(by Steve Hopkins)
For several years, Dimitrij Ovtcharov has been the anchor on a Russian League team called Fakel Gazprom Orenburg. That Fakel team has been one of the strongest in the European Champions League and has been the dominant team in the Russian League. Last week, Ovtcharov announced he would be leaving that team – expressing his concern over the war in Ukraine and referencing his grandmother who lived in Kiev at the start of the conflict.
None of the Russian teams are current allowed to participate in international competitions – and, in fact, the Fakel team was through to the Final Four in the recent Champions League tournament and were barred from continuing (ultimately the match between Dusseldorf and Saarbrucken decided the title as the two Russian entrants were not allowed to compete). Just three days after the announcement that Ovtcharov would leave his Russian team, he has made a second announcement – he will be playing the upcoming Champions League season with TTC Neu-Ulm.
Ovtcharov is bringing another Fakel team member along, Lin Yun-Ju will also be joining the TTC Neu-Ulm squad. Tomokazu Harimoto (a third Butterfly player who is also in the World Top 10), and Sweden’s Truls Moregardh round out this very strong team. The Champions League and the TTBL are two different things, and Ovtcharov’s announcement was specific to the European Champions League without referencing the German League where Neu Ulm finished this year in the middle of the pack at 11-11. Neu Ulm’s current team includes one of Germany’s top juniors, Kay Stumper, along with top Russian player Vladimir Sidorenko and well-known Tiago Apolonia. It will be interesting to see if this announcement also means they will be competing in the TTBL and displacing many of the current Neu-Ulm team – or if Ovtcharov, and his all-star cast of top players, will just be competing in the Champions League events a few times each year under the Neu-Ulm flag.
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