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THE SEARCH FOR NADIA
Bob Ottum
November 19, 1979
The author plunges into the mists of Transylvania in quest of the world's favorite gymnast, Nadia Comaneci. She had been perfect. Then she had faded from view. Now, it develops, there is a new Nadia
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November 19, 1979

The Search For Nadia

The author plunges into the mists of Transylvania in quest of the world's favorite gymnast, Nadia Comaneci. She had been perfect. Then she had faded from view. Now, it develops, there is a new Nadia

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"There are 600 to 650 students here," says Banulescu. "Forty-five percent of them are gymnasts, who start at six years old. Karolyi here finds them."

And now Karolyi, growing more cheerful by the minute, steers the group back outdoors. "You see, what we must do here is to produce superior gymnasts," he says. "And to do that, we must work in secret, without distractions. We must keep our goals in mind. Take Nadia, who is so celebrated outside Romania. This is a difficult role for a young girl. In order to maintain her, we must keep her simple. We must..." he searches for just the right literary allusion, "we must keep her far from the meddling crowd."

The cook carefully refills the tumblers with red wine and asks if anyone can hold any more perisoare, which is pork and rice soup.

"Noroc!" say Banulescu, holding his glass aloft. This is the Romanian national toast, spoken forcefully before every drink. "To your very good health!"

The group has moved to the school's private summer chalet on top of the hill near the ruined castle, after stopping at Karolyi's house for afinata, his own homemade brandy. Karolyi's battered old Mercedes, the only one in Deva, possibly in all of Transylvania, is parked outside.

"Let me tell you why we have such good gymnasts in Romania," says Banulescu. "It is because your sportsmen in Western nations are produced in laboratories; I mean, urban settings. It's no good, laboratories. In Romania, 90% of our gymnasts come from rural environments. Farms. They benefit from peasant food from peasant farms. Look at these tomatoes! No pollution ever came near them. Noroc!"

There isn't time to put the tumblers back down on the table: "Noroc!" says Karolyi. "Now let me tell you what it's like to be a coach of Nadia." He has grown visibly more charged now. "I feel like a father when my girls are out there—but yet I'm not allowed to grab at my throat. My whole insides are there on the floor, my guts. But it is not allowed for me to put on a show by acting too grave. Our competitions by nature are very long; three to five days in all. It requires much power to master my own emotions and master the emotions of the team; if a coach lets himself go, he could be a bad influence on the girls. And so I hang there, midway between enthusiasm and severity."

The cook is too slow; Banulescu refills the tumblers himself. "To the friendship of sportsmen everywhere. East or West," he says.

The wine is heavy, with a solid, fruity aftertaste. It lies in the stomach like ballast. A plate of dill pickles is produced, as if they were dessert. They are dessert. It seems to make perfect sense.

Karolyi waves his glass for attention; he has something important to say. His eyes are pale green in the afternoon light.

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