On the way to Vancouver

[b]What can compare to the Olympics! Nobody can remain indifferent to the Games: they are never faceless, dull or quiet. They have universal appeal, being bright and varied. Like our lives, they are unpredictable and thrilling[/b] They evoke exaggerated emotions, nervous excitement and singing souls. They give us wings, which can take us to the summit of happiness on the podium, or they can dash us to the depths of disappointment. The Olympic Games… No one can stay indifferent.For the whole of February, the sporting world will move to a new address: Vancouver, Canada. It will attract not only sportsmen, journalists and fans, but millions of viewers worldwide, who’ll watch on TV. They’ll be following each event just as closely as the participants and those attending in person. Of course, the Games only take place every four years. For athletes, this means four long years of waiting and training and anticipation. At last, the moment is almost here.
What can compare to the Olympics! Nobody can remain indifferent to the Games: they are never faceless, dull or quiet. They have universal appeal, being bright and varied. Like our lives, they are unpredictable and thrilling

They evoke exaggerated emotions, nervous excitement and singing souls. They give us wings, which can take us to the summit of happiness on the podium, or they can dash us to the depths of disappointment. The Olympic Games… No one can stay indifferent.
For the whole of February, the sporting world will move to a new address: Vancouver, Canada. It will attract not only sportsmen, journalists and fans, but millions of viewers worldwide, who’ll watch on TV. They’ll be following each event just as closely as the participants and those attending in person. Of course, the Games only take place every four years. For athletes, this means four long years of waiting and training and anticipation. At last, the moment is almost here.
Having visited this global forum, you never forget the experience. Having gone, you’ll be striving to return. Who can forget the beauties of Turin-2006, the gorgeous and majestic Alps, ice, sun and, of course, the dynamic atmosphere of the Games — the spirit of men and women wanting to prove their superiority…
Athletes from 80 countries took part in the Winter Olympics in Turin — including those from exotic Ethiopia and Madagascar. Belarus was represented by 28 sportsmen (14 men and 14 women) in seven nominations. Belarus only won one medal — silver— by freestyler Dmitry Dashchinsky. Alexey Grishin came fourth and our women’s team took fourth place in the biathlon relay. To date, our Belarusian sportsmen have won medals in three Winter Games nominations: freestyle (3 medals), biathlon (2 medals) and skating (1 medal). Everyone is pinning great hopes on the forthcoming Games in Vancouver.

Biathlon.
 Dasha Domracheva is to become the Belarusian biathlon hope in Canada, having managed to enter the elite in a short period of time. Last season, she took several medals and often finished in the top ten. Always cheerful and smiling, she is happy to chat to journalists and fans and has earned a reputation for being friendly and approachable. Dasha possesses good speed on the track and, during the recent twelve months, her new shooting coach, German Klaus Siebert, has helped her improve her shooting skills. Ms. Domracheva shoots like a cowboy and skis as fast as lightning — which should be sufficient to claim a medal (or several)! Hopes are mainly pinned on the sprint, pursuit and mass start. Meanwhile, we could do well in the relay; the women’s team is likely to also include Olga Nazarova, Olga Kudryashova, Lyudmila Kalinchik, Natalia Skardino and Lyudmila Ananko.
Belarus is taking ten athletes to the Olympic Games in Canada — 5 men and 5 women, although their names are yet to be decided. Rustam Valiullin, Alexander Syman, Sergey Novikov, Yevgeny Abramenko and Mikhail Semenov are likely to be packing their bags for the trip.

Ice hockey.
 Without doubt, the cream of the hockey community will be gathering in Canada — the motherland of ice hockey. Fans are eagerly expecting sensational matches, making this event among the most awaited. Russia, Canada, the USA, Sweden and Finland will be vying for gold but our Belarusian team may again surprise us, as they did in Salt Lake City in 2002. There, they reached the semi-finals, having sensationally beaten a top favourite — the Swedes. Our team qualified for Vancouver last year, as a result of the World Championship, also held in Canada (a lucky location for Belarusians).
However, much has changed since then, with coach Curt Fraser replaced by Glen Hanlon — who also didn’t stay long. Once appreciated, respected and loved in Belarus, he was suddenly fired as head coach of Minsk Dynamo for an unsatisfactory performance. The impact of this will soon become apparent, as team spirit may have been affected. Whether the new coach will be able to unite the country’s strongest players in less than three months is yet to be seen. The new coach — Mikhail Zakharov — is now engaged in this pursuit. Previously, he headed the main squad of the country but was relieved of the post after catastrophically failing to help the team qualify for the Olympics during a round in Riga in 2005; in the decisive match against Latvia, the Belarusian team missed three pucks in just two minutes and lost their ticket to Turin. For a long time, Zakharov has been heading Minsk Yunost — the country’s top team — winning several championship titles. Now, he has returned to the national team.
We’ll see what this will result in. In Vancouver, Zakharov’s assistants would be former famous USSR squad forward, Andrey Khomutov, and Canadien specialist Dave Louis.
As regard players, our main hopes are pinned on goalkeeper Andrey Mezin, fullbacks Ruslan Saley, Vladimir Denisov and Victor Kostyuchenko, forwards Mikhail Grabovsky, Konstantin Koltsov, Alexey Kalyuzhny and the Kostitsyn brothers. This may not compare to the powerful Russian team, headed by Yevgeny Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, or the almighty Canadian dream-team. Nevertheless, in Belarus, we believe that determination — inspired by the state’s attitude towards hockey — will yield fruit.

Freestyle.
 Belarus is also hoping that its ski acrobatics team will see success. At the past two Olympic Games, our freestylers have pulled through, ensuring the Belarusian team has brought home at least one medal. They again have an important role to play. Alexey Grishin, Dmitry Dashchinsky or Alla Tsuper led the team four years ago, but there are new talents appearing. At last year’s World Championship finals, the only Belarusian to take part was not Dashchinsky, but young Anton Kushnir — who came second.
At last year’s World Championship finals, the only Belarusian to take part was not Dashchinsky, but young Anton Kushnir; as a result, he was placed second in the World Cup ratings. Timofey Slivets missed the last Olympics due to injury but has much to offer. Meanwhile, Europe Cup winner Maxim Gustik could prove promising. Among the women, Assol Slivets (just back from maternity leave) and young Anna Guskova will be competing against Alla Tsuper for leadership.
“So far, only Dashchinsky and Kushnir are assured a place on the Olympic team,” notes the squad’s head coach, Nikolay Kozeko. The battle for the remaining places will continue until the final days.
Skiing. According to head coach Victor Mikhailov’s plan from last year, in Vancouver-2010, the top eight may include Sergey Dolidovich, both sprint-relay teams and the women’s 4x10km relay. Of course, anything could happen. In Turin, Dolidovich just missed out on a medal. “In Vancouver, we expect it to be easier,” he notes. “My blood test shows that I don’t have any problems with my haemoglobin levels,” explains Dolidovich. In Olympic Turin, he was prevented from taking part in the first races of the programme due to high haemoglobin figures. When these returned to normal, the sportsman was able to compete and almost took a medal in the 50km marathon. He hopes to do better in Vancouver.  
The other members of the team have been modest goals.

Skating and short-track.
 The Olympic selection of our skaters began on 1st August and will continue until 17th January. Those qualifying must rank among the world’s top 36 for women and among the top 40 for men. Today, perhaps only Anzhelika Kotyuga — team leader and head coach— is able to fulfil the criteria. Sadly, she has been failing to match her previous result but has managed to achieve the Olympic normative standard of 39.45. However, the level of her competitors has grown and selection might take place on the basis of the best time shown.
Whether the Belarusian shall reach the top 36 is debatable. At the last World Championship (hosted by Vancouver), she finished last but one in the 1,000m, while Svetlana Radkevich (the second candidate for the Olympics) was last of all. They wouldn’t have qualified for the previous Olympic Games in Turin.
The short-track team of Turin-participant Yulia Yelsakova, Vera and Alexander Antonenko and Sergey Yakushkov is not faring much better, although they are training hard for Vancouver selection.

Figure skating and ski jump-ing.
 Compared to previous years, the list of sports in which Belarus will be represented has been shortened by two. In the figure skating, Alexander Kazakov’s efforts have almost earned him a ticket to Canada. However, no one has yet qualified for an Olympic license to ski jump.

Mountain skiing.
 Belarusian mountain skiers have only once qualified for the Olympic Games. In Nagano-98, Igor Yudin came 36th. It wasn’t bad, taking into account that the highest peak in our country is 345m Dzerzhinskaya Mountain. Belarus now has several artificial hills and an entire army of high-speed mountain skiers. Last year, Silichi Mountain Ski Complex hosted the first country championship. We are yet to produce an athlete of Olympic level but the Belarusian flag may one day appear on the slopes of Vancouver: Yelizaveta Kuzmenko and Maria Shkanova (ex-Russian mountain skiers) are training under Slovenian coach Ales Brezavsek.
These are our prospects but everyone knows better than to try and predict an Olympic result. Time will tell. However, it won’t be long until the Games begin in Vancouver: February 2nd is long awaited…

By Sergey Kanashits
and Dmitry Komashko

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