Interview - Maxime Gentges: "The level in our team has never been so high"

In the March issue of FfG's Mouv' Magazine, Maxime Gentges talks about his goals at the upcoming European Championships and the future of Belgium's men gymnastics team. You can find the interview in French here.

Credit: Mathias Hikketik
FfG: How are you feeling lately, Maxime?
Maxime Gentges: My current shape is quite peculiar. I'm 100% motivated, with big goals in mind, but on the other hand, I have a wrist injury which keeps me from having the optimal preparation. Last year, I trained and competed despite the injury to try and qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio and even after a period of rest, the pain is still there. We tried different treatments but for now, nothing's really working. It is quite frustrating because mentally, I'd like to train as hard as I can but physically, I can't do that right now.

FfG: What are your main goals this year? 
Maxime : The main goal in this first part of the season is the European Championship for me and Team Belgium. The goal is to reach the all-around final and the pommel horse final but because of my wrist, my training is highly disturbed, and especially on pommels which is the most painful apparatus for the type of injury I have.  Then, I hope to compete at the Universiades in August, where I'd like to perform new routines on the horizontal bar and pommel horse. But the biggest goal of 2017 are the World Championships in Montreal at the beginning of October. It will be the real start towards this new Olympic cycle and I hope to be in the top 20 right from the beginning to then increase my level each year and be at the top of my game by 2020.

FfG: We can see that gymnastics in Belgium is more and more competitive. And you are part of this generation of gymnasts that pushes the team and contributes to the great results the country has had the past years. How does it feel?
Maxime: Indeed, we are on the right path and it's really satisfying. I've been in the gymnastics world for quite some time now, and I think that the level in our team has never been so high. It took us time to get there but we already had great results back in 2012, when we placed 5th as a team at the Juniors European Championships. And this generation is now at an age where it can compete with other countries that have been in the game for much longer. In addition to that, we also have older gymnasts like Jimmy Verbaeys or Dennis Goossens who are in great shape and who bring more experience thanks to their participations at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Personally, I'm really proud to be a part of this team and since January, I go to Ghent once a week to train alongside them and to reinforce the team spirit we need for the important meets we'll have in the future.

FfG: Last year, Belgium could only send one male gymnast to the Olympic Games. You were in the mix but you didn't make it in the end. Can you tell us how was it like for you?
Maxime: It's a really tough question because even now, I don't really know how I feel about it. The 2016 season is certainly one of the best in my career, in terms of international results, but it looks like a personal failure because of this non-qualifcation for the Games. It was really hard for me to process the whole thing because there have been so many twists and turns in the qualification process, starting with Belarus' withdrawal from the Test Event. I had the best result among the Belgians at the Test Event in Rio, synonymous of a qualifying spot for the Games. It was thus a bit frustrating to think that, in a way, I earned the spot for our country and in the end, I didn't get the chance to go and represent Belgium at the Games. The months afterwards were really tough for me, I was kind of low. But I thank Dennis Goossens every day for his amazing performance and to have reach the final. It makes the whole thing much easier to process. 

Credit: Mathias Hikketik
FfG: after such a busy year, with all the focus on the Olympic Games, how did you keep your motivation? What was it like for you to come back to the gym, knowing the next Olympics are three years from now?
Maxime: It was hard at first. I had so much hope for Rio that it was really hard for me to go back to the gym with no short-terms goals. Mentally, I was a bit lost and I had no motivation. And then, the love for the sport just took over. Being in the gym every day, giving it my all, going beyond my limits, the fear of learning new skills, all of those things just made me more and more motivated for what comes next. It is true that Tokyo is in a bit more than 3 years, but the road that leads to it is also a source of pleasure, and that's what matters.

FfG: For now, you're the only French-speaking gymnast in the Seniors National team. But the younger ones, like Takumi Onoshima, are right behind you. Is it an extra pressure or does it motivate you to work even harder? Do you give them advice? 
Maxime: I think I'm the first to be happy about the fact that the younger ones follow my path. I think you can tell on a daily basis because I can't keep myself from giving them advice when I feel the need to. I don't see it as a threat at all, on the contrary. I'm a competitor and the more they grow as gymnasts, the more I want to fight, which can only be positive for my future.

FfG: Your brother, Gilles, who trained alongside you for years, is now  coach at the Elite Center in Mons. How is it like to have him by your side, but not as a gymnast anymore? 
Maxime: It's the big novelty this year for the Elite Center this year on the MAG side. Gilles brings a lot of energy as a coach and it is highly stimulating for the gymnasts. In the end, the transition felt really natural, and I'm very happy to have him by my side.

FfG: What can we wish you for the 2017 season?
Maxime: I'll take all the positive outcomes but I'd like to have a year-free from injuries.


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