It started with the National Hockey League’s introduction of its 100 greatest players in honoring 100 years of NHL hockey in 2017. Six Ukrainian hockey stars were included among these top 100 players: Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Johnny Bucyk, Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower and Turk Broda – all prominently featured on the pages of The Ukrainian Weekly. (Interesting to note that three of the six are goaltenders.)
It continued with the professional boxing exploits of ex-Ukrainian Olympic medalists Taras Shelestyuk (16-0, 10KOs), Oleksandr Gvozdyk (14-0, 12 KOs) and Vasyl Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs). The first two remain undefeated, while Lomachenko’s name is constantly mentioned atop the latest list of best pound-for-pound fighters in the world since the retirement of Andre Ward.
The future was on display at the third annual Invictus Games, held in Toronto in late September, when Team Ukraine debuted by winning an amazing 14 medals, including eight gold. A squad of only 15 athletes competed in only five of 11 adaptive sports as first-time participants, laying a solid foundation for the coming years.
The past year also witnessed a young tennis player’s career skyrocket upward and an aging champion boxer’s resume come to a sudden conclusion. Elina Svitolina won five WTA tour titles, flying up the women’s rankings to No. 4. Svitolina’s success on the tour is only scratching the surface, be it grass or clay. Forty-one-year-old Wladimir Klitschko retired from the fight game after two unprecedented title runs came to an end with consecutive defeats in the ring. Fortunately the sport will continue to be well represented by Ukrainians in almost every weight class.
First, our sports correspondent’s annual awards:
• Outstanding Male Athlete – Vasyl Lomachenko (boxing) and Pavlo Budaevskiy (swimming, Invictus Games);
• Outstanding Female Athlete – Elina Svitolina (tennis) and Khrystyna Pohranychna (rhythmic gymnastics);
• Rookie of the Year – Khrystyna Pohranychna;
• Coach of the Year – Lesya Shah (archery, Invictus Games); and
• Team of the Year – Team Ukraine (Invictus Games).
Next: the year’s highlight package of outstanding achievements and top performances from all sports competitions (alphabetized), plus newsworthy headlines from around the world and our diaspora.
High jumper Yulia Levchenko, 19, was named female Rising Star by the European Athletics Association Golden Track Awards on October 14 in Lithuania. She won three medals (one gold in high jump) in three championship events during 2017.
Kremenets, Ternopil Oblast was the site of the Ukrainian Little League Championships (players age 10-12) on May 28. Nine all-star teams competed with Rivne outlasting Kyiv Baseball School in the final game 7-5, advancing to the European Regional Championship in Poland. Visits to several cultural centers, skill competitions and a prize lottery were among the events organized by Basil Tarasko, district administrator for Ukraine Little League Baseball.
Yuliia Dzhima won gold in the women’s 7.5 km sprint at the European Biathlon Championship in Poland on January 25-29.
Three Ukrainians highlighted the first ever boxing card at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on April 8: Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk were all victorious before a sell-out crowd with a heavy Ukrainian contingent waving blue-and-yellow national flags. Wladimir Klitschko was defeated by favorite Anthony Joshua with the IBF, IBO and WBA world titles on the line in an April 19 match at Wembley Stadium in London. The Ukrainian world champion and future Hall of Famer was dropped twice in the 11th round. August 3 was the official date of Wladimir Klitschko’s retirement from professional boxing following consecutive defeats at the hands of Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. Klitschko goes down as one of the most dominant heavyweight champions in boxing history. Junior lightweight world titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko toyed with challenger Miguel Marriaga, earning a seventh-round TKO in Los Angeles on August 5. Oleksandr Gvozdyk registered a sixth-round knockout of Craig Baker in Lincoln, Neb., on August 19, capturing the NABF and NABO light heavyweight titles. Middleweight Oleksandr Khyzhniak won his gold-medal bout against Ablikhan Amankul of Kazakhstan at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Hamburg, Germany, on August 25-September 2. Khyzhniak won the 2017 European Boxing Championships in Kharkiv on June 16-24 and was named best boxer of the Hamburg tourney. Viktor Vykhryst (+91 kg) and Iurii Shestak (60 kg) were gold medal winners in Kharkiv, where Ukraine topped the medals table with six. Oleksandr Usyk retained his WBO cruiserweight title against IBO champ Marco Huck on September 9 in Berlin with a 10th round TKO. Vasyl Lomachenko TKO’d Guillermo Rigondeaux in six rounds at Madison Square Garden on December 9, making Rigondeaux the fourth consecutive opponent who quit on the arguably best pound-for-pound boxer in the game.
Anna Muzychuk won the European ACP Women’s Individual Rapid Chess Championship in Morocco on October 21-22, winning nine out of 11 points, having won seven matches and tying another four.
Tetiana Klimchenko won gold in the scratch race at the World Cup (cycling) in Los Angeles on February 24-26. Ukraine won 21 gold medals at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics in Samsun, Turkey on July 18-30, finishing in second place overall with 99 total medals.
Anna Pysmenska won gold (303.30 points) in the women’s 3 m springboard event at the LEN European Diving Championships in Kyiv on June 12-18. Illya Kvasha won gold in the men’s 1 m springboard event, while Maksym Dolhov and Oleksandr Gorshkovozov won gold in the men’s 10 m synchronized platform.
Ukraine’s junior women’s épée team won first place (64 points) at the Junior World Cup team event in Epoo, Finland, on February 5. Olga Kharlan won gold at the World Cup of Fencing in Tunisia on May 12-14. Bogdan Nikitskin won gold in men’s épée at the Épée Grand Prix in Bogota, Colombia, on May 26. Kharlan won gold in the women’s saber event at the World Cup in Belgium on November 17-19 and then won gold in the women’s saber event at the Saber Grand Prix in Cancun, Mexico, on December 15.
Oleh Verniaiev won gold in the men’s all-around at the 2017 Stuttgart World Cup (gymnastics) on March 18-19, scoring 84.899 points. At the 2017 Stella Zakharova Ukrainian Int’l Cup in Kyiv on March 30-April 2, Ukraine won first place in the all-around with Yana Fedorova (50.850 pts) winning gold. Anastasiya Bachynska won first place in the junior all-around (53.650 pts) and Ukraine also finished first in the team results. Oleh Verniaiev won gold in the men’s parallel bars event at the 2017 Paris Challenge Cup on September 16-17. Oleksandra-Maria Tabachynska and Yuliia Pylypiak won gold in the junior women’s all-around at the 28th European Championships in Poland on October 19-22. Oleh Verniaiev won gold in the men’s all-around (58.050 pts) at the Arthur Gander Memorial in Switzerland on November 1, his fourth consecutive gold in this tournament.
Tyler Bozak has paid his dues in Toronto and has earned assistant captain status on a rebuilding Maple Leafs squad, serving as a mentor for youngsters like Austen Matthews and Mitch Marner. The Dauphin Kings (Manitoba Junior Hockey League) had a Ukrainian “vyshyvanka” motif for its team uniforms as part of its annual Ukrainian night on January 28. The town of Dauphin is 41 percent Ukrainian, and 25 percent of the population speaks Ukrainian. The “Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, was actually acquired from the Indianapolis Racers by the Edmonton Oilers as part of a high-stakes backgammon game between owners Nelson Skalbania and Peter Pocklington. Johnny Bower, the young man born as John Kishkan, propelled the Toronto Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cup championships, was an NHL All-Star five times and holds the club record for most community appearances by a Leafs alumnus. Bower was selected as one of the NHL’s top 100 players. Mike Bossy scored 573 goals and 1,126 points in only 752 regular season NHL games. He won four Stanley Cups and is the only player in league history to net Cup winning goals in consecutive years. No surprise he was tapped as one of the NHL’s top 100 players. Ukrainian Terry Sawchuk is still referred to as the “greatest goaltender ever” and rightfully earned his designation as one of the NHL’s top players. Former Edmonton Oilers player Dave Semenko passed away at age 59 on June 29. A two-time Stanley Cup winner, he was Gretzky’s body guard – a fierce competitor and fan favorite. Johnny Bucyk played 21 seasons in Boston, with 16 years of 20+ goals, 545 goals scored, two Lady Byng Trophies and seven All-Star Game appearances. The ultimate Bruin was still another of the Ukes in the NHL’s top 100. He spent his entire 13+ season NHL career with Toronto, winning five of eight Stanley Cup finals, twice earning the Vezina Trophy. In 101 playoff games, Turk Broda totaled 13 shutouts and compiled a 1.98 GAA. Yet another top 100 NHL player!
President Petro Poroshenko called for support of the Ukrainian national team participating in the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto – a world competition for soldiers and veterans wounded in the line of duty. Team Ukraine’s roster included several wounded warriors from Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine. Team Ukraine was triumphant in its debut at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto on September 23-30, winning 14 medals, including eight golds. Ukrainian soldier Pavlo Budaevskiy won four gold medals in swimming, Oleh Zymnikov got the gold in athletics, Oleksandr Pysarenko in rowing, Vasyl Pushkevych in powerlifting and Roman Panchenko in archery. The team was limited to only 15 injured veterans, but they certainly made Ukraine proud and served as a definitive reminder of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Team Ukraine reached the top of the podium in terms of the support and admiration they received from within and outside the Ukrainian Canadian community. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress hosted 28 athletes, organized opening and closing receptions, and helped raise $100,000 (Canadian) to provide needed assistance to active and former members of Ukraine’s Armed Forces and National Police. Both Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the UCC’s September 22 gala reception in Toronto on the eve of the games.
Iryna Kinderska (+78 kg) won gold at the World Judo Grand Prix in Germany on February 24-26. Daria Bilodid (48 kg) won gold at the European Judo Open Women in Prague on March 4. Bogdan Iadov (66 kg) won gold at the European Judo Union Open in Poland on March 4-5. Anastasia Balaban (40 kg) won gold at the Cadet European Judo Cup in Turkey on March 6. Anastasiya Turchyn (78 kg) won a gold medal at the Judo Grand Prix in Tbilisi, Georgia, on March 31-April 2.The European Judo Open saw Ukrainians Gevorg Khachatrian (66 kg) and Galyna Tarasova (+78 kg) win gold medals. Ukrainian gold medalists at the Veterans European Judo Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, on June 15-18 included Sergiy Balaban, Illya Chymchyuri, Oleksii Ovcharenko, Maksym Shapovalov and Viktor Yerokhov. Anastasiya Turchyn won gold at the Judo Grand Prix in Uzbekistan on October 6-8. Two members of Ukraine’s cadet judo team won two gold medals at the Koper Cadet European Judo Cup 2017 in Slovenia on October 28-29: Marat Kryzhanskyi (81 kg) and Lev Smagin (73 kg). Vasylyna Kyrychenko (+78 kg) won gold for Ukraine at the U-23 European Judo Championships in Montenegro on November 10-12. Daria Bilodid won gold at the IJF Judo Grand Prix on November 17-19 at The Hague, Netherlands.
Martial Arts news saw Stanislav Horun (75 kg) win first place in the Premier League Karate 1 held in Paris on January 22-24.
High jumper Vita Palamar had her 2008 bronze medal revoked by the International Olympic Committee after her sample tested positive for anabolic steroids.
In paddle sports, Ukraine won two gold medals in the junior division at the 2017 ECA Canoe Sprint European Championships for juniors and U-23 in Belgrade, Serbia on June 22-25: Dmytro Danylenko in the K1 500-m sprint and Denys Filatov in the men’s C1 200-m sprint. The U-23 division had Ukraine finishing first with six golds: Oleh Kukharyk (K1 1,000-m and K1 500-m), Pavlo Altukhov (C1 500-m), 4-man C4 500-m, Liudmyla Luzan (C1 500-m) and two-man K2 200-m race. (Team members winning gold were Yuri Vandiuk, Andriy Rybachok, Artem Balandin, Oleh Borovyk, Ivan Semykin and Kyrylo Chernomorov.) Ukraine’s Maria Kichasova and Anastasia Gorlova won gold in the women’s K2 200-m race at the European Canoe Sprint Championships on July 14-16 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Ukraine won two gold medals at the 2017 ECA Paracanoe European Championships on July 15 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, with Nataliia Lahutenko and Serhii Yemilianov coming out on top in the VL2 200-m and KL3 200-m races.
Ukraine won 47 medals and finished first (19 gold, 16 silver, 12 bronze) at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships (paralympics) in Germany on February 10-19. Olga Prylutska won gold in the women’s middle, visually impaired final. Iurii Utkin won gold in the men’s middle final. Oleksandra Kononova won gold in the women’s middle standing final. Maksym Yarovyi won gold in the men’s sprint, sitting final. Liudmyla Liashenko won gold in the women’s sprint, standing final. In the men’s sprint, visually impaired final Anatoliy Kovalevskyi won gold, while Oksana Syshkova won gold in the same women’s event. Liashenko also captured a gold in standing sprint. Ihor Reptyukh won gold in the men’s standing sprint and Yarovyi won gold in the men’s seated sprint. Ukraine won gold in the mixed relay, Yarovyi won gold in the men’s long C sitting final, Reptyukh won gold in the men’s long C standing and Kononova won gold in the women’s long C standing final. Oksana Masters, who was born in Ukraine, but competes for the U.S.A., won gold in the women’s seated sprint and long C seated final. Ukraine won first place at the 2017 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football CP Football World Championships in Argentina on September 2-24, beating Iran 1-0 in the final.
Khrystyna Pohranychna won three gold medals and Olena Diachenko won one at the Miss Valentine 2017 Competition in Estonia on February 10-12. Ukraine’s junior gymnastics team won five gold medals at the Bracia Fair Cup 2017 in Hungary on February 17-19. Ukrainian gold medals at the International Rhythmic Gymnastics Tournament in Israel on February 24-25 were won by: Yulia Olkhovska (senior hoop division), Viktoria Fotieva (club and ribbon), Anna Sobeshchakova (hoop), Pohranychna (junior division clubs, ribbon and all-around). Valentina Sakysova won gold in the individual junior event, Pohranychna won gold in the hoop and in the junior women’s individual all-around, Nikol Savina won a gold in the pre-junior division and Ukraine won gold in the team all-around at the Grand Prix Kyiv Deriugina Cup 2017 on March 17-19. Pohranychna also won gold in the senior hoop final, clubs and ribbon finals. Ukraine won gold in the three balls and two ropes event.
In soccer, Shakhtar Donetsk won 1-0 against Dynamo Kyiv on May 17 to win the Ukrainian Cup, the 11th time the club has hoisted the trophy. Shakhtar also won the Ukrainian Premier League title. Former Ukrainian national team player Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, 37, announced his retirement to enter coaching. Potential future Ukrainian soccer stars include Shakhtar’s Viktor Kovalenko, Dynamo’s Serhiy Sydorchuk, PSV Eindhoven’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and FC Oleksandria’s Roman Yaremchuk. Borussia Dortmund signed Dynamo winger Andriy Yarmolenko to a five-year contract worth 30 million euros. Oleksandr Kucher, a defender for Shakhtar Donetsk and the Ukrainian national team, signed a one-year deal with Kayserispor of Turkey. Ukraine’s 0-2 loss to Croatia on October 9 meant elimination from the FIFA World Cup qualifiers; Ukraine finished with a 5-3-2 record, tied for third in its group. Andriy Shevchenko’s contract as head coach of the Ukrainian national team was renewed through the year 2020.
Ukraine swept first place in every event at the Canada Open Synchronized Swimming Championships in Toronto on May 5-7. Anna Voloshyna won two individual gold medals and six duet/team golds while Jelyzaveta Yakhno won two duet and four team gold medals. Mykhailo Romanchuk won gold in the 1,500 m freestyle final at the 2017 European Short Course Championships in Copenhagen on December 15.
Elina Svitolina topped Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-2 to claim the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on January 25. Svitolina defeated China’s Shuai Peng 6-3, 6-2 to win the Taian Open in Taipei City, Taiwan, on January 30-February 5. Alexander Dolgopolov won the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires on February 13-19, besting Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the final 7-6(4), 6-4. Elina Svitolina captured the BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup on April 24-30, defeating Elise Mertens in the final 6-2, 6-4. Svitolina won her fourth title of the year in Rome on May 20-21 after beating Simona Halep in the final 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. Her victories earned Svitolina a well-deserved slot in the top 10 women’s rankings heading into the 2017 French Open. Svitolina won the Rogers Cup in Toronto on August 13, climbing to the WTA’s No. 4 ranking with her fifth tour title of the season. Battling through exhaustion, she managed to overwhelm still another top-10 opponent, Wozniacki (again), 6-4, 6-0.
Ukraine won 36 medals (12 gold) with 179 competing athletes in Taipei at the 2017 Summer Universiade on August 19-30. Gold medals were won in fencing, gymnastics, swimming, taekwondo, rhythmic gymnastics and athletics.
Ukrainian gold medal winners at the European Weightlifting Championships held in Croatia on April 2-8 included Oleksandr Pielieshenko (85 kg), Iryna Dekha (75 kg) and Dmytro Chumak (94 kg).
Nadia Bielkina (women’s biathlon 12.5 km mass start) and Alexandra Nazarova/Maxim Nitkin (ice dance figure skating) won Ukraine’s two gold medals at the 2017 World Universiade (winter games) in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 29-February 8.
Diaspora sports news
In diaspora sports news, the Edmonton U.A. Lions bested Toronto Kontakt, 6-5, to win the second annual Alexander Cup hockey tournament in Toronto on February 18-19, an event hosted by the Ukrainian Sports Federation of the U.S.A. and Canada (known by the Ukrainian-based acronym USCAK). The 63rd annual Carpathian Ski Club (KLK) ski races took place at Hunter Mountain on February 25 with skiers ranging in age from 6 to 75. Maya Stawnychy and Erko Palydowycz won trophies for fastest skiers.
The fourth annual Ukrainian Heritage Day happened on March 19 at Newark’s Prudential Center. Ukrainian dance groups performed throughout the afternoon with Ukrainians singing the national anthem, serving as color guards and riding the Zamboni. Lt. Col. Michael Hrycak was recognized as “Hero of the Game” by the host New Jersey Devils. The event is co-organized by Myron and Chris Bytz.
A roster of 16- and 17-year-old soccer players of Ukrainian descent from the U.S. and Canada played exhibition matches against Dynamo Kyiv farm teams in Kyiv on April 3-7. The technically and tactically superior Ukrainian side swept both matches by resounding scores of 10-0 and 3-0. The trip was made possible by the Shor family’s soccer school in Detroit, which has a connection with Dynamo Kyiv’s academy. A U.S.-based soccer club made up of Ukrainian American Youth Association members played in an international soccer tournament in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, on July 12-15. Four teams comprising players 16 and under competed in matches held in three stadiums. Karpaty of Kolomiya beat FC Kalush in the finals; the U.S. team lost its three games, scoring a total of five goals.
More than 130 Ukrainians of greater New York City and guests from Ukraine took part in the third Vyshyvanka Run on August 20. The event, held by the Ukrainian Running Club New York, aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle in the Ukrainian community and propagating the Ukrainian cultural heritage. Forty-four members of the Ukrainian Running Club ran the 2017 New York City Marathon on November 5, with Tetiana Samokysh finishing first among Ukrainian women (3:30:53). The running club was formed in 2008 by Anya Shpook and currently boasts over 70 active members.
Father and son, Peter and Markian Fil, each won gold at the third World Mulimpia, held in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, in July. The Mulimpia is a martial arts open championship competition in taekwondo, hapkido, wushu and haidong gumdo.
Archer Illya Buynevich, representing Tryzub Striltsi, won gold at the State Games of America on July 21-August 4. Competitions were held at various Pennsylvania venues.
The sixth annual USCAK National Beach Volleyball Tournament was held on August 25 in Wildwood Crest, N.J., and won by Toronto’s Babushkas, barely beating “ROMMA.” Roman Darewych, one of two fathers playing with his son, won MVP.
The 61st annual USCAK-East Tennis Tournament was held at Soyuzivka on July 1-2 with Mykola Stroynick and Anastasiya Dudaryk finishing as men’s and women’s champs. New faces, complications and uncooperative weather headlined the 2017 USCAK National Tennis Championships at Soyuzivka during Labor Day weekend. Co-champions were Adrian Charchalis and Oleksandr Zavorotnyi in men’s and Maryna Zhytska in women’s play.
The Ukrainian Sports Museum inducted its second Hall of Fame class in Whippany, N.J., on September 16. Among inductees present at the ceremony were Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk (keynote speaker), boxer Chuck Wepner (whose mother is Ukrainian), ex-Philadelphia Flyers Stanley Cup champion Orest Kindrachuk and Ukraine’s biathlon coach, Vasiliy Karlenko, who also represented the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine. The Weekly’s long-time sports correspondent, Ihor Stelmach, was inducted in the “builders” category and returned as the evening’s master of ceremonies. Former N.Y. Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet was presented his Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame plaque by Myron Bytz and Teo Bodnar at a Jets meet and greet on January 28; he had been inducted in 2016.
Ukrainian Tania Prymak, from Goshen, N.Y., was pursuing an opportunity to represent the U.S. at the 2018 Winter Olympics in ski cross, where four skiers race each other down a course filled with bumps, turns, rolling hills and jumps. As of November, she was ranked the No. 1 female ski cross racer in the U.S. and No. 15 in the world.