By Lusine Shahbazyan
The Rio Olympic gold medal gave me everything, but also took away time, health, freedom, for which I do not regret for a second. August 16, 2016 changed my life, but not me.
This is what Armenia’s three-time world, five-time European and European Games Greco-Roman wrestling champion Artur Aleksanyan said in a conversation with NEWS.am Sport when talking about that memorable day and great victory, winning the Olympic gold medal.
Four years ago, on August 16, Artur Aleksanyan won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics. After a 20-year break, Armenia again had an Olympic victory.
In a conversation with NEWS.am Sport, Artur Aleksanyan recalled that victory day in Rio.
Arthur, 4 years ago on this very day you won the Olympic gold medal. What emotions does this day evoke after one Olympic season?
As the years go by, I get a better idea of what happened in Rio on August 16th. I am filled with the same feelings and emotions every year on this day. I cannot describe my feelings in words.
What did August 16 change in your life?
That day changed everything in my life. One think didn’t change: me. This day I reached the main goal of my life. My years of work, my hard work from a young age and my long and hard training returned to me in the form of an Olympic gold and received its deserved appreciation.
Armenia had not had an Olympic gold medal for 20 years, and you were the one who “broke that ice.” How did it happen and would you ever imagine that you would be the winner of this gold?
When I was little, I watched the 2000-2004-2008 Olympic Games with great interest, but at that time I never imagined that I would be the first gold medalist in Armenia after a 20-year break, that there would not be another winner who would have such a long break. After the 2012 London Olympics, where I won a bronze medal and Armenia again did not have a gold medal, I already realized that I might bring the first gold after this big break. I realized that I was ready for it and that I could achieve my goal at the Rio Olympics.
Do you remember the moments when you won gold and ascended the platform of honor?
There are many moments when I remember the Rio Olympics, my wrestling, the belt, standing on the podium with a T-shirt made by Robert Abajyan. I remember waiting for the final fight in the morning and imagining the award ceremony. I was prepared for that and decided that when I win a medal and be awarded, I should be wearing a T-shirt with a picture of April War hero Robert Abajyan that the whole world should see and recognize our heroes. Those were the most important and touching moments for me and I was looking forward to wearing that shirt. I can not remember a single moment of those two racing days, every second lives in me.
What happened to you after the victory whistle on the Rio mat, inside you that no one saw or knew?
I'm actually an emotional person, but I rarely show my emotions on the mat. I did not show much emotion after the last whistle of the final. That is, what happened after the final whistle was not the culmination of my emotions. In fact, after defeating Turkish Cenk Ildem in the semifinals, I had more feelings and expressed my victory more emotionally than after the final fight. The video clearly shows me shouting after beating Ildem, because my main opponent in Rio was a Turkish wrestler. It is true that my other opponents were all strong, but I was more prepared for the fight with the Turk.
Artur, 4 years later, when the euphoria of your victory is over, can you describe what it means for an athlete to be an Olympic gold medalist? What does that title give and what does it teach?
There is no athlete in the world who does not dream of an Olympic gold medal. It is the pinnacle of sports. When you reach that peak and look back on your journey, you realize that it was worth dedicating your life to sports, living in sports and for sports. The Olympic gold medal is a great and real motivation for every athlete, and it teaches him to fight for the goal of achieving that gold.
What did the Olympic gold medal give and take from you?
It gave everything, but took a lot, too. This medal took time from me, but for which I do not regret. It took away my health; I have had many injuries over the years (…). It took away freedom (…). The freedom that boys and young people my age have always had, I have never had, but I have not regretted it for a second. I felt that in order to achieve that medal, I had to be deprived of freedom, of many pleasures.
You won the highest sports medals in your sports career, you also won Olympic gold, but the glitter of those medals did not blind you. How did you manage to avoid that glitter?
My character has allowed me to never be blinded by the brilliance of those medals. I have accepted my every victory in a different way. After each victory, I went back to the gym and started training more than before that win.
Are you thankful to yourself for the sports history you have created?
First of all, I thank my personal trainer—that is, my father—then God, and only then myself for having this sports destiny and passing it with honor. But I only thank myself when I look at myself from the side.
Before Rio, I had a long way to go to win an Olympic gold medal. Everyone believed in me, waited and believed that I could win that long-awaited medal for Armenia. It was a big and heavy responsibility for me, and I had no right to disappoint an entire nation or country.
But the next four years after Rio became more difficult for me, as I received most of my injuries during these years—long-term treatment, a long absence from the mat. Along with new victories, I also had disappointments. I especially regret leaving the fight due to an injury in the final of the 2019 World Championship.
My wish and goal is not to have my injuries recur, to train well, and prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. The Tokyo Olympics are doubly binding for me. I will do my best for Tokyo gold; time will tell what will happen and how it will be.