Expectations are high for Kyiv’s Olympic champion biathlete Yuliia Dzhima ahead of next month’s Winter Olympic Games. So how is Ukraine’s best medal hope dealing with the pressure?
Most Ukrainian winter athletes would love to be in the enviable position of Kyiv’s Yuliia Dzhima. Already an Olympic champion, the 27-year-old biathlete is one of Ukraine’s few athletes to be considered a favourite at next month’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Now in her prime, Dzhima has shown a string of recent successes in biathlon’s biggest events. She is the reigning European champion in the sprint, and added a silver and bronze in the pursuit and mixed relay. There was also a second world championship silver medal last year in Austria.
Her successes have led her to the podium in two World Cup races this year, winning bronze in both the 15km individual and 7.5km sprint events in Sweden.
Ranked No. 9 in the world, Dzhima is looking to become Ukraine’s first-ever two-time Winter Olympic medalist.
The Pressure of Success
The biggest pressure for Dzhima – and the rest of Ukraine’s female biathletes – will certainly be in defending their 2014 Olympic championship in the relay. The same team will attempt to repeat – and three are ranked in the world’s top 15 (Vita and Valj Semerenko are at No 6 and No 13, respectively).
The relay team has been a powerhouse since 2011. In that time, they’ve claimed four European championships, two world championship silver medals, and the coveted Olympic gold in 2014. That race was legendary.
Taking place at the height of EuroMaidan, just hours after many protesters were killed by police snipers, the team not only had to put that out of their minds, but had to contend with a Russian team – at home – featuring three women sanctioned for doping violations. The women skied to a remarkable 26.4 second victory over the runners up – the now-disqualified Russians. Their celebration is memorable for its emotion. They were denied permission to wear black armbands, but had media observe a minute of silence at the post-race press conference.
Painting the Pressure Away
As the only Ukrainians expected to medal in PyeongChang, the relay team is facing immense pressure at home, which was evident after a recent fifth-place showing at a World Cup race in Germany. The frustration of public comments led Dzhima to take to her Facebook account to respond. “It’s disgusting when you look after yourself, do your job well, and still read these comments,” she writes. “What’s shameful is when men don’t give up their seats on the metro or don’t hold the door for a woman. That’s what is embarrassing. Not our results.”
And what is there to be ashamed of? The team is still a favourite in PyeongChang and Yuliia is looking to improve on her seventh place finish in the 15km race in Sochi. Be sure to check out the team’s rifles – Dzhima has painted them with wonderful Petrykivka drawings.
The talent and patience required for those paintings fit well in a sport where talent and patience is vital while shooting. After all, it was Dzhima that built a 15-second advantage using just that skillset in that memorable race in Sochi four years ago.
For Dhzima, there may be no better way to buck the pressure than behind the paintbrush.
Don’t miss Ukraine’s women’s biathlon team go for gold on 22 February at 15.15 on UA: First.