Joy at last for Ukraine as biathlon quartet win women’s relay gold
Ukraine scored a famous victory in the women's team biathlon relay, with an inspired performance from its quartet of Olena Pidhrushna, Vita and Valj Semerenko, and Juliya Dzhyma to push the two favourites lower down the podium.
The team led from the start in the 4x6 km relay race, finishing in 1 hour 10 minutes 2.5 seconds, with a gap of 26.4 seconds over second-placed Russia (Yana Romanova, Olga Zaitseva, Ekaterina Shumilova, Olga Vilukhina). Norway’s highly fancied team (Fanny Welle-Strand Horn, Tiril Eckhoff, Ann Kristin Aafedt Flatland, Tora Berger) came in third, a further 11.2 seconds behind, to claim the bronze.
As she crossed the line, Ukrainian anchor Pidhrushna was embraced in delight by her tearful team-mates.
“This was very important for us. It’s the Olympic Games!” declared a delighted Pidhrushna. “We’ve been training for this moment for years. We knew that we were strong, that we had a great team, and now we’ve done it. We are truly very happy!”
Vita Semerenko, who won bronze in the women’s biathlon sprint, started with fiery determination, giving Ukraine an early lead that was then bolstered by the little known Dzhyma on the second leg.
However, Ukraine then had to bounce back from a shaky bit of shooting from Valj Semerenko, as the twin sister of Vita missed three targets from the standing position, but Pidhrushna held her nerve in a final sprint for the finish to hold off Russia's Vilukhina.
The dream of a lifetime
Valj Semerenko admitted she could not hold back her emotions during the flower ceremony.
“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,” she revealed. “They were tears of happiness, not only mine, but of the whole country, our team.”
Prior to their gold in the relay, Ukraine had endured a relatively poor Games, with just the solitary bronze medal won by Vita Semerenko to show for their efforts.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Vita, who like her twin sister is an Olympic Solidarity programme beneficiary.
“It’s the dream of a whole lifetime. Our dream and the dream of the whole of Ukraine has come true. We are champions,” she added.
Meanwhile, Russian anchor Vilukhina, who shrugged off illness worries to compete in the relay, was ecstatic about her team’s performance.
“I’m incredibly happy,” said Vilukhina after anchoring Russia to the silver medal. “I’ve never felt so happy.
“As I was skiing the last leg, I tried not to get myself too wound up. I went to rest area, closed my eyes, and had a short nap. I used that time to focus, and it meant I could go into my leg at 100%,” she revealed.