19 Days until Östersund: Ukraine Preview

19 Days until Östersund: Ukraine Preview

19 days and counting until more than 20 mixed relay teams fly out of the Östersund Ski Stadium in search of the first victory of the new season. Ukraine is one of the teams that could be battling for the podium in that first competition. They finished fourth at the IBU WCH, just over 15 seconds from a medal and would be very happy to get on the podium in the first competition of the season. The Ukrainian women were better than the men finishing fifth in the Nations Cup, just 19 points behind Italy, while the men finished seventh. Olena Pidhrushna, Juliya Dzhyma and Sergey Semenov led the team and will probably do the same this season. They will be missing the Semerenko sisters, but have a strong lineup of upcoming stars who will keep the team among the World Cup elite again this year.


19 Days until Östersund: Ukraine Preview

Olena, Juliya et al

Pidhrushna had an excellent comeback year for a lady who sat out one full season. Her seventh place in the World Cup Total Score was a personal best, one spot higher than her eighth in the 2012-13 season She started fast with two times third place in Östersund (15K and sprint) and really never missed a beat all season. The Sochi Relay Gold medalist scored points in 22 of her 25 competitions, with fourteen top 10 finishes. Her comeback season came full circle when she flew to her second career victory in the Canmore sprint. Poland's Krystyna Guzik was in control of the competition, 16.1 seconds up when Pidhrushna hit her 5th standing shot and headed to the finish, but picked up the pace dramatically in the last 2.5 K. With 700 meters left, she was in first by a mere one-tenth of a second. The Olympic Gold medalist continued to accelerate, flying through the final few hundred meters, finally winning by 7.5 seconds. That day, she commented, "I knew I was in third after the standing stage; then all of the sudden my teammates were shouting along the tracks shouting that I could win; it was very surprising!"

Solid Shooting; Ski Speed

The 2013 IBU Sprint World Champion missed podium at this year's WCH but her fifth place in the pursuit with a single penalty was just over 20 seconds out of the Bronze spot. Throughout the season, Pidhrushna was solid on the shooting range, with her one of two missed shots frequently being the difference between a top 10 and the podium. Her ski speed was maybe better than in her World Championship season of 2013 and the Gold medal season of 2014. After a full season of training with Coach Uros Velepec, Pidhrushna could easily be battling for a top 3 in the Total Score this season.


19 Days until Östersund: Ukraine Preview

Juliya

Dzhyma did not make it to the podium in an individual competition this past season as she did in the Olympic Year. However, it was her best season with 13th in the Total Score, including with five of her all-time top ten performances. Her best weeks of the season were just after the New Year in Ruhpolding where she finished 8th in the sprint and pursuit the first week and 7th in the mass start the next weekend. She capped it all with a clean shooting performance in Ukraine's nail-biting 1.2 second relay win over Germany in the Chiemgau Arena. The ninth place finish in the WCH mass start was her second-best individual result in a major competition. Last season, with her generally steady results means that a return to the podium is within reach for the 26-year-old this year.


19 Days until Östersund: Ukraine Preview

Team Effort

The women did not get to fifth in the Nations Cup with two women alone. With Valja Semerenko not in her 2015 World Championship form, young Irina Varvynets took up much of the slack with a breakthrough season that included some excellent results and shooting. The 24-year-old overhauled her all-time best results putting up seven of her ten best. That included a clean-shooting 8th in the Canmore sprint, 9th place with one penalty in the WCH 15K and one penalty in her first ever mass start in Oslo. Her 10-for-10 in the stressful WCH relay proved that Varvynets is the "real deal." Coach Velepec calls her one of the fastest (and most accurate) shots on the team.

The relay team scored some big points for the Ukrainian women, with their Ruhpolding win, second at Presque Isle and the fifth place in Oslo. They come into the season with the Semerenko spot open but plenty of talent to fill it. Beyond Pidhrushna, Dzhyma and Varvynets, their top training group included 7 other young women, all under age 24. The most prominent of this group includes the junior star Anastasiya Merkushyna and YOG Gold medalist Khrystyna Dmytrenko. The 21-year-old Merkushyna has some World Cup experience and is probably ready for a steady job at the top level of the sport.


19 Days until Östersund: Ukraine Preview

The relay team scored some big points for the Ukrainian women, with their Ruhpolding win, second at Presque Isle and the fifth place in Oslo. They come into the season with the Semerenko spot open but plenty of talent to fill it. Beyond Pidhrushna, Dzhyma and Varvynets, their top training group included 7 other young women, all under age 24. The most prominent of this group includes the junior star Anastasiya Merkushyna and YOG Gold medalist Khrystyna Dmytrenko. The 21-year-old Merkushyna has some World Cup experience and is probably ready for a steady job at the top level of the sport.


19 Days until Östersund: Ukraine Preview

Sergey Semenov

The highlight for Ukraine and their only medal at the IBU WCH came early in the week. Sergei Semenov had the fourth podium of his career and his first WCH medal with a Bronze in the sprint. Semenov's three other podiums have been in the 20K where he also won the small crystal globe in the 2014-15 season, so a sprint medal was a shock, albeit a pleasant one for him. He shot clean to finish just .7 seconds behind Ole Einar Björndalen. Semenov shocked everyone with this first podium of the season, commenting "The sprint is not my best event, so I was very surprised to do this...My goal was to shot clean and ski as fast as I could." That medal was the only one for Ukraine at the WCH.

Semenov's 21st in the Total Score was a personal best, with teammate Dmytro Pidruchnyi in 37th place, the next best on the team.

The Ukrainian men have a new coach this season with Juraj Sanitra now in charge. With Semenov as a team leader, Pidruchnyi and others like Oleksander Zhyrnyi will need to step up to bring the men's team closer to the level of the women.

Podiums and Medals

Looking to the new season, no one should be surprised to see a Ukrainian
athlete frequently on the podium. Their combination of established stars plus
some new young talents bode mean they could well win more than one medal next
February at the IBU WCH in Hochfilzen.

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