Cluj Gala

This week-end, the Romanian National gymnastics team performed in Cluj. Olympic gold medalists from Sydney and the stars of the team, Simona Amanar, Maria Olaru, Andreea Raducan, Andreea Isarescu, Loredana Boboc, were joined by Marius Urzica and Rares Orzata, as well as recent senior team members Sabina Cojocar, Silvia Stroescu, Carmen Ionescu and Alexandra Barac. The gymnasts delighted the 1500 spectators during an hour-long show. The girls performed on beam, bars and floor, while Marius Urzica showed off his pommel horse routine. The routines were accompanied by background music and show lighting, while a big screen display showed the most memorable moments from the Sydney Olympics. The show started off with a warm-up, again set to music, and the spectators were entranced by the team, literally holding their breath for the first 10 minutes of the gala. The organizers realized the spectators could end up spending the rest of the show in mute admiration, encouraged them to get involved and cheer for the team. The rest of the show went on without a hitch, the Cluj audience showing their full support for the gymnasts. The breathtaking beam routines, fast tumbling runs and incredible bar tricks won the audience over. Whenever one event was going on, gymnasts would practice for the next one. While the rest of the team was on bars, Andreea Raducan was doing her beam acro series on the floor, and Simona and Maria were up on the beam, going through their routine in the half-dark gym. They obviously have their routines in their blood by this point.

The most "tense" moments came when Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru performed their last floor routines. their last tumbling runs as competitive gymnasts. "I was very emotional," said Amanar. Even more than at the Olympics. There, you learn to get a hold of yourself, control your emotion, internalize your feelings. Now, due to the fantastic atmosphere and the fact this wasn't a competition, I couldn't hold back my emotions. There have been some incredible moments that I will never forget," added the Olympic AA champ. Former world champion Maria Olaru was also moved by her last performance. "I don't think I've ever been through anything like this. I was overwhelmed by emotion like never before. I didn't think I'd react like this, but while doing my floor routine, I burst into tears," said Maria.

Olympic pommel horse champion Marius Urzica showed his class on the event with great speed, amplitude and grace. In just a few seconds, he had the crowd going wild. "These galas are more than welcome. They give you a possibility to do your routines, in a different atmosphere than that of stress-filled competitions. I'll definitely do all the galas I am asked to attend," explained Marius.
Andreea Isarescu had a tough day on bars, falling twice on her release move. Every time, she started over, just like she did at practice. Octavian Belu was next to her, calmly explaining what she did wrong. She went back, but couldn't hang on to the high bar. Only then did the spectators realize how much work goes behind the Olympic medals, how many reps, failures and pain. At the end of the show, the 9 gymnasts did a group routine to Ciuleandra (Caludia Presacan's '98 FX music) -a memorable moment that brought together the current stars of gymnastics and the juniors who will likely follow in there footsteps.

The Cluj gala was an opportunity for the future stars of Romanian gymnastics to showcase their talent. Sabina Cojocar, Silvia Stroescu, Carmen Ionescu and Alexandra Barac are already starts on the junior circuit and they competed against the best gymnasts in the world in their age group. After watching them perform, the public can breathe a sigh of relief. Even though Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru are retiring, Romanian gymnastics will still be a top contender for the World title. At the end of the show, the MC asked the gymnasts to give a brief interview. Visibly stressed-out, Alexandra Barac thanked the public who "was very primitive!" (she was trying to say 'primitor' which means 'welcoming', but grammar went out the window under the scrutiny of her first interview). Everyone laughed, Belu jokingly pulled his hair out after hearing the "poetic license", but everyone understood this was a small mistake. After all, Maria Olaru and the rest of the team are well-known for their beautiful gymnastics, not their literary work (but it would be nice if they'd have better command of Romanian grammar).

At the press conference following the gala, Belu talked about the future of the team. "There's an atmosphere of unrest at Deva, not fear. We're not afraid of the retirement of our great champions, Maria and Simona. The secret of success for Romanian gymnastics is the fact that we can always produce new talents and change the team as we go. If you remember, the team fro the 1999 Worlds was different than the one from Sydney, and from one Olympics to the next, the team's changed almost completely. Many people believed Nadia' retirement would bring an end to Romania's gymnastics program, but 30 years later we're still mass producing champions," said Belu. "The up-and-coming junior have their own leaders. Sabina Cojocar is the AA Jr European champions, meaning she beat Europe's best in her age category. This new team also went head to head with the top teams in the world, and had an honorable performance. So there's no reason to be worried. Romanian gymnasts will still be among of the world's best" As for the retirement of Amanar and Olaru, he is well aware he can't influence their decision. "There comes a time when you have to retire. I talked to them before and after they decided to retire and I understand where they're coming from. In a way, it's better for them to retire now, than wait until after Athens 2004, when they wouldn't have anything but a face in crowd, without any notable results. Right now, they're on top of the world and it's the right time to retire," concluded the head coach. "

Recently retired Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru will stay involved in gymnastics as coaches. Both of them are students at the Sports University in Timisoara. Simona will start her third year and Maria her second. Andreea Raducan smiled all through the press conference. "I recovered completely, both mentally and physically after what happened in Australia, and right now I'm training for the 2001 Worlds. Marius Urzica, said he also plans to keep training, saying "I want to compete in another Olympiad, where I hope to be among the best yet again." "

Belu said he plans to bring his team to any future galas" even though everything is different from the competition setting, with lights background music and audience participation, but I think these shows are necessary so the fans can get to know the girls." Asked about judging in gymnastics, he did not hesitate to criticize. "There are backstage arrangements going on that you feel as an athlete. As long as we'll be judged by human being, there will be outside influences. We don't fight to cross the finish line first, or jump highest, we try to gain the judges' appreciation. There are mistakes made, some intentional. Gymnasts are disappointed when they get a lower score than expected, or when an opponent scores higher for a routine that's not as good." He admitted there are problems in international judging, which can affect results from various competitions. "I suggested the FIG starts paying the judges, so they can't be easily tempted, but so far it's only a proposal," said the head coach.

The gala ended with an autograph/picture session, but the best moment came when it was time for dessert. The gymnasts were in shock because they were allowed to eat the cakes from the hospitality room, but they waited patiently while assistant coach Mariana Bitang cut each cake in half. Then, it was "feast time!", as Sabina Cojocar explained with a smile directed at her plate more than anyone else:).


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