Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Oleg Stepko's interview - translation

Oleg Stepko gave an interview to azerisport.com about his life in Azerbaijan and some competition plans. He seems to be the happiest of the Azeri gymnastics acquisition and the situation works very well for him (unlike Netreba, Pavlova and her parents and Petro Pahniuk).
The interview is actually quite interesting and Oleg seems to be quite mature and articulate, so I decided to translate the who thing, not just to summarize it. Enjoy!

Q: Oleg, how was it for you to start your life from blank slate?
A: I don't think I started my life from blank slate after moving to Azerbaijan. First of all, I never had any life besides gymnastics and I don't have it now. I don't see practically anything besides gym and apparatuses. I train two times a day. The drive to the gym is half an hour one way. So I drive there in the morning, train, drive back,. rest a bit, drive to the gym again. I spend 2 hours per day on the road and train for several hours each time I'm at the gym. I guess, if I lived in the city center I'd have more free time, but I chose to live in the suburbs, in a house, on the sea coast.

Q: So that you could go to the beach and swim in the mornings? Millions of people dream about such an opportunity?
A: Well, I prefer to swim in a pool, but I like to walk on the beach.

Q:Why are you voluntarily depriving yourself of almost everything for gymnastics? Does the Gym God require these sacrifices?
A: If you want to achieve something and not just do your time, of course. You asked me whether my life has changed after I moved to Azerbaijan, and I said it hasn't, but, rather,  I have changed drastically. In these two years I became a completely different person. I got read of all the bad habits, learned to treat my work, other people and myself differently. If I stayed the same as I came to Baku, I'm afraid no one would tolerate me - not the coaches, not the federation. I'm self-centered and have a quick temper.

Q: Is that so? I consider you fearless, firs of all, if you're able to admit such flaws publicly.
A: It's not my place to say whether I'm fearless or not. I can only add that the last bad habit I still have is laziness. I have to fight with it constantly, it doesn't give up easy. he only way to overcome it is to work, to make myself work even when I don't want to. My coaches help me with that a lot, I'm very grateful to them. It's hard to make myself work. Right now my coaches busy with a seminar, so I'm training alone. I come to the gym, do everything I'm supposed to, but I still feel like I don't work enough, it would be better to have someone to watch over me, to have the "carrot and stick" reinforcement.

Q: Your tattoos are very impressive. You have this intricate art on your hands and some mysterious writings on your chest and back, which are hard to decipher on the photos.
A: I have a shark tattooed on one arm and Zeus the Thunderer on another. The writings... Each of them has a story. On the chest I have "It's all in the hands of God" in English. I got this tattoo after the infamous team final at the London Olympics when the Ukrainian team got robbed of the medal. That was when I realized that not everything can be controlled by a man and I have to learn to accept it. The other writing, on my back, says "If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you". It's a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, but for me it symbolizes a very important internal victory. A victory over alcohol. That's a very serious problem, more people suffer from alcoholism that you ever thought. I overcame it four years ago, it wasn't my fault that I had it, I was genetically prone to alcoholism. But for the past four years I've been free.

Q: That's another unexpected and very brave confession that not many people would dare to make... Tell me, Oleg, do you feel extra responsibility as a foreigner brought to Azerbaijan specifically to win medals?
A: You know, I haven't felt as a foreigner here even for a single day! I've emphasized from the very beginning that Azerbaijan is my country. I didn't decide to represent Azerbaijan because of money as some people in Ukraine are saying. First of all, I was offered such  conditions for growth and progress in gymnastics which I never had back home. Azerbaijan has amazing facilities, great opportunities, they do everything for a gymnast so that I can progress and achieve results. Our gym in Ukraine was simply dangerous to train at. There were old apparatuses that could collapse any time. Once my foot got stuck between the mats and I got seriously injured. Guys had to buy their own tape...

Q: And at the European games you gave 4 bags of tape to your former teammates...
A: I helped because I could, it was nothing for me.

Q: Oleg Verniaev is the only one from your amazing and unfairly robbed London team who stayed in Ukraine. Kuksenkov left for Russia, you - for Azerbaijan. However, looks like you're all still in touch?
A: I'm not in touch with anyone in Ukraine except for my mom. She's the only person I have left there. I'm not on social networks and don't keep contact with anyone. I have my quiet family life in Baku, that's enough for me.

Q: Family life? You mean, you got married in Azerbaijan?
A: Not yet, but I met my love in Baku.

Q: As far as I know, Azerbaijanis are very strict about relationships, they think that you first have to meet the family, to ask the parents for permission to date their daughter. Did you have to do it?
A: No, I didn't. My girlfriend is very modern, she has a US choreographer certification, she studied in US, lived in St Petersburg. That's how we met: when I moved to Baku she worked at the gymnastics federation here. She didn't think that meeting her family is necessary.

Q: Is your unwillingness to keep contact with anyone besides your mom and your girlfriend just part of your personality? And why are you staying of the social networks? Many gymnasts are now posting videos of the new elements they're learning, so it's both trendy and helps with curiosity regarding how other gymnasts train.
A: First of all, there might be consequences of posting those videos. There are gymnasts that will immediately try to copy you, and, if it's a new element, they can even compete it before you! So, being active on social networks is not without its cost. It's just not for me. I prefer that as few people as possible know what I'm doing at the gym, just the coaches that work with me. I try to protect myself from any unnecessary information. For example, I didn't want to know in advance who was competing at the European games and who was replaced. If my coach tried to tell me, I asked him not to. The same goes for the Islamic Solidarity Games [*a multi-sport event for athletes from Muslim countries in Baku this month, will include WAG and MAG competitions*]. This competition means a lot to me, because it's at home, in front of the home crowd, so that means extra responsibility.

Q: Your career is a mix of good a bad periods. You become a European champion, then, after two years,  have another row of wins at the European Games and the World Championships. But the next, Olympic, year is bad for you again. You became the first Azeri gymnasts to make an AA final at the Olympics, but, I guess, you expected to do better in Rio.
A: Yes, I expected more, but it didn't happen. Or, rather, the preparation for the Olympics didn't work out the way I wanted it to. We parted ways with my coach, Pavel Netreba - I don't want to go into the details. Right now I have new coaches and it's a new quad, Tokyo is ahead. Let the past be the past.

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