On the same day Oksana Shyshkova won a Winter Paralympic gold in the Women’s Biathlon in Beijing, her home city of Kharkiv was being bombed, as it has been for the last two weeks, by Russian forces.
For many Ukrainian athletes in Beijing, this is an impossible situation to be in, but they keep winning medals.
Anastasiya Khomutova, a Ukrainian-born Senior Lecturer of Sport at the University of Brighton, is training to be a Sport Psychologist. Her first piece of advice for the athletes is to stay grounded in the world of the tournament.
“Control the controllables.
“In a situation like this, there are so many things that we cannot actually control. And that what really hinders performance. So do whatever it is you’ve been doing every day, and, you know, stick to it.”
The thoughts rushing through the athletes’ head are also going through Khomutova’s. The worries she tells me are relatable to everyone who knows somebody in the country.
“A lot of my family members or my friends were in Ukraine, they managed to go to more safe countries now. Which is really a big relief.
“But many people did not have this opportunity. They’re still there, and it is absolutely terrifying. It doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. Even if it does, so many things have been destroyed already.”
Focusing on their sport does have its benefits, and it appears to be working for the Ukrainian athletes a stressful time.
They are currently second in the medals table, behind China, and have broken the medals record at a Winter Paralympics.
However, alongside this advice, Dr Khomutova told me that if she was the sports psychologist to the Ukrainian team in Beijing, she would also refer them to a clinical psychologist to help them with any mental trauma.
“This is something that they teach us to do. You need to be really careful with your limitations. There are some things you know, and some things you just cannot do.
“It doesn’t mean that you are a bad professional, it actually means that you’re good when you know your limitations.”
It is not only in her professional life that Khomutova is aware of her limits. She has found much that the things that she has learned in helping the athletes she works with also worked for her own life.
“I use quite a lot of relaxation techniques. Breathing is probably my favorite exercise, because through controlling your breathing, you get a sense of controlling everything else in your body and in your mind.”
Athletes are aware of the power of speaking out issues that affect them personally. Khomutova recognises the visibility Ukrainians in Beijing have, and also highlights the benefits of not bottling things inside.
“It’s important to talk about things like this. It’s really nice and useful to share emotions like this to admit that they happen.
“If you pretend that it doesn’t happen, it will probably not work out, because it will impact your well-being and your performance anyway.”
Find out more about Anastasiya Khomutova here.
Read more about the Ukrainian Paralympic athletes here.
Read more about how sport is reacting to the war in Ukraine here.