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European Championships 2018: Turkish gymnasts rise to the occasion on back of new vision for sport

A surprise newcomer to the top tier of European gymnastics has emerged at the SSE Hydro. Turkey are not a team normally associated with gymnastics, but they outscored some of the more experienced gymnastics nations to finish in fifth place and qualify for their first ever European team final.

“It’s the first time in history,” said Ahmet ONDER (TUR) of the feat. He also qualified to the floor and parallel bars finals. “I know I’m ready to do it. My qualification scores are not so good, I know I can do better in finals.”

Two other Turkish gymnasts also qualified to apparatus finals: Ibrahim COLAK (rings) and Umit SAMILOGLU (horizontal bar).

The mastermind behind the transformation of gymnastics in Turkey is a former gymnast Suat CELEN (TUR), who is now the president of their national federation.

In 2012 he started to transform the gymnastics programme, increasing the number of clubs across the country and importing foreign coaches to help with the development.

One such coach is Aljaz PEGAN of Slovenia. A former horizontal bar world champion, PEGAN competed against CELEN and has been working in Turkey for five years.

“When Suat became the president, he totally changed the system,” says PEGAN. “He has a vision, a very clear view what he wants to do with Turkish gymnastics. He’s putting a lot of effort in this goal, which is to qualify a team to the Olympics in 2020.”

PEGAN feels these European championships are a step towards that goal, and gymnasts like ONDER (TUR) are setting a standard for others at home to aspire to.

“We all train together, juniors and seniors, so I also want them to work like us,” says ONDER. “We want to reach our goal, and maybe they will be in the team, so of course I believe they’re looking up to us, seeing how we train, how we compete.”

The gymnastics team final is at 13.00 on Saturday and the apparatus finals are at 14.30 on Sunday.

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