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Matvei Petrov: 'This Is How My Albanian Story Started'
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By way of Prague, former Russian national team member Matvei Petrov is enjoying an unexpected new phase of his career while competing for Albania.

Petrov, a three-time Russian national pommel horse champion, made his international debut for Albania at the Grand Prix of Brno, a mixed pairs competition in the Czech Republic last November that he and Dutch partner Neto Tanishaley won. He finished third on pommel horse at the Voronin Cup in Moscow in December.

The 28-year-old Petrov credits “a coincidence of various circumstances” for leading him to represent Albania.

“I had a long career in Russia,” he said. “That’s true, but I wouldn’t say that it was a very successful one. When I didn’t reach the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, I completely finished my sports career and moved to Prague to work as a coach. I didn’t think about continuing my sports career. But during my working day as a coach I had some free time, so I started to train again and realized that actually I was still in not-bad shape. And I was just lucky, because the director of the gym where I have been working is Albanian. This is how my Albanian story started.”

Petrov said the Albanian Gymnastics Federation obtained approval from the Russian Gymnastics Federation for him to compete for Albania. “Nobody was against it,” he said.

Former teammates and longtime coach Vladimir Tikhtman remain important in Petrov’s life abroad, he said.

“I still have a very good relationship with the Russian team,” Petrov said. “I have many friends there. I still support and wish the best to the guys in the team. (Tikhtman) was with me my whole life beginning from when I was 4. He knows me better than anybody else and that’s why I need his advice.”

Petrov trains under coach and gym director Alon Hasa (“my closest friend here in Prague”) from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m., and then coaches young gymnasts. He said he is optimistic that he can continue to progress as an international competitor for Albania.

“Albanian gymnastics is very young and I think it has only one gymnast right now,” he said. “But we’ll see what the future will bring. I think this situation can change, and already now I think Albania takes me seriously and it is ready to support me.”

Inspired by his new surroundings and training situation, Petrov is another year closer to, and only one year away from, his main target.

“My goals didn’t change that much,” he said. “I am still dreaming about reaching the Olympic Games. This year will be very important for me, because there will be a lot of competitions. I should show my best performance, mostly on pommel horse of course.”

Petrov’s high hopes for 2019 extend to his fellow gymnasts.

“As usual for the New Year, I wish to my friends and to myself to be healthy, happy and satisfied in work,” he told IG. “But in gymnastics there is really a lot of work. It doesn’t matter whether you are a coach or a gymnast."

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