The Olympic, world, and European champion Krisztián Berki announced his retirement today in a press conference in Hungary, where he also announced he will be taking on the role of sports director within the Hungarian federation.
Berki, 35, is a legend in the sport, both within Hungary and internationally, known for his work as a specialist on the pommel horse thanks to his difficult skills, brilliant technique, impossibly beautiful lines, and expert control. He amassed a total of 15 Olympic, world, and European medals on the event throughout his career, winning his first major international title on the event at European Championships in 2005 on home soil in Debrecen when he was just 21 years old, his first world championships title in 2010, and then of course, the Olympic title in 2012, where he defeated British gymnast Louis Smith in a tie-breaker to get the gold.
He was hoping to repeat as Olympic champion in 2016, but shoulder issues kept him from making the pommels final at world championships the previous year, and with no other qualifying route for him at the time, he was unable to compete in Rio. Berki returned to competition in 2017 with Tokyo on his mind, winning gold medals at world cups in Melbourne and Doha as well as the silver in Baku, and he also won the silver medal at European Championships that year, where he had the strongest routine, but wound up with silver after incurring a three-tenth penalty for starting after the timer.
Unfortunately, that would be the final competition of his career, as shoulder issues continued to affect his ability to train, and he underwent three surgeries between 2017 and 2019 before ultimately deciding to hang up his grips after more than 30 years in the sport. Berki was four years old when he first entered a gym, and he was a strong all-around gymnast as a junior in Hungary until an ankle injury in 2002 forced him to focus only on pommels, which turned out to be for the best, as he will now be remembered as one of the best ever to compete on this event in the sport’s history.
“Thank you so much to everyone for standing by me during these 32 years,” Berki said at the press conference. “I feel that despite my injuries, I have no reason to be ashamed. My career has been very rewarding, and perhaps it is no exaggeration to say I wish such a career to every athlete.”
He added that he hoped to be healthy enough to compete at world championships in Stuttgart to attempt to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games, but shortly before the trip, he injured his shoulder again, and a final surgery meant worlds were not an option. “At the end of 2019, I still didn’t say it was over, and I continued to prepare,” he said, but when he saw how strong his team looked at European Championships in Mersin at the end of last year, he said “it became clear that the boys are in good hands” and could go on without him, and it was only then that he finally decided to officially retire.
Berki’s new job as sports director for the federation was created at the end of last year with him in mind. According to the Magyar Torna Szövetség president Zoltán Magyar, Berki’s role will be “much more” than what the job description says, as the federation hopes that he will use his experience as a top athlete for the program to help guide the organization and its athletes as Hungary continues to make strides internationally in both its MAG and WAG programs.
We wish the best of luck to Berki in the next chapter of his gymnastics career and in all he does outside of the sport.
Article by Lauren Hopkins