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Lydia Gunko: Ukrainian athletes prepare for 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics under shadow of Russia tensions


And it is in one of those new sports — women’s monobob in the bobsled — that Lydia Gunko will be representing her country.

Gunko, Ukraine’s first female bobsledder at the Winter Olympics, is hoping her appearance will have an impact back home, telling CNN’s Selina Wang that it is “extremely important … for the development of this sport in Ukraine.”

However, Gunko’s Winter Games debut comes with a tense situation between Ukraine and Russia.

Tensions between the two countries have risen over recent weeks after thousands of Russian troops moved to the border between the two nations.

Ukraine’s sports minister has already said its athletes should stay away from their Russian rivals — who, like in Tokyo 2020, are competing under the ROC banner again because of a doping scandal — at the Games, and that Ukrainian athletes have been briefed on how to behave in case of “provocations.”

And for the 28-year-old Gunko, she is sticking to the guidance given, but the conflict has weighed on her mentally ahead of the Games.

“We are clearly not friends with the Russian athletes,” Gunko told CNN. “We have to train and perform with them but because their country wants to violate our integrity, we cannot have easy contact with them.”

She added: “You try to distance yourself from all of this during competition and training. Of course, in real life, you can’t isolate yourself because many friends and acquaintances suffered from Russia’s actions.”

Gunko herself has family in both Ukraine and Russia and says that “of course” both sets will be cheering her on.

“We are one family and we must support each other.”

Short track speed skaters Semyon Yelistratov (right) of the ROC and Oleg Gandei of Ukraine train at the Capital Indoor Stadium ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

‘It’s a bit crazy’

Like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, extra precautions have been put in place at this year’s Winter Games to try to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

A strict bubble has been implemented, isolating competitors and team staff from the outside world.

What is called the “closed loop” by Olympic organizers — a system of multiple bubbles, including venues, conference centers, and hotels, connected by dedicated transport — it’s been designed to keep the Olympics separate from the rest of the Chinese population.

Everyone in the bubble is tested daily and has to upload their temperature to an app on a regular basis.

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Gunko herself has been training and isolating as much as possible before the Games to avoid a possible exposure. Even her bobsled was Covid tested upon its arrival in Beijing.

She called the safety measures “crazy,” but says it’s all worth it as it’s an “honor” to compete at the Games.

“We have to agree to their terms, but it’s a bit crazy.”

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