November 30, 2008

More on Top Gym 2008: Results, Photos, Videos!

So far, no official results have been announced for the Top Gym event finals, but we know who won the medals:

1. Kamerin Moore USA
2. Jocelynn Kraan NED
3. Sofiana Markantasi GRE

Uneven bars
1. Jordyn Wieber USA
2. Ida Gustafsson SWE
3. Eline Vandersteen BEL

Balance beam
1. Jordyn Wieber USA
2. Larisa Iordache ROM
3. Yvette Moshage NED

Floor exercise
1. Larisa Iordache ROM
2. Kamerin Moore USA
3. Jocelynn Kraan NED

Jordyn Wieber (photo: Sandra Janssen)

Reportedly the performance level was much higher in the event finals (a weird kind of mixed team competition in which gymnasts only competed on two events) than it had been in the all-around competition. AA winner Jordyn Wieber won both of her events, bars and beam. Twistars teammate Kamerin Moore took a gold and silver, as did young Romanian Larisa Iordache. AA silver medalist Yvette Moshage had to scratch floor after injuring her knee on her beam dismount, the same 2.5 twist on which Anna Pavlova recently came to grief. Her coach later said that Moshage was "completely broken," which could refer to either her knee or her state of mind. Either way, we hope the Dutch gymnast's knee will heal soon.

Yvette Moshage (photos: Sandra Janssen)

Also, since it seems no one was able to view the photos to which we linked in our previous post, here they are! They were all taken by Sandra Janssen, who will undoubtedly post more on her site, Focus on Gymnastics, in due course.

Furthermore, YouTube user Dutchfan33 has begun to upload Top Gym videos, shot during the event finals, when most gymnasts actually hit their routines. So far, Dutchfan33 has uploaded the following routines. Check them out!


Jordyn Wieber, UB (technically sound but a bit dull, except for that gorgeous dismount)

Yvette Moshage, BB (nice routine, but don't watch it if you don't like the sight of gymnasts getting injured!)

Kamerin Moore, FX (good stuff!)
Kamerin Moore, V (solid Yurchenko 1.5)

Larisa Iordache, FX (great routine - check out that third pass!)
Larisa Iordache, BB (typically Romanian routine - fast-paced but pretty sloppy)

Larisa Iordache (photo: Sandra Janssen)

Jocelynn Kraan, FX (promising routine)

Sofiana Markantasi, FX (Stefani Bismpikou is getting a successor!)

Katharina Muller, FX (needs to work on her difficulty)

Jocelynn Kraan (photo: Sandra Janssen)

About That World-Record-Breaking Hambüchen Routine...

We reported earlier that Fabian Hambüchen had shown the most difficult high bar routine ever during his club's last Bundesliga match before the grand final, a routine with a 7.5 start value. At the time we didn't know what element Hambüchen had added to his already ferociously difficult routine to account for the higher start value. We do now. According to a German source, Hambüchen has added a G-rated Pineda to his set. A Pineda, for those who don't know their MAG code by heart, is a barani-out Gaylord 2. Basically it's a full-twisting back somersault over the bar, like a Kolman, but with half turns before and after the somersault rather than a full turn during the somersault. You can watch the skill as performed by its originator, Mexico's Tony Pineda, here!

World Cup Final: Confirmations and Cancellations

Two days ago the FIG issued a statement listing the first gymnasts to have confirmed their participation in the World Cup Final, to be held in Madrid, December 12-14. So far, the following people have confirmed they'll make the trip to Madrid: Cheng Fei, Yang Yilin, Li Shanshan, He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan, Zhang Hongtao, Hiroyuki Tomita (who will retire immediately afterward), Elena Zamolodchikova, Anton Golotsutskov, Sandra Izbasa, Suzanne Harmes, Yuri van Gelder, Jeffrey Wammes, Yann Cucherat, Philippe Rizzo, and Evgeni Sapronenko.

Catalina Ponor in 2004 (photo: Amy Sancetta/AP Photo)

According to ProSport, Sandra Izbasa will be Romania's lone representative in Madrid. Catalina Ponor, who is (rather bizarrely) leading the standings on beam despite having retired over a year ago, reportedly told ProSport that she was "delighted with the fact that I'm still the best gymnast on beam, even a year after my retirement." She went on to say, "It's a nice feeling to know that you've maintained your No. 1 position. Sadly, I can't go to that competition even though I'm ranked No. 1, because I'm not in the right physical shape for competitions."

That almost sounds like she hasn't really retired.

Marian Dragulescu (photo: ProSport)

ProSport also reports that Romania won't have any male representatives in Madrid. Marian Dragulescu qualified for two finals (floor and vault) but like his KTV Straubenhardt teammate Fabian Hambüchen, he has chosen to compete in the Bundesliga Final instead (no word so far on whether he's also "too injured" to do the World Cup justice). The other Romanian gymnast to qualify for a Madrid final, Daniel Popescu (vault), will reportedly sit out the competition because of a torn muscle in his shoulder.

Ah well. At least the Chinese girls will be in Madrid. And Sandra!

Top Gym: Wieber's Victory Confirmed

By now the official Top Gym results have been announced (click here to see them), and it seems America's Jordyn Wieber was indeed the clear winner, finishing nearly 4 points (!) ahead of her nearest rival, Holland's Yvette Moshage. Wieber's teammate Kamerin Moore finished third, 0.75 behind Moshage but a full point ahead of Romanian promise Larisa Iordache.

Kamerin Moore, the only gymnast we've ever seen wearing glasses in competition (photo: Heather Maynez)

According to people who attended the competition, Jordyn Wieber was the only gymnast to have a good meet. She had a big wobble on beam and landed very low on her closing double pike on floor, but was otherwise clean (good double-twisting Yurchenko vault and standing full on beam). Yvette Moshage, who is from the same club as Sanne Wevers, also made few mistakes, but didn't sparkle as she usually does. Kamerin Moore reportedly fell on a Tkatchev and also missed a giant on bars. Furthermore, she suffered a fall from beam, put her hands down on her full-in on floor and went out of bounds on two tumbling passes (including the full-in). Larisa Iordache reportedly started out very well on beam and floor, but lost many points on vault (sloppy full-twisting Yurchenko) and bars, where a low start value and many small mistakes resulted in an abysmal 10.300. Her equally promising teammate Diana Bulimar never even got to compete; she twisted her ankle during warmups and was withdrawn from the competition. Chalk up one more injury for Team Romania.

Tatiana Nabieva

Unlike previous years, there were no Ukrainians or Russians at Top Gym. Fans were hoping that European junior champ Tatiana Nabieva, who is currently touring France with the St. Petersburg team, might make an appearance in Charleroi, but she chose to stay in France, reportedly performing on bars only. Rumor has it that Nabieva is suffering from a heel injury. We assume it was that same injury which kept her out of the Massilia Cup, in which she was slated to compete.

Some excellent photos of the Top Gym competition can be found here!

November 29, 2008

Quick News Roundup

--- We have yet to see any official results (or substantial unofficial results for that matter), but it seems that American national junior champ Jordyn Wieber has won the Top Gym competition held in Charleroi, Belgium, despite feeling a little under the weather. According to her website, Wieber received the top scores on all events (15.000 vault, 15.250 bars, 15.000 beam, 14.550 floor) and consequently ended up winning the all-around competition. No word yet on the other highly touted competitors (Kamerin Moore, Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar), nor on whether the Russians ended up sending any competitors (Tatiana Nabieva is supposed to be in nearby northern France) to Top Gym, which is traditionally a good spotting ground for junior talent. We hope to have complete results for you later.

Jordyn Wieber, winner of the Top Gym competition

--- According to German newspaper Zeit Online, supposedly injured Fabian Hambüchen just performed the most difficult high bar routine ever in KTV Straubenhardt's last match before the Bundesliga Final, to be contested in two weeks. Hambüchen is reported to have thrown a routine with a 7.5 start value, up 0.2 from his previous record. Way to prove you're seriously injured, Fabian!

--- According to the Gazeta Sporturilor, Sandra Izbasa is one of five nominees (four female, one male) for Romania's Athlete of the Year Award. The winner will be announced on December 2. We have a feeling Sandra will grab that award too.

--- Speaking of Athlete of the Year competitions, remember we told you last week that Yang Wei had been voted China's male athlete of the year, and his coach Huang Yubin China's coach of the year? Well, it now seems that the female gymnast closest to winning the award (which ended up going to table tennis legend Zhang Yining) wasn't Cheng Fei, as you might expect, but Deng Linlin! We can't find the details anymore (we'll have a look for them later when we have more time), but we do remember that the article said Deng got many more votes than Cheng, outscoring her by something like 5 to 1. We like Deng, but we do wonder - what did she do to outscore Cheng Fei, Jiang Yuyuan, and Yang Yilin by such a hefty margin?

A big thumbs-up for Deng Linlin indeed! (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

--- Finally, we'd like to draw your attention to this delightful Times Online article about Britain's new star on the pommel horse, Louis Smith. It sounds like Louis is quite a character. According to the article, he auditioned for The X Factor and is planning to unveal a new, highly showy element on the pommels at some point. He'd also love to compete wearing a giant Afro, but has decided against it because he feels the judges wouldn't appreciate it. Read the article for yourself - it's entertaining!

November 27, 2008

One More Reason Why We're Getting Less and Less Excited about the World Cup Final

According to the DTB site, Fabian Hambüchen will give the World Cup Final in Madrid a miss. Instead, the world champion on high bar will compete for his club, KTV Straubenhardt, in the Bundesliga Final, which will be held in Heidelberg on the same weekend (December 13).

It is rumored that Hambüchen is passing up on the World Cup Final because his club will reward him handsomely for taking part in the Bundesliga Final and make it more rewarding for him to stay in Germany than to go to Spain. However, officially he's staying at home because of a torn tendon in the little finger of his left hand, which has been bothering him ever since the Olympics. He's slated to go under the knife at the end of the year, and is expected to be out of action for 6 weeks.

(Photo: Eurosport)

"In order to compete in a World Cup Final, I must be able to prepare well," the German champion was quoted as saying by the DTB site. "At the moment that's impossible, but for my teammates at KTV Straubenhardt I'll grit my teeth and hope that I can contribute to a good result in Heidelberg."

The good news for Hambüchen is that his club stands an excellent chance of winning the Bundesliga Final. The Straubenhardt team, which boasts Romanian world champ Marian Drăgulescu, 1988 Olympic floor champ Sergei Kharkov (aged 38!), 1992 Russian national junior champ Alexei Grigoriev and Hungary's Robert Gal among its members, is leading the standings after 6 competition days and is the great favorite to win the title.

Diego Hypolito to Avenge Olympic Disaster with Super Difficult Routine in Madrid

The Beijing Olympics were full of drama. Among other major and minor upsets, world champ Shawn Johnson was beaten to the all-around title by Nastia Liukin, Beth Tweddle failed to medal on bars, Li Shanshan failed to medal on beam, and Cheng Fei and Anna Pavlova had complete meltdowns in the event finals. On the men's side, Marian Drăgulescu failed to medal on either floor or vault, which was all the more dramatic since he had just incurred a huge debt to pay for his deaf daughter's expensive surgery. Dragulescu really needed the Beijing prize money to pay off this debt, but a mistake on floor and a botched second vault ruined his chances of a nice and quick fortune.

All these dramas were painful and hard to watch. Some of them left us with tears in our eyes. Yet the most heart-wrenching one of all, we think, was Diego Hypolito's disastrous floor exercise. The Brazilian super tumbler got off to a great start on floor, then fell on his double Arabian and spent the next half hour looking absolutely devastated. He just sat there holding his head, seemingly in complete disbelief and agony at his failure to grab the opportunity of a lifetime. It was heart-breaking to behold.

Diego Hypolito in Beijing (photo: Reuters)

If the Globoesporte article posted below is anything to go by, Diego needed some time to get over the shock. Reportedly he hit the Rio night life hard for a while before pulling himself together and dedicating himself to his sport again. But his failure to medal in Beijing only seems to have made him more determined. While his competitors are recuperating from their Olympic efforts, Diego Hypolito is apparently going all out on his training. The reason? He wants to present a humongously difficult floor exercise at the upcoming World Cup Final. More difficult than the one he presented in Beijing, which was the hardest one on show in the final.

Good. That's one reason to watch the World Cup Final then. God knows there aren't many others, what with half our favorite gymnasts sitting the event out because of injuries.

Anyhow, this is the Globoesporte article referred to above. Enjoy!

Untraumatized, Diego Hypolito will try to get over his disappointment at the World Cup Final

When he got home after Beijing, Diego Hypolito made some changes to his daily routine. Rattled by the fall that prevented him from vying for a medal, he felt he needed to "overflow." After months of tremendous discipline, he began to go out, not returning home until 6 AM the next day. It worried his friends and family. Three months later, they have no reason to fear. The two-time world champion is training hard and hopes to find in London what destiny denied him in China: The dream of becoming an Olympic champion.

(photo: Reuters)

"I needed some time to relax, because starting from the first week of training of the upcoming year, I'll have to deal with everything. I was very sad at the Olympics, but only for a moment. I wasn't finished. People said to me, "Stay strong, don't give up!" I won't give up. I love all this."

Indeed, one day in the gym with the gymnast suffices to see that the words "give up" have never been part of his vocabulary. Although he smiles a lot and keeps joking around with his friends - especially his sister Daniele and Jade Barbosa - the gymnast is 100% focused once he gets on the apparatus.

There's a reason why he's working so hard even though the exhausting Olympic cycle has come to an end. While his competitors are recuperating, Diego insists on keeping training in order to show off a 6.8 start value on floor at the World Cup Final in Madrid in December. That's a higher start value than the one he used in Beijing [6.7].

"Nobody is training as hard as he is," his coach, Renato Araújo, told Globoesporte. "If it were up to me, Diego would take it a bit easier, but he wants a more difficult routine. He obviously wants to get over his disappointment, and I'd be very happy if he did."

Diego courageously acknowledges that he made a mistake in the Olympic final. The image of his fall in Beijing still pops up in his head during training, along with the hope that his time to shine is still to come.

(photo: Reuters)

"It didn't work out [in Beijing] because it wasn't meant to happen. I trained hard. I arrived here (at Flamengo) at 7 AM on the dot and left at 8 PM each day. I highly valued the Olympics. I worked hard to get there. Was that a mistake? No, it wasn't. Am I thinking of going to the next Olympics? Yes, I am," he told Globoesporte.

Before getting started on his new challenge, the gymnast will make two major dreams come true. Diego is preparing a visit to Disney [Disney World, presumably] in January - along with Daniele and Jade, obviously. Moreover, he is excited about the purchase of his first house, in Barra da Tijuca, a western borough of Rio de Janeiro.

"I'm not traumatized by the Olympics. Quite the contrary. Bring on the next ones! Despite everything, it was a moment of victory in my life," says Diego.

Now that's what we call a healthy attitude toward life!

November 26, 2008

Triple Full Presents: A Gymnast Who Is NOT Injured

A day after confirming that Jade Barbosa is on the right track recoverywise, Globoesporte posted a story about Jade's clubmate Daniele Hypolito, Brazil's first ever world medalist. It doesn't contain any earth-shattering news, but we thought we'd post it anyway. For more information on Daniele's 2012 plans, check out this entry.

Daniele Hypolito in Beijing (photo: Julie Jacobson/AP Photo)

For London 2012, Daniele Hypolito is ignoring the controversies, focusing on muscle-building exercises instead

At age 24, the gymnast says she's more mature and ready for marathon workouts

Daniele Hypolito has left the time of controversies behind her. At age 24, she is training side by side with Jade Barbosa at Flamengo every day, but she doesn't want to get involved in her friend's problems with the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation. The gymnast, who has a history of quarrels with the Federation herself, has set her eyes on one goal only: To train hard so that she can vie for a spot on the London 2012 team.

"I train with Jade all the time, but I'm not part of what's going on. If I want to make the 2012 team, I mustn't get involved in those things. I've had my share of fights with the Federation, but today I feel super," says Daniele.

According to Daniele, her discretion in relation to the Federation is the fruit of maturity. The athlete, who left the national team in Curitiba in 2005 due to arguments with the Ukrainian head coach Oleg Ostapenko, is adopting a different attitude to her training, which will be even stricter from now on.

"I'll have to remain twice as focused as the other girls, and deal carefully with injuries. I'll be in a different stage as an athlete. If the other girls don't do any muscle-building exercises, they won't have any problems. I, on the other hand, do have to be worried about that, and must keep an eye on my weight."

However, one of the main reasons why Daniele is so different now was her change of air. In May 2008, the gymnast left the national team in Curitiba again - a decision which this time did not lead to any arguments with the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation - to return to Flamengo. At the Rio de Janeiro club she met up once more with Ricardo Pereira, a coach with a style rather different from Oleg Ostapenko's.

Daniele and coach Ricardo Pereira (photo: Globoesporte)

"When he has something to tell me, he always calls me into a corner. He never tells me off in front of the younger girls. When he looks at me, he already knows how I'm feeling," says the athlete, who is counting on her genetics and "healthy spirit" to stay on the national team.

"I've always been lucky when it comes to injuries. Mentally I'm prepared for the training. As to my body, I'll prepare that over the next few years."

Best of luck with that, Daniele. Stay injury-free, will you?

Another One Bites the Dust... But Fear Not, Others Are Still Left Standing!

The C Score reports that the Russians have lost yet another star to injury. Reportedly veteran Lyudmila Ezhova will have to sit out the World Cup Final in December because of a knee injury (gosh, we're getting tired of writing about those). What with so many big names being sidelined by injuries, we fear the World Cup Final will be a bit of a joke.

So are there any healthy gymnasts left on the Russian team, other than the three youngsters who competed in Marseille last weekend (Komova, Mustafina, Goryunova)? Turns out there are. At least five of them.

The C Score mentions Yulia Lozhechko, who may be Russia's representative at the World Cup Final with Ezhova and Pavlova out of the picture. She also mentions Elena Zamolodchikova, who, while not exactly in the best shape of her life, appears to be injury-free.

Tatiana Nabieva

Turns out there are at least three more healthy Russian gymnasts out there: Tatiana Nabieva, Ekaterina Kramarenko, and Polina Miller. None of these girls will be at the World Cup Final, but according to a French newspaper, La Voix du Nord, they'll be performing at a gymnastics gala to be held in Bethune, northern France, on November 30.

European junior champ Nabieva is hailed as a "Russian star" in the article. Somehow it sounds better in French: etoile russe. Indeed!

We're pleased to see that Polina Miller is alive and ostensibly kicking. It's been a while, Polly! Or is that Lina?

Polina Miller in 2006 (photo: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

November 25, 2008

Pavlova: I'm Not Sure I'll Be Able to Come Back

The C Score beat us to the story, but just for the record, we'll confirm it. Anna Pavlova, who tore her cruciate ligaments at the recent DTB Cup, is by no means certain she'll ever be back on the apparatus.

Our reader Kristina was kind enough to translate this LiveSport article for us.

Anna Pavlova (photo: Thomas Schreyer)

Pavlova: "I'm Not Sure I'll Be Able to Come Back"

Anna Pavlova, the Russian gymnast and two-time Olympian of 2004 and 2008, underwent an operation to reattach her cruciate ligaments, calling the continuation of her sporting career into question.

"Last week, on November 20, they performed the operation on my injured knee," said Anna Pavlova. "I'm still in the hospital. At the moment the doctors aren't even allowing me to walk. They're carrying out various medical procedures, and a course of physical therapy."

"I'm unable to give an exact diagnosis, but it does all seem quite serious. I don't even know when they'll discharge me from the hospital. It will all depend on how my body responds to the medical procedures. There's no question at all of training in the near future. Without any doubt, I won't be participating in any competitions for the next half year. I hope, of course, that I may still return to gymnastics, but I'm not entirely sure of that," the gymnast was quoted as telling the "All Sport" agency.

So there you have it. The most beautiful gymnast of the moment (well, one of them anyway) isn't sure she'll ever get to show off her beautiful lines and moves on the floor again. We dearly hope she will, for the sport will lose one of its brightest stars if she's forced to retire.

Thanks very much for your translation, Kristina!

And a Romanian Injury Report Just for Good Measure...

Our Italian reader Giulyx14 informed us the other day that in addition to Sandra Izbaşa and Daniela Druncea, three other Romanian gymnasts (Cerasela Pătraşcu, Gabriela Drăgoi, and Ana Porgras) made the trip to Milan last weekend, not to compete in the Grand Prix event but to hang out with friends on the Italian team. According to ProSport, however, there was more to the visit to Italy than a nice joint training camp. Pătraşcu, Drăgoi, and Porgras were sent to Milan by the Romanian Gymnastics Federation to obtain a second opinion on their injuries.

Cerasela Pătraşcu (photo: ProSport)

"We weren't at all surprised to hear what the doctors [in Milan] told us," coach Nicolae Forminte told ProSport. "Their diagnoses were the same as the ones we'd obtained in Romania. It wasn't the diagnosis that was the issue, but rather what kind of therapy and rehab to embark on. Right now we're taking things a bit more easily, because we don't want to work with girls who haven't completely recovered yet, to prevent their injuries from getting worse."

After translating all those articles about neglected injuries in Brazil, we like the sound of that.

It's not all good news though.

Cerasela Pătraşcu, who got injured at this year's Europeans and has undergone two operations on her right meniscus, cannot resume training yet. "She'll have to wait two more months because we're not sure yet whether the cartilage where she had the arthroscopy will recover. There are signs that things are going well, but we'll have to wait a little while longer. Now everything depends on her and on how hard she wishes to fight to make a comeback," said Forminte.

Ana Porgras (photo: ProSport)

The news was similarly bad for Ana Porgras, the junior who was recently promoted to Deva's senior team. "Ana too will have to be operated on her knee, her left knee in her case, because of a detached ligament. Federation officials are currently discussing the operation with her family. Her family will have the last word on whether the operation will take place, and if so, in which city and in which country," explained Forminte.

Thankfully, Gabriela Drăgoi seems to have reached the end of a recovery period. She'll be allowed to intensify her training in a few days.

Gabriela Drăgoi in Deva (photo: ProSport)

Jade Confirms: I'm on the Mend

It took them a while to get around to it, but in the end Globoesporte posted the update we were waiting for. And it's good. According to the Brazilian site, Jade Barbosa is recovering well from her hand injury. She hopes to resume proper training in January, and in the meantime she's having a great time with her Flamengo clubmates, Diego and Daniele Hypolito.

Proof that Jade Barbosa CAN smile! (Photo: Reuters)

We decided to translate the whole article for you. Enjoy!

In spite of her injury, Jade finds "a gymnastics family" and joy in Rio de Janeiro

Ignoring the scandals, the athlete says she will soon resume normal training

Injured, but happy. That short phrase has summarized Jade Barbosa's life since the gymnast returned to Rio de Janeiro to train there, last September. Despite a serious injury to her right hand and her strained relationship with the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation, the athlete keeps smiling during her workouts at the Flamengo club and is confident that she'll make a full recovery.

"Yes, I'm still injured, but I'm happy," said Jade. "Technically, it's not so different here from [the national training center at] Curitiba, but I'm closer to my family and my friends, and that makes all the difference."

Last week, Jade was given another reason to be glad. After sparing her injured hand for over two months, she received the news she'd been hoping to hear: That her chances of recovery are good.

"I'm feeling much better. I'm not considering quitting working out. God willing, I'll resume normal training in January," said Jade. She'll have a few more examinations over the next few weeks to assess the state of her hand following treatment.

"Gradually, she'll start doing gymnastics routines again," explained her coach, Ricardo Pereira. Jade's good relationship with her coach appears to be part of the reason why the gymnast is in such high spirits. Equally important is her friendship with Diego and Daniele Hypolito, who train at the same Rio de Janeiro club.

"Jade is a girl who needs support. She's spending too much time at home, so we're going to lots of places together. We're a true gymnastics family. I'm moving house, and Jade is coming to see the house with us to choose a place of her own," said Diego Hypolito.

His sister Daniele chimed in to say that she and Jade "are like sisters." Last Monday the two of them went to a beauty parlor together after their afternoon workout. It's something they could get used to, having a routine outside the gym.

Jade and Daniele (and Diego in the background, it seems) at their club in Rio de Janeiro. Look at the smile on Jade! (Photo: Globoesporte)

"We now have a social life. We take walks, go shopping..." says Jade.

Training at a great club, Jade is also beginning to learn how to deal with a common occurrence for teen idols: Being besieged by fans. "Every now and then we get boys here in the gym who say sweet things. But I'm not falling for it!" the 17-year-old athlete quickly added.

We're glad to hear it, Jade. And equally glad to hear you may be gracing the apparatus again next year.

Oana Petrovschi Wishes to Release a Naughty Calendar

In the grand tradition of Romanian gymnasts behaving badly and taking their clothes off in front of a camera, the 2002 world silver medalist on uneven bars, Oana Petrovschi, has announced that she's dreaming of releasing her own calendar before Christmas - a calendar in which she is to appear semi-naked and looking very enticing. In order to make that dream come true, Petrovschi has released several pictures of herself wearing a bikini and assuming sexy poses. The pictures were published today by two major Romanian newspapers, the Gazeta Sporturilor and the Cotidianul.

Oana Petrovschi (both pictures shamelessly nicked from the Cotidianul)

"I absolutely love posing. My Mom has encouraged me to do this," a proud Petrovschi told the Gazeta Sporturilor.

It's not the first time Oana Petrovschi has appeared scantily dressed in the Romanian media. Back in 2005, the Romanian press printed some more amateurish-looking photos of the former gymnast in various states of undress. At the time, Petrovschi insisted the photos weren't meant for publication. They were a joke, she said, some simple snapshots taken by a female friend to kill some time. Given that history, we guess she really does "absolutely love posing," and has done so for some time.

According to the Gazeta Sporturilor, the photo shoot for Petrovschi's calendar took place in Retezat, in the Romanian province of Strei, in September. And apparently it wasn't as easy as it looks.

"I loved doing it, but I didn't think it would be this hard," said Petrovschi. "I had to stand motionless, put on makeup, and most of all I had to get into ice-cold water."

She made it look like she was enjoying it.


Petrovschi also said she regrets only standing 1.61 meters (5'3'') tall. "I'd love to become a model, but my lack of height isn't helping much," said the former gymnast.

For more pictures, check out the links above. The Gazeta Sporturilor pics, which we can't reproduce here, are quite good in the genre.

November 24, 2008

About That Milan Grand Prix...

By now, as our reader sandraizbasa (...) wrote in to tell us (thanks, Sandra! We'll reward you with a completely gratuitous photo below!), the Italian Gymnastics Federation has posted the results of the Milan Grand Prix. You can find them here.

Have a good look at those results. If they're anything to go by, only six finals were contested in Milan - three for the men, three for the women. With one notable exception, there were only five competitors in each final. Only six countries were represented, and only Italy and Romania sent more than one competitor. About half of the competitors hailed from the host nation, Italy. And you call that a Grand Prix event, Milan?

Sandra Izbasa, probably wishing she'd gone to Marseille instead (photo: ProSport)

We'll admit it: We were excited about this competition when we heard He Kexin and Sandra Izbasa would be in it. And hey, He apparently did a good job of it (a 17.000 is nothing to be sniffed at, even if it was a bit inflated). But boy, are we glad we didn't buy tickets for that competition. Even if it did boast seven Beijing medalists strutting their stuff.

Here's hoping that as a test event for next year's Europeans, the Milan Grand Prix was successful. The Europeans should draw a deeper field...

Meanwhile, Over in Holland...

... the Verona van de Leur scandal is getting a bit sordid.

A few days ago we told you that former Dutch star Verona van de Leur, who became an overnight sensation in 2002, then struggled a bit after a growth spurt, was having a very public row with her parents. Among other things, she was accusing her parents of having used up all her money and trying to make life difficult for her and her boyfriend Robbie, who is much older than herself and has a criminal record. According to Verona, her parents spent thousands of euros that she had either won or been given by her sponsor, then hacked her computer, read her private correspondence, deleted 10 years' worth of photos and videos, threw away many of her belongings, and poisoned everyone against her and her boyfriend. It was a nasty story, but she seemed truthful enough telling it.

Verona during the 2008 European Championships, when things got a little too much for her. She retired soon afterwards. (Photo: Robin Utrecht/ANP)

Anyhow, the day we posted that report, Verona's father posted the following statement on a website, in a comment to an article about Verona's allegations. We're going to quote the entire thing.

"The Rotten Life of Verona van de Leur"
The Real Story!

The bad stuff began when Robbie R. (born 1969) entered our daughter's life [according to Verona, this happened about a year ago]. Fact is, Robbie R. is a criminal with a history of violence and weapon abuse. Fact is, he has threatened us. Fact is, he will have to appear before a Court of Justice for these deeds. Fact is, our front door has been kicked in and two windows at the front of our house have been smashed. Fact is, the same thing happened at the house of Verona's coach. Fact is, this man has been convicted of violence and has done time in prison. Fact is, the police are aware of this. Fact is, she has been abused. Fact is, this is not the first time he has abused someone. Fact is, this man seems a very intimidating guy to have for a "son-in-law." Fact is that his intimidation and threats got so bad that we felt obliged and were adviced to limit access to our house, for our own safety and Verona's sister's.

Verona's father went on to say:

Verona has fallen into the hands of someone who only wants money, at the expense of our daughter. She is being controlled by him and is being kept from her loved ones by him, so that she can't contact her friends in the gymnastics world. The website has been taken off line because of threats. Her accountant has been threatened too. As a top-level gymnast, you earn next to nothing in Holland. [We assume he's saying this to demonstrate that Verona HAD no money to steal.] We hope our daughter Verona will come to her senses and leave this criminal. Verona is not the only one leading a rotten life; we, her parents and sister, are also having a rotten time of it! And of course the door will always be open for Verona [if she wants to come back].

Which got him an equally public response from Verona, clearly written in great haste...

Anyone can present "facts" on line like my father has done, but I have evidence! My father has cameras in his house, "for safety reasons." If my boyfriend Robbie had really smashed any windows and kicked in the door, my father would have it all on tape. Robbie was arrested because my father filed an intimidation complaint. Robbie was really angry when he heard that my father had emptied my laptop, thrown away the presents Robbie had given me, and locked me out again when I came to pick up my things. He was so angry that he went to their house with a baseball bat. He just wanted to get my stuff back for me. He was sick of my parents doing things like that to their own child, but he left without doing anything (as the videos will prove). Robbie told his story at the police office, after which even the police realized that my father only wanted to have my boyfriend locked up so that he could say, "You see? He's a bad man!" The police let him go straight away because there was no evidence whatsoever that he'd done anything. No doors were kicked in anywhere. If any windows were smashed at my parents' house, there might have been other reasons for that. At any rate, Robbie wasn't involved in that. Robbie actually said, "First call the police and ask them what they can do to help you to get your things back," and he always waited for me around the corner when I went there, not coming to the house with me, as he didn't want to look provocative. He knew my parents would call the police if he showed up. But they never let me in, not even when I was alone or showed up with the police, as I did a few times. This is all known to the police; they have it all on file.

Verona and Robbie (photo taken from Verona's website)

My father is simply trying EVERYTHING to get me to leave my boyfriend, because my family doesn't approve of him. When I told them I wanted to stay with my boyfriend, they told me, "It's either us, your family, or your boyfriend." I told them I couldn't choose. So now they've made my choice for me, by changing the locks, refusing to answer the phone when I call, and not opening the door when I show up. I asked my father to show me my entire bookkeeping, but he refused to give it to me. So Robbie called the accountant and asked him very politely [that is to say, not in an intimidating manner, as Verona's father claims] if he could have a look at the bookkeeping. The accountant was kind enough to send it to us. But the accountant didn't have all the files (my father had some at home). So we started digging in what the accountant did send me, and we have a lot of evidence, but even so my Dad denies everything. If the bookkeeping had been in order, my Dad would have given me all the files straight away and explained them to me. But he only says, "I haven't got those files anymore," which sounds fishy to me. Why would anyone act like that if he hadn't done anything wrong? My father is trying to hide behind my boyfriend's past so as not to have to deal with this.

A few more "facts" (which I can prove) about my father. He hacked my Hotmail account, read my MSN chats with Robbie [supposedly to find incriminating material on Robbie], and forwarded them to me. When I asked him how he'd gotten hold of them, he said, "They were blown in by the wind." He has deleted a whole lot of things from my laptop (photos and videos of the last 10 years: Gymnastics stuff, family photos, absolutely EVERYTHING). He has also erased my external hard drive, which contained backups of the photos I had at home. They've thrown away presents, clothes, and shoes my boyfriend had given to me, because "they couldn't bear to look at them anymore." But they wouldn't let me come and pick them up; instead they changed the locks. My father says the door is always open for me, but it's not! When I show up at their house, they'll simply sit on the couch, shaking their heads - "No, we're not letting you in." They had my things moved from Elst [where her coach, with whom she used to live, lives] to Waddinxveen [where her parents live] without even telling me, even though I was planning to move them myself 3 days later. Then they sent me the removal firm's bill: €800! They changed the locks and sent me the bill: €200. As if I'd asked them to do that!

(photo taken from Verona's website)

My boyfriend has nothing to do with the money matter. All that money disappeared before I met him. In 2001, 2002, and 2003, I won prize money, thousands of euros' worth of prize money. In addition, I had a sponsor, who gave me quite a bit of money [in the Revu interview published last week, Verona stated her sponsor gave her "several tens of thousands of euros per year"]. But at the end of the year I was always told we'd run out of money.

That I have a boyfriend who is much older than me is my business. I knew about his shady past before my Dad told me about it, but I didn't hold it against him. He freely admits [he has a shady past] and knows it will always be used against him. But I'm a grownup and I make my own choices. It's just that no one seems to respect those choices. He's not using me and he doesn't control me, as everyone seems to believe. When I first met Robbie, things weren't easy, but once we got to know each other, things began to improve, and now we're doing really well.

Many tens of thousands of euros have disappeared without my consent. There were days €1,000 disappeared while I was busy training, so it can't have been me. Apparently I gifted my parents €5,000 on several occasions. [In the Revu interview she mentions a 30,000 "gift" of which she wasn't aware.] I paid for their Internet even though I wasn't living with them, I paid their phone bills, their sunbed, computer monitors, dinners, etc. They had a ball with my cash card, which I myself have never touched (I don't even know the PIN code). And again, this is not just a "fact" somebody posted on a website. I can prove it.

I've been invited to make an appearance on Pauw & Witteman [Holland's most highly rated talkshow], and I'd like to go, if my father agrees to be there with me and tell his side of the story (with his evidence). So Dad, if you're reading this, let me know how you feel about it!

Of course my parents' life turned into a mess after Robbie entered my life, because now the truth has come out. Rather than admit they're guilty, they're hiding behind Robbie's past, in the hope that this will distract people from realizing that it was they, my parents, who used me all those years.

(photo taken from Verona's website)

I could list more complaints, but I'll stick to this for the time being, as the case will probably go to court later. If my father remains this stubborn.

Why wouldn't they give me my stuff when I'm at their door, almost begging for it? I just want my medals back, and my other things.

As to my website (, it wasn't taken off line because of "threats." That website was run by someone who paid for it and let me make my own entries. When I quit, we agreed to keep the site on line for 2 more months, until summer, for some final responses. When those 2 months were over, I rang the guy and asked him to take the site off line. I was told that he had agreed with my father to keep it on line for one more year. I wasn't consulted on the matter. But I wanted the site off line because I was well and truly done with gymnastics. There wouldn't be any new photos or updates, so why keep it? With a lot of effort I got the site off line. Within a month, there was another site on line (, created by none other than my Dad! Without my consent! I asked him repeatedly to delete the site as I don't approve of some of the things he's posted, but he simply refused. So he can call it a threat for all I care, but if he wants a website, let him create his own site rather than one about me. If I want a site about me, I'll create one myself, and I'll keep the password. But right now, he's posting pictures etc. without my consent. So Dad, if you're reading this, this is another request that you remove my site from the Internet. If I want my own website, I'll get it myself, thank you very much.

Finally, I'd like to point out that it wasn't my choice not to contact anyone in the gymnastics world after my retirement, as my father claims. Rather he was the first to tell his story, and now no one will believe me when I try to tell my side of the story, and people are taking his side no matter what I say. My response? If that's the case, so be it.

I'm taking a break right now, but you'll see me or hear of me later doing something in connection with the greatest passion of my life: Gymnastics. Gymnastics will always be a special part of my life. Because despite everything, I'm very proud of everything I've achieved.


Our verdict?

Some nasty allegations here. We can see why Verona's parents would be worried; we wouldn't be thrilled either if our daughter went out with a much older man with a criminal record. If it's true that Robbie has abused Verona (and Verona would seem to admit that - "When I first met Robbie, things weren't easy"), we can understand why Verona's parents would do their best to drive a wedge between them. We'd probably try and do the same thing ourselves. At the same time we feel that Verona may be right when she says that her parents are harping on Robbie's past to cover up the fact that they stole her money. They probably resent Robbie for helping their daughter to uncover the truth about that. Then again, they may be right when they imply that Robbie only made enquiries into Verona's financial situation because he was after her money himself. But then again, the love birds do look reasonably happy in the pictures. Is this a complicated situation or what?

Anyway, if Verona is telling the truth (she certainly made an honest impression in the TV interview she gave last week), her parents' actions can't be condoned. Using your child's money for your own ends without telling her is wrong. Lying about it is worse. Hacking your child's laptop, reading her private correspondence, and deleting 10 years' worth of photos and videos is simply horrible. And sending her the bill for locks intended to keep her out of the house is, well, ridiculous. If it's true.

Either way, the Van de Leur case is characterized by an awful lot of public mud-slinging. As much as we like reporting on scandals, we think the Van de Leurs should exercize some restraint and resolve this situation behind closed doors. We hope the joint appearance on the country's biggest talkshow which Verona suggested won't come to pass, even if it would make for spectacular TV. Private issues like this shouldn't be dealt with on national TV. They should be dealt with in private.

And Verona, honey? Next time you write a public refutal, you may want to take some time to structure it and have someone proofread it. Yours is a terribly disjointed story, and your grammar needs some work too. Don't let your indignation get the better of your professionalism, will you? Even if you have good reason to be indignant, which we think you may.

Undoubtedly to be continued.

November 23, 2008

Um, Italian Gymnastics Federation?

Next time you hold your Milan Grand Prix, you may want to consider not doing it at the same weekend as the Massilia Cup and the Pan-American Gymnastics Union. You'll draw a better field that way. Also, you may want to consider actually publishing the results. We kind of gather from your "report" that He Kexin won bars, Lia Parolari won beam, Sandra Izbasa won floor, Alexander Vorobyov won rings, Benoit Caranobe won floor, and Igor Cassina won high bar, but all that was so utterly predictable that we'd really much rather hear about the other medalists. You know, the people who came 2nd and 3rd. Or even 4th for that matter.

Our spies tell us He Kexin won bars with a humongous 17.000. She was supposedly better in Milan than she was in Beijing. Does that mean she didn't muscle her kips? Lia Parolari is supposed to have finished second with a 14.700 score (2.300 behind He), Serena Licchetta third with 14.300. Our spy noted that Romania's Dana Druncea, in action for the first time since, oh, quite some time because of injury, looked rather overweight and only scored a 12.650 on bars. Supposedly she did better on beam and floor, although she used watered down routines.

We're glad Lia Parolari won a gold before a home crowd. She's a beautiful gymnast who deserves a few medals every now and then. Watch her very elegant beam set, featuring a pretty Memmel turn (a compulsory element in Italy, it seems), here.

Lia Parolari (photo: Tom Theobald)

Other news of note would be that Monica Bergamelli has apparently announced that she'll go on competing for another year. Good for her!

Now let's see how long we'll have to wait for those official results...

Just to Prove That Sandra Izbasa Isn't the Only One Who Occasionally Gets Dolled Up by a Magazine...

THIS is a video of Cheng Fei doing a photo shoot of sorts.

We fear that La Cheng doesn't quite have La Izbasa's flair in these matters. She looks distinctly awkward. Also, that outfit? We're sure it's fashionable, but still. Weird, man. Weird.

If anyone has copies of the pictures of Cheng coolly kicking air while wearing those giant puffed sleeves, we'd love to see them. Pretty please?

Update: No pictures of the air kicks, but thanks to one of our readers, we did manage to find these shots!





Thanks, Anonymous!

Update No. 2: The kick! We think those puffed sleeves are hilarious on a girl who's trying to look tough.


Update No. 3: The whole series of photos can be seen as a slideshow here. Click on the right-hand button above the slideshow and you'll see the whole thing!

China Dominates Trophee Massilia

In Marseille, France, the Chinese girls won the annual Massilia Cup, beating Russia, 118.600-117.950. The victory was remarkable because China only had two competitors (Jiang Yuyuan and Guo Wei; Tian Mengsi was slated to compete but didn't), whereas all other seven teams in the competition used three gymnasts (two per event). Australia placed third, scoring 115.400.

AA winner Jiang Yuyuan

The Chinese duo of Jiang and Guo did well on all events. Not surprisingly, they got the top score on bars: 30.250 (15.350 for Guo, 14.900 for Jiang). Russia, represented by juniors Aliya Mustafina, Viktoria Komova, and Kristina Goryunova, got the top scores on vault (28.950) and floor (30.050). On floor, Mustafina and Komova received 15.100 and 14.950, respectively (the two highest scores given on that apparatus). Unfortunately they didn't do so well on beam: 14.200 for Komova, 13.700 for Mustafina. Meanwhile, Australia got the top score on beam (30.600), thanks to a whopping 15.600 for Lauren Mitchell and a 15.000 for Ashleigh Brennan. Newcomer Britt Greeley was less successful for the Aussies, taking a 13.200 on bars.

Brazil's B team (Bruna Leal, Ethiene Franco, and Khiuani Dias) took a very respectable fourth place with a solid effort on beam. France's seniors (Youna Dufournet, Manon Erre, and Laetitia Dugain) placed fifth with disappointing scores on bars and floor. Romanian juniors Amelia Racea, Claudia Voicu, and Diana Trenca did well on beam (where Racea scored a 15.000), but took a disastrous 26.100 on bars (13.400 for Racea, 12.700 for Trenca) to finish sixth. The Netherlands (represented by Joy Goedkoop, Wyomi Masela, and Natasja Blind) placed seventh with solid work on vault and beam but errors on the other events, while the French juniors (Marine Brevet, Chloe Stanic, and Justine Crosato) finished eighth due to weak bar and floor exercises.

Team results:
1. China 118.600
2. Russia 117.950
3. Australia 115.400
4. Brazil 114.350
5. France Senior 113.150
6. Romania 112.500
7. Netherlands 111.550
8. France Junior 108.600

In the individual all-around, Jiang Yuyuan was victorious despite not counting a single score over 15.000 (59.400). Lauren Mitchell, fresh from a very successful DTB Cup, took yet another silver in Marseille with a 59.250. Guo Wei placed third despite logging two of the competition's top scores: 15.300 on bars and 15.600 on beam. In the end, a 13.900 vault proved her undoing (59.200 total).

Lauren Mitchell (photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Individual results:
1. Jiang Yuyuan CHN 59.400
2. Lauren Mitchell AUS 59.250
3. Guo Wei CHN 59.200
4. Kristina Goryunova RUS 58.250
5. Viktoria Komova RUS 57.900
6. Aliya Mustafina RUS 57.300
7. Amelia Racea ROM 57.050
8. Youna Dufournet FRA 57.000
9. Bruna Leal BRA 56.700
10. Ethiene Franco BRA 56.050
11. Manon Erre FRA 55.750
12. Khiuani Dias BRA 55.600
13. Claudia Voicu ROM 55.000
14. Natasja Blind NED 54.800
15. Wyomi Masela NED 54.700
16. Joy Goedkoop NED 54.350
17. Marine Brevet FRA 54.300

The event also featured an Open category for club teams. The Shanghai team was in a league of its own here, scoring a massive 115.900. Canada 1 (109.850) and Canada 2 (108.000) placed a distant second and third, respectively, while America's young WOGA team ranked fourth (107.650).

Individually, Shanghai's Xiao Kangjun and Zhang Yujiao ranked first and second, respectively. Canada's Dominique Pegg finished third, ahead of Briley Casanova (WOGA) and Madeline Gardiner (Canada).

Another event, Top Massilia, open to participants from both the Open category and the Massilia category and only involving a few events of the gymnast's own choice, was won by Lauren Mitchell, who edged out Amelia Racea, Kristina Goryunova, Dominique Pegg, and Jiang Yuyuan.

In the event finals (also open to contestants from both categories), Jiang won two golds (bars and floor). On bars she beat Mitchell and Shanghai's Geng Ruowei for the title, on floor Mustafina and Guo. Masela won vault, beating Goryunova and Dufournet, while Guo beat Mitchell and Goryunova to claim the gold on beam.

Holland's Wyomi Masela won the gold on vault (photo: Bernard Garau)

Complete results can be found here. (If the link is not working, go here and click "Entrez," then "Resultats" on the left-hand side. That should work.)

ETA: YouTube user AureliaGym is uploading videos of the event. Check back here every now and then to see what she's got!

November 22, 2008

Chinese News Roundup

While certain Chinese gymnasts were competing in Europe at the Massilia Gym Cup and the Milan Grand Prix, life went on in China for others. A quick, injury-free roundup of Sina stories from this weekend...


--- On November 21 Olympic all-around champ Yang Wei received China's Best Athlete of the Year Award. In his acceptance speech a calm and collected Yang praised and thanked his teammates for their collective effort, which apparently meant a lot to him, then expressed his gratitude to his bride, Yang Yun. We're guessing the award means that the powers that be have forgiven Yang for his extremely lavish wedding, for which he came under a lot of fire in China.

--- Not surprisingly, Yang's coach Huang Yubin was voted Best Coach of the Year, not just in gymnastics, but overall. Huang couldn't personally accept the award as he was in Taiwan, but his fellow coach Wang Guoqing expressed his gratitude on his behalf.

--- Meanwhile, Jiang Yuyuan has won an award of her own, albeit a less formal one. According to her coach, Zhang Xia, Jiang is the "most intelligent, cutest and cleverest" member of the Chinese women's team. We'll second that!

Jiang Yuyuan in front of a character that means "number". That'll be No. 1 then.

--- Finally, on a visit to Hong Kong University, Cheng Fei indicated that she might like to get a degree there after her retirement from gymnastics, whenever that may be. She also said she hoped to be back in Hong Kong next year, when the East Asian Games will be held in the city. We hope so too!

November 21, 2008

Injuries: Barbosa, Ferrari, Severino

Rumor has it that China beat Russia, Australia, Brazil, France senior, Romania, the Netherlands, and France junior (in that order) at the Massilia Gym Cup, but we haven't seen any official results yet, so we guess we'll just have to talk about injuries instead.

There's still no news about Jade Barbosa, who was supposed to have an MRI scan a few days ago. We're keeping an eye on the Brazilian sports sites, but so far there haven't been any updates. We hope that doesn't mean Jade is bracing herself for a retirement announcement.

Vanessa Ferrari (photo: Gazzetta dello Sport)

We do have news about Vanessa Ferrari. A few days ago, a major Italian sports paper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, posted an update on the former world champion with the somewhat worrying title, "Ferrari, A Cannibal Experiencing an Identity Crisis." Reportedly the 18-year-old from Brixia, who has been suffering from an Achilles tendon injury and deep bursitis in her right leg for some time now, is getting very frustrated because despite 3 months' rest and 2 months' rehab [presumably these two overlap, as we could have sworn we saw Vanessa at the Olympics 3 months ago...], she is nowhere near healthy enough to resume training. "The Cannibal" (as she is known in the Italian press) will have physical therapy for one more month before deciding whether another operation is in order. If she ever makes it back to the gym, she'll have her work cut out for her, as it seems she has some excess weight to shed. According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, "Vani" is currently seven kilos (15.4 Lbs) overweight. Yeah, that would plunge us into an identity crisis too.

Good luck, Vanessa. We hope to see you back at some point, with or without those added 7 kilos.

Isabelle Severino

Meanwhile, it seems that Isabelle Severino, who tore her Achilles tendon just before the Europeans, actually called it quits a few days after the accident. However, she's not totally done with the sport. Rumor has it Severino is running for a position in the Directorate of the French Gymnastics Federation. Elections are to be held next week, on November 29. Stay tuned...

Sandra As You've Never Seen Her Before...

Well, we did say we wanted to post something cheerful and uplifting. A happy gymnastics story. Something that had nothing to do with either injuries or scandals. Something nice.

We guess we found it. And not surprisingly, it concerns Sandra Izbaşa, whom we can't help loving despite the fact that she's not the most elegant gymnast in the world. There's just something fabulously refreshing and wholesome about her. And we're going to post the video because it's cute and because it's been 11 days since we last posted anything about Sandra, and 11 days without news about Sandra is, like, a long time, y'all.

So. Today we'll show you Sandra as you've never seen her before.

THIS LINK will take you to a video posted by The One, a Romanian online magazine. It shows Sandra getting professionally made up and looking very pretty indeed. At the end of the one-minute video, she tells the viewer that her plan for next year is to get the world title which has so far eluded her. We don't know about you, but we like the sound of that!

As a teaser, here's a photo from the shoot. However, we think Sandra looks much prettier in the video. Do check it out!

Sandra Izbaşa (photo: The One)

November 20, 2008

And the Scandals Just Keep On Coming...

We can hardly believe it ourselves, but it seems we've got another scandal for you. Admittedly it's not as big as the Karolyi and Brazilian scandals, but it's a scandal, and as such we think it is our duty to fill you in on it. (Feel free to send us happy gymnastics stories if you're fed up with the scandals. We'd dearly like to post a cheerful and uplifting story for once!)

The protagonist of today's scandal is Verona van de Leur, who placed 2nd AA at the 2002 Europeans and 2nd on floor at the 2002 Worlds, after which she was voted Holland's Athlete of the Year (an honor which had never been bestowed on a Dutch gymnast before). Verona quit gymnastics last summer after an emotionally fraught period during which her coach, Esther Heijnen, was sacked from her club, and her former coach Frank Louter played mind games with her at the Europeans. On June 19 Verona announced her retirement, saying it was partly because of the "political games" played by the Dutch Gymnastics Federation in Clermont-Ferrand, and partly because of "personal reasons." At the time she declined to elaborate on the latter.


Fast-forward half a year and Verona van de Leur is breaking her silence on those "personal reasons." Yesterday morning the former Dutch champion, who will turn 23 next month, appeared on a breakfast show called Goedemorgen Nederland (Good Morning Holland), telling a story of parental estrangement of which Dominique Moceanu would have been proud. In addition to the TV show, a Dutch magazine called Revu has published an article entitled "Verona van de Leur's Rotten Life." We haven't read the magazine yet, but thanks to Heidemarie's mad linguistic skills (no jokes please), we got a transcript of the TV interview.

In the Goedemorgen Nederland interview Verona accuses her parents of several things. Her main accusation is that her parents don't approve of her boyfriend, who apparently has a criminal record, and have turned everyone they know against the couple; supposedly even Verona's coach isn't speaking to her anymore. Another, equally damaging allegation is that her parents used her prize money and sponsorship deals for their own ends, without ever consulting her on the matter.

Allegedly Verona's parents managed her money for the greater part of her career. According to Verona, they paid her gymnastics fees but also helped themselves to large chunks of her income, using Verona's money to pay for her sister's gym fees, contact lenses, and school books; her father's soccer club membership dues; her parents' gas; trips abroad; and so on. Some of which would have been okay, Verona says, if they hadn't done it behind her back. "They made it sound as if they were doing a lot for me - 'Never mind, we don't mind sacrificing a bit for you' - but all the while I was paying for it myself, and paying for their things too," said Verona. And it seems all the money is gone now. "I keeping asking my Dad where the money went - I have certain things in writing - but he won't tell me anything." Verona's father reportedly denies the allegations, claiming that all the money was spent on Verona's gymnastics fees - magnesium powder, leos, travel expenses, etc.

Verona accuses her parents of other things too. Her father allegedly broke into her laptop and Hotmail account to find incriminating material on her boyfriend, of whom he doesn't approve. In the fracas ensuing over that, her parents reportedly threw her out of the house without any of her belongings and changed the locks so she couldn't enter the house. They now call the police whenever she tries to come near the house. Says Verona, "I've spent about seven hours at the police station trying to explain the situation, but they can't help me either."

Verona and the controversial boyfriend (photo: Revu)

The breakfast show featured some less serious accusations as well. Allegedly Verona's mother was "very result-oriented" and would refuse to pick her daughter up from the airport if she had failed to get good results in an overseas competition. "I'd be abroad and after an unsatisfactory competition I'd receive a text message saying, 'You'll just have to grab a train home tomorrow.' All the other girls would be picked up from the airport by their parents, but I'd have to take a train home."

In the end, the family drama proved a little too much for Verona. While it was "the political games" played at the Europeans that were the final straw, it was the lack of family support that really upset her. "If my parents had supported me, all that [the coaching situation, the games played at the Europeans] would have been much easier to deal with," said Verona in the TV interview. As it was, "it was an enormous mental burden. I just couldn't deal with it anymore." So she quit.

Asked about her plans for the future, Verona answered that she would first have to gain a full understanding of her situation, then "start all over again." She added that it would be very hard to start over, without any money or the help of her family.

Good luck with that, Verona. We hope you and your family will patch it up eventually, like the Moceanus.

November 19, 2008

The Karolyi Scandal: A Few Contributions by Adrian Goreac, Ecaterina Szabo and Rodica Dunca

While we were busy following the Brazilian scandal, another scandal made headlines elsewhere. As we're sure you've read by now (if not, check out Gymblog), former Romanian national team member Emilia Eberle (a contemporary of Nadia Comaneci's, now known as Trudi Kollar) has denounced Bela Karolyi, accusing him of very harsh treatment indeed. She's not the first former Romanian gymnast to speak out on Karolyi's brutish ways; earlier, Rodica Dunca, Melita Ruhn and Ecaterina Szabo gave interviews in which they mentioned being starved, slapped, beaten up or otherwise abused by Karolyi, and last year even Adrian Goreac, Karolyi's successor as Romania's head coach, indicated that all was not well in Deva when Karolyi ruled there (more on that below). What's different now is that Geza Pozsar, the former Romanian team choreographer and probably Bela Karolyi's closest collaborator (other than his wife Martha), has confirmed Eberle's story, and added a few convincing details of his own. Moreover, the stories have been picked up by the American media, which could lead to an interesting situation. Will this be the end of the Karolyis' career in American gymnastics? Somehow we doubt it. U.S.A.G. has stood by the Karolyis too long. The organization would bring itself into disrepute by launching an investigation into them.

Bela and Martha Karolyi (photo:

As far as we're concerned, it should be the end of the Karolyis, though. We've been hearing for years about their brutal training methods, both from Romanian gymnasts and (to some extent) from American gymnasts. The reports were quite consistent, and consistently awful. Based on those reports, we don't think people like the Karolyis should be put in charge of children, much less be revered for the way they treat those children. So we're going to present you with a few choice quotes about the Karolyis from three people who worked with them in Romania and were brave enough to speak up: Adrian Goreac, Rodica Dunca, and Ecaterina Szabo. To back up the Eberle and Pozsar stories, so to speak.

Firstly, let's hear from Adrian Goreac, the man who took over from the Karolyis when they defected to America. Under Goreac, the Romanian team blossomed. It was the era of Ecaterina Szabo, Lavinia Agache, Daniela Silivas, Aurelia Dobre, and Gabriela Potorac - the Golden Age of Romanian gymnastics, or so many fans believe.

In December 2007, Adrian Goreac (who left Romania in 1990 after a conflict with the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and has lived in France ever since) granted two interviews to Romanian newspapers about his days in charge of the team and the reasons for his departure. In the interviews, he also touched upon his predecessor, Bela Karolyi. If anyone is interested, we'll post translations of the whole interviews at some point, but for now we're going to focus on the passages which have a bearing on Karolyi.

Adrian Goreac (left) receives a presidential distinction in 2007 (photo:

The first interview, published by Evenimentul Zilei on December 8, 2007, has a headline which says it all: "Bela Karolyi was a dictator."

Evenimentul Zilei: "Let's start at the beginning. What was the team like after Karolyi's defection?"
Adrian Goreac: "It was a difficult moment, because the team had just come back from the [1981] World Championships in Russia, where it had failed to win a single medal. Nadia Comaneci and her contemporaries had reached the end of their careers. I asked them what they wanted, and they told me they wanted to stay in Deva to continue their education. I moved them [from the gymnasts' hostel] to the Party hotel. Tavi Belu, who was my second in command, had more to do with them than I. Slowly, Ecaterina Szabo, Daniela Silivas, Aurelia Dobre, and the others began to emerge."

Evenimentul Zilei: "So you basically rebuilt the team?"
Adrian Goreac: "I wouldn't say that. Romania had excellent club coaches all along, who provided us with our 'raw material.' However, Bela Karolyi had halted other coaches' access to the national teams, because he was completely in charge. I opened the door to them and relied much on other coaches. I only wanted one thing: To demonstrate that there was more to Romanian gymnastics than Nadia and Bela. I don't know whether I succeeded, but I do know that my girls were less tormented than Nadia."

Yep, the man said "tormented."

Bela Karolyi (photo: Gazeta Sporturilor)

Then there's this bit:

Evenimentul Zilei: "Was life at the Deva center as tough as they say?"
Adrian Goreac: "You could say it was a soldierly regime, but the girls knew that and accepted it. [Note: We think he's talking about his own term as head coach here, not Karolyi's.] Romanian gymnastics began to slip after Bela Karolyi. Don't get me wrong, I don't envy him, but he was tough, a dictator. He wasn't a specialist, but I've always admired him for his incredible drive, workwise. He was a success because he had an exception: Nadia. I won't lie to you, I also shouted at the girls and sometimes gave them a parental slap, but only when I caught them trafficking wine, cigarettes, etc. I abhor violence and never hit any gymnast for a mistake she made in the gym. But one way or another, on top of [Karolyi's] perseverance and hard work, there was talk of brutishness, which here and there is still going on today."

(Goreac uses a very strong word for "brutishness": bestialitate.)

Evenimentul Zilei: "In what respect was Bela Karolyi a dictator?"
Adrian Goreac: "Bela had oligarchic tendencies, because he had tasted power. In the end he could even pick the Securitate officials who accompanied the team on trips abroad! He had connections. He was a friend of Ilie Verdet's [a high-ranking politican of the time, also brother-in-law to Nicolae Ceausescu], with whom he went hunting. He made himself indispensable and built a mob around himself. After Montreal, every country on earth wanted Nadia to come and do exhibitions, but often the money the organizers of such events paid ended up in the pockets of Karolyi and his cronies. Some 20,000 to 30,000 dollars, it was rumored. It went to his head. He would give high-ranking communists instructions, telling them: 'If that doesn't suit you, why don't you come to the gym tomorrow yourself!' He'd fill his Mercedes up at the gas station and tell the assistants to send the bill to the provincial authorities! It infuriated the Securitate. When Bela felt that things were getting complicated, he stayed in the United States, with a suitcase full of money from the the tour they were on. He'd gotten scared."

This seems to jive with the stories Emilia Eberle and Geza Pozsar just told the Romanian media. The similarities are remarkable.

In a way, even Octavian Belu, no stranger to harsh training methods himself, subtly admitted that something was not entirely right about Karolyi's methods. Asked for a response to Goreac's allegations about Karolyi, the ever diplomatic Belu told Evenimentul Zilei: "Everybody assumes responsibility for his own declarations. I don't want to enter into this controversy. All I want to say is that we have Nadia, and that we owe her to the Karolyis."

We don't know about you, but we read that as a "guilty as charged."

Ecaterina Szabo (photo: Getty Images)

But there's more.

A few months ago, Goreac and Belu's pupil Ecaterina Szabo (1983 world champion on floor and quadruple gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics) also had some unkind words to say about the Karolyis. In an interview with the Romanian magazine Fanatik, Szabo, who as a promising junior was on the American tour from which the Karolyis defected, had this to say about the man with whom she briefly trained before becoming a star: "We were still in America in 1981 when the Karolyis stayed behind. I remember that we returned to Romania on April 1, 1981, and I was so happy on the plane that I'd escaped them! We partied so hard that the flight attendants were no match for us and I believed the plane might crash with us aboard. I'll never forget the slaps in the face and the beatings I got from Bela Karolyi!"

She doesn't go into detail, but there's no mistaking that last sentence.

(If anyone is interested in the whole Szabo interview, let us know and we'll translate it.)

However, until Emilia Eberle and Geza Pozsar's allegations, the most damning indictment of the Karolyis came courtesy of Rodica Dunca, who represented Romania at the 1979 and 1981 World Championships and the 1980 Olympics. We couldn't find the original interview, which we believe was published by ProSport in 2002, but we found excerpts of it reproduced in a Romanian blog. Translated, they read as follows:

Asked by the journalist whether Karolyi's methods were tough, Dunca answered, "I think 'tough' isn't the right word when you're lucky if you escape with merely a beating. Some days we were beaten until the blood streamed out of our noses. Hunger was our eternal enemy."

Rodica Dunca and Nadia Comaneci in 1983, two years after the Karolyis defected. They looked considerably happier then than they had before. (Photo: Tom Theobald)

The blog continues: And then she tells shocking stories, with revelations about girls fleeing from training camps and Securitate officials arresting 13- and 14-year-old girls in stations, forcing them to go back to the "prison" in Deva. About the threats they received on their return to Deva: That if they ever tried to escape again, their parents would suffer for it. We hear how Nadia Comaneci hid in an unused toilet for three days because she was so afraid of her coach. But the most frightening passage in Rodica Dunca's confessions is this:

"Because of hunger, we often put ourselves in extreme situations. And the methods by which they kept us away from food probably could have killed us."

ProSport: "What were those methods?"
Rodica Dunca: "I remember that in 1979, before the Fort Worth World Championships, Nadia was a few pounds too heavy. We were on a training camp in Germany. Geza Pozsar, our choregrapher, and Bela Karolyi slept in our room with us. In front of the door to the toilet. When we needed to go to the toilet, we had to pee with the door open."

ProSport: "Why?"
Rodica Dunca: "They were afraid that we'd somehow drink water. But we'd go into the bathroom, do what we had to do and wait a while before flushing the toilet. We'd climb onto the toilet with a glass in our hands and drink from the overhead cistern. That's how we drank our fill."

ProSport: "You could have gotten some disease that way."
Rodica Dunca: "That didn't matter. The same thing happened when we took a shower. They kept an eye on us, and we weren't allowed to raise our chins, so we couldn't ingest any water."

ProSport: "What did you eat before competitions?"
Rodica Dunca: "In the morning we'd get one slice of salami, two nuts, and a glass of milk. In the evening we'd get the same menu, only without the nuts."

ProSport: "Did you ever eat to your heart's content?"
Rodica Dunca: "Only twice in my career as a gymnast."

ProSport: "Just twice?"
Rodica Dunca: "No, actually, there was a third time. We were at an exhibition in Spain. One time we left the hotel. I don't know why the coaches weren't around at the time. At a few meters' distance from the building there was a field of strawberries. We all swooped down on them like termites and ate as many strawberries as we wanted. But it came out later, because the owner of the strawberries made a scene at the hotel."

ProSport: "Did you ever suffer any serious health problems?"
Rodica Dunca: "Many times. Broken feet, a broken shoulder, among other things. I remember that when we began to menstruate, the assistant took us to her office and gave us an injection. The injection probably contained hormones, because after that, I didn't menstruate for almost two years. The same thing happened to the other girls."

Rodica Dunca (photo: Tom Theobald)

ProSport: "What kind of pills did you take?"
Rodica Dunca: "We didn't actually take any pills ourselves; they practically shoved them down our throats! The assistant would stand next to everyone to make sure we swallowed the pills. In the morning we'd get 14 pills, for lunch we'd get 20 pills and 4 little envelopes full of powder, and in the evening we'd get 10 pills. I still don't know what kind of pills they were, but after I left gymnastics, I had problems."

ProSport: What kind of problems?
Rodica Dunca: "I was dependent on them, and afterwards I was forced to buy [the pills] for another year. The pharmacist crossed himself when he saw how much I could ingest."

So there you have it. Add all these quotes to the stories told by Emilia Eberle and Geza Pozsar, and you should have enough material for a serious investigation, we should think.

Not that we're holding our breath.