Archive

No. 1, 2005

Vladimir Igorev, ,
Alexander Viktorov

A SKI TRACK 110 YEARS LONG


Russia's sports community preparing to mark a glorious anniversary

Winter sports are especially popular in Russia owing to its favorable climate. As a competitive sport, skiing is over a century old in Russia. Its skiing stars of the past ranked with the world's best, and their successors are carrying the torch on.

JSC LUKOIL, a sponsor of the RF national women's skiing team, stands out prominently among the oil companies that promote recreational and professional skiing.

Pages of skiing history

The peoples who resided on the territory of what is now Russia used skis from time immemorial. Hundreds of archeological finds bear witness to the venerable age of humanity's skiing tradition. For example, a fossilized ski no less than 4,300 years old was discovered outside Pskov, Russia.

In Russia, skiing emerged as a recreational and competitive sport in the year 1895 when Russia's first skiing society - the Moscow Skiing Club - was opened. The first Moscow Championships were held in January 1896 to be followed by a series of skiing competitions interrupted by World War I. The pre-WWI stage of Russia's skiing history was highlighted by the first national 30-km cross-country racing championships (Moscow, 1910) won by Pavel Bychkov, an ordinary worker. In 1913, Russia's top skiers Pavel Bychkov and Alexander Nemukhin had their international debut in the Nordic Games, Sweden.

Soviet Russia's first skiing championships were arranged in Petrograd in March 1919, when 75 best athletes of Petrograd, Moscow, Vologda, Yaroslavl, Rybinsk, Vyatka and Kostroma got off on a 25-km cross-country race. The winner, Vladimir Serebryakov of Moscow, became the first skiing champion of the Russian Socialist Republic. The first national championships among women were held only in 1921, with Natalya Kuznetsova placing first in a 3-km cross-country race.

It so happened that before the early 1950s Russian skiers did not compete in world championships and the Olympics. Nevertheless, they passed their first acid test - the 1954 20th World Championships in Sweden - with flying colors, winning four gold medals.

At that time, Swedish papers flashed headlines like The Skiing King Lives in Russia. And with good reason, too: after all, the Soviet skier, Vladimir Kuzin, who had won two gold and one silver medals at the Championships, received from the hands of King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden the sterling silver Royal Cup for his victory in the tough 50-km marathon race. Our women's team also put in an impressive performance there, Lyubov Baranova taking home two gold medals. In the 1956 Winter Olympics in Italy, Lyubov Baranova was the first Soviet athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. The men's team emerged victorious in a relay race thanks to Pavel Kolchin, the great Russian skier and the would-be great skiing coach.

In the late 1960s, a whole galaxy of first-magnitude Soviet skiing stars ascended to the pinnacle of fame, Galina Kulakova and Vyacheslav Vedenin being the brightest of them all. Galina Kulakova's crop of gold medals won in national championships - 39 - remains unsurpassed to this day. In 1970, she met with an accident which nearly killed her. According to doctors, the odds that she would ever make her comeback to big-time sport were less than one in a thousand. Nevertheless, she did it, making a clean sweep of all the gold medals in the 1972 Olympics in Japan and the 1974 World Championships in Sweden.

Another record belongs to Raisa Sme-tanina, a participant of five Olympics, who won top honors in the 1992 Olympics (France) at the age of 40.

Lyubov Yegorova, Larisa Lazutina, Anfisa Reztsova and Yelena Vyalbe - these names also went down in the 20th-century skiing history. Yelena Vyalbe's all-time highest rating remains unchallenged to this day.

Over more than half a century, Russian skiers accounted for a third of the gold medals awarded to the winners of 18 World Championships and 13 Olympic Games.

The most popular recreational sport

Many of the would-be champions made their first steps to world fame in public cross-country races. The annual Ski Track of Russia public race, Europe's largest in the number of contestants it draws, is now in its 23rd year. Recently it has been included in the calendar of the International Ski Racing Federation. The race is open to all professional and amateur skiers.

The event is very popular with many of the well-known Russian political figures, musicians and actors. Its motto is The Nation and I Opt for Sport. On February 13, 2005, more than 300,000 skiing enthusiasts of all ages took part in it, many famous sports veterans included.

Quite a few Russian companies arrange their own skiing contests for their employees, the LUKOIL-sponsored events being the most popular ones with thousands of white- and blue-collar workers and their families taking part. LUKOIL wants its employees to enjoy the best of health therefore it encourages them to do various sports in wherever parts of Russia its businesses are found. In January 2005, the LUKOIL Ski Track marathon was held for the fourth time drawing crowds of happy racers.

The great traditions of Russian sports skiing are being carried on, and numerous Russian skiing stars are scintillating in the constellation of the world's greats. Today, Russia's national women's team takes pride in its superior achievements. Yulia Chepalova, Yelena Burukhina, Olga Zavyalova and Natalya Baranova take the lead in the current World Cup and are favorites of the forthcoming World Championships and Olympics. The Russian team largely owes its successes to the solid financial backing from its general sponsor - LUKOIL. An official sponsor of Russia's Olympic team, LUKOIL earmarked over a million dollars for its financing in 2004 alone. To quote skiing queen Yulia Chepalova, the all-round World and Olympic champion, "the Company has been pursuing this noble cause since the 1998 Nagano Olympics. It pays Russian skiers handsome wages, even by western standards".

According to Alexander Grushin, the coach of the Russian men's national team, the latter "also gets its share of the cake" because some of its members defend the colors of LUKOIL-sponsored sports clubs.

Today, Russian fans are expecting new feats from famous Russian skiers.




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Oil of Russia, No. 1, 2005
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