By Yuri Karpenko
Fans have awaited the arrival of the world’s top aerial skiers in Belarus since the mid-1990s, when Belarus first entered the world elite of this sport. The recent event in Raubichi was an historical event for Belarusian freestyle. Over the last 15 years, our skiers’ mastery has been admired in the USA and Canada, Australia and China, Switzerland and France, Austria and the Czech Republic. However, Belarusian fans have been obliged to follow their heroes’ performance at world cups, world championships and at the Olympic Games on TV. At last, our titled countrymen and their opponents were demonstrating their astonishing feats in Belarus, on the revamped Raubichi Sports Complex slope, which hosted the final stage of the World Freestyle Cup. The winners were selected, alongside Small Crystal Globe laureates.
The famous Belarusian winter centre has hosted the Biathlon World Championship three times, and has once hosted a World Cup ski racing stage. Young freestyle athletes regularly use the slope, training mostly for the Continental Cup, but, until recently, we couldn’t organise a world level tournament, as the existing slope wasn’t suitable for triple jumps.
The absence of the necessary conditions at home meant that our main team had to largely train abroad but the situation changed last year. Head coach Nikolay Kozeko was delighted to see his squad win medals at all the world cups.
Meanwhile, Anton Kushnir performed especially well, claiming the Small and Big Crystal Globe. The latter had never before been won by a Belarusian. In addition, Alexey Grishin caused a stir at the Olympics in Vancouver, becoming the first Belarusian to win a Winter Olympic Games gold. These achievements were catalysts, accelerating the decision to construct a summer freestyle centre in Minsk and modernise the winter slope at Raubichi. As a result, Belarus received the right to host the final of the 2011 World Freestyle Cup.
One of the event’s favourites was Anton Kushnir, although he was only in with a slim chance of winning the overall standings for aerial skiing. Qi Guangpu of China needed to completely fail his jump, earning a score of nil, to be shifted from first place. However, our Belarusian athletes didn’t disappoint the audience. Experienced Dmitry Dashchinsky (recovering from injury) and Alexey Grishin were missing, yet our Belarusians still managed to win two thirds of the medals. Young Denis Osipov came third, with Kushnir taking gold after performing two perfect jumps. Stanislav Kravchuk of Ukraine claimed silver.
Sadly, even these victories in the two final rounds of the World Cup weren’t enough to allow Kushnir to repeat last year’s success, to claim the Small Crystal Globe. Instead, the trophy went to Qi Guangpu, whose sixth place at the ‘Belarusian’ stage was enough for his win. Anton Kushnir came second. Although he performed poorly during the Chinese rounds, he had managed to win two gold medals and a bronze at the next three World Cup events and also took bronze at the World Championship in the US Deer Valley.
In the women’s tournaments, Chinese Shuang Cheng won, followed by American Ashley Caldwell and Fanyu Kong of China. Belarusian Anna Guskova came eighth. The victory in Raubichi enabled Shuang Cheng to push China’s Mengtao Xu (absent from the event in Belarus) from first place overall. She took the Small Crystal Globe as a result. Belarus’ top female ski-jumper, Alla Tsuper, was absent through injury, finishing 11th overall.
Belarus has long secured a position among the top twenty sporting countries in ski jumping, as noted by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, after the final round of the World Freestyle Cup in Raubichi. The Head of State attended the event and took part in the award ceremony. Mr. Lukashenko underlines that Belarus has been recently hosting the most prestigious events at international level. “If we didn’t have Olympic and world champions, we wouldn’t host such competitions,” notes the Belarusian President. According to him, the organising of the final stage of the international freestyle competition again proves the authority of the domestic school in this sport. The Belarusian leader says that Belarus is a country which enjoys sport and creates good conditions for training professionals and amateurs. Money invested in sport is returned amply, as proven by the good performances of Belarusian sportsmen.