Still Focused on Season-long Success
The Sochi Olympic Winter Games brought the Ukrainian women’s team unprecedented success, with Vita Semerenko’s sprint Bronze, followed on the Games’ penultimate day with the 4 X 6K relay Gold medal. The Relay Gold was Ukraine’s first Olympic biathlon Gold medal ever. The Relay Gold fulfilled the promise that the team had showed for several seasons, with World Cup podiums, a Silver medal at the 2013 IBU WCH, but never a win on the sport’s biggest stage.
But in sports as in life, things change as time passes. Now with a new season rapidly approaching, there is a “new look” for this medal-winning group. Coach Nadija Bilova has moved to the men’s team, and Gregory Shamray is now heading the women’s program. At the same time, Olympic Relay anchor and World Champion Olena Pidhrushna has retired to a government post as Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports.
Both Semerenko sisters and 24-year-old Yulia Dzhyma are back, but Pidhrushna leaves a relay spot and her big shoes to fill. The veteran Natalia Burdyga, a Sochi veteran looks like the most likely prospect to move into that spot.
The team has been doing its on-snow training in Tyumen a place with good conditions that is familiar to the group. Last August, Valj Semerenko claimed Silver medals in the mixed relay and the pursuit competitions at the IBU World Championships there. Coming off a season where she finished 8th in the World Cup Total Score, she answered a few questions while in Tyumen late last week. Her answers show that despite a hard but glorious Olympic year, and despite ongoing political issues at home, she and her teammates are looking forward to nothing more than…more success.
Valj Semerenko: Finding Motivation and New Teammates
BW: After such a successful season and Olympics, was it hard for the team to get motivated for the new season or were most athletes excited and ready to start training again?
VS: Truly, the season was successful for me personally and for our team. But at the same time it was difficult both emotionally and physically, because of the Olympics. The Games are held every four years, they are important, all athletes are preparing for the competitions, and they all want to show their best result. Last season was a tense one, so to be honest, after the last start, I had an idea to skip the upcoming season and to have some rest. When our team had the first training camp, I missed it. Then I skipped the second one, because I still couldn’t find the motivation for trainings. But as time passed, my opinion has changed, as the other factors have altered too. It was not an easy decision to continue, but now I’m back and train again.
BW: Will it be hard to replace Olena Pidhrushna or do you feel someone else is ready to step up?
VS: You know, it is hard to replace a strong athlete and it is almost impossible to do it right away, but it is a sport and you have to move forward all the time. I think it is very important to “pull” the youth. Of course, it will not be easy in the first year, there is no doubt. We had 4 athletes on the same professional level and our relay team was really strong. It will be a little bit hard this year, but that’s fine, we will still try.
BW: How was the summer training? Do you feel that you will be ready for top performances from the beginning?
VS: This season the team coaches have changed. The first training camp was more like a camp of adaptation, because I’ve never worked with them before. But we worked pretty well together, and I’m very grateful to all them for the fact that they work with me, give advices and suggestions. When a team is friendly and active, then you will have a high result. I hope that we will succeed and will be able to spend the season on a high level.
BW: Do you feel that you handled training well and stayed focused despite the tough situation at home in Ukraine?
VS: We had various trainings with a different amount of work. And I think that in general, we spent the training very well and did all we had to do. Of course, the situation which we have at home affects us, we worry about everything that happens, but I know that Ukraine is a strong country, as well as its people.
BW: This season you have young and inexperienced athletes in the first team. Was it different for you to train with the youth?
VS: At that moment, I am satisfied with everything. For a long time I wanted new and young girls to come into the team. I wanted to look at those who will replace us when we leave. I think it is good and useful that we train together, because we could suggest something, could help them at some point or give an advice. It is easier to get into a professional biathlon when you have someone beside you and something to aspire to.
BW: How has the training been in Tyumen?
VS: The conditions in Tyumen are really good. For the first time in my biathlon career we have an 8K lap on the snow camp training. I can say that there is everything you need to have good trainings and to prepare on a high level. It is very comfortable here and I like everything.
BW: What will be your main focus this season—personal successes in World Cups, relays or the IBU WCH in Kontiolahti?
VS: Of course, every athlete has personal goals, and has something they wish to achieve. For me, everything will be important: individual World Cup races, team competitions and the performance at the World Championships. This is the season after the Olympics and it is hard to guess something, especially before the first start. It will be easier to understand where I am after the first races then I will understand clearly what to pay more attention to and in which direction to move as the season progresses.