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Sydney 2000

 Romania back on top of the world

September 2000


If this had been an athletics race or a Formula One Grand prix, the organizers would have re-run the thing.

AS it was, the women's all around gymnastics final on Thursday night September 21, left many of the competitors fuming.

The problem was in the vault.

Someone, somehow, forgot to set the thing at the right height and it is estimated at least half of the 36 competitors suffered because of it.

"I have never seen anything like that before at a major meet," said Canada's Yvonne Tousek who struggled home in 34th spot. "To tell you the truth, nothing like that should ever happen, it is an embarrassment."

The vault problem was a height one. An apparatus marshal noticed midway through the meet that the vault was set incorrectly. "It was about five centimeters lower than it should have been." fumed Tousek who was more concerned for her fellow athletes than how it affected her own performance.

And she wasn't alone.

The United States officials were up in arms and told anyone who dared to listen. Naturally the inference was the vault caused their demise.

The US trio fell from grace on just about very rotation after that finishing 14th, 15th and 20th respectively.

But the worse was dealt the raging hot favorite for the event Russia's Svetlana Khorkina. She completely miscued the vault and landed on her knees.

Tears welled in her eyes and the wind left her sail immediately. A mistake like that at this level is lethal.

The taller girls seemed to be affected the most and Khorkina was the tallest of the 36 competing.

Not surprising then to see the diminutive Andreea Raducan of Romania win the gold.

Standing at just 148 cm (4 feet 10 inches) and weighing 37 kg (82lbs), this tiny waif simply floated through the air.

She landed the best score on the floor exercise (9.825), the best on the beam (9.787), the 18th best on the uneven bars and the second highest on the contentious vault (9.706).

She wound up with 38.893 beating out her two fellow country women the retiring Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru who helped Romania to a clean sweep.

It was Romania's first gold in this event since the great Nadia Comaneci at Montreal in 1976 and Comaneci was there to see it.

"The vault problem was bad but because I managed a good score I didn't go back and redo it," Raducan said.

Others did-six in fact. The official statement from organizers concerning the bungle virtually laid the blame nowhere.

"Due to problems with the settings on the height of the vault, gymnasts will be given the option to perform their vault routines again," it read.

Nothing more. No apology, no blame, no scapegoats.

Apart from the damage to the concentration of many girls, the vault drama seemed to zap the gloss out of Raducan's amazing performance. Which was sad because this 16-year-old who will celebrate her 17th birthday at these Games, deserves the highest praise.

"This win is like a dream for me," she said through interpreters. "A very nice dream too and the perfect birthday present."

Runner-up Amanar chipped in at that point and said, "We will break open as much champagne as we can for these medals and Andreea's birthday celebrations."

Amanar will retire at the end of these Games and Raducan realizes the impost of the burden of being her country's number one gymnast will carry.

"It is very sad that she is retiring but I have the responsibility now and I'll try to do my best to be as good as she was."

Raducan's coach Octavian Belu hasn't any worries though. He probably had more worries when Raducan jumped on his shoulders and stood tall upon hearing she had won gold, waving to the capacity crowd while balancing precariously on his broad shoulders.

Everyone watched in awe and expectation-surely she had to fall down from there was the general thought- she didn't though, she held sway.

"Andreea is young yes, but she is a very stable person. Her win, and in fact all three girls' getting medals will have a great impact back home. We've needed someone to come along and do this  and I hope the entire country goes out into the streets and celebrates. Because this is something very good for Romania.

Ioan Tiriac, the former great tennis coach who has traveled to this Olympic Games as President of the Romanian Delegation was, as he always has been, somewhat more forthright.

"I hope the politicians back home notice this performance and plough more money into sport. We have the athletes in Romania to be the best in the world and I hope those politicians have brains. Sport is something Romania can be a world leader in."

Tiriac, even lives his words.

He built with his own money a village in Romania just for orphan kids and recently four young girls who has shown sporting prowess were chosen to attend the Comaneci School of Gymnastics at a place called Onesti in the mountainous ranges of Romania.

"After a few moths two came back because the work is very hard. But two remained and we are trying to identify talent all the time in Romania, " claimed Tiriac.

Meanwhile Raducan soaks up her time in the Australian sun. She is so polite and so fresh she should be a major player in world gymnastics for some time to come especially as the international Olympic Committee has chosen to follow recommendations of leading world organizations investigating Olympics Research into SportSciences.

The youngest age a gymnast can be at Olympic level is 16 meaning older ones will be able to stay in the sport for longer.

"That means I hope to have more birthday presents like this one," Raducan grinned.

And she probably will.


Ric Chapman

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