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Once kicked off the team, Dalaloyan now king of Gymnastics

Publication date : 02/11/2018

It has been such a long time since a Russian man won the world All-around title, that Artur Dalaloyan was convinced he was the only one who had done it.

After his narrow victory Wednesday in Doha (QAT), a grinning Dalaloyan told reporters he was pretty sure he was the first Russian man to win the coveted title, unaware that 19 years prior, one of his former coaches, Nikolai Kryukov, conquered the Gymnastics world in Tianjin (CHN).

The 22-year-old Muscovite will have to settle for being the first Russian man in the 21st century to wear the crown.

"I'm overwhelmed by emotions," he said Wednesday night, the gold medal still around his neck.

Kryukov was one of the coaches who guided Dalaloyan through his tumultuous career, beset by setbacks and painful lessons learned.

The head coach of the Russian men's junior team, Kryukov recalls watching Dalaloyan from the time he was first learning pull-ups on the Horizontal Bar at Moscow Dinamo, where he began training with his coach Alexander Kalinin at age 7.

"I remember how he was in my youth team, and how I took him to the Japanese Junior International," Kryukov told reporters late Wednesday. "I remember saying to him: 'Look what they are doing, the Chinese, Japanese gymnasts. Look, this is possible!' But he still could not believe in himself."

Dalaloyan has been through a rollercoaster ride to get to the top in Doha. Lack of confidence resulted in inconsistent performances, and he went through a rebellious period in his teens that finally resulted in the 15-year-old being expelled from the national team for disciplinary reasons. He says it took him a month or so of being stubborn to come back to the gym with a new attitude,

Artur Dalaloyan (RUS) at the world championships in Doha (QAT)

"I really understood a very simple thing: I need Gymnastics," said Dalaloyan, who Wednesday thanked Kalinin for his "infinite patience" over the years.

After returning to the team, he took a laidback approach that cost him his dream of competing at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

"I did not do things the way professional athletes should do," Dalaloyan recalled earlier this year. "When you are 18 or 19 years old, it is difficult to lock yourself in the gym and only train. I wanted to have fun, dance with girls, go for walks, and much more. I thought, 'Why limit myself? After all, I'm already in the national team!' Then I began to notice that the other guys were all progressing, and I was wasting time. When I realised that I really could not get to Rio, I discarded all unnecessary and went to work. It was like something clicked in my head. I really understood a very simple thing: I need Gymnastics."

After missing out on the squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Dalaloyan refocused his efforts. He finished second All-around to Oleg Verniaiev (UKR) at the 2017 Europeans in Cluj-Napoca (ROU), where he won the gold on Vault. A broken foot limited his performance at the 2017 World Championships in Montreal (CAN), where the Russian men once again left empty-handed in the All-around.

"At the last world championship in Montreal, I literally left in tears: two Chinese won individual All-around medals, the Japanese won the bronze, and our David Belyavskiy made a mistake in the last rotation that cost him the title."

A healthy Dalaloyan won three more gold medals (team, Vault and Parallel Bars) at August's European championships in Glasgow (GBR), setting up his performance in Doha this week. Fourth in qualification after falling victim to Pommel Horse, his duel with defending champion Xiao Ruoteng ended up with a favourable result for the Russian, earning him the nickname "King Artur."

He has also been called the "New Nemov" thanks to his excellent form and bodyline that has drawn comparison to 2000 Olympic All-around champion Alexei Nemov.

But in Doha, Dalaloyan managed to do what even Nemov could not at seven world championships over a decade: win the All-around.

Russian team manager Valentina Rodionenko is convinced that Dalaloyan, who will compete in apparatus finals for Floor Exercise, Vault, Parallel Bars and Horizontal Bar, is not finished winning in Doha.

"I hope this is not his last medal here," she said.