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Octavian Bellu: In my opinion, the Europeans were a success

Octavian Bellu was the guest of the Romanian TV show “Confesiuni” (Confessions) for a 40 minute interview including appearances by Monica Roșu, Silvia Stroescu and Corina Ungureanu. Obviously, Mariana Bitang also had a thing or two to say from the Izvorani gym. The coach discussed his life and career and the current status of Romanian gymnastics.

Iuliana Marciuc: Being named the world’s most successful coach must have been impressive. The pinnacle of a lifetime of work, good and bad moments included.

Octavian Bellu: I’ve said this before but I’d like to say it again. I represent an entire generation of coaches, some of them are well known and others not so much, some are still here and others have left. Romania is respected for its ability to be continuously present on the podiums alongside other giants, like the USSR and then Russia, the USA and China. We follow them closely and try to learn from them.

Iuliana Marciuc: You are very humble. Let’s go back to your childhood.

Octavian Bellu: Let’s, this is a good chance to promote sport in general, physical activity and the desire to practice a sport. It’s clear we are not the Japanese, Norwegians or Germans, but we have both qualities and flaws. I know it´s not the right time for this kind of comparison but I started gymnastics when I was 8 or 9. I wanted to do gymnastics, you first start playing…

Iuliana Marciuc: And someone must see the talent in you, this is very important…

Octavian Bellu: It is. I owe all this to my sports teacher, Gheorghe Mătușa, who is no longer with us. He gained our respect with his attitude and ideas. He wanted us to know that someone – he couldn’t directly say God at that time but he wasn’t a Darwinist either – created this body so that it could move, live, consume…

Iuliana Marciuc: When did he say you could be an elite gymnast?

Octavian Bellu: He never told me that. He told me I had to be patient, this was my first lesson. He was very well educated and he played the violin and the piano. He said you have to start with the first notes, your fingers might then hurt, you might get bored or find easier things to do. But if you find the strength to continue, you are already one step closer.

Iuliana Marciuc: Were you ever involved in other sports?

Octavian Bellu: Yes, in elite volleyball, basketball and diving. Why? I regret saying this, but although I tried practicing gymnastics really hard for a couple of years, I lacked the necessary qualities. I reached a certain level but, when I started growing, I wasn’t what they were looking for anymore. So I looked at other sports where height was an advantage, like volleyball and basketball. I practiced diving because its skills are somehow similar to those of gymnastics. The difference is that in gymnastics you needed to land on your feet while diving requires you to go into the water arms first, in the opposite position.

Iuliana Marciuc: Why did you give up Medical School? Was this something your parents wanted?

Octavian Bellu: This is truly a confession. I prepared for it for a long time although this wasn’t something I really wanted. My parents thought this was best for my future, they saw this as a better opportunity than teaching. They pushed me into it. But when I went to Bucharest, I shared the dorm with students from the Sports Institute who convinced me that Medical School was tough and long. You get in contact with lots of people, some of them love you and some don’t. You run the risk of failing and failures here are difficult to explain. I always wanted to do good not hurt people, so I moved to the Sports Institute. The advantage here was that you could do many sports at the same time – something I really wanted. You went to the seaside for the swimming class and to the mountains for the skiing class, you socialized. It was something complex, which focused on many things at the same time. We also studied anatomy, biology, chemistry.

Iuliana Marciuc: Did you ever regret making this choice?

Octavian Bellu: As I see it now, no. I think this is similar to medicine. If a doctor wants to be successful he must go through the same stages as a coach does. I didn’t want to be in contact with the general public but I ended up working with children…

Iuliana Marciuc: You were a teacher from 1974 to 1978 at the Valea Călugărească Highschool…

Octavian Bellu: It was an extraordinary experience, from a certain point of view I’m still that highschool teacher. I mentored only one generation during my time there and I liked it very much. It was an internship school where students studied wine so it was complex.  

Iuliana Marciuc: What did you take away from that experience?

Octavian Bellu: Nothing is impossible to solve if you look for the right solution. This school was not meant for sport, yet I managed to put together a small gym, a small stadium…

Iuliana Marciuc: And to make students practice and love sport.

Octavian Bellu: Yes, of course. I still meet former students who remember we managed to create a handball team there, they didn’t have that before. Every challenge forces you to find solutions. I wanted more from others only after requesting the same from myself first.

Iuliana Marciuc: Is there anything you remember fondly from your coaching career? Any particular memory?

Octavian Bellu: The first important medal as a coach back in 1987, in Rotterdam, with Goreac and Cozma. We won multiple medals there and I think this was the first time we all said to ourselves we could do it too. From 1981…

Iuliana Marciuc: You moved to the National team in 1981.

Octavian Bellu: Yes, from then on until 1987 we lived in the shadow of Bella Karolyi and wondered if we would ever achieve what he had achieved with Nadia.

Iuliana Marciuc: Did you look up to him?

Octavian Bellu: He had reached the top. I don’t know what he did, I never saw him work…

Iuliana Marciuc: He set the bar.

Octavian Bellu: And we never imagined we would ever reach higher than that. Moreover, we appreciated the Karolyi’s patience, consistency and strictness, something they were also accused of although these are mandatory qualities if you want to be successful.

Iuliana Marciuc: You have participated in 6 Olympic Games, 16 World Championships, 13 European Championships, 5 World Cups – this looks so easy on paper – and 11 Junior Europeans. Thank you to our colleagues from the Sport department for the following images.

We wanted to move you with these images…

Octavian Bellu: And you’ve managed to do it.

Iuliana Marciuc: You and the girls moved us so many times. This anthem that has been played on and on makes us cry with pride. We have a couple of reasons to feel proud of being Romanian and one of them is because of you.

Octavian Bellu: What can I say? If I look back, I need to find the strength to also look back on what was behind all this, all the hard work, sacrifice, all the “crazy” people (the coaches), these extraordinary girls who managed to improve year over year and reach unimaginable standards. I’m sure they didn’t even think they could get there when they first started.  

Iuliana Marciuc: Let’s look at the numbers: 300 medals, more than 100 golds, 86 silvers, 87 bronze.

Octavian Bellu: I have great respect for the people who participated in this achievement. Adrian Goreac, Adrian Stan, Maria Cozma, Nelu Pop and others…

Iuliana Marciuc: …people who are less known because they remained in the shadows.

Octavian Bellu: They made history for Romanian gymnastics; they are people who have dedicated their entire life to their passion, at Deva or wherever else. For that period of time, gymnastics was more important than anything else, including their families. They gave up having a normal life and any other passion they might have. Our kids and our families suffered because of this. But, because we are obsessed with gymnastics, we got over any obstacle. We owned the world for a couple of moments and then came back to reality, knowing we had yet another competition ahead.

Iuliana Marciuc: When does this happen? The very next day?

Octavian Bellu: It just takes a couple of seconds because your thought goes to the next World or European Championship immediately. Gymnasts rarely make it to 2 Olympics but coaches have to bring back results each time. You have to show that the methods you use and the tradition of your gymnastics school work on a new generation as well. If you manage to do this, then great.

Iuliana Marciuc: We have a surprise for you: Corina Ungureanu, Monica Roșu and Silvia Stroescu are here to say thank you.

Octavian Bellu: I forgot to mention that one of the many qualities the Romanian gymnasts have is their beauty. This calls out to the judges and public and they’ve known how to use this to their advantage.  

Iuliana Marciuc: And this is one of the advantages of your profession, you’ve always been surrounded by beauty.

Corina Ungureanu: This is the first time I can say thank you in a more formal way. What I would like to thank him for is for the human quality he instilled in us. In the couple of years I spent training at Deva he taught us what work, dedication and taking one step of a time mean. And maybe the most important thing I learned is how to enjoy an achievement but keep my feet firm on the ground. I’m sure all of us learned this.

Silvia Stroescu: Corina almost said it all. I want to thank not only Mr. Bellu but also Mrs. Bitang and the entire staff who helped us get to where we are now, for the results we managed to achieve in gymnastics and for helping us grow strong, get over any obstacle and know what we want. And fight for it until we get it!

Iuliana Marciuc: I see you are very happy with what is being said.

Octavian Bellu: I am happy to realize that many of the principles we wanted to promote, sometimes as a disadvantage to us, got through.

Monica Roșu: There are so many things to say, so many memories…What is important is that we managed to get over all the problems, all the difficult moments…

Iuliana Marciuc: It’s difficult, right?

Monica Roșu: Elite sport is very difficult, especially at such a young age. It’s difficult to take in that what the coaches want and, in the end, what you want – because that is the reason why you are there – requires a lot of work. The coaches helped guide us on the right path, we were not always there.

Iuliana Marciuc: Any flaw you can mention?

Corina Ungureanu: He gets very nervous in competition.

Silvia Stroescu: And he is very strict.

Monica Roșu: A flaw and a quality at the same time… He is never happy with anything else but perfect. Thus, we are also perfectionists.

Iuliana Marciuc: There’s someone else online. Hello, Mrs. Mariana Bitang and thank you for taking the call. I tried to get the girls to tell me a flaw of Mr. Bellu’s but I couldn’t get much out of them…

Mariana Bitang: They tried… I think we put too much passion into what we do and this is a big flaw nowadays.

Iuliana Marciuc: This is very tough.

Mariana Bitang: This is very sad when you have a whole life of sacrifice behind you.

Iuliana Marciuc: Do you think that what is happening in sport nowadays is not good?

Mariana Bitang: I can’t generalize. I can only analyze the environment I live and have worked in for maybe too many years. I think that dedicating yourself to one thing and putting all your heart into it might not be such a good idea after all. Maybe we shouldn’t always want to be the best, our way of thinking might not be today’s way of seeing things.

Iuliana Marciuc: But these high standards you set for yourself made the difference. The fact that you always wanted more and more…

Mariana Bitang: But you can’t always do this by yourself. It’s true we’ve always counted on the girls and on ourselves more than on anyone else. But today there are more mandatory ingredients than just hard work.

Corina Ungureanu: What I can say is that Mrs. Mariana set the bar really high for us and this is good. We are young and we want to keep it up there. I’m talking about life in general, not only sport. This is what they taught us and I will thank them for it all my life.

Silvia Stroescu: Mrs. Bitang taught us how to reach perfection. This is something you can hardly find nowadays. But I think that if you do something with passion and you reach your goals, you leave behind all the difficult moments and enjoy the end result.

Iuliana Marciuc: In the end, these two coaches were like your parents.

Monica Roșu: This is exactly what I wanted to say, they were our second family. Our parents couldn’t be with us back then, so they educated us. And we must thank them for bearing with us. And us with them through all the trainings. We surpassed everything, we reached our objectives and I think that this is the most important thing. We are what we are thanks to them.

Octavian Bellu: I’d have to thank Mariana too for…

Mariana Bitang: Because I’m at the gym and you are on TV.

Octavian Bellu: Someone has to keep everything going. I’ve started to adapt to what is going on today. Mariana is at the gym but I’m not dedicating all my time to that anymore, maybe because of my age…

Mariana Bitang: Get back to the gym, you have to prepare the floor training…

Octavian Bellu: I want to thank her for being there through very difficult times, when few people believed we could get back on track. This gymnastics family is very close, although I admit we gave the girls a hard time…

Mariana Bitang: And they gave us a hard time too…

Octavian Bellu: You’re right. You cannot be successful in elite sport by throwing petals of roses at their feet. They understood that every skill and every routine needed hard work. The few times they didn’t understand this, they looked for other means to avoid making this huge effort… What they achieved is a sum of their talent and qualities and our patience and professionalism. You wouldn’t be successful without making this connection. I think that same strictness will help them find the solutions we talked about before in everything they do from now on.

Mariana Bitang: If you don’t mind, I’d also like to thank all those who were there for us, from gymnasts, to colleagues to other people who supported us.

Iuliana Marciuc: We still have 5 more minutes to talk about the current situation of Romanian gymnastics.

Octavian Bellu: We are trying to solve this year’s problems. The Europeans were a success in my opinion. The World Championships are next and, as they are individual championships, we can take whomever we have right now. But next year there’s the World Championship which includes the team event and the European Championship will also be very difficult. The closer you get to the Olympics, the more you have to put together another dream team. This is more and more difficult, no country dominates and wins all the medals anymore; anyone can medal now. Gymnastics has globalized. No one is surprised Switzerland can win a European gold medal on vault, for example. Those of us who are still here must concentrate on those few gymnasts we still have. We could never say we had many before, either. We always selected a number of 5 to 7 gymnasts. They were always few but they were so well prepared that if you count the medals of only the three girls here…

Iuliana Marciuc: How many medals, girls?

Four.

Three.

Five.

Octavian Bellu: I think the difficulty of it is a challenge. The Romanian sport system is in the middle of a crisis, it is adapting to European and World standards and this hurts. There are many things we lack, especially infrastructure, specialists, rehabilitation and the passion for elite sport. It requires sacrifice, complete dedication to this activity while most people are pragmatic nowadays. They cannot picture themselves in the same place for 15 years because “we have to live our life”. I think you can do this and still do something useful for the people around you. And when you are older, you look back on everything and find those moments that give meaning to your life.

Watch the entire TVR2 interview here: