Verniaiev: If I’m completely ready in Tokyo, Kohei won’t beat me

Oleg Verniaiev has recently been quite popular with the media and giving a lot of interviews. In the most recent interview, Verniaiev talks about how winning medals in Rio improved his funding and training conditions and what are his plans for this season and for the Tokyo Olympics. The original interview is in Ukrainian. Below is the English translation. Comments are marked with square brackets.


“After the Rio Olympics, I said that in the next quad I will be focusing on the all-around. I haven’t changed my mind about that but I haven’t yet made any changes in my training. The thing is, that after the change in the Code of Points we have to change the routines and element combinations. A year, at least, is needed to finish these new routines. My floor exercise changed a lot and there are also differences on the other apparatuses. So, for now, my coach, Gennady Sartynsky, and I are getting into the routines and upgrading the difficulty at the same time.

We’re adding more difficult elements on every apparatus. For example, at the Stuttgart World Cup, I tried to compete a 7.0 D parallel bars routine. In Rio, with the old rules, I had a 7.1 difficulty there. Now it became 0.5 lower. That is, I’m supposed to have a 6.6 difficulty, but I’ve already tried to do a 7.0 difficulty in Germany. So, there are prospects for upgrades but I’ll have to work on it. There’s this new 18-year-old Chinese guy. He has a high difficulty and really good execution. He’ll be my competition on bars. To be able to compete with him I have to have a difficulty no lower than 7.0.

My main competition in the all-around is traditionally Kohei Uchimura. He’s the best. You want to become the best, you have to beat Kohei. That’s obvious. I need to measure myself against him, first of all. The changes in the rules, generally, didn’t affect me that much. There are certain moments but they’re minuscule. Same goes for Uchimura. I watched him at the Asian Championships [Oleg probably means NHK Cup here, since Kohei didn’t participate at the Asian Championships] and he won with about the same score I got at the European Championships. To be precise, his score is higher, but not by much. All in all, I don’t think he’s completely ready yet. Anyway, I’m convinced that if I’ll be completely ready in Tokyo-2020, Kohei won’t be able to beat me. Even the home crowds won’t help him. Fans in Japan also know and respect me. I get a lot of nice messages from this country. I’m sure I’ll have some serious support in Tokyo, too. Not as much support as Kohei will have, but still. Comparing to other athletes, fans will support me.

I won’t lie, I was disappointed after Rio that I couldn’t win gold in all-around. But I’ve calmed down and I realize now that to get a silver and a gold Olympic medals is a great achievement. Moreover, I was glad to win a medal in the all-around for the first time in many years. I mean at the Worlds or Olympics, not at the European level. I was 4th twice, it was always so close but just not enough. And at the Olympics, I competed well, got a good score, and I was very close to the first place.

The silver medal motivates me. I have a goal now for the next quad. Of course, we can argue about whether the judging was fair during the last two rotations, but I won’t do it. Whatever happened happened. I needed to have a bigger advantage, more than 0.9, before going to the high bar, the most difficult apparatus for me. Theoretically, I could’ve risked it and do everything possible on the high bar, but, I think, I wouldn’t have gotten a higher score. It wouldn’t have changed anything. This was my score.

I almost had no rest after the Olympics. I had maybe one or one and half weeks of time off and then got back to the gym because the competitions in Germany were coming. Of course, it’s not easy. But this is the only way if I want to win medals. If I let myself relax, it will become difficult to compete with the strongest gymnasts. Although I won’t be working the same way I was preparing for Rio, of course. I have to have some rest. Like, right now I had a chance to go to a recovery vacation in Israel. I think, from now on, I’ll be going there once or twice a year, after Euros and Worlds. This will be an active vacation.

I must say that after the Olympics people started treating me differently. In a good way. There was a good example at the European Championships. I made a serious mistake during the parallel bars routine. They could’ve not counted the element. And I wouldn’t even argue. And if they hadn’t counted the element, the whole combination wouldn’t count. That is, before the last apparatus, the high bar, I would’ve lost all chances for the first place. But they counted this element.

These were the changes in the sport. There’s also progress beyond the gym. People started to recognize me on the streets. I like this because before the Olympics I could’ve walked on Kreshchatik [Kyev’s central street] and if even a couple of people noticed me it was considered great. There’s also an improvement in the funding, the salaries from the Ministry of Sports are now higher. I realize that if I continue winning, things will be good for me.

I haven’t been in Donetsk, my hometown, for a long time. Last time I visited in 2012. It’s sad, because my grandparents are still there, many friends. I’ve often asked why I’m staying in Ukraine despite the offers from other countries and despite the fact that the Ukraine is economically not stable. I reply: this is not for me. I can’t take this step that would’ve changed everything. To leave all alone to some place I’m not familiar with – that’s not for me. I sort of understand that, maybe, in 10 years I won’t have anything in Ukraine. To put it plainly, to work as a coach and receive a salary of 3000 hryvnias a month [about $115] – that’s not very attractive to me. But I can’t change myself, I want to stay in Ukraine whatever happens. This is my home and I feel good here. Although, coaching is just an example. I don’t really want to coach. That’s really hard work. I want to do something useful for gymnastics. Maybe, I’ll become an official in some federation. I want to make my sport the best.

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