A team of eight young Russian biathletes in Utah for the International Biathlon Union’s 2022 Youth and Junior World Championships that ended Wednesday at Soldier Hollow aren’t being ostracized by their fellow competitors over their country’s invasion of Ukraine, a top U.S. biathlon official said.
“I haven’t seen anything like that. I think everybody recognizes these are young athletes that are not involved in anything that’s remotely political,” said Max Cobb, CEO of the Maine-based U.S. Biathlon Association and an executive board member of the International Biathlon Union in Austria.
“I think everybody’s been very respectful,” he said. “It’s a terrible situation for sure.”
The Russians, who are 19 to 21 years old, competed for the last time on Sunday, the day after the international federation took action to strip them of any national symbols, including their flag, Cobb said, his voice nearly drowned out by exuberant athletes at the Midway nordic skiing venue built for the 2002 Winter Games.
Now the union has gone further, voting late Tuesday to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from the season’s remaining world cup and other international competitions as a show of solidarity with Ukraine, now under attack from Russia with assistance from neighboring Belarus.
The action comes after the International Olympic Committee urged Russian and Belarusian athletes to be barred from competing in other countries, an extraordinary step taken “in order to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants.”
The decision means the Russian team, scheduled to leave Utah on Thursday, wasn’t able to participate in the final day of competition. There are no Belarusians competing, and Ukraine did not send any athletes to Utah. But the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag is flying above the finish line at Soldier Hollow to signal support.
“We’re trying to keep the atmosphere good here for everybody,” Cobb said. “This war is tragic. It’s hard to believe there’s a ground war in Europe in 2022 and our hearts go out to the Ukrainians who’ve been attacked and the very, very dire situation they’re in. It’s unimaginable.”
He said as a sports organization, “our part is around bringing people together and holding friendly competitions. It’s sad to see one of the very involved nations in our sport engaged in an offensive act like this. And tragic for the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian biathlon program.”
The casualties of the conflict entering a seventh day include a 19-year-old former Ukrainian biathlete Yevhen Malyshev, who died serving in the Ukrainian military. The union offered its “deepest condolences on the loss,” and condemned the aggression by Russia and Belarus, expressing hope for an immediate end to the war.
Cobb said the soldier hadn’t competed internationally, but was a junior level competitor in Ukraine until a few years ago. Biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting in a single race, started as a military exercise.
“It’s really hard,” Cobb said of hearing about the death. “It was really very sad.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly reported the Russian biathlon team did not compete after Saturday. They competed on Sunday.