Baku, Azerbaijan, June 10
The first European Games in the history, combining various kinds of sports, will be held in Baku very soon. The men's gymnastics will be one of the disciplines to be represented at the Games.
Artistic gymnastics began developing in Azerbaijan in 1930s of the last century. The first championship of the republic was held in Baku in 1939.
The most famous artistic gymnast of Azerbaijan during the last century, is Vladimir Belenky, a 3-time world champion. In 1992, Valery Belenky won the gold medal in the team championship and bronze in the absolute championship at the Olympic Games in Barcelona as part of a Unified Team.
Belenky, who is also a member of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, arrived in Baku from Germany upon the invitation of the Azerbaijani Gymnastics Federation on the eve of the European Games.
Trend Agency spoke to Belenky about the upcoming European Games, and he knows all too well what it is like to perform on the world's highest stage.
The first European Games in the history will be held in Baku very soon. How do you assess holding of this major event in Baku?
I am very proud that Azerbaijan, my historical motherland, has been entitled to host the first sports games in the history of the European continent. Azerbaijan is my Motherland. I want to express gratitude to Mehriban Aliyeva, president of the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation for the invitation to this important sporting event in Baku.
The European Games are very important both for Europe and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is increasingly strengthening its influence in Europe and in the world, which is proven in the European countries themselves. Ordinary people in Germany quite frequently ask me about Azerbaijan. They are interested in everything about Azerbaijan - culture, history, national cuisine, sports...and everyone shows interested in visiting the country and to see everything with their own eyes. The upcoming Games give another opportunity to Azerbaijan to make itself known in the world.
How do you assess Azerbaijan's preparations for one of the most important European competitions?
It is not easy to get prepared for holding such major event in a short time. But what Azerbaijan did causes admiration and respect. Last time I visited Baku in 2008. During my current visit to Baku, I nearly didn't recognize my hometown. It has been completely renewed, the most beautiful buildings, new parks, streets have been built... Grandiose sports facilities have been constructed which complement the city's architecture. All sports facilities have been provided with modern sports equipment that meets the most stringent international standards. I am confident that the competitions will be held at the highest level.
You have been for many years training young gymnasts in Germany. Will your apprentices perform at the upcoming European Games? What are their chances?
Unfortunately, my strongest apprentice, who won two medals in London, will not take part in the upcoming European Games in Baku because of an injury. Another one will perform at the upcoming artistic gymnastics competitions. He's from Germany's national squad. I think he has good chances.
How do you assess the chances of the Azerbaijani gymnasts at these games?
Athletes always have chances to win medals. I think the Azerbaijani gymnasts have even more chances. This is because in recent years much has been done in the country to develop this sport. Great attention is paid in Azerbaijan to the gymnastics, the country has a strong school, the National Gymnastic Arena has been built, and athletes successfully perform at all the international competitions. All this gives confidence to say that we will see the Azerbaijani gymnasts on the awarding podium.
What other national teams, in your opinion, will contend for medals in gymnastics competitions at the European Games?
I think the squads of Great Britain, Russia, the Netherlands and Switzerland have good chances.
Do you have any plans to return to your hometown and train your compatriots?
Of course, I would like to work in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, at this point I have to continue to work as a coach in Germany, I have responsibility. I am interested in working in Baku. I think it's possible in the future. Azerbaijan is my homeland and I am proud that my name was included into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame as an Azerbaijani gymnast.
In May, Oklahoma City (Oklahoma, USA) hosted the 19th annual ceremony organized by IGHOF (International Gymnastics Hall of Fame). Valery Belenky was also among the five athletes whose names are immortalized in the Hall of Fame. Belenky became the first Azerbaijani gymnast to be awarded such a high honor.
Edited by SI