Raubichi gathers old friends

35 world famous biathletes have taken part in the Legends’ Race
35 world famous biathletes have taken part in the Legends’ Race, the sports show which debuted a year ago. Participants of two mass starts and a mixed relay include owners of 6 Big Crystal Globes, 27 Olympic gold medals and 85 victories at world championships. Their names are familiar to each biathlon fan.

Day with autographs

On the eve of the race, the biathletes conducted a two-hour autograph session. From 10am guests of the Raubichi Sports Complex were signing autograph cards and posing for selfies with fans. A queue for the indoor rifle range, where the autograph signing session was held, stretched for two hundred metres. Fans from St. Petersburg admitted that they had to stand a couple of hours in the queue to receive their icons’ photo cards.

“We’re passionate fans of biathlon and attend World Cup stages. We’ve now arrived in Belarus. Dima Guberniev was actively promoting the event on social networks. The atmosphere in Raubichi is wonderful, there are many tents offering dishes of Belarusian cuisine, with national music sounding nearby. One can see the biathlon race while also learning about the culture.” Moreover, souvenir goods are also on sale.

Darya Domracheva — an initiator of the Legends’ Race — has specially developed with the Odlo company a series of souvenirs: T-shirts, mugs, magnets, and notebooks depicting biathlon items and portraits of the stars of biathlon.

Day of extremes

At 13.45 the women’s mass start began, with German Kathrin Lang (Hitzer) and French Marie-Laure Brunet (who’ve recently finished their careers) looking most confident. The fate of the race was decided at the last biathlon stand, where Lang ended perfectly. Brunet finished second while the third place was taken by Simone Hauswald (Denkinger) from Germany. Alena Zubrilova of Belarus came sixth due to her excellent work on the firing ranges.

The Olympic champion from Sweden, Anna Carin Zidek, told us why the Legends’ Race was even better this year compared to the previous one, “Yesterday we had a very busy day, with excursions and acquaintance with Belarusian culture. We tasted traditional potato pancakes. As Ole Einar Bjørndalen said, the Belarusian cuisine somehow resembles the Scandinavian. I noticed that you often use mushrooms in your dishes, the same as in Czech cuisine. My husband is an ethnic Czech and I’ve got used to the traditions of your part of Europe. I’m pleased to come back to Belarus again. This time, the Legends’ Race is planned much better than last year. Last time, the autograph signing session was organised between races and this didn’t give an opportunity to have some rest. Today, we’ve signed photo cards in the morning and then went to the start. A mixed relay race still lies ahead. Whether I will earn a medal there depends on who my partner is.”

Kati Wilhelm — first three-time Olympic champion in the history of biathlon and now a businesswoman (who owns a restaurant in the German city of Steinbach-Hallenberg) — has also debuted in this year’s Legends’ Race. “After leaving biathlon my life is still very busy. I’m a manager, a restaurant owner, commentator, a happy wife and a mother. I’m not thinking about the career of a coach, since it requires too much effort and time. I enjoy returning to sport for a short period of time — on such days, as today. At present, I’m actively involved in my restaurant and solve organisational issues day and night. The restaurant attracts many tourists who are keen on the biathlon. If Belarusians wish to visit my restaurant I’d recommend them to try pizza from the chef, have a cup of coffee and admire fresh products, cooked with love.”

The German biathlete also told us how the life of professional athletes change as children are born, “After finishing my career in 2010 I trained little, devoting all my time to bringing up the children. In Raubichi I remembered the emotions I experienced in sport 10 years ago. Now I have wonderful children — a daughter Lotta and son Jacob. If they wish to train for the biathlon I will support them with pleasure. If they choose track-and-field — no problem. The most important thing is that they enjoy sport.”

Men followed women at the start. Up to the third firing range, Latvian Ilmārs Bricis was confidently taking the lead; however, unsuccessful shooting deprived him of any chances of a medal. The victory was celebrated by Sergey Tarasov of Russia, followed by Austrian Christoph Sumann and Norwegian Frode Andresen. Sergey Novikov finished seventh while Alexey Aidarov came 12th and Alexander Popov completed the race in the 17th position.

Famous Ukrainian biathlete Andrey Derizemlya explained why the idea of the Legends’ Race is especially close to him, “When I accepted an invitation I thought that these would be easy competitions. However, during the training, I saw that all the participants are ambitious athletes who have seriously prepared. As a result, it was a standard biathlon race, only featuring more mature athletes. Raubichi has hosted a very warm-hearted holiday, involving lots of spectators from various countries, including from Ukraine. I greatly enjoy the slogan of the festival — ‘Biathlon Stars for Peace’. I understand the preciousness of these words as no one else, as there’s a difficult situation in our country these days. I hope this race will also promote the establishment of peace in Ukraine.”

The winner of the 2007 World Championship also told us about his meeting with the President of Belarus, “In between the races we chatted with Alexander Lukashenko. It’s very pleasant that the top officials of the state find time in their tight schedule to meet with athletes. When we were taking a photo the President of Belarus was joking, was in good mood and chatted with us. He is really a people’s president. He said he doesn’t want to hold us back and distract from competitions, and went to see the race as a spectator.”

Three-time Olympic champion, Halvard Hanevold, recollected the most rewarding moments of his career and said why the biathlon is so popular in Norway, “I took part in the gold relay race and won Olympic gold together with Bjørndalen, Svendsen and Tarjei Bø. Traditionally we have a strong and positive team. I remember how young Svendsen teased me on my birthday by throwing a cake at me. Now my place in the Norwegian four is occupied by the promising Johannes Bø. This testifies to a good system of biathlon in Norway — each generation doesn’t yield to the previous one. In the homeland I organise events aimed at popularising the biathlon and eagerly take part in such activities.”

In the mixed relay, the duo of Brunet-Sumann achieved victory in a tough struggle, being ahead of Andresen and Lang by just a couple of seconds. Ilmārs Bricis and Florance Baverel finished third. 

With biathlon in the heart

After the races, the prize winners entered the medal podium — an integral feature of biathlon successes. The awards ceremony was attended by Belarus Sports and Tourism Minister, Alexander Shamko, the First Vice President of the National Olympic Committee, Maxim Ryzhenkov, the Chairman of the Belarusian Biathlon Federation, Valery Vakulchik, the First Vice President of the International Biathlon Union (IBU), Victor Maigurov, son of the President of Belarus, Dmitry Lukashenko, and even Ole Einar Bjørndalen.

The appearance of the legendary Norwegian at the Legends’ Race was expected but not announced. Ole Einar modestly watched the mixed relay and was pleased to give autographs to numerous fans of biathlon in Belarus. Meanwhile, Dmitry Guberniev presented Bjørndalen to the whole stadium as the best and most famous husband.

Darya Domracheva’s mother was also present among the spectators, noting that Darya is constantly in touch and is aware that Raubichi is again seeing a full house, “My daughter didn’t charge me with any responsible tasks, so my role is to be a guest. I enjoy the event, just as I did last year. It seems to me that the Legends’ Race has become even bigger. Darya is at home but watching everything happening. She will be extremely pleased with such a celebration.”

The biathlon stars are already preparing to return home. They met old friends again in Raubichi and made sure that Belarus loves the biathlon. Now, everyone will return to their normal life without a major sporting event.

Gift for the President

The ‘Legends’ Race — Biathlon Stars for Peace’ Festival was attended by Alexander Lukashenko. Chatting to participants the Belarusian leader focussed attention on the growing popularity of the biathlon festival.

“I’m absolutely confident that next year there will be competition among those wishing to get to Raubichi for an amateur summer biathlon,” believes Mr. Lukashenko. He noted that the Legends’ Race became possible primarily due to the efforts of three-time Olympic champion, Darya Domracheva. The President also underlined that a sporting festival targets former biathletes and is organised primarily for them. “The goal is to continue your sporting life,” added Mr. Lukashenko.

After the meeting, outstanding biathletes presented the President of Belarus with souvenir gifts. The participants of the Legends’ Race gave a photo with their autographs to the Head of State.

The most titled sportsman in the history of the Winter Olympics, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, presented a souvenir to the Belarusian leader personally from his and his wife Darya Domracheva, adding that his wife ‘was unable to attend personally but prepared a present from our family’. “She has a good reason to be absent,” responded the President warmly. In the end, he also noted that the biggest present for him and the world biathlon in general would be if the talent of the children of these two outstanding athletes surpassed that of their parents.

By Semen Bondarev

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