Zhan Beleniuk is an OLYMPIC CHAMPION!!! Jean-Belenyuk, a Greco-Roman wrestler, in the 87 kg weight category, brought Ukraine the first Tokyo 2020 gold.
All the Photos by National Olympic Committee of Ukraine
Beleniuk was born in 1991, the year Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union, to a Rwandan pilot father and Ukrainian dressmaker mother. His father died fighting in Rwanda’s civil war, leaving the future wrestling star to be raised by his Ukrainian family in a one-room flat in Kyiv.
Beleniuk suffered racist abuse that sometimes even turned physical in the nation’s capital, which was a far more homogeneous city than it is today. By Zhan’s words it did not bother him too much, but he felt “too light for Africa, too dark for Ukraine” with his mixed heritage.
I have come a long and hard way, I started training at the age of 9, now I am 30 years old, and finally it happened, I took the Olympic gold.Zhan Beleniuk
Beleniuk took up Greco-Roman wrestling when he was nine and, fuelled by his early experiences of racism, decided to use success in sport as a way of tackling prejudice.
In 2010, he turned professional, winning his first international medal with bronze at the 2012 European Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. That success spring boarded him to wrestling’s top table.
Over the next seven years he pinned down three European Championships, a gold and silver medal in the European Games, and two golds, a silver and a bronze at the World Championships.
As his success grew on the mat, so too did his displays of patriotism. He was increasingly photographed wearing traditional Ukrainian shirts, and even started celebrating some of his victories with a traditional Ukrainian dance, the Hopak (traditional ukrainian dance).
In 2017, Beleniuk joined the Ukrainian Army as a junior lieutenant, and a year later was awarded an apartment in Kyiv by Ukrainian authorities in recognition of his sporting achievements.
And in 2019, Belenyuk became a member of the Verkhovna Rada with the party “Servant of the People” under №10 in the candidate list. He then stated that he had been personally invited to the list by Volodymyr Zelensky. When Ukrainian President reached out to Beleniuk about potentially joining his party, the two-time wrestling world champion immediately accepted. This opportunity would provide him with an even greater voice in the country and a direct platform from which to help end racial prejudice, while also improving sporting infrastructure.
Zhan Beleniuk, a Ukrainian and People’s Deputy from the Servant of the People party, received the country’s first gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
He defeated Hungarian Viktor Lerinets with a score of 5: 1 in the Greco-Roman wrestling final in the weight category up to 87 kg. The Ukrainian became an Olympic champion.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated the sportsman on Twitter.
Such a long-awaited first “gold” for Ukraine at the Tokyo Olympics! It is especially pleasant that our brother, the brilliant Jean Beleniuk, received it. He confidently won the final in Greco-Roman wrestling in the up to 87 kg category! Thank you, friend, for proving that you can be successful both in sports and in politics!Volodymyr Zelenskyy