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Interview of Vasyl Lomachenko, a young but already famous boxer
Vasyl Lomachenko, a Ukrainian feather weight (57kg) boxer with a lot of victories “under his belt,” and a very impressive style of boxing, has been chosen “Best Athlete of Ukraine of the Year 2008” by the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine. It was not a difficult decision to make — Vasyl Lomachenko’s credentials of an athlete gave him a considerable advantage over the others. Vasyl Lomachenko was interviewed by Maryna GUDZEVATA, WU senior editor.
Vasyl Lomachenko won his first championship — that of Ukraine — at the age of seventeen; at the age of nineteen he was a runner-up at the world championship, and at age twenty he won the gold medal at the Olympics which was held in Beijing, China, in 2008. (The International Boxing Association called him “the most technically perfect boxer of the Olympic games in Beijing” and awarded him the Well Barker Prize which had been presented to the best boxers since 1936). He proceeded to win the European championship held in Liverpool, Great Britain, on 15–24 November 2008, and all these achievements surely have given him the full right to be proclaimed “Best Athlete of Ukraine of the Year 2008.”
First of all, let me congratulate you on being proclaimed “Best Athlete of Ukraine of the Year 2008.” Did you expect to be thus honored?
Let’s say — I hoped. I was very pleased, of course, when it did happen, but at the same time it’s a sort of an additional responsibility, and not “to fall flat on my face” at the next competitions, I feel it is now imperative for me to win.
But there is a sort of a psychological hitch too — after winning the gold medal at the Olympics, I took part in the championship of Ukraine and won it. Then I went to Liverpool where I won the European championship, and in both cases there was very little encouraging reaction in Ukraine. It was as though I was now automatically expected to win! But in sport, there is no such thing as a guaranteed victory! To keep winning you have not only to be in top shape, but you have to have a lot of psychological support.
But you are not ignored by the media or by the fans, are you?
No, I am not although I’ve never liked too much attention being paid to my person. I feel a sort of discomfort if I get into the center of attention — I prefer to watch things from the side, as it were.
I think it was widely expected in Ukraine that you’d win at the Olympics — I, for one, was actually sure of it. You did win the gold medal — was this victory a sort of a watershed in your life?
Well, yes, it was. You see, when I was still a kid, I dreamt of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. In a fact, it was more than just a dream — it was a goal I set myself to achieve.
When I was six, I asked my father, Which would be a better thing — to win the Olympics or a world championship? And my father said, Of course the Olympics! It was there and then that I said to myself, I’m going to win at the Olympics! And this determination had kept driving me to achieving my goal. So actually winning the Olympic gold medal came as a sort of relief — it was like an obligation that at last was fulfilled!
Was it at that early age of six that you realized that you want to devote yourself to the sport of boxing?
Not really. My father was a PT teacher at school, plus he ran a boxing group, so I often went to the gym where he worked when I was very young. I began boxing when I was five, but the realization that boxing was my destiny came later, when I was around ten. I began taking part in competitions which were held not only in my native town, Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, but elsewhere too. I traveled to other cities, I won my first victories, it was very exciting — and bingo, I made my decision — I want to go ahead and become a full-time boxer.
Coming back to the Olympiad — what was the most difficult part for you?
My very first bout. For an adversary, I had a Russian boxer, Albert Selimov. A year before, in 2007, at the world championship, it had been he who had defeated me. At the Olympics, I was eager to take revenge — and I did win! It gave me a great impetus to win the gold medal…
It’s impossible to describe in words what I felt standing on that podium for winners and being decorated with the gold medal — there are no such words, really. I was absolutely overwhelmed with emotion. I wish every athlete would experience something similar at least once in a lifetime.
In Beijing, you gave each of your opponents in the ring a small Ukrainian flag. It was a nice thing to do on your part.
This flag-giving ritual began in 2004. Once, my father and I went to the Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv, and near the entrance, at a souvenir stand, we saw little icons, crosses and small-sized Ukrainian flags. My father bought several of them, and at the next competition I took part in, I gave these flags to my opponents. I find it to be a sort of a sign of respect for my opponent on the one hand, but on the other, it was also a sort of a hint — “See, who’s stronger?” And since I’ve always come out the winner, the hint proved to be true.
Did every one of your opponents accept these tokens of respect?
No, not really. Or rather, it was only the Russian boxer Albert Selimov who refused to take it.
The beginning of this year was not very promising for you — you had an operation, didn’t you?
Yes, my arm needed mending. After the operation, I took part in the Ukrainian championship, which was a premature thing to do, and I had to box with virtually one hand.
Do you keep a count of your bouts?
Yes, I do. I’ve had about 300 bouts, most of which I won at the early stages.
They say that every boxer finds himself, sooner or later, in a knockdown. Is it true?
I think it is. In 2007, at an international competition in Odesa, during the first round I suddenly found myself on the floor of the ring — I must have lost control for a moment, or my concentration must have wavered, and a knockdown punch sent me down. Such a lapse had never happened with me before — and it has never happened since. Luckily, I managed to climb back to my feet and proceeded to box. And it was then the turn of my opponent to go down.
Your principle coach is your father. Doesn’t such a close family relationship interfere with training?
I don’t really know what to say. I’ve never had anybody else to coach me. I find my father to be very supportive, which is particularly important when I go abroad to take part in competitions. I think many other athletes would love to have this sort of support in addition to instructions and advice from their coaches. I believe it is my father who must be given credit for my victories.
How much training do you do every day?
I have two workouts a day — one hour in the morning, and one hour in the afternoon, but on Saturdays I often have a longer workout, up to four hours. My schedule gives me time to relax too. Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky is situated on the shore of the inlet of the Black Sea and I like to take walks along the shore.
You’ve been to many countries — which of the places you’ve visited impressed you most?
Though I’ve visited many countries I did not see much — I went there not as a tourist but to take part in competitions, and that leaves you very little time for sightseeing. Not only physically, but psychologically, you have to concentrate solely on the competitions. But from what I’ve seen, I found China to be a very impressive place. People there are very nice, hospitable, ready to help and solve problems. I have to admit I did not see much of the country — as a matter of fact, I stayed put most of the time at the athlete’s headquarters.
Are there any places in Ukraine that you like in particular?
My native town is the place I like best. Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky is believed to be the oldest town in Ukraine. It is on the UNESCO list of the ten oldest towns with an uninterrupted, continuous history — this list includes such places as Rome, Athens and Jerusalem.
Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky is a small town, with a population of about 50,000 people. The town is almost completely surrounded by water and you can get in or out of it only across the bridge. Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky boasts an architectural landmark — a medieval fortress which is a major attraction. Tourists are always welcome!
Did you get any proposals to move to Kyiv?
I did, a lot of them, with all sorts of promises — an excellent gym at my disposal, a sports school named after me, that sort of thing, but I’m not planning to move anywhere from Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky. I’ve got all I need there.
Do you have any interests other than boxing?
I do, but at the moment I am fully concentrated on my sport career. I’m also a student of a teacher’s training college. Maybe I’ll eventually become a coach like my father. Or maybe I’ll try myself in hockey or in auto racing. I am fond of cars, you know.
Does the fact that at the age of twenty one you have a lot of fans give a boost to your ego?
I don’t know about a boost but it’s nice. I’m particularly pleased when kids come up to me and ask for autographs or for a permission to have their pictures taken standing by my side. It’s not because of an inflated feeling of self-importance but because I imagine myself in their place, and hope that my autograph or photo will encourage them to go into sports, or find something positive to do in life. I remember myself as a kid and how I wished to be like successful amateur boxers and prize fighters. When I had a chance I was dying to come up to them and ask for an autograph.
Do you get recognized in the street?
Only in Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, and I’m happy to be anonymous elsewhere. A couple of times I was recognized by fans in other towns and they came up to me, asking whether I was the boxer Lomachenko. It felt nice, but then I realized I would not like it happening all the time.
So the fame of an Olympic gold medalist has not affected you in any way, has it?
Well, in fact, I have to admit that my victories did begin to affect me in some way, giving me a sort of intoxication with my successes, but I try to suppress that kind of feeling. You know, a famous boxer, Oscar De La Hoya, once said, “It’s pretty difficult to get up at six in the morning and rush to the gym for a workout when you sleep in great comfort in silk pajamas.” I’ve won the gold medal at the Olympics, I’ve found myself in the center of attention — but it makes it difficult for me to concentrate on training for my next victories. It seems to me that I can’t fail to win — but at the same time I know very well that you have to put in a lot of effort to be always in excellent shape to win. I’ve discovered that there are weaknesses in human nature — and now I’m trying to overcome them myself!
Have you ever thought of going professional and becoming a prize fighter?
I have, and after the world championship which will be held at the end of 2009, I’ll take my decision.
Photos have been provided
by the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine
Embraces after the boat
(Vasyl’s father Anatoliy to the right).
Vasyl Lomachenko with Well Barker Prize.
V. Lomachenko at the Heroes of the Sport Year
Award presentation ceremony, receiving
Best Athlete–2008 prize.
Serhiy Bubka, Head of the National Olympic
Committee of Ukraine, greets Vasyl after
the boxer’s arrival from Beijing, China.
Iryna Merleni, an Olympic champion in wrestling,
and Vasyl Lomachenko singing a duet.