“Sasha” Abramenko has done it again. By winning silver in the aerials event Feb. 16, he again picks up Ukraine’s only medal at the Winter Olympics and in the process becomes Ukraine’s most decorated Winter Olympic athlete of all-time.
A few names roll off the tongue when you think of Ukraine’s Winter Olympians: Oksana Baiul, Ukraine’s first Winter Olympic champion; Vita Semerenko, who won two medals at Sochi 2014; and even Victor Petrenko, who would have been Ukraine’s first Olympic champion had Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee organised a few months earlier.
Add Sasha Abramenko to that list.
Abramenko continues to collect accolades as he blazes a path of success at the Winter Olympics unlike any Ukrainian before him.
Now competing at his fifth Olympics, Abramenko became Ukraine’s first male Winter Olympic champion by winning the country’s only medal at PyeongChang 2018.
But this latest was his most difficult yet.
Battling positive COVID tests that felled several of his teammates and took away his chance of winning multiple medals in China, as well as dealing with the upsetting coverage of Russia’s military build-up back home, Abramenko settled in to deliver a performance for the ages.
“For me it was scary. Each day when I came to take the COVID test – it was a terrible feeling because I know my teammates feel OK but have bad results”, he told the Kyiv Post after the venue ceremony.
“So, when I went for my tests, I thought ‘just good, just good, not COVID, not COVID’. It’s a crazy thing – a crazy Olympic Games.”
Abramenko carried the country’s colours at the Closing Ceremonies in Korea – and then again at the Opening Ceremonies here at Beijing 2022 – showing just how long he’s reigned as Ukraine’s greatest Winter Olympic athlete.
While Ukraine’s biathletes still have a few chances left to join him as medal winners at Beijing 2022, as it stands now, Abramenko will win Ukraine’s only medal at two straight Winter Olympic Games.
His gold and silver also mean he has become Ukraine’s most decorated Winter Olympic athlete of all-time, edging ahead of biathlon legend Vita Semerenko, who picked up a bronze in the women’s sprint at Sochi 2014 before helping the relay team to its emotional gold medal shortly after the deaths of the Heavenly Hundred.
Sasha Soars to Super Silver
They say experience breeds comfort – and Abramenko had both in spades in Beijing.
He qualified comfortably for the finals by nailing his opening jump to be one of the six automatic qualifiers. Teammate Oleksandr “Sasha” Okipniuk joined him as one of 12 finalists by sticking his second jump to qualify seventh.
Abramenko played it safe in his first finals jump, comfortably sticking the landing to become one of the six to qualify for the final round.
Okipniuk missed his landing on his opening jump and had to regroup for his second try, where he was able to move up to 9th – four spots out of the finals.
The six finalists made it easy on the judges, each choosing the identical Back Double Full-Full-Double Full – the most difficult jump in the sport – to gain extra points for degree of difficulty.
Abramenko hit a mostly clean jump, with some leg separation in the air and a slight touch of his hands on the landing.
The jump was good enough to put the 2018 champion into the lead with four athletes still to go – but had Ukrainians on edge knowing that his score of 116.50 had been beaten over a dozen times at the competition.
Ukrainians’ nails grew shorter after China’s Guangpu Qi put down a monster 129.00 to take the lead, moving Abramenko into second with still two athletes left to jump – the top two from the opening finals round.
The Ukrainian team started to celebrate when Switzerland’s young Noe Roth could only manage a 111.50, meaning Abramenko was guaranteed a 2022 medal to go alongside his PyeongChang 2018 gold.
When ROC’s Ilia Burov landed a 114.93 – giving the silver to Abramenko – the cheers turned to tears.
Teammates, federation officials – even members of Ukrainian press – couldn’t keep their eyes dry after Abramenko won Ukraine’s most emotional Olympic medal since the women’s biathlon team in 2014.
Even NOC President Serhiy Bubka – an Olympic legend in his own right – literally gave Abramenko a ‘tip of his toque’ and a bow, an enormous sign of respect in Ukrainian culture.
“I told him that I am taking my hat off in front of him – and I did that”, Bubka told the Kyiv Post after the competition.
Ukraine’s Future in Aerials is Bright
While Abramenko cemented his Olympic legend at Beijing 2022, the performances of young teammates Okipniuk and Rivne’s Dmytro Kotovskyi should be lauded.
At his first Olympics at just 23, Okipniuk’s Top 10 finish was better than he ever achieved at five junior world championships, where his best finish was 12th in 2018.
At 21, Kotovskyi is already one to look out for. He nearly won a junior world championship medal in 2019, when he finished fourth, and was Ukraine’s top jumper at last year’s world championships, when he finished sixth.
He missed out on the Beijing 2022 finals by less than 1.50 points.
The future is bright for Ukraine’s aerials program – and they now have a bona fide Olympic legend to lead the team along the way.
“I think all people are all really happy that I won the first medal at this Olympic Games”, Abramenko told the Kyiv Post.
“I’m really happy that everyone was watching me and that they get enjoyment from my results.”
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