Dmitry Bilozerchev: I'm in No Hurry to Say Goodbye
By Andrei Batashev
Sport in the USSR, 7/89 A few months ago it was rumored by the Soviet press that Dmitry Bilozerchev, 22, the winner of three Olympic medals in the rings, the side horse and team event and the holder of the bronze medal in the team scoring, was going to quit sport for good. He was quoted as saying: "I'm tired of gymnastics."
The May issue of Sport in the USSR reported that fact promising the readers that it would keep them posted about the developments and let them know whether his decision was final.
In 1985 Bilozerchev fractured his left leg in a car accident. It took three operations to save it. With a device invented by Gavrill Ilizarov, the famous doctor from Kurgan (a city in the southern Urals), Dmitry resumed his training. However, that time the right leg tendons gave way. After another operation, and once again still limping, Dmitry went to the gym, leaving his sleepless nights behind.
I had no doubt at that time that nothing could stop him as an athlete, and the championships of 1987 bore me out. Bilozerchev preformed as if there had been no two-year break in his career, winning once again the title of all-around world champion. He thus repeated his success of 1983 and showed the others that he was still the leader.
That is why it is quite understandable than when we met I hesitated to ask Dmitry whether he was really tired enough to quit gymnastics. So, I began in a roundabout way, beginning with the Seoul Olympics where in the free program Dmitry fell from the horizontal bar, quashing any hopes for the gold.
"It was a technical error," he said. "I have five wide turns on one hand, and I made a mistake on the first turn. Presumably there was something wrong with my shoulder joint. And that dislocation was more telling with every turn. On the fourth I couldn't keep my grip any longer."
Could you have possibly avoided the accident?
Of course. All I had to do was do it two hands, and nobody would have blamed me. However, that idea never crossed my mind since I was bent on doing the combination as I saw it fit from the very beginning. The next day, when competing on individual apparatus I made the same exercises and made the same mistake. However, since I had already played through the "emergency" situation in my mind it took me an instant to bring into play the other hand to finish the combination with no trouble.
After that mishap it probably was rather difficult to force yourself to do your best.
I knew that my rivals would make no mistake. So I had to outscore them at least a little, by one hundredth, one thousandth of a point and do it on every apparatus. It was unrealistic. However, I spared no effort. Third for me is a tragedy.
I was disinclined to ask that question, but I asked nonetheless: When you went to the Olympics did it ever occur to you to quit sport when the Games were over?
Of course it did. How many years I've spent in gymnastics... And not a single year have I had a month of relaxation, if we discount the time I spent in the hospitals, but it can hardly be qualified as rest.
Still, I cannot imagine that you can quit gymnastics, I could not resist asking.
And I'm not going to.
But you just said that you had that idea.
Just an idea, no more. I really wanted many times to call it quits but deep down inside I always knew that I'd never be able to do it. You cannot abandon your occupation, the more so if you don't know anything else but gymnastics and you're used to it. You're accustomed to working out in the gym every day.
And what about "being tired of gymnastics" as you've said?
Everybody gets tired. Some in three years, others take ten or fifteen years. Besides, it is very difficult to prove you're tops every time. Maybe it is easier if you are second or third.
And what is tiredness for a gymnast?
After a competition you wake up and cannot get out of bed. Every joint is aching even if there are no injuries. And all you want is to stay in bed. However, after some rest you are fit to work again.
So, the press reports are not true?
I was too candid with the correspondent. However, I spoke about my hesitancy, rather than about my decision. I engage in sport not only for the fun of it. I feel the Army Club and the national team behind me and if they need me I shall do anything I can for them.
And how did these difficult years affect your relations with others?
I'm rather reticent, although I maintain good relations with other people. Of course, I'm displeased if somebody says something bad about me and I rejoice when I hear words of approval. In principle, however, the opinions of other people are not all that important for me. Of course, people have helped me, such as my coach Alexander Alexandrov, and national team coach Leonid Arkaev.
And do you have purely sports problems nowadays?
I've just begun training. But I have no coach, Alexander Alexandrov is now coaching the national women's team. And you can't get anywhere without a coach. Officials of the Army Club are thinking about this, naturally. But I myself must say what I want. So far I have not decided for myself who can replace Alexandrov. However, I have no doubt that I shall find somebody to become my assistant.
Soon you'll be twenty-three?
Do you think it is old for a gymnast?
I don't think so. Oleg Blokhin at 37 is a decent football player. So, maybe it is possible to prolong one's life in gymnastics until at least 27? Why shouldn't I make such an attempt?
Last year you graduated from the Leningrad Armed Forces Institute of Physical Education and received a coaching certificate. Do you like this profession?
I told you once that I'm not going to quit! Why do you all call me up and pester me with your questions?
Now, wait a second. I realize that you are not quitting. I'm talking about the future.
I've got time to think things over, while right now I'm worried by something else: my wife Svetlana has been ill for a long time after the birth of my son Alexander (now he is six months old). I have to find time for household chores and raise the child. And here I really know nothing and sometimes I'm even afraid to approach him. It's good that his grandma helps out. Well, if I look into the future, whatever happens in my life I'll still be a gymnast even if I'm not able to perform the most simple exercises. In my mind a real athlete remains an athlete all his life. And if we are treated with the same exactingness and respect as we treat our beloved work, the big-time sports careers of many of use will be much longer.
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