Valeri Liukin: Gymnastics is my life

Valeri Liukin gave an interview to TASS after the Worlds in Montreal. The interview was in Russian and following is the English translation:

Q: The head coach of the Russian [WAG] team Valentina Rodionenko considers you the most successful ex-Soviet immigrant coach in the World. How did you become the best?

A: I’ve never heard this about myself, but I’m very happy to know that I deserved such a praise from a person I respect very much.

Q: You own a successful chain of gyms, WOGA, in the US, in which the future generation of American gymnasts is being raised. Have you thought of opening a branch in Russia?

A: It’s hard for me to say. I live in the States and no one from Russian ever reached out to me about this option.

Q: Why did you agree to become the US WAG national team coordinator while being a successful businessman? It surely wasn’t about the money, right?

A: It’s the next step in my life. Money isn’t the most important thing for me right now. Gymnastics if my life. I wake up in the morning and can’t wait until I get to the gym. I am an Olympic champion, my daughter is an Olympic champion. I want to raise Olympic champions. Working with the national team is the next important step in my life and I really wanted to try it.

Q: What relationships do you have with your Russian colleagues?

A: Very friendly. My immigration to the States changes nothing. I’m friends with all the Russian coaches, especially the ones who work with the WAG national team.

Q: When was the last time you visited Russia? And your native Kazakhstan?

A: I’ve been to Russia three years ago and I’ll go there again this winter, around the New Year. I don’t have any family left in Kazakstan, though.

Q: What is Russian-American Nastia Liukin, the AA Olympic champion in 2008, doing now?

A: She’s a very in-demand professional. She became a businesswoman. Her business has to do with sports and technologies. Nastia is also a commentator for NBC Olympics.

Q: What can you say about the performance of the Russian female gymnasts at these Worlds?

A: I really liked the Russian team here. You brought young gymnasts here and this is very important for the sports’ development. But no less important is to have experienced gymnasts on the team. US team is kind of jealous of you because we only brought rookie gymnasts to Canada.

Q: I talked to the famous Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim a day ago and she talked highly of Elena Eremina’s chances to become one of the main contenders for the [AA] victory in Tokyo-2020. What can you say about this young Russian talent?

A: I completely agree with Nellie. Lena Eremina is a very technical gymnast who has a bright future. You can safely bet on her since there are three more years till the Olympics. But she already can do a lot and it’s not a coincidence that she’s taking two Worlds medals home with her. Eremina has a very formidable routine on bars, and she looks really beautiful on beam as well.

Q: Aliya Mustafina who won a gold medal at both 2012 and 2016 Olympics is coming back to gymnastics after having a baby. What are her prospects?

A: Aliya has a very strong character. I have no doubts she’ll get to her previous high level. But it’s going to be hard to achieve.

Q: What does Russian artistic gymnastics lack that prevents it from being a leader, number one in the world, like the Soviet team used to be? Or the dominance of gymnasts from one country generally isn’t possible in our times?

A: Undisputable leadership of a single team, and of the Russian team as well, is more than possible. It’s hard for me to judge why Russia hasn’t been able to achieve it so far. Here, I see how your best athletes compete. However, I don’t know what’s happening with your team’s closest reserves. Work on the developmental level is very important. In addition, don’t forget that during the Soviet Union, the team included people from many Soviet republics. And now Russia is an independent country. It makes me very happy that Russian artistic gymnastics managed to survive all the hard times and is competing on the highest level again and is taking the leading positions.

Q: What do you think of the competition results of the American WAG gymnasts at these Worlds?

A: It wasn’t our best competition. It was hard for us from the start when Ragan Smith, our number one, got injured. Nevertheless, the second American gymnast, Morgan Hurd, managed to take the first place in the all-around despite competing at Worlds for the very first time. We hade young gymnasts competing here and I’m glad that they looked well at this competition.

Q: Was the victory of Morgan Hurd, your second gymnast, in the most prestigious competition – the all-around – a surprise for you?

A: We hoped that she’d be able to show herself. That’s what we’re training for. Morgan did what she could.

Q: What’s the secret of American coaches? Russian Elena Eremina also competed at her first worlds and won AA bronze – she explained her mistakes as due to the lack of experience, among other reasons. Hurd, who’s the same age, didn’t give any excuses and became the champion. Do you have a psychologist on your team?

A: In order to give a comprehensive answer to your question, I’d need to know the current training system in Russia, but I moved to the States very long time ago. I don’t see how the Russian team is training. Answering your second question, I can say that we don’t have a psychologist. We’re dealing with all of the problems ourselves.

Q: Is it true that the personal coach of the new AA champion Morgan Hurd is a specialist from Russia?

A: Yes, that’s true. His name is Slava Glazounov.

Q: So, it’s possible to say that the victory of the American gymnast is partially due to the Russian artistic gymnastics [tradition]?

A: I guess so. But Glazounov was never an artistic gymnast, he used to be an acrobatic gymnast. So, it turns out, Russia has contributed to the success of American gymnastics in Montreal. Generally, ex-Soviet coaches made a huge contribution to the development of gymnastics in the U.S. A lot of coaches from the USSR moved across the ocean since the beginning of the 90s. That’s America’s strong side – to gather the best minds from all around the world. Professionals are really appreciated here, no matter where they came from.

Q: The U.S. team was missing the multiple Worlds and Olympic champion Simone Biles. Will we see her [at competitions] again?

A: She’s coming back the next season and, if she makes the team, she’ll compete at the 2018 Worlds. No one makes the team based on their previous achievements, she’ll need to prove her right to represent her country at Worlds again.

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