A group of former top athletes from Russia and other ex-Soviet republics who reside in the US have launched a campaign they hope will draw Americans’ attention to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia and help warm US-Russian relations in the process.
“Sports for us is not political,” said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a member of the Soviet women’s gold-medal team at the 1981 World Cross Country Championships in Madrid, referring to the fellow athletes in the group from Russia and other former Soviet republics, including former Olympic and international champions, who turned out for this weekend’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” marathon in Washington DC.
At a small tent near the finish line Saturday, Pozdnyakova was joined by Lyudmila Petrova, a runner who competed for Russia in the 1996 and 2004 Olympics; 2000 Richmond Marathon winner Irina Suvorova; and Firaya Sultanova, a long-distance runner from Russia who competed in the 1996 Olympics. Others too turned out to support the campaign they have dubbed “Road to Sochi”.
Passing out their own flyers and answering questions from passers-by about Sochi, Pozdnyakova said: “We need to let people know about the Olympics and about our very beautiful city, because something like this, it can help relations between our countries.”
That, say organisers, is exactly what they are hoping for. Though their “Road to Sochi” project is not affiliated with the International Olympic Committee or the Russian Olympic Committee, participants in the initiative say the Winter Olympics to be held next winter in the Russian Black Sea resort are a matter of national pride for them and they want to help spread the word.
The project was started by the American-Russian Sports Association “Harmony” (ARSA) and the American Association of Russian Women (AARW). The Washington race was the first of five marathons the group’s members say they plan to attend across the United States this year, armed with their own Sochi information booth, photos and information about the venue for next Winter Games.
“The average American doesn’t know much about Russia, and they know even less about Sochi,” said Pavel Krapiva, ARSA president. “So we have information, and we hope people will get excited.”
“Our main goal is to provide as much information as we can share with those who are interested in a new form of cooperation,” said AARW president Larysa Petrenko, who moved to the United States from Russia in 2011.
“Sport is the most straight forward way to unite people of different nations and religions, because it’s very easy to understand, it’s a very friendly environment,” she said. It’s a way for Russian Americans to share their culture and heritage and help to enrich their new country, she added.
“We are part of America and part of Russia, and so the Sochi Olympic games gives us a unique opportunity to unite our differences and use sports as an instrument to bring these nations together,” said Elena Orlova, a Russian American with several international marathon wins to her credit.
Orlova had high hopes to win the Washington marathon Saturday, but was forced to drop out after 16 miles due to an injury.