Sergey Kanashits’ impressions of our ‘golden’ freestyler at Sochi Olympic Games
The bus groaned on its way up the serpentine-twisting road, with the shining sun dancing on the snow-white mountaintops. The Olympic Games in Sochi brought great success to Belarus, lifting our spirits in the face of adversity, with our athletes showing their strength of character. In a single day, we claimed three medals: Darya Domracheva and Alla Tsuper’s gold, amplified with Nadezhda Skardino’s bronze. To cries of ‘Belarusians, let`s unite as one’, Russian journalists looked on with envy.
Only Tsuper can be better than mountains
Nikolay Ivanovich, allow me to shake your courageous hand! Everything you do is great! Our guru of freestyle, coach Nikolay Kozeko, was among the first to descend the mountain to hug Alla Tsuper following her winning performance, and praise her outstanding achievement. I caught him afterwards, while his emotions were still running high. He was literally dancing with joy on the coaches’ bridge, located at the top of the mountain. A huge colourful scoreboard at the Rosa Khutor extreme-park relayed his amusing antics, causing a great many smiles in the stadium. Clearly, Kozeko worries about his pupil as a father worries about his daughter.
Kozeko considers all his athletes to be like his own children, feeling their success as his own and each failure as a dagger to his breast. As he speaks, it’s clear that his heart is fit to burst.
Do you think Alla has at last received what she deserved?
Absolutely. She lacked success early in the competition, ruining her first attempt and misjudging her landing in the second qualifying round. However, she managed to reach the final in the last round, performing her jumps almost perfectly, managing her nerves. I’m glad that our plan worked. All our training was aimed at February: at the Olympic Games. Our efforts were not in vain!
Mother – heroine!
Alla hadn’t skied for quite some time, having given birth to her daughter. She had just 6 months to train to the highest level and conquer mountains. We had no time to waste at World Cup stages and viewed them simply as training: in standard operating mode. Alla deserved this victory, having come a long way in her sport. This is a worthy reward for her hard work, making up for previous failures. Let this victory be a lesson to those who did not believe in her and spoke against her return to major sport. I knew that Alla is a fighter capable of achieving anything – including winning an Olympic ‘gold’. I’m happy!
Having given up hopes for medals for their own sportsmen, the Russians switched their passionate support to Alla Tsuper. “Belarusians – well done! Come on, Slavs!” rang through the stadium. She was so brave that it was impossible to stop her. Events then unrolled as in a Hollywood film, with a fantastic happy ending. Of course, we expect to see such stories at the cinema, but cannot help feeling that such things never happen in real life. However, Alla proved us all wrong. Despite botching her first jump, she improved with each successive attempt and scraped into the super-final, in fourth place. From there, she astonished the world.
After her triumphant victory, Alla admitted that she had staked everything on her final jump, which had a complexity factor of 4,050 (bFFF). She had saved it in her arsenal, having only executed it once before, on the previous day, in training. It was a true debut, requiring a courageous step. The brilliance of her performance, with her precise landing, earned her 98.01 points!
Even miracles have logic behind them and perhaps Alla’s success was down to being able to bow a little out of the ‘limelight’. Not being a favourite, she was able to relax – unlike at the last Games, when her nerves broke like strings, burdened by so many expectations. This time, she went with the flow, allowing her body to take over, rather than her mind. She flew through the air, thinking only of what she had been trained to do; her body remembered how it should move and all other thoughts departed.
We almost gave up our hope but, after the second qualification round, she executed a difficult jump, all elements were good, although her landing was incorrect. Her sad eyes and doomed smile showed her resignation as she walked back through the mixed-zone. Chinese Xu Mengtao displaced her to sixth position and three strong competitors were still to jump. “It was my last hope,” she said, adding, “I won’t return to the slope.”
I thanked her for her return and for her long years of dedication, having taken part in four Olympic Games (at Nagano, in 1998, Alla jumped for the national team of Ukraine). She then set off to try her best, and returned a few hours later on a victorious wave.
Have you changed you mind?
Absolutely dumbfounded by her victory and all the attention, Alla failed to understand the question.
Have you changed your mind about retiring?
No. I trained for these Olympic Games, devoting myself to them; now, I’m finished.
That’s a bold statement! If you don`t mind my asking, what were your thoughts before your last, decisive jump?
I didn’t have time to think about anything! In the second final, I came fourth. In the decisive round, I had an open jumping programme. From my time of going up the mountain lift, I simply thought about needing to jump well and that, perhaps, it might help me to claim a medal.
So you had no time to be frightened?
Probably. At the last Olympic Games, the qualification round and the final were held on different days. The long wait, full of expectation, was oppressive. There wasn’t too long to think this time, which I preferred.
Did you believe that victory was possible? What result did you consider ‘acceptable’ beforehand?
After such a long break, connected with motherhood, I didn’t come back for nothing. I hoped that I could win an Olympic medal – of any value. It was this that motivated me.
Today your session was like a grand master’s: increasing in complexity, with each jump executed ever better. It was of the highest level!
You know, when I was in 12th place and then selected for the final, I immediately recollected the Games in Turin, where Swiss Evelyn Lu also reached the final from last place, and then became champion. I’ve enjoyed the same.
The first Olympic medal in the history of Belarusian women’s freestyle forever belongs to you...
To be honest, I’ve had no time to comprehend what I’ve achieved. It’s only just sinking in. I haven’t realised that I’ve won more than a ‘normal’ competition.
How has this Games differed from others?
I’ve felt public support – as if from my family. My husband also came to support me. On the eve of the Games, I received so many messages, saying: ‘Alla, we support you; we believe in you’. It was extremely encouraging and motivating. Thanks to all who wished me well.
What was the most difficult aspect in training for these Olympics?
As for any mum, parting with your child is a torment: a real ordeal. It was very difficult to get into the swing of a training routine after two years of downtime. I’d forgotten how burdensome it is. Truly, it was initially awful and I had to work hard to overcome my aversion. However, everything turned out well – thanks to trainers, doctors and everyone who promoted my success.
What are your next plans?
I have only one thought: spending time with my family and daughter, who is 18 months old. We gathered to see in the New Year and I haven’t seen her since – due to continuous training. Now, at last, I can enjoy spending time with my baby.
When Yelizaveta grows up, will you encourage her to master freestyle?
No, it’s enough that her mother devoted her life to this injury-prone sport. I’ve been somersaulting on a slope for 22 years. I’ll be happy for her to simply enjoy hitting the snow...
Tsuper is super!
<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-432.jpg">[b]Sergey Kanashits’ impressions of our ‘golden’ freestyler at Sochi Olympic Games [/b]<br />The bus groaned on its way up the serpentine-twisting road, with the shining sun dancing on the snow-white mountaintops. The Olympic Games in Sochi brought great success to Belarus, lifting our spirits in the face of adversity, with our athletes showing their strength of character. In a single day, we claimed three medals: Darya Domracheva and Alla Tsuper’s gold, amplified with Nadezhda Skardino’s bronze. To cries of ‘Belarusians, let's unite as one’, Russian journalists looked on with envy.