The true measure of athlete is not about the amount of medals she or he won. It’s about lasting legacy – and yes, recognition factor. You could win all you like, ten times over – but if you are shy or somehow despise the attention of media and fans, you are not a true star.
On a contrary, a charismatic athlete remains a face of a particular sport long after she/ hung her gear.
Yelena Vyalbe was a major star on the ski tracks (and outside of the tracks) in 1990s. Some 20 years after she’s still a household name in Russia, a much bigger media figure than any of her current and recent champions.
Country’s main television channels literally fight to have her in their studios – often to opine on things that have nothing to do with cross-country skiing per se (e.g. latest sex-scandal around top Russian footballer – Google if so inclined)
It comes natural, almost expected that the Russia’s very first full-lenght, big-budget biopic about the life of a contemporary star is about Vyalbe. Needless to say,there is nothing of a kind elsewhere – Russia is still the world biggest skiing nation by numbers.
Clearly, Vyalbe’s life makes for a perfect movie script. Born in one the most remote places of the huge Soviet Union to a single mom, a mother herself at 19, Yelena fought her way to the top against all odds , to win unprecedented 14 world championshipa’ golds. And then, of course there was an impromptu speech in Trondheim when Yelena emotionally apologized for her teammates’ doping offenses to the packed stadium…
Young Yelena is played by her granddaughter, Angelina Vyalbe, a grown-up Yelena by a pro-actress Olga Lerman who had to undergo a rigorous ” xcskiing bootcamp” for the role.
The premiere in Russia is in February 2021 – the crew was lucky to finish the main shooting scenes before the Corona-crisis hit.
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