Sandra Izbasa: If I look back on my career, there is more success than failure.

In a recent interview with Observatorul Militar, Sandra talked about the 2012 Olympic vault final, McKayla Maroney,  how she prepares for competition, the reason behind her mistake on floor, her future plans and the relationship with Bellu and Bitang. Here is what she said.

Sandra, McKayla Maroney fell during the Olympic vault final although she was the favorite to win the title. After winning gold you said something to her, what was it?

– I told her she shouldn´t feel sorry for having won silver. She will definitely win gold in Rio because she is the best vaulter in the world.

How can you explain what happened to her?

– She was just overwhelmed. I remember seeing her come back from the training gym and thinking she looked different. Both the coaches and the public had put a lot of pressure on her by telling her she had to win on and on, that she was the best…Ok, this is the American style, that´s how they encourage each other but I think that, at 16, she didn´t have enough experience to be able to handle such pressure. She probably looked at the competition the wrong way and everything went the other way around.

Did you ever experience something like this?

– I don´t think so. I´ve always been very careful with every step I have taken. I always did what I felt was best, regardless of what my coaches were saying, I adapted that to what actually happens in competition.

All the medals are valuable but the 2 Olympic golds (floor – Beijing and vault – London) are precious to me. You work as hard for them as for the others but the Olympics is the best the sport has to offer. I care about all the medals equally anyway.

How do you keep calm? Everyone is looking at you, the public expects so much of you…

– I was raised that way. I´ve always wanted my work and effort to be repaid. I never could stand leaving the gym with my head down. Not getting the results I expected would only motivate me more. You also have bad days, moments of doubt…But if I look back on my career, there is more success than failure.

What goes through your mind before performing a routine? When you have chalk in your hands…

– I don´t think of anything specific, I don´t go through my routine because I already have it in mind. When you think too much, things don´t go well. The clearer your mind is, the better. There are moments when I sing. This is how I break free of the tension and let my subconscious work. This is a strategy that has most often worked for me.

What do you sing?

– Whatever comes to mind, there is no particular song. It can just be a melody, not necessarily with lyrics. I relax and concentrate at the same time. I can´t really explain it, you just have to feel it.

I remember London and those last seconds on floor, your hesitation. How can you explain that?

– My muscles just stopped working. I hadn´t eaten much and I was losing weight. I couldn´t eat or drink much, I had stomach problems. I think what happened was a combination of dehydration and stress. It is difficult to be in a competition during a period of 2 weeks. Maybe things would have been different if we had had only 1 week, including that final performance. All the stress and pressure led to my fall on floor but I´m not sorry for that. Floor is still my favorite apparatus but I´m extremely happy to have won a medal I wasn´t expecting.

I compare what happened to you on floor with Alina Dumitru´s Olympic final. She stated that the fact that she knew she already had a medal led to her relaxing more than necessary.

– Sports are different and the level of concentration differs from one person to another. I didn´t relax, my muscles just didn´t work. I tried really hard to pull it together but it just wasn´t meant to be…

My club, Steaua, helped me tremendously, even in my most difficult moments. I want to thank those who work for this club, I am glad to have picked it. I wouldn´t move for the world.

Let´s put the Olympics aside and look beyond the gym. Some years ago you said you wanted a tree…

– Yes, I told someone I wanted a house, a tree and a family. These are man´s greatest achievements. Why did I want a tree? Because it grows and matures at the same time as you.

Did you get to plant one?

– Yes. OK, it was part of an action at Izvorani, but they gave me a branch instead of a tree. So, it got broken. I tried to protect it, take care of it but after a rough winter, it broke…I felt bad but there is still time, I like planting trees. I will definitely plant more.

Knowing how to get over difficult moments in your career is very important. I´m thinking about the injury I had right before the Olympics. You have to analyze everything and decide what your priorities are. The moment to retire will surely come one day.

Have you taken any decision on your future career?

– Not yet. I want to keep healthy until the end of the year to be able to attend some galas. I am and will be training for that, but I don´t know what next year will bring. I want to take it one step at a time, plans just don´t work out for me for some reason.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

– I barely know what I will be doing tomorrow, I can´t see so far into the future.

What would you like?

– I clearly have to do something. I probably won´t go into coaching, although I will keep supporting the gymnasts. I spent 19 years in the gym so I don´t think this is where I will want to be.

How do you see Bellu and Bitang?

– They are very passionate about what they do and they know how to guide you on your path. Mr. Bellu is a very good psychologist, he knows how to make you perform at your highest level. Mrs. Bitang is strict but this is a successful strategy. You can see and feel it.

Are you allowed to have chocolate?

– I can have everything I want…I am aware I need to eat fruit and vegetables but I don´t do that so often. I´m not on a diet either. I went through puberty well – as that is when your body is in a transformation stage and you have to be careful with what and how much you eat – and my weight is stable now.

Do you think you would give up sport if you body suffered?

– No, I just had a month off and I came back even thinner than before. I know what I want to do and what I want to eat. I know what I need.

Original interview from “Observatorul militar” here.