Salome Pazhava on the road to Rio

Salome Pazhava (GEO) competing at World Championship Izmir 2014
Salome Pazhava (GEO) competing at World Championship Izmir 2014

Original article written by Nodar Majsuradze you can find it here, with the courtesy of Sputnik Georgia for the article and of Oleg Naumov for the pictures.

Salome Pazhava one of the first georgian athletes, who managed to win a ticket for the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro as a rhythmic gymnast. Coached by Elise Bedoshvili and Lali Dolidze, the most titled gymnast in Georgia’s history will represent her country at the Olympics for the first time since 2000.

Do you feel like a star?
No, I have no diva’s attitude. And generally I don’t like attention from the press. I became somehow uncomfortable. I don’t like a lot of attention. And when I was asked to tell about myself, It was a little shy. I’m just a common gymnast who achieved something. I will never feel like a star, regardless from my results.

Just something is an understatement! Bronze at the Junior European Championship, bronze at the European Games in Baku and two bronze medals at the Grand Prix in Moscow.
Yes, and the fourth place at the World Championships, which was completely unexpected. I went to Stuttgart in order to win an olympic ticket for Rio, but I couldn’t even imagine that I would have take the fourth place. I just could not believe it. Even now it is difficult to realize that I did it.

Now that the ticket is yours what do you expect from the olympic experience?
The best would be probably a medal. Every gymnast come well prepared at the Olympic Games, ready to do the best performance. I don’t count on first and second place, but I can hope for a bronze medal. The minimum task is getting to the Olympic Games.
The past season my priority was the qualification for the Games, and I handled it. But as I said – we all have a chance, and Brazil will be very difficult.

Which will be the next competitions in order to prepare for the Olympics?
First of all, there was the Grand Prix in Moscow (Salome won the bronze medal in the exercise with hoop). After Moscow I will compete at the World Cup, European Championship and Grand Prix, and then the Olympics.
We had some problems in the gymnasium, but now It’s possible to train normally again.

Which is your favorite city when you perform?
I don’t even know. I love to perform in Moscow – it is so dear to me, because I was born there. And I have a lot of friends and coaches there. Moreover for me, the season starts in Moscow, so I love this city.

Who is the favorite in Rio? Who should be afraid, and on who you should focus?
The favorite, of course, is the Russian national team: Yana Kudryavtseva (13 times World Champion and 10 times European Champion) and Margarita Mamun (7 times world champion and 4 times European champion).
My opponents are belarusian Melitina Staniouta (multiple winner of European and World Championships medals), ukrainian Anna Rizadtinova (world champion in the exercises with the hoop in 2013) and korean Yeon Jae Son. Everyone of us has a chance.
In our sport we can solve little mistakes – like a wrong turn, a wrong throw. But when It comes to the loss of the apparatus, It’s actually the end. You go very down in the rankings.

This is not football that when you’re losing 2:0, you can still change the result of the match.
Yes, because what is done is done, and you can’t fix it.

Your exercises with ball and clubs are your business card. Are you still keeping them for Rio or do you have a new program?
I have a new exercise with ball and ribbon. But for clubs we kept the old routine because the judge asked us not to change it before the Olympics and show it in Brazil. They are in love with this performance. Even If I did it for three years, they begged to don’t change it. It’s a symbiosis of modernity with the national colors.
Our judge said “After your clubs routine, audience always want to dance” (she laughs).

What kind of music are you using with a ball?
It’s the soundtrack of the movie “The theory of everything”. It’s a very intense music. We’ve been looking for it, and we picked it up, because It’s always difficult to find good music.

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Salome Pazhava competing at Moscow Grand Prix 2016, photo by Oleg Naumov.

Was it your personal choice, or were you helped by your coach?
We choosed together. We are always looking for something new and extraordinary. Music that has already been used is boring. We wanted to do something different.
Now I also have a new music of a band. It was a very big change. We thought and thought and decided to add a little rock. The first time I listened to it, I liked the music. But when we started to put the excercise together, it was very difficult, because it is a completely different style. It took a very long time to create the exercise. And in my opinion, we have coped with these difficulties.

But before it was impossible to use music with lyrics.
Now we can for one of the four exercises.

Does this affect judge’s scores? Still rock is very different. Maybe it does not have the smoothness and clarity of movement?
Well, at the moment I’m only getting in shape, and so It’s a bit hard to judge. This is a completely different style. It’s something new nobody has dared before. You just have to listen to the opinions of coaches, judges and the audience. When the audience like it, they begin to actively discuss about the performance on the social networks. Information is an endless stream, and you can have an objective opinion, as far as the audience liked it.

Does the audience satisfaction award you somehow when the score doesn’t?
Yes, because the audience must have fun, and not just look passively at your movements on the carpet.

Perhaps that’s why the sport is called rhythmic gymnastics? It’s like art. Just like you go to the theater to enjoy the performance of one actor.
Absolutely It’s a mini-spectacle. Our routines last 1.30 minutes, and during that time you have to show the history of the exercise. You have to completely open, show all the emotions.

When you throw your apparatus, do you think about something, or do you execute everything just like a machine?
Of course I think. If I would perform as a “machine” everything will look disconnected from the whole. I always think about how to catch the apparatus, or I look the trajectory of it. And if I see that there is some kind of mistake, I try to get out and make sure not to make a blunder or loss.

There have been such cases that something went wrong and you change the number of the elements during the performance?
Yes, there were, and I have often said that I am quite good in wriggling out of such situations (laughs). I manage the performance on the move to quickly remedy to the situation.
I had a funny incident in 2014 at the World Cup in Kiev. In the end, I threw the ball wrong and for the fraction of a second I had the time to think about my mistake. I looked at Elise (Elise Bedoshvili – head coach of the Georgian national team), and in a split second I had it all flashed before her eyes. Then I don’t know how, but I had the ball, on my right leg. I still don’t understand how it happened, but I certainly don’t forgive such mistakes. I had a smooth performance, and this could have been the way to spoil it in the end.

Do you have moments when you accumulated anxiety and tiredness, that you want to give up? And what makes you stay?
Of course, I have such thoughts. It’s inherent in all athletes. As each day of training in order to succeed, we train over and over you accumulate tiredness.
But such thoughts are harmful, primarily for the sportsman. When it will be competition time you will regret the time you wasted. Why I didn’t, why I didn’t listen to the coach, why I didn’t stay in the room a couple of hours extra. Whenever you relax, it affects your competition’s performance. All the nuances of the routines must be perfected till the smallest detail, to avoid blunders.

It turns out that the psychology of a professional athlete is different from the psychology of a simple person, and from the psychology of the fans? Is it also different?
Of course. First of all this is a big responsibility for professionals, for coaches, for parents, for fans, for those who support you with all their love. I’m always amazed at this.

Do you need this support?
Yes, during the competition this really helps me.

The carrer of professional athletes, especially in gymnastics, is very short. You can compete till your 25-27. Do you already have plans for the future?
I’m finishing school this year. It’s necessary to enter at the university, but I decided to skip a year because of the Olympic Games. I won’t turn out well prepared and I won’t pass the exams. In this moment the Olympics are my priority.

And what will you do after gymnastics?
I haven’t considered it yet. I still have a whole year. If health will allow me, I would like to continue competing.

But If you’ll be admitted to the University, doesn’t it mean that you will have to leave the sport?
No, but I don’t think that I will compete till I’ll be 27. In our sport the record holder is Carolina Rodriguez from Spain. She already is 29 years old. How she could held for so long It’s a mystery. However, after the Games in Rio she is retiring. When you are 27 you’re still a young man/woman, but not in our sport.

How many hours do you train in a day?
It’s always different, but on average five to six hours. That’s my normal working day.

How do they treat you at school?
In the past I had some problems. Too many competitions, and I often had to miss school. Now It’s ok but combining school and sport is very difficult. But you still have to think about education. At the moment I’m still focusing on sport.

As far as I know, for gymnasts is quite rare to participate at two Olympics. Are you hoping to go to South Korea?
Since my childhood I love this sport. Although I wasn’t born with the phisical skills for gymnastics. Even my mother was against it. She always showed me the other girls and said “Well, look at their body”. But I really liked the gym, and I wanted to achieve something. Everything I obtained it was only thanks to hard work and dedication.

Salome Pazhava at the World Championship in Stuttgart 2015, photo by Oleg Naumov.
Salome Pazhava at the World Championship in Stuttgart 2015, photo by Oleg Naumov.

Has gymnastics always been your desire?
At first I practiced dance, but I didn’t like it. Then I tried swimming but It wasn’t for me. And when I first came into the hall and I saw balls and ribbons, I immediately realized that that was what I wanted to do. When I returned home I continued to stretch, try to do the splits, make turns and balances.

So you started gymnastics quite late, don’t you?
Yes, actually I was eight years old. They gave me ten days, I trained and I was observed. And if I proved I was worth, they would have let me stay. And I stayed. Then there was a school competition, which I won. So I continued to train hard to reach those girls who were with me in the gymnasium.

In every sport, unfortunately, there are injuries. How traumatic gymnastics is, behind the beautiful excercises that you show on the carpet? Do people realize  what you have been through?
Sometimes It’s very hard. Injuries are always a risk. For three years I had problems to my left foot. And I had to compete with the pain. We have a lot of injuries that the audience doesn’t notice. But sometimes it’s impossible to hide the pain, even Yana Kudryavtseva at the World Championship performed with a fractured foot. And It was only after the competition that she had surgery.

In one of last year’s interview, you mentioned that the situation in your federation is very deplorable. You haven’t physioterapist and doctor neither. They told you: “When medals will come we will begin to fund”.
There are medals but.. There’s always a but.

But you’re a world-class athlete, and since you don’t have a doctor or physioterapist who takes care of your healt?
I don’t even know what I would have done without the help of the russian team doctor. Anytime I can call him and ask for an help. At the competitions I’m asking all the time: “Dima, can you massage my leg?”, “Dima, is there a cure for this?” etc… I always refer to him.
This is one of the aging problem. I tried already so many massage therapists, but It’s a physiotherapist that I need and that I can’t find. It must be a professional. For me it’s a big problem. The feet load is very huge.

Funding is at a very low level?
Yes, only competitions are paid. But not the sport doctors. This leads to even more injuries. Because If you don’t take care of the muscles regularly and constantly you can get a much more serious injury and damage.

Which music do you listen outside the hall?
I don’t have specific preferences. But it also happens that after the trainings where you had music all day, you just want silence. Just to sit in silence and disconnect.

You have a very little free time, but do you have a favorite book and author?
Indeed, since I have almost no free time, I read, mainly in the planes. Firstly because I spend there a lot of time, and secondly I have no bothers, and no noise. For the moment my favorite book is “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. I love it.
Of course, after a long training I would love to read or watch a movie, but I’m so tired that I have only one desire – to have a shower and go to bed. The eyes close themselves, especially when the training finishes late.

Do you have a mascot?
Yes, it’s a cub plush of tiger. He is always with me. So it turns out to be my talisman.

Surely gymnastics requires continuous diets, because without them it is impossible to be in such great shape. Which is your daily diet.
Oh yeah! Diet, this is a problem, a big problem (laughs). I love the sweets but It’s just impossible for me to eat them. We have to control ourself and to keep in shape. Diet, nutrition, etc. At the moment, I eat vegetables, fruits, low-fat foods, not fried. I have to forgot potatoes, bread and flour (laughs). I don’t eat after six.

When it happens to cumulate some extra 100-200 grams, can you see them on your body?
Of course, it’s always visible, even without weighing. And immediately I have to loose the extra weight.

If you have a week of complete relaxation. What do you do?
Well, I don’t know. For example, when friends goes at McDonald’s, I usually don’t go, because it’s not normal to stay sit and watch them eating (laughs). Or they begins “Come on, come on, a small bite will be nothing”. But no, I can’t, I need to lose weight, I have to be in shape.

How much has changed gymnastics during the past 20 years? Since the last participation of Georgia at the Olympics?
Everything is changed. They used to execute a lot of elements, now we don’t have so many. We’ve added the dance steps that complete the performance, and it became in a truest sense rhythmic gymnastics. Previously, there wasn’t even an extra second to turn to the audience and smile at them. Now, it seems to me, It has become much more complicated, but also more beautiful. Now the choreography is very important, but before it was too loaded, and there were only the elements. It’s interesting to watch. Each year it becomes harder and harder, but also more interesting.

Who was your greatest inspiration? And your ideal gymnast?
I like something from each gymnast, and there is something I try to take from each of them.
But I always liked Evgenia Kanaeva (two times Olympic champion, 17 times World Champion, 13 times European champion). She was great. She always was very stable and I think it’s very hard. She has performed in all competitions, as a watch.