Reuters - Thu, 25 Feb 16:51:00 2010
Anastazia Kuzmina won the Olympics 7.5 km biathlon sprint in Vancouver for Slovakia's first-ever Winter Games gold but only a few months ago she had been ready to compete for Bulgaria.
Former Bulgarian biathlon's national team coach Boran Hadzhiev said Kuzmina and her husband and coach contacted him to reveal she wanted to apply for Bulgarian citizenship and to compete for the Balkan country.
"It's true," Hadzhiev told Bulgarian media.
"They were in Belmeken (south-western Bulgaria) last summer and they asked me to help and let our federation know about Anastazia's desire to compete for Bulgaria.
"I discussed the situation with our federation's chiefs but they decided against applying for Kuzmina's Bulgarian citizenship and her inclusion in the national team after all," he added.
The 25-year-old Kuzmina had never won a World Cup event before her surprising victory at Whistler Olympic Park on February 12.
Russian-born Kuzmina, who also works as a police officer as well as an athlete and a coach, switched allegiances to Slovakia in 2008.
"It's a shame because she's a top performer and could have helped the Bulgarian team," said Hadzhiev.
Bulgarian biathlon is going through hard times after the recent retirement of 1998 Olympic champion Ekaterina Dafovska and 2006 European champion Pavlina Filipova.
"In fact, Kuzmina got in touch with me again a few weeks later but our officials didn't change their mind."
The Bulgarian Olympic Committee announced it would award enhanced cash bonuses to athletes who win medals in Vancouver but despite the incentive the country is yet to record a podium finish with the Games finishing on Sunday.
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