|Serhiy Pichuhin from Kyiv, Ukraine, is one of the world's leading yachtsmen in the Soling class. Last summer, at the world championship that was held in the USA, the Ukrainian yachtsmen were the second best, ahead of many world's top yachtsmen. It came as a great surprise, both for the yachtsmen and the fans. People kept asking: "Where is it, this Ukraine?" Ladies and gentlemen, the Ukraine yachtsmen explained, Ukraine is situated in Eastern Europe, it's as big as France is. Ukraine's not made itself widely known yet but it's surely made a big splash in yachting. Welcome to Ukraine (WU) Magazine has sent its correspondent Yevhen Bud'ko to interview Mr. Pichuhin, who has one of the highest ratings in yachting in the world, who is the captain of the successful Ukrainian yacht, and a man dearly devoted to the sport of yachting.|
|WU: Yachting is a relatively new
sport in Ukraine, with not a big following yet. In contrast, in the West, it's been
practised for years, there they have experience, excellent equipment, developed
techniques. However, even in the West it's considered to be something of an elite sport.
How did you, a person from a country which can hardly be described as prosperous, manage
to rise so high in the sport of yachting?
Pichuhin: Not a very simple question to answer. I've been following the sport of yachting since I was seven. I just could not live without it. As far as I remember, at twelve I was already sure I'd make it really big. But I also knew I had to try hard, very hard indeed. I kept training, I even went to a ballet school to make my body as pliable as possible. I kept reading books about yachting and yachtsmen, particularly those who distinguished themselves by great results. Without any false modesty, I can tell you I've always wanted to be a top yachtsman of the highest world rating. Oh, but it was so difficult to achieve, there were so many obstacles on the way. My great desire to excel helped me overcome all the obstacles. Once they were behind me, I felt a great upsurge of energy to go ahead and do even better. In order to become better than the world's master yachtsmen, I had to find my own way of doing things. I seem to have managed to do it. But I'll not burden you with the details of my way up, most of which are very technical anyway. Besides, it'd take too much space.
WU: Do you mean to say there are no more obstacles on your way?l mean of a technical kind? As far as I know, yachting is a very expensive sport and the Ukrainian Sports Committee has not grown any richer in the past few years.
Pichuhin: Without a sponsor, hardly anything worth mentioning would have been achieved. Thanks to the ICA, a Ukrainian company, we have excellent yachts, equipment, everything that's needed. I've known the man who is now the ICA manager since my teens. He believed in me, in my ability to achieve good results in yachting, and helped me the best way he could, though on the part of the company it was charity rather than any potential financial interests.
WU: Could you describe, please, your ascent to
the heights of achievement in yachting?
In the Soviet times, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, to get to the top
being a Ukrainian was a mighty hard thing to do. In 1988, our crew won the preliminary
competitions and we were all geared to go to the Olympics but as a result of some
behind-the-scenes scheming, so typical for the Soviet times, somebody else went instead of
us. I was so upset that I nearly gave up yachting. In 1989, our crew won the second place
at the European championship and we thought we had a good chance of winning a medal at the
next Olympics. Unfortunately, in Barcelona we were plainly in bad luck: dead calm on the
water, disqualification and as a result only the ninth place.
|Shortly after we returned to Kyiv,
our yacht was taken away from us - to Moscow. Ukraine had no comparable yacht that would
allow us to continue taking part in international competitions. Those were hard times for
yachting in Ukraine. I began building yachts myself, making sails, everything. Worked at
the shipyards of Italy and Denmark. The yachts I built won many races. But there were no
yachts good enough to compete at the Olympic-games level. Then, after an interval of
several years, we felt we could not live without taking part in yacht racing, so we rented
an old sailboat, improved it the best way we could, and managed to win the sixth place at
the European championship. The break came in 1995 when the ICA Company became our sponsor.
We had a new yacht built in Denmark. We were eager to take part in the Olympics but did
not have enough time for proper training. Still we went there and though we failed to win
a medal, we got very close to winning one: we were only one point short. It encouraged us
to try harder and a month later we won the European championship. In 1997 we were rated as
the best crew in Europe for that year: we were European champions, runners-up of the world
championship, we had the world's highest rating and we were the first crew in Ukraine to
get a license to go to the Olympics 2000 to be held in Sydney.
WV: Given the same financial backing, could anyone else in Ukraine become as successful in yachting as you are?
Pichuhin: Frankly, I doubt it. We have gained a lot of experience at international competitions, we have enthusiasm of the kind I don't see in younger Ukrainian yachtsmen. To be successful in yachting at the international level you've got to be training for 6-7 hours a day! Very few are prepared to do it.
WV: I wonder, do you and your crew get the same kind of food as foreign yachtsmen ?
Pichuhin: You must be kidding. We don't have enough money to get ourselves high-quality food. Foreign yachtsmen are very careful in their choice of food. In training and at competitions food is one of the most important ingredients of success. Foreign yachtsmen, for example, drink only natural juices, never those made of concentrates, and we are happy to do with any. Often enough, we have even to rely on frozen meat. When they, foreign yachtsmen that is, learn about it, they are shocked: how can one be properly trained on such a diet! -they exclaim. We do. And advise them to be simpler in their ways. In spite of the fact that we do get a very decent financial backing, expenses in yachting are very great indeed. Proper training alone costs a lot of money, you know.
WV: Looks like it's really tough for you. What's the attitude of foreign yachtsmen and judges at the races towards you, Ukrainian yachtsmen ?
Pichuhin: Not always fair. There are a lot of people who think we should not be in yacht racing at all. Some professionals would find it difficult to locate Ukraine on the map, even the Black Sea is something they have little idea of. Sometimes we are subjected to downright humiliation. In this respect, the US bureaucracy tops the list. I feel humiliated already at the US Embassy when they refuse to issue a visa. Once, when I had to go to the States to compete at the world yachting championship, I was refused visa twice in a row. I don't know their reason for the refusal, but it took a US Senator — the one from the State of Wisconsin —to put in a word for us with the US authorities to let us, the crew and me have visas. If they treat well-known people like that, I can well imagine how they treat rank-and-file Ukrainian citizens. Then, because of the American bureaucratic machine our yacht was delivered seven days later than it should have been, and we barely had to prepare for the competition. Then, the physical conditions at the races were such that favoured only Americans. The races were run in the fresh water of Lake Michigan where the density of the water is so much different from what the European yachtsmen are used to, there were unpredictable underwater currents, extremely high humidity.
WV: But why should the competitions be held under such unfavourable conditions?
Pichuhin: American yachtsmen have the biggest representation of all in the World Federation of Sailing Sports and they are able to do things to suit themselves best. But no matter how hard they tried to put the Europeans off, the fourth place was the best Americans could do though they were represented by thirty yachts. The first place was won by the Russians (the captain was Zhora Shaiduka, from the Ukrainian town of Nickopol), the second by the Ukrainians and the third by the Italians.
WV: Was there anything that you liked in America?
Pichuhin: Oh, sure, Lake Michigan itself is a beautiful place. The city of Chicago is quite impressive too. Along the shores of the lake which, in fact, could be called a freshwater sea rather than a lake, is a great number of all kinds of yacht clubs. The scenery is really fascinating. The water in the lake is very clean and there's a lot of fish in it and much fishing going on. You buy a licence and you can catch sturgeon, salmon, that kind of fish.
WV: Yachting is a sport for you, and like any sport it has its self-imposed limitations: one's got to get from one point to another within a certain time, one's got to perform in a prescribed way. Have you ever done sailing for sailing's sake ?
Pichuhin: You see, leisure sailing is not for me, it lacks competitiveness, it lacks dynamics of a competition. Besides, a professional yachtsman has always to be in a top shape. When I want a rest, I never go to the seaside, surprising as it may seem, I can't stand being near the water. I go to the mountains, forest, wilderness. I did take part though in several long-distance regattas in the Mediterranean, in America's Cup races, once in a circumnavigation around the world.
WV: You must have seen a lot of places in many parts of the world. Which did you like best?
Pichuhin: I've been to so many places, really, that unfortunately, you stop noticing things around you, especially when you're in training or competing. But now, that I come to think of it, some Italian islands, the shores of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, some lakes in Italy and Austria are the places that impressed me most.
WV: You 've been in yachting for quite a long time now. It's a demanding sport and sooner or later one's got to retire. Have you made any plans for what you are going to do after your retirement?
Pichuhin: Yes, I have certain plans. I'll stay on with yachting for some time more. I do not want to put myself forward as an ultra-patriot but it does feel good to know that by your success you make your country better known in the world, that you make people wonder: if these Ukrainians win races in such an elite sport, their native land should be reckoned with! Then, after I retire, I am going to set up a branch of the Green Peace Organization in Ukraine. Ecology is something one can devote one's whole life to.
WV: But in Ukraine we already have our own Zeleny Svit (Green World) organization, the Green Party.
Pichuhin: I know but I've discovered that there are a lot of people who want something different, something much less official. Through Green Peace I'm planning to promote yachting as a healthy pastime, to encourage young people to go into it.
WV: Well, yachting, as you said yourself, is a pretty expensive sport. There are very few Ukrainians yet who could afford it.
Pichuhin: First, you don't necessarily have to follow it professionally. Second, if you don't have a yacht of your own, you can join a yacht club. You'd be surprised to learn how many of these clubs are there in Ukraine. In Kyiv alone there are dozens of them. And it's such a beautiful sight: sailboats on the water. And very healthy pastime too, much healthier than, say, hitting bars and eating barbecues.
WU: Thank you fory our time. And good luck in everything.
Pichuhin: Thank you.