WASHINGTON, March 18 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) A group of former top athletes from Russia and other ex-Soviet republics who reside today in the United States have launched a campaign they say they hope will draw Americans’ attention to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia and help warm US-Russian relations in the process.
“Sports for us is not political,” said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a member of the Soviet women’s gold-medal team at the 1981 World Cross Country Championships in Madrid, referring to the fellow athletes in the group from Russia and other former Soviet republics, including former Olympic and international champions, who turned out for this weekend’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” marathon in Washington DC.
At a small tent near the finish line on Saturday Pozdnyakova was joined by Lyudmila Petrova, a runner who competed for Russia in the 1996 and 2004 Olympics; 2000 Richmond Marathon winner Irina Suvorova; and Firaya Sultanova, a long-distance runner from Russia who competed in the 1996 Olympic Games, along with others who turned out to support the campaign they have dubbed “Road to Sochi.”
Passing out their own flyers and answering questions from passers-by about Sochi, Pozdnyakova said: “We need to let people know about the Olympic Games and about our very beautiful city, because something like this, it can help relations between our countries.”
That, say organizers, is exactly what they are hoping for.
Though their “Road to Sochi” project is not affiliated with the International Olympic Committee or the Russian Olympic Committee, participants in the initiative say the Olympic Games to be held next winter in the Russian Black Sea resort are a matter of national pride for them and they want to help spread the word.
The project was started by the American-Russian Sports Association “Harmony” (ARSA) and the American Association of Russian Women (AARW). The Washington race was the first of five marathons the group’s members say they plan to attend across the United States this year, armed with their own Sochi information booth, photos and information about the venue for next winter’s Olympic Games.
“The average American doesn’t know much about Russia, and they know even less about Sochi,” said Pavel Krapiva, ARSA president. “So we have information, and we hope people will get excited.”
Sports is an ambassador of peace, he said, and while the US-Russian relationship right now is not exactly “prime time,” he added, “it’s much warmer than in the Cold War, and we want to do anything we can to help that relationship.”
“Our main goal is to provide as much information as we can share with those who are interested in a new form of cooperation,” said AARW president Larysa Petrenko, who moved to the United States from Russia in 2011.
“Sport is the most straight forward way to unite people of different nations and religions, because it’s very easy to understand, it’s a very friendly environment,” she said. It’s a way for Russian Americans to share their culture and heritage and help to enrich their new country, she added.
“We are part of America and part of Russia, and so the Sochi Olympic games gives us a unique opportunity to unite our differences and use sports as an instrument to bring these nations together,” said Elena Orlova, a Russian American with several international marathon wins to her credit.
“We have reset the relationship between Russia and the United States, and we are doing our best to enhance this relationship,” she added.
Orlova had high hopes to win the Washington marathon on Saturday, but was forced to drop out after 16 miles due to an injury.
Still, she said, sports in general and the Olympics in particular have a long history of bringing people together, and she is hopeful that by spreading the word about the games in Sochi, the same thing will happen again.