Thursday, April 6, 2017

Alexander Shatilov: “I’m used to breaking the stereotypes”

Here's a translation: 

Alexander Shatilov, the most decorated Israeli gymnast and one of the most famous participants of this year’s Ukraine International Cup, told Sport-Express Ukraine that being tall is not an obstacle for doing gymnastics and having a beard can even be helpful.

-        A: It’s the third time I’m competing at this tournament already – tells Alexander Shatilov. – I really liked it. In general, I like visiting Ukraine. I am in close touch with Ukrainian gymnasts, I even came to training camps at Koncha-Zaspa several times to train with the Ukrainian national team.

Q: They only installed new gymnastics equipment there last year. Were you fine training on the old equipment then?

A: Honestly, last time I’ve been to their camps was in 2006 and 2007. So, I started coming again when they got the new equipment.

Q: Last time you competed at the Cup, in March of 2009, you had almost the most successful season in your career – you won your first medals at Euros and Worlds that year.

A: Right, so I hope to continue this tradition. God willing, this year I’ll also be able to compete great at Euros and Worlds. But I don’t really believe in superstitions like that, frankly.

Q: So the fact that you competed under the number 13 here wasn’t a problem for you?

A: No. And, you know, in Judaism 13 is a lucky number.

Q: In 2009 you won the all-around at the Stella Zakharova Cup. As I Understand, now you rarely compete all-around?

A: Last time I competed all-around was at the test event in Rio. I did it in order to qualify to the Olympics. But besides qualifications like that I haven’t been really competing all-around since the London Olympics, I guess. I finished 12th there and, after that, decided to become a specialist in certain events. I’m not that young anymore, so it’s hard to train all 6 apparatuses properly.

Q: At the Baku World Cup in March you competed a floor routine with the 5.8 difficulty. Here your difficulty was 6.0. Are you going to continue upgrading and what changed in your routine because of the changes in the code?

A: The code has changed, but the gymnastics basically stayed the same, so I only needed to make little changes in the routine to adapt it to the new code. Yes, In Baku I competed 5.8 D and here I did 6.0. I’m improving! Maybe, I’ll be able to upgrade a bit more for the Euros. The problem is that I’m not always able to perform everything that I planned, often there are all sorts of issues. But, generally, I hope to upgrade to 6.3 difficulty.

Q: And what would you need to compete a 7.2 difficulty like Shirai did at the Melburn World Cup in February? To be born in Japan?

A: Not necessarily. There are guys from other countries who are closing the difficulty gap. But the Rio Olympics showed us that you can stay out of medals even with the highest difficulty if you make mistakes, that’s what happened with Shirai. Execution is very important in the current code. Judges are strict and take big deductions for mistakes. So, sometimes you can compensate for lower difficulty with really good execution.

Q: You won the high bar gold in Kyiv, but you only earned silver in the floor final – your favorite event. What were the issues with your routine?

A: Overall, I’m happy with my performance. I tried a new combination which I’m planning to compete at Euros. Of course, there were elements that I could do better, cleaner, tighter. Not a big deal, there’s stuff to work on. I’m not mad about losing to another Israeli gymnast (Artem Dolgopyat). I’m actually happy for him that he competed well. It’s nice to see that there’s a new generation of gymnasts in Israel who can give me some competition.

Q: What kind of conditions this new generation has? It’s just that in Ukraine even the national team could only get new equipment after Verniaev became European and World Champion. It would be interesting to compare the situation in Israel.

A: Gymnastics is a relatively young sport in Israel. There weren’t a lot of gymnasts before me that competed at the international events or at the Olympics. But we’re slowly improving, we have a lot of coaches from the former USSR. There isn’t an established system with boarding schools like in Ukraine, it’s mostly private clubs. But, generally, any regular Israeli citizen can afford to pay for gymnastics classes for their kid. If the kid starts to win, then the gymnastics federation and the national Olympic committee will take care of him. For example, I’m a professional athlete. For many years now I’ve been able to do just gymnastics and get paid for it well.

Q: As  I know, you whole family are athletes. Who has the most medals?

A: I do. *smiles* My dad was an equestrian, my mom did acrobatics and my brother played soccer. Right now he’s a coach at Maccabi Herzliya and works with 14-15 year olds.

Q: Can you also play soccer and ride horses?

A: I can do everything – I can also play tennis and soccer, and I like surfing and snowboarding.

Q: When do you have time for gymnastics?

A: *laughs* Well, when I have some spare time after all this stuff I’m going to the gym.

Q: There aren’t many 6 feet tall gymnasts like you. Obviously, such height can be an obstacle for many things in gymnastics. Can it be an advantage sometimes?

A: Well, the advantages are usually outside of gymnastics. But I’ve never complained about my height. It actually helped me. I first started catching the attention of judges and fans because I stood out as so tall. When I went to my first World Championship as a 19 years old everyone was surprised that such a tall gymnast is doing so well. I looked impressive and people remembered me. And I qualified to a final at my first Worlds, so I guess, my height has only been helping me in both gymnastics and regular life.

Q: So, when everyone got used to your height you decided to surprise people with something else and grew a beard?

A: I’m used to breaking stereotypes. Gymnastics is quite a conservative sport with certain aesthetics. But I though – if I already stand out because of my height, why not also stand out because of my beard?

Q: How else would you want to surprise judges and fans?

A: I think by winning gold. That would be the best thing.

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