The 2020 European Men’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships underwent an odyssey of sorts. Originally scheduled for late May in Baku, Azerbaijan, the coronavirus pandemic caused them first to be delayed until December and then moved to Mersin, Turkey.
That move presented a rising men’s Turkish team the opportunity for success at home, and they capitalized, winning eight medals including two golds.
“Winning three medals in the European Championship boosted my motivation up a lot,” 2016 Olympian Ferhat Arican, who won parallel bars gold in Mersin, told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview. “I'm maintaining my pace of training more eagerly than before. I will participate in Olympic Games as a European champion. So, I have to be on top of my form during the Olympics to show my best performance.”
That success was hard earned after a year of turmoil.
“Before the European Championships, it was so difficult for us training and some concentration and motivation went down,” admitted Arican. “Some of us in pandemic were boxed up in our apartments. Some of us had to work to live off, but we all took lessons from the outbreak.”
Those lessons included a new focus on his mental health, as he focused on training techniques for his mind.
He also – like some of the other world’s best gymnasts – got creative in his training away from the gym, bringing a pommel horse to his home, in addition to workouts online with his national teammates.
Finding motivation from historic Olympic appearance
Arican was breaking ground just by qualifying for Rio 2016.
“The Olympics are the highest level of the sport. Every athlete wants to compete and be part of the Olympics,” Arican said of those Games. “I went down in history in Rio as the first male gymnast to qualify for the Olympics in the Turkish Republic's history.”
Rio didn’t go quite as planned. After finishing 19th on the parallel bars at the 2015 Worlds, Arican had hoped to improve and perhaps challenge for a medal on the event until his hand slipped on a front uprise toward the end of his routine.
That mistake cost him a full point deduction, he ended with a 14.700 score: .766 out of qualifying to the medal round.
“I wasn't one of the assertive candidates for the gold medal. I went there to show my best,” explained Arican. “Tiny mistakes tipped the balance.”
Five years later, he’s preparing for the Tokyo Games in 2021 with momentum and redemption on his mind.
“During the time between the 2016 Olympics and today, I have competed in several tournaments. During that time window, I have won a lot of trophies and I have sometimes faced defeat,” said Arican. “But my psychology is based upon learning and self-improvement. I am always drawing lessons from my mistakes. This is really important for me. I can honestly tell you that I'm much more mature with a wealth of experience.
“I'm prepared for the new challenges,” he added.
Turkish talent abounds
He won’t face those challenges alone this time.
At this year's Olympic Games, he’ll be joined by three other Turkish gymnasts: 2019 World still rings champion İbrahim Çolak, 2019 World parallel bars silver medallist Ahmet Onder, and Nazli Savranbasi, who qualified her spot at the 2019 World Championships.
“For a competitive point of view, its entry for the benefit of our team and really brings achievement,” Arican says of his world-class teammates. “We pull up each other's performance every time, every time we pull up each other's performance.”
The hope is that Turkey can land its first-ever gymnastics medal in Tokyo, and Arican wants to be the one who does it. He’s motivated by missing out on the parallel bars world title in 2019 by .100.
“I have missed a gold medal on the parallel bars, the gold medal just slipped out my fingers because of my tiny mistake,” he said. “In gymnastics, there is no room for mistakes, but I believe that I'm going to compensate for it by winning a medal in the Olympics in Tokyo.”
Either way, the 27-year-old – though clearly focused on Tokyo – says he doesn’t expect those Games to be the finale of his historic career.
“Why not?” Arican said of Paris 2024. “I'm at my optimum age, both for performance and for experience.
“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.”