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"Nobody to Work with" Gazeta Sporturilor

The days when the Deva gym mass produced Olympic and World champions are long gone. Back then, training conditions left a lot to be desired of, but the people involved were very dedicated. Things seem to have changed since, almost to the point where the coaching staff is dealing with a complete reversal of the situation.

GS: Mr. Belu, I think you put quite a bit of work into this gym.
OB: Yes, Iíve been through a lot for this gym. I worked as an engineer, architect, I was in charge of supplies...but everything worked out eventually. Over $100,000 was invested in the gym and it shows.

GS: Nothing should stop you from getting great results now.
OB: Thatís not quite true. While the gym is ready, and it looks better than any other gym in the West, my problem is that now that I have a gym, I donít have any gymnasts anymore.

OB: Donít be surprised. Thatís how things stand. The fact that gymnasts like Andreea Ulmeanu or Monica Sabou, who never competed at a major event, are on our team for Worlds says a lot about the crisis our program is going through. Same can be said about the fact that I have to send 7 gymnasts to Ghent, and I only have 7 to chose from. I donít have a choice.

GS: Sounds fairly grim/pessimistic...
OB: Yes, but I donít want to make any more pessimistic predictions. I will no longer make predictions so that people canít say thatís just a strategy I use to dramatize the situation, so that we [the coaching staff] can come out looking like heroes. All I can say is that things arenít going as planned. Weíll see how things stand at Worlds.

GS: We really donít have a shot [at winning]?
OB: Thatís not what I said. Of course, we might even win, but this will all depend on luck and other circumstances.

GS: What can we expect in Ghent?
OB: It will be a bizarre competition. Very few routines will start from a 10.0. There will be a lot of falls because podium training was done away with. For example, during team finals, only 3 gymnasts will compete and all 3 scores will count. The FIG has borrowed a sorry idea from the UEG and is selling it off as the latest trend. A lot of subjective criteria will show up in the scoring, like expressing the music, posture, and how spectacular a routine is.

GS: Will you get rid of the American team?
OB: Thatís not the right word for it, because I would be a lot happier to place ahead of them in a competition, rather than win by default. But it is very possible the American team will miss Worlds now that Jihad has started.

GS: You seem relaxed. You donít seem to be too concerned about the gymnasts' less than ideal form.
OB: I am very worried about it, but what can I do? I canít force them into something they should do of their own accord. If they donít understand that, you canít force someone to be a competitive athlete. I think I heard ďI canítĒ more often in the last month than in the past 20 years Iíve been at Deva. I tell them to lose weight and they say they canít. Before, I would take the girl, drape her in 3 sweatshirts and make her run up and down the mountain to the old fortress until she couldnít feel her legs. If I tried to do the same now, sheíd call her parents or some newspaper and victimize herself. Thereís nothing else to be done. Iíll just let them be 4-6 lbs overweight. They are the ones losing out.

GS: However, we heard some of them complain of health problems, serious pain...
OB: These are unavoidable in gymnastics. How could your back not hurt after hundreds of landings? But now, gymnasts give up at the first sign of pain. They have no maturity or sense of responsibility. And we donít force them to do anything anymore because this is a free country. Nobody forces them to stay [at Deva].

GS: What do the doctors say?
OB: I send my gymnasts to the doctor at the first sign of a problem. No one does gymnastics without getting clearance form the Sports Medical Institute anymore. Itís like theyíre all obsessed with this. Theyíre getting magnetic resonance tests done all day long. Thatís what happened to Alexandra Barac just now. She was advised to stop training, and she immediately left the National team.

GS: Do you miss Milosovici?
OB: Her generation, in general. Milo didnít even know what a magnetic resonance test was. Sheíd push herself to the limit every time. And, she only had half the training conditions we have now. But she still managed to win gold at two Olympic Games

ĒThereís no motivation.Ē

Assistant coach Mariana Bitang explained why the current National team members are far below the level of previous gymnasts.
Not long ago, Mariana Bitang said she will stop coaching at Deva, saying her deteriorating health is largely due to the stressful activities at Deva.

GS: Mrs. Bitang, you are back in the gym again
MB: For now, yes. I decided to keep working, even though this isnít easy. If I were to quit now, right before Worlds, people could have said I fled the battle scene, and I might have influenced the team on a physiological level. I decided to stay here, but I donít know for how long.

GS: How do you feel now?
MB: If I were to show you my medical file it would look like a med school book. Itís over 10 pages long. I had tens of check-ups and all the doctors told me the same thing Ėthereís nothing serious. I just need to relax and get away from stress, which is basically impossible while Iím at Deva.

GS: What was wrong with you?
MB: I would just stand in the gym during practice and all of a sudden, Iíd start shivering, sweating or my blood pressure would shoot up. This happened to me, and Iím usually hypotensive [have low blood pressure]. This started happening more and more often.

GS: What are you unhappy with now?
MB: First of all, the girlsí attitude. They have no motivation or strength of character anymore. They give up at the first sign of pain and we have to send them over to the bench.

GS: You seem to have changed, too. Before you used to raise your voice and tell them to keep going. They knew you were in charge.
MB: We gave up trying to will them on. We canít police everything around here. Gymnastics is voluntary here. Who wants to do it, does. Those that donít, are free to leave. I canít stress myself out convincing a gymnast she needs to do her job.

GS: Why do you think the gymnastsí lack the strength of character of previous generations?
MB: Well, theyíre billionaires now. They have cars, and allowances. Theyíre not interested putting forth their best effort. For example, R„ducan and Boboc are about 4-6 lbs overweight right now. When I tell them to lose weight, they say it simply cannot be done.

GS: Maybe that is the case
MB: Yeah right. Milo and Gina would train with hardly any light in the gym, without any air conditioning. There were 4 of them in one room, and they didnít complain. Milo competed with broken bones in her wrist for 4 years.

GS: Still, canít you do more as coaches?
MB: We donít have anyone to work with. These girls have no competitive fire in them. Thereís 7 of them and all 7 are going to Worlds. They know we canít replace either one of them.

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