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Interview with Odette Richard

The Olympic experience

Odette Richard got a wildcard to compete at the Olympic Games in Beijing last summer, where she achieved the 23-th place in the individual all-around qualification. She has been four times national champion.

Interview by email, 20th November 2008

Who she is

Name: Odette Richard
Date of birth: 18/07/1988
Country: South Africa

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- You are back from the Olympic Games in Beijing. Congratulations! How was to live this experience?

It was a dream come true and a great personally exploration to get to this level.

- Did anything happen that you will remember forever?

I think that there are so many special moments that the whole experience can never be forgotten. But one that stands out is marching out of the arena after ther competition realising it was over.

- Do you think the OG is the highest experience for athlete, and especially for a gymnast?

Yes, I do as it not only brings the world together but also all the athletes from all the different sporting codes and the emotion due to this is unparralled.

- Did you expect to get the wilcard for Beijing after Patras's World Championships? Had you any suspects or was it a complete surprise?

Yes, I was expecting and hoping for it as the top gymnast in Africa. Going in to Patras this is what i was hoping for.

- Many people thinks that wildcards are often not a clever choice, limiting the numbers of best gymnasts able to compete. What do you think?

I can understand where they come from and especially for the gymnasts who narrowly miss an OG spot it seems unfair. Yet the idea of the OG is to unite the world and to grow sport all over and in having wildcards it inspires growing sporting nations to up there level as they are motivated to be part of such a prestigious event.

- How was to live in the Olympic village?

I think this is a big part of the olympic experience as to dine with athlete from all over the world and the freedom and security are amazing. It also has an atmosphere which I think makes it truely unique and special.

- What can you tell me about the opening/closing ceremony?

I was still in South Africa training during the opening ceremony, but I watched it on tv and the true spirit of togetherness and mass participation was fantastic through the use of so many people. I think the opening ceremony will be very hard to beat in the future. I went to the closing ceremony, with the London bus, and just the whole vibe... in that moment you will do anything to be at the next one.

- Do you believe the judging is the weakness of RG?

I think it can be seen as one as it is a subjective sport to some extent, yet as a competetor you can not control the judging but only your own preformance on the carpet.

- Do you hope there will be any changes in RG with the new code?

I hope that it will become more expressive and that each gymnasts unick style will come through.

- How did you start Rhythmic Gymnastics?

At 5 my mom took me to the gym as she was working and thats how it all began! 15 years later I was priveleged to compete in the OG.

- Who are your favourite gymnasts (of the present/past)?

Yanina Batyrchina, Irina Tchachina and from this OG Natalia Godunko.

- Which is your favourite apparatus?

I don't really have favourite apparatus, I like them all.

- What about your routines: do you choose the music and the choreography or is it the choice of your coach?

Adriana Dunavska helped coreographing my routines and the music was a choice of hers, mine and my coach Maureen van Rooyen.

- Who is your coach?

Above, Maureen van Rooyen who started the sport in South Africa and has coached me my whole career.

- Did Maureen van Rooyen star RG in South Africa from "nothing"? Can you tell me something of her experience?

She brought it into the country from Germany where she went to learn the basics. She and Isabel Van Achterburg, our current RG head of the TC in South Africa, have grown it ever. I know it has been amazing to learn so much and to get a gymnast to the Olympic Games.

- How much do you train?

It depends on the day and if at competitions over seas or not, but between 5 and 8 hours six days a week. This was only in last two years as, before I was finishing school which in South Africa is from 7:30 to 14:30 and then trained from 15 to 19.

- You seem joyful on the floor. How are inside and outside the gym?

I like to be happy and joyful but this is not possible always in life especially when preparing for an event of such magnitude. Some days in the gym were not easy but as a whole i would think i am bubbly and fun.

- Is this sport popular or getting popularity in South Africa?

I like to hope it is but it is still very much in a development-stage and training facilities and funds are hard to come by. Hopefully with good managment the gymnastics in this country can grow to a world class level, yet this will take some time.

- Do you find it difficult to be far from Europe, the heart of RG?

Yes it is difficult: to do many competitions is hard and expensive, and you are always a little bit behind everyone else on new techniques.

- Competing you have to travel a lot. What country did like to visit more?

I have trained with a lot of bulgarian gymnasts and coaches and I would like to go to visit them. I would also like to go to some of the countries and see the country and not just the gym hall :-)

- Who are your best friend in gymnastics?

A good friend of mine used to be the african Champion before me and is now studying medicine, Belinda Potgeiter. The girls of the bulgarian group team are my closest in the gym world at the moment.

- Your biggest challenger has maybe been your team-mate Stefanie Sandler. Are you friends or rivals? Did her previous experience at Athens' OG help you?

At the beginning we were not close as we have very different personalities, yet on the end we were friends. I think her experience helped me in a small way: I believe each person reacts differently and some things work for one person and not for another, so the trick is to know what is the best for yourself.

- What do you study at university? Do you find difficult to conciliate trainings and studies?

I study a bachelor of accounting sciences, yes it is very difficult to combine the two almost impossible and this year was very difficult to come back from OG and then to prepare for the exams for university.

- Do you have any hobbies?

Yes art, music, and swimming

- Do you play any instruments?

I used to play the piano and the violin, and the sound of the violin is something I would like to start playing again.

- Are you going to continue with Gymnastics, maybe till London 2012?

I am thinking about my career and my life and am not yet decided. This is very difficult decision to make, to leave RG, but in South Africa it is important to study and get work as RG community and job opportunities are not big.

- Do you want to keep involved in RG after retiring, maybe coaching?

I am not sure for coaching and am not qualified to do so i definately want to be involved just not sure on what level. Maybe for sponsorship and management.

- What are your projects for the future?

Definately to get my degree and make a success of myself. I would like to create a system where the people of South Africa know who our athletes are and not just our few famous sports heroes, as I believe they all work hard and deserve recognition.

- Thank you!

A. Favarato

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