The newspaper Berner Zeitung, based in the city of Bern which will host the European Championships this spring, has recently featured an interview with Switzerland’s star Giulia Steingruber. In 2016, Steingruber will compete with the hopes of making it to her second Olympic Games where her biggest goal is to medal. Thanks to our German translater Sina Rothfuss, we have an excellent translation to share. Enjoy!
I am a Minimalist
Giulia Steingruber addresses her goals and limits, chaos and discipline, as well as her role as the poster girl for gymnastics in Switzerland
On your homepage you say that your next goal is to reach the gymnastics Olympus. What do you mean by that?
To win an Olympic medal. That’s my dream, my goal – and very hard to achieve. That’s why I train, that’s what motivates me.
Do you want to win that medal on vault?
I’ll take any medal, it doesn’t have to be vault. [laughs] But on vault it is or it was the most realistic for me.
Is or was?
It gets harder and harder because more and more athletes show high-level vaults.
Your vaults have been the same since 2013. Will you upgrade your difficulty in order to reach your goal?
The level is getting higher and higher, and it gets more dangerous. A lot of gymnasts take high risks, something I don’t always understand.
What will you do?
I plan to upgrade as well. If I can make the upgrades happen, that’s great. Otherwise I’ll keep my usual vaults.
You plan to add another half twist to your Rudi. Is that realistic after your injury at worlds?
I’ve been doing that vault since 2011. The basics are there for the upgrade to happen in a very short amount of time.
How does the process of upgrading work?
The preparation happens on a trampoline. You simulate the vault, and add the new element. Then you go to the pit and try to land it there because the risk is low there.
Where are you currently in that process?
I want to try the new vault into the pit next week.
In 2012 you were the youngest Swiss athlete at the Olympic Games. What did you take away from these Games?
London wasn’t my best competition but it was very emotional. Everything was new, I was so amazed by everything. The Olympic village was huge. I almost couldn’t process all of my impressions. Now I know what to expect and I’ll be able to prepare better for the competition.
Do you feel it in the gymnastics scene that the Olympics are about to happen?
You could already feel it in the pre-Olympic year. Everyone tries to upgrade. I’m not one of those athletes who follows everything that their competitors do, I focus on my own program…
…because you don’t want to put additional pressure on yourself?
That’s one of the reasons, but in general it’s not useful to watch the others because you can’t learn completely new things during competition season.
If you want to be successful you have to push your limits – where are your limits?
I like it to search for my limits. But I won’t risk my health. I have to trust myself completely in what I do.
Oksana Chusovitina is 40 years old and she competed in the all-around in Glasgow. Can you compete longer in artistic gymnastics than the general public assumes?
Chusovitina is an exception but I’m under the impression that everyone exaggerates when it comes to age in gymnastics. Every gymnast knows their body and knows if its still capable to do the sport. For outsiders very often that’s hard to understand.
What do you mean by that?
For many years we have a daily routine that’s dominated by gymnastics. We don’t give up if it hurts a little bit. If we were to give up we would have nothing left.
Is gymnastics enough for you [in life]?
Ultimately no. I was in school prior to London but I quit because I was missing classes very often and it got too hard to balance it with gymnastics. Now I’m getting my Matura [the highest certificate you can graduate with from high school] through distance learning. I want to look into jobs. But right now gymnastics is my job. I have no idea what it feels like to work 8 hours a day. The gym is our school. It’s hard, it fills the day almost completely.
Gymnastics is one of the sports where you have to train the most. Do you sometimes feel that training is like a job?
I think it’s the same as every normal job. If everything’s going fine you are motivated and have fun.
Some athletes have to be pushed by their coaches, some have to get held back a little. What kind of athlete are you?
I’m a minimalist. I do what’s asked of me, nothing more. I need my coach to tell me that I’ll have to repeat an element.
Your coach Zoltan Jordanov helped you a lot with your career. What role does he play in your life?
An important one, I’ve learned so much from him. I’m happy he’s so patient with me. I’m often not as patient as he is and he has to calm me down in situations like this.
How does he do that?
He talks to me. Sometimes it’s enough when he says ‘You can do that.’ Sometimes it helps if he tells me to drink something. Zoltan knows me. He looks at me and knows how I’m feeling.
Very recently it got out that Jordanov will be replaced after Rio by Fabien Martin. What does that mean for you?
It’s very sad that he’s leaving. But it’s good that his assistant is taking over. If someone new would come to the program there would be uncertainty. We’ve known Martin for a long time, he knows how we work and we know how he works. I’m very grateful to Zoltan what he did for us and for me.
Some see gymnastics as a beautiful combination of sports and art, some see little girls who get drilled every day. What do you think about the second perspective?
We are in this sport because we have fun. In every sport you have to suffer a little bit in the beginning but it’s a good suffering. The coaches just want to help us reach our goals.
Ariella Kaeslin supports the second perspective in her book. How did you experience your time as a gymnast?
Of course there are some negative moments. Sometimes it’s better, sometime it’s worse. About Ariella’s book: Ariella has gone her way, that’s what she experienced. But it’s not the same for everyone. I think everyone should get their own picture of gymnastics.
Do you see a pretty picture when you look back?
You moved to Magglingen when you were 14, and put the sport first. Do you feel like you missed out on something in your life?
No. In the beginning I didn’t go to bed on time because my mom wasn’t there to reprimand me. But I learned very fast and soon I knew the less I sleep the worse I perform and the higher is the risk of getting injured.
Discipline is essential for a gymnast. Do you have that in your genes or did you have to learn it?
I’m more discliplined with my training than I’m with my private life. I’m very chaotic.
So you’re chaotic as soon as you leave the gym?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not dirty where I live or anything like that but when I get home it feels good to just throw my bag and jacket somewhere.
You’re the poster girl of gymnastics in Switzerland. Do you like that role?
I prefer to be in the background and just do my gymnastics but this role is part of it and it definitely has its good sides.
Euros are in Bern this year – does that motivate you or does it put more pressure on you?
We are under more pressure. Although it’s just a normal competition it’s happening at home and it’s hard to forget that.
How important are Euros to you this short before the Olympics?
We want to show what we can do and it’s a very good preparation for Rio.
You’re always talking in plural…
…because the team is clearly the priority. Of course we’re individual athletes but if we do good for ourselves it benefits the team. There’s a team competition this year at Euros so it’s the priority.
You’re the only Swiss gymnast who’s on a very high level. What’s the difference between a good and an excellent gymnast?
Talent isn’t enough. You need to put in lots of time and power – and be passionate about it.
Interview by Marco Oppliger and Micha Jegge in Berner Zeitung
Translation by Sina Rothfuss