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    Bifurcation of sports // The year of international isolation brought Russia a series of bright victories and breakthroughs

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    The outgoing year tends to be called the most difficult, if not the saddest, in the history of Russian sports, which had to get used to life in conditions of international isolation. But in fact, it was rather the most amazing – a hellish mixture of grandiose problems and equally grandiose breakthroughs, which took place mainly on those islands that isolation spared.

    If someone wanted to illustrate the complexity and paradoxicality of the modern world, then Russian sports would be a good example. In any case, he lived through the year 2022, very convincingly showing how everything is mixed up and confused in this world – as if in two dimensions, in two, in fact, parallel realities.

    In the first, he was an outcast, rejected after the “isolation” recommendations of the International Olympic Committee and the sanctions that followed them, against the background of which even the former ones – for the doping crisis – for all their formal severity looked soft, like a down pillow, by almost the entire sports community and painfully getting used to the new status . In this eerie reality, the most relevant word of the year was “dismiss”. In it, football European cups were replaced by the Russian Cup, which has grown to cyclopean proportions, and the Grand Prix series in figure skating under the auspices of the International Skating Union (ISU) is replaced by a series with the same name, but of a domestic spill and with half-empty stands. It suddenly revived as a top competition thrown into a landfill after a pile of other Soviet inventions not accepted by the era and, being extracted from it, the Spartakiad was still not noticed by the television audience, and Belarusians came to the First Channel Hockey Cup instead of Finns, Swedes and Czechs and Kazakhs. In it, the country’s sports leaders had to sparkle with optimism, speaking about the future in conditions of isolation, to convince that it is not a hindrance to development. But something suggested that the sports leaders themselves, of course, did not really believe in this, because otherwise where would the constant reminders come from that, if strictly, letter for letter, to follow the Olympic Charter, everything that is happening today with Russian athletes – brazen discrimination that violates the provisions of the document, and at least they must be present at the Paris 2024 Olympics; or, for example, the idea of ​​moving the Russian Football Union from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to the much less wealthy and advanced, but seemingly much more benevolent Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Until recently, it would have seemed like outright nonsense, now it causes quite a serious discussion.

    In this reality, there are a tiny number of islands left unaffected by sanctions, where Russians could perform on a par with foreign frontmen, competing with them – boxing , tennis, chess, National Hockey League. And in this reality, alas, everything confirmed the suspicions about the overly obvious, years-cultivated incarceration of Russian sports under the format of “us against others”, which only added sharpness to the challenges that suddenly confronted him. And in this reality, everything said that there were no reliable answers to challenges that would guarantee success and would not appear in the near future.

    But next to it was the second reality, the second dimension. In this reality, instead of darkness, there is light, and instead of challenges and problems, there are chic victories, high-profile breakthroughs and bright heroes.

    2022 is the year when Alexander Bolshunov at the Beijing Olympics, right before the introduction of « isolation regime, won, humiliating the terrible Norwegians, three gold medals and acquired the appearance of a real king of cross-country skiing. 2022 is the year when Daniil Medvedev returned to Russia the leadership in the men’s tennis rankings, which she had not had for two decades, and mixed martial arts fighter Islam Makhachev returned to her the UFC lightweight championship belt (up to 70 kg), the category of the great Khabib Nurmagomedov, becoming a genre superstar of the highest caliber. 2022 is the year when Ian Nepomniachtchi won the Candidates Tournament, which determines the contender for the title of the best chess player, with such a colossal advantage that no one has ever won it. 2022 is the year following which ESPN, without any hesitation, recognized Dmitry Bivol as the strongest in professional boxing, who, defending the World Boxing Association (WBA) light heavyweight champion (up to 79.4 kg), dealt with two Mexican fighters – simply outstanding fighter Gilberto Ramirez and fighter great Saul Alvarez, and another Russian light heavyweight Artur Beterbiev added to two belts, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Council (WBC), the third – the World Boxing Organization (WBO). Finally, 2022 is the year of Alexander Ovechkin: at its end, the only athlete who could compete with Lionel Messi after the Argentinean’s magical performance at the World Cup in Qatar in terms of demand, recognition and citation was Ovechkin, who crossed the line of 800 goals in the regular

    It’s amazing, but Russia has accumulated no less of these victories, breakthroughs and heroes in the past dozen months than it accumulated in those years when isolation seemed to her only a denial of the right to use her own anthem and flag at the World Championships and the Olympic Games. Which, however, is unlikely to cancel the burning desire to make sure that the two parallel dimensions still quickly merge into one and so that it does not have to puzzle over what legal tricks and through which part of the world to leak to the Olympic Games or world football championship.

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