Saturday, September 5, 2009

A (Not So) Brief History of....


Since that pivotal moment in 1976, when Bela Karolyi refused to let his gymnasts march out into the Montreal podium workout until long after the announcer had called their name, Romanian gymnastics has been the talk of the town. While this hold-up may have been cleverly engineered by Bela to ensure that all eyes were on the Romanian girls as they marched in unison and uniform and brought their nation to the fore in gymnastics, not all of the attention on Romanian gymnastics has been invited or positive.

They say it is good thing to be talked about.  It means people are looking at you. Well Romanian gymnastics hasn't just been watched, it has, by turns, been gazed at in awe, and scrutinised with a slight sense discomfiture about what what it takes to be that good.  People have been talking about Romania since Nadia etched their brand of perfection onto gymnastics media and fan's consciousness. Not all of the focus has been positive. 

Everything, from the everyday aspects of gymnastics like training methods, coaching and discipline have been the cause of controversy in the Romanian gymnastics scene, while the more extreme upsets have been caused by revelations of  abuse, general misbehaviour, greedy coaches, spurious birth dates, actual outright tragedy and many, many nude photos.

And so,  in the second installment of my history, I decided to follow the rocky path that is Romanian gymnastics gossip for both posterity, sheer entertainment and in the sadder situations, in memorium. 

Here for you, my readers, is a timeline of some of the scandals and controversies that have erupted out of the Romanian gymnastics scene over the years.

1976- At the opening of the qualification competition, the Romanian team is called into the arena. Bela Karolyi forces the girls to ignore the call. They are repeatedly summonsed, but Karolyi does not allow them to enter until he is sure that everyone will be looking when they march into the arena.

(Thank heavens they eventually settled on white red, yellow and blue!)

1977- The Romanian Gymnastics Federation forces its girls to walk out of the European Championships event finals before two events are finished because they believed Nadia Comaneci was under-scored on vault.

1979- Nadia Comaneci, who is suffering from a nasty infection in her wrist, performs a one-armed beam routine in order to secure the Romanians the gold in the team competition. There is much criticism in the gymnastics world as to wether Nadia was forced to jeopardize her own well-being for the team.

(The Romanian "family" and some fabulous hair!)

1981- At the Los Angeles Gymnastics Classic, Bart Connor notices that the Romanian girl introduced as Lavinia Agache, had also been introduced as Ecaterina Szabo at a meet in the USA earlier in the year. When the Romanian Gymnastics Federation is called to account for the switcheroo, a lot of faffing and fibbing and the hauling of another gymnast, Grigoras, is brought into the equation.  As usual, when the RGF is forced to account for any dodgy dealings, a lot is said and nothing is answered. If you want to read the whole account of this particular mess, visit an old CG post, "Remember When" (CLICK HERE)

(Agache in centre (and more fabulous hair!))

1984- Lavinia Agache, very unexpectedly, does not qualify for the AA in the Olympic qualifications. She later blames it on some dubious medication she is given by her doctors before the meet which makes her dizzy and sick.

1989- Nadia Comaneci defects from Romania two weeks before the revolution, causing a worldwide media storm where the former heroine comes to be seen in avery different light.  This is largely due to the fact she is traveling and living with a married man, causing her to be seen as the 'other woman' as she attempts to hide in Canada.

(Nadia- she practically apologises in her book for this particular 'look' of hers!)

1991- Aurelia Dobre shocks fans by gets her naughty on and her kit off for the Netherlands version of Playboy. In the same year, she also gave some revealing interviews that criticised Romanian gymnastics in the Comunist era.

(A be-medalled Dobre)

1993- An eleven-year-old gymnast, Adriana Giurca was horrifyingly murdered by her coach, Florin Gheorghe at Bucharest's Dinamo School. When the girl had been unable to perform a satisfactory beam dismount, he slapped her, beat her head against the beam and kicked her when she fell on the floor. He then forced her to perform on floor, where, when she could not perform, hit her again. After leaving her on a bench for some time, she was taken to hospital where she died. 
The coach was not immediately arrested and when eventually charged, was sentenced to a mere six years in prison. Adriana's parents were awarded a shockingly tiny $5,600 dollars restitution. Gheorghe was released after three-an-a-half years and told reporters "I paid the price too high because I was honest and correct."  It is both a tragedy and an outrage that the man was not tried and arrested immediately, or that, when found guilty, he was released after such a short sentence.

(Adriana Giurca)

1994- Lavinia Milosovici initiates a small strike in Deva among the gymnasts, refusing to train until she received the money she had earned for her many medals in the last few years.

(Milosovici- unpaid for that ten? No fair!)

2001- In an interview, Corina Ungureanu claims that Romanian Gymnastics Federation Nicolae Vieru has done everything he can to keep her out of the sport since she posed for playboy as revenge for his being forced to step down from a position after the Playboy scandal erupted. Corina claimed that even when other RGF officials and coaches were willing to include her on tour teams and at events, Vieru would put a stop to it.
Ungureanu also alluded to prize money not ever receieved by the gymnasts after gala performances on a number of occasions. "We break our bones training and Vieru sits behind a desk." She said.


1996- Alexandra Marinecsu is pulled from the AA finals at the Atlanta Games and replaced with Simona Amanar because, Belu claimed, Alexandra "did not work hard enough". She was pulled from the AA at the World Championships in Lausanne the next year, once again in favour of Amanar.

(A (lovely!) shot of Amanar)

1998- The less-than-deep Romanian team turn up at the International Teams Competition tired, injured and demoralised. Not only are they injury ridden and jetlagged, but, just before the contest, while in Venezuela, one of their delegation, the deputy head secretary, was accosted, robbed and shot and remained in hospital. 13-year-old Isarescu is called on to perform, and no one from China or USA complains because Romanian is having such a bad time of it.

1999- Melita Ruhn, Nadia Comaneci's team mate on the Moscow 1980 team, tells the Gazeta Sporturilor of her experiences as a gymnast in Romania.  One of her tales, she claims,  includes the time when Bela Karolyi removed the cast from her broken leg, made her perform her vault (in which she scored a ten) and then replaced the cast.

(Melita Ruhn)

2000- The gold AA medal is stripped from Andreea Raducan after the Olympics when she tests postive for taking a cold medicine the team doctor foolishly gave her before the competition. An entire and justified brouhaha erupts, with appeals, refusals of appeals, gymnasts refusing their new medals, and claims of innocence making bigger news at every twist and turn of the story. The IOC drugs people do not budge, and poor Raducan is forever left as the outrageously talented but weedy pigeon of the shonky 2000 Olympics gymnastics competition.

(Raducan fighting off press)

2000- The RGF announce that Romanian athletes will not be elegible to collect their winnings for medals until they turn 18, despite the fact that many of the gymnast's families need the money in order to survive.
Mariana Bitang also openly expresses her dissapointment at the coaches of the Romanian team not recieving a Ford Ka car for the gold medal they won in Sydney. Oh I weep for you, Mariana! At least she was getting paid.

(Bitang, one bad haircut after another. And she was worried about a car..)

2001- Exasperated with their "fat and lazy" gymnasts, the Romanian Gymnastics Federation send all their girls home to train in their own gyms for a while.

2002- Daniela Silivas and Aurelia Dobre both admit their ages were falsified in order for them to compete at major world gymnastics events. It is later reported that Gogean, Zahiu and Marinescu were also underage. Though Gogean apparently denied it at first, she then admitted she was only fourteen she competed in Barcelona in 1992. When Vieru denied this, an investigation showed that Gogean's birth record from hospital states 1978 while her passport says 1977.


2002- Alexandra Marinescu's tell-all book, Alexandra's Secrets is released, compiling the numerous, vociferous claims of abuse and maltreatment Alexandra has made in the Romanian media since her retirement from the sport. The book revealed many unsavoury things that occured during her time in Deva, including the falsification of her age, the pressure on the athletes to purge food and take diuretics in order to lose weight, being locked in Belu's room and being refused food, and even water, meaning the girls would have to drink from toilet cisterns to quench their thirst and seeing girls being hit when they were under-performing in training.

(Marinescu's hard-to-find book)

2002- The Japanese Gymnastics Federation tries to ban the three gymnasts, Lavinia Milosovici, Claudia Presecan and Corina Ungureanu, who posed nude for the DVD from competing in a Japanese competition. Koji Takizawa, the JGF executive director claimed that "Even if Ms Milosovici has retired from competition, her act is a disgrace to gymnastics." The RGF had to assure the JGF that the three gymnast in question were no longer affiliated with them.


2003- The talented gymnast Sabina Cojocar is forced to retire due to puzzling liver problems. It is revealed that it is caused by a drug she was forced to take, ZOCOR, which is used for high cholesterol level in, usually, much older people. The drug, which causes aching limbs, is also known to affect appetite and to burn muscle tissue, leading to rumors that it was prescribed by the club doctor to prevent weight gain.

(Cojocar not looking at all like she needed to keep her cholesterol down!)

2004- Catalina Ponor is caught up in a mini-scandal where it seems she is to blame for putting the entire Romanian men's gymnastics team into quarantine for Scarlet fever due to her gettin gup close and personal with Robert Stanescu, when she refused to remain in quarantine herself, making her the veritable Typhoid Mary of the Romanian gymnastics scene.

(Saucy Ponor was nearly always in trouble)

2004- Former European medallist Monca Zahiu attempts to sell her medals on television in oder to make enough money to buy a small, one bedroom flat.

(The possible underage, underpaid Zahiu)

2005- Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang kick off this tremendously troubled year for Romania by resigning from their coaching positions and pinpointingg the media's treament of them as repsonsible for their decision. "We are people, not monsters, as the press portrays us." He told a magazine.

(the publicity hound/ed Octavian Belu)

2005- Catalina Ponor, Floarea Leonida and Daniela Sofronie are accused of sneaking out of the training base to attend a party. This piddling act of deviance by the good-time girls triggers the coaches to once again dissolve the team.  The girls are sent home to train at their original clubs. I wonder, given the situation in Deva at the time, how much of punishment this actually was!
Eremia and Rosu were sent home, though they did not attend the party, but because they were deemed to be over-weight.

(Ponor and Sofronie planning their after-Olympic celebrations)

2005- Oana Petrovschi, a world championships medal winner, takes Octavian Belu, Mariana Bitang and the whole Romanian Gym Federation to court as she sought $51,900 in damages. Petrovschi was claiming that her serious back issues were due to being forced to train repeatedly on them by Belu. She also claimed that Belu forced her to pay 30% of her winnings to him.
Belu claimed that he had suggested this to her and that she had agreed. He'd even asked the Federation to make this payment part of the gymnast's contract! They, thank goodness, ignored him. The claim was settled when the federation offered to pay Oana's medical bills.

(Petrovschi prepares bars)

2008- Trudi Kollar, once known as Emilia Eberle confirmed what many had feared during the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics when she came out with stories of the abuse and deprivation suffered by the Romanian gymnasts under the Karolyis. The claims are immediately backed up by Gesza Pozar, the early choreographer for the Romanian Team. Bela Karolyi responded with "Indeed for many girls of yore, the memoried are twisted. I cannot comment on what each believes." Rodica Dunca supported Kollar's claims, saying that "On certain days we were hit until blood was pouring out our nose. You can say it was a concentration camp. On another occasion, Rodica Dunca claimed that the team were so hungry that during a meet in Norway, they dove into a neighbouring strawbberry farm and ate everything in sight like rabid animals. They were caught when the farm owner kicked up as fuss and Karolyi gave them absolutely no food the next day.
The claims were also supported by a nurse, now living in Sweden, who claims she witnessed the physical and emotional results of the abuse in the closed practices

2008- The Triple Full blog reports that Oana Petrovschi has announced her plans to attempt to publish a nude calender in time for the Romanian christmas. "I absolutely love posing. My Mother encouraged me to do this." She told Gazeta Sporturilor.

(Merry Christmas from Oana!)

2009- Anamaria Tamirjan neglects to turn up for the Milan European Gymnastics Championships all-around podium until halfway through the ceremony. Thank goodness she wasn't up for a medal, just flowers!

2009- The recently retired champion, Steliana Nistor tells the press about the extent of her injures and the fact that the Romanian gymnastics powers are doing little or nothing to help her have them treated or healed. The injuries most particularly her back and her wrist/hands. One online magazine, V.I.P which seemed to interview everyone Steliana had ever dealt with, showed how all involved were trying to pass the blame and responsibility for her medical problems onto someone else. Strangely, Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang, not best-known for their altruism, were two who actually stepped forward and offered to help Steli and organised a check-up for her.

2009- A Romanian magazine reports that a young junior gymnast, Asiana Lida Peng and her parents are threatening to take her to Europe or China (her father is chinese) to be trained because the Deva school can't provide her with a scholarship for her tuition, training and board at the school. The mother, who is unemployed, claims she cannot afford the monthy 320 lei and may have to take her from the school to another country who will give her a scholarship. Deva director Adrian Liga called the threat emotional blackmail, and claimed that the school was powerless financially to help.


  1. I knew things were bad over there, but it doesn't really hit home just how awful the federation has been to its athletes over the years until the bigger problems are all listed here like this.

    I remember perfectly how things went with Raducan--I was both old enough to make sure I watched everything at the Olympics and a HUGE fan of the sport by then--and I still feel awful for her. I especially hate how so many gym sites forget about her so easily. Thanks for posting about her and everyone else.

  2. Thank you for posting this! Its so sad to hear what the Romanian girls have had to put up with all these years. They were so talented and yet abused.

  3. There was nothing brief about and I find it amazing they charge these gymnasts to train when they treat them so badly

  4. God, this was incredible. I had never heard about the murdered gymnast until now. That is just unbelievable. I can only hope Forminte is treating these girls as well as the media makes it out to be...

    Do you have a link to the interview about Dobre or for some of the other articles you read? I would love to read them.

    It would also be really interesting to read an entry like this about the Soviets/Russians.

    Thanks for another great entry!

  5. Hi Kayla, here's some links.
    The age revelation-
    Japanese furore-
    The Romanian Party Girls-
    Marinescu's book-
    The Romanian gymnastics website's old news archive is a good source. No, I don't have the Dobre article. That was a second-hand report via Wikipedia. Apparently she talked about it in Int gymnast mag too. Here is a link to the page where Vieru talks scathingly about Corina.-

    Hope that helps!

  6. Thank you SO much! This should keep me occupied for a good while. :)

  7. Great post. So interesting. I find Romanian gymnastics fascinating.

  8. Excellent post! Although it's a disgrace for the sport how much this girls have to endure in order to show the world how "good" was the comunism.

  9. I'm late to the party on this one, but I'd like to see an unbiased nutritionist's analysis of what they feed the national team. Teenage girls working that hard physically have a fairly high caloric need, at _least_ 2500 calories a day, with lots of protein. I'd be interested to know what the average Romanian gymnast's caloric intake is for any given day. 1200? 1500 on a "good' day?