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The Calm Before the Storm --Belu Assesses Romania's Chances before Worlds

Although they try to hide it, the gymnasts and the coaching staff at Deva are worried about the upcoming Worlds in Belgium, where "God only knows what will happen."

The gym at Deva looks like a science lab. Octavian Belu’s put a lot of effort into attracting sponsors for the National team and 3.5 billion lei later ($120,000), the gym is one of the most modern facilities in the country, perhaps even in the world.

Octavian Belu proudly offers a gym a tour, showing where and how the funds were invested. He does that for every visitor, and his eyes lit up every time he talks, much like other people’s when they talk about their summer house pool or patio. "Unfortunately, I don’t have that [a pool or patio]. Basically, this is my home and I’ve become one and the same with the Deva complex. Sometimes I think I might be going insane; that’s how proud I am of all the remodeling done at Deva. It’s almost like it’s been done to my own home. If I show you my daily planner, you’d think it belongs to a building administrator, not a National coach." That’s true. Pages and pages are filled with orders for metal sheets, air conditioning offers, how much paint or concrete is needed for certain repairs, and even workers' complaints about unpaid salaries. "Whenever something goes wrong, everyone comes to me. It’s been a long time since we’ve only been here as coaches. That’s why my colleague, Mariana Bitang, gave in [to the pressure]. I’m tougher, stronger, but she couldn’t take it. She’s a woman, after all. She’d spend 6-7 hours in the gym, then she’d have to take care of ordering medical supplies, hospital trips, buying detergents, and who knows what else. Until she couldn’t take it anymore and she almost left Deva," recalls Belu.

The tour continues and the national team head coach shows off the modern magnesium chalk absorber, which sucks out the dust through the ceiling. Then there’s the huge air conditioning unit, and the central heating system. Not least, new Phillips lighting has been mounted with the new "fake" ceiling, which is also brand new. "“Everything is imported from the West, it’s the latest technology."“ When Gina Gogean and Lavinia Milosovici stopped by the gym, they were stunned. "When they trained here, we blew off magnesium chalk with our sweatshirts, we’d die of heat exhaustion in the summer, and they only had half as much light as we do now," says Belu with a trace of nostalgia in his voice, showing that’s the generation of gymnasts he holds dear to his heart.

The 7 national team members start working on the individual apparatus and the coaches start frowning. The girls are not doing brilliantly; they are confronted with the almost impossible demands of the new COP and even they know they’re not in control of the situation. "This isn’t just about the code of points. They have a different mentality now. They’re not as hard working as the gymnasts before them. They put forth a minimum effort, like they are office clerks," explains Belu. Not even 5 minutes go by and the coaches raise their voice after a gymnast falls on her routine. "Come on, is that how you want to go to Worlds? Make a fool of yourself there? You’re better off staying home," concludes a sulking Mariana Bitang. "They know I can’t leave them at home. 7 gymnasts are going to Worlds and we have 7 gymnasts on the team. Suppose on of them decides she doesn’t feel like coming to practice and just wants to watch TV, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll still take her to Worlds, that’s how bad things have gotten," add the coaches.

Beyond the lack of dept,, things haven’t changed much at Deva. The girls seem relaxed and the coaches do, too. Sometimes, there’s even time for a joke. Coach Mariana Bitang is throwing darts towards a target on a nearby tree. “Look, the Russians are in that circle, the Americans in that one, and the Chinese in the other one,” she explains with a laugh as she shoots off the small arrows towards her potential opponents in Ghent. The gymnasts stop by the sauna and the nurse’s office. They laugh, giggle, and whisper, but the upcoming Worlds are still on their mind. For 5 of them it will be the biggest competition they’ve ever been in. Only two gymnasts are left from the Olympic champion team, Andreea Răducan and Loredana Boboc.

The women’s team will leave Deva the evening of October 22nd, and they are expected to take off from the Otopeni International Airport on the 23rd. The first official podium practice is scheduled for October 26th. After dealing with a couple of financial setbacks, the organizers say they will successfully host the event especially after Nadia Comăneci lent a helping hand, going to Ghent to promote the vent. The only question mark remains the participation of the American team, who might miss the event. "Now that Jihad has officially started, every American is a potential target and cannot take any risks," said a thoughtful Belu. "I would feel bad if they were to miss the event and I wouldn’t heave a sigh of relief because I’m never happy to get rid of opponents this way. I want to beat them in a competition."

Andreea Răducan says her weight gain is normal and the only thing that matters is hitting her routines in Ghent.

GS: Andreea, we kept reading about the couple of pounds you gained. Are your coaches worried about this?
AR: They might be because I weigh more than before, when I was close to the ideal weight of 89 lbs, as calculated by the Medical Institute. I would say this isn’t worth worrying about, because the important thing is that I perform well. Hitting my routines is what matters, not what I look like. This won’t be a beauty pageant. Besides, I can’t be the same way I was at 14. Obviously, many people remember me from Sydney, but I’m human and I have a metabolism, too. It’s only normal I would develop [physically].

GS: Will Worlds be a tough competition?
AR: We’re going into it the same way we always do, thinking about winning. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I must admit it might be harder than ever before. Truth is, we only have two gymnasts from the Olympic team left. But, if we are going to do our job and not count any falls, things will work out. There are several other factors to take into account, like judging, other teams...

GS: Will this be a bizarre competition as it has been said?
AR: Yes, because there are a ton of new things. New COP, new rules, new apparatus on vault.

GS: Did you accommodate to the new vaulting table?
AR: Yes, I don’t have any problems.

GS: Which event are you most comfortable with?
AR: Beam, where I have a 10 SV and floor where I have a 9.9 SV. I know the world expects a lot out of me and I hope I’ll live up to the expectations.

GS: Who will be your main competitors?
AR: I think Zamoldchikova and Khorkina.

GS: Did you get used to you role as team leader?
AR: That’s up to my teammates to decide. One thing’s for sure. I have more responsibilities, I offer advice, and they ask for my support when they need it. I think the competition will prove whether I am a good leader or not.

GS: Do you have anything to fix before Worlds?
AR: Yes, I want to bring my floor SV up to a 10.

GS: Are nerves starting to show?
AR: No, usually nerves only show up a few minutes before your routines, when the announcers calls my name.

GS: How true is it that you lost you motivation after the prize money you won in Sydney?
AR: Not al all. Let me make this clear for everyone. I didn’t come to Deva for money. I don’t do gymnastics for money. I had enough money to live at home and I can always leave if I want to. My passion for the sport is what keeps me here. Prize money is just a reward for my efforts, not a goal in itself.

GS: Where were you during the September 11th terrorist attack?
AR: Here at Deva. I was deeply moved. Right now, I’m almost afraid to get on the plane, with everything that’s going on in the world.

GS: I see your VCR is turned on. What movie did you see?
AR: I never watch movies. I always watch tapes of my pervious competitions and analyze them. It helps me calm down and it gets me motivated.

Octavian Belu agreed to talk about the gymnasts who will represent Romania in Ghent. This is what he had to say

1. Andreea Răducan - Her previous results and her experience are her strong points. It will be up to her to get motivated and show what she’s capable of. She’s a couple of lbs overweight; it won’t be easy for her. She’s the one who will decide if she will let fate decide what will happen, which could lead to great results or total failure. I hope it will be the first option.

2. Loredana Boboc – She played a supporting role on our Olympic team and the last World Championships team. All of a sudden, a last line chorus singer is now co-leader of the team. I hope she can handle this, especially since she will compete all 4 events.

3. Andreea Ulmeanu – She could turn in a good performance on floor and vault, where she can get very high scores, but she can also make mistakes very easily.

4. Sabina Cojocar – She’s the best gymnast in her generation, but she’s yet to fulfill her promise on the senior level. Now would be the ideal time. She’s the European Junior Champion. She’s still moody. She took many unwarranted breaks from training. She has some philosophical inclinations, but I hope she can pull her head out of the clouds.

5. Silvia Stroescu – She’s another gymnast from the new generation, but she’s only shown moderate promise. She needs to understand the demands of line and technique.

6. Carmen Ionescu – She’s a team player, without any outstanding abilities. She’s a very hard worker and she's disciplined.

7. Monica Sabou – She has many weaknesses. She has very little talent or aptitude for gymnastics. She’s a clear example of the lack of death in Romanian gymnastics. She has a lot of problems on vault and floor. She has no noteworthy results.


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