There’s a reason I picked competitive gymnastics as Monica’s sport of choice in Heroes’ Day: the lies. I don’t necessarily mean that in a condemning way, nor is it just the gymnasts who are indoctrinated to smile over the pain more than athletes of other sports. All professional sportsmen / sportswomen are trained to make the strenuous, the tedious, the downright painful look easy. One of the exceptions of gymnastics is that, if you’re female, you have to look pretty while making it look easy—and you have to do it between school, family, friends, growing up, because female gymnasts are only interesting to the media when they’re in their early teens (male gymnasts get to come into their own in their early twenties). That’s just the petty stuff, dealing with wedgies, bra or underwear line deductions, weights and measurements. Just wait until you get into the arena of broken bones and hidden casts:
Melita Ruhn, Nadia Comaneci’s team mate on the Moscow 1980 team, tells the Gazeta Sporturilor of her experiences as a gymnast in Romania. One of her tales, she claims, includes the time when Bela Karolyi removed the cast from her broken leg, made her perform her vault (in which she scored a ten) and then replaced the cast.
We all saw Kerri Strug vault on a seriously injured ankle during the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Was it worth it for a gold medal? Prize money? An entry in the history books? Being a fan of exaggeration, I thought maybe sending Monica Sardinia to Olympus at the age of fourteen (in a hypothetical world where twelve is actually the average female gymnast’s age) was justifiable if she was competing for actual resources. Schoolbooks, hospital funds, paved streets, and the like. There’s some patriotism there, but what’s worth a twisted ankle, a stress fracture, a broken neck?
I digress. The Couch Gymnast’s recent blog post chronicles Romania’s soap opera tendencies, the hours, days, weeks, months, years, and decades behind those tired smiles and haggard dreams.