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9 Feb 2014

TOP-8 Belarusian sportsmen in 2013: SERGEI RUTENKO, handball

Sergei Rutenko
We sums up the year with publications dedicated to Belarusian sports heroes, the best of which will be determined by public vote. Yuri Mihalevitch in the third article describes Sergei Rutenko’s role in handball team in the country, explains why the success of the athlete should not be reduced only to the scoring table data that are close to perfect.

Handball player Sergei Rutenko

When Belarusian handball legend Spartak Myronovych celebrated 60th birthday, a boy from the capital's "Arkatrona" Sergei Rutenko trained with SKA. Since Belarus got the sovereignty this kind of sport in the country "went down the drain", according to 17-years-old Rutenko. Then he was dreaming to be a first-string player in the Army team, the most powerful team on the planet in the past. He dreamed about visiting banquets at idol’s homes. For example, the Spartak Myronovych’s testimonial dinner. After 3 months of dreaming he started to live out desires.

Sergei Rutenko

For this he decided to leave the country. But Sergei chose not the United States, Britain or Russia, but the two million Slovenia, where he at 22 won the Champions League with the local "Celje", developed leadership qualities, took the sport to a new level in foreign land (Boris Denich the head coach of Minsk "Dynamo" and the national team of Slovenia told about it), became an idol for the Slovenes, a true national hero. In the early 2000s he was still not needed in Belarus, and therefore he acquired Slovenian nationality. In July 2013 TUT.BY published an extensive interview with eldest of the brothers Rutenko, who gave us more biographical information, when the country’s main team qualified for the top handball tournament for the second time in a row after returning the handball player to the national team of Belarus. But in this text we are answering the question: «What makes Rutenko’s achievements special in 2013?».

Now in order to consider him as the best sportsman of Belarus it is enough to recall that he helped "Barcelona" to win the National Championship for the third time in a row, as well as – to win the ASOBAL League, that in the world he is recognized as the best left back, that in the final of last year's Champions League he became the most productive player on the field (eight goals), that in the group stage of the World Championship he was again the most-most (forty-two goals), that the Belarusians in January 2014 still play at the European Championship. But all this cannot be compared with his other victory. Rutenko defined it as a success in the fight against inferiority in Belarusian mentality.

Belarusians, in the opinion of the handball player, are overly critical of themselves, they do not know what they can do, and they waste time and efforts to fight the demons that infuse with doubts. When Belarusians show the world something worthwhile, they can’t just enjoy the triumph of the nation. As long as somebody will assign a high or low grade to the results of their work. And yes, in 2010 got accustomed to the European ideals Rutenko after taking official right to play for the native team faced Belarusian reality. Not for the first time, but now he had to weigh everything up and make a decision: to put up with any ethnic prejudice or fight with them. And he decided to act.

First games with favorites troubled us, – says Rutenko about fights with the Danes and Russians during qualification for Euro 2012, which Belarusians not failed, but they could not demonstrate super efforts to achieve a goal. – We discussed it with guys many times in the locker room, and realized that these are the same people as we are – blood, flesh, bones. They feel pain too. They have nothing alien. Well, yes, they are more technical players. Therefore, we must show other qualities.

First of all, dedication, team play, self-belief. Required experience came to team through difficulties that was triumphed over – not only by Rutenko. The impossible became possible thanks to KVN (Konoplev Vladimir Nikolaevich, Chairman of the Handball Federation, the ex-speaker of the Parliament. – Comm. Ed.), who started to make improvements to "unattended" sector under the instructions of the president of Belarus, and boost competition in the National Championship, where Minsk "Dynamo" and HC Meshkov Brest face off like "Real" and "Barcelona". Thanks to Yuri Shevtsov who is forming the vertical in accordance with the advanced technologies and is already looking from a height of head coach after the boys, maybe, right now Denis Rutenko, younger Sergei’s brother, has one of the best seasons. Every time some guys come into focus, they are Dmitry Nikulenkov, Maxim Babichev, Sergei Shilovich and Boris Pukhovsky – all talented athletes.

Sergei Rutenko

And in fact when in the qualifying tournament of Euro 2014 the moment of truth came... Belarusians needed the maximum amount of points in meetings with direct competitors in the sixth qualifying group – Iceland and Slovenia. But they could not rely on the captain and leader. Rutenko Snr., who repeated the national record in the number of goals per match (fourteen) in 2013, at such a critical moment he was out of the game due to injury. He did not comment it. Nevertheless, in Iceland the team aspired to be a dynamic and unpredictable in attack, and Vitaly Cherepenko made save by save. Largely therefore to the beginning of the second half of the match the eight points margin became possible. It was difficult for Shevtsov’s team to bring it to victory, that is why the taste of victory was sweeter – 29:23.

But Rutenko decided to participate in the final away match with Slovenes, which he spent, as they say, thanks to injections, and all honour to him for this. Even in this state he was useful for the team. Do you remember, no one knew then what bothers the Belarusian star, what is wrong with him?

– The pain was bearable, but the back block hindered movements, – said Sergey Rutenko in the interview to TUT.BY. – Fortunately, Slovenes did not know how serious my injury was. As for me I chose this tactic: "At the beginning it is necessary to fire in more shots on target. If I don’t score, I’ll at least scare". And then I tried to stick out less, gathering around myself the defense-men of opponents.

It's hard to believe, but Sergei Rutenko’s match plan was successful, he even had managed to excel five times, and found someone to give the burden of leadership – Boris Pukhovsky. After the five points margin in the beginning of the game Belarusians caught up the opponent. As a result, in each of the game segments they had one more point than opponents – 18:17 and 17:16.

If a couple of years ago an opponent had the five points margin, most likely, it would mean the end of the match, – Rutenko gave proper respect to teammates. – But now they have managed to change the psychology, and they made a big step forward. Many guys now are under thirty, they are not young. It is very difficult to change your mindset in this age.

The Belarusians rejoiced at handball players’ success not loudly, but among the people interested in this kind of sport the most popular opinion was the following: "We no longer depend on Rutenko". Not to be confused with "Rutenko became redundant". You do realize, of course, that his playing in the match with Slovenes was inspired partners who fought not only for the country but also for the guy who devoted all energies to help. They also fought for themselves, proving themselves their abilities, that participating in the World Championship a year ago was not a fluke, and they being almost thirty-years old don’t have the last say in handball yet. Sergei’s achievement – he could cope with the problem, which he outlined at the start. He did not finish his studies at Humanitarian and economic non-state institute, Department of "Social Psychology", because of a silly misunderstanding – conflict with the accountant. But listen, in 2013 he showed that he is a great practitioner-psychologist to the world, he actually defended his graduation project. And he deserves the degree.

Rutenko also merit reward, he could praise himself. However, he didn’t do that, giving proper respect to the partners in the best Belarusian traditions. And it’s right, only the worst qualities of the nation should be destroyed, in order that each next generation will certainly be better than the previous.

– In my opinion, our biggest merit is not even getting the national team to the top-tournaments, but increasing the number of children playing handball. Only in this way we will get in the future new players for national teams and clubs. Agiotage that arises now in Belarus after the victories, of course, pleases. Recently, in social networks one woman wrote to me about her son and thanked. Watching our games, he wanted to play handball. Unfortunately, her page was locked somehow – so I could not answer. I think the more kids we engage in this way, the better.

Sergei Rutenko

Sergei Rutenko once liked handball for the dynamics and contact, so much that he became one of the best and most expensive handball players in the world. Today he is not just a top-level athlete, but also an example to follow and idol of millions... a welcome guest at the anniversary of Spartak Mironovich. Legend celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday in 2013. Someday Rutenko will also be called a legend, though, why can’t we do it now?..


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