December 18, 2008

One More Sandra Izbasa Interview to Finish Things Off

Here's the other Sandra Izbasa article we promised you a few days ago, this time from the Romanian magazine Flacara (The Flame). It's a long article, but very interesting - well worth the read.

Quick summary for those of you who don't have time to read the whole thing: Sandra suffered a serious injury before Beijing, hates Romanian folk music, used to be into rollerblading, and intends to go on until the 2012 Olympics. Needless to say we're very happy to hear the latter piece of news. Find out the rest for yourself below!

(photo: Reuters)

Sandra Izbasa, Romania's Golden Gymnast

She walks on the beam as if it were a road, and when she has to perform a floor exercise, she does it like a true maestro. At first sight she looks like a frail girl, but in reality she's quite strong, somehow capable of focusing on what she has to do and seeing a routine through to the end, even when she is injured.

This year, at the Beijing Olympics, she showed the whole world that she is the queen of the floor, obtaining the Olympic gold medal. Sandra Raluca Izbasa dreams of gold at the 2009 Worlds and promises to take part in the 2012 Olympics.

We visited Sandra Izbasa at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Complex at Izvorani, where she had just finished training. It was just before she went to Japan to compete at the Toyota Cup, where she was to take first place on floor and second place on beam. She was taking driving lessons under the guidance of the head coach of the national team, Nicolae Forminte.

Open-hearted, calm and friendly, Sandra spoke to us about herself, about the rigors of the life of a champion, and about how to do a piked full-in and a tucked one, a triple turn, a 2.5 twist followed by a full twist, a 1.5 twist backward followed by a 1.5 twist forward, a full-twisting split leap, and a triple twist.

So many turns, so many rotations, all without getting confused, without getting dizzy. "When I learned my first difficult elements at age seven, I would get dizzy, because I didn't really know how to rotate, but at the time I was only experimenting. Now we know exactly how to land and how to avoid problems that may arise while we're in the air. That means hard work, repetitions and technique. Now I never feel dizzy anymore," Sandra stated.

(photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Sandra also needs choreography for her floor routine (her favorite event, followed by beam). This is where choreographer Valer Puia comes in, but also Sandra herself. "Mr. Puia is the one who suggests the music, but I'm the one who decides whether it's OK for me and whether I can perform a routine to that particular tune. If not, I tell him to make small adjustments, either because it's too slow, or because it's too dynamic. Mr. Puia and I created the floor exercise I performed at the Olympics together. He came up with ideas, so did I. My father used to take piano lessons, and I think I've inherited some of his ear for music. Only I chose to focus more on gymnastics."

From the time of our interview until the end of 2008, Sandra will have had to compete in three more international competitions (on top of the one in Japan) - in Italy, Spain and Belgium. She will only compete in individual competitions, on floor and beam.

Sandra first set foot in a gym in 1994, at Bucharest's Steaua club, when she was four years old. Since then, gymnastics has become her second nature. Her first coaches were Eliza Stoica, Elena Ceampelea, Angela Cacovean, Mariana Ristea, G. Neagu and M. Vintila.

On top of gymnastics, Sandra played handball for a while, but the dice rolled in favor of gymnastics. The results she has obtained so far prove that she made the right choice. "People who say that you lose your childhood if you practice sport all the time are wrong. I don't know how many children have had the opportunity to see as many countries as I have, least of all at my age. When I was young, I had time to train, to go to school and to play. Later, when I grew older, I obviously didn't have so much time to go out with the other kids anymore. But all in all, I had a great childhood," says Sandra Izbasa.

In 2003, Sandra joined the national junior team at Onesti. In 2005, she joined the national team at Deva.

So how are the routines she does created?

"On beam, for instance, Mrs. Liliana Cosma and I have put together a set of required and highly rated artistic and technical elements. We have a whole series of technical words that normal people don't understand. For example, when I say that I'm going to do a 540 with a 540, it means I'm going to do a 1.5 rotation [twist] backward followed by a 1.5 rotation forward. A switch leap is a split leap in which you open up, and a wolf jump is a jump with one bent knee and one straight knee," the gymnast explains enthusiastically.

(photo: Reuters)

What does a day in the life of the girl who brought numerous victories to Romanian gymnastics at a time when naysayers were questioning the quality of the new generation of gymnasts that had emerged after Catalina Ponor look like?

"I get up, I'm weighed, I have breakfast, and I go to school from 8.00am to 10.15am. Then we train, eat, sleep, train and get treatment [massage and physical therapy] if we need it. Then we sleep. I like school. I especially enjoy Romanian literature, history, geography and English. English is very useful to me. When I was young, I took German lessons, but since we don't have German lessons in Deva, I'm taking French lessons instead." Next year she'll sit her exams: Sport (practice and theory), English, Romanian, geography, and history.

"I want to go to the National Academic of Physical Education and Sport, but I'd like to study something else as well. I haven't made up my mind about my second course yet. Anyhow, until then, I'll focus on next year's World Championships, and obviously, I'd like to make it to the 2012 London Olympics."

Gymnastics doesn't only mean hard work and success. Often it means tears of pain following injuries, when you realize that you're capable of more, but can't continue your fight for a medal because of some stupid accident. Sandra Izbasa has not been spared such moments. She suffered a few of them over the last year, before the Olympics.

"I was having a very difficult time. I went from one injury to the next. First I had problems with my foot, then with my back. I injured my foot because I was training without properly having warmed up. My foot was in a cast for two months, after which I had three weeks to come back and compete at the Worlds. After the World Championships, I had a short break, and after that I had to start working hard again. I also had back problems, so bad that I had to stop training for two and half months. At the European Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, this year, I took gold on floor and with the team, and bronze on beam. So I came back strongly. I got injured in the beam final, when I banged my two feet together, which resulted in a small fracture. My parents and coaches encouraged me and told me not to give up, that I could get through the Olympics. I never allowed myself to be affected by the voices that said: 'Sandra is injured, she cannot be counted on.' Maybe I sometimes gave the impression that I was about to give up, but that wasn't the case. I don't give up easily. I kept telling myself: 'I am, am, am capable of more!' I'm a fighter. I'm not interested in the bad things people say. Even though many people felt others would shine at the Olympics, I just minded my own work and kept on fighting for a medal," Sandra Izbasa recounts.

(photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Beyond her sufferings and her happiness about her success, Sandra is an 18-year-old girl (she turned eighteen on June 18) with many dreams, aspirations and ideals. In her spare time she listens to music, takes walks, surfs the web, reads and never has time to get bored.

"I listen to all kinds of music, except manele [gypsy-inspired folk ballads]. I'm allergic to those. They make me break out in boils!" She laughs. "I listen to dance, R&B, rock, rock ballads, hip hop and, generally, every tune I like. I don't really have a favorite band. Sometimes I like one song by a band, but not the rest of their album, so I'm going by individual songs rather than by bands in general. When I have time, I read magazines. At the moment I'm reading The Law of Attraction by Kate Corbin, about wisdom. Obviously I also read Cosbuc and Eminescu [Romania's most famous poets], but partly because I have to do so at school, because I'm sitting my exams this year. I don't really have time to watch movies. Sometimes I like to go shopping when I'm in Bucharest, but only if I can get someone to come with me, because I don't like to go shopping on my own."

Back in the old days, one would occasionally come across Sandra on rollerblades in Herastrau [a large park in Bucharest], but these days she doesn't have time for that. She doesn't visit her grandparents very often anymore either, not because she doesn't want to, but because she simply doesn't have time anymore.

These days Sandra gets recognized in the street. "Just after the Olympics a lot of people recognized me in the street. It made me happy, but also a little embarrassed. I realize that people now look at me a bit differently. It calls for different behaviour. The whole world now looks at what Izbasa is doing, so I have to be careful about what I say and do. I also have to pay attention to how I behave in the gym, because the younger girls now look up to me as a role model."

Sandra doesn't worry about not having a boyfriend. "It's no use having a boyfriend now. Especially since I spend a lot of time in Deva and this is not the right time. I want to be a child for a bit longer and to take pleasure in everything I do. My time for a boyfriend will come later."

Her girlfriends are mostly teammates from Deva with whom she laughs off bad times and has an excellent time.

She stays in touch with her old school friends from Bucharest on line. She also stays in touch with the friend she made in Beijing, Cheng Fei, who was the first person to congratulate her after her floor routine at the Olympics.

(photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Just to confirm the latter, it seems Sandra spends a bit of time on Facebook. Her list of Facebook friends reads like a veritable Who's Who of gymnastics. Check back every now and then and you'll see she's befriended the entire gymnastics community. One more reason to love the girl!


  1. thanks so much for this article.. sandra is so sweet =D

  2. You're welcome! Glad you enjoyed it. We agree - Sandra is the best!

  3. "I listen to all kinds of music, except Romanian folk music." She said she dosen't like 'manele' not muzica populara (romanian folk music). Manelele (Nistor's fav. music) are sing by gypsie artists so this has nothing to do with romanian folk music...

  4. Anonymous, thanks for your explanation. For what it's worth, we do know what "manele" are; we just struggled to find the right translation. We felt "gypsy music" sounded a bit "strong" and racist. Also, as far as we know, "manele" are popular songs with ethnic (gypsy) elements, but not necessarily outright gypsy music. Aren't some "manele" sung by people who aren't gypsies themselves, but just like that style of music? Anyhow, we'll add the word "gypsy" in the translation to distinquish this type of music from "real" Romanian folk music, but we're not sure "gypsy music" is entirely the right translation. Does "gypsy-inspired folk ballads" work for you?

    So Steliana likes this kind of music? Must have driven Sandra mad!

  5. Stela likes what Sandra hates? Lol! That is too cute! Imagine Sandra wanting to turn Stela's music off!

    Cheng and Izbasa communicating? That's so sweet!

  6. Anonymous, we were entertained by the idea of Sandra groaning at Stela's music as well. It's a good thing the two of them didn't share a room at Deva, or things could have turned ugly!

    That said, Sandra probably did hear a few too many "manele" at Stela's hands, or she probably wouldn't have made that remark in the interview. :)