Young world cup winner duo eyeing olympic games
İbrahim Çolak, who became the first Turkish gymnast to win a medal at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships with his gold medal in the men’s rings last week in Germany, is now eyeing the Olympics, as he says having the title of world champion will be an advantage in Tokyo 2020.
While thankful for the state’s support but feeling a little bitter about the lack of private sponsorship, as well as the lack of public interest, Çolak said recent successes will bring this branch much more under spotlight. As the national television did not broadcast the championship, the 23-year-old gymnast family and relatives had to watch him perform online from a phone.
Let’s start with the classic questions: How do you feel?
I feel like I am in a dream, and if it is a dream, I don’t want it to finish.
Actually, we realized better what we have accomplished after we came back to Turkey. All the reactions and feedback we got, from the president to the ordinary people, we did not know made us realized that this success came at a time when we really needed it as a nation.
There is a lot of interest toward soccer in Turkey, while other branches seem to be neglected.
Amateur sports like gymnastics should be known better by the Turkish public. We need more publicity, promotion, and coverage in the media. Gymnastics are the fundamental basis of all sports, but interest toward gymnastics is very low. Many people don’t know about it. I wish people knew about it more even before we won medals.
Gymnastics is very important for all athletes. All the children should do gymnastics at least for two or three years, because any child can then develop himself or herself better in other sports in a much faster way. It provides you flexibility, it develops your muscle groups and at the same time it develops your coordination. These are the essential features that a good athlete should have.
You can have the strong muscle, but if you also have the flexibility you will have less risks of injuries.
Do you feel a little resentment that you come under the spotlight only after you won a medal?
I wish we had more coverage before the championships. If we had prior coverage, then the public would have been informed and watched the championship. I competed on a Saturday and became world champion; Turkish television channels did not show it. It was shown online. My parents told me that all our relatives came together, gathered around a smartphone and watched it on a small phone screen. Can you imagine? It is such a historic time, but they had such a difficulty because Turkish television channels did not broadcast it.
My teammates competed the next day. Because the golden medal made such a big news in Turkey that their competition was broadcast by Turkish channels. They decided to do so only after the world championship came.
We are not talking about a Turkish championship or a league championship, this is world championship. TV channels should broadcast it starting from the qualifications of the championship.
What is behind your success?
A lot of work, a lot of sacrifice and the support we got, first and foremost the support I got from my family. Since childhood, the whole family was mobilized; if it was not for my mother, my aunt, my late grandfather who took me to the trainings… Even family picnics were organized according to my schedule.
There is a project called Turkey Center for Olympic Preparation. As I started to win medals and until I became part of the project, everything has been really difficult for us, because we try to do everything through our own means and the means of our club. In this case the Şavkar gymnastic club in İzmir.
I’ve been together with my trainer Yılmaz Göktekin for 19 years. I see him more than I see my parents. There is a lot of dedication.
We have been receiving a lot of support from our president, from our ministry and the fact that Suat Çelen, the president of the gymnastic federation, had so much faith in us brought that success.
How substantial and effective is the support you get from the state?
Suat Çelen, for instance, is a former national gymnastics team member. He knows what we need and finds solutions to the problems even before we tell him what they are.
After you got your medal, you told the press that you worked 19 years for that 50/90 seconds. But I am sure your competitors worked equally as hard. What could be the one difference that got you in front of them?
It is difficult to say something different. You have to like what you do and respect what you do and as a result you know what you are supposed to do and what you should avoid doing.
What are the advantages and disadvantages when you compare Turkish athletes with their foreign rivals?
Our biggest disadvantage is that from their diet to their transportation there is a sponsor that support them. I did not have a sponsor until now. Even though I have proven that I can be better than them, I still don’t have sponsors. That really saddens me to see that they have so many sponsors while I don’t even have one.
And sometimes I really get stuck on that subject. Because if I have a sponsor I could only focus on gymnastics. Last year I won silver medal in Europe, there were still no sign.
Why is the lack of sponsorship getting you preoccupied? Can you elaborate?
This was more so before I was enrolled as a teacher. You have no guarantee in sportive life. You could be injured and you might not get back. At the end of the day, this is how I make my living, how I make money. What would I do if I can’t go back and I don’t have a separate income? Sometimes we talk among each other, the financial side keeps coming up. I have friends that plan on quitting just because of that.
Look at the soccer players, they make so much money. We ask ourselves why we can’t earn the same. Only if we are successful that things start to change. Now at least I am a teacher and I have a guaranteed income. This has been a relief.
Do you think there is also a problem in Turkey of perceiving gymnastics as a sports for women?
That was the case, six-seven years ago. When they see my muscles and find out I do gymnastics, they used to as “but isn’t that only done by women?” It is not that person’s fault, it is related to the fact that this branch is not promoted in Turkey.
My aim was to won medals at the European, World Championships and the Olympics. I won medals in both European and World championships. Next is the Olympics. We will work very hard, but me and my teammate Ahmet Önder will be announced at Tokyo 2020 as the world’s first and second, I think that will be an advantage.
In 2017 the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) included “The Colak” in their Code of Points for rings. How did you create that movement?
I wanted to follow on the footsteps of the late Murat Canbaşın, with his “canbaş movement” and the “Çelen movement” that belongs to the president of the federation Suat Çelen. In addition, my teammate Ferhat Arıcah has the “Arıcan” movement. So with all these examples in front of me I also wanted to have a movement on my own. We worked on it together with my trainer and I worked nearly three months before performing it in the 2017 European championship.
The 23-year-old Ahmet Önder, who won the silver medal in the men’s parallel bars, said he started at a relatively late age, and, therefore, had to work harder than his teammates.
Tell us your journey.
I started when I was eight years old. It was my aunt who introduced me to gymnastics. I was raised in a small village near İzmir, where there were no sports facilities. But I was a hyperactive child. There was a sports center in my aunt’s neighborhood in İzmir. That’s where I started and then continued in the Şavkar Gymnastic Club, in the same city.
What brought the silver medal?
It takes a lot of labor, but first and foremost you have to have a lot of faith. I really love this sport. Even in the absence of success, I have never lost my motivation.
Do you feel a little bitter that there is not sufficient interest in the public and you get limited coverage in the press?
We are tremendously sorry on that issue. We wish the media could show more interest toward this branch. We really want people to know more about gymnastics.
Tell us about your targets?
The first target is the European championship. In addition to individual success, we want to make it to the first three as a team. Last year we made history by making it to the finals. But, of course, the real target are the Olympics and we have started already to work for that.
Are you following your competitors?
We do, and they follow us too. Interest from the world toward Turks in gymnastics has increased.
What do you see when you make a comparison with your foreign rivals?
Our advantage is the fact that we compete for the Turkish nation, for the Turkish flag. This is a national pride. But all of them have sponsors, even their federations have sponsors. The state and the federation are providing a lot of support to us and it is thanks to the means provided by the state that we won. But with sponsors, the rate of success will rise.
What is it that you like the most about this branch? What is it that you can say you like less about it?
I feel like I was born to be a gymnast. I am happy doing it, and even when I come across difficulties I never give up because I do something that I like. The hardest part is the injuries. I suffered an injury before the world championship, I was actually not feeling ready. The silver medal came when I was really not expecting it.
How is your relationship with your teammate who won the golden medal?
Eight is actually a late age to start. So, I had to work even harder. We have been together since the beginning and we have been dreaming together. That was a dream come true. Our successes become our biggest motivations.