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Yuri Bilonoh, an ambitious shot-putter who sets his sights high
Yury Bilonoh, a Ukrainian athlete who excelled in the shot-putting event at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, winning the gold medal.
Yury Bilonoh was born in the town of Bilopillya, Sumska Oblast, on March 9 1974.
His height is 2 meters; weight — 132 kilograms.
His coach is Yevhen Korsak.
Olympic champion, Athens, 2004 (he put the shot to a distance of 21m 16cm, one centimeter further than Adam Nelson, a US shot-putter); winner of gold, silver, bronze medals at world and European championships.
Mr Bilonoh is an honorary citizen of the prefecture of Amarusio, Greece.
Mr Bilonoh is a Major of the Ukrainian Border Guards troops.
He is married; his wife Klavdiya and he have two children — seven-year old Hanna and three-year old Danylo.
Do you remember when you realized you wanted to do sports?
I can’t say exactly at what age, but I do remember that I was a boy when I first thought I wanted to be a champion. And since I was quite big for my age, it was natural for me to choose a sport in which your weight and strength mattered a lot. It took seventeen years of training and participating in competitions to win an Olympic gold medal. It was my dream all along. There were setbacks and disappointments on the way — and determination too. And the dream came true. I sort of always knew it would.
When you were standing on the podium at the stadium in Athens, the Olympic gold medal on your chest, what did you feel?
I just listened to the Ukrainian anthem being played and even wanted to sing along. But then when it was over, I realized that there was no elation, in fact no particular feeling at all. I just stood there and told myself, I’m an Olympic champion. But there was no feeling of pride or excitement. It was only when I returned home and people kept congratulating me and asking for autographs that I began to realize that I had done something special. People stopped me in the street, people stared and I was embarrassed. For some time I did not even want to go out.
I know that the stadium where you won the gold was a very old one. Is it true?
Absolutely. It is almost three thousand years old. Of course, all the necessary things were done to make it possible to hold modern competitions, but it did feel special to be competing at the stadium where ancient Greeks had competed! Greek journalists said jokingly that I was the second true Olympic champion after Heracles.
Must one have more than sheer strength or dexterity or some technical skills to win an Olympic medal?
Of course! There are a lot of things that you must have! Determination is one of them. And an overpowering ambition to win. In almost any kind of sport you have to start doing it at an early age. Also, it’s very important to have a good coach right at the start who shows the right way, who knows to develop and encourage enthusiasm and admiration. You’ve got to have an athlete, who will be your guiding star, whose results you will want to achieve and then do even better. For me such an athlete was Oleksandr Bohach. I worked hard to put the shot further than he — and I did.
In your training and workouts, you do other things than just pumping iron, do you?
I play tennis, paintball, basketball, I run short and long distances to develop reaction and speed — but, of course, most of my time is given to perfecting shot-putting techniques and increasing muscle strength.
Was there a moment in your athletic career when you were on the verge of giving up shot-putting?
There was, in 1993. I overdid with training and competitions, and injured my back so badly that it took a lot of willpower to return to training after the cure.
Shot-putting does not look to be a sport in which you have to have some special strategies and tactics — just strength and technique will do it. Is that correct?
No, it’s not that simple. You do have to be prepared for competitions emotionally and physically. It’s most important to be at the peak of your physical form to achieve good results — and you have to know how to reach that peak. So, there are both strategic and tactical considerations that you have to take into account. And of course, you have to keep perfecting your techniques of shot-putting and choose the one that lets you achieve your best results.
They say that there is such a thing as “feeling” the shot to achieve good results?
Yes, you do have to “feel” the shot as we say. It’s rather a tricky thing to learn and involves many things, not just holding the shot in the right way.
Did you see any difference in the way Ukrainian athletes behaved and competed at the Olympics from the way other athletes behaved and competed?
I did. In skills, physical abilities and determination Ukrainian athletes are on a par with the best athletes from other countries. But there is one thing in which we were behind — patriotism. I felt there was not enough of national pride and team spirit among the Ukrainian athletes. I saw our Ukrainian athletes and fans watching the competition — no wild cheering, no loud support. They sat and quietly watched, whereas athletes and fans from many other countries cheered wildly. It is very important for the competing athletes to feel that kind of support.
What stands behind your drive for success — pure ambition or something else?
I want to be the first in my sport for several reasons, but reason number one is my family. I want my family to be proud of me, and never feel shame because of me. Also, I’m a bread winner and I’m responsible for the well-being of my family. My parents used to tell me even when I was quite young, “A real man must know how to provide for his family and never allow that they may be lacking in something. “I saw the way people live in Europe and want my family to live in accordance with the European standards.
Would you like your children to choose careers in sports when they grow up?
I do not want to press my children into going into sport, neither will I discourage them. They’ll make their own choice. But I will surely tell them what it means to be in big-time sport when there’s so little time left for your family. Once, my daughter shocked me when she asked, “Dad, is it an occupation, to be an Olympic champion?” I was at a loss what to say. Big-time sport is indeed an occupation that puts great demands on you. It’s a hell of an occupation too, I can tell you. And when you win a major competition, then the responsibility you bear becomes even greater. Training and workouts take so much time — and I want so much to devote more time to my family! There’s one game I particularly enjoy playing with my kids. It’s hide-and-seek. I see that you’re surprised. How can someone who is two meters tall and weighs over a hundred kilos play hide-and-seek? But we do, and the kids and I enjoy it immensely.
Mr Bilonoh was interviewed
by Maksym PROTSKIV
Photos by Mykola Bochok