«

»

Octavian Bellu: I’ve lived for gymnastics.

Right before leaving for the Moscow European Championships, Octavian Bellu was invited by Eugenia Vodă to a full hour interview for the Romanian Television show ”Profesioniștii” (The Professionals).

Eugenia Vodă: How would you welcome someone in sport, Mr. Octavian Bellu?

Octavian Bellu: A gymnast presents herself to the judges.

How does she do that?

By adopting a specific attitude before starting the routine.

Mr. Bellu, I am the judge, please…

I will do it as a gymnast would, but verbally. I am Octavian Bellu and I am a teacher.

A teacher? I thought you were a coach.

Today, I am a coach.

What would you put on your card? Octavian Bellu….

Human being.

Human being? In bold?

Not necessarily, I am a normal human being.

I invited you here as an exceptional human being because you made millions of people happy.

I first and foremost tried not to harm anyone. How much good I did is for others to say.

I still have to present you. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is a sports professional, the coach of the Romanian National Gymnastics team, the well-known Octavian Bellu.

Mr. Bellu, do you prefer this suit or gym clothes?

I wear that 90% of the time, so I’d rather put a suit on for special events such as this interview.

Mr. Bellu, I don´t know much about gymnastics.

Nobody´s perfect.

I don´t know much about something everybody else is good at: sports.

At one point in time, we had 22 million coaches for the National football team and everyone had his own opinion.

I heard we are not even able to say how many there actually are.

You are right, but I´d rather not go into a field I´m not good at.

I wanted to catch up so I read everything there was on the internet about you: the interviews, the comments. You know this “sport” is very popular today…

In the past we thought paper could handle anything but nowadays it is the internet that can handle anything. But if we could still analyze what was written on paper, you cannot keep up with the internet.

Some of the things written are absurd, but there are others so well written that makes you wonder why those who write them aren´t known to the public.

There are people who have great arguments, it is just that they are not known to us.

Here is what someone said: “The Women´s National Gymnastics team is the best institution the Romanian state ever created. Because the National Gymnastics team is an institution.“

I would not want to complain again, but if someone had the patience to review the current problems of Romanian gymnastics, he would be shocked.

You said somewhere that you are fed up with being led by people who are not even familiar with sport. Do you still remember saying this?

We’ve managed to solve some of the problems we had in the meantime, but we still need professionals in sport.

This is valid for everything. There are viewers whose favorite sport is watching TV.

You are right, there are many people in Romania who love sport, but what they love about it is watching it on TV. This is a way of life, it comes from education. It comes from something I care a lot about: discipline. We´ve eliminated this way of life.

Today, Mr. Bellu, discipline had been lost. You must have also tasted indiscipline.

I have trouble not following the pattern some people instilled in me, including my teachers at the Physical Education and Sports Institute.

You received a Honoris Causa from the Institute recently. You are my guest here, right before leaving for Moscow and I wish you good luck there. Have you noticed the fact that people love you when you are successful and turn their backs on you when you are not?

I find this normal.

Is Rio far away or really close by for you?

Rio is tomorrow. This is why I´m saying that solving some of the most important and urgent issues we have is strongly connected to how much we want to do well in Rio.

The Rio Olympics will be held in 2016. Which Games you didn’t attend would you have liked to go to?

I´d choose one I did attend, the one in Athens, where we won 4 of the 6 medals up for grabs.

OK, but you attended that one. Let´s go back in history.

Maybe the very first Modern Olympics, in 1896, to have the opportunity to meet Pierre de Coubertin, the father of these Olympics.

What would you have said to him?

I would have probably asked him how long he thought it would last.

The Olympic Games?

The Olympic Games. This was just a form of going back to the antique Olympics.

Could he have suspected they would last this long?

He couldn´t really know the Olympics would become what they are today, something of gigantic proportions which can only be organized by very few countries in the world. We are talking about billions of dollars here.

And this is supported by the respective country?

With the help of the Olympic Committee.

Give me a year when Romania will hold the Olympic Games.

Maybe 2032 or 2036.

Let´s have 2036 and allow posterity to smile at or admire your choice. Let´s now try to look through the most important stages in your life and career.

The first step. Coach at Petrolul Ploiești.

And before that? Where did you come from?

I was born in the Bellu family.

Bellu with 2 ls.

With 2, yes. I was not curious to understand the origins of my name. Some said it came from Macedonia, other from Italy. I only know he was a baron who also offered the land the Bellu memorial is sitting on today.

Was he Romanian?

History said he was Macedo-Romanian and very rich, but lost all his money. He lived a very fashionable life.

You were born in Ploiești.

In 1951.

What did your father do?

He was a driver who worked for a grocery and my mother was a housewife.

So can we suppose you´ve eaten a lot of fruit and vegetables?

Yes.

What was your favorite fruit?

The apple. It even tasted differently back then.

Was your father a disciplined person or a bohemian one?

My father was a rebel. He came from a distinguished family, whose members were doctors or even state ministers.

During communism or before?

No, previous to communism. My father just wanted the freedom to drive his motorcycle and not have to follow any rules. He had been an elite athlete and was a really good painter. He liked to paint landscapes and was a perfectionist. If he didn´t like the painting, he would destroy it and start again.

Is this something you took from him?

Probably.

But you can´t do the same with a girl. What is the worst action you can take there?

You can raise your voice.

And the hand?

These are just stories.

They exist?

Of course they exist. But if this had happened, would we still have such a good relationship so many years after that? We still meet the girls we trained 5, 10 – 15 years ago as if we were meeting our kids.

These may be stories too, but you see the Chinese applying cruel techniques on children just to get results. You see photos of children crying, being held upside down, doing very difficult exercises…

Some are conditioning exercises. I´ve also seen children cry while doing ballet or playing the piano. I´m not saying there is a Calvary for every single child that starts the climb to success. I was also punished when I was a child but not because I got a bad mark in school. Only because I lied to my father.

When did that happen?

I had to be in school and I went to see a movie. I went to a cinema near our house and, at that time, you had to queue for everything. My dad saw me there but didn´t say anything. When I got home, he asked where I had been. I made the mistake of not telling him the truth, I told him I had been at school and this unleashed the respective reaction. But this doesn´t mean I was traumatized as I keep hearing nowadays. That people make mistakes when they are older because they have a trauma for having been slapped when they were 3…

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

I had a brother who died 3 years ago for reasons still not clear to me. Some say cancer, other say differently.

What did he do?

Metrology, in Ploiești. He remained at home with my parents.

Who are no longer with you?

No. He was the one who took care of them. I was at Deva with my gymnastics craziness.

You were at Deva while your parents, your first wife and your daughter stayed in Ploiești.

Yes.

So your family was in Ploiești and you lived in Deva as a…give me a word…

As a hermit, let´s say. Or as someone obsessed with elite gymnastics.

How old were you when you got married?

I was very young. In 1977.

You left for Deva in 1981 when your daughter was 3. And you came back from Deva…

In 2002-2003.

You left a 3 year old and found a 25 year old young lady.

I found a very beautiful young lady. Being a coach has its risks.

Let´s get back to you.

I had a normal childhood, I lived with my parents and my dad´s mother. My other grandmother lived a couple of blocks away. My goal was to be a balanced person, who avoids excess. The only exception I allowed myself was gymnastics.

You wanted to be a gymnast.

I wanted it really bad and tried for more than 12 years. I didn´t make it because I didn´t have what was need for that. I started to practice it because this was the sport that would help form me.  

You started at 12 and retired at 22.

23.

Did you feel like you had wasted your time?

No, because I wasn´t included in the teams that were going to competitions that much so…

Didn´t that make you suffer?

I studied what my coaches did, what they said and how they reacted. People believe you “steal” the knowledge from others, I think I started to do this back then.

And you became one of the best coaches, from whom others could “steal” now. But I´ve heard there’s no one to do this now. Maybe Mariana Bitang was the one stealing…

I don´t know about that, but we managed to communicate from a consistency, perseverance and discipline point of view.

You have more than 100 gold medals…

At Europeans, Worlds and Olympic Games. The most important ones at the 16 Olympic gold medals.

You hold the world record for the number of medals won by a coach.

I couldn´t have achieved this by myself, it was a team effort. I was part of and led teams of great coaches.

How can you explain the fact that great athletes cannot always become great coaches while average athletes can?

I think they are already mentally tired. An athlete consumes himself on the podium, on the field. The coach is there with him, but the athlete is at the center. Once he is there in the spotlight and gets all the glory, he doesn´t have the patience to walk the difficult road of becoming a great coach.

You said it is difficult to be a great coach.

Very difficult. I owe gymnastics everything I have and everything I don´t have. You get all the glory, the results, the possibility to see the world but you have to follow the same rules you ask others to respect. It´s not the life of a normal human being, who goes to work and comes back home…

We know how normal people live, we don´t know how great coaches do…

You have 2 trainings a day. If you are not made for this, you won’t make it. But I also think someone has to help you discover this calling.

Who did this for you?

It was my sports teacher, Gheorghe Mătușa. I was in highschool and he allowed me to take over the class. This was a shock for me. He saw me in the army because of my level of discipline.

Have you ever been in the army?

Yes, Im a coronel.

Does he still live?

No.

Did he get to see you as a coach?

Of course. While working with him and the other teachers, Elena Sima, another coach there, opened the door for me to the girls’ training, understood what I wanted to do and allowed me to discover some of the secrets of being a coach.

What is the biggest secret?

Patience is not necessarily a secret, but it’s an important quality. A secret would be your ability to adjust to every gymnast’s personality, even if they are very young.

I know that, in other countries, kids start gymnastics when they are 4.

It’s the same here. There are kids who have the talent.

How can you know at 4?

Some 4 year olds walk the beam without a problem, holding their mother or their coach’s hand and others don’t even have the courage to take one step.

Let’s go back to your Ploiești home. Is the house still there?

Yes, it’s a historical monument. My brother’s wife lives there.

Why is it a historical monument?

It’s a 1890 house.

And it still looks good?

Yes, it was renovated and looks really well. When I was young, there were trees in front of the house and you would find me in them all the time. I did all the crazy things you do when you are a child. I spent hours playing football, we organized competitions between streets and neighbourhoods. All kinds of championships. Or we played volleyball. This is something I miss with today’s kids, they don’t know how to play. We played for hours and no one helped us get organized. Parents today don’t have time for this and kids are not tempted to play either. I’ve heard things like: we won’t let the child play because he sweats. We have two problems here in Romania: there’s snow in winter and kids sweat when they play… We got hurt, we got scratches but didn’t take so many pills. I ran from my physics class to go play sports with another class. Of course, professor Mătușa didn’t allow me in because he knew I had a physics class…

Were you a good student?

Yes, I was. Always.

I wanted to be first in college, but I came in second. I went to Alexandru Ioan Cuza Highschool in Ploiești, I studied humanities and, thus, I know French and Latin.

Did you have a good Latin teacher?

An extraordinary one. We called Professor Stancu a monument, one of the few we didn’t call a comrade. He always spoke Latin to us so if he asked you something and you didn’t pay attention, you got a 2. He once asked me to recite the first part of Ave Maria and I still know it by heart today. I was so afraid that I learned fragments and fragments of those lessons.

Do you think the girls you work with do anything because they are afraid?

No. It might seem like a dressage at the beginning, but I wouldnt want to use the wrong word. Gymnastics is an artificial sport. Man runs and jumps ever since he got down from the tree. Using your own power to let go, stop in the air, move in different directions and land as a cat, without taking any step because the code won’t allow you to is completely unnatural. We look for a routine that will allow the gymnast to do all these things, we call it a dynamic stereotype. Athletes are divided into elite athletes and genious athletes, like Nadia. The exceptional athlete is not the one who wins a gold medal and stops there.

They are consistent, right?

Yes and they are few. They become models.

They have a big Nadia Comăneci poster in Madison Square Garden.

She is a symbol and will always be one, she completely changed the direction in gymnastics. She was 14 in Montreal when every other gymnast was more than 20 at that time. She had incredible self control; she only smiled once when she saw her score of 10. Specialists at the time could not explain the complexity of her routines.

Would Nadia have existed without Bela Karolyi?

I think not. Some say that anyone could have trained Nadia as even if you told her to do something wrong, she would do it right. I think it was the discipline and the program she followed. And his diabolical perseverance, he would repeat something until it came out the way he wanted it to.

Do you also do the same?

Of course. This is one of the reasons why gymnastics is difficult, there is a lot of routine in it. You repeat something thousands of times until it comes natural. There are kids who reach a certain level and they cannot evolve from there. Then there are others who need time, but keep making progress and do not forget what they learn. This is the difference between being really talented and working hard at it. Someone very talented is also very whimsical, learns easily but is superficial. He who works harder is probably less talented but is more consistent in competition and can place higher than the talented gymnast.

If you were to choose the most talented and the most hard working gymnasts you’ve worked with, whom would you choose?

Simona Amânar was the most hard working, she had an unbelievable capacity for work.

How did she get to put together the Amânar vault?

She already performed a double Yurchenko at her club, she just added 180 degrees to that to do her vault.

Nobody had done that before?

No.             

Can someone do a triple?

There are boys who usually perform this.        

Figure skaters do this as well.

Its different, since they can slide. But here you can’t.

How many did you do?

In ’66-68 we didn’t do these, vaults were simple back then.                    

Do you get nervous when one of your gymnasts is about to perform a vault and you are not sure she will make it?

No. This is one of the secrets. If there is any doubt that she can miss and injure herself, then you can’t let her do it.

How about when you are in a competition?

No, I don’t get nervous.

Have you ever cried?

Yes, tears of joy.          

And of sadness?

No. Maybe I could have done this in Sydney when Andreea lost her medal although she had no fault in this.

Can a chemical substance influence a dynamic stereotype?

I don’t think the substance that can help a gymnast compete better has even been invented. It’s a sport with large breaks. A vault lasts for 20 seconds and then you might have to wait for 40 minutes. Then you move on to bars, you work for 30 seconds and wait again. All your competition can be summed up in 3 to 4 minutes. I don’t think they have invented an intelligent pill which can act in the exact moment.

Why didn’t you try an international trial?

There was one and we lost it because the slogan of those Olympics was no tolerance. This meant that before Sydney, there was some tolerance…

But there was the argument that one Nurofen pill cannot help you be successful in gymnastics…

And everyone accepted this, including the judge and the Olympic Committee. They even took it off the list of banned substances after the Olympics. And it was reintroduced later but with a difference dose. We had a Romanian podium there, though. This also led to a change in the rules, they only allow two gymnasts per country now. But there were also impressive gestures like the one of the Chinese gymnast who had moved from 4th place to 3rd. She refused to accept the bronze medal, so they have it in the Lausanne museum. Of course the coach also gets nervous or we would be like surgeons who don’t have a problem seeing blood.

Did you ever want to be a doctor?

Yes, I did. And I was preparing for it.

And what happened?

I ended up in Bucharest studying sports.

What is your happiest memory of that time?

Living in Dealu Spiri, where we had our dorms. I met some extraordinary people at that gym.

And they sent you where?

The State sent me, as they used to do back then, to Valea Călugărească Highschool. They studied wine there and even had wineries.

If I were to tell you a bad joke, I would say your only drug is Mariana Bitang.

Id say Mariana Bitang is not a drug, she is another achievement.

You mentioned Simona as the hardest working gymnast, how about the most talented?

It’s difficult to choose but I’d mention Daniela Silivaș, Lavinia Miloșovici, Ecaterina Szabo.

But by your standards…

Milo is the only gymnast who has won gold on all apparatus. I can’t forget Aurelia Dobre , our first All-around World champion (Maria Olaru also won this title), Cătălina Ponor, three time Olympic gold medalist or Sandra Izbașa, gold medalist in two Olympics.

What is the maximum age in gymnastics?

Uzbekistan’s Chusovitina beat any record there was. She still competes today and will be 40 in Rio.

Let’s get back to the sports teacher at Valea Călugărească.

I wasnt only a sports teacher, I also taught biology and history.

Did you live there or did you travel each day to get there?

I traveled each day. I also learned how to drive a tractor. The results and glory didn’t change me a bit. I’d still like to be that teacher.

You stayed there from 1974 until 1980. And you married a nurse you met where?

She was doing athletics and we met through some friends. She did high jump.

Then you left for Deva.

I left with Atanasia Albu, another coach that worked for the Federation. We took over the girls after the Karolyis stayed in the US, in 1981.

Do you realize that, despite your biography of hard worker, you actually depended on a lucky moment?

Yes, but in 1981 we didn’t win anything at the Moscow Worlds…

But you remained there…

I had a room on the ground floor, right on the left. My microcosm.

What did you do? Read?

I read a lot, anything I could get my hands on. I liked to take walks around Deva. When I bought my first car, I used to drive with no aim. I felt like doing this from time to time.

And you went home for the holidays?

For the holidays or after competitions.

And you didn’t miss anything?

Everything came second to gymnastics. You can’t have a family when you are so obsessed with this. And you can’t ask the other to keep the fire going after you’ve not been home for 5, 10 or 15 years. I tried to take my family to Deva but they couldn’t adjust to a dorm life.

You’ve followed your own path, obsessed with your job and lived in Deva from 1981 to 2003. I was impressed you lived in a dorm and kept working. You were not at all a star back then. When did you first see coach Mariana Bitang?

At Deva, in 1986.         

She was going to coach there?

She was a coach at the club. I admired her tenacity and professionalism. I never imagined…

This sounds like a script from a communist movie.

I don’t know about that, but during that period they trained us at this kind of language.

Didn’t falling in love with a women you admire make you work like crazy?

It was more than that. I wanted to be at the level she expected me to be at. I wasn’t the coordinator when I met her, Adrian Goreac was. I was one of the coaches in the staff. I became coordinator in 1990.

So the “new power” named you coordinator after the revolution?

No, Goreac left.

To go where?

He moved to France and the other coach, Adrian Stan, moved to Great Britain.

Are they rich now or are they leading a good life there?

I think they do, I like it here.

You are a newlywed, how many years now?

4 years. We spent so much time together and we went through so much that we didn’t need a paper to certify this. We formed a family with the 14-15 kids there were there.

Maybe this is the key to success.

It would have been impossible without Mariana. She pays attention to detail, I sometimes try more than is necessary. She calms me down and things work well because of this fight between us.

When you realized you had fallen in love, did you see it as a catastrophe?

It was something that happened in time, it wasn’t love at first sight. We spent 8-9 hours a day in the gym and we slowly bonded. We didn’t see this as making a mistake.

It didn’t feel uncomfortable because it was during that time?

Hypocrisy was as present then as it is today. I saw people placing their family on a pedestal but having the same problems in reality. It was both due to us being away from our families and the fact that elite gymnastics united us.  

And here you are, a guy who has a perfect biography…

I don’t agree, giving up teaching seemed crazy at the time. Everyone said I was giving up a sure thing for an uncertain coaching position. You might make it or you might not, you might have a bad year, they can fire you and you might not find a job at any club. I can’t say I was sure about my coaching future, but I loved it so much that it didn’t matter where I coached…

What do you like about it?

I like it when a child starts trusting me, when she understands I am there to support her, when she performs a very hard skill for the first time or is happy with what she has achieved. These kids are coached by others and they earn their right to train with the team. I have a lot of respect for those who have guided them up to that point. There are coaches that come in with the kids and stay with us.

But you feel you have something to add.

This is the most difficult moment, taking the step towards exceptional.

What do you try to achieve in the tens of hours of training?

I try to make them believe that they have what it takes to be World or Olympic champions.

Do you do other things while they are training?

Not while they train, that’s why I kept mentioning discipline. Training requires full concentration.

Even from the coach?

The coach has to pay a lot of attention to every move a gymnast does. There are apparatus where if you don’t pay attention for a fraction of a second, the gymnast can fall on her head. There’s a principle that is used a lot in sport: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. You push an athlete’s limits.

Can you really know these limits? Were you ever wrong?

I don’t think so, this is why we didn’t have any injuries…

But did you realize when you were wrong?

Yes, I did. For example, I realized that I had done a wrong scheduling of the stages of learning a skill. I realized the number of repetitions was too high or too low.

Did you ever feel humiliated?

Of course I did. You feel humiliated when you are called on a stand.

You had to go on trial?

Yes, we had to go on trial, together with the Federation, for bad treatment.

Was it a gymnast?

Yes. I see this is getting popular. The Spanish team’s coach was recently sued by a gymnast he coached many years ago. That athlete is 50 now and she sued him for bad treatment. People were scandalized by the fact that a gymnast trained with a plastered leg. A simple training procedure was used as an accusation against a coach who ”forced” the gymnast to do an exercise with a plastered leg.

And if she didn’t want to, did you force her?

She could have left at any time. Tennis fans have probably seen great tennis players in a wheelchair still playing so that they don’t lose their condition and ability, something we see in other sports as well.

Had the gymnast won any medal?

Yes, she had. I don’t want to go into too many details, I was troubled by this enough back then. I think she was manipulated. Some people were trying to push us out because Romania was causing problems after 5 consecutive World titles and 2 consecutive Olympic team titles. There was no room for anyone else…

So the American who said sport is a soft war is right.

I don’t think we need to get to that point.

As long as you have a clear conscience, the trial was ridiculous.

But we were there and so was the press. Maybe I would have reacted in a more aggressive way but Mariana calmed me down. She thought there was no point in fighting a system that didn’t want us anymore. Why fight against people who are looking for arguments to push us aside? Let us go peacefully. I marvel at the confidence I still have in people after all that has happened. I had to give up gymnastics because the press was asking me to be gentler.

Were you seen as a cruel, tough and violent person? Couldn’t you defend yourself?

To defend myself with what? I didn’t see what I was doing as the Inquisition or as torture. The press wondered whether it made sense to go through so much torture for a piece of metal. If you consider the medals pieces of metal, then I’m a sort of blacksmith. 

I missed reading this one…

Some of these accusations hurt, others I accepted. Gymnastics is indeed difficult, elite sport is difficult, accidents happen.

But they didn’t happen while you were there…

No. I had the strength to accept criticism, that this is how it seen it from the outside. I understand the principle that bad news is good news. They needed something bad to happen, a scandal or something. I didn’t allow some of the girls to compete because they had been injured and they weren’t at the level I thought they should be at. I had to explain this. I decide they are not able to, if someone else wants to take responsibility, then so be it.

This is sad, Mr. Bellu. A coach who has brought so many medals, to have to justify himself…

The moment I felt the system – it wasn’t my system, it developed in time – was considered obsolete, I wanted to stop.

But isn’t this what you do? You worked to get to the top. If someone sings better than me, then let’s hear him. There’s a great new coach with a great gymnast. But this was not the case…

I’m 62, nobody can possibly imagine I think ahead 3 or 4 Olympics from now.

Are there other great coaches in the world at this age?

Yes, at 65. Bela doesn’t train anymore. You have to retire someday but I can’t do that right now because it wasn’t me who decided I should be the coach. I was asked for help and I helped.

This is false modesty. You’ve fought for this all your life, that’s why you gave up teaching to live in Deva…

You know what they say. Graveyards are full of irreplaceable people. Change will come. But it is a huge responsibility – especially due to the Romanian results – which puts a lot of pressure on you. It happened to us in 1981 as well. I remember talking to Goreac about this and saying we won’t take this road unless we are convinced we can do what Bela did. Maybe we won’t discover a new Nadia, but at least do what Bela did. It’s pointless to start working otherwise.

Isn’t it a paradox that you have the pressure of the Romanian tradition and its results and Romania does not even have a coherent sports policy?

You’re not a specialist but you’ve touched a very important point here, something I try to explain every time. This policy goes beyond the law for sport we are trying to pass – we should really apply the European one. It is clear that you can’t have a short or mid-term strategy in sport, it has to be a long term strategy. In Europe, the community takes care of sport, including elite. No one from any ministry tells you to start rowing if you don’t have water. The community decides what sport they want to practice. Maybe it’s not even elite. In France you play petanque, a non-Olympic sport which brings together thousands of people who can move and socialize. They are still playing at 80.

We’ve lost this in Romania or it never existed.

We had the Daciada, a structure that went from school competitions up to National level.

Why did this disappear?

Because it was created in communism and it had to disappear. All those who started there carried Romanian sport up to the Beijing Olympics.

Where were you when this was dismantled?

I was at Deva.        

Why didn’t you protest against this?

By myself? Who protested in 1990 when the team was dissolved? They said that centralization was a Soviet reminiscence, let’s send the kids to the clubs. And they dissolved the team. That is when Goreac left for France, Adrian Stan left for Great Britain.

And Bellu was eccentric enough to want medals.

I asked them what would happen to me and they said I could stay. And I stayed.

So except for giving up teaching, which is a professional decision…

I also gave up gymnastics, for 4 years.

You gave up being a coach to try to change the system.

I tried working in the administration, I was a presidential counsellor for a year, but your responsibilities were limited to informing the president and trying to promote some sport related ideas. You had no executive power.

Were you close friends with the president?

No. When I moved to being the ANS (National Agency for Sport) president and then secretary of state…

But what does a secretary of state think when he gets a minister whose experience has nothing to do with that respective field?

They guide themselves on the principle that a minister doesn’t necessarily have to know about the field.

This is a fallacy.

I’ve heard this.

Why aren’t ministries led by professionals in their field?

A manager is leading.         

Why lead something you don’t know about?

There are fields where not knowing anything about it can cause huge issues.

They learn as they go and when they do, they have to leave.

It is how it is.           

What about the current leader for sports?

He is a dentist. But I was the ANS manager, I had a sports background and that wasn’t enough either. You feel isolated, everyone around you – especially in the communities, with few exceptions – are there because of a local algorithm. I left because these local people kept changing.

Why was this happening?

I have no idea, but you lacked continuity in your collaboration. No matter how much I wanted, I realized I could not do anything.

You were defeated by the system.

I was disappointed.

What does this mean? You were defeated, admit it.

I did admit it.

And you quit.

I felt like a piece of furniture there and I didn’t want to do something that had no echo, no efficiency and led to nothing. This was a great experience for me.

This is what you missed…

I lived isolated in Deva for so many years.

You discovered the world…

I had forgotten how to communicate. I had no idea where you paid the gas. I was even afraid of big spaces, I had agoraphobia.

What was really your motivation?

My perfectionism.

Your perfectionism as a wonderful proof of your patriotism. Did you think about this?

I am afraid to use this term. I told someone I didn’t leave the country out of patriotism but the fourth time I said it, I said I didn’t leave because I was stupid. On the one hand it was patriotism, I probably have deep roots here. I don’t blame those who chose otherwise and I admire those who have done well there. On the other hand, if I had lacked perseverance, patience or I hadn’t been successful, I would have left a long time ago. I wasn’t and I’m still not impressed by owning cars or houses. If I feel I’ve done my job well, then I’m happy. They once wrote about the controversial coach Octavian Bellu in the same way they now write about the controversial businessman X. Why am I controversial? Because I’ve done my duty and left behind my family and my personal life? I’ve owned and known nothing else except gymnastics. I’ve lived for gymnastics. After all this dedication, what do I get?

Do you realize what country we live in? I realize that many people inside your field want to see you leaving the team.

This is probably what happened in 2005.

But why destroy something that works?

Nobody is eternal.

But you will stay till Rio?

I don’t know.       

You can’t leave the public with an “I don’t know”.

There are 7 coaches now. We came to help, this is what was agreed with the Federation.

You said Rio is tomorrow.

Rio is tomorrow but the kids have to get in shape for Rio.

Haven’t you started this at Izvorani?

Yes, but it’s not entirely up to the coaches and gymnasts. You need a doctor and a choreographer and we don’t have either. They are essential. We solved the school problem.

And you do everything at Izvorani?

Yes, there’s a hotel and the girls live there.

Why don’t you have a doctor?

Because no one wants to spend 24 hours a day at Izvorani.

Why? Isn’t it nice there?

It’s nice but you have to pay for the doctor to go there.

So you can enter the Guinness book as the only Olympic team which doesn’t have a doctor.

We should already be there since we didn’t have one before London either. Basically, the team doesn’t have a doctor since 2000, after the Nurofen case, when the doctor got suspended.

Give me some names we’ll hear in Rio.

I first hope you’ll hear about the two seniors, Larisa Iordache and Diana Bulimar.

How about the kids, some of the names we don’t know?

Andreea Munteanu, I mention her here because she is the leader of her generation. There are kids who try, those who will be in Rio are already in training, we know who they are. We need to see how they will evolve till then.

This depends on…Bellu.

But also on how work is organized. We want to do this, we have the energy and I believe things will be solved slowly if we are patient. But we need them to be solved this year. Before Rio, we have European and World Championships.

I’ve noted down Andreea Munteanu for Rio.

There are others, I’ve just mentioned the leader of her generation.

I at least have a name, a possible champion in Rio, and the first Olympics to be held in Romania in 2036.

2040.

You initially said 2032, now you are changing your mind…

I think we need to start raising the money already if we are to think about this. This is extremely expensive and, unfortunately, getting the money back is not something that happens immediately as we can see with Sydney or Athens. Some of the structures are not used and are taken down. Many countries protested before holding the Olympics, Greece was one of them.

Did anyone force them?

They were unhappy they didn’t get the 1996 Olympics, the 100th anniversary of the Modern Games. They were held in Atlanta. And they got the 2004 ones.

And they did just fine. You said you liked Latin. What Latin saying would you choose?

It would probably be the logo of the Modern Olympics: Citius, Altius, Fortius which expresses man’s desire to go beyond his limits. Faster, higher, stronger.

Find the original interview here.