Back in 1999, Russia's Nikolai Kryukov unexpectedly won the men's all-around competition at the Tianjin World Championships. Nine years later, the former world champ again turned in a good performance in China, almost single-handedly saving his team from major embarrassment in the Olympic team final. Competing on pommel horse, vault, and parallel bars, Kryukov obtained some of Russia's highest scores (16+ in two cases), but they weren't enough to help his team win a medal. Russia finished a dismal sixth, nearly twelve points behind the unstoppable Chinese team.
Two very similar stories about Kryukov appeared in Sport Gymnastics and Moskovskiy Komsomoletz Mikru at the time of the Voronin Cup, nearly two weeks ago. The article below is an adaptation of these two articles.
Veteran Nikolai Kryukov (right) with young pretender Fabian Hambuchen (photo: Anja Niedringhaus/AP Photo)
Grandfather on the Floor
The World Cup Final is contested only on individual apparatus events, and the names of the best eight athletes are determined once every two years. Nikolai Kryukov qualified for Madrid, but did not go. Instead he decided to look after himself with an eye to the future. Several months ago, in Beijing, Nikolai was very upset that neither he personally nor the Russian team were able to show the maximum of which they were capable.
"When I won the World Championships in 1999, they called me a dark horse," Kryukov said. "Now, presumably, they call me 'the team grandfather.' I even heard this name at last year's World Championships. I don't know if, as many say, I carried the team in Beijing. Did I or did I not? I simply went out there and did my job. Something somewhere didn't work out, but at least I didn't give up. [This may be a veiled attack on Maksim Devyatovsky, who did give up in Beijing when things didn't go according to plan. IG wrote a scathing article about it at the time, to which we sadly can't link as IG's site is currently down.] I kept going. That's sport for you. It may be a cliché, but it's true. One day you can do everything, and the next day you are simply no one. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. If I had won a medal, the future probably would already have been determined [meaning: I would already have retired by now]. But still... I didn't like it at all that the competitions started at 10 in the morning, as it meant that we had to get up before 6."
In Moscow [at the Voronin Cup], Nikolai did not need to get up at 6am, on this occasion because he was judging. He has obtained his first work experience next to the apparatus rather than on it. Fortunately, this doesn't mean anything yet. Steadfast Kolya represents the experience of the Russian team and its core, and is not leaving actual gymnastics to take up a place at the judges' table.
"For now I'm still an active athlete. I could, by the way, have competed at the World Cup Final in Madrid, where I had qualified, but you probably noticed the abundance of injuries which the gymnasts suffered after the Olympics. People gave their all there, and afterward they tried to maintain their form, even boosting it in order to continue to compete, and they simply broke. For this reason I decided to pass up the final, to take care of my joints and muscles. I want to switch off from it all and simply get ready and train in pleasure," Kryukov said.
Kryukov giving his all for Russia (photo: Reuters)
Kryukov said he would continue competing for another year, i.e. until the end of the 2009 season. He also said that in his future professional life he'd like to be connected to gymnastics, to the national team. So we'll probably continue to see him around...