A few months ago, marksman Sergey Richter and his coach, Guy Starik, parted company. Richter had decided to start training with members of the Russian national shooting team, under the watchful eye of Yevgeny Aleinikov. In his first competition of the year, he reaped his reward by winning gold in the 10-meter air rifle category at the European Championships.
“It’s a great feeling,” Richter told Haaretz last week about his triumph in Denmark earlier this month. “It’s something I have been waiting for since I started competing. I made it to the final of the European Championships three years in a row, but I never got into a medal place. This time I really couldn’t have hoped for more. Now I can turn my attention to the rest of the season. In a few days I fly to Germany to take part in a preparatory tournament in Dortmund, and then there’s the World Cup in Korea.”
You recently got rid of your old coach and now you’re training under Yevgeny Aleinikov. What are the main differences between them?
“It’s true that I have a new coach and I am no longer working with Guy, but I would really rather not go into that. The training systems and the psychology are very different. It’s nothing like the training I am used to, and I am delighted that it’s paid off so well. I won gold at the European Championships, so I can’t complain. All I can do is hope that I keep up that level of success for the entire season.”
Igal Carmi has just been elected chairman of the Israel Olympic Committee and his first move was to appoint [former judoka] Yael Arad as head of the sports committee. What do you think of that?
“The truth is that this is the first I have heard of the changes. I don’t really follow such things. I barely know Carmi. We’ve met a few times and he seems like a perfectly pleasant guy. I wish him and everyone connected to the Israel Olympic Committee the best of luck ahead of Rio 2016. Yael is an incredible woman. First of all, she was Israel’s first Olympic medalist, so she knows what athletes need to succeed. As someone who has been through the excitement of competing in the Olympics, she also knows the condition that Israeli sport is in.
“I think it’s fantastic that people in her position are given authority and have a chance to help other athletes fulfill their dreams. I am very pleased for her. I would like to see as many former Olympians as possible sitting on these committees. That’s just my opinion; I am not exactly the right person to decide about such things, though. I am a sportsman and what interests me most is sport. In the end, we all share a common goal.”
Winning the European Championships no doubt gives you a great boost ahead of the 2016 Olympics.
“Anything you achieve through hard work gives you a boost. That’s true in all walks of life, not just sport. As for winning the gold, it certainly does give me extra incentive for Rio, but that’s still three and a half years away. There’s plenty of time between then and now. There are plenty of competitions to compete in, and by the time Rio comes around anything could happen. It’s great to win gold, but it’s even better to win it at the start of an Olympic season. I hope to continue winning.”
You missed the final of your event at the London Olympics by a single point. That must have been a traumatic moment for you.
“Yes. I expected more from myself. I don’t know if you would call it a crisis, but there was a moment when I stopped and told myself that I had failed to achieve what I set out to do. It was a kind of argument with myself, but that’s something every athlete goes through and continues to compete. Life isn’t a straight line; sometimes there are ups and sometimes there are downs. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
Did winning gold at the European Championships soften the blow in any way?
“Not really. If you fail at the Olympics, the only way to make up for it is to succeed at the next Olympics. You can’t compare between winning a medal at the European Championships, or even the World Championships, and winning at the Olympics. I will have to wait four years to rectify what went wrong in London, and right now I am focusing on other things.”
Many athletes find it hard to make ends meet. What’s your financial situation like?
“Even before the London Games, I was very lucky to be sponsored by a high-tech company called Cellact. After London, they decided to extend the sponsorship deal until after the Rio games. That’s a great help. It’s a godsend having a big company behind you. I am in almost daily contact with Cellact CEO Avner Porat, and I really have to thank them for their support. A couple of weeks ago they held a reception to congratulate me on winning the European Championships. I also get support from the Elite Sports Department of the Olympic Committee.”
Former Olympians like pole vaulter Alex Averbukh have found it impossible to get jobs in their profession. Are you worried about the day after you retire?
“I think that every professional athlete has that concern, and everyone hopes not to be in the situation that Alex is in. He was one of the greatest athletes ever to represent Israel and he deserves far more respect than he gets. I can only hope that he will soon be treated in the manner he deserves. The bottom line is that he can contribute a lot to Israel sport, and to track and field in particular.”
Will you be competing in this summer’s Maccabiah?
“Yes. It will be my first time and I am very proud to be representing Israel. I am looking forward to it immensely.”
Do people recognize you in the street?
“The truth is that I hardly get out. I am usually too busy with training. Two days after I returned from the European Championships, I was already back in training. But when I do wander around Tel Aviv, one or two people will come up and shake my hand. There’s no greater satisfaction.”
Which competitions do you have coming up?
“The European Championships was the first competition of the season. We still have four World Cup meets − the first of which will be in Korea. Then there’s another European Championships at the end of the season. There are also open competitions, training camps and grand prix, so there are plenty of opportunities to win more medals.”