Today’s edition of our 2021 series highlights the career of Alexander Shatilov, 33, who can pretty much unarguably be considered Israel’s best gymnast of all time.
A three-time Olympian, Shatilov is known for his impressive tumbling on floor, having made the finals on this event at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, but he’s also an accomplished all-arounder, and qualified to his fourth Olympic Games at world championships last year when he finished 30th in qualifications, missing the final by under half a tenth.
Like many of Israel’s top MAG competitors right now, Shatilov is a Russian transplant, having been born in the city of Tashkent in Soviet Uzbekistan in the late 80s. He came from an athletic family, with his father working as a horse riding instructor while his mother coached acrobatics, and it was evident early on that he would go into sports himself.
Shatilov’s mother, a former gymnast, brought him to a gymnastics class when he was five years old, and he quickly became serious about the sport, showing promise at a young age. He lived and trained in Uzbekistan early on in his career, moving away from his family to train at an elite sports boarding school at 12, and then at 15 he and his family immigrated to Israel, where he was able to seamlessly assimilate into the country’s national program, training at the Maccabi Tel Aviv Club with Sergei Vaisburg, his coach to this day.
At this time, Shatilov was clearly already in his element on floor, but he wasn’t really someone you’d point to as a future international superstar in the sport. He made his major international debut at the junior men’s European Championships in 2004, and then competed as a senior at Euros a year later, but didn’t advance to finals at either, and also missed out on worlds in 2005.
When he returned to competition a year later, however, he looked much improved, and it became clear that his big and powerful – albeit somewhat inconsistent and messy – tumbling was much more suited to an open-ended code, and it was under this new code in 2006 that he was able to jump into the conversation as one of the sport’s top talents. At worlds that year, he became the first Israeli gymnast to qualify into an apparatus final with a 15.650 on floor, and he was able to improve on his seventh-place finish there in 2007, with a fifth-place finish on the event in Stuttgart, where he also qualified to his first Olympic Games.
Throughout his 20s, Shatilov was a machine, proving himself time and again as a top talent in the sport and as one of the best in the world on floor. He qualified to the floor finals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, won bronze medals on this event at world championships in 2009 and 2011, and snagged a total of seven European floor medals during this time, taking the title in 2013 and most recently getting a bronze in 2017, a month after his 30th birthday.
This period of competition also included a lot of records for Israel. His all-around, floor, pommels, and high bar performances in 2012 stand as Israel’s best Olympic finishes on these events in history, he became the first Israeli gymnast to win European and world championships medals, and then he also became the first Israeli gymnast to win a European title, earning him the Sportsman of the Year recognition in both 2009 and 2013.
Shatilov has also been a regular on the world cup scene, with several medals to his name over the years, he competed in the all-around and floor finals at the inaugural European Games in 2015, and he has dozens of accolades from smaller international competitions throughout his 15-year international elite career, making him one of the greatest Israeli athletes of all time.
Despite being 34 by the time the Olympic Games happen in Tokyo, Shatilov told International Gymnast that he has no intention to stop. “Age absolutely does not bother me,” he said. “I feel that I can still improve my skills and that is why I continue my sports career.”
But eventually, Shatilov will have to pass on the torch, so it’s fitting that he will be joined in Tokyo by his 22-year-old teammate and fellow floor exercise guru Artem Dolgopyat, a two-time world silver medalist on the event who qualified to his first Olympic Games in Stuttgart last year, in the same arena where Shatilov first began his Olympic journey back in 2007. The pair has been working to take Israel to new heights in the sport, and while Israel has yet to qualify a full team to the Games, getting two gymnasts to Tokyo is an incredible achievement for this program and both Shatilov and Dolgopyat will go down in history for making it happen.
Article by Lauren Hopkins