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Training with the Enemy

"Up until now the Russians stayed some other place, far from Sydney. Today is their first day of training, and it just so happened we were training at the same time", says head coach Octavian Belu. The Russian team sent a "spy" who watched the Romanian team practice all day yesterday. "It doesn't bother me. We've been working on these routines for years, and we couldn't change them in one week", he added. Then, he turns towards Maria Olaru, who's doing her beam routine. She starts off with a punch front, and ends with a dismount off the side of the beam (gainer double twist). All the gymnasts look serious and concentrated, but the defending world champion looks downright sad. She looked sad the rest of the say, all through practice.

Simona Amânar is the team leader. You can see she's leading the team whenever they go to their next event, or when the gymnasts make a mistake in the line-up, and she intervenes discreetly. Octavian Belu and his assistant, Mariana Bitang, have total domination. All the gymnasts, from the most-famous, to the last team member, call them, "Mr Belu" & "Mrs Mariana." The coaches are stern when they address their gymnasts, calling them by their last name "Amânar", "Presăcan", "Boboc". Only Olaru is called "Mărie" (appelative form of Maria) by both coaches and teammates. This small compensation doesn't make the youngster from Moldova feel less lonely. The relationship between coaches and gymnast is strong, but professional.

While the Russians openly spied our gymnasts, our girls quickly glance towards the Russian team during training. "Look at Khorkina, she's slower than a snail", whispers Simona Amânar towards Mariana Bitang. "Oh well, so what if she's slow? She moves slowly, but (she's doing) well", replies the coach. Alexandru Mogos, head of the gymnastics delegation, adds "Khorkina is somewhat slower, but the she leaves a strong impression with the judges."

All of a sudden, someone yells out in pain inside the training hall. Everyone freezes, just like when a bomb drops and everyone wonders "whose house did it hit?" This time, it's a Russian gymnast, the seventh team member, basically their alternate. She had an awkward landing on vault. She's lying on the floor holding her knees and moaning in pain. Everyone gathers around her. A few meters away, Ioachim Oană, the team doctor, shakes his head in disbelief. Pain doesn't have any boundaries. The young Russian is icing her knee now. "I think they'll send her home and bring another gymnast. Same thing happened to us in Atlanta", said Octavian Belu.

Floor is the last event of the day. Maria Olaru puts on her back wrap to protect her back that still hurts. She's been struggling with back pains for a while now. The floor is harder and the gymnasts are still getting used to it. "This is the first time we're competing on the Acromat apparatus. The floor creates a bounce that stops the gymnasts from completing their routine", explains Mariana Bitang. Maria Olaru makes two mistakes in a row. She panics. Belu sends her over to the bench. If this were a soccer game, Belu would have had a jersey thrown in his face after pulling his player out of the game (This is an allusion to the latest soccer mishap, when the new soccer head coach, pulled a player out of the game, and the player threw his jersey in the coach's face in frustration.) Inside the Sydney training hall, "Măria" quietly pulled on her warm up suit, picked up her back-pack adorned with a few stuffed animals, and sat quietly on the bench.

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