Four-time Olympic Gold Medalist Darya Domracheva Retires
Four-time Olympic Gold medalist Darya Domracheva closed out her biathlon career this afternoon, announcing her retirement in a press conference in Minsk, Belarus.
In comments made to the media gathered at the National Olympic Committee of Belarus, she explained her reasons, but started on a light note to those in attendance. “It was not easy for to get together with you; I thought about this for a long time, but it was finally time to dot the ‘i’.” Continuing, the mother of now almost 2-year-old Xenia added, “I tried to find a compromise that would allow me to raise a child and combine it with a sports career. Unfortunately, I did not find the optimal solution. This is a deliberate and difficult decision, but I am completing my sports career. My time in this great sport will remain unforgettable.”
Domracheva, in her typically gracious manner thanked everyone from fans and coaches to venue chefs who helped her along the way. “I want to thank all of those who have been around for these years, from my first coaches, my team and even the chefs finishing with the chefs at the training complexes, where I prepared. Great thanks to the fans that supported me in every race and victory. Thanks you to my family for always being around; thanks to the reporters who helped the fans and viewers enjoy my success. Most importantly, I would like to thank my country, for, in winning I felt they were not just my victories but for the whole of Belarus.”
Revered Hero of Belarus
The final comments were particularly poignant, because Domracheva holds a special place in her nation. She is the only woman on a very short list of eleven to receive the title “Hero of Belarus,” which was given to her after her three Gold medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Throughout the country, she is revered by everyone.
Those three Gold medals plus the Relay Gold from Pyeongchang 2018 put her in a league of her own, with the most Gold medals in Olympic biathlon history.
That final Olympic Gold medal was the crowning glory in a highlight-filled career for the 31-year-old, who was born in Minsk, but spent the first 15 years of her life in Nyagan, Russia where her mother was the chief architect for the new city. It was there that her talent surfaced. “I started at age six and beat all of the girls every time, so my coach had me compete against the boys. At that time, I realized I had some talent.” That talent quickly separated her from her peers. She won the Youth sprint/pursuit double at the 2005 IBU YJWCH in Kontiolahti, a venue that would always be a special place for her. She backed up those results with two Silver and a Bronze medals in the next two seasons as junior. At the same time, the future star made her World Cup debut in Östersund in 2006, with 16th place in the sprint as a 19-year-old!
Klaus: Good Man, My Hero
Domracheva improved rapidly under the caring tutelage of Coach Klaus Siebert. “He is very much a professional; Klaus is good for our team…But first he is a good person; he is almost like a second father to me.” She added, tearfully, about Siebert who battled cancer while conducting training every day, “He is my hero…seeing him, it was impossible to be a loser in training.”
Bumps and a Medal
Siebert saw her raw talent and refined her into a winner, despite a few bumps in the road. Those bumps included a prone/standing mix-up and cross-firing while leading mass starts on two different occasions. The big break came at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. She shot clean in the sprint, but finished 8th, just seconds from the podium. In the 15K individual, her life changed forever with a one-penalty Bronze medal, just 28 seconds from Gold. The weeks that followed were a whirlwind back in Minsk. “Interviews and other things; I was so tired that I am happy to be back at the World Cup,” she admitted a few weeks late in Kontiolahti. The new biathlon star claimed her first two World Cup wins taking the sprint/pursuit double at the Finnish venue.
Stunningly Gracefully, Powerful Skiing
From this point, the victories and honors piled up, with five IBU WCH medals in the next three seasons, including WCH Gold in the pursuit and mass start in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Each win was a combination of solid shooting and Domracheva’s stunningly graceful, but powerful fast skiing.
Queen of the Comeback
During this time, the Belarusian star became known as the “Queen of the Comeback.” She would miss shots early or in the middle of a pursuit or mass start and then storm back for the win. The final mass start of the 2011-12 season in Khanty Mansiysk was a perfect example. 19th after a first-stage penalty, then sixth, then first, then two penalties in the final standing; at which point, she blazed the last loop to overtake Tora Berger for the victory and win by 10 seconds. Domracheva attributed wins like that to her motto of “Never give up.”
Sochi, Her Finest Hour
The 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games was Domracheva’s finest hour. Ninth in the sprint, 31.8 seconds back was no disaster, but disappointing. She ate up the 31.8 second in the first loop of the pursuit, took the lead and Gold medal #1. She 15K individual confirmed her status as the woman to beat; one penalty and a 1:15.7 margin of victory over Selina Gasparin meant Gold medal #2. The mass start went 0-0-0-1, Domracheva led from just after that first clean stage, was never challenged; Gold medal #3 was secured. Darya Domracheva the biathlon star of the Sochi OWG was greeted by hundreds on her return to Belarus, leading to her “Hero of Belarus” medal.
After 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd in the World Cup Total Score in 2012-2014, respectively, the now triple Olympic Gold medalist added the missing piece to her trophy case, the big Crystal Globe for the 2014-15 season. She played a cat-and-mouse game with Kaisa Mäkäräinen all season; sitting just behind the Finnish star, trading wins and podiums. Domracheva finally took the Yellow Bib on Valentine’s Day after the Oslo sprint and held it until the last nerve-wracking day of the season, winning with 1092 points to 1044 for Mäkäräinen.
Exhaustion, Mononucleosis, Time Out and a Baby
The Olympic and Crystal Globe seasons took a toll, resulting in a mononucleosis diagnosis in spring 2015. Domracheva took the doctor’s orders, rested and sat out the next season, doing all of the things she missed for years. “This was the first summer that I spent time with my family in many years.” Recovered by fall, she stuck to the plan, trained as she felt anticipating a comeback the next season. That did happen but only after the surprise announcement of a pregnancy with future husband Ole Einar Björndalen and the birth of daughter Xenia on October 1, 2016.
As she promised fans, the new mother returned to biathlon in January 2017. She only managed two podiums in her abbreviated half season. Yet one was significant, a clean-shooting IBU WCH Pursuit Silver medal in Hochfilzen. It was on to the Olympic season.
Believe in Yourself
Pyeongchang was disappointing until her mass start battle with Anastasiya Kuzmina produced a Silver medal. That led to the Women’s relay where she took the lead after the prone stage and never looked back, taking her fourth OWG Gold medal. The importance of that medal came out when she said, “…It means that the day I decided to start biathlon was the right choice. There were a lot of challenges along the way. But days like these and these medals show how important it is to believe in yourself and in your team. Then all doors are open for you.”
One More Comeback
Last season was simply the icing on the career cake: nine podiums in World Cups including six wins. She won what turned out to be her final biathlon competition, the Tyumen mass start, by 1.8 seconds in “Queen of the Comeback” style, moving from 10th after the prone stages to the victory. “(After the last standing) I saw two athletes in front of me; I understood it was possible to fight if I wanted. So I decided to fight from the first meters of the loop. In the middle of the loop, I caught them…I pushed more to keep this position and luckily, I am here in first.”
That is where Darya Domracheva leaves biathlon, as a winner in sport and life.
The sports numbers are impressive: 81 World Cup podiums with 34 wins, 6 OWG medals (4 Gold), 6 IBU WCH medals (2 Gold).
In life, she is a doting mother, a devoted wife, businesswoman who loves to dance…and she and Ole served cake to the journalists at today’s press conference. Just how nice is that? That is Dasha…
Best of luck in all of your future endeavors from the IBU and Biathlon Family…
Photos: IBU Archive; Vladimir Nesterovich, Belarus Ministry of Sport and Tourism