"The following is a complete, unedited, unverified interview, portions of which were utilized in the Red Files PBS broadcast. Statements therein are the sole opinion of the interviewee, and do not reflect the views of PBS, DDE or Series and Web Site producer Abamedia, which are not Responsible for the interview content."
There would be special trainers who would come to look for talented children for that type of sport. They went to kindergartens. They went down the streets and invited children over and chose from them. These were gifted children. Because sport was considered the prestige of the government, if sport was strong, government was strong. I went to a regular school and then to training after school. A sports club. It was just a workspace - a building with a gymnasium/hall upstairs and a swimming pool downstairs. At the beginning, like all children, we were enthusiastic. We could only go after school.
At the beginning, I very much enjoyed the work load. But after I had amassed a lot of experience in competitions and started to get tired of it, it became very difficult. It was like work all day long. Exercises in the morning, then one four-hour session until four o'clock, then the second four-hour session until 8 o'clock. Yes, naturally I consider gymnastics to be my self-expression. You could, of course, express whatever you wanted when you were on the stage. Gymnastics naturally changes -- just as life changes it is closely tied to life, and changes all the time. The goals changed, yes.
When I went onto the stage, I would try to imagine I was by myself practicing for myself, that there was no hall, no people, noone watching me, that I was there just for myself. I would recite myself a poem, or think about something. That's the means I would use to step back from it all. Athletes are accustomed to noise and fame. It does not surprise us. But I'm just saying I would use that as a method, I knew I was in the hall and everything; I would just use this so that these things would not distract me. The moments after the competition were some of the nicest times. First of all, there was no more ceremony. It was all finished and was especially nice if it ended in victory, then when you saw the others who have gone through it with you, it is somehow the most pleasant moment.
I started to want to give it all up. I realized that I was tired. I announced it. And, of course, everyone tried to talk me out of it. They all tried to make me keep on working: "But you have to it's your duty!" And Mama was always lecturing me on how I was bound by duty. But I didn't want it. I was already so tired, I couldn't bear to see the hall gymnasium. I was sick of it to such an extent, that I felt I couldn't even stand the hall! I was just very tired-out. I went into the hall and got into a bad mood when I caught sight of those beams and those magnesia. It was very bad. I wanted to go out. I wanted to live normally.
The senior trainer then talked and discussed it with me, and took different tacks. She'd say "You won't have money," or, "You have a duty." or this or that. But it was useless; she was unsuccessful. We received a stipend. And, of course, when you give up, they take away the stipend. Materially, it was a loss, of course. But from the other standpoint, the moral one, I could not go on.
We didn't study. We didn't. We sat there, like in a trap in the forest of the gymnasium /table hall. Only there were trainers there. So you see our way of life. At the end of it, how do we reach self-fulfillment? I was ravaged, devastated. Unfortunately, it helping out was just not done. They told me "you have stopped working for us, so don't talk to us/come to us any more".
Then I tried to study at university and tried at other institutes, but I didn't have enough knowledge since I had missed the last years of school. Then I realized the only career I could ever have would be in sport. So I went to the Sports Institute, on my own. It wasn't straight after I had given up. Practicing athletes get along well with them. But if you give up sports, then it's a 180 degree turn-around. Then there are no good relations; there are no relations at all. When you're necessary to them, when you're winning medals, they like you.
If you look at it in general terms, then, of course, it is not good at all. Not studying, sitting in some room training and thinking about gymnastics, and not knowing about anything else. Of course, that was not right. But from the point of view of being advantageous for the government, in order to maximize our energy, it was correct. At the beginning I liked it, while it had not yet started to stifle me. I liked it until then. But in general, if I were a child again, I would not do it. I did dream about that, and I do think: how did it happen that what I wanted and dreamed of came true?
He was there all the time, inside the command. He goes to that conference all the time because everyone wants to be the first. It is an individual sport rather than a team sport like hockey.
Of course we had a very strict discipline. I had to write an explanatory letter asking for permission to train again. So when you abuse discipline, it's very bad.
They controled where we stood and where we passed. They would say, "Watch out, there are immigrants here! Walk on past!" making sure we had no contact. They told us we had to do this, that we could not go there, and only in groups. We went to eat together.