|Two-time Greek Olympian Stefani Bisbikou, 22, is making a comeback to help Greece qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Preparing for the world championships this month — almost two years since she last competed — two-time Greek Olympian Stefani Bisbikou is already aiming for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Bisbikou is the only Greek female artistic gymnast to compete in two Olympic Games. She placed 15th all-around at the 2004 Games that took place in her hometown of Athens, but she did not perform at her best at the 2008 Games in Beijing because she was recovering from a knee injury suffered five months before the Games.
Bisbikou is also the only Greek female artistic gymnast to win a medal at a Senior European Championships, having tied for the bronze medal on balance beam at the 2007 Europeans. (Compatriot Vasiliki Tsavdaridou won the bronze medal on vault at the 1994 Junior Europeans.)
Following the 2008 Olympics, Bisbikou (whose name appears as 'Bismbikou' in official results as the result of a typographical error on her passport) took an extended break from training to focus on her studies. She resumed training late last year, through the encouragement of Anastasia Donti, one of her two coaches. Her other coach is Thodoros Stathopoulos; in Greece, all female artistic gymnasts are trained by a pair: a male coach and a female coach.
The 22-year-old Bisbikou is now focused on the 2010 World Championships that will take place Oct. 16-24 in Rotterdam. There she hopes for individual success, as well as to help her Greek team place among the top 24 and thereby advance to the 2011 Worlds in Tokyo.
IG Greek correspondent Stelios Karaoglanidis recently spoke with Bisbikou, who revealed the inspiration for her comeback and the big plans she has for the coming years.
IG: Had you been thinking about a possible comeback since the day you decided to take a break?
SB: Not really. First of all, after the Olympics in Beijing, I planned to carry on with my career. I returned to the gym for a little while, but then I felt that I needed to stop. That happened in November 2008, and for exactly one year I didn't practice any gymnastics at all. To be honest, during that time I didn't miss the sport so much! Of course, I kept on watching all gymnastics events on TV and I missed the feeling of the competition, the trips and things like that, but I wasn't really considering a comeback.
The insistence and encouragement of my coach, Anastasia Donti, made me reconsider. She kept telling me that I should give it another try. In the end she convinced me, and I think that it was the right thing to do. If I didn't go for this comeback, I would probably regret it later on in my life.
IG: When did you resume training? Was it hard for you to try and gain your form?
SB: I started last November, little by little. However, I was spending much time on my studies in the Dietetics and Nutrition department at the University of Athens. I'm quite close to getting my degree, and hopefully I will achieve it in the near future. During the first months of my comeback I wasn't fully dedicated to gymnastics, but since April I focused on training and I saw a lot of progress. Along with it, the desire to return to my previous form was growing bigger and bigger.
IG: What was the motivation for you to take another chance on gymnastics?
SB: My biggest motivation is to compete in the Olympic Games for the third time. It is something that I have been thinking and wanting for many years, even before the Beijing 2008 Games. I would love to be able to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.
IG: Do you believe that the best is yet to come for you in this "Phase Two" of your career?
Bisbikou finished 15th all-around at the 2004 Olympic Games, held in her hometown of Athens.
SB: I'm trying and will keep on trying to become as good as I was before, if not better. One always tries to make a step higher. I'm not at 100 percent right now in terms of fitness and readiness, but I'm quite well. I think I am at maybe 70 or 80 percent. If the world championships were held a couple of months later, things would be much better for me. Still, I'm pleased with the level I have reached in such a short time.
IG: What would be the Greek team's aspirations at the world championships?
SB: The reason for me to compete in Rotterdam will be to help the Greek team make it into the top 24. It will not be easy, but we will try as hard as possible. In the beginning we were thinking that I would only compete on balance beam and vault. However, my progress was fast, and eventually I will compete in all four apparatuses, although we are on a time limit.
IG: Have you set any individual goals as well?
SB: If everything goes well, I might have a chance to qualify to the all-around final. Also, on balance beam, my routine has got a quite high B-score, 6.1 or 6.2. However, I haven't reached the desired level of consistency so far. We are trying to take advantage of each of the remaining days.
IG: You haven't competed in any national or international competition for two whole years, ever since the Beijing Olympics. How tough will your official comeback directly at the highest level, in Rotterdam, be for you?
SB: Of course it's a challenge to make my international comeback straight to the World Championships. However, in every competition, bigger or smaller, a gymnast has got the same mission: to perform his or her routines as well as possible. So, any competition is equally important in that aspect.
IG: How special is the Netherlands for you, after your achievements at both the 2004 and 2007 European Championships, held in Amsterdam?
SB: Definitely yes! I only have pleasant things to remember from both my previous appearances in the Netherlands. In 2004 I placed eighth in the all-around final and in 2007 I won the bronze medal on balance beam, which was the best thing in my career so far. I'm happy that I'll compete there once again and I hope that it will bring me luck, just as before.