Tales and true stories from Krasnaya Polyana

<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-431.jpg">[b]Anton Kushnir’s Sochi gold freestyle jump was one few of his peers would be able to repeat. Of course, he was just one among several Belarusian athletes who shook the world with their outstanding achievements: they were the talk of Sochi. Darya Domracheva and Anton Kushnir jointly won a record number of gold medals, bringing our nation a flood of pride and joy.[/b]<br />Anton told journalists, “I’m happy for Dasha. She is brilliant – performing wonderfully! Of course, her success has inspired all of us.” His own gold medal story is such as inspire Hollywood blockbusters: the result of much hard work against the odds.
Anton Kushnir’s Sochi gold freestyle jump was one few of his peers would be able to repeat. Of course, he was just one among several Belarusian athletes who shook the world with their outstanding achievements: they were the talk of Sochi. Darya Domracheva and Anton Kushnir jointly won a record number of gold medals, bringing our nation a flood of pride and joy.

Anton told journalists, “I’m happy for Dasha. She is brilliant – performing wonderfully! Of course, her success has inspired all of us.” His own gold medal story is such as inspire Hollywood blockbusters: the result of much hard work against the odds.
I followed the super-final of the freestyle jumping in the company of Dmitry Dashchinsky – who failed to reach the final four. He was upset but happy to help me in preparing my report, sharing his professional opinion. In honesty, I’d been pained by Dmitry’s result, having been convinced that he’d win an Olympic medal. However, as soon as his skis touched down, his expression gave everything away. The judges’ low marks confirmed his own fears: he had failed to reach the super-finals. “I could have done better,” he admits. “Any mistake takes you to the bottom of those competing. I failed to ‘get into gear’, jumping rigidly, lacking enough height and twisting too slowly.”

Did you perform perfectly during training?
Every other time I was fine; clearly, I lacked consistency.

What are your plans now? Will you try again in four years?
Definitely, not! It’s too tiring to keep training and remaining fit.

Anton is champion!
No sooner had Dmitry spoken than Anton performed his amazing jump and Dmitry exclaimed, “He jumped wonderfully: double full - double full – double full. Anton has never before performed this triple somersault with five pirouettes: it’s brilliant. He’s great. He began the season in good shape and, every day, has improved his form. He is clearly confident and seems eager to make up for his Vancouver disappointment, where he failed to win, despite being a favourite.”
All around us, we heard shouts of support for Anton and complimentary comments: ‘You’re great!’ and ‘It’s a winning jump!’ Dmitry was no exception, even urging his friend to ‘Stop!’ as he was landing. I could hardly hide my emotions either: my cries made our Chinese colleagues (who were sitting nearby) turn and scowl with envy. After Anton’s magnificent jump, Dmitry pronounced without doubt that it was the winning performance.
Our memories take us back to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, on the Whistler slope. Anton Kushnir had swept the season before him, seemingly determined to win. He was on a high – ready to continue his winning run. His 5,000-complexity index jump – as performed in Sochi almost perfectly – was prepared by Anton for an emergency situation in Canada. He trained for it but, in the final attempt, he failed: Fate had different plans. Mr. Kushnir failed in all his attempts and, shockingly, didn’t make it through to the finals.
I met him a day after, in the Olympic village, and saw his empty eyes: they showed nothing except deep emotional exhaustion. Four hard years then followed. Life was testing his vigour and strength – as if checking his worthiness to become a great champion. Finally, Anton showed us of what he is truly capable, going through to the second round despite an unsuccessful first jump. His performance than consistently improved until he launched like a bullet from a 45 calibre Colt, outshining the two leaders of the Chinese team (who joined the super-finals with the best tournament points).
“The landing was slightly deep but this matters little,” Mr. Dashchinsky admitted after Anton’s jump. Eventually, the judges announced their marks: 134.50! Dmitry conceded, “Not bad for such serious judges. However, in my view, Anton’s performance is worth higher points. The jump we’ve just seen was at the edge of human capability. Chinese Qi Guangpu will now jump at the same complexity level – though differently: a twist initially, followed by two twists and one more twist. It’ll be a challenge for him to jump as well as Anton, as it’s a complex jump of which no more than five or six sportsmen in the world are capable. Apart from us, no other Europeans perform it. The first athlete who dared was Czech Valenta (who won the Salt Lake City competition). I tried it yesterday, during a training session. If I were in the top four, I would have also demonstrated the ultimate complexity level…”
Qi Guangpu’s nerve failed, as did that of his Chinese teammate: tactics, strategy, coaches’ encouragement and mastery were vital. Fortunately, our team boasted all; after the competition, Nikolay Kozeko looked as if it was he who had just performed the most complicated jump in the world, as well as all the others jumped by his team. He smiled, with weather-dried lips, saying, “I cannot yet speak: my thoughts and mind are still in the competition.”

Can you explain the miracle of Anton Kushnir’s last jump?
You are right in calling it ‘a miracle’. Jumps of such complexity are seldom performed at such a level. Two Chinese tried to repeat something of the kind but the outcome was not favourable.

What’s Anton’s secret? Why did he succeed?
There are many components, including training hard for many years – suffering at world championships and Cup rounds. He experienced frustration but his neat execution hit the mark.

People say that Anton has nerves of steel...
His nerves are steady at present and he has determination. Dmitry Dashchinsky was also on form (dinging – as we say in freestyle) but something happened and he failed. He seemed inhibited, staying on the edge of his capabilities.

What happened to Mr. Grishin?

Don’t you have an answer?
You watched the completion. Did you see Alexey fall?

Did the Chinese surprise you?
The Chinese team never attend an Olympics simply to participate. As usual, they were focused; however, they made a tactical failure. During the season, their jumping has been brilliant: unrivalled. However, it’s impossible to maintain top level jumping for too long. I can’t say for sure but I noticed long ago that the Chinese tend to show their nerves when faced with a real struggle. They perform better when enjoying evident superiority. I think Anton’s genius jump broke their nerve; not everyone can do their best under extreme conditions. A similar situation was observed in the women’s event: her two strong Chinese rivals failed to match Alla Tsuper, making mistakes in their final attempts.

Does this mean that we’ve defeated them tactically?

Dashchinsky and Grishin are unlikely to take part in the next Olympics. Is anyone up and coming to replace them?
Let’s not jump to conclusions. As far as I know, both Dmitry and Alexey plan to finish their career after the 2015 World Championship. However, the Olympic results may influence their decision. Alexey has just told me that he plans to retire but we’ll continue working; what else can be done? There are young sportsmen but they aren’t yet professional. We’ve been in this situation before…

Did you predict these two gold medals?
Of course not; I hoped for the best but realised that everything depended on luck. Happily, fortune shone on us.

It was the best Olympics for Belarus so far. Can you explain how this happened?
It’s been the result of long-term national sports planning. We didn’t win these medals on a whim; they are the result of several years spent on a new system.

Do you think these two Olympic gold medals will influence the speed of constructing a unique water jump venue? It’s been ongoing for some time.
As far I know, construction is in full swing now. There were some initial delays – caused by the crisis and construction companies’ refusals. However, the situation seems to be settled now.

Mr. Dashchinsky is keen to see the water jump completed. As to who may follow him and Mr. Grishin, Dmitry immediately indicates Mr. Kushnir, although Anton, at 31, is hardly young (like Denis Osipov). I enquire about younger athletes and he tells me, “There are several promising young sportsmen, but we need to finish construction of the jump as soon as possible. This will help young sportsmen greatly and I’m convinced better results will be demonstrated. It’s a unique site and will be the first proper training centre of its kind in Belarus. It will provide perfect facilities for children and professionals alike, without risk of injury.”
While Dmitry and I discuss these issues, Anton has been basking in glory, giving interviews and evidently feeling delight at his victory. Alla Tsuper looked similarly dumfounded after her success: as if detached from reality. Of course, it takes time to realise what has been achieved.
…Anton came to the mixed zone with his son Platon in his arms and an absent look – as of a person who had just realised his dream. “Oh….,” he exclaimed, automatically kissing his small son and putting him on the floor. The boy was evidently shy in the face of dozens of microphones being pushed forward towards his father. “I’m slightly shocked and very tired – or, to be more correct, extremely shocked and slightly tired,” Anton admitted. “Of course, I’m happy: the day was lucky for me. I’m extremely pleased. I believed in myself and knew that I could win. My jump was really great. It’s wonderful to receive such high points from the strict jury.”

What do you think of the new rules, whereby a single jump can determine a medal, with no room for error?
We must accept the rules, since we cannot change them. I tried not to focus on them too much, just aiming to do my best. The competition day seems to get ever longer, with more psychological and physical energy required. Nobody promised that the path would be easy. Everyone faces equal conditions so the victor is he who is most prepared. With this in mind, I’d like to thank all those who believed in me and contributed to my success. I’m grateful to my country, to Nikolay Kozeko and to my first coach – Galina Dosova. I’m very thankful to my parents and to my fans – to everyone!

Was your ‘mad’ jump in the super-finals the best of your career?
I think it was. I seldom use it in my programme, as there’s no need to do so. It’s a special case: to be ‘taken out’ when I’m on peak form. It requires much concentration and is absolutely exhausting.

What were your first thoughts on landing?
I thought that I had done it – successfully!

The past four years, since the Vancouver Games, were not easy for you, with injury leading to World Cup disappointment. Some events also occurred which we’d prefer to keep secret. From where did you draw confidence and mental strength? I know that you experienced some challenges over this time.
You’re right; it hasn’t been easy – especially the past two seasons. I had operations on both knees (one after another) and really thought about retiring, as my nerves were shattered. I had no idea what to do but my wife strongly supported me, and her faith gave me wings. I began to yearn to jump again and was happy to receive encouragement. My coaches and family helped me. I’m also thankful to the Chair of the Belarusian Skiing Union, Natalia Petkevich; her help was enormous. Of course, I’m very grateful to Nikolay Kozeko. He’s great!

What are your plans for the future?
Firstly, I need to recuperate – taking a bolt out of my knee and sorting out my back. I want to jump and feel that I can. As for the next Olympics, I would love to take part - but time will tell…

It’s midnight, on Tuesday, but Mr. Kozeko is not asleep. Belarusian freestylers have always won Olympic medals and, in recent years, our global dominance has crystalised. The coach’s neck would be sore if he wore all the medals at once. He has trained three Olympic champions – which is incredible. Probably, Mr. Kozeko is also worthy of a Hero Star…

Dmitry Guberniev’s amazement
Completing his report on the women’s mass start race, famous commentator Dmitry Guberniev speaks of genius Darya Domracheva with admiration, saying, “You can now see the world’s top biathlete of our modern times finishing her race. I’m ready to fall down in adoration.” Darya’s fourth race and third Olympic gold was a repetition of German Kati Willhelm’s record. Her title of Belarusian Hero has not changed her easy-going nature – ever smiling and sincere.

Did the burden of your previous medals hamper your mass start preparations?
On the contrary: I felt calmer than on the eve of my previous Olympic races. I was merely preparing and… nothing more. As a result, I was able to keep my focus and success was the result.

As ever, your fans wildly supported you.
I enjoy fantastic support and am thankful to my Russian and Belarusian fans. Our nations are fraternal and my own relationship is especially strong – which I love. Of course, I’m aware of what is happening in Belarus at the moment and I’m grateful to everyone for their congratulations and passionate support.

Were you asked to carry the Belarusian flag at the closing ceremony?
I received an unofficial request and nothing would stop me from accepting.

You’re now a triple Olympic champion; and have beaten German Kati Wilhelm.
Records are not my focus and certainly don’t occupy my mind. I’m extremely tired but my motivation remains strong.

Of what were you thinking while standing on the medal podium today? You looked at the stadium with such an expression on your face.
I wanted to commit that picture to my memory – and to remember all those fiercely supporting me. I must again express my tremendous gratitude. As you know, my motto is to enjoy every race. On seeing people’s involvement and realising that I bring them pleasure, my passion multiplies. I do have two wishes just now: to answer all your questions and then sleep!

We’ve just heard that Alexander Lukashenko has awarded you the title of Hero of Belarus.
Are you waiting for my reaction? Of course, I’m very proud that my efforts have been so highly recognised. Of course, the award is a surprise for me but I’ll do my best to carry it with honour – as a triple Olympic champion should. I must admit that I’ve not yet fully realised all that’s happened at the Sochi Games. I’m experiencing a borderline state where reality merges with a field of dreams.
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