The Medal Factory – episode 6 (Nadia Comaneci Arena)

[THE MEDAL FACTORY – EPISODE 6: part 1 and part 2 – (c) Digisport]


Onesti became known because of its gymnasts. Nadia Comaneci was born here and her town became the capital of the sport which has brought Romania dozens of gold medals. In the gym where Nadia trained and where gymnasts still train today, the little girls were really looking forward to Nadia´s visit. Besides this gym, another arena, which will be hosting the National Championships in August, has just been inaugurated. Nadia has come back home for this special event.
She entered among all the nerves and excitement inside the gym. She was greeted by her former team mates, other great Romanian athletes and of course, by the Onesti gymnasts. Her next destination was the new arena, where hundreds of people were already waiting. Nadia was joined at the event by her mother and brother, and a good friend from the world of football, Gheorghe Hagi.

“Thank you for inviting me, I´m very honored to be back in the town where I was born and where I started gymnastics. Thanks for this gift, 25 years since the project began and 35 since I won the Montreal competition. I did not achieve this alone, it was teamwork: I want to thank my family who took me to gymnastics, my coaches and the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, my colleagues who showed me what team spirit is, my teachers who convinced me that school was as important as gymnastics – Mr. Brasoveanu is here with us -, Mr.topescu for his heartfelt commentaries – he is also here. And a special thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Simionescu for creating this gymnastics school back in the 60s, this allowed many girls to start doing gymnastics. Thanks to the people in Onesti who wanted this arena to bear my name and I hope you have the opportunity of watching many successful competitions here. Thank you, I love you!” Nadia Comaneci

Nadia’s school teacher, Gheorghe Brasoveanu, remembers the little Nadia: “There are many unforgettable moments, we were both happy to see each other and I´m glad to see she remembers me. We haven´t had time to go through all the memories….When she retired, she became a trainer for the Junior team in Onesti. Back then I was the coordinator of the team. There are many beautiful memories from competitions and trainings.” said the school teacher, nervous at seeing Nadia.

“Nadia changed the world of gymnastics in a night, in July 1976, by scoring a 10, the maximum you could get at that time in gymnastics.”
Cristian Topescu

“Nadia was the best. Thank you Nadia!”
Gheorghe Hagi

“My mum took me to do gymnastics because she loved Nadia a lot. She thought that if Nadia was a role model for her, I might follow in her footsteps. I´m glad I did not let her down, and with a lot of hard work I got to have results and be as well known as she was.”
Simona Amanar

Anca Grigoras is familiar with Nadia’s every footstep in gymnastics. They met at Onesti, trained together and were team mates in the National team. They were in love with gymnastics and stayed in the gym after practice to train harder: “You cannot be forced into gymnastics, you need passion to do it. Nadia was a prodigy and she is still unique. Not just because she was the first back then, but because of her entire career. I know her since she first came to Onesti, I am 4 years and 4 days older than her. She was 7 or 8 back then. I also liked staying in the gym after training – I loved gymnastics a lot – and helped her with new elements. She was always willing to learn and I used to turn her around like a doll, she was little, and thin, we had fun.
I have always said that Nadia was a “whipped” talent, but not in a bad way. Talented people, when they can´t find a “whip” like Bela was for Nadia, someone who can make the best of that talent (this is what I mean by whipped), they don´t always make the very best of what they have. They will probably achieve results, but not use their full capacity. For talented people, it´s easy to learn new things and do it fast. If you ask a talented kid to repeat an element 10 times, when the first 5 or 6 turn out perfect he starts questioning why he still has to do the rest. This is the key and this is what happened with Nadia, her talent was put to work. I think she also believes this.
Another thing I must add: we always hear about the sacrifices a gymnast must make….I completely disagree with this. And this is not only my case, although I was really happy to be doing gymnastics. This is valid for all…those who don´t like it and believe this is only work, sooner or later end up retiring. You cannot force a child to do something he hates.
Once you learn something new, you start liking it. Gymnasts enjoy competing most, especially those who do have results.”

Nadia´s former team mate, Luminita Milea, explained how Romanian gymnastics has evolved throughout the years.
Andreea Raducan: Luminita Milea was a great gymnasts, member of our National team. Hi Luminita!
Luminita Milea: Hi Andreea, I´m glad to see you today in Onesti.
Andreea Raducan: There was a wonderful event today, with Nadia´s presence. She was one of your team mates and you are role models for many of today´s gymnasts…
Luminita Milea: We are, we established the level you need to get to nowadays. But you girls kept it there. Before us, all gymnasts had a certain height and weight and we changed that. We started from nothing and everybody said we could not cope with it. We changed something and we have gone a long way since then. I hope we can get back to where we were as there are people here who put in a lot of work and want to have results.
Andreea Raducan: You set up the bar for the next generations that followed, but at the same time this is something motivating for other gymnasts. How was gymnastics back then?
Luminita Milea: Today´s Onesti Juniors did Nadia´s floor and beam routine, but not the bars routine. Nadia´s own bars element is still difficult nowadays. The difficulty is higher today, it’s very risky and the elements are harder to learn if you start gymnastics late. If you start at 7, it will be very difficult to get to the top, you need to start earlier. I hope we can still find kids ready to do this, because the genetics today have changed: kids are bigger, stronger, many of them don´t practice any sport and are not willing to work hard. To be a gymnast you need talent, but you need lots of hard work and you know exactly what I am talking about. Back then, you were not force to be in the gym, but there was this system that worked very well. It still works today, but the kids´objectives are different. I hope they are not coming to the gym for the financial benefits but rather to become another Nadia, Andreea, Simona….I hope.
Andreea Raducan: What is your favorite memory from when you were doing gymnastics?
Luminita Milea: Training was the basis of everything. For us, the gym was our second home. But in our free time, thanks to our coaches, we had a lot of activities: we used to play football, we always visited the places we competed in…we were never taken to a place just to compete. They took us sightseeing even if we had to lose an hour of rest. This was due to our coaches, they were very open. They were tough as well, but I think this was good. I see it now from a different perspective; when I was I child I resented it, but nowadays I see that respect is missing, gymnastics is taken lightly. This is a long term sport, you can´t practice it for 2 years and say you are a gymnast. You can hope that you will become one if you continue working. I gave up this sport because I wanted to be with my family, I dedicated my childhood and teenage years to gymnastics, and while my kids were living theirs I was still with gymnastics. So I said I had to give it up, everyone tries to make the best of what they have in life. My favorite moments from gymnastics were those after training, when we stayed in the gym and played. We looked out the window to see if the teachers were coming. Sometimes, when there wasn’t any competition ahead, the coaches let us do whatever we wanted during training, be creative – this is what I most loved about training. It was a “productive” play, this is how we invented elements, out of mistakes.

Adrian Stoica: There was an evolution when Nadia came into gymnastics. She got to be a world prodigy, a hero of an entire generation. Nadia, Ilie Nastase, Hagi are Romanian symbols. Perhaps not many people know where Romania is on the map, but if you ask them about Nadia they immediately make the connection. It´s very difficult to talk about Nadia, but life has showed that this kind of heroes are not forgotten, they are symbols for many of the generations that follow them. For me, Nadia is still a prodigy, she is treated as such by the world of sport and beyond. I haven´t said by gymnastics, I said sport in general. She is internationally renowned and has always honored Romanian gymnastics and Romania.

Andreea Raducan: We are in Onesti´s arena, which from now on will bear Nadia´s name. We have been waiting for this moment for a long time, the people in Onesti see this as a gift to the “perfect gymnast”, as we call Nadia. Besides Nadia, we also have here with us many people from the world of sports, of gymnastics. Right next to me is sitting Simona Amanar. Hi Simona!
Simona Amanar: Hi Andreea, I´m glad to see you here in Onesti, in the Nadia Comaneci Arena. I´m happy we have a new arena that can host competitions for the National team. And I´m happy to see the number of people in the arena right now, I hope that for future competitions it will also be full.

Simo Martin: This kind of arena was needed in a town like Onesti ever since the project first started, I´m glad that after 20 years it has been completed. It´s beautiful. I´d like to see more arenas, with Andreea Raducan, Simona Amanar or Marian Dragulescu´s name on them. At least one for each gymnast. Not to mention for our champions from judo, weightlifting – Nicu Vlad – all the World and Olympics Champions Romania has. Romania really needs this: if we are not building arenas, let´s forget about trials, drawing kids into sport, they will all be in discos and at the seaside. It would be nice if we inaugurated with Aeros and everyone, one arena a year in every town, including the smaller ones.

Tradition is kept in Onesti, where a new generation with a passion for gymnastics waited impatiently for Nadia. And not only the girls, their coaches too.
Andreea Raducan, interviewing the little girls from the Junior team: Were you nervous?
Little gymnast: Yes.
Andreea Raducan: What do you know about Nadia?
Little gymnast: I know she is a great gymnast, with many medals.
Andreea Raducan: Were you nervous today at seeing Nadia?
Little gymnast: Yes, I was too nervous….
Andreea Raducan: How did you start gymnastics?
Little gymnast: I liked it from the beginning and I never stopped practising it.
Andreea Raducan: And what do you expect from the future?
Little gymnast: I want to be a great gymnast, like Nadia.
Andreea Raducan: Do you have a favorite apparatus?
Little gymnats: Bars.
Their coach: Their role models motivate the girls. Competing, camp training also motivate them. Their leos….they compete with each other on this and we try to motivate them to go on and be the best.

Nadia: I get really excited every time I come back. I remember my first steps in the gym, everyone who helped me, you know that you cannot do it alone, you need your family, your colleagues, the coaches, all this can help turn you into an Olympic Champion.

Romanian Gymnastics Fans

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