Enver Ablaev is the head coach of the Ukrainian freestyle team. In October 2022, Enver visited our headquarters in Milan. Under his leadership, Oleksandr Abramenko won Olympic gold in Korea (2018), silver in China (2022), as well as silver at the World Championships in Deer Valley (2019).
With him, Enver brought the entire Ukrainian team to Milan after their training-camp in Switzerland, to individually tailor their garments for the upcoming season. This year is our second year fitting the team in VIST, and cooperation is already confirmed for next season too.
- Enver, let's recall the Olympics in Beijing in February 2022 and the performance of the Ukrainian freestyle team. You went to the Olympics titled as the coach of the 2018 Olympic champion and 2019 World Championship silver medalist Oleksandr Abramenko. What were the medal expectations before the Olympics in 2022? How was the team prepared?
- The entire four-year Olympic preparation process for the Games was built around team competitions, which was introduced for the first time in Olympic-history. Each training was lined up for these performances. The team was ready to fight for medals. I wanted the first gold in this new discipline. Unfortunately, covid made a last-minute impact, as our athletes began to get sick one by one. They were quarantined and the competing became impossible. The only ones who did not get sick in our team were Abramenko and me. It was a heavy blow. Everything felt “grey” … I thought that it was just a bad dream and I needed to wake up already. By some miracle, however, the guys managed to come back on track. They performed well. I think the judges deliberately did not let Oleksandr Okipniuk into the super-final. He successfully and confidently performed a more difficult jump compared to other athletes, and he was given such low points that everyone was simply stunned. Only Sasha Abramenko got into the super-final, where he took second place.
- Besides covid restrictions, was there pressure on other issues?
- No, absolutely not. Everyone was on an equal footing, I mean the athletes, except for the Chinese team, because they lived separately, not in the village, but somewhere else. Many athletes were not able to take part in these Olympic Games. For example, Dima Kotovsky had no symptoms, even minimal ones, no runny nose, no fever, completely normal state, but the test showed that he had covid. And he was not allowed to train. Because of this, we were unable to gather a team.
- How did Sasha Abramenko manage to win the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics?
- Sasha arrived to the Olympics in a completely different state than he was in the whole season. He was unrecognizably positive – it was almost as if he was floating above ground from his lightness. Everyone around was just surprised and asked: “what is with Sasha? he is completely different!” Do you remember how Sasha complained in training at the World Championships in Deer Valley? Nothing worked out for him, but he got ready for the start and took silver in the world champ. He can complain about everything during the whole season, but at important competitions, he knows how to pull himself together and perform successfully. That's what happened at these Olympics as well.
- After Oleksandr's victory at the Olympics in Korea in 2018, you got offers to work in other teams, but you refused and remained the head coach of the Ukrainian national team. Have you got job offers from other countries after Sasha's silver in Beijing and are you considering changing your job?
- The offers were in 2018. But when offers come often, and you always refuse, then they stop coming. Now there were no offers, but even if there were, I would still not accept them. I stay with the team because I have obligations before the athletes themselves. When I gathered all the young athletes and parents, I announced my obligations, and that I would do everything to ensure that they were the best and became champions. Perhaps not everyone will, but at least they will be stronger, they will be wiser. Therefore, I can’t just take it and say: “well, I’m leaving” (laughs).
- Today, the Ukrainian team came to our headquarters in Milan to individually tailor their kit. How long has the Ukrainian freestyle team been cooperating with VIST? Does ski clothing affect the quality of jumps?
- We started cooperating last year, from the 2021/2022 season. In freestyle, there is rather specific tailoring, namely for acrobats. This is neither skiing nor snowboarding, it is something in between, it should be special tailoring so that the guys can comfortably raise their hands in a way so that their jackets do not ride up. Last season we made our first order with VIST and it produced all the equipment for us - the team valued it deservedly. For sure, clothing affects the quality of jumps; if the athlete is comfortable and warm, then, most likely they jump easier. If they are cold and uncomfortable, their muscles are slow and they cannot concentrate, they think of one thing: how to keep warm. So, comfort with the equipment is, of course, very crucial.
How is the team’s training process during the hostilities in Ukraine going? Does the team have financial support from foreign partners?
- It has and it is very big. Thanks to the American Olympic Committee, most of our team stayed in the US almost all summer and trained at one of the best freestyle training facilities in Park City. The second part of the team trained in Switzerland, where the athletes and team coach received temporary protection status for Ukrainians, minimal nutrition, admission to training, and permission to study at school.
- What are your expectations for the next season 2022/2023?
- The team is ready, both boys (Oleksandr Okipniuk, Dmytro Kotovskyi, Volodymyr Kushnir, Maksym Kuznietsov) and girls. But competition is competition, it's always stressful. This being said, I think they will perform well this season.
An interview with Oleksandr Abramenko is published here.
P.S. Quick update on the successful weekend for the Ukrainian freestyle team in the European Cup in Ruka, Finland. Dmytro Kotovskyi claimed the podium with a silver medal on the 9th December whereas Oleksandr Okipniuk and Maksym Kuznietsov won gold and bronze medals respectively on the 10th December. Keep it up!