[Exclusive interview] Andreea Răducan: We had neither grips, nor the best infrastructure, yet our passion for this sport and the desire to become champions were great.

Andreea Răducan would really need no introduction. She is an Olympic, World and European champion,  journalist, writer and one of the managers of the Romanian Olympic Foundation. Although she retired from elite gymnastics more than 10 years ago, she is still very much connected to this world and is making a great difference for Romanian gymnastics in her current roles. Romanian Gymnast caught up with Andreea during  the US tour for her autobiographical book ”The Other Side of the Medal” and asked her a couple of questions.

What did the process of writing an autobiographical book mean to you?

I wanted to share with everyone some of the most intense moments we had experienced together.

You visited a large number of gymnastics clubs this year, together with ”The Medal Factory”. What is the current status of the Romanian clubs?

The Medal Factory” was an important project both for me and for Romanian gymnastics. Gymnastics clubs have the same problems as any Romanian institution right now. But what we must focus on is the selection. Kids have stopped going to the gym and this is not happening because of a lack of financial support. I hate comparisons, as we have to keep up with today’s requirements, but the financial situation was not perfect when I started gymnastics at CSS Bârlad either. We only had one leotard, we received it for a specific competition and returned it right after.  We had neither grips, nor the best infrastructure and yet our passion for this sport and the desire to become champions were great. It’s important for the coaches to keep their spirits up, although I understand this is not easy in the current circumstances.

Did any of the gymnasts you watched compete or train during the past year particularly draw your attention?

I’ve watched each one of them on many occasions, either in training or in competition. I payed special attention to the Juniors from the National team since they will be representing us shortly. They’re talented kids, I wish them to be healthy and able to fight for the most important medals.

How should an athlete prepare for retirement and life after elite sport? This transition was very successful in your case.

Thank you! Maybe he should, but it would have been difficult for me to think about this while I was still training or performing. I didn’t prepare for this in any way, I had no plan on what I would do. What I did want was for me to finish college and then start thinking about what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to become a coach so I looked at the qualities I developed in elite sport and thought about something I could do at least at half the level I was used to in sport. I was caught in between psychology, which had been my hobby, and journalism, since I received a few offers before I even realized I could put so much passion into it. It’s not easy adapting to life outside the training camp after you had spent your whole life there.

What would you say to a young gymnast who hopes to make one of the Romanian teams, either the Junior or Senior one?

I’m sure the girls receive lots of advice from parents, coaches, colleagues, friends… They are probably fed up with that. I believe that, if they have reached such a high level, they already understand you have to accept making the sacrifices required by elite gymnastics. You have to put passion into what you are doing and fight for your place. No one will ever invite you to be part of the Romanian team if you are not good enough or if you believe the sacrifices are too high.

How can a young gymnast better face the pressure and the expectations which come along with a place in the Romanian team? What does holding on your shoulders the responsibility of representing your country at the biggest competitions in the world mean?

Gymnastics – and sport in general – makes you responsible at a very early age, probably earlier than usual. When you are a Junior, you don’t actually realize that you are representing your country in an important competition and I think this is good. The pressure of a big competition might bring your down since you don’t have the necessary experience and you might lose the chance to show everyone your qualities as a gymnast and as a competitor. Being a Senior is a bit different. It is believed that you will then start to understand the importance of such a competition.

You are in the middle of a promotional tour for your autobiographical book, “The Other Side of the Medal”, in the United States. This same tour happened last year in Romania’s biggest cities. How was your meeting with the fans?

This was a great experience for me. The fact that we got to see each other face to face meant a lot to me and to the people I met. They got the chance to find out whatever they wanted from me and I got the chance to thank them for their support and appreciation. I didn’t initially plan for a US tour, but all that has happened since I got here has surpassed anything I set out to achieve. Beside the Las Vegas launch, I got to present my book at two of the most prestigious universities: Stanford and Berkeley. It was an honour for me! I also met kids from different schools and gymnastics clubs. We shared beautiful moments together and I’ve already promised those I met and those who heard I had been in the US that I would go to their clubs as well.

What could the fans do for Romanian gymnastics?

I think that they are already doing incredible things. Their desire to support the gymnasts on their path to success and the fact that they are helping promote this sport means a lot for Romanian gymnastics. And we appreciate this!

Unfortunately, many gymnasts retire due to health issues. You’ve also been injured and had to have surgery. Have you managed to completely solve those problems or are they still there?

Of course no one wants to face or have this kind of problems. The routines and skills you can see on TV are practiced thousands of times in the gym. You are then faced with this kind of problems. In my case, I was lucky not to have any serious injury.

2012 was a very successful year for you, having launched your autobiography and continued ”The Medal Factory” at Digisport. What can we expect from Andreea Răducan in 2013?

Digisport and I will surely have more projects together and I hope the viewers will like them. We are getting ready for a new edition of the Andreea Răducan Cup this spring, successful programs for the Romanian Olympic Foundation and I hope we will get as many kids as possible doing sports at the Ion Țiriac complex. I will not unravel any other plans yet, but I promise to keep you updated.

What does the Andreea Răducan Cup mean to you?

It’s the joy of being able to offer little gymnasts the chance to be part of this show called gymnastics. They have to find the desire to come to the gym every day and show how talented and beautiful they are when they work beam, uneven bars or floor at this competition. And maybe also learn how to overcome the emotions from having to perform a routine before the public and the judges.

Was the effort you had to make during you career as a gymnast worth it (emotionally, financially etc.)?

When you win an Olympic or World medal, the feeling of happiness and fulfillment is huge. And so is the effort you have to make. In my case, it was all worth it.

What is the relationship between gymnasts from other countries who compete together? Are you still in contact with any of your “rivals”?

Important competitions are the ones that bring us together. Unfortunately, we see each other rarely but we can keep in touch through e-mail, Facebook etc. In the US, I had the chance to meet gymnasts I competed with at the Sydney Olympics or at the Ghent Worlds.

What reasons would you offer parents for them to send their kids to do gymnastics?

Kids can’t make a decision when they are 4 or 5 years old and don’t know what’s best for them. So parents play an important role in guiding them towards a career in elite gymnastics. They need support if they’ve got the talent and the possibility to do this sport. I hope that they will have yet another reason to take their kids to gymnastics after reading this.

You can now order Andreea’s book, “The  Other Side of the Medal” on her official site.

This post is also available in: Romanian