Interview: Tutya Yılmaz

We spoke with 17-year-old Tutya Yılmaz, the youngest Turkish gymnast to attend the 2016 Summer Olympics

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.


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