At 17, you’re the youngest Turkish gymnast to participate in the Olympics. How did you get into gymnastics?
“My parents say I started walking when I was eight months old. Since I could run fast as a kid, my dad thought I’d be an athlete, but when I was four my parents decided it would be better for me to do gymnastics. I loved it, and since I was good at it, I decided to keep going.”
What’s your first memory of gymnastics?
“I remember crying and refusing for some time to go into the sports hall where we trained. Until I was four I would play out in the woods with my dogs, so it was a little tough to break ties with nature. Things changed when my mom promised a Barbie doll for each training session I attended. I had nearly 100 Barbie dolls, and that’s how my journey in gymnastics began.”
What’s your training schedule like?
“I’m not doing any special training for the Olympics – since I’ve already got a well disciplined system, it’s as if I’m in camp year-round. I train 6 days a week, for an average of 6.5-7 hours a day, or a total of 2,000 hours a year.”
When we think of gymnastics, we think shiny outfits. Do you devote any time to shopping?
“I have nearly 100 leotards. I either choose or design them all myself. I feel really happy on days when I go shopping with my mom and end up getting her to spend a lot of money.”
How do you choose the music for your routine?
“My choreographer, trainer and I choose the songs together. We try to incorporate music that’s appropriate for my age and the time period. A gymnast’s appearance, character, speed and strength all help determine the music selection. I try the songs out during international competitions over the year and, depending on the feedback I get from social media, I use them in bigger competitions. In other words, I try to incorporate music that also makes the audience happy.”
How do you spend your time outside of sports?
“I’ve been playing the piano since I was a kid. I also love shopping and listening to music. It might sound silly, but I also love going on vacation, even if it’s just four days a year. This year, after the Olympics, I’ll go on a 10-day vacation for the first time in my life. I think I’ve deserved it.”
Since you’re juggling both school and training, is there ever a time when you long for an ordinary life?
“I’m not an ordinary person, so no. Another life might have been too boring for me. I just have to plan very well to make the most of my time.”
A few years ago you said you loved Shawn Johnson.
“Shawn Johnson’s still my idol! I think I’m a lot like her. Now there’s another athlete I admire: Cristiano Ronaldo. I look up to him for his demeanor, athletic build, discipline, sportsmanship and hard work. I’d also love to watch Usain Bolt.”
The artistic gymnastics events are held from Aug 6-17.