As for the winter sports, every year Ukraine traditionally counts on biathlon victories at the world stage. However, in 2018, not all of our athletes, to put it mildly, mat the expectations of fans. Opinion has found out – why those “failures” happened and what we can expect from biathletes in 2019.

Ukrainian biathlon is not having its best times today. After a raw of great performances and victories, which fans of this winter sport enjoyed over the last few years, this 2018/2019 season has almost nothing to be remembered for. Except for scandals, of course… The last games which entire world was watching – the traditional “Christmas race” (December 29, 2018, in the German Gelsenkirchen) confirmed that Ukrainian national team is not doing well. Ukrainians Yuliia Dzhima and Artem Pryma weren’t able to enter the battle for top places in pursuit race and finished only at the 8th place. In fact, Ukrainian biathletes won this demonstration race only twice: during the “Christmas race” of 2008 Oksana Khvostenko and Andriy Deryzemlya got the sensational victory, and in 2014, Valentyna Semerenko and Serhiy Semenov finished first, at the peak of their best performances. This year’s victory in a demonstration race went to the team of Italy due to the exceptional shooting of Wierer and fast feet of Hofer. Of course, the “Christmas race” is a kind of a “stars parade”, the results of which can’t help in making serious and hasty conclusions. But in the 2018-2019 season, several stages of the World Cup have already passed. And there was no result, except for several successful performances.

How has the season started?

Already in the very beginning of 2018, something went wrong with our biathletes. They began to perform in the first serious races unexpectedly bad. Later, in February 2018, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games were held in Korean Pyeongchang. And Ukrainian fans pinned all their hopes on the biathlon. After a sensational success in Sochi 2014 (recall that in the Games-2014 the team of Vita and Valentyna Semerenko, Yuliia Dzhima and Olena Pidhrushna won the gold medal in the relay race, and Vita Semerenko won the 3rd place in a sprint) in Korea, Ukrainian biathletes had failed. The best result of our team was the seventh place in the mixed relay race.

Biathletes resumed their kind of renaissance at the first post-Olympian stage of World Cup in Kontiolahti. After the failure at Olympics, it was some kind of surprise for fans that Ukrainian national team got the second place in the in the mixed relay race. The team consisting of Anastasiya Merkushyna, Vita Semerenko, Artem Pryma, and Dmytro Pidruchnyi was shooting the best among all the participants and lost only to the national team of Italy. “Silver” in the mixed relay brought hope that failure at the Olympics is just an accident, and the Ukrainian biathlon school was still able to show some good results this season.

The optimistic forecasts for the season were also confirmed by fantastic performance of our compatriot Yuliia Dzhima, who became the winner of the individual race at the World Cup in Pokljuka. Starting at the very end, Dzhima perfectly performed in the race, without missing a single target. She set the time of 42: 34.1.

However, the 2nd stage of the Biathlon World Cup, which took place in the Austrian town of Hochfilzen from 13 to 16 of December, showed that the problems of the national team are much more serious than it seemed at first sight. Both men and women were disappointing… As for the performance of the men’s team, the Ukrainian team of Artem Tyshchenko, Artem Pryma, Serhiy Semenov and Dmytro Pidruchnyi spent six additional rounds during the relay race and got 16th place, falling behind the winners entire 4 minutes 14.9 seconds. Ukrainian team showed the worst result in men’s relay race for 8 years.

As for women, to say that their performance in Hochfilzen was weak is to say nothing. In a pursuit race, the main hope of the national team – Olena Pidhrushna couldn’t make it to the finish. After five missed targets, the athlete just decided not to finish the distance at the last round. As for Semerenko sisters, they refused even to start the distance. It is very easy to explain. On the eve during the sprint of the same World Cup stage, Vita and Valentyna Semerenko took the 53rd and 57th places. They were upset with unsuccessful performance and immediately admitted they had decided to refuse to take part in the race of pursuit. It turns out that this option was also possible. Quite interesting that at this stage of the World Cup Ukrainian women’s team has shown the worst result in almost 7 years of performances. Ukrainians hadn’t shown such weak performances during 2506 days – 6 years, 10 months, 11 days. By the way, if you recall this sprint (women, 7.5 km) then the best result was reached by Olena Pidhrushna, who finished… 27th. For Ukrainian men, the sprint (10 km) wasn’t successful either. The leader of the team, Artem Pryma, finished only 26th.

The third stage of the Biathlon World Cup 2018/2019 toook place in New Mexico from the 20th to the 23rd of December. It included three competitions: sprint, pursuit race, and mass-start. Biathlon players continued to show unsatisfactory results. During men’s sprint (10 km) the best result from our Dmytro Pidruchnyi was 19th place. For women – Vita Semerenko (7.5 km) won the 7th place. In a pursuit race, Ukrainians showed a bit better results – Dmytro Pidruchnyi took the 6th place (men, 12.5 km), Valentyna Semerenko – 6th place (women, 10 km.).

According to the results of last season, for the first time in the last few years, Ukraine has lost quota for participation in the personal World Cup races. Now for sprints and individual races, our team has the right to send five women and only four men.

What’s going to be next?

The fourth stage of the Biathlon World Cup 2018/2019 will take place very soon in the German city of Oberhof, from 10th to 13th of January. There will be three competitions: sprint, pursuit race, and relay race. It is extremely important for Ukrainian athletes to demonstrate positive results at this stage. After all, the main task for this season according to federation’s leadership is to return the maximum quota for women (the top 5 of the Nation Cup), as well as the entry into the top 10 men’s teams of the Nation Cup. Now Ukrainian women’s team is at the 7th place, while men hold the 9th. Therefore, at each remaining stage, we need to demonstrate maximum results.

On January 8, the coaching staff announced the composition of Ukraine’s team for the fourth round of the World Cup. The leadership has decided to use an expanded version of the team with one alternate athlete. Ukrainian team will be represented by men – Artem Pryma, Dmytro Pidryuchnyi, Serhiy Semenov, Artem Tyshchenko, Ruslan Tkalenko; women – Olena Pidhrushna, Yuliia Dzhima, Valentyna Semerenko, Anastasiya Merkushyna, Vita Semerenko, Yuliya Zhuravok. Actually, the most optimal composition of the team was announced, which gives hope for a successful performance. The main thing is microclimate that should be normal in the team. At the moment, athletes blame federation’s leadership for unprofessional employees who provide services. It happens, they even criticize publicly coaching staff… “The race was just awful. Maybe someone had skis worse than ours, but even skis for training would be better. Yes, and in fact, for three stages of the World Cup, they picked up the right skis only once,” Dmytro Pidruchnyi was complaining after a failed mass start at Nové Město. “They’ve picked some amateurs from unknown countries to the team’s stuff. Each time you complain to them on skis, and they say that it’s athletes’ fault. Going up every hill I’ve lost 20 seconds through skis. I am speechless. I hope the president will hear us.”

President of the Biathlon Federation of Ukraine Volodymyr Brynzak has heard and commented publicly. However, it seems that it was made only formally. It was like: where to find good professionals for a small salary? They just don’t exist. “Is it possible to find specialists in the middle of the season? Everything is real. If only there were good candidates. The problem is to find a specialist who would agree to work in our conditions…” said Brynzak. This public debate could have left unnoticed if only Brynzak wasn’t the president of the federation, and Pidruchnyi the captain of the men’s team…

As for Ukrainian fans, they believe that any conflicts and misunderstandings will fade away, letting in its majesty Sport. And athletes, coaching staff and federation leadership will come to an understanding in the New Year.

By Vadym Lubchak

Photo from official website of the Biathlon federation of Ukraine

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