To Leave and Get Back

Belarus’ sports center in Raubichi has held a solemn ceremony to bid farewell to four prominent biathletes, Vladimir Drachev, Vadim Sashurin, Olena Zubrilova and Oleg Ryzhenkov, who have finished their competitive careers
“Hail to the heroes”, everyone shouted; there were beautiful speeches, there was applause and a wonderful atmosphere, but the athletes and guests were all a bit sad and puzzled by the thought that starting this season we will not see the prominent and so familiar Vladimir Drachev, Vadim Sashurin, Olena Zubrilova and Oleg Ryzhenkov, the ones that made history of Belarusian biathlon.

“Thank you so much!” says Olena, and her voice trembles.

“We’ll be back,” shouts Oleg Ryzhenkov, who never seems to lose his optimism. “And we will do our best to make our students better than we are,” he added.

They will be back… They will certainly be back as coaches to object to those who have lost hope and doubts that brilliant athletes can effectively teach. They will get back, because they never surrender, and young biathletes are expecting a miracle from those who used to beat the best of the best.

One for All

Olena Zubrilova has numerous prizes and awards, but the Order of St. Barbara must be the most unusual and precious award. Olena, like the martyr Barbara, had to endure so much trouble on her way to success that it would be enough for two lives. But she was strong enough to forbear and win. Even today she is ready to trade her nice dress for a tracksuit.

— I might want to ski some day. I am still ready for short distances and I am willing to help, she says, smiling.

— What if they just ask you to coach? Do you think you’ve had enough races?

— Whatever happens, I believe I have had a good career, and I don’t regret a thing. Well, maybe one thing: I never won an Olympic medal, but it does not mean I was there in vain. I will not say goodbye to sport and my students will certainly take over.

—Won’t it be too difficult to keep in shape and coach at the same time?

— I don’t need a break: I still run a lot and shoot, too. I m always with my team.

— What about the subordination?

— I try to convince the girls that I am one of them and they can easily do the things I can do. There is some distance, though: I am older and I coach them.

— Do you see any promising athletes now?

— There are all very good, and I believe they will be better than we have been, so we are not teaching them for nothing.

I’ll be back

Vladimir Drachev had a chance to experience such a farewell party in 2001, when he was dismissed from the Russian national team because of old age. But this “old age” allowed Vladimir to compete for another five years and reshuffle world rating lists. He is a real athlete with a remarkable will and persistence.

— I had been trying to imagine what it would be like. I took part in a similar ceremony, the last race of the German Franc Luck, so I was thinking: the same will happen to me someday… I still don’t want to believe. Now I will have to start all over again and try to find myself in a different business.

— This is not a new business for you. The younger athletes were calling you a teacher for a couple of years now.

— I have always tried to help them at the shooting range and on track, so I understand perfectly well how hard coaching is. I spent 30 years to become a good athlete, but another 15 years will be required to become a good coach. I will be doing my best, but when I feel tired of these trips and tournaments I will call it a day. I want to take a break and take care of my family, but these plans are very likely to remain plans. These guys here and I, we always need a race.

— You will be working with the youth team. Wouldn’t it be easier to work with professionals?

— Sure, you need a different approach here. The pros are able to deliver now, but juniors know almost nothing about biathlon. You got to chew the stuff and feed them like babies.

— What do you expect from the national team?

— Only two biathletes are left from the old team, and no great achievements should be expected now. Both Novikov and Valliulin may pleasantly surprise us. Syman? He might make a good athlete if he deals with his problems.

— What if you suddenly realize you have something more to say in professional sport after you start coaching?

— We shall see. If I feel I’m ready to win, I’ll get back on track. Iosif Kobzon (a prominent Soviet and then Russian singer) said good-bye many times and he is still there.

by Dmitry Komarov
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