On the eve of Sochi 2014, the German biathlon and cross-country team’s technicians discovered, to their horror, that the grinding machine that they had transported 2,300km from Germany to southern Russia, had malfunctioned.
With just two days before the first event, that left them without the means to prepare the 60 pairs of skis needed by their biathletes and cross-country skiers.
Without preparation on the grinding machine, the skis would not have been prepared to competition standard, which would have placed the German skiers and biathletes at a huge disadvantage.
Sourcing new parts for the specialist machinery would have taken two weeks. At a loss, the German technicians turned to Thomas Pfüller, the General Secretary of the German Ski Association and Vice-President of Marketing at the International Biathlon Union (IBU).
Pfüller in turn contacted his Russian counterpart IBU First Vice-President Sergey Kushchenko.
Kushchenko was swift to act, requesting that the Russian team’s technicians, who used exactly the same type of stone grinder, allow the Germans to make use of the machine.
And sure enough, the following evening, the German techies were given full access to the Russian facilities, with their local counterparts even stepping in to lend them a helping hand configuring the equipment as required. After working through the night, the Germans managed to prepare their skis in time for the first event.
“Our technicians said helping our German friends would have no effect on our team’s performance and the time was available, so it was an easy decision,” explained Russian Biathlon Union Vice-President and two-time Olympic bronze medallist Viktor Maigurov.
A history of solidarity
“Once the competition starts, and until it finishes, we are rivals. But beyond that that we are all part of the biathlon family.”
The German team was full of appreciation for the Russians’ gesture, with the President of the German Olympic Sports Union (DOSB), Alfons Hörmann, claiming it was the first time during his time in office that he had ever witnessed such a display of solidarity.
However, according to Maigurov, it was not the first time the biathlon community had seen such solidarity between rival teams, citing a case where the ski boot had been on the other foot, with the Germans stepping in to come to the help of the Russians.
“There have been several other instances: for example, multiple Olympic gold medallist Alexander Tikhonov broke a ski during the anchor leg of the relay at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck and was given a replacement by the Germans. Russia went on to win the gold medal.
And the Russian official went on to stress the importance of such initiatives to ensure an even playing field.
“This cooperation is an important part of sports, because in the end, the best athletes will always win,” he added.