Ukrainian Lyza Yakhno is building a new life and career in Canada


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Russian missiles destroyed the training center that helped make artistic swimmer Lyza Yakhno an Olympic medalist, forcing the Ukrainian star to take her new show on the road.

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The 24-year-old was living in Kharkiv to be near the Lokomotiv training center, which suffered extensive damage in early September as Russia continued to target Ukrainian infrastructure with bombs and missiles.

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After winning Olympic bronze in the team event in Tokyo in July 2021, Yakhno hung up his pince-nez and decided to dip his toes into the coaches pool. Canada Artistic Swimming (CAS) officials had spoken to Yakhno after the Games and were ready with a formal job offer whenever she wanted to transition out of the water and onto the pool deck.

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In late September 2022, with war still raging in her homeland, Yakhno jumped at the chance to move to Montreal and work as an assistant coach for Canada’s senior national team under head coach Gabor Szauder.

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“It was my first opportunity to coach. Because of the war in Ukraine, I couldn’t train there because everything was destroyed,” she said in an email interview with Postmedia recently.

“My mother is in Germany with Ukrainian refugees; they helped her a lot. In Ukraine, I still have many friends. My boyfriend is in Lviv. He cannot leave Ukraine. He has a job there and he can’t cross the border because men between the ages of 18 and 60 can’t leave the country, due to army restrictions. He has a job but now he has to go fight.

« I also have a half-sister. She is older than me. She has a child and they are in Mariupol, which was occupied and destroyed by the Russians. I am happy that my sister and her child are still alive , but it was a really horrible time for them.

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“I lived in Kharkiv near training with the artistic swimming team. Now is a really horrible time for people in my town. Our city is near the Russian border, so very close to Russia and they were bombing every day and a lot of people died.

Yakhno was to fly to Poland and travel from there to Ukraine for Christmas, before returning to Montreal at the start of the year. She lives near the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, with a Ukrainian who has been in Canada for two decades. Yakhno, who speaks Ukrainian, Russian and English, is now learning French quickly. She had previously been to Surrey, British Columbia, and Toronto for competitions in 2018 and 2017 respectively.

“Everyone asks me if I have warm clothes,” she says. “But we have cold winters in Ukraine, sometimes down to minus 25°C. Canada is different from my country and things are very different here. Ukrainians and Canadians also have a different mentality; Canadians seem to always apologize.

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Getting the Olympic Bronze Medalist and 2018 FINA Artistic Swimmer of the Year on board was quite a feat for CAS. His qualifications for the position include a bachelor’s degree in physical culture and sport, with a specialization in training activities, from Kharkiv Academy of Physical Culture, one of the oldest sports management universities in Ukraine. She followed this with a master’s degree in physical culture and sport, specializing in the psychology of physical culture and sport.

« Lyza represents values ​​that were necessary to bring to our national team, » said Szauder, who described her as « calm, quiet and tough. » He also praised her flexibility, ballet training and arm movements.

« She creates balance in an unbalanced world, and I’m very happy to have her with us. »

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Yakhno was born in Donetsk and grew up in « a typical family living and working in the office ». She says she started swimming very young, on the advice of a doctor.

“In childhood, I had a little back pain, posture, and the doctor advised me to try swimming to correct my posture.

She was tired of the endless lengths associated with training for races and was intrigued by the more complex gymnastic elements of artistic swimming. She also had a natural knack for it and was quickly elevated to the junior national team. In 2016, she was a three-time world junior medalist, and three years later she was a senior world gold medalist in the showpiece event.

Now, Yakhno admits she has a lot to learn as a new coach and she is focused on improving the skills of Canada’s national team athletes.

« In our sport, skill is the foundation on which everything else is built. I really appreciate hard work because it makes you better, so I try to pass those values ​​on. as we try to improve our skills, we also work with everyone to become well-rounded athletes.

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