feature article August/September 1996
By Susan Southall
|Pale, blond and shy, Simona Amanar is
most comfortable blending in the background. She's more than happy to let
outspoken teammates Lavinia Milosovici and Alexandra Marinescu take center
stage, while she quietly hones her craft. Fanfare would only slow her down
The youngest member of the Romania's 1994 gold-medal team Amanar, now 16, has been a key player for her country. While Marinescu was making headlines, Amanar was winning world championships. With two team golds and a vaulting title (1995) already, Amanar has become accustomed to winning.
Praised by head coach Octavian Belu as "dynamic" and a "team powerhouse," Amanar is Deva's homegrown answer to the Bucharest phenom of Marinescu.
"When I was about 5 or 6, I went to see a gymnastics competition in my hometown of Constanta, and it looked like so much fun I went to the gym," Amanar remembers.
"From the beginning the coaches who selected the athletes liked me. They said that I was a strong and powerful girl, so they encouraged me to continue. By 1992 I was training in Deva with Belu and the national team."
Although Amanar has never idolized other gymnasts, she admits to improving herself through others. "I don't have one favorite," she says. "I look at many different gymnasts and see one thing I like, one good aspect, and try to apply that to myself."
With seemingly no strong feelings on any subject other than winning, nothing short of torture could coax a controversial statement past her lips, even if it concerns Marinescu, the newcomer who could rival Amanar for a spot in the Olympic all-around final. "I don't talk about Marinescu. She's a teammate and I hope that we will work well together in Atlanta during the team competition," she says calmly.
Quiz her on whether Gogean and Milosovici are past their prime and she responds, "I think Lavinia and Gina are both fighters in competition and I hope that in the Olympics they will help our team fight for gold."
Does she think the scoring in Atlanta will favor the U.S. team? "Well," Simona begins, signaling another guarded answer (and perhaps just a hint of teenage naivet»), "if we make a perfect routine there is nothing the judges can do. They must give the right score."
Ask about her success and you'll get noncommittal answers like "hard work" and "practice," but the half-smile on her face tell you she's only saying what you want to hear and let's you in on the really big secret: She doesn't care what you say about her.
Unlike some athletes, who see the Olympics as a perfect time to retire and reap their rewards, Amanar has no intention of calling it quits. "I won't stop after Atlanta," she says, "but when I do I want to be a coach in my country."
Until then, Amanar will continue to compete for pride and not glory. "It's not important for me to be 'favorite' in the Olympic Games," she says. "... What is most important is to do my best on each event and get a high score to help the team win a gold medal. For myself I think mostly about the optionals because that's my strength, but I know that it's important to hit all four events in the compulsories, too. We need to finish the compulsories in first or second if we want to win. I think we have the focus to do this."
Letting her iron control slip for just a minute she smiles shyly and adds, "It is very important to win the team gold because that's where you qualify for the individual events. .... I think that I can then win some personal medals."
A statement like that from the guarded Amanar is tantamount to a declaration of war. The other competitors better watch out.