The Russian Speed Skaters hope to be able to compete internationally at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships and the ISU World Cups in the Heerenveen hub in January, but their run-up to the shortcut season has been difficult due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Paweł Abratkiewicz (POL), coach of the Russian ladies, travelled a bumpy road to be able to guide his athletes on the ice.
Paweł Abratkiewicz at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NED) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)
As a former international Speed Skater and a longtime coach, Abratkiewicz is used to frequent travel, but in 2020 travelling was not what it used to be in the previous decades. “There’s no international air traffic between Europe and Russia at the moment”, the Polish coach explains. “To travel from my hometown in Poland to the Russian training camp in Chelyabinsk, I had to drive 500 kilometers to the border with Kaliningrad first, then I had to cross the Russian border on foot to continue by taxi to the airport in Kaliningrad, where I could get a plane to Moscow and hop over to Chelyabinsk. It’s not easy and it’s very difficult to obtain the right visa as well.”
During the summer Abratkiewicz had not been able to travel to Russia at all, and he kept in touch with the skaters in online meetings. Without their coach’s support, the skaters themselves encountered a lot of other difficulties to maintain their fitness level as well. Abratkiewicz: “Due to COVID-19 they were often restricted to go out. Until June they were only allowed to go out twice a week with a special permit, so they could not even ride their bike.”
The Russian Ladies had their first training camp in June, but Abratkiewicz was not able to join them at the time. “I was happy to finally be able to travel to Chelyabinsk in July”, he says. “After a few weeks in Chelyabinsk we also had a training camp in the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi.”
From September the Russian skaters got better training conditions on the ice in Chelyabinsk and Kolomna, but they were not able to skate in Moscow anymore. “The Moscow track was turned into an emergency hospital for COVID-19 patients”, explains Abratkiewicz.
Olga Fatkulina (RUS) at the ISU Combined World Sprint and World Allround Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Despite all the restrictions, Russia, like many other countries was able to hold their national championships in a hub in Kolomna without public by the end of October. Olga Fatkulina won both the 500m and the 1000m, Yevgenia Lalenkova took gold in the 1500m, while 5000m world record holder Natalya Voronina came out on top of both the 3000m and the 5000m.
Natalia Voronina (RUS) at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Abratkiewicz was happy with the performance of his athletes in Kolomna: “The Ladies skated good races. Natalia’s 3000m and 5000m were really good. We’re happy to see that the level of our skaters has not dropped as a result of the difficult summer.”
Team Russia at the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Apart from the household names, who have been around over the past decade, Abratkiewicz also has faith in the new generation of Russian Ladies. “Elizaveta Golubeva came a strong second in the 1500m and she managed to win the Mass Start and there are a couple of youngsters with a bright future as well.” The 24-year-old Golubeva is formerly known as Elizaveta Kazelina, but she got married to Speed Skating colleague Kirill Golubev (RUS) last summer.
Although there are competitions on the national Speed Skating calendar in Russia, some skaters find it hard to stay motivated for training every day. Abratkiewicz: “Not all skaters are able to find the intrinsic motivation, so everybody is really looking forward to the possibility of international competition in January.”
Abratkiewicz allows himself to hope for international races in January, but he doesn’t take it for granted just yet. “A lot can change over the course of two months,” he says. “Even if the competition will go ahead as planned, we’ll have to figure out a way to get there, get clearance to travel, obtain the right visa and so forth. And even if the paperwork is all good, we still need to find a way to get to Heerenveen, which could be difficult if there’s still no air traffic between Russia and Europe. It won’t be easy, but it would be great for the athletes to get back to international competition.”