Nikita Nagornyy gave an interview to VTBRussia, talking about his vlog, rapping, relationship with Dasha Spiridonova, and learning from his mistakes.
Q: I expected to see a cheerful and smiling guy but you are rather gloomy and stern. Where’s the guy from the “Nikushkin day”?
A: I’m fine in the evenings but now I’ve just finished practice. And I’m not stern at all, I’m just serious. Lots of things to do, so I’m thinking about them.
Q: When was the last time you went home to Rostov?
A: After the Worlds in Canada – I went there for three days, I wasn’t given more time off. I’ve been competing for Moscow for the past six years, so it’s already my home, too.
Q: Do your parents still live in Rostov, though?
A: Yes, my mom, grandmother, and grandfather. They’re not working anymore – they’re resting and enjoying their lives. They can afford it now, I’m helping them.
Q: Are you in touch with your father?
A: Yes, a lot. He’s my role model. He’s very smart, with rich life experience. I think that this being serious when needed came from him. In the past, at some point, I wasn’t even thinking about what I’m doing, where I’m going. Then, when I turned 16, it was the time to grow up, my father started mentoring me a bit, teaching me that sport isn’t forever. I notice it a lot that many people just can’t let the sport go. They achieve success, then retire, realize that regular life is harder than the sport and come back. I don’t want anything like that. I want to leave the sport while still hungry. I don’t want to retire because of health issues.
Q: In most cases, 16-year-old guys aren’t very eager to learn from their elders.
A: Yeah, I guess. It just happened this way that I wasn’t in touch with my father until I was 10 or 12 – because of family reasons I’d rather not talk about. Perhaps, if I grew up with my father, I wouldn’t listen to him so eagerly. Because at some point I really stopped listening to my family. But when I started talking to my father, he made me respect him and then I realized that I need to respect my mom and my grandparents more.
Q: What music are you listening to?
A: Rap, hip-hop. I actually really like to make music. I recorded my first track when I was 11. Everyone was laughing and I was laughing, too. These were amazing emotions.
Q: Was the song about love?
A: No, it was something motivational about all sorts of things. But I have love songs, too. For example, I dedicated four songs to my girlfriend Dasha [Spiridonova] two years ago.
Q: When did you two start dating?
A: I got feelings for her during the 2014 Euros in Sofia. The women’s championship had already ended but we were just arriving – I was still competing for the junior team then. By the way, Dasha didn’t want to talk to me at first. I wrote her messages, she barely responded and never asked me any questions. But then we came to Penza for the Russian Championships and I decided that it’s better to talk in person. I just came to her and offered to be friends. She said: “Ok, let’s try”. Then the friendship grew into a romantic relationship.
Q: What else are you writing songs about?
A: Anything that concerns me. I don’t have trouble writing the texts: if I have a topic, I can write the words really fast. And not by rhyming verbs – that’s considered to be a “no-no” in the hip-hop industry.
Q: Who, out of the current rappers, is the coolest?
A: I listen to Skriptonit, Basta. T-fest is also a very interesting character. Yeah, perhaps he’s copying the western style too much, but he’s doing it pretty well.
Q: And what about Oxxxymiron?
A: Guf, that is, Lyosha Dolmatov, said something about him really well: “In order to listen to him and to understand him, you need to be an Oxford graduate, like him”. Although I really like the “Gorgorod” album. But Oxxxymiron is using the same style in all his songs, he’s getting a bit boring. Actually, you know how it was in hip-hop before? If you hade an idol and he was popular, you could try to be like him and become popular, too. But now every good rapper in Russia has a million wannabes. At the same time, few can do the same things as Oxxxymiron can, that’s why he’s considered to be one of the best. And he’s also one of the founders of battle-rap in Russia, bringing it here from the West.
Q: How close do you feel to the rap culture?
A: I know that many are disliked for getting into the rap culture now. Because it’s kind of a hype now. But I’m not stepping into it because of the hype. I’ve been listening to Basta since I was a kid and my friends and I were dreaming about becoming like him. But the sport has always been in the first place for me.
Q: Was there ever a time when the sport stopped being a priority?
A: No. It was always the sport – not even friendship or relationship. Dasha knows and doesn’t object. Sport isn’t a person. But there were periods when I wanted to retire.
Q: For example?
A: Before the Euros this year. Many things were hard for me after the injury and the conflict with my coach added on top of it… When you have results, you’re in the center of attention, but when you don’t – people stop noticing you. That was the second time in my career. The first serious time was when I was 11.
Q: What happened?
A: I already started getting invited to the junior team camps but then there was a series of injuries. I went to a competition in Cheboksary without my personal coach, Olga Ivanovna Nechepurenko – she couldn’t go because of family reasons. At the end, other coaches didn’t let me warm-up properly and I dislocated a finger. But I refused to go to the hospital – the team doctor put it back in place right away and gave me a painkiller shot so that I could compete. Nothing hurt, but then, a month later, the same finger got re-injured. Turned out that it wasn’t set correctly and I needed to wear a cast. This was in December. When we were celebrating New Year, I remembered about the superstition that “how you’re spending the New Year’s Eve is how you’ll spend the whole year”, so that’s why I took the cast off. And I went to the gym on January the 3rd. And because I took such a long break from training, I just couldn’t stop, even though Olga Ivanovna asked me to stop training several times. I ended up with a double open fracture. I was recovering for several months, everyone in the gym thought I was finished. But while staying at the hospital, I read a book “Spartak”. I actually didn’t like reading back then, but there wasn’t anything else to do. The book inspired me a lot.
Q: Are you still not fond of reading?
A: I love reading. I read every day. Mostly, psychology books, or about business. Fiction – not so much. But I still love “Spartak”. Olga Ivanovna really supported me back then as well. I started coming to the gym and training a little, without putting much weight on my arm. I was tumbling a lot. Perhaps, that’s why I still love leg apparatuses.
Q: Did it take you a long time to recover?
A: I lost a full year because I then broke another arm. But I remember really well how Dima Lankin – he was also training in Rostov – brought a medal from the Russian Championship and shared his feelings. I really motivated me. It was probably then that I realized, for the first time, that I’m the one who needs results, I’m not doing it for anyone else.
Q: And who did you do it for before that moment?
A: I was training because Olga Ivanovna was making me. I liked gymnastics a lot but I often didn’t really want to train. Overall, I believe that an athlete’s success is 100% because of their coach.
Q: Not even 90%?
A: A coach takes you in when you don’t have anything yet and prepares your body and your mind for the future athletic life. Many coaches don’t force their athletes to work if the athletes don’t want to. If it’s just because of laziness, it’s wrong, you have to force them. Because the guys who learn how to work through fatigue during practices will be able to do it in competitions. Olga Ivanovna understood it. And despite this, she wasn’t just our coach, she was basically our second mom. We were spending half of our lives in the gym. Besides us [Nikita and Dima], by the way, Olga Ivanovna also prepared Andrey Likhovitskiy who later also made the national team but then she sent him to another coach, Anatoliy Ivanovich Levshin, God rest his soul. She also tried to send Dima and me there but Levshin refused.
A: Because everyone whom Olga Ivanovna asked to coach us told her: “They’re just clowns, they won’t achieve anything”.
Q: Speaking of not achieving anything. Why weren’t you able to compete successfully in individual competitions in Rio?
A: Sometimes there are situations in life when no one can advise you what to do. You have to find your way by yourself. The bad thing is that such a situation happened to me at the Olympics. We came to Rio two weeks before the competition. And it happened so that for the first week, we were training with the Japanese team. The Japanese! These are the royalty of artistic gymnastics, the best team in the world. And even though I’ve seen Kohei Uchimura and Kenzo Shirai before, at Worlds in Glasgow, that was from afar, not very well, and here they were training in the same gym as us! When you’re training alongside such guys, you just can’t let yourself to do anything poorly. And there wasn’t anyone around me who could’ve told me: “Nikita, let’s train calmly, do only what you need to do and leave” – I came to Rio without my personal coach. No one stopped me. For a whole week, I gave my best in my floor routines.
Q: In order to impress Kenzo Shirai?
A: To tell it frankly, yes. And it wasn’t even a conscious decision, it was some sort of a body instinct. I did full routines, gave my everything and left practices very tired – both physically and psychologically. A week after, the Japanese moved to another gym and I had a decline. I couldn’t do anything. I came to the gym and everything was hurting. And I was competing with a broken foot – my navicular bone was fractured, with a piece of the bone breaking off. I had to take painkillers. Vania Stretovich’s hand was breaking apart. David also had a hand injury. Denis Abliazin had a fractured ankle. Kolya had ligament issues. Everyone was broken – that’s the only way.
Q: And in addition to that, here are Kenzo Shirai and Kohei Uchimura…
A: When I competed on the high bar in qualifications, I was basically opening the Olympic Games for the Russian team. Even now, I’m saying this and I’m getting nervous. But back then I was completely calm. And that’s the worst. You can’t compete without some healthy stress. But all my healthy stress was spent when we were training with the Japanese! At the end, I fell two times and did floor badly even though I could’ve been a medalist there. It’s good that I got back the jitters I needed during the team final. At the end, we became not even the third, as we were dreaming, but second! When I was standing on the medal podium, I saw all my life before my eyes – all the practices, the injuries, the suffering.
Q: When did you first started thinking about doing a vlog?
A: Once I took my camera to a competition and then made a 10-minute video. The guys saw it, said it’s great and suggested putting it online. The video got 5000 views – that was just wow back then! Then I made another video – at a training camp in Croatia, but I quickly deleted it.
A: I was kind of ashamed of being a vlogger. Because basically everyone is doing a vlog now, everyone is doing rap! Whatever’s getting popular, everyone wants to do it.
Q: What made you change your mind?
A: We went to Euros in Switzerland and I decided to try again. And this video was the first one that became really popular. About the same time, I started watching the most popular vlog [in Russia] of that period, “Dnevnik hacha“. And when we won the medals in Rio, I decided to write to Amiran Sardarov [the creator of Dnevnik hacha] in direct messages on Instagram. Of course, I doubted that he’d respond – he already had half a million subscribers. I also wrote to a singer and actor Lyosha Vorobyev. I offered to film something together, for example, a practice. I started my message with the words “I’m at the Olympics right now…” That was my trump card to make them respond. And they both responded!
Q: Did they agree?
A: Yes, but Lyosha was in Los Angeles at the time, so we weren’t able to do it with him. But we made several videos with Amiran. I realized that while I have the chance, I need to meet people, gain experience, look for opportunities outside the gym. I decided to combine two things in my videos – to show gymnastics and some things that are more interesting for a more general audience. At the end, people who came to watch a video about Sasha T-killah’s concert watched gymnastics as well. Some videos got several hundred thousands views.
Q: Do you watch the channel of Nile Wilson from Great Britain, a bronze medalist from Rio?
A: I do. I was actually studyin English with a teacher, using Nile’s videos! He has a very cool format, but I can’t repeat it for obvious reasons. We have slightly different rules in our gym.
Q: Anyway, your example became contagious. Now, many Russian athletes are trying to create their own channels.
A: Yes, many write to me and ask to help promoting their channels. But how can I promote their channels if mine isn’t that popular yet? The most important thing is that I don’t make money of the vlog, I don’t sell ads. Even more, I recently calculated it and I’ve already spent about 200,000 rubles [about $3,400] on Nikushkin Day.
Q: Why are you against ads?
A: If I start earning money from it, it will stop being my hobby. Although I can’t exactly call the vlog just a hobby anymore.
Q: What’s your channel’s audience?
A: I don’t know how accurate Youtube analitics is, but if it is to be believed, then 80% are people aged 18-24.
Q: What can we expect from Nikita Nagornyy the vlogger in the near future? Do you have any new ideas, new projects?
A: Recently, Dima Lankin and I started another channel “Vam Slabo?“. At first, it was just a feature on Nikushkin Day, but then I realized that many people were watching the videos just because of that feature. So, that’s why I decided to create a separate channel. Every video there has between 100,000 and 200,000 views. It’s kind of a show: I’m blabbing while Dima, who doesn’t like to talk in front of a camera, does tricks. We’ll continue doing it. Regarding Nikushkin Day… I think that the current format is getting old. I’m going to rethink it completely in the near future. Truth is, vlogging for me right now is just a very cool experience. If, in the future, I’ll decide to do it professionally, I’ll feel like a fish in the water.
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