October 30, 2008

Hambüchen and Izbaşa Win Arthur Gander Memorial

Sandra Izbaşa has won the first of the five competitions in which she is slated to compete this post-Olympic season: the Arthur Gander Memorial, an annual event held in Chiasso, Switzerland. The Gander Memorial has a unique format: female gymnasts only compete on three events of their choice, while male competitors get to pick their four favorite events.

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Competing on vault (14.000), beam (15.1000) and floor (15.200), Izbaşa amassed 44.300 points in Chiasso, holding off German über-veteran Oksana Chusovitina, who competed on the same three events and obtained 15.000 on vault, 14.800 on beam, and 14.200 on floor for a 44.000 total. He Ning of China placed third with a 43.550 total which included a rather sloppy bar routine (by Chinese standards). Rounding out the field were Ariella Kaeslin, Ksenia Afanasyeva, Yasmin Zimmermann, and Lia Parolari.

According to the DTB site, Germany's Marie-Sophie Hindermann had to withdraw from the competition due to an Achilles tendon injury which will also prevent her from competing before a home crowd at the DTB Cup.

The men's title went to Fabian Hambüchen, the first German to win the competition. Aside from the overall title, the high bar specialist obtained the highest scores on each of the individual events on which he chose to compete: high bar (16.000), floor (15.250), vault (16.150) and parallel bars (15.600). According to the DTB site, Hambüchen unveiled a new routine on high bar featuring both a layout and a tucked Kovacs (7.1 start value).

Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

As in the ladies' competition, the men's all-around silver went to a veteran: Bulgarian Jordan Jovchev (61.450). Russia's Maksim Devyatovsky ranked third with a 60.650 total.

October 29, 2008

Sandra's Hellish Schedule

Once upon a time, November and December were when gymnasts recovered from their year's efforts. Sure, a few competitions were held toward the end of the year (notably the Chunichi Cup and the DTB Cup), but by and large, gymnasts used November and December (as well as January and February) to recuperate and learn new skills and/or routines. And then the bunch of crazy people known collectively as the FIG introduced the Grand Prix cycle, and the competitive year just became a bit longer and more exhausting for certain gymnasts.

Photo: Xinhua

Take Sandra Izbaşa, for instance. Did you think she'd rest on her laurels after winning that Olympic gold medal on floor? Hell, no. According to ProSport, Izbaşa has just announced that she'll participate in five more competitions this year: the Arthur Gander Memorial and Swiss Cup in Switzerland, the Toyota Cup in Japan, the Milan Grand Prix in Italy, and the World Cup Final in Spain. These competitions will be held on October 29, November 2, November 15, November 22, and December 12, respectively, meaning Izbasa will be competing until the second half of December. She herself is the first to admit it's all a bit much: "I'll have a hellish schedule. But I'm not afraid, as I've done series of competitions before, and besides I've got plenty of rest [since the Olympics]. It's time to show that my place is in the competition arena. Moreover, I'll do floor, the event on which I feel great, and possibly also beam, depending on what scores I get."

So why is she putting herself through such a demanding schedule? "I long for the audience, for the competition arena, for everyone who will be there watching me. I long to make every leap count. But mostly I long to compete, to feel the rhythm of the music, to work as hard as I can and to hear the applause afterwards."

Apparently, Izbaşa will be the only one representing Romania at the aforementioned competitions. National team coach Nicolae Forminte was quoted by ProSport as saying, "Tămîrjan and Drăgoi are still recovering, and Sandra was the only one who was sufficiently prepared to honor the invitations from the Grand Prix events. Grigore has sprained her ankle, and the other girls are struggling to find their motivation."

Ah well. Best of luck to Izbaşa, then. And to all those Romanian national team members who are apparently struggling to find their motivation. Ahem.

October 23, 2008

The Moroccan Won't Give Up...

You'd think Marian Dragulescu would be a bit depressed after all the bad press he's had over the last few weeks (see here and here). You'd be wrong, though. The Moroccan, as Dragulescu is known in Romania, is feeling great. So great, in fact, that he may well reconsider his decision to retire from competitive gymnastics.


ProSport reports that Dragulescu is doing extremely well in the German Bundesliga, where he represents KTV Straubenhardt, Fabian Hambüchen's club. In the club's first three competitions, Dragulescu competed on floor and vault, obtaining the league's top scores on the latter event: 16.500 in the first two competitions, and 16.300 in the third one. "I feel incredible," Dragulescu told ProSport. "The last two competitions were attended by 1,500 spectators. This Saturday I'll also compete on my third apparatus, high bar. I want to help the team win the national title, because they believed in me and asked me to come and join their team."

Dragulescu is doing so well in the Bundesliga that he'd like to continue his career on the Romanian team, despite his earlier announcement that he would retire. "I've discussed it with the Federation people, and they've told me they're awaiting my decision. In December, after the last Bundesliga competition, I'll know for sure." He went on to say, "I'm having trouble retiring. I live for this sport. If it were up to me, I'd stick around for a few more years, but we'll see how it goes. Right now I'm feeling great, so I've told myself I can go on for a bit longer."

According to ProSport, Dragulescu is not actually living in Germany at the moment. He continues to train twice a day with his former teammates at the Lia Manoliu gym in Bucharest, and flies to Germany every weekend to compete for KTV Straubenhardt.

October 20, 2008

Yang Yilin Wins Chinese Nationals

Despite a fall from beam, Yang Yilin won the all-around title at this weekend's Chinese Nationals, held in the northeastern city of Qingdao. It was the second national championship of the year following last spring's team championships.

According to Sports.Sohu, Yang edged out He Ning for the all-around title, 59.15-59.10. Ranking third was junior Chen Chuyan. Yang later added a bronze medal on bars, where she stumbled on her dismount. He Ning was more successful in the event finals, winning silver medals on both bars and floor.

AA winners, from left to right: He Ning, Yang Yilin, Chen Chuyan. Doesn't Yang look great in that black leo?

Many stars were missing from the championships. There was no sign of Li Shanshan, Zhang Nan, Pang Panpan, Zhou Zhuoru or Sui Lu. Xiao Sha was there and competing, but looked to be suffering from a bad cold. Deng Linlin only competed on beam, Jiang Yuyuan only on floor. Both were successful on their one event. Cheng Fei won vault with two relatively easy vaults and took the bronze on floor after going out of bounds on one of her passes. Judging from the photos of the event, Cheng has been taking it easy since the Olympics. She looked distinctly chubby in Qingdao. Then again, she was rumored to be on a very strict diet prior to the Olympics. Can't blame the girl for easing up a bit afterwards...

Cheng Fei in Qingdao (photos: Sports.Sohu)

Results of the event finals, held October 17-19:
1. Cheng Fei 15.137
2. Deng Shaojie 14.662
3. (tie) Shi Xiaopeng, Huang Xiaoying 14.400

Uneven bars
1. He Kexin 16.800
2. He Ning
3. Yang Yilin

Balance beam
1. (tie) Deng Linlin, Xiao Sha, Guo Wei 15.700

Floor exercise
1. Jiang Yuyuan 15.425
2. He Ning 15.050
3. Cheng Fei 14.875

October 19, 2008

Spotlight: Sanne Wevers

This weekend's Glasgow Grand Prix wasn't particularly well attended on the women's side. One of the relatively unknown gymnasts who managed to stand out in a positive way was Holland's Sanne Wevers, who won both the UB and BB finals. Wevers also qualified for the floor final, but a fall on her double pike opening pass and a step out of bounds on another pass prevented her from medaling.

Photo from Wevers' website

Sanne Wevers was born on September 17, 1991, and is coached by her father, Vincent. She also has a twin sister who is a very good gymnast, Lieke. At the 2008 Dutch national championships, Sanne placed second all-around behind Suzanne Harmes, while Lieke ranked third. Both sisters train at Bosan TON in Almelo, a club which has recently produced a string of quality gymnasts. Two members of Holland's bronze-medal-winning team at the 2008 Junior Europeans, Wyomi Masela and Yvette Moshage, hail from Bosan TON, as does Wyomi's elder sister Tahnee, who has been a member of the Dutch senior squad for some time now. Clearly the club is going to be a dominant force on the Dutch scene for the next few years.

Vincent Wevers: Holland's next super coach?

Sanne Wevers is best known for her beam routine, which features two double turns, one regular, the other with the left leg raised horizontally. Thanks to her beautiful beam routine (which currently has a 6.4 start value), Wevers made the beam final at the 2008 Cottbus, Tianjin and Maribor Grand Prix events before finally taking the gold in Glasgow. We have a feeling we'll be seeing a bit more of her in beam finals from now on.

Click here to view Wevers' gold-medal-winning performance at the Glasgow Grand Prix, including her two trademark double turns!

October 18, 2008

Dutch Rule at Glasgow

In the absence of the Russians, Romanians, Chinese, Japanese, and Americans, it was the Dutch who took away most of the medals at Saturday's Glasgow Grand Prix. Sanne Wevers won a fall-riddled uneven bars final before claiming another gold on her strongest event, beam. In the men's finals, Yuri van Gelder proved he's still a force to be reckoned with (and really should have been at the Beijing Olympics) with the gold on rings. Van Gelder's success was all the more remarkable since it came hot on the heels of a six-week vacation. We're guessing that old adage about even one day away from the gym horribly affecting one's performance isn't true for everyone, then.

Yuri van Gelder won the Glasgow still rings final despite a six-week break from training (photo: AP)

The women's vault title went to Hungary's Dorina Boczogo, who only needed a full-twisting Yurchenko and handspring-piked front to net the gold. The floor final was won by the competition's top-ranked female athlete, Ukraine's Alina Kozich, who showed a relatively easy but nicely choreographed and well-presented routine.

The men's competition had a better lineup. Israel's Alexander Shatilov won an exciting floor final, beating top favorite Diego Hypolito. Hungary's Krisztian Berki emerged victorious in a fall-riddled pommel horse final. France's Thomas Bouhail won an excellent vault final, showing a Tsukahara-double pike and a handspring-double front, while Slovenia's Mitja Petkovsek was unbeatable as usual on parallel bars. The last final, high bar, was won by another Slovenian, Alen Dimic, who beat his highly regarded teammate Aljaz Pegan.

For more details on the competition, we'll refer you to International Gymnast's great report, which can be found here.

October 15, 2008

Family Tragedy for Lavinia Milosovici

Several Romanian newspapers have reported that Lavinia Milosovici's daughter Denisa passed away on October 12. She was four years old and had been suffering from a serious nervous system disorder ever since being born prematurely on March 20, 2004. At the time of her birth, Denisa was given an Apgar score of 1 out of 10, meaning her chances of a healthy survival were extremely limited. She only weighed 1.1 kilos, about three and a half times less than the average baby. In July 2007 she underwent an expensive and experimental operation in Beijing, which was mostly paid for by Romanian sports and business moghul Ion Tiriac. It now appears that the operation was to no avail. Denisa died at home and could not be resuscitated at the local hospital. She was buried in Timisoara yesterday. Milo's former teammates Simona Amanar (Denisa's godmother), Maria Olaru, Andreea Raducan, and Catalina Ponor attended the funeral, as did her former coaches, Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang. The President of Romania, Traian Basescu, sent flowers.


Octavian Belu was quoted by Mediafax as saying, "When I heard this shocking news, my first response was one of horror. I can only speak words of encouragement to Milo, who has sacrificed everything, including her coaching career, to do what little she could do for this child. Milo has lost a child who struggled with life herself, but for her as a mother it's a terrible blow. There is no greater curse for a parent than to lose a child. We can't do anything but give her all our sympathy and pray that she'll put this moment behind her. Personally, I don't think anything will ever erase this tragedy from Milo's life, but maybe the arrival of another child in the family will atenuate the shock of the loss."


We share Belu's shock at hearing the news. For Milo to have given up so much to look after her daughter only to lose her is, well, horrible. We wish her and her husband Cosmin all the best in getting over this terrible loss.

October 10, 2008

Gymnasts Turned Singers

Think Carly Patterson is the only out there trying to make a name for herself as a singer? Think again.

This is 2000 Olympic champion Liu Xuan belting out a tune called "Setting Out", whose chorus translates as, "We'll just go together / We'll just hold hands / Outside it's raining hard again and there's a lot of wind / But you and I will just set out into the world together again..."

Liu Xuan (photo: Sina)

And this is former Romanian national team member Sabina Cojocar singing "I Don't Wanna Lose You" - in English!

Sabina Cojocar (photo: Romaniangymnastics)

Although her English needs a little work, we think Sabina wins this one hands down. You go, girl!

October 3, 2008

More on the Dragulescu Case

The Dragulescu domestic violence scandal appears to be big news in Romania. According to ProSport, both Marian and Larisa have hit the talkshow circuit to tell their versions of the story. Meanwhile, others are weighing in on the scandal. ProSport quotes an anonymous teammate of the former world champion's, who claims trouble in the Dragulescu household had been brewing ever since the beginning of 2007: "At the beginning of 2007, [Marian] changed. He had great trouble concentrating on the elements he had to do, and then there was the accident at the Europeans. After that it seemed like something broke inside of him. He told us he wasn't sure he could handle the situation anymore, that things were getting worse and worse at home, and that he couldn't deal with the arguments with Larisa anymore. He was actually afraid he might do something stupid."

Photo: ProSport

The teammate made it sound like the violence at the Dragulescus' home got quite bad at times, with both parties taking blows: "He often came to the gym covered in scratches and bruises. He was sad and didn't want to talk to us. We all told him to stay single for a while, to get his act together and then to see what to do next, but he told us that his children were the most important thing to him and that he didn't want to do anything to hurt them."

Photo: ProSport

Meanwhile, Newsreport claims money (or rather a lack thereof) was indeed at the heart of the scandal. According to the Romanian website, Dragulescu borrowed heavily from his friends and coaches prior to the Olympics to be able to afford his deaf daughter's €40,000 ($51,000) operation in Vienna, just before the Games. He was confident he would be able to pay his creditors back soon, as the reward for an Olympic gold medal was about €100,000 ($128,000) . Sadly, he then failed to medal in Beijing, thus plunging himself into debt. Seeing his former wife use money raised by well-wishers for his daughter's operation for her own ends, he lost his temper and lashed out.

Dragulescu will soon get the opportunity to forget about the scandal and focus on gymnastics instead. He is about to depart for Germany, where he will take part in a few Bundesliga competitions for KTV Straubenhardt, Fabian Hambüchen's club. Here's hoping his results in Germany will go some way toward restoring his reputation.

October 2, 2008

Marian Dragulescu: The Scandal That Is Rocking Romania

We weren't sure whether to report this story at first, as we greatly respect Marian Dragulescu the athlete and didn't want to impair his reputation any more than we had to. However, since the story is big news in Romania, we decided to go ahead and publish it. Parts of it, anyway.

It appears that Dragulescu's estranged wife Larisa, with whom the vault specialist continued to live together for the love of their children (Beatrice Maria, aged 3, and Richard Alexandru, aged 1) despite having obtained a divorce in March, checked into a hospital a few nights ago with a black eye, claiming that her husband had beaten her up, and not for the first time. The incident resulted in massive headlines in Romania: "Dragulescu, accused of brutally assaulting his wife!" (ProSport), "A champion's blows: Marian Dragulescu beats his wife in front of the children" (Ziua), "Marian Dragulescu assaults his wife" (Mediafax), etc.

Details of the case are now forthcoming. Among other accusations we won't repeat here, Larisa is quoted in ProSport as saying, "He had beaten me before, even when I was pregnant, but this time he kicked me with his foot. After beating me, he said he didn't want me anymore and was going to kick me out of the house with the children. This time I won't forgive him anymore; things have already gone very far. So far I've always forgiven him because I loved him."

The Dragulescus in happier times (photo: ProSport).

According to Mediafax, Marian Dragulescu has admitted to lashing out at his ex-wife after discovering that the latter had spent over half of the money donated by third parties for the treatment of the couple's deaf daughter Beatrice Maria on clothes and shoes. "We had about 75 million lei ($25 million) in our account. Then she went and bought herself shoes, dresses, and boots. I spoke to her about it on Saturday, after which I went to a wedding. When I came back on Sunday, I was very tired and planning to go to bed, but she came to me and started to argue. She really had it in for me, probably because I had gone to the wedding without her. From 9PM to 2:30AM she kept yelling at me. In the end I lost my patience and couldn't bear it anymore. I'm not a violent man and I'm very sorry about what I've done. I was afraid because the children were there, and that's another reason why I'm very sorry," Dragulescu told Mediafax.

According to Mediafax, Dragulescu denies ever having beaten his wife before last week's incident.

For its part, ProSport had another Dragulescu quote: "I regret that it has come to this. It was an out-of-character thing for me to do. I couldn't bear the situation anymore. Every day there were rows and arguments. I acknowledge this mistake - that I gave her a blow with my fist. Aside from that, absolutely none of the things Larisa has said on TV are true. She just wanted to drag my name through the mud, to make me look like the worst man on earth. We couldn't go on anymore, we were at loggerheads all the time."

ProSport also quoted Adrian Stoica, the President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, who said, "I'm shocked. I'm speechless. It's a difficult moment for the Dragulescus and I hope they have the maturity to deal with it in a dignified manner."

To be continued, we expect.