Svetlana Khorkina attended the World Championships in Montreal as a guest and shared her thoughts on the results with the media.
Q: Svetlana Vasilyevna, could you rate the performance of the Russian team at Montreal Worlds? 6 medals – is it a lot or not enough?
A: The results were satisfactory. I was pleased with the performance of our boys in the all-around. David Belyavskiy was fighting for the first place until the last apparatus. He has really improved since the Olympic Games in Rio. Of course, there were mistakes that didn’t allow him to get the gold medal, but it was just an accident. In the women’s all-around, our young and beautiful girl from Saint Petersburg, 16-year-old Elena Eremina, showed that she can fight for medals. I was pleased not just with her bronze all-around medal. This girl answered the journalists’ questions in English during the press-conference. It’s not the biggest achievement, but it’s a bonus point that adds to a picture of a talented gymnast.
Q: As a specialist, could you tell us why Belyavskiy fell from high bar in his last rotation?
A: When he was performing the element, his hand didn’t catch the bar the way it was supposed to. He missed it by a millimeter and lost the gold. It’s just a coincidence. An accident. He was surprised by this as well.
Q: Belyavskiy is 25 years old already. At 25, you had already retired from competing.
A: Well, it’s men’s gymnastics. There was even a 32-year-old gymnast in Montreal. The current gymnastics rules allow competing on just one apparatus. These World Championships were individual. What does it mean? There was no team competition, only individual all-around and event finals. That’s why today you can stay in gymnastics for many years. The only question is what kind of results you want to achieve. For me, the only goal has always been the first place. Just participating isn’t interesting to me. I hope that our gymnasts will always have the motivation to fight for medals at international competitions. Yes, David is 25 years old, he’s an experienced gymnast, but I’ll repeat, he still managed to upgrade after the Olympic Games. I’m really happy that Belyavskiy and now the two-time World champion Maria Paseka both represent my very own CSKA club. These athletes brought Russia three medals at the World Championships in Canada. I congratulate the whole gymnastics division of the Army Club on these medals.
Q: But still, David will be 28 in Tokyo in 2020. Isn’t it too old to expect new Olympic medals?
A: I don’t think that age is something you need to pay attention here. If your routine is good enough for a medal podium at the Games and you’re motivated to succeed, you can win at 30 as well. Why did I go to Montreal? I really wanted to see what we have left in stock after Rio. Who, among the Russians, can not only “survive” till Tokyo but also be a medal favorite there. Whether our young gymnasts are at the international level. Generally, I saw that we have a decent young generation but they have to upgrade the difficulty of their routines. For example, in Canada, the gold was given to the Chinese gymnast and not Eremina because the former had a .02 difficulty advantage. Our gymnasts have to create a margin of safety in these three years until the Games in Tokyo. I’m sure that the coaching team will be working on it. They’ll upgrade the routines because there’s room for growth there. Fortunately, we have a foundation onto which more difficulty can be added.
Q: Who, among the competitors, impressed you the most in Canada?
A: Belgian and German team have really decent WAG gymnasts. I was surprised by the Japanese team who’s taken the preparation for the home Olympics very seriously.
Q: What do you think of the Americans?
A: The 4-times Olympic champion Simone Biles didn’t compete there. There was a new American team. The US gymnast Morgan Hurd became the all-around winner. She didn’t flinch, she was a bit lucky at times… My congratulations to Morgan, but our girls need to train so that they wouldn’t give her a chance to repeat this success at the future championships.
Q: The two-time Olympic champion Aliya Mustafina is 23 years old. Do you think she’ll be able to return to the highest level after giving birth to her daughter in June?
A: I was told she’s getting back and already training at Round Lake. I heard somewhere that she’s supposed to fully return to the sport next year. I think that if you return you should do it to win medals.
Q: Do you think such comebacks are possible?
A: I became a mom at 26 and didn’t return to gymnastics because the rules didn’t allow gymnasts to compete on just one event. I’ve always been a strong all-arounder which indicates my universality – I could fight for an Olympic gold on every apparatus. Current girls aren’t like that. They’re event specialists.
Q: Isn’t it rare, though, to give birth and then return to gymnastics?
A: Why rare? We have Oksana Chusovitina. She’s 42 years old and she’s returning. Yes, she’s not winning medals just yet*, but everyone’s greeting and loving her. She’s my friend, I love her very much, too. I want to wish my club colleague** Aliya Mustafina to come back for more medals, to be successful and to have enough energy for both family and the sport. Aliya has two big things in her life right now: family with her child and elite gymnastics. If she can combine it, it will be very cool. I wish all kinds of success.
Q: What were the attitudes of North American spectators to Russian athletes in Montreal?
A: The crowd supported our athletes a lot. Our athletes got their fair share of applause. I didn’t see any negative attitudes towards Russians in Montreal.
Q: How did the international gymnastics spectators greet you – the Russian artistic gymnastics icon?
A: In Montreal, I was just sitting at the VIP area but the fans still found me there. And not just the fans. Some girls who competed in the 80s approached me. For example, Daniela Sillivas, an Olympic champion from Romania. My former idols are now taking my autographs for their kids. I was extremely pleased. Generally, I enjoyed Montreal not just because I was in my element there. I like to watch the positive imporvements in my sports, how the routines are becoming more difficult.
Q: Have you given any though to publishing your book, “The Magic of Winning” in English?
A: No, but I’ll think about. In this regard, everything is still ahead of me.
Q: Are the book sales going well?
A: Not bad. Fans are approcahing me all the time, asking to send them copies of the book. The initial circulation was 3 or 5 thousands. But more copies can be printed.
*Khorkina’s statement about Chusovitina not winning any medals after her return post-birth is factually incorrect. Chusovitina won multiple World, European and Asian championships medals after giving birth, made three Olympic vault finals and won silver on vault in Beijing 2008.
**Aliya Mustafina also represents CSKA – the Army Sports Club – where Svetlana Khorkina now works as a deputy head and which she used to represent as a gymnast.