Quality over quantity and less is more could very well be the catch phrases describing the approach Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee has taken with regard to its participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 9-25 in South Korea. Perhaps this is a direct result of the nation’s economic woes that are undoubtedly impacted by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Financial resources for recruiting, training and developing Olympic-caliber athletes must be at a precious premium.
In 2010 Ukraine sent 52 athletes to compete in nine sports at the Vancouver Winter Games, winning zero medals. Four years later in Sochi, 45 competitors in nine sports won two medals: gold in women’s biathlon relay and bronze in women’s sprint biathlon. This year’s Team Ukraine comprises 33 athletes, set to challenge the world’s best in nine sports at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Realistic expectations see Ukraine capturing between one and three medals.
Seventeen team members are men, 16 are women. In alpine skiing Ukraine is represented by two competitors, the biathlon team numbers 11 (Dmytro Pidruchniy, Yulia Dzhima, Olena Pidhrushna, Artem Pryma, Valya Semerenko, Vita Semerenko, Iryna Varvarynets, Serhiy Semenov, Volodymyr Siemenov, Anastasiya Merkushyna and Artem Tyshchenko), four cross-country skiers, three freestyle skiers and one Nordic combined skier. Four Ukrainians will vie for medals in figure skating (individually, Anna Khnychenkova and Yaroslav Paniot; ice dancing pair, Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksyma Nikitin), six are on the luge squad, one female snowboarder and one man in the skeleton.
NBC’s feature on athletes to watch at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games includes Ukraine’s Serhiy Semenov as a potential medalist in men’s biathlon.
Semerenko twins a double threat
in women’s biathlon
Vita and Valentyna Semerenko could be described as the ultimate twin sisters when it comes to common interests, especially sports. When both were in the fourth grade they took up cross-country skiing, but later both switched to biathlon. At age 18, Valya began competing on the international circuit, one year before Vita, debuting at the Junior World Championships. In 2005 Valya and Vita each won medals at the Junior Worlds (individual and relay) and one medal each at the Junior European Championships. Valya first competed in the Biathlon World Cup in 2005 and was good enough to qualify for the 2006 Winter Olympics in the 15 km individual race. Her first foray into the World Championships was in 2007, and following a lost half-season, she returned to win her first international medal (a silver) in relay at the 2008 Biathlon World Championships. Her first World Cup relay win came in 2009. Vita’s initial World Cup podium came in 2008, a silver in the 7.5 km sprint.
Vita and Valya both represented Ukraine at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2014 Games in Sochi. February 9, 2014, saw Vita earn a bronze medal in the women’s 7.5 km sprint competition, winning Ukraine’s first medal in those Olympic Games. Twelve days later, together with sister Valya, Yulia Dzhyma and Olena Pidhrushna, she won the gold medal in the women’s 4×6 km relay, to this day the greatest achievement for Ukraine in the sport of biathlon.
Valya Semerenko’s peak season was 2014-2015, when she earned four individual podiums and finished third overall in World Cup classification, the second ever Ukrainian biathlete to end a season in the top three. (Olena Zubrilova was the first.) She and Serhiy Semenov won the World Team Challenge that year, and her most memorable moment was a gold medal in mass start at the 2015 Worlds. Valya’s poor health and injuries saw her miss many competitions in the last two years. She has a total of six individual medals and nine relay medals in world and European competitions in her career.
At world and European championships, Vita Semerenko has won seven individual medals and eight relay medals. She was honored with the Best Athlete of the Month award by the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine four times: March 2009, March 2010, March 2011 and March 2012. Due to illness, surgery and pregnancy she missed almost three seasons, returning to competition in March 2017.
Team Ukraine’s ice dancers
Oleksandra Nazarova born November 30, 1996, in Kharkiv and Maksym Nikitin born October 5, 1994, in Kharkiv debuted in ice dancing as partners in 2010. The duo won the silver medal at the Youth Olympics in 2012, won silver at two 2013 Junior Grand Prix tournaments, won bronze at JGP in Estonia in 2014, won silver at the Warsaw Cup in November 2014, won the Ukrainian senior title and skated in European Championships in January 2015, won bronze medal at 2015 World Juniors, won bronze medal at the International Cup of Nice in 2016, won gold at the 2017 Winter Universiade, and won bronze at the 2017 Challenger Series Lombardia Trophy.