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A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

Olena PavlovaNews
Valentyna Tserbe-Nesina became a medalist at the 1994 Olympic Games thanks to her perseverance and will to succeed

30 years ago, at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, biathlete Valentyna Tserbe won the first medal for Ukraine in the history of our independent national team. The athlete from Zhytomyr finished third in the sprint, although she was not originally supposed to go to Norway or start in the individual race. She did not even have her skis for such competitions.

OBOZ.UA recalled how the biathlete came to her biggest sports victory on February 23, 1994, and in an instant turned from a reserve to a team star.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal
A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

According to Tserbe, she came to biathlon as a "grandmother" when she decided to move from Zhytomyr to Pryluky at the age of 18, where she got a job at a furniture factory and joined the section at the same time: "I remember coming to the ski center and meeting the coach. When I was doing my first run, I looked around. There were 5-6th graders Derkach and Lemesh next to me."

The competition in the national team before the 1994 Olympics was enormous. At the beginning of the season, Valentyna was not selected for the World Cup. And back then, if you weren't selected for the national team, you weren't taken on as a support player. However, Tserbe continued to train anyway, no matter how hard it was for her.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

The biathlete rented a cheap apartment with a skier friend, where they slept together on a single shell bed. Since there was no gas in the apartment, they had to cook on an electric stove until one in the morning.

Because their personal coach, Mykola Zots, could not leave his juniors behind, Valentyna went to Russia with the Chernihiv skiers for the season's "rolling" training: "I remember that the coach gave me the task of running 40 kilometers a day. In the morning I would come to training when no one else was there, and in the evening I would be the last one to leave. The fellow skiers were laughing: "Valia, the coach doesn't see, we won't tell anyone if you're sitting down." But the athlete did her best.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

As if on cue, in the pre-Olympic year, on the eve of the Ukrainian championships, the biathlete was badly injured. The doctor was relentless - she had to forget about the Games in Norway. However, Tserbe did not back down and held the fateful national championships on almost only injections. And this knee injury is still making itself felt.

In addition to all the challenges, Valentyna had huge problems with her equipment. During the last pre-Olympic selection in Tysovka, she lived with the Chernihiv juniors in a cold hotel, and dried her clothes after training on a makeshift fireplace. The day before the start, Tserbe's only overalls accidentally fell on the fireplace, burning her overshoes.

"I had to make 'bicycles' out of my overalls. I put on regular bologna pants and went to the shooting range. And in the evening, I asked Ira Korchahina, who had returned from the World Cup, for a training suit to start. The next day, the coach didn't recognize me in someone else's overalls. I borrowed shoes from Maryna Pestriakova, a Sumy skier. I put on her wet boots, which weighed several kilograms and started," the future star recalled.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

And under such conditions, Tserbe managed to win. The national team coaches still didn't want to include her in the main team, which had already been drawn up: "Even the management, after my victories in the race and sprint in the Carpathians, came up to me and quietly asked: "Didn't you eat anything there?", meaning doping... "

Nevertheless, Valentyna was taken to watch the World Cup in Ruhpolding, Germany, where she was impressed by everything from the culture and unusual cleanliness to the luxurious tracks and stars like Usha Dizl in the neighborhood: "On the course, I was looking around and worried that I was disturbing them. A real shock!" But the debutant proved herself well and went on to the stage to Antercelva.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

At a competition in Italy, Zerbe ran the first leg of the relay and finished fifth with a good time. After that, the team leader, who hadn't seen her in the lineup at first, breathed a sigh of relief: "Hurray! We found a starter." So, for the 1994 Olympics, Valentyna was selected as a reserve with an eye toward team racing.

"There are many more such moments in my career. Starting with the festive way Dynamo sent off its athletes to Lillehammer, while I was sitting in the hotel thinking that I didn't deserve it, and ending with the way I was given Nadiia Filatova's Olympic outfit. And if it wasn't for the intervention of my first coach, Oleksandr Priadko, I would have been left with an Adidas cap burnt on the fireplace. But there's no point in continuing to mention this. Because the Olympics is first and foremost a celebration. I had a unique chance and I took it," Tserbe-Nesina later said.

Tserbe Biathlon

And then, in 1994 in Norway, Valentyna was not supposed to start the individual race at all. But then she was helped by a mistake made by her colleague Olena Petrova, who got lost in the individual race, confusing the laps. At the last minute, the coaches decided to give Tserbe a chance, saying that they would watch her before the relay. And at her third international start, she rewrote history.

And Valentyna didn't even have skis: "I took the only skis of junior Nina Lemesh, which her brothers bought her. It's a miracle that they went in that weather, I'm not even saying they helped me run, but at least they didn't interfere! And only after everyone realized that I had won the bronze medal and had to go to the podium, they quickly handed me new branded skis. Later, those skis were stolen from Lemesh."

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

Of course, the unknown Tserbe was not among the leaders of the Olympic sprint. And coach Vasyl Karlenko warned: "The skis don't go - we shoot at zero. If the rifle is bad, we shoot at zero. That's exactly what I did - I passed two firing lines without missing a shot."

On February 23, not many were able to shoot back. The treacherous course in Lillehammer crippled many medal contenders due to its rather serious climb before the firing line. Olympic champion Anne Briand from France and Germany's Petra Bele dropped out of the competition after the firing line, and the rack put an end to the chances of the titled Russian Anfisa Rezzova, who did not close any targets at all.

But the future Tserbe-Nesina was the first to finish the course after the standing shooting, beating Canadian Bedar by 10.1 seconds. Unfortunately, at the finish line, Valentyna lost some 1.2 seconds to her and a negligible one-tenth to Svetlana Paramygina of Belarus.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

But considering that Bedar came to the Games with a personal masseur and a cook, and Valentyna competed in someone else's equipment, our athlete's award looks like a real miracle: "While everyone else was running in a Mercedes, I was running in a Zaporizhzhia. If everyone had high boots, I was an old model."

But the dramatic denouement in the sprint came after Bedar's finish: Kazakhstan's Inna Sheshkil was on pace for second place on the last lap, which she would have taken, but fell 4 meters before the finish line, becoming second, and Valentina held on to her bronze.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

"I didn't believe that I would stay in the top three until the very end. I doubted it even when they called me to the podium. The first person I met on the way to the award ceremony was Elena Zubrilova. Her greeting went something like this: "You're just lucky!", as Tserbe admitted.

And since the athlete was not expected to win a medal that day, there were practically no team representatives at the stadium. Only an interpreter and doping officers were present. The interpreter, not knowing the biathlete's capabilities, warned her: "Valia, say anything. I will translate it properly."

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

"They started asking me about Ukraine. I said that we have not only Chornobyl. Then they asked about the collapse of the USSR. I noticed that there were two representatives of post-Soviet countries on the podium at once. "If there was only one country, it would be extremely difficult for us to get to the competition," I added. After that, the interpreter came up to me and apologized for his words at the beginning. And Paramygina joked: "Did you speak in Ukrainian so that I wouldn't understand anything?"

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

Probably the nicest thing that day was a greeting from her husband Anatolii, a military man by profession, who was in the hospital but managed to send her a telegram: "Congratulations." And as a reward, he later received branded gifts. The world champion Paramygina, who was already very famous in biathlon, invited Valentyna to go to a party at Adidas, where the medalists were presented with a leather jacket and a pair of XL T-shirts.

The bronze medal at the 1994 Olympics not only became a part of Ukraine's history, but also changed the life and career of Tserbe herself, who became a member of the main national team, with which she won the World and European Championships.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

Also, the bronze medal was paid 5,000 dollars back then, but the athletes received less after taxes. However, our diaspora from Canada decided to pay the interest for Valentyna, and the athlete received the full amount. And then she got a two-bedroom apartment in Pryluky.

"Oksana Bayul's coach insisted that we be received by the president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk. At that meeting, I was presented with a wooden box - now I keep my threads in it. At that time, I received gold earrings from the sports society, but no state orders or awards had been awarded yet. In 2002, I was awarded the Order of Princess Olha of the III degree," the athlete recalled.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

As Valentyna Adamivna admitted to OBOZ.UA in 2022, her historic award has probably been viewed by a million people: "And I let everyone touch it. And here I have the autograph of the first president of Ukraine. However, the medal is already tired, the Olympic rings are held on with superglue. I have to take it to the studio to fix the ribbon."

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

As for the main insidiousness of the Olympics for its participants, Tserbe-Nesina put it this way: "The most important thing is that the athlete does not wake up and decide that he already has an award. Conversely, there is no need to underestimate self-esteem when an athlete thinks he or she can't do anything. But many things inside an athlete are not visible to others: injuries, lack of sleep, skis not going the right way.

A Ukrainian woman won her historic biathlon medal in someone else's shoes and after her opponent fell: 30 years of our first independent Olympic medal

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