-Are you from Armenia?
-I have been in Yerevan. Beautiful city and very kind people!
-Da, I know!
I speak Russian but I didn’t really enjoy speaking it until recently. I had never been to a Russian-speaking country until visiting Belarus for the European Games. And here it is, the feeling of being cool when I can actually talk to Belarusians in their own language (they have their language – Belarusian, however most people use Russian). The Soviet Union was long gone when I was born but I have been growing up watching Russian cartoons and movies, so it has had a great impact on me. I have had Russian at school, but then partly forgot it when I started using English more.
Anyway, there is something special in the language that makes me want to use it more, something that only we – Russian speakers understand. There is this unique “rude” style, the very straight-forward nature of the language, no fake smiles, sarcastic, short and direct answers.
Anyway, let’s get back to the conversation above. I am at the hospital at the athlete’s village in Minsk, Belarus and having a conversation in Russian with the physio.
-Say something in Armenian.
-Ես վաղը խաղի եմ: (I have a match tomorrow)
-Khorosho. Any song in Armenian?
-Nyet! I am very bad at singing.
-Nu davay, I have heard you guys have very nice music.
He then started to sing one very famous Armenian song and as I had an important match coming up the next day, I went on:
-Okay, I don’t want to sing a song right now because I suck at it… but let’s make a deal.
-If I win tomorrow, I will come back here and I will sing one Armenian song for you.
I had the dream of playing in the 2nd European Games since 2015 when the first edition of the games was held in our neighbor country Azerbaijan. Due to the political tension between the two countries, it was pretty dangerous for the Armenian team to participate in the games. And that’s what I hate about all this situation. We say that sports and politics should not mix, but then our football star Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuses to play the greatest match of his life with Arsenal because of safety reasons. During Baku 2015 Armenia’s athletes did not go to the opening ceremony because of the same reason. Only the team officials and coaches went to athlete’s parade, being welcomed by a booing stadium in Europe’s greatest sporting event of that year.
So, July 21, 2019. How do you go to an opening ceremony with a team who you never actually met and only saw on tv? I was a small, little girl standing next to Armenia’s European, World and Olympic medalists and that was a weird feeling. All of them went to Minsk for a medal. I went there to enjoy playing badminton. I was one of the four girls in the team and we were lucky enough to stand in the front row during the athletes’ parade, otherwise I wouldn’t have this picture as a good memory.
There were two particular places that I spent most of my time at while I was at the European Games in Minsk: Badminton hall and the canteen (amazing food!). Kestutis had already told me that the first few days are going to be very exciting, new people, lots of things to see. BUT! In the end it’s going to get boring. Well, he was right! Even the food was boring. So I ended up staying in the badminton hall and watching matches.
That’s how one memorable thing happened to me. Me and my Dad were walking down the hallway and then I feel someone tapping my shoulder and saying: “Well done in your match!”. I turn around and it’s Soraya De Visch Eijbergen passing by! I was watching her match against Sabrina Jaquet like what… twenty minutes ago? I felt like a little fangirl who has just got the autograph of their favourite singer.
I won’t hide it, I AM a little bit of a fangirl when it comes to Badminton. I didn’t have anyone around to look up to, so I had to watch lots of matches on youtube to actually learn how to play badminton.
That’s why I was happy I am playing Line Kjaersfeldt in the group stage. You play against players in future series, international series and international challenge, and then you go play someone who is top 20 in the world… I was like: “How does she hit those smashes ON THE LINE!?” Anyway, it’s different watching on the screen and actually playing against them. Apart from being angry that I literally cannot do anything, I had the best time on court, playing someone I look up to and that’s tiny victory I had to celebrate at the end of my crazy little journey in the European Games.
To be honest, my participation in the EG has a very boring background story. I got an injury in February during a tournament in Iran and after that had a very unstable training period. I spent hours and hours in the swimming pool and gym, doing all kinds of ankle and calf exercises. On court I only did technique. That was it. No full court movement. So I played my first full match in Minsk against Israel’s Ksenia Polikarpova after five month of being injured. Well, it was not fun as I couldn’t do anything. In the evening I went to physio and that’s when we made the deal about singing.
Next day, I was going to play Vlada Gynga from Moldova. I mean, you go there on-court, you know you haven’t had the best preparation, but you have done as much as you were able to AND you are already there in MINSK! So just play it, just enjoy it, that’s it. Nothing else could be done. While everyone around in the Armenian team was talking about medals, I had this little cloud in my mind, shutting down all the noise from outside and reminding me to “ENJOY! :)”
I went on court, I enjoyed every single moment I spent there. I felt NO PAIN! Or maybe I did, but there is something about focus and being in the zone which I achieved that day. In the middle of the game I wanted to win so badly that I didn’t really have time to remember that I can’t even walk without limping.
Then I won, then I had a very emotional celebration (and I am laughing at myself right now). Good memories! And of course the good memories are always captured my Mark Phelan. After high-fiving him and knowing that I am going to turn on my phone to see some amazing pictures, the first thing that came up to my mind was: “Oh s***, I have to sing!”
Well, did I go to physio? Of course “nyet” 🙂