Interview: Lilia Podkopayeva

7th September 2016, 00:00a.m.

The 1996 Olympic all-around and floor Champion was invited over to coach a Summer Camp at Sugarloaf Gymnastics Club recently. She took some time to talk to Gymnastics Ireland about her life since the Atlanta Summer Games and her thoughts on how the sport has changed in that time.

Lilia was the first woman to hold the European, World and Olympic all-around title at the same time, since Ludmila Tourischeva in the beginning of the seventies. Known for her artistry on floor, Lilia captured the heart of many fans worldwide.

1.       Welcome to Ireland, I believe it's your first time here, how has the trip been?

Thank you. The trip was wonderful. A warm welcome awaited me in Ireland. I was delighted with the country and people. During the trip I got acquainted with Irish traditions, had dinner at the famous pub Johnnie Fox's and tasted Guinness beer. Everything was great.

2.       What have you been doing since you retired from your successful gymnastics career?

Since I retired from my career I organized the Golden Lilia International Sports Festival in Ukraine to encourage young people to go in for sports and to inspire them for achievements. It took place each year till 2009. I also used to be United Nations Goodwill Ambassador on HIV/AIDS in Ukraine and Ambassador of Council of Europe for Sport, Tolerance and Fair Play, organized and took part in social activities. At the same time I hosted some TV shows in Ukraine.

Gymnastics still remains in my life, despite the fact that I have left the big sport. Each year I am invited to sports schools and summer camps in USA and other countries to give master classes for children. Sometimes I judge competitions since I have been certified as an international judge. 

3.       How do you feel gymnastics has changed since you first started competing?

I think the gymnastics has become more powerful and intense but less graceful. When I performed besides usual trainings we were learning lots of choreography to make movements more elegant. It gave the sportsmen an advantage in competitions. Now more attention is paid to skills. More acrobatic stunts have appeared in gymnastics. I think the trend has changes but the difficulty level has stayed the same. 

4.       Ireland had its first ever female gymnast compete at an Olympics this year. How have you found working with the Irish girls this week at Sugarloaf?

We worked very well. I shared my experience and knowledge with the girls. During the trainings we focused on the choreography and jumps, tried to make the movements more graceful. You should work hard to reach success. And I'm sure the girls will achieve good results. They are very talented and have great potential. Besides they have very good coaches and well equipped gyms.

5.       What are some of the qualities do you think an elite gymnast needs to have in order to be successful?

To become a successful gymnast he or she needs first of all to be persistent and hardworking. I always say that you may be very talented but if you don’t work hard nobody will get to know about your talents. Bringing gymnastic elements to perfection you will fall thousands of times and you need the inner strength, the tenacity to rise again and again through pain and fatigue. I believe that if you are hardworking and strong enough to get through this you will reach success. 

6.       Who are your favorite gymnasts of the past and present and Why?

When I started to train I dreamt to be like Larisa Latynina and Svetlana Boginstaya. I had just begun to perform in international competitions and could only dream to be like these great gymnasts. Years later Svetlana became my dearest friend.

If to talk about gymnasts who perform now I think it’s Simone Biles. Her skill level is very high.

6. What is your favourite skill and what skill do you most like to see performed?

Since my childhood I like to dance very much. And floor exercises for me are a moment when you can show not only all your power and skill but the maximum of gracefulness as well. They are my favourite to perform. And parallel bars I prefer to watch.  I didn’t like to do them. Even now when I watch other gymnasts doing exercises in bars my palms become wet.

7.       What advice would you give to young gymnasts and athletes who now share the Olympic dream?

I would like to say to the young gymnasts that the biggest victory is the one that you win over yourself. If you can overcome your pain, fatigue, laziness, you can achieve anything you want. Be patient, work hard and never lose your balance.

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