In London three years ago, Alex Shatilov became the first Israeli in history to stand on the podium of the World Championships in gymnastics.
His bronze in those championships was followed by nine more podium appearances, including a second place at the 2011 European Championships and two gold medals at world cup events.
On Sunday, back in London again, the 25-year-old gymnast hopes the men’s floor exercise will yield Olympic gold.
Shatilov, who immigrated with his family from Uzbekistan at the age of 15, finished 12th in the men’s all around finals on Wednesday. But in the floor exercise, his specialty, he received 15.600 points, more than any other competitor. It was an auspicious omen.
Shatilov started gymnastics training at the age of five, and joined a boarding school for athletes when he turned 12.
In Israel, Shatilov immediately started training with the Maccabi Tel Aviv federation, practicing many hours a day for little recognition. But his mother always knew he could be special.
Shortly before the London Games, Alla Shatilov — herself a former gymnast who coaches young competitors —spoke to a Times of Israel blogger. Alla said she “could tell from a very young age that he had the ability to go far with gymnastics; still, it was a lot of work.”
Alla, incidentally, can’t bear to watch when Alex is performing. “I will program the TV to record the events,” she said. “I am much too nervous to watch them live! Actually, I will probably be walking the dog.”
Shatilov worked hard with his new Israeli coaches, and by the age of 19 the entire country had heard his name. He ranked seventh in the men’s floor exercise at the 2006 World Championships. Now, people were paying attention.
The floor exercise was always Shatilov’s specialty, and he kept improving. Months after that seventh-place breakthrough, he won a bronze medal at the world cup games hosted in Moscow. Soon after, he qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games, where he became the first Israeli gymnast to reach an Olympic final, finishing eighth in the floor exercise. Since then, the triumphs have come fast and furious, starting with a gold medal in Glasgow’s 2008 world cup games.
Before the men’s all around finals last week, Shatilov told Israel’s Sport5 Channel his medal hopes were for the floor exercise. “It’s good to feel the mat again,” he said.
How good? We’ll find out on Sunday.
Source: Times of Israel