It’s hard to find a more recognizable figure in the “paddocks” of any international cross-country skiing competition than that of Yelena Vyalbe.
To get the idea of how impportant that athlete & manager is to modern skiing we would have to remind you about her – truly milestone – achievements
– Career 81 FIS Cross-Country World Cup podiums – 2d only to Marit Bjorgen
– Of which 45 wins – only tBojorgen and Bjørn Dæhlie won more times
– Five overall crystal globes of World Cup winner. Triple Olympic champion and 14 ( that’s 14, folks!) times world champ. In 1997 in Trondheim won 5 golds in all 5 races she took part in.
– president of the Russian Cross-Country Ski Association since 2010
– manager of the Russian cross-country team in 2004-06 and since 2012.
– member of the FIS Cross Country Skiing Executive Board
With that collection of achievements an titles no wonder Vyalbe is instant attention magnet. It’s pretty hard to walk with her through the “wax trucks town” that springs to life outside any competition venue these days – so many international coaches and sportsmen want to say hello and hug the Russian. Tone sure, not everybody is that friendly – some limit themselves to a polite hello : the Russian skiing is not having an easy time since its Sochi medalists were suspended as a result of the McLaren Report back in 2016. But most colleagues appear to be genuinely delighted to greet a woman who in many ways represents both the past and the present of xcskiing.
And it’s not just about titles. Vaylbe is she is also universally known for her bold and direct style – and of speaking her mind.
So when she says “Let’s talk less about doping and more about actual skiing. I feel tired about the same things over and over and over again” – you know she means exactly that . It’s a not a pre-condition – there’s a genuine desire in her voice to spend limited time we have talking about the sport to which she came as a 14 year old prodigy from the city of Magadan ( do find it on the map – you’ll see that “far” sometimes means “very far indeed”.
It so happens that we share her belief that conversations about doping and “ who said what about whom” this year seriously threaten to eclipse actual heroes of the tracks and their achievements – or failures.
Besides, the issue of doping/disqualification would come up anyway in conversation because you can’t completely avoid the subject that affected the Russian team so much the last couple of seasons
Our conversion went for much longer than pre-agreed “20-25 minutes” – we will publish it in two portions (as we don’t believe anybody these days has time to long-read type stories regardless of content and form)