difficult to adjust. And in North Macedonia, the adaptation went smoothly.
But I think that when I finish my playing career, I will return to Russia. After all, it's my home country, and I like it. I hope that my country will need me, but now I don't know in which role. Now my home in Russia is Moscow, but who knows, maybe someday I will live in Dagestan.
Let's see how fate plays it out…