In the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Armenian team’s medals were a little belated. During the first 10 days, they didn’t win any medal, but there was an Armenian that everyone was speaking about. Houry Gebeshian – an Armenian-American gymnast from the USA, with her easygoing smile and good-natured personality, was shining brightly in Rio and was there to make international headlines with her touching and interesting story. She is the first Armenian gymnast in the Olympics history who had her “Hollywood” path to Rio, and even at the end of her career she welcomes new challenges in her life. Moreover, she is an Armenian, whose surname “Gebeshian” made gymnastics history due to her outstanding skill. She yet has many dreams that are connected with Armenia.
Will you tell us your family story? How did it happen that the Gebeshians moved to the USA?
In 1915 my granddads immigrated to Lebanon. I know that they were the last people who left their homes. My parents were born and raised in Lebanon, then they moved to the USA, where I was born.
How did your story with Armenia begin?
I was really young, 20 years old. I was a college student. My mother inspired me to become a gymnast, but I didn’t know what progress I should have. One of our family friends worked in an Armenian National Olympic committee. I received an invitation from him to compete under the national flag of Armenia. I was very interested in going deep into my roots and becoming a part of Armenian culture and I wanted to represent my beloved country to which I am bounded with strong ties. The second – this was an opportunity for me to perform on a high international level. I was really passionate about this idea. At that time, serious improvements were initiated in the sports field of Armenia to increase the number of women, performing in Olympics and World, Euro Championships. The Armenian Federation of Gymnastics was also interested in this initiative. I visited Armenia twice, met with the representatives of the Federation and our men team. I showed them my abilities and we reached consensus.
Do you remember your first tournament to represent the Republic of Armenia?
It was in the World Championship in 2011 and it was very tense. First of all, it was my very first international tournament. The stadium and the atmosphere were new to me. The tension grew because I was representing Armenia and I really wanted to perform well. Unfortunately, at that time I had an injury and couldn’t make it. During the trainings, I performed better. I was disappointed with my results because I knew that I must have represented Armenia in a better way to show the world how much I love this country.
At that time, you decided to end your gymnastic career. Why?
Before that, I was performing in my university and college. I was 22 years old when I represented Armenia for the first time. Despite my age, I wanted to perform in the London Olympics. In 2011, when I didn’t make it at the World championship, I thought that everything was over. I thought that it would be better if I concentrate on my studies in medicine.
Was it your fiancée that persuaded you to return to sports?
Yes, it was him. I was a student, he worked at the hospital where I currently work. He even had a story of his own: he was playing football in college, but then, when he wanted to become a professional, he got an injury. He told himself: “Why not to try again? I’m not too old for that, I still got time”. I was surprised and understood that I must finish what I had started because I did not manage to represent my country at my most ability. I started training on my own and it helped.
After your injuries, you once mentioned in an interview that “Life is unfair”. What do you think about it now, after Rio?
Yes, I was really sad and disappointed at that time, because my dream – to reach the Olympics – didn’t come true. But now I know that everything has its reason. I wasn’t ready neither physically nor mentally at that time. It wasn’t my time. This year everything was earned. My efforts were reimbursed because I was ready physically and mentally. I was the best gymnast in Rio that I could have ever been, the best person I could have ever been. Everything was prepared for Rio and I earned it. I am happy with the fact that I didn’t leave for London because otherwise, it wouldn’t have been so valuable in Rio.
Two months after Rio, when your emotions are relieved, we want to ask you – What did the Olympics give you?
I am experiencing a long-lasting transitional period now. I officially ended my career. Now I am trying to return to my normal life. I am working in a hospital. Lots of doors are open to me just because I am an Armenian Olympic Medalist. I feel that in some way I became an inspiration for many people and it makes me happy. I hold many motivational trainings and take part in public meetings, and I always say that everything is possible in life.
At the Olympics, you hit the headlines of Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, The Guardian and etc. In your opinion, what made you so famous? Your results were not so good at the time, were they?
Of course, everyone thinks about competitions and want to win. No doubt that I really wanted to win and I’ve done everything for that purpose. I think my whole story was the most interesting thing in me. I overcame all the difficulties in my life and I think that’s interesting to people. I was 27 years old – older than all my 20-year-old opponents. I also have a family, my kid (husband’s – editor’s note), and I need to take care of them too. I have been training for the last two years on my own. Yes, I had the resources, huge support from the Armenian gymnastics federation, but I also worked on myself a lot. The first female gymnast from Armenia in the Olympics was me. Everything was amazing, and I even made a gymnastic skill that was named after me- “Gebeshian”. Only a few people have sports elements that are named after them, and I am really happy that my element has an Armenian name.
You have a huge support from the Armenian diaspora in the USA. Have you felt the support from Armenia as well?
I had personal ties with the gymnastics federation and gymnasts. But at that time, I received so much support that I felt myself like an Armenian living in Armenia. I got so much positive energy from gymnasts and other athletes. I was accepted by the society, I gave lots of interviews to the Armenian media, and the local people were interested in me. I met with an Armenian person in the USA a couple of times. He was so happy to see me! He told me that in Armenia everyone was proud of me. I was really glad to hear that people in Armenia know who I was.
How did the Armenian team accept you in Rio? Do you still maintain contact with them?
We had a big team of 32-33 people and all of them were amazing people. I still keep in touch with them via social media. We have a little issue with my Armenian language because it’s not as good as it could be. It was a challenge for me because I wanted to chat with everyone but I hope that I managed to integrate into this society.
— Olympics (@Olympics) November 16, 2016
You are a citizen of the USA. What makes you an Armenian there?
Now after all these stories I feel more engaged in Armenian culture, I “feel more Armenian”. I grew up in an Armenian environment, I spoke Armenian, went to the Armenian Church, I had strong emotional ties to anything Armenian. After I moved to Cleveland I lost that because currently I live in an American environment and I regret it. I always say that my children will go to an Armenian school. Here we have schools, churches, a really good Armenian community – everything is made to maintain and save the Armenian culture here. It is really important. After 5 challenging years now I do everything to go back to my Armenian nature. I even re-started my classes of Armenian. I understand Armenian but it’s difficult for me to speak and I am ashamed of it. But I do everything to get back to my roots.
You are planning to come to Armenia next year. Do you have a clear goal here?
I don’t have any goals, I just want to be near Armenians. I did my best at Olympics to represent Armenia and if it really matters for Armenian people, it will be a pleasure for me to come and meet them. My fiancée also wants to come to Armenia and learn more about my native and historical country.
Are you planning to work as a trainer?
Now I am working in Ohio sports school as a gymnastics trainer. But my goal is to shape the female gymnastics training plan for Armenia and all the Armenians that live here. My dream is to make Armenia’s female gymnastics team really strong and competitive. I am searching for recourses now. To be honest, I don’t know where to start, but I’ve already found some sponsors. We will try to gather all the talents in Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora to obtain a really strong Armenian representation in female gymnastics. In addition, I really want to teach everyone the “Gebeshian” element.