Anna Solovey might have earned a silver medal in the UCI world championship elite women's individual time trial, but she revealed in the post-race press conference that she will be unable to bring the honour to her Ukrainian home town of Lugansk, because it is in the heart of the confict between the pro-Russian rebels and the Ukraine government and too dangerous. She has become a refugee in her own land.
It is rare that a medallist’s response in a World Championships press conference produces total silence amongst the journalists, but it’s fair to say that by the time Solovey had completed her answer to a fairly run-of-the-mill question about her professional future in the press room in Ponferrada on Tuesday, you could have heard a pin drop.
“I don’t know what I’m doing next year,” the 22-year-old said in often broken English, “because I have problem in Ukraine. I haven’t money with my team, because of problems with my country.”
“I did [prepared for] the World Championships in the track. I live this day because I’m from Lugansk, and I need to go to another city because of problems in Ukraine. I think you know what happens in Ukraine. I’m so sorry.”
Solovey fled the conflict by moving to Lvov, the only town in Ukraine with a velodrome, and 1,400 kilometres to the west, where she prepared for the Worlds, as she said, combining the track and five-hour rides on the road. On Tuesday she succeeded in taking silver after clocking the best times in the intermediate check points, but then getting overhauled by Lisa Brennauer in the closing moments of the race.
Solovey, 22, has had a chequered past of her own. Twice a junior world time trial winner, in 2009 and 2010, in 2011 she tested positive for steroids and was suspended for two years before returning to racing in 2013.
Asked by a small group of journalists later about the positive test, Solovey responded “it was three years ago, what is the problem. It’s three years ago. What can I say. I’m living this day and this year.”
Training right now in Lugansk, as she pointed out, without a trace of irony in her voice, it “is dangerous”, hence her preference for life in Lvov and riding on the track.
“It is difficult, because I have no money from my competition. In one year, i have done only one race [in France]. I can’t go anywhere because my federation can’t give me any money.”
With only four riders in her national team, she has no professional squad, either for 2014.
Maintaining her training program in such circumstances for the road Worlds, she said, came down to pure determination. “I wanted to come here, and I think about the Olympics. I have [a] big dream, and I want it. I have the best team and the best coach.”
Although she does not rule out moving on from her internal exile and leaving the country altogether, Solovey hopes she can stay. “I really like my country and I hope to stay there. I can only hope it [the political situation] gets better.”
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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