When armed conflict broke out in Ukraine in 2014, modern pentathlete Iryna Khokhlova saw no choice but to leave her homeland behind her.
The 26-year-old from the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine represented her birth country at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she finished in 10th place. But just two years later she took the decision to emigrate to the homeland of her Argentinian boyfriend and fellow pentathlete Emmanuel Zapata.
“It was a very hard decision, but I could not live in my country anymore,” Khokhlova explains. “There was nothing to live on, and going to Argentina helped me a lot.”
After the couple married in November 2014 Khokhlova was granted Argentinian citizenship and she first competed under her new flag in 2015. Now, she is set to become the first woman to represent Argentina in modern pentathlon at an Olympic Games, after she qualified for Rio 2016 through her position in the world rankings.
Zapata and Khokhlova first met in 2009 during a junior competition in England and after that they started talking on Facebook. Over the following years, they met up regularly while competing around the world on the World Cup circuit.
“After London (2012) we became officially engaged,” says the 29-year-old Zapata. “It was still a long distance relationship, though, until we got married two years ago.”
The Argentinian, who will be making his Olympic debut, says that it would be too much to hope that both husband and wife could make it onto the podium in Rio, but he thinks that there is no reason they can’t achieve that goal at a future edition of the Games.
“We know it would be a bit unrealistic to think we can both win medals [in Rio]," he says. “Especially for me, as this is going to be my first time competing at the Olympic Games and I’ll be up against athletes from many countries with a tradition in modern pentathlon. But we’re still young and there are more Olympic Games ahead of us.”
The Modern Pentathlon competition starts today, Thursday, August 18.