Festival mood on the streets

<img class="imgr" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-438.jpg">[b]She tore like a whirlwind, leaving her rivals looking on sadly. When Darya Domracheva is on form, nothing can stop her. The recent pursuit victory showed her talent at its most potent. Our charming rocket seems to have abilities almost boundless, with far-reaching consequences.[/b]
She tore like a whirlwind, leaving her rivals looking on sadly. When Darya Domracheva is on form, nothing can stop her. The recent pursuit victory showed her talent at its most potent. Our charming rocket seems to have abilities almost boundless, with far-reaching consequences.

Casual meeting
Alexander Lukashenko was one of the first to congratulate the champion on her victory, being a huge sports fan and a regular at the Games. It’s not uncommon to see him at various stadiums and on the slopes. The President may even shake your hand and say hello, as happened to a volunteer at Sochi. Mr. Lukashenko gave him a pie to eat too! The happy recipient was amazed at the Belarusian President’s democratic outlook. Ms. Domracheva is just the same: always friendly and ready to chat openly. Just two hours after her historic race, she allowed us an interview.
Having passed the necessary official procedures, she visited President Lukashenko’s house in Krasnaya Polyana, where representatives of the Belarusian delegation and fans awaited her with tea and simple treats. Darya received her first bouquet of flowers along with her medal, while the second came from the hands of the younger son of the President, Nikolay, with calls to ‘Lift up the champion!’ Dasha looked happy, though slightly bewildered at all the attention.
The conversation was friendly and the atmosphere free and easy, without ceremony. President Lukashenko noted that Olympic achievements are sometimes better than traditional diplomacy in promoting the image of the country. Domracheva emphasised her thrill at being asked to carry the flag of Belarus at the opening ceremony (as requested on the eve of the Games) and noted sadly that her refusal of the great honour was only due to her wish to preserve her strength. Mr. Lukashenko urged her to carry it at the closing ceremony instead, and expressed his hope that this medal won’t be Dasha’s last. Of course, her efforts will also inspire future Olympians.

Above mountains
Two hours previously, the tension could have been cut with a knife. Coach Klaus Siebert’s face looked stony, with the concentration of Buddha. Double Olympic champion with the Soviet team Dmitry Vasiliev announced that he expected Darya and our relay team to claim a medal, saying, “Dasha is very strong: even the strongest. It’s now a question of keeping her nerve. Alongside the status of favourite – certain favourite, whether sought or otherwise – comes the burden of expectation. This is a heavy burden to bear and not everyone can cope.”

Can you advise on how to cope?
Try not to struggle, since it will only exhaust you and leave you feeling empty. Accept the challenge, relax and try to enjoy yourself. Release your ability rather than being tense.

Dmitry Vladimirovich must have second sight!
Darya won her race as Dmitry predicted, becoming the second Winter Olympic Games gold-medallist in the history of sovereign Belarus, repeating Alexey Grishin’s achievement from four years back. It was amazing, with the crowds cheering wildly and dancing in joy. Head coach Andrian Tsybulsky was almost speechless, crying, “What can I say? We have an Olympic biathlon champion, and her name is Darya Domracheva. We cannot change a single word.”

You must have hoped for this ‘gold’ – even in the sprint...
We agreed that, after the first race on the Laura track, we’d try to repeat Darya’s success. It was possible to forget about the sprint, in which we were let down by one component of the team’s training. We successfully eliminated it, and the result was not long in coming.

Service error?
Dasha’s skis were ‘on fire’ in the pursuit but we’re all human and we all make errors. Klaus Siebert calmed down on seeing Dasha finish her race, smiling with relief and saying, “My God, how wonderful and amazing it is! It’s fantastic! There were mistakes of course: we won’t forget the last nervous miss.” The first Deputy Head of the Biathlon Federation, Sergey Bulygin, also showed his emotions.

Our country has another Olympic biathlon champion
It’s wonderful! My emotions are in overdrive. An Olympic title is something of which our whole nation can be proud. When such a time comes, we should cherish every second of the euphoria, and the person who bestows such delight. Domracheva is now not just the best of the best, but a sportswoman topped with an Olympic crown of exorbitant brightness. After all, the way in which Dasha won the pursuit warrants her becoming a legend.

No one can deny the heroism of this victory!
And it’s beauty. How effectively Darya began her race, and with showmanship! Her rivals could see that nothing would prevent her from doing her best; they were afraid of her, I’m sure! Dasha followed Martin Fourcade’s tactics (he won the day before). She quickly caught up with Kuzmina, ‘sat on her tail’, then began to exert psychological pressure. She showed complete dominance: pure victory! It was a knockout!

Can you reveal the tactics given to the team behind the scenes?
All conversations were conducted openly, aiming to help everyone. In fact, Darya was so nervous at first that she withdrew into herself; later, she relaxed but it was decided that everyone should fight for their own interests. Domracheva was courageously ready for a fight; so much so that sparks were flying!

Did she really declare that she’d ‘tear into them’?
Let’s not spoil a legend. The words were clear in her eyes.

Service-team difficulties...
I’m happy that failure in the sprint didn’t undermine our team. In the pursuit, they gave a good reading of the snow and prepared the skis for victory. After the first ascent and descent, it became obvious that Darya’s skis were waxed perfectly, helping her greatly.

Did the mist give you a scare?
God was merciful in waiting until the shooting was completed before allowing the mist to descend. The cloud was creeping on Laura from Krasnaya Polyana, which worried us more than Darya’s competitors. Even the heavens chose Darya as queen that day – and we completely agree with them!

The champion: I will always fight
Ninth place in the sprint was a surprise for everyone, but for you too. What were you thinking at the time?
I was depressed. Long before the Games, I had known what people wanted from me. Such moods are not unfamiliar to me and I was certainly nervous. However, I realised that emotions of that kind only serve to torment. Endless speculation is superfluous: undeserving of a place in my head. After the first race, I completely switched off the outside world: I didn’t go online or read newspapers, to avoid any negative feelings. I knew then and I know now that all I can do is appear on the track and do what I can.
If I do everything right, without mistakes, victory will result. Defeat yourself and it’s easier to defeat your rivals. It’s a simple truth but bringing it to life is always hard psychologically. I’m an experienced athlete, having raced a great deal in the World Cup and at other championships. Last year’s World Championship was extremely stressful for me, as people expected so much; I felt pressurised. To a certain extent, nothing has changed. One year ago, I conquered my nerves and won ‘gold’. I was again successful here and I’m certainly delighted. As to what I think about: I’m pleased that I didn’t have to wait until my last race to win a medal!

Will it help you to relax and relieve your burdens?
I’ve already relaxed! Strange as it may seem, before the pursuit, I felt well and calm. I don’t recollect ever feeling as confident on the eve of a race. I realised this, and allowed my confidence to grow, believing everything would be fine. I was almost convinced of it.

Did you think, after your bronze medal in Vancouver, that you’d become Olympic champion four years later?
Yes. Certainly!

When did you first become convinced?
On the day I went skiing for the first time, when I was six years old. These thoughts and this desire have always been with me and still remain. After all – nothing is impossible: the main thing is to be fond of your work and take pleasure each day in training.

Last target missed
I wanted to dash to the finish and ended up missing! It was very disappointing and I expected the last lap to be hard work as a result. I wasn’t wrong. The day before, I watched the men`s pursuit and saw how many of them were falling. Those last kilometres are crucial, so I kept focused as I skied, repeating to myself that I needed to be very careful going downhill and keep in complete control, not relaxing even for a moment.

You were quick on the track today, as usual. Does it ever surprise you how great your advantage is over your competitors regarding speed?p
I was surprised in the sprint that I wasn’t as quick as I wanted to be. Unfortunately, my skis weren’t waxed correctly, which affected the race. It didn’t turn out well but, before the pursuit, the error was corrected, and my skis simply rushed along! I want to thank the service group for their diligence. I relaxed and the stars aligned to bring our gold medal.

When the fog became denser on the track, were you afraid that the race might be stopped?
I noticed the fog while skiing from the shooting range towards the last lap. On the final approach to the finish line, I suddenly thought: ‘My God, I hope everyone has finished shooting!’ I didn’t want the judges to have the slightest opportunity to cancel the race.

How would you assess the Laura track?
The combination of height, relief and warm weather conditions made us work hard. However, the condition of the track was better today than it was for the men`s pursuit. Today, the descents were much firmer and the track was well prepared.

Did you feel the support of the spectators?
Certainly, I knew that the Russians would be behind me but I didn’t realise to what extent. I’m hugely thankful to fans for supporting me and helping me overcome the ascents. My brother was among them; I could hear his voice and congratulations. Meanwhile, Tora Berger, who finished after me, was the first to congratulate me on my victory.

She admitted after the race that you were the strongest. Was it a statement of fact or a compliment?
The time indicator of my margin ahead of second place speaks for itself.

We’re used to seeing you in good physical shape but you’ve long missed out on World Cup medals because of poor marksmanship. Today, everything came together. What’s changed over this short time period?
A World Cup in the Olympic year is the best training. I simply used past experience and didn’t change anything from the training set by our professional coaches.

After ‘silver’ in the sprint, Olga Vilukhina told Vladimir Korolkevich (the senior coach for the Russian national women’s team) that she’d buy him a car. Did you promise anything to anyone?
Not really – but I promise to throw a good party once the season ends. I try not to celebrate victories before the season terminates. The Olympic Games are not finished yet for me, because there’s still a mass start, an individual race and relay races... In each, I’ll try to do my best. I have a two-day break in the competition schedule, so I’ll try to relax before fighting again.

Tell us about your Norwegian friend at the Games?
You mean the chief of our service team, Ivar Michal Ulekleiv? I’m happy that he works with us, and I can only sympathise with Tora Berger. In Vancouver, our Michal prepared skis for the Norwegians; now, he does so for us. You know the result.

Speaking of your Norwegian friend, I meant the other Olympic champion: Ole Einar Bjшrndalen.
Ah, Ole... We are good friends but all else is private and I have no plans to talk about it.

At the finish line, you had tears in your eyes. Was it because of the wind or your emotions? Your trainer, Klaus Siebert, is having another major surgery at the end of the season.
Klaus is a very strong, good person. I worry greatly about him and about his health. Of course, I wish him all the best and I hope that this victory will act as medicine for him, helping in his struggle against illness.

By Sergey Kanashits
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