Ahead of a future Winter Olympic Games bid, Ukraine has been ramping up its winter sports training and the results are showing – Ukraine will send a record number of athletes to a record number of sports when the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games kick off next month.
One week ahead of the opening of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, Ukraine kicked off the festivities by hosting an Olympic meet-and-greet with some of the starts that will represent the blue and yellow in China.
Sports Minister Vadym Hutzeit, an Olympic champion fencer, greeted athletes from several disciplines ahead of their travels to China and used his own Olympic experience as inspiration.
“Once we went to Beijing for the Games and our sabre fencing team was last in the rankings”, he said. “But we came and won. I believe that every athlete is able to rise to the podium.”
On hand to showcase the snazzy new Olympic uniforms and answer questions from the media were Ulyana Dubrovka and Oleh Handei (short track speed skating), Vlad Heraskevich (skeleton), Lydia Hunko (women’s monobob bobsleigh), and Ivan Shmuratko (figure skating).
Olympic fans were able to take in a number of Olympic workshops, including a figure skating lesson by Ukraine’s first Olympic champion Victor Petrenko (gold for Unified Team at Albertville 1992), play a game of hockey with two-time NHL all-star Oleksiy Zhitnik, or take aim at targets like Olympic medalist biathletes Elena Petrova and Valentina Cerbe-Nesina, who won modern Ukraine’s first Olympic medal when she took bronze at Lillehammer 1994, days before Oksana Baiul won her famous figure skating title.
In addition to the official team uniforms, Ukraine’s official Beijing 2022 stamp and coin were also released.
Ukraine represented by 45 athletes
Ukraine will be sending a record 45 athletes to Beijing to compete in a record 10 sports.
“We had 33 Olympic licences and now [we have] 45”, Hutzeit said. “[We’ve grown] in many sports – in freestyle we had 2 athletes at the last Olympics; now we have 5. We are developing winter sports … but we also hope to see them on a podium.”
Hunko, a former world strongwoman runner-up, will represent the country when women’s monobob makes its Olympic debut. Monobob is a singles event, meaning Hunko will push, steer, and brake her own sled.
“[Bobsleigh] is an amazing sport because you must always think what you are doing on the track”, she told the Kyiv Post. “Every new track has new lines and every track is different. It’s very hard and very interesting.”
Dubrovka and Handei will be representing Ukraine in short track speed skating for the first time since Sochi 2014. Despite Ukraine’s lack of pedigree in the event, Handei insists the skaters are ‘in it to win it’.
“There’s no reason to compete if you’re not ‘in it to win it’”, Handei told the Kyiv Post. “We’re going there to win gold.”
Shmuratko was the youngest competitor at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway when he won silver as part of ‘Team Future’. He’s excited to take part of his first full Olympic Games.
“As for myself, I want to take everything away from it – on the ice and off it”, he told the Kyiv Post. “I want to feel the atmosphere – I’ve never had such an atmosphere in my life. I don’t really know what to expect. I just want to take everything from every moment.
One of Ukraine’s best medal hopes is Vlad Heraskevich, who has been excelling on skeleton tracks around the world this season. He clearly has his eyes set on returning to Ukraine with a medal.
““I’m staying relaxed, I want to enjoy my runs at the Olympics”, he told the Kyiv Post. “I want to enjoy my push [at the start of the race], I want to be relaxed and concentrate on my runs – not on the pressure.”
Russian invasion looms large
The not-so-subtle elephant in the room was what will happen should Russia invade while Ukrainian athletes are competing in Beijing.
In an interview with Kyiv Post, Ukrainian Sports Minister Hutzeit dodged the question.
“We believe that there will be no actions from the Russian Federation on our country,“
he said when asked what contingency plans the government had in case of invasion during the Olympics.
He added that the ministry has asked athletes not to give interviews in Russian and not to pose with athletes with Russian or Russian Olympic Committee* flags.
At Tokyo 2020, teen high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh was roundly criticized in Ukraine for posing for pictures with Russian champion Mariya Lasitskene after winning bronze in the same event. The images were widely shared in Russia media, leading to the Ukrainian ministry’s reminder to its athletes heading to China.
Russian invasions of Ukraine come Olympic time are nothing new.
Eight years ago, just days after Ukraine’s women’s biathlon team won gold near the end of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, unmarked Russian soldiers – so-called “little green men” – invaded and occupied Crimea, setting in motion a series of events that threaten to overshadow this year’s edition of the Winter Olympic Games.
For the full list of Ukrainian athletes competing at Beijing 2022, please see the list published on the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine website here.
*NOTE: In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned Russia from all international sports competitions for its failure to comply with its obligations and responsibilities pertaining to the World Anti-Doping Code. As a result, Russian athletes are prevented from competing for Russia at international events. IOC rules state that Russian athletes that have met international doping norms and are able to compete in international events should be referred to using the acronym ROC, not the full ‘Russian Olympic Committee’
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