For the team from Ukraine, the momentary joy at the golden start to the Paralympics quickly turned into sadness and concern for their homeland. “They are still very quiet and thoughtful in the village,” reported Germany’s chief de mission Karl Quade from the athletes’ camp at the Winter Games for disabled athletes in Beijing. Having escaped the Russian war of aggression after a travel odyssey, the Ukrainians did not feel like celebrating after the first day, despite the lead in the medal table.
»Every day, the Secretary General of the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee shows me pictures of his family and how things are there. It’s all very dramatic,” said Quade, visibly moved. “That’s why it was certainly important for the team to get off to a good start. Above all, they want to set an example here and draw attention to blue and yellow in the world,” added Quade.
That was exactly what drove him, reported Grigori Wowtschinski after winning gold in the biathlon. “I cried every single day,” said the 33-year-old. ‘But I’m doing my best to represent my country. So that the whole world hears the name of Ukraine every day.” After Sunday, his country’s delegation was still among the top nations in the world, finishing second in the medal ranking behind China. Normally, many of the traditionally strong Russians would also be among the medal winners, but they were excluded by the International Paralympic Committee just before the games started last Thursday.
With the thoughts of home, Wowtschinski, who had been embraced by many opponents from other nations, also overcame the hardships of the adventurous journey via Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Italy and Turkey, he now said. “It’s a miracle we all made it here at all. We were on the road for four days and four nights,” added association president Valery Sushkevich. »And we had to overcome many hurdles. Many of our team members had to flee from bombs and grenades.«
Biathlete Wowtschinski confessed that it was almost impossible to concentrate on athletic performance. “There are more important things. I kept thinking about the war. To my country The people. The children.” In the end, that was exactly what gave him strength. “My gold medal is for peace. A lot of people are dying, it’s a catastrophe. Please stop this war!’ he begged. After all, his family is safe.
This is how the visually impaired Oksana Schischkowa, who also won gold in the biathlon, felt. “My thoughts are with my family, with everyone in Ukraine,” she said. It’s just sport, added Vitaly Lukyanenko, the third winner of the opening round, “but it’s still very important for our country”. Then he greeted the relatives from Kharkiv: “Stay strong!”
Finally, there was even something like a fourth Ukrainian victory. “This is for the people of Ukraine,” said biathlete Oksana Masters after her own gold race. The 32-year-old starts for the USA, but comes from Ukraine. She was born with several physical disabilities, most likely as a result of the 1986 reactor accident in nearby Chernobyl.
Masters grew up in three Ukrainian orphanages before being adopted by a Kentucky woman. But she never forgot her roots. “I’m proud to be Ukrainian and American and to represent both countries,” she said. “That’s the power of sport.” Masters also thought of the athletes from Russia and Belarus who were expelled because of the war. “I wish they were here and I hope peace will come soon,” she said. “In the dining room, one of them came up to me, hugged me, and cried. She really wanted to compete here, but had to go home. I can’t wait to race against them again.«dpa/nd