The three-time World champion and a six-time European medalist on the still rings, Eleftherios Petrounias, has represented Greece and won many tournaments and awards in a global level from Olympic Games to World and European Championships, and Cups, including the gold medal in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. In 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, he was named the Greek Male Athlete of the year. Recently, Petrounias won a bronze medal in the rings final in Tokyo Olympics Games, with a unique performance. The talented Petrounias, who was also named as the lord of the rings due to his extraordinary performance and awards’ winning, believes that hard work, passion and patience are essential to achieve your goals.
How did you start your career as a professional athlete, and how did you discover your passion for gymnastics?
I started competing at a very young age, gaining experience year by year. My parents played an important role to discovering my passion.
Since I was a really energetic child, they enrolled me to the gym and there I discovered the still rings, which immediately gained my interest. After that moment, my love and passion grew as I was growing up. I am competing since the age of 6 when I took part at my first national championship and since then I have lived some of the greatest moments of my life with the highlight of the Olympic Games Medal at Rio in 2016.
What are the important stages and unforgettable steps during your journey?
The two most important competitions and challenges I had to face were the Glasgow World Championship in 2015 and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. In Glasgow I was competing for the Olympic Qualification while I had just lost my father. The emotions were very intense. The gold medal I won at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was the most important distinction and an unforgettable moment, and it is still the most beautiful memory I have, where I represented my country and achieved to win the gold medal. I think right there besides fighting for my country, I was also fighting for my father, so I could make him proud even after losing him, a moment that I will never forget.
Who was the first gymnastics athlete that you liked his performance growing up?
I was following the great Dimosthenis Tampakos, who was my idol growing up, but I also idolized Jordan Jovtchev, the Bulgarian artistic gymnastics Olympian.
Which Arab Athlete do you know and admire?
I am a big fan and friend of Mohamed Salah.
What obstacle did you encounter through your journey? How did you overcome it?
There were two kinds of obstacles I faced, psychological and economic. When I was younger, I had to miss out on almost everything that all my friends were doing and had almost no free time for myself and my family. This was the reason that as an adolescent I quit gymnastics. But after a little time, I realized that gymnastics was my life and returned to become who I am now. The second obstacle that I encountered was economic, since the pay was very small, I could not support myself and continue competing, but then came the big distinctions and with them I gained my first sponsors.
Who inspired and encouraged you?
My parents at the beginning by supporting me my whole life and of course my coach, Dimitris Raftis, who is by my side the whole journey and showing me the right way to grow and become the best version of myself.
What is the most important advice you have received?
The night before the finals at the Rio Olympic Games my coach’s best friend and head coach of the women’s team, Xatzizisis, came up to me and asked me what is wrong Petrounias?, I responded that I am anxious for tomorrow results, then he replied not to worry, anything that is going to happen has already happened, it is just you that will find out tomorrow. The way I interpreted this was that when you have worked and prepared for a specific moment as much as you have, the result of your preparation, given that you give 100 per cent of yourself, will be what it is whether you are anxious or not. The only thing that matters is the hard work that you have put in to accomplish your goals, and that is already done when the time comes to compete.
What is your advice to beginners and gymnastics lovers?
My advice is to dream above and beyond and work for the biggest goal you can set. Yes, there will be many difficulties and disappointments but when you aim as high as you can, chances are that you are going to achieve much more than in any other situation. Passion is a key and patience is virtue.
In your opinion, what is the secret of success?
I do not think that there is a magic secret leading to success. Talent is a helpful tool, but success can only come when you work hard and have passion for what you do and patience to keep going.
How do you keep balance between your work as a professional athlete and your private life as a father and husband?
I can not say that keeping balance is easy; it is something that I have always struggled with. Being a professional athlete, the personal time is quite limited, but of course, when something is important there is always time. I thank my wife, Vasiliki Millousi, who as an athlete understands the difficulties and is always by my side helping me in more than one way.
How many hours do you exercise per day? How do you maintain your level?
My daily practice is from two to four hours. I maintain my level by training hard, keeping my head focused to my goals and having a great team of people by my side.
With all this success and achievements, comes sacrifice, can you tell us about your experience?
Of course, to have such a success you must sacrifice a very important thing, which is your personal time and time with family and friends.
But the feelings you get in return for making your country and yourself proud are the most amazing and for me are worth every sacrifice. Apart from that, of course, with success comes the financial stability, which is also important so any athlete can continue what he/she is doing.
Is there any other kind of sport that you like or practice?
The truth is that I am a sportsman; I like and have tried different sports since I was a child. For example, I have tried parkour and skating. Now that I am at a professional level, I do not really try anything else because above all I must ensure that I do not get injured.
What is the role of the athlete in participating and contributing in the society awareness of the importance of sports and other aspects?
I believe that sports is a fundamental part of society not only because with sports you can achieve a healthy life but also by teaching important values such as team spirit, fairness, equality, patience, perseverance and respect, values that is important to an individual and also to the functioning of the society as a whole. I believe that every athlete should take advantage of the communication power that he/she has and remind the society of the benefits of sports.
If you were not a professional athlete, what would you be?
I would probably still be connected at some level with sports, maybe by following a sports marketing career to help the sports sector develop even further.
What would be your advice if one of your children wanted to choose the same path you took and be professional athlete?
First of all, I will surely ensure that my children are involved in sports in some way, since I strongly believe that being athletic supports one in many ways in his/her life, but if one of my children wanted to be a professional athlete, I would try and support her in every way possible. My best advice would be to work hard and never let the failure get you down. Failure is the only thing that helps you learn and get better and better. Be patient and remain focused to your goals.
What are your future ambitions, and what are your priorities now?
My ambitions are to win my second gold Olympic medal, to stay at the top level for as long as possible, and continue my sports career. Of course my family is and will always be my top priority.
What was the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on sports?
Due to Coronavirus pandemic, we saw gyms closing, athletes “pausing” their training. In general, everything just froze for almost six months, which was a big step back for every athlete. Furthermore, now that we are able to train, the gyms are empty from spectators. Personally, I was very affected by this whole situation and as the virus seems to go away, we can be nothing else than happy to get back to normality.
How do you feel when you represent your country abroad? What are you keen to show about Greece?
I think that the responsibility and the feelings that come along are unique. You can feel nothing but proud when you have such a role.
For me, Greece is a beautiful country. There are so many things to show, we are blessed with a beautiful landscape and of course an amazing history and culture. Greece is composed by a mainland that combines mountains and sea and it has a huge number of islands, small or big and each and every one of them unique in their own way.
Along with our culture that is welcoming and warm and of course the historic sites that anyone can visit. I think it is one of the best destinations to visit worldwide.
How do you get prepared before the tournaments?
There is no specific secret. I train hard and keep my mind focused.
Can you tell us about your first win?
My first win in a global level was in 2010 at the Ghent World Cup, where I got the bronze medal. It is then that I realized that I was on the right path, but I had to work even harder in order to achieve my greatest goal, which was representing my country at the Olympic Games.
Do you interact with your followers and fans?
At the very little time I have, I try to interact with as much people as I can because it gives me strength for the future.
How do you start your day?
After a good night’s sleep, I have a strong and healthy breakfast, then I go to the gym for the first training of the day. Of course, before I leave the house I spend the little time I have with my wife and daughters.
In what way is the life of a famous athlete different?
Being a known figure comes with the responsibility of having to be at your best shape at all times, even at your personal time. That is one thing that has changed in my life and keeps me at my toes at all times.
Besides that, I like interacting with people and receiving their love and support.
What message would you like to send to the world as an important and renowned athlete?
The message is that every day is a new day, do not lose hope and try in a personal level to get better and give back to the society. This is the only way that things will improve for the world as a whole. Be patient with people, work hard for yourself and spend your time with your loved ones. I would like to be part of campaigns that are beneficial for the environment. I have already promoted a campaign here in Greece with such a focus, but in the future, I would like to take a more active role.
Which title do you prefer more, the lord of the rings or the champions’ winner?
The truth is that both titles are very honorary but I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings franchise, so you understand that I have a preference for that specific title.
Besides sports, do you have different interests or hobbies?
I love travelling and driving fast cars at a secure environment.
What should an athlete avoid to be successful?
An athlete should avoid overstressing and taking defeat personally.
How can your success story inspire many young people around the world?
It is a great duty and honour to be an inspiration for young people. I hope that I make a good example and can get through to everyone that passion is a vital quality for life.