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For the week of August 30 through September 5, 2000

Ukrainian biathletes are straight shooters

Sun Valley a training ground for 2002 Olympics

"The U.S. athletes were pleased to train with us because we are world leaders. And we got to see a different type of training."

Nadia Bilova, co-coach, Ukrainian women’s biathlon team

Express Staff Writer

On Friday morning, five Ukrainian woman were at the Sun Valley Gun Club, each completely absorbed in drawing up their weapons. They then settled into a motionless stance, staring down the barrels of their .22-caliber rifles.

First one, then another made a slight move of their trigger fingers, and shots cracked in the air.

With the severest economy of time and motion, they moved the bolts of their rifles and fell absolutely still again, ready to fire the next round.

This is a typical morning for the Ukrainian women’s biathlon team in their training schedule of four days on and one day off here in Sun Valley.

Once they finish 30 minutes of shooting, they either run or bike to get their heart and respiration rates up.

Then with pounding hearts and heaving chests, they try to calm themselves enough to shoot steadily again.

Biathletes ski a certain distance with a rifle on their backs, and when they reach a target area, they have to stop, collect themselves, then shoot small targets at 50 meters (approximately 164 feet).

Olena Petrova, 27, Tatyana Vodopyanova, 27, Nina Lemesh, 27, Oksana Yakovleva, 19, and Tetyana Rud, 23, have been in Sun Valley for the past week training for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah. Three other members are not here: Olena Zubrilova, 27, Oksana Khvostenko, 23, and Natalia Tereshchenko, 24.

According to the International Biathlon Union (IBU), the governing body of the sport, two of those women are among the top 10 biathletes in the world. Zubrilova is ranked second and Petrova ninth. In 1998, Petrova won a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Nagano.

The team’s head coach, Roman Bondaruk, said it takes a long time to develop a biathlete. He said that typically, the peak years for a biathlete are between the ages of 28 and 33. He noted that the No. 1 woman biathlete in the world is 33-year-old Magdalena Forsberg of Sweden.

His co-coach and wife, Nadia Bilova, said that before coming to Sun Valley the team trained in Park City, Utah, with their U.S. counterparts.

"The U.S. athletes were pleased to train with us because we are world leaders," she said. "And we got to see a different type of training."

Training, according to Bondaruk, is similar among all the teams. It’s the "nuances" of "biological rehabilitation" [recovery after competition] and preparing athletes just before competition that’s different, even secret, among countries.

He noted two particular challenges as a coach. The first, he said, is finding talent.

"In our sport it is most difficult to identify athletes with the personal qualifications to do the two necessary things—running fast, shooting calm," he said.

The second, he said, has to do with training biathletes to be in their best form throughout the long season from November to March. He used the German biathlon team’s performance in last year’s IBU World Cup competition as an example. He said that because of the coaching, the German team peaked in performance in December and steadily declined through the following months.

Time is everything in the biathlon, since the biathlete with the best time wins. Each athlete gets five shots at five targets. Every missed target means a time penalty.

There are four competitions in the Olympic biathlon—the 15 kilometer, the 4 x 7.5-kilometer relay, the 7.5 kilometer and a new competition for the 2002 Olympics called pursuit. In pursuit, the fastest biathletes from each country pursue each other in an attempt to pass the leader. Since each biathlete is handicapped according to her speed, the start times for the first and last runner can be significant.

The Ukrainians found their way to Sun Valley mostly through the efforts of Laryssa Temple, a Ukrainian married to an American.

Temple, who has served as an attaché, translator and organizer for the team for the past nine years, said she had been working on getting the Ukrainian team to train in Sun Valley because "it is what the athletes need" to prepare for 2002.

She said once the Sun Valley Co. agreed to partly host the team, others started to join in. Just a few of the people, businesses and organizations she named and thanked were Rick Kapala, Hans Muehlegger, Formula Sports, the Elephant’s Perch, Sturtevants and the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce.

Before the biathletes leave for a rest in Florida on Sept. 10, a good number of valley residents will get to see them. They will be riding in the Wagon Days Parade.


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