How do you feel now that you have become an Olympic champion?
“I have gold medals from championships and competitions of various levels except for the Asian Games. The Olympic gold medal is the biggest achievement I could ever imagine. I am still in bliss. I am now in the top three weightlifters in the -105 kg weight class and the emotions you get after you win are hard to describe.”
What response do you get people that surround you?
“I get congratulations. The most incredible feelings come from children, especially neighbors’ children. Amazing things happened shortly after I returned from Rio: I get a knock on the door and I see a crowd of boys and girls who ask me to pose for a selfie with them. It is pleasing to realize that you are an icon for some people, who will view you as a role model. This is so precious.”
You victory in Rio, is it a cold calculation or a lucky circumstance?
“It was a cold calculation coupled with hard training. Some people believe that I was able secure victory because some of my top rivals were kicked out because of the anti-doping scandal. But we prepared taking into consideration our previous experience, in particular from the world championships where I and Kazakhstan’s Ilya Ilin achieved equal results, and his weight defined the victory. The battle that unraveled back in 2014 hadn’t occurred in the world of sports for over 25 years. Therefore, we prepared to win Rio with a raised weight. During training sessions I demonstrated a result of 205/240 kg: that was enough to beat an opponent. By the way, I uploaded my training videos online. At the Rio Olympics I pushed just enough to secure a win and set a new Olympic record: 194 kg in the snatch and 237 in clean and jerk.”
You won Rio, but why couldn’t you do it in London?
“I was young, and perhaps my over-eagerness was the culprit. Before the start, I learned that the strongest opponents were not participating, and to me that theoretically meant that I would emerge as a champion. “I will do them all in,” I thought to myself… But what happened then is not what I had expected: I couldn’t lift the barbell and I fell over.
That sort of failure is, of course, a hard feeling and it’s hard not to burst into tears. I could not talk about this without getting emotional for a long time.”
You made your fans very worried at the 2016 Asian championships when you won just one gold medal.
“Well, I wasn’t competing in my own weight division; it was +105 kg. That was my coaches’ decision. The results of the competitions didn’t mean anything for my career, therefore a suggestion came that I compete in a different weight class so that other two athletes could compete in my weight category. Nonetheless, I succeeded in winning a medal.
Before the Asian championships that were held in Tashkent several months before the Olympics, you were virtually nowhere to be seen…
“I received treatment for a trauma for over a year. I had sustained an injury during tough training prior to the 2014 world championships and during the actual performance. We beat a world record then with a result of 193/239 kg. Nothing is worse than having an incompletely healed knee. I underwent very complex procedures that did not yield results for a long time. It was German doctors, who conducted another surgery and put a period in this story.
Have you derived any lessons?
“I will take better care of my health now. I will not compete in events in the next one and one and half years; I need preventive treatment. I will combine rest with workshops. I have received quite a few invitations from countries that want to improve their athletes; performance. My first performance after the latest Olympics will be in the 2018 Asian Games. That would a new important start for me. I don’t have an “Asian” gold medal. And then I will consider joining the Tokyo Olympics.”
So, at this point you are doing coaching?
“No. I don’t think I will make a good coach: my demeanor is too soft. And when I see children I become mellow: I just melt when I see kids.
My task is to tell workshop participants about how I trained for competitions and continue to train.”
So do you train? When you just started, was it like there were other guys in your group, and you became an Olympic champion and they didn’t?
“I suppose this depends on your personal qualities. Besides, I did not see myself in other sports. As a boy, I tried doing football and taekwondo, but I lasted three weeks at most. But weightlifting is what makes me happy. When you lift a barbell, the feeling doesn’t compare to anything. Weightlifting is not just strength, but also an ability to handle laws of physics. If you achieve harmony with the barbell, you can achieve everything.”