Exclusive interview with Krisztián Berki – The Champion of the Pommel Horse and Life
An Olympic Champion, 3 times World Champion, 6 times European Champion, a loving dad and husband. This is all Krisztián Berki, our great gymnast champion. I met him in the Central Gymnastics Hall after one of his trainings. He is currently preparing for the Hungarian Championship. He told me about his preparation, about his career, his ups and downs, and his family. He was so friendly and genial that I felt like I’ve known him for a long time.
Journalist usually colour the sentences with ‘he smiles’, ‘he laughs’ or ‘he said happily’, but if I tried to give back how cheerful he was and happy he seemed, these would overflow all of his answers. Imagine him smiling while reading his answers.
DailyNewsHungary: How is your preparation for the Hungarian Championship and the World Championships going?
Berki: I hope it’s going well. Actually, we have a little more time until the World Championships (held in Glasgow from the 23rd of October until the 1st of November) so we can make the necessary corrections. Concerning the Hungarian Championship (held in the Central Gymnastics Hall between the 11th and 13th of September), I hope that I will be able to do an exercise that shows how much we’ve been working on it in the last three or four months.
DailyNewsHungary: Unfortunately, you had to leave out the European Championships due to your shoulder injury. How much did this effect your preparation? Have you recovered completely from it?
Berki: Surprisingly, my recovery was quite quick and smooth. I was lucky because the operation itself went well; they let me out of the hospital the next day. Of course, for two months I only did physiotherapy; we tried to boost my shoulder and gain back my strength. I still trained before the operation because I tried to keep my level. Thanks to this, I didn’t really fell back that much. Two months after the operation I could exercise on the pommel horse again.
DailyNewsHungary: Let’s go back to the beginning a little bit. Why gymnastics and the pommel horse?
Berki: It’s not a secret that it wasn’t my choice. I like to say that gymnastics found me. When I was a child, I used to play a lot in our backyard and one of our neighbours was a trainer and he saw that I was a kid full of energy. He talked to my parents and they brought me down to the gymnastics hall to see what I was capable of. To be frank, the first two weeks were a nightmare, I came and went home crying. Slowly, I got used to the environment. My parents’ support played a big role in this; they always brought me to the trainings. I was only four and a half years old, which is an age where parents have the impact on whether a kid starts a sport or not. I started working with my trainer, István Kovács, early on with who I still work together. And why the pommel horse? It’s thanks to an early ankle injury, which made the landing off the other apparats hard. I started training for the pommel horse and I did great at competitions so it seemed to suit me.
DailyNewsHungary: How do you deal with the fact that your sport is of the ones where the evaluation happens by points which leads to the judges choosing sides sometimes?
Berki: It’s hard because there are always favourites and some judges will lean towards the competitor of their own nation. Although, I think that throughout the years Hungary achieved great titles, had and has big talents and maybe that is why I usually get good points. The judges accepted what we do and it is important to show what we can do as a small nation. We worked a lot for this.
DailyNewsHungary: While the other gymnasts were nervously strolling up and down before the final in London, you simply slept for a few hours. Have you always been this good at situations like this or is it the result of mental training?
Berki: I do a lot of mental training with my sport psychologist, Ágota Lénárt. She taught me different exercises which I practice regularly. During the preparation its 70% physical training and 30% mental training but it’s the opposite during the competitions. Also, I’m a person who loves to compete and show how much effort I put into an exercise in the previous months. This is what happened in London, I knew I had to concentrate and be there in mind.
DailyNewsHungary: What happens in your mind while performing your routine? Is it possible to think, are you counting the seconds or just doing the moves automatically?
Berki: When I’m at bigger events the moves come by themselves because they have settled into a rut. If I’m well prepared that 50 seconds feel really short. I say that a good exercise is one in which the time flies by. I know that it went well if it felt short. It had happened to me before that I was counting the seconds, I reached 40 or 45. Also, sometimes I have to correct a move, and then I need to concentrate on that.
DailyNewsHungary: London 2012 has already come up, let’s get a little nostalgic. You got the exact same score as Louis Smith who was competing in his own country. Even so, you won the Olympic gold medal with your higher score for the execution of your routine. How did your bear those minutes?
Berki: I knew that I did what I wanted to. I did a great routine, I got good points, but I knew that I was in London, in the home of my biggest rival, Louis Smith. He came after me and I cheered for him because I know what it feels like to win in front of your home audience (Krisztián won the European Championships in 2005 in Debrecen). I honestly felt that if it’s not me, Louis deserves the gold medal. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the No. 1 near my name. I didn’t know what was going to decide between us because I’ve never been in a situation like that before. Those were some exciting minutes for sure! I really felt like I won when even people from BBC congratulated me.
DailyNewsHungary: Where do you keep your medals?
Berki: Luckily, I have most of my medals at home. I take care of them and keep them organized. I have collected a nice amount and most of them are gold which makes me very happy. I hope to broaden my collection furthermore in the next years. The Olympic gold medal has a special place and if I travel somewhere it either comes with me or I put it somewhere where I know it’s completely safe.
DailyNewsHungary: After so many years and ups and downs, what is it that still motivates you?
Berki: I had some deep stages in my life for example after London where I didn’t seem to find motivation. Although I said I would never fall back after I have achieved all of my goals, the fire somehow burnt out. Then came 2013 and the World Championships where I fell down from the horse, which has never happened to me before. I wasn’t prepared mentally and didn’t have the motivation. After all this, a miracle happened. My daughter was born on the 22nd of January, 2014 and she gave a whole new goal to my life. It is all thanks to her that I became World Champion last year and that I came back. She changed everything in me, what she and family gives me is priceless. Now I know what I do and for what reason. She is my main motivation and I do everything for her.
DailyNewsHungary: So how did she change your life?
Berki: She changed my life completely. I needed some time to figure out how to balance my life. I learned how to really be with them when I’m at home and only concentrate on them. Last year I fell down from the horse again, this time at the Hungarian Championship which affected me even more and badly. But I realised that this is not what tragedy is. Tragedy is that there are people starving and suffering. I had to re-evaluate things and find myself again. With all that, I won the World Championships so smoothly than never before.
DailyNewsHungary: You mentioned starvation. P&G and Lidl announced not long ago that they are supporting starving children with 5 million forints. You were one of the ambassadors of their: ‘Everyone eats’ campaign. Why do you find it important to support campaigns like this?
Berki: I already got lots of requests before London, but we felt like I had the real power to give back after London. This was my second year with this charity for starving kids. We collected 5 million forints last year and this year as well. I am the ambassador along with my friend Gergő Oláh (talented singer and songwriter). It has always been important to me that I am there physically when it comes to good causes. I am happy to support a cause like this and see the smile on the kids’ faces. What is a small thing for us is a huge thing for them. I also support The Habitat for Humanity campaign in which homeless people get accommodation. I think that it is really important to use my power for good.
DailyNewsHungary: Since 2005, you are chosen each year as the Hungarian gymnast of the year. How do you see the situation of the new generation? Is there someone who might be able to follow your path?
Berki: There are always reassuring signs of young talents. They need to practice a lot and it takes time to really see what someone is capable of. It’s a common mistake that they tell young gymnasts too early that they have a great future in them and this later kills the motivation and the hunger for success. I see more and more young kids with talent especially after London. I hope that they have as supporting family and trainers that I have and had. I am very thankful for them.
DailyNewsHungary: Lastly, how do you like to spend your free time and switch off?
Berki: My favourite way to spend it is with my daughter and my wife. If I get a little more time, then I like to go-kart because I love the speed. I also like to play with play station for example in training camps. If we get the chance, we like to go to the cinema with my wife. I try to switch off as much as I can, but now it really is my family that plays the biggest role in my life and that fuels me.
DailyNewsHungary: We wish the best for you, Krisztián!
Written by Alexandra Béni
Photo: MTI, facebook.com/tornaszberkikrisztian, Richárd Nagy
Source: Daily News Hungary