I’ve said on this blog before that I am not a sportsman – neither as participant nor spectator. It is no accident that when thousands of people were arriving in the UK for the Olympics 2012, I was on my way out.
However, there cannot be a Romanian anywhere in the world who was more delighted than I was when gymnast Sandra Raluca Izbasa took gold for Romania in the vault yesterday evening. This was not just because it gave me an excuse to open a bottle of wonderful Romanian red wine, Feteasca Neagra from the Murfatlar wine region in south east Romania.
For me the Romanian female gymnasts are the epitome of Romanian womanhood: very beautiful in a physical sense, hard working, determined, confident, intelligent but also with personalities which can only be called ‘beautiful’ – polite, modest, helpful, simply a pleasure to be with.
One of my followers, a Romanian abroad, commented that the Romanian ‘girls’ – ie young women – are “cute”. That’s a word I would reserve for the children, like five year old Bianca pictured above, who I met at a school gate on Friday afternoon; she was waiting for her mother.
If you watch Sandra in the few seconds of her approach during the vault, you can see all the qualities I mention above in her face. And see how, on the podium, she made no aggressive victory salute, just a winning smile and a grateful wave to all the crowd.
In recent years the Romanian gymnasts have suffered from poor conditions in the country and their dominance in the sport had begun to wane. It was so good to see them fighting their way back. They have in the past given me so much pleasure, completely overcoming my aversion to sport.
Having said that, I am really sickened by the concentration of the media – especially in Britain and the USA – on gold, gold, gold. In my opinion it is a symptom of the sick society we have developed in both my own country and that across the Atlantic. Every one of the athletes who has worked and strived to eventually participate in the Olympics is an Olympic champion, from whom we can all learn much.
Just look how obviously delighted Maria Paseka was to take bronze for Russia in the vault, and that is how it should be.
But to return to the Romanian women: to walk down a Romanian street in the summer, when the women are not padded and furred against the way sub-zero winter weather, you can see that the majority – and yes it is a majority – would not be out of place in the line up for Miss World, except they have a little more in the head than most you’d find there today.
During the time I lived in Iasi and Suceava (another town in northern Romania) I calculate I taught at least 2000 of them, some in their first year at school at 7 years old, others in the final year at 17 or 18, and everything in between. It was a delight. And it is a delight now to hear what they have done; just yesterday I learned one is now a doctor at the Marie Curie Institute in Paris, and another had just gained a place at Churchill College, Cambridge, to study science.
So, women of Romania, I want to take the opportunity opened up by Sandra Raluca Izbasa, to salute you. Felicitari. Salutari.