The Sochi Network

Ukraine stars win gold and make political breakthrough on same day

With their country torn by civil strife, the women of the Ukraine 4x6km biathlon team paid tribute in the best way they could: by winning gold.

And while this was happening in Sochi, ex-boxer Vitali Klitschko was making progress in the political offices of Kiev on a day which will be remembered as a glimmer of hope in one of Ukraine's darkest times.

Ukraine's four relay members led from the beginning of the race, and finished in a total of one hour, 10 minutes, 2.5 seconds. The team outlasted Russia by just 26.4 seconds, with Norway taking the bronze.

"When I was on the podium I couldn't stop crying," relay team member Valj Semerenko told reporters immediately afterward.

"I tried to calm down and was trying to hide it behind my skis. They were tears of happiness, not only mine, but of the whole country, our team."

The victory marks the first gold medal for Ukraine in the Winter Olympics since Oksana Baiul won in figure skating in 1994 at Lillehammer.

Several Ukrainian athletes withdrew from the Games as a sign of solidarity with the protesters in Kiev.

The IOC had previously forbidden Ukrainian athletes from wearing black armbands to honour the work of the protesters, saying that it was too overt of a political message at what is supposed to be a politics-free Games.

Then, just moments later, further good news came to the troubled nation, and it again came via a sporting figure.

All-but-retired former world heavyweight champion boxer Klitschko, currently attending to political endeavours in Ukraine full-time, helped get a deal with the Government which will aim to put an end to the violent stand-off in Kiev.

President Viktor Yanukovich is under pressure to quit from the mass demonstrations, and has offered a series of concessions to his pro-European opponents, including a national unity government and constitutional change to reduce his powers, as well as the presidential vote.

The timing of the breakthrough was not lost on the Klitschko brothers Vitali and current multiple world titlist Wladimir, via their joint Twitter account: