Maria Paseka talked to Izvestia about defending her gold medal at Worlds and how she managed to overcome the fear before the final. She said that she plans on fixing the leg separation and bending on her Cheng and has been working on it already. She also wants to upgrade vault and have a vault named after her. While she doesn’t say which vault she has in mind, our guess would be TTY – currently the Holy Grail of WAG vaulters which many people submit but no one’s been able to successfully perform in competition yet. Shallon Olsen of Canada was the latest gymnast to submit a triple-twisting Yurchenko at these Worlds, but she ended up never even trying to compete it.
Paseka also seems to have a pretty vague idea of how inquiries work, saying that they thought they weren’t allowed to submit an inquiry for Melnikova’s beam score even though they wanted to inquire her difficulty (special requirement was not credited). She then goes on to say that no one can argue with the judges and that people can’t inquire the difficulty scores. Since this was a print interview, keep in mind that the journalists were probably not gymnastics specialists and might have misrepresented her words. The question about the doping control at Worlds also seems weird, since in another interview Paseka said that this was the first competition where she didn’t have to give a sample after medalling. However, this interviewer states that she was taken to the doping control for the first time in her life at these Worlds which seems pretty unlikely considering her long career and the fact that medalists are often checked for doping right after the finals.
Q: Was this gold harder for you to win than in 2015?
A: It was harder because I’m at a different age now, my body behaves differently. It was hard physically. And somehow I started to be more nervous, to worry more. When I was younger, I didn’t care how I competed. But now I became older and started to think about it more. There were a lot of injuries at these Worlds. I was very afraid to get injured, so I was worried even more.
Q: Do you ever think about the fact that an injury can seriously affect a [gymnast’s] career or even end it?
A: I try not to think about that, but at my age, any injury can be career-ending only because some people can’t get through the recovery process.
Q: Did you feel like a team leader? Were you helping the ones who were at their first major competition?
A: I advised Nastia Ilyankova to calm down because I saw how worried she was, how crazy her eyes were. I told her: “Show them the same good level as you had during training”. Unfortunately, judges got “stingy” with her. She did bars better than anyone. I don’t know why she got such low scores.
Q: Can you guess?
A: I guess, because she didn’t compete a lot before that. Some judges don’t know her and that’s why they decided to give her such a low score. But that’s just my assumption.
Q: Was there something that you fixed during the preparation after the Euros where you ended up without a medal?
A: I wanted to make my vault cleaner. I’m making a big error when I vault off the table – leg separation. I’m also bending them a bit. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fix it in time [for Wolrds]. But I managed to get in shape. I thought it would be harder to achieve after the Euros and the Universiade.
Q: You surely analyzed your performance. Why wasn’t the first vault successful?
A: I was very nervous because I really wanted to win, to defend my World champion’s title. I had two unsuccessful competitions in a row. If I could transmit the emotions I was experiencing, my fans would go crazy.
Q: How did you manage to get yourself together?
A: There’s one secret: my legs started to go a little numb because of the strong fear and worries. I started to pinch them very hard so that they’d feel normal again. At the end, my legs finally felt ok but then my arms started getting numb. I really was very afraid. When I woke up in the morning I got frightened – I was all covered in bruises.
Q: What are your chances to win gold in Tokyo in 2020 if you compete your vaults successfully?
A: In order to win the Olympic gold I need to fix that big mistake I was talking about and to upgrade the vaults so that I’d be unreachable. So that there would be a vault named after me. [laughs]
Q: How serious is the competition on your apparatus in the first post-Olympic year?
A: I like that there’s a lot of competition on vault. That’s good. What happened was that the new code lowered the [vault] difficulty scores. In 2012 the Amanar had a big difficulty score – 6+. One cycle passed and now the difficulty is 5.8. By doing that they equalized some vaults so that people would have to fight harder. For example, bars. The Chinese gymnast had a 6.5 difficulty. She made a lot of mistakes but stayed in first because of her high difficulty. Lena Eremina has a lower difficulty and she made a few mistakes. The Chinese gymnast won because of her high difficulty.
Q: You were pretty active on social networks during the Worlds, you discussed the judges’ decisions often. What does the national team staff think of it?
A: Judges can also make mistakes sometimes. To just not credit the special requirement for Melnikova – that’s too much. No one understood what happened. We wanted to submit an inquiry. Someone said that it wasn’t possible to submit an inquiry, but a Belgian gymnast did it. It was all very weird. We were all shocked.
Q: I guess it’s a neverending issue. Human factor always plays the decisive role with the judges. How hard is it?
A: Judges are like the president, you can’t fight them. They gave you a score and you can’t just come to them and say: “I disagree with how you calculated my difficulty and with the score that you gave me”. They posted [the score] and you can’t do anything about it already. They decided and that’s it.
Q: Have you ever thought about how the judging could become less subjective? Or is this unrealistic in your sport?
A: At these Worlds, beam routines were judged very strictly. Vault, where I compete, was judged well enough. Every apparatus is judged differently – every judge has their own opinion.
Q: You gave a sample for the doping control for the first time at these Worlds. How nervous did you feel?
A: When I gave a sample for the first time, it was scary. I don’t know why. They’re sitting there, giving you such looks that sometimes you kind of start feeling as if you’re really guilty of taking doping – they give you such a grave look. You just don’t feel like yourself, don;t understand what you’re supposed to do. You’re afraid to move because they’re watching you until you give the rest of the sample.
Q: Did you feel any pressure since everyone’s always talking about Russian sports and doping?
A: I don’t care what people are saying. For a long time [people] said that Maria Sharapova was on doping and that the Williams sisters are just eating healthy. That’s just rubbish.
Q: You were not pleased with some of the organizational issues. Why is that? Montreal is a city with athletic history.
A: The organization was not at the highest level.
Q: What was the reason for that?
A: No one knows or understands. For example, there were problems with transport. A bus arrives, it’s supposed to depart right away, but the driver says he’s not going anywhere. But we have to adhere to our schedule down to the minutes and that created discomfort.
Q: Russian athletes who compete abroad experience a language barrier. Have you had any problems with it?
A: I studied English as a kid. I’m trying to say what I remember or to play charades – to explain without words.
Q: And they understand you?
A: Some people understand you, but some people will look at you like you’re an idiot.
Q: You said that you used to cheer for the Spartak football club, then for CSKA, and now you’re not supporting any team. How did your fans react to that?
A: No one said anything to me – I guess, because I’m a girl.
Q: So, you don’t care about football now?
A: I began to dislike it when I started to learn more about football. I saw that the players always lost and they didn’t care. They lost, they still got paid, so they feel great. That pushed me away.
Q: Do you understand why football players have such huge salaries compared to other sports?
A: Football is more prestigious. So many men are watching it and are ready to give up their lives for it.
Q: Do you feel offended that the sport that hasn’t really been successful in Russia for the past 25 years is so popular?
A: I do. We have other sports, too. Maybe, some people aren’t interested in it and they only like footbal because of the situation around it.
Q: The athmosphere?
A: Yes. The fighting, the yelling.
Q: So, you wouldn’t like to have fans like that in your sport?
A: It would be great if the fans liked other sports, came with our flag [to the competitions]. Take the Olympics when the whole crowd is cheering “USA!”. If people were cheering like that for our country, it would give so much adrenaline and confidence.
Q: Have you ever felt such support?
A: Only at these Worlds. It was very nice when foreign fans wore jackets and hats with Russian symbols and tried to yell “Davai!”. We couldn’t really understand enything but it was very nice when they came to us, asked for a picture and an autograph.