Turkey’s Arican: ‘I am ready and conscious like never before’

Written by John Crumlish for International Gymnast Online

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Four years after making history as Turkey’s first male gymnastics Olympian, Ferhat Arican is confident he can make a winning impression at the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games by still delivering what he deems a “peak performance” a year later than planned.

Arican, who turns 27 on July 28, has helped thrust Turkey into the global gymnastics spotlight as a team since he finished 41st all-around in qualifications at the 2016 Rio Games. He has collected one gold, three silver and eight bronze medals in World Cup and Challenge Cup competitions since 2017, and placed third on parallel bars at the 2019 European Championships in Szczecin.

An all-around finalist at the 2017 and 2018 World Championships, Arican earned his individual berth to Tokyo through his 33rd-place all-around ranking at the 2019 Worlds in Stuttgart, which he also placed fifth in the parallel bars final. Turkey placed 15th in team standings in Stuttgart, missing a team berth to Tokyo by less than two points. Arican’s teammates Ibrahim Colak and Ahmet Onder also advanced to Tokyo, on still rings and parallel bars, respectively. Arican is already convinced, however, that Turkey will qualify a full team for the Paris 2024 Games.

Arican, who also runs his own gymnastics club called Kolektif Akademi, returned from COVID-19-mandated quarantine in May with his motivation intact, ready to resume his journey to medal contention next summer in Tokyo and beyond.

In this International Gymnast Online interview, the resolute and contemplative Arican reflects on his emergence during the current Olympic cycle, the pandemic-induced lockdown, his expectations for Tokyo and his hopes for the continued evolution of Turkish gymnastics.

IG: You came fairly close to advancing to the all-around final in Rio, and since then, you advanced to the all-around final at two World Championships. In which ways have you improved yourself, mentally and physically, between Rio and now?

FA: The Olympics are the highest level of the sport. Every athlete wants to compete and be part of the Olympics. I went down in history in Rio as the first male gymnast to qualify for the Olympics in the Turkish Republic’s history. I was 22 years old. It was an undefinable honor to represent my country in the Olympics. It was an unforgettable experience for me. During the time between the 2016 Rio Olympics and today, I have competed in several tournaments. During that time window, although I have won lots of trophies, I have sometimes faced defeat. But my philosophy is based upon learning and self-improvement. I always derive lessons from my mistakes. I can honestly tell you that I am much more mature. With a wealth of experience, I am ready and conscious like never before. From a physical perspective, I have improved a lot. I feel much more durable than four years ago and am prepared for the new challenges.

IG: How did you cope with the training restrictions during the quarantine? What was your training regimen, and how did you create space and equipment to stay in shape until the reopening of your gym?

FA: In gymnastics, the initial thing is training frequency. As a gymnast, you need to train as much as you can to maintain your form. You should be in great shape all the time. If you are not able to fulfill your designated training program, it reduces your capability a lot. During the lockdown, I maintained my exercise online with the Turkish national team. I did some fundamental home workouts. I also did something interesting: I brought a pommel horse to my house from our training facility. I did some basic training with it for a couple of days. Besides physical exercise, I also concentrated on my mental improvement. I explored mental training techniques that contribute to my mental health and strength. Although I was not 100% physically ready, I was mentally more reliable when I first stepped into the gym.

IG: When did you return to the gym?

FA: It’s been almost more than two months in the training facility. I am working hard to reach my previous condition.

IG: Who are your current coaches?

FA: My preliminary coach was Reyhan Karanlik. I continued training with him until the Rio Olympics. Currently, I have two coaches, Ievgeni Kozin from Ukraine and our national team trainer, Yılmaz Göktekin. I learn lots of things from both of them. I try to combine my experience with theirs.

IG: Given that you are an all-arounder, the challenge to restore your program on all six apparatuses seems far more daunting than for gymnasts who are specializing on one or two apparatuses. With Tokyo now pushed ahead a full year, how have you adjusted your training plan so you can be in top form in July 2021, instead of July 2020?

FA: Of course, it is more challenging to compose a training schedule for all apparatus at once. You need to divide your program accurately to receive maximum efficiency. Prior to the pandemic, I had an ascendent form graphic. Frankly, if the Olympics took place in the summer of 2020, I would be one of the assertive candidates for the gold medal. I was at my peak performance. After the lockdown, I am working hard to reach my previous form. I got one more year to prepare for the Olympics. There is no room for any mistake, so I have to work hard on my moves and improve myself each day to get the best result in return.

IG: Historically you have been a contender in not only the all-around, but for medals on parallel bars. How do you divide your training so you can give enough attention to your best apparatus, knowing you have a better chance to win a medal on that, while not neglecting any of the other five?

FA: Indeed I am going to compete in six different apparatus in the Olympics; my priority is parallel bars. Every day I spend a vast amount of my time on intensive parallel bars training. I put much more work on parallel bars, but at the same time, I try hard to keep the balance between parallel bars and the other five apparatus during my training sessions. I have quite a high chance of winning a medal on parallel bars compared to other equipment. I have one more year to improve my current performance. I will be at the Tokyo Olympics in optimum condition.

Ferhat Arican, during event final at the 2019 European Championships in Szczechin, Poland

IG: It is interesting that your teammate Ahmet Onder may be one of your biggest rivals on parallel bars in Tokyo, as in the past. What is your view of facing Ahmet as a chief competitor on this apparatus, while he is also your teammate and friend?

FA: We both put a lot of energy during our training sessions to successfully represent our country in international tournaments. From a competitive point of view, it is entirely for the benefit of our team. Rivalry brings achievement. Ahmet is confident on parallel bars. He is also capable. A high competitive structure within the organization reflects our performance positively. We pull up each other’s performances.

IG: Turkey came on very strong in this Olympic cycle. Looking back, in which areas do you think your team could or should have focused, in order to achieve that team berth to Tokyo? And going forward, what do you think your team will need to improve or focus on, so Turkey can earn a team berth to Paris 2024?

FA: Unfortunately, we were not able to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as a team. We lost the Olympic Games ticket by less than two points. In fact, we were doing a great job in the first four apparatus (at the 2019 Worlds in Stuttgart, from which teams advanced to Tokyo). We were racking up points which we expected before the championships, but the pommel horse ruined our plans. We lost four points. We were all disappointed as a team. From my point of view, if you want to be successful, you need to confront your mistakes. I almost became a European champion (in 2019), but my hand slipped when I was on parallel bars. Gymnastics does not accept any error. We work hard for years, for every single motion. We have less than a minute to show what we have. A tiny mistake can mean a loss. There is a lot of work behind that short series, and that series make us winners or losers. So, there is no room for mistakes in gymnastics.

On the other hand, the Turkish national team made history in Stuttgart. We are the most exceptional gymnastics team in Turkish history. I have an infinite belief that we will be in the 2024 Olympics as a team. We work hard, and are working on our weaknesses and shortcomings.

IG: What is the key to managing the demands on your time because of your own training, training the young gymnasts at your club Kolektif Akademi, and handling the business aspects of your club?

FA: Time management is the key to success. I am not satisfied easily; I always work hard to get better results. So, I need to use my time efficiently. I have designated targets. According to my goals, I work hard as much as I can and always do my best. In the meantime, I try to engage children with the sport. I own an academy that aims to empower children through sport. I am preparing to give my best in contests while I provide a fundamental gymnastics lesson to children. Even though my life pace is not easy to handle, it’s worth it. After you realize what you have accomplished, your tiredness passes by. As professional athletes, we are not just responsible for competing in tournaments. We are also responsible for spreading the sport to all children as much as we can. Because as we encourage children to participate in sport, we can contribute to raising successful and self-confident generations.

IG: At this point in your career, how close to your potential do you feel you are? And how much further, beyond Tokyo, do you foresee yourself competing?

FA: As a gymnast, I am at my optimum age, both for performance and for experience. I must make it count in the Tokyo Olympics. The Olympics are the most crucial opportunity for me to show that I’m among the greatest gymnasts. Thus I take care of myself and sustain my workouts strictly. I believe that the Tokyo Olympics won’t be my swan song. I know myself; I won’t lose my eagerness for the 2024 Olympic Games. But my main concentration is the Tokyo Olympics.

International Gymnast magazine’s coverage of Turkish gymnastics includes:

“Turkish Delight” – interviews with Goksu Uctas Sanli, Ibrahim Colak and Ahmet Onder, and profile on Tutya Yilmaz (October 2018)

Onder profile and Onder on cover photo collage (July/August 2019)

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