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Octavian Bellu: I´m still the same school teacher I was when I first started.

Here´s Octavian Bellu´s recent interview for observatorulph.ro. in which he discusses his objectives, what it means to be a coach, the offers to train in other countries and the current situation of sport in Romania. He also remembers his early time as a coach in native Ploiesti and giving his name to the local gym.

Cătălin Stavri: Hello Mr Bellu, thanks for allowing us to be here. We’d like you to tell us a little bit about the gymnastics achievements.

Octavian Bellu: There’s a lot to say. Especially at the Olympics, gymnastics, together with other important sports, remains a pillar for the Romanian delegation. As usual, everyone expects gymnastics to come back with as many medals as possible, the same happens with every sport that can bring medals. We are trying to maintain a high standard in what we do, to represent our country at the Europeans and especially at the World Championships, where we have the qualification for the Olympics. We hope that, beyond the usual issues like small injuries which prevent gymnasts from training, we can put together a competitive team for London, which is our main target. I’ve always considered the other competitions as stages, I’ve given them their own place but they are not my first objective. There is always something left to do, to complete, to perfect so that you can perform well at the most important competition. As everyone knows, it doesn’t matter how many World or European medals you have, even if they are gold medals – if you don’ have an Olympic one, your career as a coach is not where you want it to be. For athletes, this is even more important as their career will not shine as much as they would want it to.

Cătălin Stavri: You come from Ploiesti as well, maybe Ploiesti will also find a champion…

Octavian Bellu: I want you to know that Ploiesti has had an important gymnast at almost every Olympics. To name a few, Mariana Constantin, Elena Ciampelea, Aura Anghel, Elisabeta Turcu, a number of great gymnasts from our European, World or Olympic teams, the most recent one being Corina Ungureanu. So Ploiesti cannot complain that it lacks results in women gymnastics. I saw the Ploiesti gym a couple of weeks ago and even though it’s small, it’s nice and fully equipped. I hope no one will turn it into a parking lot, as I’ve hears some rumors about that. A gym with such history cannot disappear like this, with only a promise that some day another gym will take its place in some other unmentioned spot. As we all know, when a gym disappears it takes a decade or two until somebody else thinks about building another one. The gym has special features, you can only use it for gymnastics, so if we have it, let’s keep it. It would be such a waste…Football is important for Ploiesti, but so is gymnastics and I hope that this town will send more gymnasts to the Olympic team in the future. We know that Ploiesti has great history, with many famous names like Nichita Stanescu, Caragiale and we are proud of this. But we also need to think about the future. Ploiesti needs a representative from the current generation in every area: culture, art, sport.

Cătălin Stavri: I’m sure your message will be heard and maybe, in the future, they will change the name tag on the gym and spell Bellu correctly, with two l.

Octavian Bellu: I don’t really like this kind of things, to customize these places with the name of a person…and I don’t mean to be a hypocrite. I think I’ve done my job well, I went from being the Valea Calugareasca sports teacher to train the Romanian team but as I’ve already said a numerous times, I’m still the same sports teacher I was back then. All the medals, achievements, “glory”, top coach in the world and all that have not changed me, have not made me feel I am the center of the world and that I haven’t anything else to learn. For me, this is the biggest mistake you can make. I keep learning, I learn from a coach with does not have great results but manages to solve issues that I would have trouble with. Not having everything, all the necessary facilities makes their imagination work better. I think that beyond the calling you need to have to be a coach, you need to be consistent, serious…you cannot ask this from the kids if you don’t ask it first from yourself and demonstrate that you are capable of this. Beyond being consistent, you also need to be patient, emotionally balanced as you are working with kids and you need to find a direct, easy way to communicate with them. You cannot show them theories or try to impress with the amount of information you know or use difficult words. You must find a way to their heart and communicate with them for better or for worse; then kids start trusting you and half of the path to success is already there. The rest is a lot of work, sweat, resistance to monotony and even pain when injuries come in. This is how results are achieved.

Maybe not wanting to compromise led to having to give up training the team when I believed that one step toward compromise leads to even more steps. This is why I gave up being the President of the Sports National Agency; I had a different view on how sport should be managed in Romania.

Cătălin Stavri: You also refused offers from other countries….

Octavian Bellu: I refused them from personal reasons; I’d rather be the trainer of the World or Olympics Champion or the trainer of exceptional gymnasts than be a rich trainer in some other country with a nice car and a nice house. I wouldn’t have had the satisfaction of achieving results. There you first have to make some money for yourself; the coaches are the owners of the gym as well, they have a large number of kids that pay to be able to do gymnastics and a collateral area with one or two gymnasts that can really achieve results. But their primary objective is to make money, so they have a number of gyms with many kids that come and pay. It’s business….and if they find a couple of talented gymnasts, then they give up this money to stimulate them. Because of our economic and social situation, we cannot ask money from gymnasts. We cannot create private clubs yet, you would lose gymnasts because their families would not afford them. We previously had scholarships but they disappeared and you cannot motivate these kids anymore, especially since gymnastics requires continuous training, so you must also provide housing and food, and you need money for this.

Cătălin Stavri: Are young people as attracted to sport as they were 20 years ago?

Octavian Bellu: I think that young people have many more options now. If before the 90s you couldn’t do anything that would take you out of the country…if you remember, you had to play an instrument, to be in a band or to do sport, there was nothing else. After the 90s, this motivation disappeared because now costs are lower, frontiers are open…think about how many Romanians we had in Sao Paolo at Romania’s game with Brazil, we are everywhere. For kids, there are 2 issues: our lack of sport education, we are not the Japanese, Norwegians, Germans, where sport is normal, it’s something like eating and sleeping. This is their education. We are more bohemian, less willing to make an effort, but we complain about kids not practicing sports and being obese. We complain about the lack of money, lack of gyms and the difference in mentality, we blame the TV, PCs but never ourselves. We’ve never taken a stand on this, never campaigned against it, there have been only separate movements like basketball…Analysts are always surprised that we complain of lack of gyms when in the past our results were obtained without an infrastructure like the one other countries have. You cannot explain now why we have only one Swimming Olympic Champion when we had Diana Mocanu, two times Olympic Champion training in the same same pool in Braila. It’s the same pool! We will have 50 pools, 50 gyms and all of them empty. If you don’t have a number of kids coming to compete…not even compete, just do some sport, move….the situation is bad. The hours you used to spend at school doing sports are now very few. We keep discussing this, but we don’t have the spirit to practice sport after school, we like being comfortable, we don’t look for talented kids anymore, we wait for them to come in. The motivation is not there, the crisis touches sports also, we cannot have long terms projects anymore. Everything bad in our economy was blamed on the gyms that were built. Ok, they built a skating arena in Brasov that cost a lot of money, we must review this every time: why what we build is more expensive. The real problem is that these gyms were built in far away areas; you had to walk 10 km to get there. So they were used for something else. (…)

Cătălin Stavri I would like you to send a message to the young people, the kids and the parents that are watching right now.

Octavian Bellu: Ok, I want to say hello to everyone in Ploiesti, I hope that Petrolul will stay in the first football league and will make the town proud. It will also need financial support for this. For parents, for young people, for my fellow teachers: don’t let anything be an obstacle, use your calling as teachers and coaches, be consistent in knocking on doors, involving as many people as possible. On your own you are like Don Quijote, someone who tries to do something when the priorities are completely different. Sport is not a priority, it is a necessity. It is as necessary as water and air, our body was made to move. When it doesn’t, then we have obesity problems, kids with health issues at a very early age, with depression or going into drugs. Let’s try to support a long term national plan than can exploit the talent Romanians have, because they do have it. And let’s put Romania on the map of World sport, where Pataichin, Nadia, Gatu, Ilie Nastase placed it; and be a serious competition partner…. Let’s understand that our health depends on how much we keep our body in movement, simple sport activities that don’t require money. Just running, riding the bike, simple things that you can see anywhere in Asia…old people, listening to music, doing simple movements that help their body keep fit.

Original interview in Romanian here.