US sliding sports support Ukraine

USA Luge Marketing Manager Dmitry Feld poses at the entrance of his office building on Church Street, Lake Placid, Monday, Feb. 28, shortly after the Ukrainian flag was posted next to the American one to show support for his home country. Feld was born in Russia and grew up in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union. He moved to the U.S. in 1979. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — United States sliding sports teams are rallying around the Ukrainian flag — literally and figuratively — after the Russia military invaded the country on Thursday, Feb. 24.

The support is most apparent at the USA Luge office on Church Street, Lake Placid, where on Monday, Feb. 28, the red-white-and-blue American flag and blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag greeted people at the front door.

USA Luge Marketing Manager Dmitry Feld was born in Russia and grew up in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv during the Soviet Union years. He spent time competing on the Ukrainian luge team before moving to the U.S. in 1979. He arrived in Lake Placid in 1984, first as a luge coach. In 2001, he took a job with USA Bobsled & Skeleton before coming back to USA Luge five years later.

“Everybody knows here the loyalty that Dmitry has to his home country,” USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said Tuesday, March 1. “And he had asked, as a show of support, whether any of us here had an issue with showing our support with Ukraine by hanging a flag next to an American flag here.”

There wasn’t any issue, so they took down the USA Luge flag out front and replaced it with the Ukrainian one.

Ukrainian luge athlete Yulianna Tunytska competes during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games at Beijing, China. (Provided photo — National Olympic Committee of Ukraine)

Ukraine sent six luge athletes to the Olympic Winter Games at Beijing, China, in February. In men’s singles, there were Anton Dukah, 26, of Lviv; and Andriy Mandziy, 34, of Kremenets. In women’s singles, there were Yulianna Tunytska, 18, of Kremenets; and Olena Stetskiv, 27, of Lviv. And there’s the doubles team of Ihor Stakhiv, 22, and Andrii Lysetskyi, 24, both of Lviv.

The luge team is based in Lviv in the northwestern part of the country. There is no ice track in Ukraine, so athletes train on other European tracks, but there is a wooden luge run in Kremenets.

“I spoke with the Ukrainian luge team this morning,” Feld said Monday, “and I asked them if they need any help direct from us. They said they don’t need, as a federation, help from us but they said if we individually would like to donate money, we can donate to the Red Cross or to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine so they can buy more defense, ammunition to fight Russians.”

Leahy said it’s important for the International Luge Federation (FIL) to decide how to move forward with regard to Ukraine and Russia.

“We hope they do the right thing here,” Leahy said. “The right thing to do right now is they (Russia) should have no involvement at this point with regards to any international federation until the Russian government decides to leave Ukraine alone.”

The Ukrainian luge doubles team of Ihor Stakhiv and Andrii Lysetskyi competes during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games at Beijing, China. (Provided photo — National Olympic Committee of Ukraine)

USA Luge has had a good working relationship with the Russian Luge Federation over the years, Leahy said.

“But when politics enters sport, I think everybody needs to do what the right thing is to do,” he added. “So we support our member nation and our friends in Ukraine, and I hope the FIL puts aside their personal relationships they have with the Russian Luge Federation, which has been very good to us over the years, but it sends a message that what’s going on right now is not right.”

On Wednesday, March 2, the FIL Executive Board convened an emergency meeting in response to the situation in Ukraine and issued a statement:

“The military invasion into Ukraine by the Russian and Belarus governments is condemned in the strongest terms by the leadership of the International Luge Federation (FIL). The war being waged against the Ukrainian people is unacceptable and is in stark contrast to all the principles that we, as an international Olympic sports federation, stands for. The very serious and tragic situation in Ukraine is being monitored by the FIL with great concern.”

The FIL said it is in regular contact with the Ukraine Luge Federation and will support its athletes, coaches and officials and “with all available resources.”

The FIL Executive Board took the following action and will last until further notice:

– The FIL hereby condemns in the strongest terms, the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian and Belarus governments.

– Russia is ineligible to host any FIL sanctioned events.

-All Russian athletes, coaches and officials are excluded from all FIL sanctioned events.

– Russian representatives appointed by the FIL Executive Board to various Commissions and Working Groups are suspended from their positions.

– The FIL will initiate an investigation into certain derogatory and disturbing social media posts by Russian athletes directed at Ukraine.

Also on March 2, the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation Executive Committee discussed the recommendations published by the International Olympic Committee on Feb. 28 and unanimously decided to suspend the Bobsleigh Federation of Russia until the next Congress in July.

“It is crucial to emphasize that this is a stand against the breach of the Olympic Truce and IBSF fully supports the recommendations of the IOC regarding no participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials,” the IBSF stated in a press release.

“It is equally important that IBSF stands together with all its athletes in all its member federations, and the decision is not aimed against athletes. We are here to protect our values, and we accentuate our values of integrity and solidarity with this decision.”

On Tuesday, USA Bobsled & Skeleton posted a Facebook message of support: “USA Bobsled/ Skeleton stands united with Ukraine. We strongly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and fully support the IOC’s recommendation to ban Russian and Belarussian athletes and officials from participating in international sports,” the page states.

Ukraine had one bobsled athlete in Beijing — Lidiia Hunko, 28, monobob — and one skeleton athlete –Vladyslav Heraskevych, 23, of Kyiv — who flashed a sign at the Olympics: “No war in Ukraine.”

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