ECBU 2013 Country Preview: Ukraine
Number of active players: ~300
Notable beach tournaments: Kiev Hat
Past participation in beach championships: WCBU2011
Division participation at ECBU 2013: Open, Women
Ukraine is a country with a small ultimate community of less than 300 players. Nevertheless, there are 14 registered clubs, and another 5 are applying for registration. National championships are organized annually since 2006 on grass and since 2010 on the beach. With such a small community, how can it be that the Ukranian Open team is seeded so high?
Let’s go back to almost 20 years ago in 1995, when the first Ukrainian team was organized. It is hard to call it Ukrainian, because the only Ukrainian thing about it was the location in the capital of Ukraine – Kiev. Its players were mainly expats who brought the game back from the States. They picked up couple of locals and played only on the beach. Since Kiev is situated on the banks of Dnipro river, the players had a great choice of nice sandy playgrounds, one of which eventually became a home field for newly formed Meltdown team. The name of the team came easily: these were the mid-90s; less than 10 years passed since Chernobyl catastrophe, and topics like radiation, x-rays, acid colors and electronic music were fairly popular in Ukraine.
In 1998 Meltdown went to its first tournament to Bologna, Italy. They participated in Paganello many times, and the brightest result they achieved was the “Spirit of the Game Award” in 2001. This was not something unexpected, since a year before the first Ukrainian team took the same trophy in Pouliguen, France, playing the “Yes But Nau” beach tournament and finishing 5th.
An unquestionable impact that Meltdown team made on the history of Ukrainian ultimate was the special attitude that they brought to the game. Their priority was to enjoy the sport as great group of friends who traveled with a disc and had lots of fun at tournaments. They practiced only during summer and did not play on grass until year 2004-2005, when they went to a Russian championship for the first time.
During those years, Meltdown gathered “generation next”: a group of players who fell into the sport and decided to bring the team and the game to the next level. This period could be called the second phase of Ukrainian ultimate development: the time when those youngsters agreed to play not only during the warm summer, but to go indoors and train during the winter season. That’s how the new Gigolo team was organized in December 2005. This was the new era, when ultimate was treated not only as a fun, but also as a goal-oriented sport. Even though the team started to play indoors, the major surface was still sand. Grass fields were comparatively expensive in Ukraine and the team was able to train on sand for free.
With the appearance of Gigolo on Ukraine’s ultimate map, the development of the sport across the country was initiated. In 2006, the team organized the official “Kiev Hat” tournament, which still remains one of the most renowned hat tournaments in Eastern Europe. Paul Eriksson from Sweden was brought to Ukraine and presented ultimate in a number of universities across the country. The first national championships were organized in Lviv in fall of 2006, spreading the sport culture to smaller towns. Gigolo players did number of clinics across the country and dominated in all local tournaments. Their first appearance at Paganello was a success: they achieved 25th place, and for the team to get such a result in just 2 years was already very promising. The prominent year of Gigolo was in 2009, when they got the Spirit of the Game trophy in Paganello, finishing 12th, and also won the Russian National Beach Championships, demonstrating that sand is their beloved surface. They came back to Paganello another couple of times and finished strongly in the top 8 in 2011 and 2013, achieving the team’s highest result from post-Soviet countries at Paganello. But the Spirit of the Game award is still their best memory and they were very proud to repeat the result of their Ukrainian ancestors, team Meltdown.
The third period of Ukrainian ultimate evolution started in 2010 when, after disappointing results at WUCC 2010 in Prague, – some of the Gigolo players branched out and created a new team with a new philosophy and attitude: Nova. This brought some stress and healthy competition into the Gigolo ranks, pushing them to involve more people in the training process and in the game. Because of the 2010 split, the Ukraine Open team at WCBU in Italy in 2011 was represented with only 7 and a half players (half, because one of the players had a broken big toe and there were no other subs). It was a long, expensive trip for a team from an Eastern European country, which explains the small numbers. The team fought as hard as they could and had a couple of nice victories (they were elated to beat the strong Switzerland and Denmark teams with such a short roster), but on the third day of the tournament, the 7.5 players were a bit tired and it might have been the fatigue or the hot sun, but their captain was struck to ask a player from the Russian mixed team to help out in a game against Austria. The organizing committee considered that a violation of tournament rules and disqualified the Ukrainian team. It is hard to explain what the team felt there in Italy, but that is another factor that teams may take into consideration when playing against Ukraine during ECBU 2013.
This is a very fun team with lots of attention focused on spirit, but other Open teams should be careful not to underestimate Ukraine, who is coming with a full roster of 14 players (75% of which are from Gigolo). All of the players have played at Paganello and are familiar with the beach game. They are also, of course, well-known party animals (but their captain declined to share further details with the public). This year, the team is armed with ex-Gigolo and current captain of Nova Dmytro Strelchyn, who will help dominant handler Oleksandr Kostenko with the disc. The most spiritual player of all time, Antonio Kurinniy, is going to leave a huge part of him on the field for the sake of the team. Ukraine started to prepare for the tournament two months in advance, and the team has promised that they bring their best and will work very hard for Europe to consider them a competitive opponent when they talk about beach ultimate.
The first women’s ultimate team appeared in Ukraine not so long ago – in 2000. Unfortunately, only a few players remain from that roster; most of the other girls started to play later. In 2006, the Kiev team Dyki Krali was born. For quite a long time, ultimate existed only in Kiev, and even now, only 2 Kiev-based teams are officially registered with the Ukrainian Flying Disc Federation. There are girls living in other cities in Ukraine who sometimes form teams to play in local tournaments, but they still do not have the sufficient numbers to form a full-scale women’s division. To get experience and higher competition levels, Dyki Krali have to travel to tournaments in Russia, Belarus and Europe.
The Ukrainian National women’s team is formed on the basis of Kiev’s Dyki Krali and is completed with players from other cities and teams. With financial constraints still the key limiting factor they did not have the advantage of running a selection process to choose only the best players like many other ECBU teams, instead simply inviting all that could afford to come abroad. A few really strong and experienced players will stay in Ukraine to cheer for the team, and obviously they will be missed on the beach.
Despite the fact that ECBU is not the first international tournament for most of the Kiev girls, this is the first time a Ukranian Women’s National Team will represent the country in international competition. It will be a great pleasure for Ukraine Women to play every game on this tournament and to get all the experience they can. Even if their roster is not optimal, they will surely fight for every point and try to win every game.
Article by Sasha Stakhovskyi