Nikita Nagornyy competed well at Euros out of fear

Nikita Nagornyy gave an interview to “MK” about his experience at Euros in Cluj and how the fear of losing a sport on the national team motivated him to do well. It is worth noting that at this moment Nagornyy does not have a valid FIG license. It’s not clear whether his license was not renewed by the Russian Federation on purpose or they simply did not submit the paperwork in time, as it happened last year with Liliya Akhaimova.
Here’s a translation of the interview:

Q: Nikita, what were your thoughts when you came to the first European Championships of the new quad, especially since you were recently injured?
A: I was afraid. Afraid to do everything badly and lose my spot on the national team. That fear has stayed with me even after the competition ended.

Q: What reasons did you have to be afraid? You were always kind of cocky, in a good way. You won the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 – 3 golds, a silver, and a bronze. At your first senior European Championships in France, you won a gold medal. Then, another two golds at your second Euros – team and individual, and a silver team Olympic medal, a breakthrough, after 16 years without medals!
A: I was never afraid like that in my life, everything was easy for me. I guess, it first started with my attitude towards the training, I looked irresponsible. And… how to put it… there’s this chance that if I won’t start training more seriously, I’ll be thrown off the team.

Q: Were you specifically told about being irresponsible? Or that the fame got into your head?
A: You can ask anyone around me, the fame never got into my head, that’s not the reason. It’s hard to put it into words but, I guess, I stopped understanding how to approach the training process. After the Games, especially when I was recovering from the injury, I sort of got used to training this way: if I’m in a mood, I’m doing everything, if I’m not in the mood, I’m not doing it. That was the way I was preparing for the Russian Championships, the first competition of the season. I came to Kazan, won the parallel bars, qualified for the high bar final, competed well for two days and failed on the third.
Q: But you’ve missed a lot of the training because of your injury.
A: Yes, the guys have been training since September: there was a break in August, then came September and everyone started working hard. And I got injured in October. I only started training at the end of February, I even remember the date – 24.02 – so, I only started training seriously two weeks before the Russian Championships. My coach and I had a goal to show everything that I could do at the Russian Championships. I did more than I could. I even did more than usual – I had a new routine and added two new elements to each apparatus, competing them all at the Championships.
Q: So, what’s wrong with that?
A: Everything’s right. It’s just that I wasn’t overcoming anything, I was just having fun learning new elements with the coach, doing some super difficult elements for the future. We created a routine for the Russian Championships. In Kazan, I was on a roll and even started to do a routine with a really high D. Unfortunately, I fell in the final. So, in this mood, I came to the training camp – sort of expecting that I’ll be training on my own again and having fun.

Q: Well, that was indeed a pretty unrealistic expectation.
A: Of course, it was. The coaches started putting pressure on me gradually: having fun is good but you also need to prepare for the Euros. I had a plan to get in shape during the first week of the training camp – there was a bit of a break after the Russian Championships. But, at the end, when I needed to show to the coaching staff my full routines, I couldn’t do what needed to be done. So, then they looked at me this way: we need to compete to Euros and he’s doing nothing.
Q: And how long was that going on?
A: During the last full routine evaluation before Euros they already said to me: that’s bad and if that’s your attitude, you have no right to compete at Euros, no right to embarrass us.

Q: Did you disagree with them?
A: I completely agreed. It naturally upset me. And yes, I guess, this kind of shifted my attitude: I have to work hard, there won’t be an easy road for me in this sport. But mostly it upset me and I started training not with my regular approach “I have to compete and win” but with fear “If I won’t do this, I will be punished”. And this fear stayed with me even after Euros, after my bronze medals on parallel bars. It stayed in my head.
Q: Let’s try to point this self-reflection into a slightly different direction. It’s bad to underestimate yourself, but it’s also bad to overestimate. Do you think you’re naturally gifted?
A: You know, I’ll say this… there’s this Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor. Some people think he’s just a clown and a showman, some say he has a special approach to fights. I agree with the second opinion. This man says how the fight will end even before it starts. He programs himself: “I’ll knock out my opponent in the second round”.

Q: What are you talking about?
A: About self-evaluation and attitude. On the day of the parallel bars final in Romania, I was saying this to the masseuse, to the doctor, to David Belyavskiy: I will be on the podium, I am able to do this. This way, I was trying to program myself, so that I would lose all fear. And, you know, this was probably my first routine where I was on a roll again after I was told: “you won’t go to any competitions with this attitude”. I had the same approach as before: my goal is to do this, I like it. The spunk has returned. And I liked it.

Q: You once said that during competitions a hunting instinct awakens in you: you want it and you get it. Even at your first senior Euros, you got a gold, but at these Euros, when you come as an Olympic medalist, you only got a bronze. On the other hand, you made some valuable conclusions and you return as a different person…
A: I don’t think these Euros were a step backward. If we’re talking about my mental state – yes, things haven’t been easy. But these Euros weren’t bad: I competed on three apparatuses, p-bars, rings and high bar. I did rings really well, got the best score in my career, and that was even without a stuck dismount. The high bar is the apparatus that is always dragging me down in the all-around. The issue is that you need to do it completely sure in yourself, otherwise nothing will go right. That’s what happened. And the fact that I became the third on parallel bars – for me that’s like winning floor, it’s a great result. The same with execution – I got my highest score in a long time. So, for my future all-around career, these Euros were a really huge experience.

Q: You know, I’m confused about this feeling of fear that you have and that isn’t going away. What would have been the right way for the coaches to talk to you to avoid causing this fear?

A: No, I’m not saying that something was said in a wrong way. I also don’t call what happened a conflict. I am training and the coaches are evaluating me. And the way I perceive their words – that’s me being mad at myself for allowing myself to behave in a manner that prevented me from progressing.

Q: Can you share some thoughts on how it happened that you drove yourself in such a trap?

A: I have enough motivation, I just need to find the most important thing I lost – discipline. For every day. I lost the state of mind I had before the Games. Of course, then we went through a lot – this preparation was going on for two years. I endured it mentally – this is the most important thing. And so, when you realize, that you’re on the team, you’re competing at the Games, the pressure that was on you before the Olympics goes away. [the coaches] treat you like a family member. They put their hopes in your hands, you’re competing, everyone’s happy, then the medals, the congratulations. So, when the new preparation has started, I didn’t realize that it’s a new stage. I was [mentally] still on the same team, I’ve proved everything to everyone already. I crossed the borders I shouldn’t have and I was put in my place.


Photo: Getty Images

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