Sad news came from the Romanian camp when two members of the national team, Gabi Dragoi and Amelia Racea decided to retire. TCG caught up with both these girls recently, talking about their decision to retire and their plans for their futures. In this article, Romanian writer Bea Gheorghisor remembers the career of Dragoi, followed by a chat with the recently retired gymnast. Look out for our interview with Racea, coming soon.
Gabriela Dragoi became famous almost overnight when, at the 2008 Olympics, she was the only Romanian to qualify for the balance beam final. Back then, Romania was perceived as the team of Nistor, Izbasa and the rest and it was unexpected that another Romanian gymnast would have the opportunity to shine in an individual final. When both Sandra Izbasa and Steliana Nistor had a less than stellar qualifying round, Gabi Dragoi did her job and grabbed the 7th place for the final.
Long-time followers of Romanian gymnastics know that Gabi did not appear exactly out of nowhere: she was the 2008 national beam champion, a European champion with the Romanian team in Clermond-Ferrand and, in the friendly meets leading to the Games, she had had good results on beam and in the all around. Yet, from these good results to being able to deliver under the pressure of an Olympics event final was still a long way. During the final Gabriela demonstrated why she deserved to be there, managing a very fluid and stylish routine and finishing 5th:
Or watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVSlIlzNVJA
Only a few months later, at the 2009 the Europeans, the new kid from Beijing had become the seasoned veteran and a favorite for the beam title. Despite the fact that she was still not completely recovered from a foot injury, Gabriela had a good meet and delighted the audience with her elegant and original routine. A few wobbles and the ever-problematic 2 ½ twisting dismount threw her on 3rd place in the beam final behind surprise winner Yana Demyanchuk and team mate Ana Tamarjan.
The tibia injury continued to bother her for the rest of the year. Unable to train at full capacity she did not have any other notable results in 2009: at Worlds, Gabi didn’t make it into the finals, placing only 11th on uneven bars and 18th on balance beam.
Only in early 2010 it was decided that surgery was the solution for the nagging foot injury. Without her and Ana-Maria Tamarjan’s support and with Ana Porgras finishing the team final in one foot, Romania placed third at the 2010 Euros. The disastrous state of the team and the poor results determined the change of the head coach, the subsequent resignation of Nicolae Forminte and the return of Bellu and Bitang.
With a very difficult year behind her, the obvious growth spurt she had gone through, the foot surgery and the change of coaches, there was little hope that Gabriela would ever be able to re-gain her former competition shape. But she persevered and at the 2010 Nationals pleasantly surprised by competing on all four events. Of course she didn’t have much difficulty on vault or floor, which were never her strengths anyway, but her beam and uneven bars routines secured her a place in the team for 2010 Worlds.
In Rotterdam she competed on her favorite events in qualifications and team finals and managed to contribute to the team’s fourth place finish. Oh, how would the Romanian team have benefitted from those routines a year later, in Tokyo. Unfortunately, 2010 Worlds would remain the last important competition for Gabi.
She continued to train and over the next two years, including had a few showings in “friendly” meets and national competitions. She maintained her difficulty on balance beam and uneven bars close to 6.0 in the best days. Her last international competition was Cottbus Cup, in March 2012. She showed the same style on balance beam, showcasing her special talent for turns while on bars she delighted with perfectly executed pirouettes and a sky-high full in dismount. But the lack of competition experience affected her and Gabi was not as consistent as she used to. She finished the qualifications on uneven bars on tenth place and qualified for the beam final, placing only sixth.
Gabi decided to retire after the London Olympics concluded. Today, she is happy in her new life outside the gym and has gracefully accepted to answer a few questions from The Couch Gymnast:
TCG: Now that you have finished gymnastics training, how are you spending your time?
Gabi Dragoi: Now that I am not practicing gymnastics anymore I spend most of my time at the University (where I study sports). I spend my free time with friends and during weekends I go visit my family.
TCG: What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
Gabi Dragoi: In ten years I see myself coaching little girls to become gymnastics champions. But we will see what the future will bring my way.
TCG: Why did you decide to retire from gymnastics?
Gabi Dragoi: I felt it was the right thing to do at that moment although I loved gymnastics; but it was bound to happen at one point and I don’t regret my decision. Life moves on.
TCG: What is your fondest memory of your career and why?
Gabi Dragoi: My fondest memory is of being on the podium at the Olympics in Beijing. Nothing compares to the feeling you have when you are on the podium at the Olympics.
TCG: What is the toughest memory and why?
Gabi Dragoi: Honestly, I don’t know what to say. I would say there was a lot of work and sometimes working that hard was pretty tough but I can’t identify a truly bad memory.
TCG: Who would you say has been the most inspiration/help in your career?
Gabi Dragoi: The person who inspired me and the person I liked the most was Andreea Raducan. I even read her book The Other Side of the Medal and I would give her a 10 as a person and gymnast… or to be in line with today’s gymnastics- a 17-18!
TCG: Did you watch the gymnastics at the Olympics? What did you think?
Gabi Dragoi: Yes, I watched the competition and I think it was pretty good. There were some delicate moments for the girls (the Romanian team) but it was all good in the end.
TCG: How would you describe yourself in five words?
Gabi Dragoi: Friendly, understanding, nice, ambitious and very funny. I laugh a lot and a lot of people say that I am funny.
TCG: What would you say to all your fans if you could?
Gabi Dragoi: I want to thank with all my heart to all the fans, friends and supporters for always supporting Romanian gymnastics and for being there for me. I thank you with all my heart and I love you all!
Article: Bea Gheorghisor
Interview: Brigid McCarthy
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