When the coronavirus struck in March, the sports world was thrown upside down. For many, many months it was the year that wasn’t. The 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed for one year. Some international sports competitions were canceled, others pushed back. Professional sports leagues saw their seasons put on hold for months. Eventually, after months of careful strategizing around and against a deadly pandemic, sports returned, albeit in most unique circumstances. Abbreviated seasons played out, tournaments played on, competitions resumed, some scheduled events in the latter half of the year were held, champions were crowned, and medals were distributed to victorious individuals and teams, mostly without spectators and fans.
The year 2020 was one never before seen in the world of sports, which perhaps makes it even more important for it to be celebrated and remembered. The virus itself, along with plentiful precautionary protocols, presented athletes additional challenges beyond the normal ones associated with regular competition.
We start this review with The Ukrainian Weekly sports correspondent’s annual awards:
• Outstanding Male Athlete – Cale Makar, hockey
• Outstanding Female Athlete – Nadia Podoroska, tennis
• Rookie of the Year – Cale Makar, hockey
• Most Inspirational Athlete – Daniel Romanchuk, paralympian
• Team of the Year – Ukraine Men’s Gymnastics Team
Below are 2020’s most outstanding performers alphabetically by sport, a recap of newsworthy Ukrainian sports stories and diaspora sports headlines.
In ATHLETICS, Yaroslava Mahuchikh won gold in high jump at the U-20 Demianiuk Memorial on January 18 in Lviv, setting a World U-20 record jump of 2.01 meters. Oleh Doroshchuk won gold in the men’s high jump. Mahuchikh also won gold on February 15 in Glasgow at the World Athletics Indoor Tour. Long jumper Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk won gold in Glasgow and Lievin, France (February 19), jumping 6.90 meters. Bekh-Romanchuk had previously won gold at the IAAF Indoor Meet in Karlsruhe, Germany, on January 31 along with Mahuchikh.
Serhiy Yefremov and Viktoriya Antoniuk won gold in the Latin-American program at the European Championship of Sports Dancing in Lviv on February 14-17. The Ukrainians should be advancing to higher levels of world competitions in BALLROOM DANCING in the future.
Detroit Piston Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was named to the World Team for the NBA’s All-Star weekend Rising Stars Challenge. Alex Len was granted an opportunity by the Atlanta Hawks to re-establish himself as an NBA player after five mediocre seasons in Phoenix. Atlanta went on to trade Len to Sacramento at the NBA trade deadline (February 6), with the Kings hoping he becomes a valuable bench contributor as they chase a playoff spot. In other BASKETBALL news, Los Angeles Lakers small forward Kyle Kuzma is still looked upon as a potential game-changer and key offensive force after the team’s 1-2 punch of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Proof of this was the three-year, $40 million contract extension he received on December 20. The buzz around the NBA that the Lakers were testing the trade market for Kuzma was true, but in the end, the club chose to retain its homegrown talent. Miami Heat veteran Kelly Olynyk earned an extra $400,000 thanks to his club’s making the playoffs in 2019-2020. He missed out on an additional $1 million bonus as he did not reach 1,700 minutes of playing time.
Valj Semerenko, Yuliia Dzhima, Artem Pryma and Dmytro Pidruchniy won gold in the BIATHLON mixed relay (1:11:32.1) at the European Championships in Belarus on February 26-27. Kateryna Bekh won gold in the women’s 7.5-km sprint at the Junior Open European Championships on March 11-12 in Austria.
Welterweight Taras Shelestyuk would like to join BOXING brethren Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Denys Berinchyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk as a past Ukrainian Olympic medalist and current contender to be a world champion. His unanimous decision over Luis Alberto Veron on January 31 was another step toward his goal, as his record improved to 18-0 with 10 KOs. Welterweight Karen Chukhadzhian won the WBA international title by split decision against Sergey Vorobiev on February 1 in Kaliningrad, Russia. Lightweight Denys Berinchyk won by unanimous decision versus Hector Edgardo Sarmiento on February 22 in Brovary, Ukraine, to capture the WBO International title. Ukraine’s women boxers won three gold medals (27 total) at the Third Riga Ladies Boxing Cup on March 4-9 in Riga, Latvia: Yulia Demianenko (48 kg), Inna Stakevych (54 kg) and Snizhana Kholodkova (57 kg), The junior women won three additional golds (13 over all). In 2020, this newspaper carried a feature about journeyman heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner (whose mother, Dolores Hrynko, is Ukrainian), who was actually the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone’s movie script for the film “Rocky,” based on his March 24, 1975, match with champion Muhammad Ali, when the 40-to-1 underdog Wepner came within 19 seconds of surviving a full 15 rounds. Light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk retired from professional boxing at the age of 33 due to health reasons. Teofimo Lopez successfully overcame a late rally by Vasyl Lomachenko to defeat the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter by scores of 116-112, 117-111 and 119-109 in a tense, 12-round battle in Las Vegas on October 17. Lomachenko faced a superior opponent, his defensive strategy in the first half of the bout cost him, and his long layoff from competition took its toll. Undefeated heavyweight Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13KO) was a unanimous winner after 12 rounds against Derek Chisora on October 31 in London. The fight was scored 117-112, 115-113, 115-113 in favor of the Ukrainian, who picked up the WBO Intercontinental title belt, making him the mandatory challenger for the WBO heavyweight title belonging to Anthony Joshua. WBO international lightweight champion Denys Berinchyk (14-0, 8KO) defended his title by defeating Romanian Viorel Simion at the Equides Club near Kyiv on October 8. The bout ended after seven rounds when Viorel refused to continue the fight. This was Berinchyk’s fourth successful title defense. Ukraine’s youth boxing team won three gold medals (15 over all, earning second place) at the EUBC Youth European Boxing Championships in Montenegro on November 22. Winning gold were Yurii Zakharieiev (69kg), Illia Tohobytskyi (75kg) and Mykyta Gorbatenko (91kg). On December 15 Wladimir Klitschko was informed of his election to the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021. He was heavyweight champion longer than anyone in boxing history and finished with a pro record of 64-5, 53 KOs.
Ukraine won 10 gold medals at the Olympic Hopes Regatta in Szeged, Hungary, on September 18-20, finishing second over all. Gold medalists: Volodymyr Savchyn-Artem Chetvertak (U18, 1,000-m CANOE doubles and U18, 500-m canoe doubles), Tetiana Smylovenko-Khrystyna Osipchuk (U15-U16, 200-m canoe doubles), Ivanna Dyachenko (U17, 200-m kayak), Vadym Tkachuk (U18, 200-m kayak), Daniil Platash (U17, 200-m kayak), Danil Kutsenko (U16, 200-m kayak), Kseniia Romanchuk (U16, 200-m kayak), Dyachenko/Oleksii Mamchenko/Viktoriia Muntian/Platash (U15-U17, mixed 500-m kayak quadruples) and Taras Kuzyk/Yurii Shutiak/Osipchuk/Iryna Fedoriv (U15-U17, mixed 500-m canoe quadruples).
Olena Starikova won gold in the Keirin race at the UEC Track Elite European Championships of CYCLING in Bulgaria on November 11-15.
FENCING phenom Olha Kharlan won gold in the women’s individual final at the Saber Grand Prix in Montreal on January 10-13.
Veteran GOLFer Jim Furyk joined some elite company September 20 when he won the PGA Tour Champions Pure Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach, Fla. This was his second PGA Tour Champions win in as many starts; he joined Arnold Palmer and Bruce Fleisher as the only senior golfers to win twice in as many starts.
The Grand Prix and 25th International Rhythmic GYMNASTICS Tournament Deriugina Cup in Kyiv on September 10-13 saw the following win gold medals: Vlada Nikolchenko (clubs event), Team 1: Anastasiya Voznyak/Valeriya Yuzviak/Mariola Bodnarchuk/Alina Bykhno/Diana Baieva (three hoops), Viktoriia Onopriienko (hoop final, combined grand prix final), Nikol Krasiuk (senior ribbon final, senior clubs final, senior ball final). Team 1 also won the combined events of five-balls, three-clubs, two-clubs final. Ukraine won six medals (three of them gold) at the 36th European Championships in Rhythmic Gymnastics in Kyiv on November 26. Ukraine won gold in the senior five balls event (Diana Baieva, Mariola Bondarchuk, Anastasiia Vozniak, Maria Vysochanska and Valeria Yuzviak); the combined senior team all-around (Polina Karika, Polina Sydorak, Melania Tur, Baieva, Bodnarchuk, Vozniak, Vysochanska and Yuzviak) with events in rope, ball, clubs, ribbon, five balls and three hoops/two clubs; Karika, individual gold in the junior ball final. Ukraine’s men’s team won first place overall at the 2020 European Men’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships on December 9-13 in Mersin, Turkey. Ukraine won seven gold medals (two in the senior division, five in junior). Golds were won by: Vladyslav Hryko, Petro Pakhniuk, Igor Radivilov, Roman Vashchenko, Yevgen Yudenkov (team competition in floor, Pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar); Radivilov (vault); Volodymyr Kostiuk, Illia Kovtun, Mykyta Melnykov, Ivan Sevruk and Radomyr Stelmakh (junior team competition); Kovtun (four individual medals in junior all-around, Pommel horse, rings, parallel bars).
Edmonton Oiler Kyle Brodziak retired from the National HOCKEY League after 917 games, 129 goals, 167 assists, 296 points and 462 penalty minutes due to a severe back injury. Colorado Avalanche rookie Cale Makar broke the franchise record for goals scored by a rookie defenseman on January 18, his 11th of the season. Matthew Tkachuk represented Calgary at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis on January 25. The three-year pro has quickly earned a reputation as tough to play against while becoming a leader in the Flames locker room. In less than 300 NHL games he has ignited and impacted the Calgary franchise and has rapidly evolved into an untouchable with a very high hockey IQ. Rookie Kieffer Bellows scored two goals and an assist in his first two NHL games (February 4 and 6) to give the New York Islanders an offensive lift. Defenseman Taylor Fedun went from not dressing in Rochester, N.Y. (Buffalo’s AHL affiliate) to a regular spot on the Dallas Stars blueline after a November 10, 2018, trade, perhaps finally finding a permanent NHL home at age 30. He occasionally partners on defense with fellow-Ukrainian Jamie Oleksiak, reacquired by Dallas in a trade with Pittsburgh to add an intimidating force on the backline. Taylor Raddysh is a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect with lots of scoring potential while older brother Darren may turn out to be a potential late bloomer as a depth defenseman for the New York Rangers. Makar was voted the NHL’s most outstanding first-year player, winning the league’s Calder Trophy. The 21-year-old led NHL rookie defensemen in goals (12) and power-play markers (four) in 57 regular season games with four game-winners. He earned 1,538 points (116 first-place votes) in the voting, besting Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes (1,337 points, 53 first-place votes). Fellow-Ukrainian Wayne Gretzky made the trophy presentation on September 21. Curtis Lazar was rewarded with a two-year, $1.6 million contract by the Buffalo Sabres after establishing himself as a dependable checking-line forward and an excellent face-off man. Brinson Pasichnuk was a college guy who in two-plus years found faith and transformed himself from a hard-partying jock with severe depression issues to an honors student, team captain, married adult and future San Jose Sharks defenseman. The Vancouver Canucks signed center Jayce Hawryluk to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 on October 19. On November 25, Johnny Boychuk abruptly announced his retirement from the NHL due to lingering effects from two eye injuries. In 725 NHL regular season games he scored 54 goals and 152 assists for 206 points. In 104 playoff games he added 13G-17A-30PTS. The New York Islanders acquired restricted free agent Dmytro Timashov from the Detroit Red Wings on December 11 in exchange for future considerations. Three defensemen were deemed the most outstanding Ukrainian stars during the pandemic-interrupted 2019-2020 NHL season. Makar was a top point producer for Colorado, Oleksiak was a physical presence and surprising offense producer for the Cup finalist Stars, and Adam Pelech’s return from injury spurred the Islanders to the Eastern Conference finals. The Tkachuk brothers, Matthew and Brady, were top Ukrainian forwards while defensemen Colton Parayko (Blues) and Jakob Chychrun (Coyotes) climbed their team’s respective depth charts with their improved games. In all, some 21 Ukrainians skated on NHL rinks in the most recent abbreviated hockey year. Kyiv’s Volodymyr Mula completed a groundbreaking documentary film titled “Uke” about contributions made by professional hockey players of Ukrainian descent in the National Hockey League, specifically those who were Stanley Cup champions. Mula’s research revealed that more than 50 players of Ukrainian extraction won the sport’s coveted trophy, including Gretzky, Terry Sawchuk and Ken Daneyko. The movie premiered on December 3 in 42 Ukrainian cities. Mula is hoping for a Canadian premiere in the fall of 2021.
Daria Bilodid (48kg) won gold at the Paris JUDO Grand Slam on February 8-9. Her ultimate quest for Olympic gold was temporarily put on hold with the cancellation of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. She was set to enter her first Olympics as the clear favorite, ranked No. 1 in her 48kg. weight class since 2018. She won seven gold medals in 2018, four in 2019 and the Paris Grand Slam in 2020 – an amazing body of superior achievement. The Olympic gold awaits her in 2021.
Anzhelina Terliuha (55kg) won gold at the Premier League in Dubai on February 15, qualifying her for the Tokyo Olympics in KARATE.
Daniil Boldyrev won gold at the European ROCK CLIMBING Championships in Moscow on November 21, winning the speed competition with a time of 5.69 seconds.
Ukraine won seven gold medals (17 over all) at the European SHOOTING Championship 10-meter (rifle, pistol and running target) on February 23-March 2 in Poland. Gold medalists were Galina Avramenko (women’s 10-m running target mixed), Hlib Kihitov (junior men’s 10-m air pistol), Kristina Hilevych (junior women’s 10-m running target), Marharyta Tarkanii (junior women’s 10-m running target mixed), Viktoriya Rybovalova, Avramenko and Valentyna Honcharova (women’s 10-m running target), Denys Babliuk, Danylo Danilenko and Andrii Drachuk (junior men’s 10-m running target, in two different events held on February 26 and 28).
Nadia Mokhnatska won gold in freestyle SKIING at the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup in Kazakhstan on February 27-28.
Four Ukrainians – Illya Balashov, Maryna Mchedleshvili,
Oleksandr Pieliekhov and Yaroslav Shtyker – set a new group parachute acrobatics record on February 13-14, beating out SKYDIVING competitors from 27 other countries.
In SOCCER news, Mykola Shaparenko (Dynamo Kyiv) and Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar Donetsk) are diamonds in the rough for their Ukrainian Premier League clubs and Ukraine’s national team. Midfielder Bogdan Mykhailichenko, 23, signed a four-year contract with Belgian club RSC Anderlecht on August 3, reportedly paying a 500,000 euro transfer fee. Shakhtar Donetsk’s former coach, Mircea Lucescu, was named the new coach for Dynamo Kyiv on July 23. The 74-year-old Romanian coached Shakhtar in 2004-2016, winning a UEFA Cup and eight Ukrainian championship titles. In 2019 he was dismissed as head coach of Turkey’s national team. He replaced Oleksiy Mykhailychenko who was fired after serving as coach for nearly one year. Dynamo Kyiv bested Ukrainian Premier League champion Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 to win the Ukrainian Cup on August 25 in Kyiv – its ninth Super Cup and first for new manager Lucescu. Ukraine defeated Switzerland 2-1 as part of League A, Group 4 play in the UEFA Nations League on goals by Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko on September 4 in Lviv. Ukraine stunned Spain 1-0 in a home match at Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on October 13 – the first-ever victory over the 2010 World Cup champions. Viktor Tsygankov fired home a shot past David de Gea off a pass from Yarmolenko. The clean sheet was earned by fourth-string goalkeeper Georgiy Bushcan. The UEFA Appeals Body declared the Nations League match between Ukraine and Switzerland as a forfeit by the Ukrainian Association of Football. The match was to be played on November 17 and did not take place due to the decision by Swiss doctors to put the entire Ukrainian squad into quarantine after several players tested positive for COVID-19. The ruling relegated Ukraine from the Nations League’s top tier (League A). Ukraine and Atalanta (Italy) midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi was rated as the most valuable Ukrainian football player according to rulings by Transfermarket. The German-based website valued the 27-year-old at 21 million euros. Rated second was Manchester City left-back Zinchenko at 20 million euros, followed by Dynamo Kyiv’s Tsygankov at 19 million euros. Ukraine has drawn Group D with France, Finland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kazakhstan in the FIFA World Cup draw held on December 7 in Zurich. Each group winner of 10 European national team groups qualifies for the World Cup, which is scheduled for November 21-December 18, 2021. The Ukrainian Association of Football appealed the cancellation of the Nations League match versus Switzerland to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration in Switzerland. On December 11 it was announced that a panel of three arbitrators will decide whether the match would be re-scheduled, an outcome would be determined by drawing lots or the forfeit would stand. Experts predict the match will be re-scheduled and played prior to March 2021.
Oleksii Novikov won the 2020 World’s Strongest Man competition on November 15 in Bradenton, Fla., becoming the youngest athlete to win the STRONGMAN honor. The 24-year-old, who is 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, broke the partial deadlift world record with 537.5 kg in only his second outing in the annual competition. He lifted a 1,185-pound bar 18 inches off the ground.
Ukraine’s synchronized SWIMMING team won five gold medals at the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series in Paris on March 6-8. Anastasiya Savchuk and Marta Fiedina (women’s duet technical and duet free routine), Fiedina (solo free and solo technical), Kateryna Reznik, Anastasiia Soldatenkova, Savchuk, Fiedina, Vladyslava Aleksiiva, Alina Shynkarenko, Yana Nariezhna, Maryna Aleksiiva and Olesia Derevianchenko (women’s team highlight event), women’s team free combination and women’s team free event. Mykhailo Romanchuk set a new European record in the men’s 800-m freestyle (7:25.73 seconds) at the International Swimming League in Budapest, Hungary, on November 20-22, besting the previous record by four seconds.
Top-seeded Elina Svitolina captured a title, winning the Abierto GNP Seguros final in Mexico on March 8. Seventeen-year-old Marta Kostyuk won the ITF World TENNIS Tour singles title in a February 23 match in Cairo, Egypt. She also won the doubles title with Russian partner Kamilla Dakhimova. Fifteen-year-old Daria Lopatetska, a winner of two ITF titles one month earlier, for a sum of five total titles already to her name, may just be the next Ukrainian tennis prodigy. Elina Svitolina defeated two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-1, 10-5 to win the first leg of a non-WTA exhibition match in Berlin on July 17. Svitolina later decided to opt out of the U.S. Open due to COVID-19 concerns. Dayana Yastremska defended her decision to share photo shoot images on social media which showed her partially in blackface, while also apologizing to anyone she may have offended. Native Argentine (Ukrainian on her mother Irene’s side) Nadia Podoroska made history at the French Open on October 16 by becoming the first-ever qualifier to reach the women’s singles semifinals. She stunned fellow Ukrainian Svitolina in straight sets and became the first female qualifier in 21 years to reach the final four of any Grand Slam. She defeated three other qualifiers and four rounds of opponents prior to engaging with Svitolina in the quarterfinals. After playing and winning eight matches in 15 days, Podoroska was dismantled by Polish teenager Iga Swiatek in the semis. Her WTA ranking improved from No. 131 to No. 47 by year’s end.
Anhelina Khmil and Tetiana Lazarenko defeated Daria Romaniuk and Anna Checkelnytska (21-18, 21-19) in an all Ukrainian final to win gold at the 2020 CEV U-18 Beach VOLLEYBALL European Championships on September 17-20 in Turkey. Yevgenii Boiko and Vladislav Omelchuk captured gold in the men’s division, beating a pair of Russian players (21-17, 10-21, 15-11) in the final.
Dmytro Chumack (109kg) won gold at the World Cup of WEIGHTLIFTING in Rome on January 31-February 7. Iryna Dekha won gold in the women’s 76kg division.
Semen Novikov (87kg) won gold in the Greco-Roman final at the European WRESTLING Championships on February 10-16 in Rome. Yuliya Tkach (62kg) won gold in women’s freestyle.
Ukraine’s junior hockey team won gold at the third WINTER YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES on January 9-22 in Switzerland. The gold was won by the 3X3 boys “green” team, and Volodymyr Troshkin was named player of the tournament.
Losses to the sports world
One of the first players to become an unconditional free agent in the NHL was Dale Hawerchuk in the summer of 1995, when he signed a three-year deal for $7.5 million with the St. Louis Blues. “Ducky” went on to tally 518 goals and 1,409 points in 1,188 games over 16 seasons, retiring at age 34. Playing in Gretzky’s shadow, Hawerchuk never truly received the acclaim and recognition he deserved. A protracted battle with stomach cancer claimed Hawerchuk at age 57. Most recently, the Hall of Famer was the head coach with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts.
Four-time Stanley Cup winner Eddie Shack passed away on July 25 in a Toronto hospital after battling cancer. In 1,047 career NHL games over 17 seasons he scored 465 points and accumulated 1,431 penalty minutes.
In diaspora sports news, The Ukrainian Athletic-Educational Association Chornomorska Sitch men’s volleyball squad won the Garden Empire Volleyball Association’s B/BB Volleyball Tournament on January 26, defeating AMF in the finals, three sets to two.
Fifty-three skiers and snowboarders competed at the 66th annual races of the Carpathian Ski Club at Hunter Mountain on February 29. Rostyslav Stepanenko and Christina Silver won trophies for fastest male and female skiers. Competitors ranged in age from 4 to 76.
After 46 years in Manhattan, the Ukrainian Sports Club of New York announced its move to Brooklyn on September 13. The club expects to expand its youth program beyond soccer and volleyball to include chess and table tennis once COVID-19 safeguards are lifted.
Ukrainian Matthew Onyshko is in a legal battle with the NCAA, claiming some 20 concussions he endured while playing college football for Division II California University of Pennsylvania (1999-2003) caused his degenerative brain disease, ALS. His case is currently being appealed following a preliminary verdict clearing the NCAA of negligence. Lawyers believe they lost their case because of technicalities. The hope is for a sympathetic jury to produce an avalanche leading to more plaintiffs and lawsuits with potential financial loss and negative fallout for the NCAA.
The fall 2020 issue of Sports Illustrated featured Ukrainian Daniel Romanchuk in its Scorecard’s Faces in the Crowd section. The 22-year-old Paralympian, who has spina bifida, was acknowledged for setting an unofficial record for a wheelchair racer with his time of 1:13:57 seconds, covering 26.2 miles at the virtual New York City Marathon in October 2020. Romanchuk was using the virtual race as a training run, but unexpectedly went off on a record pace. The official world record was 1:20:14 seconds, set by Swiss Heinz Frei in 1999.
The Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame announced its inductees for the class of 2020 on November 24. The class included seven professional athletes, a new category recognizing all Ukrainians whose name is on a Stanley Cup (54 names), nine Olympic/world athletes, eight amateurs, 11 builders of Ukrainian sports, one in the “Team” category and four “Legacy” organizations. The class of 2020 will be inducted along with next year’s class in mid-2021. Notable inductees include baseball player Paul Konerko, Olympian Yana Klochkova (swimming) and Svoboda/The Ukrainian Weekly (Legacy).