Heading into his 17th world championships, five-time Bulgarian Olympian Jordan Jovtchev talks to IG about the current state of his storied career.
Heading into his 17th world championship, five-time Bulgarian Olympian Jordan Jovtchev talks to IG about the current state of his storied career.
Jovtchev, who turns 39 in February, made his world debut 20 years ago in Indianapolis. Since then he has become a living legend, winning 13 world and four Olympic medals. Most of his medals have come on still rings and floor exercise, but his all-around finesse won him back-to-back world bronze medals in 1999 and 2001.
He heads to the world championships next month in Tokyo in a dual role — as an athlete and the president of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation. After 11 years living and training in the United States, the Plovdiv native moved back to Bulgaria in 2007 to try to revitalize the struggling program.
IG contributor Christian Ivanov, a 2000 Olympian for Bulgaria, sat down to chat with his former teammate recently at the newly remodeled national training center in Sofia.
Jovtchev at the newly remodeled national training center in Sofia, which had its grand re-opening in May.
IG: How many hours a day do you train? Do you train consistently year round, or do you take breaks for weeks/months at a time?
JJ: No, I don't train the entire year. For the most part I prepare a few weeks before the big championships, like Europeans, worlds, etc. I don't really go to World Cup events anymore either. At my position I really can't afford to train full year around. There is a lot of administrative work with the federation and of course at my age I have to be careful and rest my body too. I train when I find time... many times at the end of the business day, on weekends, with my busy schedule that is the only way!
IG: How does your body respond to gymnastics now? Do you have a lot more aches and pains, or do you feel the same as 10 years ago?
JJ: Of course it doesn't feel the same as 10 years ago. But for the most part I feel good, light and healthy. I believe I get in shape fairly quickly. Right now, and for some time now, I have had a problem with my biceps, which is still bothering me. And that is my only health concern. It really bothers me mostly on pommel horse, and that is the event I train the least, but it also affects me to some degree a bit on the other events also.
IG: Are you planning to do the all-around in Tokyo?
JJ: Yes, I am planning to do the all-around in Tokyo, and then hopefully at the test qualifying event in London, where hopefully I can qualify to the Olympics.
Five-time Olympian Jordan Jovtchev at the 2008 World Cup Finals in Spain
IG: Are you able to learn new skills, or do you just train to maintain your old ones?
JJ: For the most part I maintain my older skills. Of course with the new Code, you have to make some modifications — construct the routines differently, get a new skill here and there, etc.
IG: What is your motivation to continue competing? Did you ever imagine you would still be competing, close to 40?
JJ: My main motivational factor is helping Bulgarian men's gymnastics. Although we don't have a very large team, we still have a team. And with me still competing, as a team we have a bigger chance to perhaps qualify more gymnasts to the Olympics. We can qualify one, or two, or in the best-case scenario three gymnasts... and of course the alternative of not qualifying a gymnast exists, too. But I believe that we can at least qualify one person. And I have never thought about competing at this age, but here it is!
IG: What do you feel your chances are for a medal on rings in Tokyo and/or London? Do you need to add more skills?
JJ: I don't know what my chances are. I'd like to handle it in a humble way and say 5-10 percent. I'll be as prepared as I can and I'll do the best routine I can and then it will be what it is meant to be. There is a strong competition on the event; Chinese, Italians, Russians, French, more Asians, etc.
IG: What do you think of Eddie Penev's chances for Olympic qualification? What do you think he needs to do to bring a medal on floor exercise/vault in Tokyo?
JJ: Well, I think Eddie has a difficult routine on floor and it is possible to medal. And of course if he medals he will qualify for the Olympics. But it is very difficult. The key for the top guys on floor is landings. With so many tumbling passes if you manage to stick most of them, you have a good chance. On vault he doesn't have a strong second vault, and I believe the competition is fierce on this event; therefore, his chance is on floor.
IG: Bulgaria has lost so many expert coaches. Do you think Bulgaria could do what Russia did, by bringing back coaches to try to rebuild the program?
JJ: I really don't know if that is a possibility right now. We have a few experts in the gyms around the country. Former Olympian Krasimir Dunev is the head coach of the men's national team, and he also serves as the vice president at the federation. There are a few other experts that have returned from abroad and coach for the top clubs in the country. And we also have a few young coaches, former national team gymnasts who have recently retired and are doing a decent job.
IG: Are you already grooming gymnasts for 2016 and 2020?
JJ: Like I said earlier, we are anticipating it will take some time until we again have strong gymnastics in Bulgaria and internationally, but what I know is we are giving our maximum effort to get there. We have some young talented boys and girls in the gym, but of course we can't predict now where they will be in 2016 or 2020.
IG: What does your role as president of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation involve?
JJ: Everything! The list is really very long. For the last two years I have dealt with the ($2 million) renovation of the national training center, which right now is complete and brand new. It took an enormous amount of effort on my part — sponsorships, establishing various relationships with government, business companies, the cooperation with the actual construction companies, etc. It really was chaotic situation for two years. In addition, as any other federation we organize the junior and senior national teams, coaching staff, we communicate and cooperate with the clubs and this is just a short list of what is going on! Really there are so many responsibilities.
IG: What are things you feel you have achieved already as president of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation, and what goals would you like to achieve in the future?
JJ: I'd say the biggest accomplishment is the new training center. When I arrived three years ago there was really not much left of Bulgarian gymnastics. I feel we are becoming more organized and structured as a federation. And we are able to put on the floor a men's gymnastics team, although not as strong as we would like. Having said that, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. It will take many years to revitalize Bulgarian gymnastics as a whole. But I feel we have made the beginning.
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