Vasiliki Millousi: “it’s all about the journey”

A few days before Christmas, Vasiliki Millousi was invited to the show “Mysterious train” by Web Music Radio and she was interviewed by Kostas and Apostolis. Here’s a translation of her interview. I translated the gymnastics related stuff of that interview, leaving out some jokes and songs, that may not interest gymnastics fans.

Interviewers: Good afternoon Vasiliki 

Vasiliki: Good afternoon, thank you so much for inviting me, it’s a big pleasure

InterviewersThank you for accepting the invitation. The pleasure is all ours. How do we even begin? There’s so much to say, we can start asking details about the Olympics and the world championships. Or we should take it slowly and start from the beginning?

Vasiliki: The beginning? 25 years ago?

Interviewers: 25 years? So since you were a child.

Vasiliki: Yes, it’s a lifetime. I’ve been doing this since I was a baby.

Interviewers: How did you get started? Was it your choice or it just happened because you had friends doing gymnastics or something like that?

Vasiliki: It was my choice. My sister had started going to a gym and when I was going with my mom to pick her up, I was complaining and I wanted to start too. So I forced them to send me to the gym as well (laughs)

Interviewers: And that was a wise move, it paid off…

Vasiliki: The truth is that a while after I started, a rhythmic gymnastics coach noticed how flexible I was and wanted to see if I am fit for rhythmic gymnastics, so she took me to have some training with her. I didn’t want to do it at all and I actually ended up having a fever. I didn’t want to to rhythmic gymnastics, I wanted to flip! I attended one rhythmic training session but I never trained with them again. I said that I wanted to do artistic gymnastics, period.

Interviewers: Did your sister continue?

No, my sister trained for a few years with me, but she eventually stopped.

Interviewers: So your sister was the reason why you started. See how valuable siblings can be?

Vasiliki: She has done a lot for me, it wasn’t just this one

Interviewers: So let me ask, all those years, all the experiences, all those competitions, what does the mat mean to you? What does the sport mean to you?

Vasiliki: As I said before, it’s my entire life. If I start talking about gymnastics it’s like I’m talking about my own life because this is what I’ve been doing since the age of 4.

Interviewers: You just revealed your age (laughs) 25 plus 4

Vasiliki: Yes, yes. It doesn’t bother me at all. They write my age in all the newspapers and the articles and I’m wondering, “is this necessary? Do you need to write that after a certain age?” (laughs)

Interviewers: Yes especially for young women

Yes (laughs) But yeah, I learned lessons through gymnastics, I became tougher, I became the person that I am today, I learned discipline…

Interviewers: Yes I have lots of questions about this, about the discipline in the sport, there must be incredible rules for your life in general.

Vasiliki: I think that elite sports are discipline by themselves. It’s not just in artistic gymnastics. Elite sports choose you, and in order to do that, you have to be very disciplined.

Interviewers: okay, it’s time for our first song. What I had in mind, was a song that is playing around now, i’ts I believe I can fly, and doesn’t that really suit you?

Vasiliki: (laughs) yes, I think it’s every child’s dream or maybe their question “why can’t we fly?” When you were young didn’t you – I’m not sure if you did it, but I did all the time- I was getting on the couch thinking “Could I fly”. And then I actually did fly

Interviewers: Now, let me ask something I’m curious about. This is something I want to ask lots of people, regardless of their job and how much they love it, but this question is particularly important for you and for athletes, because of what you’re being through with competitions and training. If you could go back in time and talk with your younger self, what pieces of advice would you give to yourself?

Vasiliki: If I could go back in time, I think that I would make the same choices. I have no regrets, even though I’ve been through lots of hard times. The road is not easy at all but I think I would do the same things, I think that I would even make the same mistakes because we learn from our mistakes and each mistakes has made me wiser. I’m not wise, but I learn from every mistake, and especially my mistakes during competitions. I just would advise myself to be a bit tougher.

Interviewers: Less emotional?

Vasiliki: Yes, in all aspects of life

Interviewers: This is something that we don’t realize when we are young, and we understand it while growing up

Vasiliki: Yes, I’m very tough with I want. I fight hard, to the point of disgust, until I get what I want, but I’m not like that in other aspects of life.

Interviewers: When did your first medal come? At what age?

Vasiliki: My first medal was during the qualifying competition of South Greece, because at what time, there were qualifications for the North and the South and then it was the national championships. This was my first competition at the age of 6, and we placed 3rd as a team.

interviewers: Great, congratulations, do you have any special memories from that medal?

Vasiliki: Yes, I also have lots of photos from there because it was my first competition and it was an intense experience. I remember how nervous I was and how much I was thinking about it and how much I wanted to go and compete in front of my parents. It was very nice.

Interviewers: Yes, I can imagine this at that age. And does success make you want more? Does it encourage you to work harder? And at the same time, do the failures make you think that you can’t do this anymore? Have you ever thought about that?

Vasiliki: Yes of course, I am experiencing it often. The successful moments really motivate you. It’s a big push, it makes you think that you can do it, that if you just take one more step, you’ll make it. The same goes for the disappointments. They temporarily hold you back but I have been through a lot during competitions, I have learned to control it and to turn something negative into something positive and move on. You have more disappointing moments than successful moments.

Interviewers: Here’s a question I have every time I watch you, or the other athletes in this sport, compete. During your first steps, when you did your first flips, were you afraid? Your first falls… are there any falls?

Vasiliki: Way too many falls. I think that this is one of the reasons why gymnastics start in such a young age. The younger you are, the less you fear because you have no sense of danger. So I wasn’t afraid while getting started. I don’t remember being one of the athletes who were scared, some of my teammates were probably more scared than I was. I really trusted my coach and I was trying to follow his advice so everything would come more easily. I obviously had falls and injuries, this happens every day in practice, but I didn’t really struggle with fear.

Interviewers: So, you also enjoyed it?

Vasiliki: A lot, I enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed training and I enjoyed and I’m still enjoying the challenge of getting better every day. When you are at home before training you think “What do I have to do today? I have to do those skills and I want to do them better than yesterday” This goal you set for yourself every day is a big challenge for me.

Interviewers: And it gives you small victories…

Vasiliki: Yes, exactly. And lots of joy and satisfaction from yourself.

Interviewers: So does the journey play an important role?

Vasiliki: Yes, it’s all about the journey. Success and failure are less important than the journey. The journey is the most important thing and at the end this is what stays with you.

Interviewers: Now I will ask you to tell us some of your successes. How many medals do you have? Have you counted them?

Vasiliki: All my medals? No

Interviewers: They are uncountable (laughs). So what are your biggest accomplishments?

Vasiliki: I have lots of medals from national championships and world cups. I think I have about 13 medals from world cups, including a gold from the London Test Event, I have been a 5 times European finalist, a world finalist and a two times Olympian. I have 3 Mediterranean medals, a gold a silver and a bronze and I have been first at FIG’s ranking twice. And I’m hoping to finish with an Olympic gold… you know (laughs) This would be way too hard

Interviewers: I don’t think that’s so hard, I think you have it

Vasiliki: You know, it bothers me when I hear people saying “go for gold”. For us it’s so difficult to even get into the finals. For example I was very close the last time, I was 11th with a very small difference, it seems to be too far away and I don’t talk about it because I focus on how to get into the finals, and then once you are in the finals anything can happen. Because balance beam is… unbalanced sometimes (laughs)

Interviewers: You said you hope to finish with an Olympic medal. You hope…

Vasiliki: even a spot in the Olympic Games… (I’m not sure if she means a spot in the Olympics or a spot in the finals)

Interviewers: You’ve said that you’re retiring after Rio?

Vasiliki: Yes, I think yes, that’s what I’ve said. I’m a bit reluctant because I have said that I’m stopping after Rio but I said the same before London. And after the 2012 Olympics, I stopped for a little bit and then I said “okay, I can continue for a bit longer”, and year after year I didn’t even realize how it’s already time to qualify for the next Olympic Games.

Interviewers: It doesn’t matter, as long as you see Rio with such anticipations it would be great to take it further.

Vasiliki: Yes, but you know, as years go by, my age is coming after me, as a woman (laughs)

Interviewers: Does it make you nervous when you go abroad to compete and everyone is depending on you to bring a medal home?

Vasiliki: Yes, it makes me nervous but it’s a beautiful kind of stress. I just hope that I can satisfy all those people, who believe in me and my effort. It’s that kind of stress. It’s not something negative.

Interviewers: When, after lots and lots of years you decide you want to retire, will you stay involved in gymnastics?

Vasiliki: I think that the world of gymnastics is like a virus, I just can’t leave as you can see (laughs) I don’t want to leave. As you get older you say to yourself “Okay and? Can I even leave from this? This is my home” I can’t leave but (in a few years) I will probably have a different role.

Interviewers: I have a question about something that surprised me quite a bit. There was a time when you stopped gymnastics quite early. If I’m not mistaken, you left after the world championships of Debrecen in 2002

Vasiliki: No, I also competed at the European championships of 2003 and I left the sport in 2003. Actually, I didn’t leave. It was kind of obligatory!

Interviewers: Did the federation pressure you?

Vasiliki: Yes. It was the federation’s decision. They sent me a piece of paper, saying “Thank you very much for what you have offered but you are now old and the young athletes coming up are stronger and there’s nothing more you can offer. Best of luck in your future career”

Interviewers: Seriously? Is the federation so tough?

Vasiliki: It used to be. They were not just tough, they were very wrong, because that was dump. They didn’t stop me, they did this to all of us, year by year and they thought that it was right to make us all stop even though we had a very good team. This is something that doesn’t happen any more. Now they don’t just take you off the national team. You leave when you can’t do this anymore, this is obvious. And it’s not that they were paying us…

Interviewers: Very Weird, this sounds very weird

It was a very bad unwritten law that once you’re old… I don’t even know if this was the real cause or if there was something else behind it. There probably was. And then, it was the federation that asked me to come back when the administration changed.

Interviewers: And that was a good decision because you’ve brought us lots of success since then

Vasiliki: Yes, and you know, especially in women’s artistic gymnastics, the female athletes tend to have a decline when they hit puberty because your body changes, you gain weight, it’s a bit strange and there is some struggle. But once you get over that, you are stabilized, and your success comes after that. Based on all this, 2004 should have been my best year.

Interviewers: And does that make you upset?

Vasiliki: Yes, it’s one of the dark times of my career. I wasn’t just upset, I was depressed. I was younger and I hadn’t lived outside of gymnastics. It’s what they tell you that while you are in the gym you are in a bubble. While we are there we don’t realize it but we live in a bubble and when someone suddenly breaks that bubble, you find yourself alone and exposed. It’s like you’re being born again but you can’t find your steps

Interviewers: Speaking about the federation. Do they support the athletes? Or they only support you when there is a notable achievement?

Vasiliki: No, they are close to us now, they support us but they don’t have help from the government. They want to help but they can’t. Especially during the last years, with the financial crisis, sports are not really favored, especially for sports like ours.

Interviewers: How many hours do you train?

Vasiliki: 5-6 hours every day

Interviewers: And I imagine this also affects your diet, your life…

Vasiliki: Yes, you train for 5-6 hours a day but you are an athlete 24 hours a day. This means that once you get back from practice, you have to eat well, to sleep well

Interviewers: By sleep well do you mean the right amount of hours or the right time?

Vasiliki: The right time. You also have to wake up the right time because you have to get ready before practice. It’s not like you wake up 10 minutes before and you leave, it doesn’t work like that.

Interviewers: So it’s not just training, it’s a lifestyle.

Vasiliki: Clearly, it’s a way of life.

Interviewers: And you’ve been doing that for 25 years, is it tiring? Are there things that you’re missing out on, and you say that “why can’t I do that too”?

Vasiliki: When I was young I did that a lot, especially as a teenager. I lived it through different periods. For example, what annoyed me the most during primary school, was seeing my classmates going home after school to play, watch TV and relax. I couldn’t do that. Of course in a way, I was playing in the gym, but when there’s pressure and intense training from a very young age at some time it stops being a game and it becomes a serious job. You start from a young age because whatever you build, you build it until the age of 16, so at that time it really is hard work. It’s four hours of weariness and pressure every day.

Interviewers: Was there something during your absence from the sport that helped you come back faster and easier and less painfully?

Vasiliki: When I stopped gymnastics or actually before I stopped, I had gained some weight. When I stopped I lost some weight because I lost some muscles and I wasn’t stressed anymore. Because you know, you have to eat well or actually you shouldn’t eat. “Don’t eat that! How much did you weigh today? Don’t drink too much water because then the scale will show that you weigh more”

Interviewers: Even water?

Vasiliki: Yes. And later, I found out that those things were wrong in my part and in my parents’ part because they didn’t know what to advise me. Now I know that you should drink plenty of water. And lots of times I didn’t drink enough water because I thought it would make me gain weight. It’s one of the mistakes we make. And then, once all this pressure was off me, I didn’t have someone over me telling me not to eat and it turned the other way around and now I have a mom telling me “You didn’t eat again” (laughs)

Interviewers: Typical Greek mother

Vasiliki: The funny thing is that my coach is now telling me the same thing. “You didn’t eat again?” They really are giving me mixed feelings (laughs)

Interviewers: I wanted to ask, are their friendships in your world?

Vasiliki: Yes and they are very strong.

Interviewers: You seem to be really close as a team

Vasiliki: We really are, all of us.

Interviewers: I just didn’t know if there is competition…

Vasiliki: There is competition but it’s healthy competition.

Interviewers: For example, I’m watching the Olympic Games finals. The one athlete congratulates the other and I don’t know if deep inside…

Vasiliki: No, it is very real. I think that we are one of the sports where there really is sportsmanship and real friendships between the athletes and I’m proud of that. There may be competition during the meet, you may say that “I will beat that person” but you will also cheer for them when they execute their program cleanly. You will cheer with joy and you will congratulate them and you will be upset with someone’s failure. This is something that we always feel in every competition and training.

Interviewers: This is very important. So you have the same feelings in training? Of course it’s different without the stress of the competition but the support is there during practice too

Vasiliki: Yes, there’s plenty of support. All you need to do, is to see a workout before a competition, just to see how we all are while someone is doing their routine, how nobody is talking and how we are all focused on them as if we are helping them to perform better

Interviewers: Like a family

Vasiliki: Definitely

Interviewers: That’s great. And I think that this should be encourage the state to do more for a sport that offers a lot of medals and therefore lots of recognition abroad

Vasiliki: You mean outside of Greece right? I want to tell you that we are well known abroad.

Interviewers: More than in Greece?

Vasiliki: We are not particularly well known here. (laughs) We are well known abroad and there’s lots of respect towards my name and my teammates’ names because we’ve been in a high level for lots of years and we appear in big competitions so they now recognize us. There were times when the competition is over and the entire arena comes to ask for your autograph. This is something we never had in Greece and I don’t know if we ever will, in artistic gymnastics.

Interviewers: Is it true that there’s a skill named after you?

Vasiliki: I have a signature pose. It’s a trademark of mine and I really like that because there are always photos of that. It’s really beautiful. I was also capable of a mount that nobody else was competing at the Olympics Games but I didn’t execute it well during competition so it hasn’t taken my name, because I needed to do it in competition. However my teammates like Petrounias, Maras, Tampakos Tsolakidis have skills named after them

Interviewers: Do Greek people come to watch the national and international competitions that are being held in Greece?

Vasiliki: We actually don’t have international meets in Greece, just nationals.

Interviewers: Why not? Does the federation not take the initiative?

We used to have, but there are no money to fund the competitions.

Interviewers: As simple as that

Vasiliki: We used to have, we had organized a couple of Grand Prix which is very important and a European championships. Now we don’t have any of that. Not in artistic gymnastics. There is a rhythmic gymnastics world cup, one in Kalamata from what I know.

Interviewers: Is there a big audience? Or is the arena half empty?

Vasiliki: The arena will never be full.

Interviewers: Is it advertised? In the radio, in newspapers?

Vasiliki: No, we advertise it by ourselves.

Interviewers: We are the only country that has about 8 different sports newspapers and they should promote everything, but they only care about basketball and football

Vasiliki: This year, there is actually a newspaper, that has a page about artistic gymnastics every Sunday, even if when we don’t have a competition. We were all surprised and glad to see that.

Interviewers: What newspaper? You can share if you want

Vasiliki: Sportday. The funny thing is that when we know there’s something about us in a newspaper, we buy it and when we start reading from the end, because we know we will be in a small caption towards the end. And if it happens and we are in one of the front pages, we think “no way it can’t be us” (laughs)

Interviewers: If there are any competitions begin held in Greece, we would be glad to promote them and to attend them, so if that happens you should let us know about it

Vasiliki: I would be glad to invite you and to have you in the competition, and I wish more people decide to come. And with that, you give me the opportunity to talk about my sponsor,, because the support they give to me and to Lefteris Petrounias – because we have the same sponsor- is huge and they don’t just support us financially, they support us when it comes to our exposure. They have done a lot to promote us in television and magazines, including a recent advertisement, so I would like to thank them for one more time.

Interviewers: This is great, and good for them for supporting you

Vasiliki: Yes, they really support us

Interviewers: Support when there’s no support

Vasiliki: exactly

Interviewers: I have another rumor, which i didn’t know. Is there a star named after you?

Vasiliki: Yes

Interviewers: This is incredible. Tell us the story behind us.

Vasiliki: This was a gift to the rhythmic and artistic gymnastics Olympic teams when we came back from the Sydney Olympics. We were 8 people and we were given a star named after us to each by the observatory. They showed us the signatures and the maps and everything.

Interviewers: Do you look for it during the night?

Vasiliki: I have never done that. I should take a map and go to the observatory. I know that it is in the constellation of Pegasus. I have a photo of it at home.

Interviewers: So you’re not just a star in gymnastics. What I wanted to ask is what advise would you give to the young kids who want to do gymnastics. Are there gyms and coaches where they can go to train?

Vasiliki: There are lots of gyms for kids to start artistic gymnastics. But later, in order to do elite gymnastics, if it chooses them and if they are fit for it, it’s a bit more difficult because the training centers, where you can get proper elite training in the apparatus can be counted by the fingers of the one hand. What makes me happy is that I learn from friends who work in gyms that the attendance of the kids is bigger every year and this makes me very happy. I think that we also help to promote the sport.

Interviewers: Do you ever watch the tiny little athletes and remember your own old days?

Vasiliki: I actually coach little kids. I have kids from 3 to 10 years old. I do it twice a week as a hobby.

Interviewers: So, there is time for hobbies in such a busy life of an athlete

Vasiliki: Yes, because we are human beings in addition to being athletes and god forbid if for those 25 years I didn’t do anything else outside of my training and only went from gym to home. I would go insane. I have a normal life, just a bit more modest.

Interviewers: do you have any plans for Christmas and New Year’s?

Vasiliki: I don’t have time off for Christmas. The only days I have off are the day of Christmas and the my name day in January 1st.

Interviewers: I imagine your mom is making kurabiedes and melomakarona (they are Greek Christmas sweets) and they stay untouched on the table?

Vasiliki: I actually make them now. I like cooking, it helps me relax

Interviewers: Okay, so you will bring us some the next time you come

Vasiliki: I don’t know, when it comes to the looks sometimes they’re a bit too big but their taste is great

Interviewers: Our incredible audience actually searched and found the constellation of Pegasus

Vasiliki: Really? They found my name?

Interviews: They found the constellation of Pegasus, your star should be somewhere there.

Vasiliki: Oh, could you find it if I tell you the coordinates? But I don’t know them by heart. I have them at home, should I call my mom (laughs)

Interviewers: We should have her on air but we don’t have enough time. We should have thought about that earlier.  Is your next competition the Olympic Games or there is something else?

Vasiliki: No, out first goal is the Pre Olympic Test Event in April, in Rio. After that we have the European championships and then the Olympic Games are in August

Interviewers: Good luck, we wish you all the best, thank you for being here

Vasiliki: Thank you so much for everything.

You can find the full interview in Greek here and here

gif credit: huanghuidan

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