Google – AFP, Alexandre Fedorets (AFP), 21 February 2014
Ukraine's Valj Semerenko, Olena Pidhrushna, Juliya Dzhyma and Vita Semerenko
celebrate after winning the Women's Biathlon 4x6 km Relay at the Laura Cross-
Country Ski and Biathlon Center on February 21, 2014 (AFP, Odd Andersen)
Rosa Khutor — Ukraine on Friday raced to a famous victory in the women's team biathlon relay at the Sochi Olympics, dedicating their inspirational performance to a nation grieving over the deadly violence that claimed dozens of lives.
The president of Ukraine's Olympic Committee, former pole vault great Sergey Bubka, said the victory could help unite his country and bring peace after days of clashes between security forces and protesters.
The team led from the start in the 4x6 km relay race, finishing in 1hr 10min 2.5sec, defeating second-place Russia by 26.4 seconds. Norway took the bronze.
Ukraine's Olena Pidhrushna crosses the
finish line in the Women's Biathlon 4x6 km
Relay at the Laura Cross-Country Ski
and Biathlon Center on February 21, 2014
(AFP, Odd Andersen)
"We are proud of them. We supported from the stands with our ribbons of grief and our flags on which were written, 'For Peace! For Ukraine!'" said Bubka.
"We dedicate this victory to all the Ukrainian people. I believe that in this hard time for the country this medal can unite us and make peace, calm and prosperity reign in Ukraine," he added.
Vita Semerenko, a bronze medal winner earlier in the Games, started the race with fiery determination and her lead was bolstered by the little known Juliya Dzhyma on the second leg.
Valj Semerenko, twin sister of Vita, had a shaky final standing shooting, missing three targets, but Pidhrushna held her nerve to keep Russia's Olga Vilukhina from taking the gold for the hosts.
-'Tears for the whole country'-
Before their post-race press conference, the girls had held a minute of silence to remember the victims of the carnage that left nearly 100 dead.
"We gave our people some positive feelings," said Pidhrushna of the race.
Pidhrushna's husband is Olexiy Kaida, an MP for the strongly anti-regime nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) Party. But she said the victory was for all Ukrainians.
"This joy is for them all. For those who are standing on the Maidan and for the other side as well," she added, referring to Independence Square in Kiev which is the hub of the protest movement.
She said her husband had "protected me from everything that is happening at home."
"We only know the minimum of what is happening there and that is a good thing," she added.
Valj Semerenko admitted she could not hold back her emotions on the podium for the flower ceremony after the race.
"When I was on the podium I couldn't stop crying. I tried to calm down and was trying to hide it behind my skis."
"They were tears of happiness, not only mine, but of the whole country, our team."
Her sister Vita added: "We haven't realised it yet. It is the dream of a whole lifetime. Our dream and the dream of the whole of Ukraine has come true. We are champions."
There had been speculation that Ukraine's team could even leave the Olympics because of the violence at home but Bubka had insisted they should stay to help unify the nation.
Pidhrushna said the troubles at home had not affected their preparations as they had tried simply to concentrate on the race.
Tora Berger of Norway, who anchored her country to bronze, said that Ukraine fully deserved their victory.
"I'm very happy that Ukraine won today. I saw the news on TV, The situation there (Ukraine) is terrible," said Berger.
"They were the best of us today and won this race deservedly."
Until Friday, Ukraine had endured a relatively poor Games, with just the one bronze medal won by Vita Semerenko in the women's biathlon sprint.
The athletes themselves had not worn black armbands to remember the dead, in line with IOC stipulations that sports events should not be used for any kind of demonstrations.