This is a translation of an interview posted by Vimagazino magazine
Originally, luck wasn’t on his side. During the last training session, just hours before the Greek delegation departed for Baku, Lefteris Petrounias injured the ring finger of his right hand and got into the plane to Baku with his finger taped. “It made me really mad” he says to ΒΗΜΑgazino, a few days after his return to Greece.
However, this incident affected him very little. Because the 24 years old Lefteris, returned from Baku with one more gold medal in his luggage – he had also won the gold medal at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships of Montpelier last April – confirming that in a time where Greek Sports is mired in introversion, he came to have to have a solid grip on the rings. Today, he is taking his dog “Champ” for a walk, he is getting ready for vacations and he has set his eyes to the Olympic Games of Rio, 2016.
What were your thoughts a few seconds before you got on the rings during the finals at Baku?
I thought that this is the last time I had to execute my routine and that I’ll go on vacation after that. Another thought was that I had to perform well in order to prove that I am not a “shooting star”. It wasn’t just the gold medal at the previous European Championships and then nothing after that.
You dedicated your medal to Greece. Why?
It wasn’t a political message. We are going through difficult times and as a Greek, I’m not going to kneel. Essentially, the messages I want to send to the Greek people is not to kneel and to resist all hardships that are going to come during this period.
Have you ever received a negative comment about Greece from a competitor from another country?
Lots of times. I deal with it with pride. In this sport that encourages sportsmanship, we have learned to speak politely and also to speak through our results. When there is a negative comment I answer politely, but I always answer. There’s no way I’m not going to defend my country.
Is it hard to be an athlete in the Greece of 2015?
The problem is solved for me thanks to the sponsorship I received from www.stoiximan.gr. However, for the majority of the athletes in the elite level it’s not just hard, it’s impossible. I am saying that without overstating anything. When the state, any government does not approve the budget and doesn’t deposit the stipends in time, the federation doesn’t get money quickly and the athlete is not getting paid. When an athlete is not being paid for six months and if his family can’t support him financially, he will have to work and if he works he cannot train properly. I have a teammate who is a university student, then he trains until 6 and then we works in gyms until 11 pm. You can’t achieve your goals like that.
Where do you keep your medals?
I am making a trophy case for my ego. It’s a for-tier case which is already full and from what it seems, I will probably get a second one. I wish to…
After those two consecutive medals what are your goals?
It’s needless to say that my long term goal is the Olympic Games of Rio in 2016. But we have lots of work to do until then because the next big goal is the World Championships of Glasgow in October. And I’m saying this is the big goal because a medal there immediately qualifies you to the Olympic Games. There are certainly other ways to qualify to Rio, but a World championships medal helps your psychology in a unique way.
You participated in a campaign against bullying. Have you personally been bullied as a child?
Bullying is a scourge that needs to stop. We have lagged as a society. Did we need such serious incidents to happen in order to pay attention to this issue? I have been through bullying, just like almost everyone. People were always teasing me about my height, because I was short – I’m still short but I was even shorter back then. It didn’t bother me because I know that If I was a bit taller I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now.
How do you imagine yourself in ten years?
I imagine, actually I dream, to be an Olympic champion, a dad and a businessman. I want to have a family and I want to have a baby boy (laughs) so my son can follow in my footsteps. It sounds a bit selfish but I think he will like it. If he doesn’t like it it’s ok. We should never push children to do anything. However, all kids should participate in sports because for every euro you spend on sports, you’re saving 7 euros on medicines.
What is the biggest myth about artistic gymnastics?
A myth is that it stops your growth, what they say that if you do gymnastics you will remain short. If I wanted to add and to highlight something in every way possible it is that there are no banned substances in gymnastics, it’s a clean sport. There has never been an incident of doping worldwide. It’s clear that you don’t have to wonder why a kid who trains five to six hours a day from the age of five has this body type.
interview by Eri Vardaki for Vimagazino magazine. You can find the interview in Greek here
Photo by Paris Tavitian/Lifo