It is a decision every aging Olympian must dread.
After focusing for four years on preparing for a single event, the letdown at the end of the Olympics, succeed or fail, is difficult to comprehend.
That feeling is multiplied when the athlete involved is nearing the end of his career, questioning if he wants to go through four more years of excruciating training in the hope of competing on the biggest stage in sports once more.
It is a decision Alex Shatilov has mulled over for many days and nights.
The 30-year-old gymnast, the greatest to ever ply his trade in Israel, saw his Olympic dreams go up in smoke after just 13 seconds in Rio last summer.
The two-time medalist at the World Championships and six-time medalist at the European Championships finished the floor final at the Beijing Games in 2008 in eighth place before coming sixth in London 2012.
He was eyeing an improvement of at least three more places in Brazil and talked up his chances of claiming a first Olympic medal ahead of Rio. But he stumbled early in his performance in the qualifiers, losing any chance of finishing among the top eight who progressed to the final.
It was a heartbreaking blow for Shatilov.
“Things didn’t go as I planned, but that happens in sport and there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said at the time. “You need to know how to cope with disappointments. Life continues.”
Shatilov didn’t rule out retirement, but went on to say that he thinks that “both physically and mentally I can continue.”
He took a few months to think it over before ultimately deciding to give it one more shot. Shatilov wouldn’t commit to competing in Tokyo 2020 when speaking last week ahead of the European Championships, which get under way on Wednesday in Cluj, Romania.
But considering he is back to his arduous training regime and made the dramatic step of replacing his long-time coach Sergei Vaisburg with Oleg Yarubinski, it seems Shatilov will settle for nothing less than a fourth consecutive appearance at the Olympic Games.
“I took a long break after Rio and didn’t train for three months. I didn’t even visit the gym,” said Shatilov ahead of his departure for Cluj.
“I had doubts whether I should continue or not. I knew that physically I was capable of doing so, but I didn’t know how difficult it would be to go back to training on a fulltime basis. I wasn’t sure if I had the desire to do so once more.”
One visit to the gym at Hadar Yosef allayed any concern he may have had.
“Once I started training again I understood that I missed it and that I want to compete again and keep learning,” noted Shatilov. “I saw that as well as still being physically fit I also still had the passion, will and ability to succeed.”
Shatilov explained the coaching change.
“I had to make this decision.
Sergey spends a lot of time with the national youth team and I decided that it would be better for me to work with Oleg.”
The European Championships in Cluj will be Shatilov’s first major competition since the Olympics and he is eager to prove he remains among the continent’s best in the floor exercise.
Shatilov claimed a bronze medal in the floor final last year in Bern, Switzerland, collecting his sixth career medal in the event.
Shatilov had missed out on a place on the podium at the continental championships for the first time since 2008 when he finished in fourth place in 2015 in Montpelier, France.
He scaled the podium in each of his previous five appearances at the championships, winning bronze medals in 2009, 2012 and 2014, a silver in 2011 and a gold in 2013.
He missed the competition in 2010 through injury.
Shatilov has recorded groundbreaking achievements for local gymnastics throughout his career, but has struggled for results over the past few years. After finishing the floor final in Beijing 2008 in eighth place, he took two bronze medals at the World Championships (2009, 2011).
However, since he finished sixth in London 2012, his form took a turn for the worse, and the steady decline was clear for all to see in Rio.
But Shatilov believes he is still not done, although he insists he is not thinking of Tokyo just yet.
“I don’t want to commit to four more years right now,” he said. “If I enjoy training and competing the way I am at the moment I may keep going until Tokyo. But I don’t want to think so far ahead and I’m completely focused on the European Championships. I’ve won a medal more than once at the Europeans and I hope to do so once more in Cluj.”
Shatilov will return to major competition on Wednesday, 257 days after what was arguably the most disappointing performance of his career, in Rio.
His achievements on the international scene may not be repeated by another Israeli for several generations.
But his hunger for success and love for his sport hasn’t waned.
Unless he wins a medal in a major competition, Shatilov will spend the next four years far from the spotlight. Much of the time it will be him and his coach seeking perfection in an empty gym. But for Shatilov that is everything he ever wanted.
He is living a dream, one that he is unwilling to let go of just email@example.com