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9 Feb 2014

TOP-8 Belarusian sportsmen in 2013: VLADIMIR SAMSONOV, table tennis

Vladimir Samsonov
We sums up the year  2013 with publications dedicated to Belarusian sports heroes, the best of which will be determined by public vote. Yuri Mihalevitch in his second article tells us about a person who considers Vladimir Samsonov to be the world's best athlete, recalls the interview with the sportsman in 2013, as well as wonders for how long he is in table tennis

Table tennis player Vladimir Samsonov

During staying at a summer camp for young journalists, organized by the International Sports Press Association in 2013 in Lausanne, I stroke up rather interesting acquaintances. I met with representatives of four continents - Europe, Asia, Africa and South America – it allowed me being even young author to feel a connection with the big world and even to be home-sick.
Found a new reason to recall the words of the classic that it would be necessary to go to different countries someday I was involved in a conversation about the Belarusian sport with all that it implies.

Vladimir Samsonov

With the new friends I returned to our headquarters after visiting such important places as Sports Arbitration Court and Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee. I bit the bullet. I said that I make preparations for the interview with the Olympic champion Maxim Mirnyi. The surname of Belarusian legendary athlete was known to the colleagues interested in tennis. Everybody heard of Victoria Azarenka, that’s why the story about a trick for a kiss of World no. 2 came pat. In those days at Euro-2013 Belarusian basketball team played in the quarterfinal with Turkish women, what caused the dispute with the Turk of Bulgarian heritage Hakki Mutlu. Unfortunately, Anastasia Veremeyenko and Elena Levchenko went down to Nevriye Yilmaz and Shazie Ivegin-Carsley. Sergei Rutenko was revered by the Frenchman Corentin Dautreppe. In his homeland handball is a kind of sport as popular as football. When your country's team for two years on end takes Olympic Gold medals, it is difficult to imagine otherwise. Together with Thorkell Gunnar Sigurbernsson from handball Iceland we rejoiced at qualification of national teams which was in the same group. Uruguayan Alan Vaccaro was interested in news about his compatriot Hernan Figueredo, who took a Yuri Chizh’s offer and moved to Belarus year and a half ago. Alan said that it’s good for Figueredo, because in "Liverpool" footballer didn’t excel.

Vladimir Samsonov

Professionally guys of course knew that in 2014 Belarus will host The World Ice Hockey Championship. When I was talking about the fact that our team for three years on end ranks No. 14 in the elite division, they nodded thoughtfully, say, yeah, Belarusians are good hockey players. "Wait a minute, but we're all waiting for more from our ice team!" - "So it happens that you wish the best, hope for the best..."

However, Liliya De Souza’s words were the most impressive for me that day. A native of Sri-Lanka she has been living in Lausanne for more than thirty-two years. She was not a mentor in the camp, but as "city hostess" she was ready to help in all cases.

– Yuri, do you know who is my favorite sportsman? – said Lilia suddenly in Russian.

I have not heard my native language for three days and, I should say, for a moment it seemed exotic. As exotic as Lily’s accent.

Who is it? 

– It is Vladimir Samsonov, Yuri.

– Wait, do you mean of all the athletes on the planet it’s Vladimir Samsonov? 

– Yes. 

Lilia made a pause like a grandmaster and gave a conversation another turn. But I asked her for more detailed answer.

Vladimir Samsonov

From Sri-Lanka to Switzerland Liliya De Souza came to study, but stayed for a long time. She began studying French, was also interested in English, then Russian. By the way, she did practical training in Leningrad. Twenty-five years ago she was in Minsk in passing. For a while being a former player she has worked in the International Table Tennis Federation and, of course, she knew who is Vladimir Samsonov – the successful young tennis player in the early 90s of the ХХ century.

However, she managed to get acquainted with the Belarusian when she started to work in the European Table Tennis Federation. Since then and until now they have met each other frequently and kept in touch via Skype. Liliya does not consider herself to be Volodya’s best friend, but admitted that while talking with him a feeling of closeness is not leaving her.

Samsonov’s human qualities make him outstanding. Displaying of such qualities sets the example for young athletes, – De Souza said. – He also taught me to be open to the world, be friendly with others, treat everyone equally, no matter where you are: at the top or bottom. Listen, Vladimir smiles all the time, even after losing he will always make time for you. That is why I consider him to be the best in the world!

– You talk as if athletes like Vladimir are endangered species.

– Oh, I really hope that the Belarusians will present to us one, two or more athletes like Samsonov. That would be wonderful. And also it would be great to organize in Minsk a training camp of Vladimir Samsonov for children. I would love to do this! Will you help me? We should share this idea with Volodya!

Vladimir Samsonov

Liliya De Souza and Vladimir Samsonov
Camp for children in Gdansk, 2011. Photo from personal archive of Liliya De Souza.

I met Samsonov in March 2013, when the situation with the men's team qualification for Euro 2013 was resolved. It was the first and the only time. Vladimir did not have the Belarusian SIM-card because he goes back to native land not very often (although he is always in Belarus when it’s necessary to help national team), so we arranged for a meeting thanks to a representative of the federation.

38th Municipal Polyclinic was the appointed place. Waiting for the hero near the registration, I met Natalia Marchenko, a former playmaker of Belarusian basketball team.

– Who are you waiting for? Samsonov? And is he still playing? – words came from lips of current head of the development department of BATE though with a question mark, but certainly with respect to the compatriot’s achievements.

– Yes, it takes some believing, but he is still playing...

Shortly he came down, in dark trousers, a blue knitted sweater over a shirt, with a feeling of release after the procedures, but no one noticed his appearance.

I called Vladimir and we walked away. Caught a taxi, got to the Pushkinskaya metro station that is native for Samsonov. Talked with a cup of coffee.

– I do not think that I am cool, – said the famous tennis player. – Successful – yes. I have always wished more. But did not achieve. On the other hand, unconquered summits motivate up to now. For example, an Olympic medal has always been my dream. I have already performed at the Olympic Games five times. I do not know how many attempts are needed to win it at last. I was the World No. 1, but I have never won the World champion title. By the way, to win a medal at the Olympics is easier than at the World Championship. Because there is less representation of countries at the Games, therefore there are fewer opponents from the Asian region. And all the top-rank sportsmen participate in the World Championship. So I still hope for great wins in my career. And I will finish if I have no strength to strive for them.

– Do you reproach yourself for failure? 

– I know I tried to do best to win. And there were non-sporting cases in my career...

Vladimir Samsonov

The fact is that in the deciding game of final match "Europe Top-12" in 2005, when the score was 13:13, Alexey Smirnov the Samsonov’s opponent served and the ball flew in millimeters from the edge of the table. The Belarusian asked the judges to signal a touch. They refused him and the Volodya’s opponent got the last two points.

– I do not think that the ends justify the means, - that's just like Samsonov. People from everywhere on the planet know his principles. – A place for morality should remain.

Because of his moral principles in September 2011 by a majority vote Samsonov was elected the chairman of the Athletes' Commission to protect the interests of the players. By the way, in May 2013 as an athlete he was awarded The Richard Bergmann Fair Play Trophy for complying with the principles of fair play. In other words, if the Belarusian got all the important prizes in this kind of sport, he has no equal in ethics up to now.

As for the sports achievements, this year the former World No. 1 Vladimir Samsonov won silver in the individual competition (final fight) of the European Championship and helped partners to get the bronze medal in the team competition (at the end of 2013 year the national team ranked No. 15 in the world rating). At the World Cup Samsonov was again second, beat German Timo Boll out. He also did the best winning game in the tournament.

– I had a chance in the final game, but it was not easy, and I lost my first men's World Cup finals. – Vladimir was disappointed with the defeat. – Overall I'm pleased with my performance, I won at least two good matches...

Due to the hero’s modest nature and low popularity of table tennis in Belarus not every Belarusian knows about Vladimir Samsonov. It is only one reason why some people surprised when Vladimir was chosen to be the best athlete in the country in 2013.

For example, I've  realized the significance of this person in the world when I talked to Lilia De Souza, who gives the palm to Samsonov in all sports, got acquainted with him personally, read the biography of the player and rivals’ comments about him. Can you imagine they call him the legendary - no more, no less! Samsonov is still the last European winner of the World Cup (2009).
Now the thirty-seven-year old sportsman bounced back into the world’s Top 10 (he did it after two years), where at the first time he was in 1995, and Samsonov still has the third rating in Europe. All this sounds really touching because the guy we are talking about is not some alien; he is the Belarusian - one of us.

Yuri Mihalevitch


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