Olympic medal’s face
[b]The recently ended Olympic Games have been the most successful in the history of Belarusian sports [/b]Seeing off our sportsmen as they flew to Vancouver, we hoped that some would return home with medals, as they did in Salt Lake City, Turin and Nagano. We would hardly dare assume that three Belarusians would be successful. For the next four years, they will embody victory, inscribing Belarus forever in world sports history. Let’s recall those glorious moments.
Seeing off our sportsmen as they flew to Vancouver, we hoped that some would return home with medals, as they did in Salt Lake City, Turin and Nagano. We would hardly dare assume that three Belarusians would be successful. For the next four years, they will embody victory, inscribing Belarus forever in world sports history. Let’s recall those glorious moments.
“I try to forget those incidents in Oberhof; they are funny, indeed. Sometimes, in biathlon, you start shooting someone else’s target or take the wrong post. I managed to become a ‘hero’, making two errors two years in a row. This is in the past now; it may have even had a positive impact on me!”
Darya Domracheva was perhaps the only person expected to bring home a Vancouver medal. Hopes were pinned on her from the moment of her return to native Minsk. In 2005, the biathlete — born in the Belarusian capital, but living in Siberian Nyagan for 15 years — took part in a Junior World Championship under the Belarusian flag for the first time, in the individual event. It was this same event, five years later, which brought Darya her first Olympic medal. Back in 2005, she could only dream of such victory. She missed five targets out of five during the third shooting round (a dioptre fell off her rifle) and, as a result, took 40th ranking. The Russians had long tried to persuade her to join their national biathlon team, when she was living in Siberia (coached by Albert Musin and Victor Postnikov). Now they understood that Darya was not a defector, looking for a country where it was easier to gain entry to the main team. Rather, this multi-champion of junior tournaments and prize holder at the European Junior Olympic Games had different plans.
“Russian coaches were constantly approaching me, saying, “Dashya, come back, we’ll offer you a high salary; all your problems will be solved.” Why do I need their money? I want to compete for Belarus.” On 1st December 2006, Domracheva debuted in the World Cup as a Belarusian team member, having come second among five Belarusian sportswomen.
She was expected to shoot to success but her path to the first Cup award — Цstersund 2009 — was rather crooked. Food poisoning on the threshold of the 2007/2008 season messed up the entire training process of this team leader. Meanwhile, German Magdalena Neuner — a colleague of the same age whose name is constantly linked to the Belarusian rising star — kept winning honours. “I was trying to stay calm as Neuner won,” explains Darya. “At least, I was pretending to. To be honest, from time to time, I felt bad because I’m ambitious. Even the knowledge that my physical state was beyond my control didn’t help.”
The 2008/2009 season saw her in the top ten regularly. The World Championship of 2008 gave her first medal as a mixed relay race member. The turning point of her career took place one year later in Swedish Цstersund. Darya will also remember forever the previous qualification round in Oberhof. The amusing accident happened during the mass start, she was first to arrive at the shooting area and took a standing position, instead of prone. She recalls, “Everybody wanted to encourage me and I arrived like a wind-up toy.” Domracheva had always been oriented towards sprint distances but it was a long individual race with four shooting rounds which finally won her recognition. It was the same event which brought her Vancouver medal.
“Frankly, I believe that my best chance is with short distances,” Darya said, glowing with happiness after the finish. “Before the Olympic Games, I managed to win only once at the World Cup round in Цstersund and also in the ‘15’. Perhaps, it’s not a surprise anymore.” Having caught a cold, Domracheva couldn’t do her best in the mass start, but this wasn’t the end of her successes. Her main goal — Olympic gold — is yet to be obtained, so we are likely to hear about Darya’s victories in the future.
“Some may think it is immodest, but I’m devoting this medal to myself. Even in words, I don’t want to share the prize I’ve struggled so long and so painfully to obtain.”
Novikov’s silver was an unexpected surprise, as so frequently occur in our sports. Jakov Fak and Jay Vincent are newcomers whose names were rarely heard among the top ten until Vancouver. Novikov can now safely join this list of Fortune’s Favourites. Of course, his medal was no fluke. “I guarantee that, in Vancouver, Sergey Novikov will take a medal,” noted a letter sent to the Belarusian Biathlon Federation by famous Mogilev coach Anatoly Perepechkin, on the eve of the Olympiad. The words weren’t treated seriously but our attitude today is absolutely different…
“Frankly, I thought Sergey would finish among the top ten, at best — no more,” confesses Valentin Fedorovich — his father and first coach. “My son is an experienced biathlete, having begun at the age of 7. At that time, I began taking him with me to sports camps to try roller skiing and, later, winter skiing. When he was 12, he could run more than 10km! His shooting was decent, despite him being no taller than a rifle; he could hit all his targets.”
Once, Igor Klimenko came to Chausy, where Novikov was born and lived. He needed one more on the biathlon team, and was looking at the Mogilev Olympic Reserve School. Naturally, the vacant space was given to the talented, although still very young, Sergey Novikov…
Before Vancouver, Sergey’s best achievement had been silver at the 2008 World Championship, in the mixed relay. He had been coupled with Darya Domracheva. Everybody joked about the new programme, not believing that the results were promising and sustainable. The response was given in less than 2 years…
Sergey kept six and eighth position during the 20km, only moving into third place after a third precise, but slow, shoot. “Having finished the third shoot, I dashed off with all my might,” recalls Novikov. “I literary flew up the first hill, and my strength began disappearing. I pushed ahead by recalling that this race was my big chance — the one I’d been struggling for my entire life.” Still, Novikov let Swedish Emil-Hegle Svendsen pass him, despite the penalty lap of his rival. Another Swede, already six time Olympic champion Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, struggled against him until the very last centimetres. Even the most accurate computers couldn’t decide who had come second, so they shared the honour. We all hope it won’t be the last time…
“I’m already being asked how I’m going to spend my $100,000 prize money but I haven’t decided yet. My wife and I would like to buy land in the city. Of course, if I’m given land as a gift, I’ll use the money to build a house.”
No one doubted that Belarusian freestylers would return from Vancouver with a medal. For the past three years, they’ve been saving the Belarusian Olympic team from a lack of victories. Dmitry Dashchinsky and Alexey Grishin accompanied young Kushnir, the winner of the small Crystal Globe, on the squad. Anton Kushnir was the favourite in Whistler but performed poorly in the qualification round and missed the final. The hopes of fans were dashed. Dashchinsky had won silver at Turin but Grishin had failed to win anything in a two year period, having hurt his knee, suffered a break and gained 15kg of excess weight. Twelve months ago, Grishin was out of the running. “It was a very difficult period,” remembers Alexey’s wife, Irina; like no one else, she has suffered his troubles alongside him. “Believe me, despite all our talk about finishing his sports career, Alexey never mentioned it himself. He is very stubborn.” He runs 10km daily, eats a diet consisting mainly of salads prepared by Irina and works hard at the gym. The start of this year’s season was no better than before but he knew that it was just a rehearsal… He seemed to understand that his main victories lay ahead, that his potential was far from realised.
“Honestly, I didn’t follow our guys rankings,” recalls Alexey. “I only knew that Anton didn’t qualify. I tried to summon up strength to fight only with myself and this yielded the necessary result. I was last but one to jump (Canadian Kyle Nissen concluded). His was the only one that I watched. When he bent his knees in flight, I calmly thought — judging by everything, I’ll be first…”
In the coming weeks, his schedule revolves around rest. Effort, nerves and poor health have dogged the four years dividing the most disappointing 4th place in Turin and gold in Vancouver. The future is unknown. “In sports, I’ve reached the ultimate goal,” reasons Grishin. “If I continue training, I’ll try to attain the same results in Sochi. Now, I’d like to spend time with my family and concentrate on having children.”
By Dmitry Komashko