Monday, February 2, 2009

Remember When?

The Old Romanian Switcheroo Caper of '81

Well, it is a sadly known fact the Romanian Gymnastics federation used to be a little bit dodgy- bless 'em-  back in the day.  Age altering was just a matter of course, according to a lot of retired gymnasts who emerged out of the seventies and eighties golden age of the Romanian Gymnast manufacturing plant. 
Basically, if it meant getting a ridiculously talented baby gymnast (of which they never seemed to quite run out of) to a major contest, the fiddling of a passport was no problem at all for the gymnastics Powers That Be over there in Nadia Land.

The 1984 Romanian Team

But that wasn't the only way the Romanians used a little paper shuffling to get girls, however infant, in major competitions...or the smaller ones either.
They were not above a bit of identity switching either, as Bart Connor discovered during a Romanian Gymnastics tour in the eighties.
Early in 1981, Ekaterina Szabo had supposedly competed in the Los Angeles International Gymnastic Classic at which our trusty sleuth Bart was present.  Ekat, who at the time was being hailed as the 'New Nadia' (a nickname I have found generally tends to result in early burnout and actually being much more of a a curse rather than a promise) was one of the stars expected to be present by the crowds of gymfans that showed up.  

As far as those there that day knew, she had turned up to do her thing.  This of course made everybody happy because American fans were hungry for new gym stars in the post-Olga and Nadia media storm, sponsors had backsides on seats because of the big names attending and the Romanians had produced the gymnasts they promised.

The girl who was supposed to turn up

Later in the year, however, at the performance of a Romanian Gymnastics Tour, when a newer gymnast, Lavinia Agache, was presented by the announcers, Bart Connor, quick little wit that he is (does Bart Connor kind of remind anyone else of a far-less-annoying Ned Flanders type?) realised that the girl being introduced was the same girl who had been introduced as Ekaterina Szabo at the start of the year. Needless to say, a minor controversy ensued.

The girl who did show up (center)

This of course, I don't find particularly surprising.  The best part though, is that apparently, when the eternally screwy RomGymFed was asked to explain this mess, they confused matters even more by waffling on about how yet another gymnast, Cristina Grigoras was actually supposed to be present at the competition.  Miss Grigoras couldn't attend for some unexplained reason (perhaps she wasn't completely toilet trained yet and they were afraid to put her on such a long plane ride) so they had used Lavinia Agache instead, they claimed.  

This of course, did not explain at all why Ekaterina was expected by both the competition holders and the announcers, rather than either of the other two gymnasts, or why the switch wasn't announced publically.  In fact, no mention of Szabo was made in the federation's response at all.

The girl who was never really anywhere (Grigoras)

It is hard to know if the RomGymFed were doing so much paper shuffling that they forgot exactly who they had switched for who and when and just got plain confused (which does tend to happen when you dig yourself big ole hole full of lies), or whether their unhelpful response was a deliberate attempt to mystify the US competition holders even more so that they would give up and leave them alone, and the federation could return to their happy business of creative filing,  blotting out dates in passports and hunting out the next 'New Nadia' in the maternity ward down the road.

Luckily, both Szabo and Agache, who were innocent bystanders in all this fracas, went on to have very successful careers in the early eighties.  Agache won three medals at the 1983 Worlds.  Szabo claimed four golds at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, narrowly missing out on the AA to one Miss Mary Lou Retton.  Agache did not fair as well, with merely a bronze on vault and gold in teams.  

Agache, however, in another purported example of Romania taking the FIG laws as helpful suggestion rather than actual strict guidelines, claims she was given  medication to alleviate her jet lag and cure vertigo and that it ended up making her feel quite woozy and affected her overall performance. Hence the lack of hardware.
 Agache has also claimed since that she was one of those young gymnasts whose age was changed, her birth date in her passport being altered to read as 1968 instead of 1967 so she could compete in the 1983 Words Championships.

Szabo on beam in L.A

The mysterious Cristina Grigoras, who had virtually disappeared for two years after a very successful start to the eighties, including the period of the competition and tour, returned to the world stage in 1984, playing her part on the gold-winning team with Szabo and Agache but claiming no individual medals.

Agache (not looking too woozy here thank goodness) on floor

Well, perhaps this is rather unsurprising for the Romanians of old, but i do find it all quite entertaining.  Now of course, the only thing left is that I have a burning desire to know where the mysterious Miss Grigoras was all that time!  Maybe she was injured, but considering the Romanians reputation back in those days they may have in fact been attempting to Cryogenically freeze her to keep her use-by date fresh for the Olympics.  Who knows- anything is possible.



  1. "Cryogenically freeze her to keep her use-by date fresh for the Olympics. Who knows- anything is possible." :))) ohh this made me smile today :)) You really think Romania is that advanced in science? Ohh hell I'm living in this country and all I'm aware of is the corruption and politicians who build their image on the back of athletes.

  2. Considering Octavian told the press a few years ago that until recently, the only medicine they had for injured gymnasts was sleep, possibly they hadn't quite managed the Cryogenics at that point!!