Olympic medallists: ''Tatarstan believed in us''

How participants of the Olympic Games in South Korea (Pyeongchang) had a heart-to-heart talk at a meeting with Vladimir Leonov

Only one week has passed since the end of the Olympics in South Korea (Pyeongchang), while Tatarstan Olympians managed to win the World Cup and start training. However, nobody deprived them of festive laurels that presuppose victories at the Olympic Games. After the presidential reception, Anna Nechayevskaya, Andrey Larkov and Milena Bykova met with Minister on Youth Affairs and Sport of Tatarstan Vladimir Leonov where the athletes were honoured once again and congratulated on their merits. Realnoe Vremya's correspondent was at the meeting and found out why the Olympians chose Tatarstan, why skier Larkov is a ''double-dealer'' and what plans winter sport had in Tatarstan.

About difficulties of Korean Olympics

''In general, these Olympics have been very uneasy for the country,'' Sports Minister of Tatarstan Vladimir Leonov mentioned about the story that wore down the Russians during the year. ''You all know the conditions the team went there in – it was decided whether they would go or not to Korea almost three months before the start. But it's a good job they plucked up the courage. This situation maybe strengthened the spirit. The team went, though without the flag and anthem. And even if many leaders had to remain at home, our skiers proved we're a strong team. It's a manuscript. This will be remembered and written many times, shot in films, which we have a lot now.

About Larkov and his bronze

Andrey Larkov's story is among those that one can write stories and at least shot a beautiful short-length film about. But Andrey Larkov became ''a man, not a boy'' inside the Volga sports academy where a picture of him symbolically opened.

''Mr Larkov, I'm bowing to you,'' Leonov addressed newly baked bronze medallist, skier Andrey Larkov formally. ''And I'm also expressing incredible support. Here at least all Zelenodolsk, all Tatarstan and the country supported you. Thank you on behalf of the fans. You've spent all life here. It's an amazing success.''

Andrey Larkov's bronze deserves a separate story. Realnoe Vremya's correspondent asked the very skier how Andrey managed to get the medal in a complicated fight:

Andrey, during the race, Kazakhstani skier Poltoranin was third for a long time. How did you manage to go ahead of him and another numerous group of skiers and occupy the third place?

It's a very long story consisting of many nuances. In a word, Poltoranin chose a higher pace than he could and, consequently, was tired. His power left him by the finish. While I just substituted the skis, they slid very well, and I approached the guys who were not far from Aleksey for almost two circles and then caught up with Aleksey. At the finish, as people say, I couldn't look back and needed to go ahead only.

Andrey Larkov's bronze deserves a separate story

Did you have inner confidence you would do it?

When we were on the last lap, all started tactical games. Nobody wanted to go ahead. Nevertheless, I knew I felt good, and my skis worked better than that of the others.

Andrey also told the journalists about the ''life after the Olympics'':

Aren't you afraid of all these events?

No, the meetings are very pleasant. But they really break the working schedule. Yesterday we had a competition, and I didn't perform well there because there are constant meetings. And an athlete has constant training, there is almost no free time.

In this respect, how tough is it to prepare for new competitions of less importance after the Olympics?

Actually, there is a desire, you know. Power for another month of performances remains. One needs to switch the phone off (laughing) and purposefully prepare for the rest of the season. The start is on 16 March.

About Anna Nechayevskaya and her decision to perform on behalf of Tatarstan

Anna Nechayevsakaya started to perform on behalf of the Republic of Tatarstan relatively not a long time ago. Anna was born and started to do skiing in native Vologda Oblast. However, as it often happens, Tatarstan was more attractive from both the perspective of infrastructure and support of authorities. And in the talk with the journalists, the very skier repeated many times the attitude she faced both at the Olympics and after deeply touched her.

''I want to thank for your support,'' Anna took the floor at the meeting. ''For all words and wishes. Of course, we want to always gladden you with results, so that you won't be disappointed at us.

I've never had such support from authorities when you personally talk on the phone when people constantly write you. Many thanks for it and for supporting both my parents and my school. It's incredibly pleasant to get it all,'' Nechayevskaya was touched.

Anna Nechayevsakaya repeated many times the attitude she faced both at the Olympics and after it deeply touched her

After the event, in the talk with the journalists the skier admitted she was already tired of the laurels that collapsed on her upon arrival from Korea:

To tell the truth, when our race ended, and emotions were running high, there was some internal devastation, emotional devastation. When we got home, we wanted to have a rest but we haven't so far managed because attention, messages, calls are everywhere. I even wanted to hide from everybody. But it's pleasant, of course. I want to decently end the season and go on a deserved holiday.

You chose Tatarstan. Why?

I think every region has its own merits, its pros and cons. I don't want to offend anyone. Vologda Oblast also did a lot for me, and the Republic of Tatarstan is doing a lot and supporting me. They always keep in touch with me, many thanks to them for it.

Did emotions remain for another big event in your personal life?

We've been together with Nikita for about five years, and one expects it, of course. But what happened at the airport was a pleasant surprise. We're thinking little about the preparation for the wedding, but everything will be clear at the end of April when the council of coaches is. And I will know exactly whom the camp will be with.

About Tatarstan figure skaters

''We're glad for our Evgenia Tarasova, of course,'' Leonov didn't forget about the figure skaters who competed in Pyeongchang. ''They, unfortunately, couldn't come because they are already training. Figure skating gains speed, we have traditions. And we all are glad about this victory. Even if we have nuances, we didn't manage to win a medal in singles, we're one step from the bronze. Anyway, it's a big experience for them, a big story. But I'm sure the guys won't stop and will fight further on.''

About Tatarstan's snowboard

Another athlete who was present at the meeting with the minister and later with the president of the republic on that day was snowboarder Milena Bykova. Unfortunately, she couldn't win a medal in Korea despite the status of one of the strongest snowboarders of the world. After the Olympics, Milena headed for a World Cup stage to Turkish Kayseri and even managed to become the best there by winning Olympic champion Ester Ledecká from the Czech Republic. And the simple fact that Milena took a revenge almost one week later after the heat in Pyeongchang means she simply wasn't lucky in Korea. The snowboarded also started to compete on behalf of Tatarstan not a long time ago. And as the very athlete admits, an especial attitude attracted her as well as Anna Nechayevskaya in the new republic (she was born and did sport in Ufa).

''Many thanks to all Republic of Tatarstan,'' the athlete took the floor. ''Many thanks to President of the Snowboard Federation Denis Belov and my coach because here the Republic of Tatarstan believed in me, but I hope all is to come. We will try, work.''

After the Olympics, Milena headed for a World Cup stage to Turkish Kayseri and even managed to become the best there

Elena Vyalbe's blessing

Three-time Olympic champion and multiple USSR champion – legendary Elena Vyalbe – played not the last role in the formation of skiing in our republic. Thanks to her lobbying in Zelenodolsk, such attention started to be paid to skis, and coaches from northern regions of the country started to come for snowboarders. And, of course, this day wouldn't be complete without her parting words.

''Many thanks to the Republic of Tatarstan,'' said the renowned Soviet athlete. ''We've closely cooperated with the republic for six years. And the first real fruits were in the world championship last year when athletes from Tatarstan appeared in the final. And they managed to prove at the Olympics that all our work wasn't in vain. Might all Republic of Tatarstan do sport. And I can say without any envy that there are possibilities to develop any sport here: might biathlon, skiing, figure skating develop.''

By Erik Dobrolyubov. Photo: mdms.tatarstan.ru