SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Benjamin Varonian of France performs on the horizontal bar, 25 September 2000, during the men's apparatus finals at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Alexei Nemov of Russia won the gold medal with a score of 9.787 followed by Varonian who also scored 9.787 for the silver and Lee Joo-Hyung of South Korea who scored 9.775 for bronze (Photo KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)

Benjamin Varonian: From Sports to Circus, from France to China


By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN/PARIS — French-Armenian Benjamin Gabriel Jean Varonian, 40, is a former Olympic gymnast and circus acrobat. He won two gold medals in the parallel bars and team all-around at the 1998 European Junior Gymnastics Championships and competed at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and won an Olympic silver medal in the horizontal bar. Varonian and another French athlete, Eric Poujade became the first ever French gymnasts to win Olympic medals in gymnastics in a non-boycotted Olympics. After this success Benjamin left sport for awhile, but decided to return to gymnastics becoming an acrobat. Thus he trained for working in circus taking special acting and music lessons, dance classes… and now he works as a circus acrobat in China.

Benjamin, the first time I learned about you was on Russian TV, during the broadcasting of the 2000 Summer Olympics from Sydney. The Russian commentator mentioned that you are from France but of Armenian origin. Where do your Armenian ancestors come from?

I am from France with some Armenian origin. My grandfather came to France during the World War II and married my grandmother who kept the name. Unfortunately I never met him and so we never had Armenian traditions in the family. I have been contacted by some other parts of his family, his brother who lived in Marseille. I looked into it and found we are from Yerevan. Many people ask me about my origin so it helps me to discover the Armenian people, the culture and the traditions. And I am so proud of my name now. I travel a lot and quite often when people ask me where I am from I answer I am Armenian from France.

Benjamin Gabriel Jean Varonian

Are you from a sporting family?

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I do not come from a sporting family, and my mother raised me alone. She was a nurse working at night. I was quite a restless boy, and the value of sports was the opportunity to learn discipline and to expend all the energy I had.

Back to the Sydney Olympics, I remember your excellent performance that brought you a silver medal in the horizontal bar. What kind of impact did it have on your life and career?

Well, winning an Olympic medal definitely changes your life. It was the first time in France in my discipline, that an unknown young man did that. I have been through so many opportunities to meet other Olympians and champions that help to see the life differently. The experiences shared by them helps one to grow up and to get more maturity. It was so inspiring for me to be surrounded by such talents.

Now you work as an acrobat in “Chinese Las Vegas” in Macau, in “Cirque du Soleil” show. Is it common for gymnasts to move to the circus world?

Yes, it is common for us to move to the circus after finishing our career, but I chose a different path at the beginning. I worked for seven years in a real estate agency ending up as director. But, you know, after a while I was missing acrobatics so badly. So I decided to change my life and to challenge myself again. After a couple of months of hard trainings I started to do some auditions and I was successful. I guess when you reach your dreams and you have the experience and the skills you know how to work hard to success.

How is life in China?

Life is good in China; Macau and Hong Kong are really different than mainland China. For me it was also the opportunity to travel a lot through all Asia, to embrace different cultures and religions. I came back last year after some time in Canada and New York to perform. I did the new “Lion King” last year.

Where and how are you spending this uneasy time? For circus artists it should be hard do not train with his collective, right?

I returned France before the pandemic to spend time with my family. My mum is getting older and I need to be around her more than ever! I am in France until now. Actually it is a very tough time for all circus artists. Everything is close and we cannot train as well on any equipment. A lot of different shows have been closed and never reopened. I try to keep my body in shape to be ready for some better time. But right now I have no idea how the future will look like… Actually, no one has…

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