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Oana Ban

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Oana Mihaela Ban was born on the 11st of January, 1986 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She started training gymnastics when she was five years old, coached by Rodica Cimpeanu and Mihail Laios. She started her competitive career quite early, at the age of seven, winning a silver in the nationals of her age group. She mover to the training center, at Deva, when she was selected as national team memberat the age of 13, to take the place of the retired stars Maria Olaru and Simona Amanar, as well as Claudia Presacan, who stopped competing last year at the age of 22 and now started to take part in the national rowing’s team. Her life in Deva mustn’t be easy, at all; Romania still has a legacy of communism about sport. The little girls who appear to have some talent are taken away from home to train, to sacrifice their childhood to the sport. Most people, I hope, don’t agree with this kind of system. However, in a poor country such as Romania, some parents just can’t afford to have their children grown up properly, and if they can assure their education for free, even though under such conditions as these... well, all they can do is let them go. When you reach a certain level – as Ban has, winning the silver medal on beam in the last world championships in Debrecen – you’ve made it. Both on the consideration and respect you get, because Romania is one of the best elite gymnast-producers in the world, as on the way it turns your life upside down. Suddenly you wake up early in the morning to have breakfast, two hours of classes and get prepared for four hours of training before lunch. Then you rest until about four o’clock to train another four hours, maybe more, have a shower, dinner and go to bed, six days a week. Well, I don’t know much about that but in my opinion all the girls should have a proper education. Two hours a day is not enough to get the minimum of cultural background. Here, in Portugal, the ordinary school day has 6 hours of lessons, and we are still among the less developed countries in terms of education in the world. Imagine how it would be like in a poorer country than mine, where thousands of people emigrate every year, and guess the situation of these girls who get a third of what could be delivered to them if they had normal lives. I know, they are incredibly good, and if a girl wants to compete and actually win anything, she has to work hard and all that jazz… I just don’t think it’s fair for them, not to have the choice. Look at two amazingly exquisite gymnasts: Natalya Kuchinskaya and Elena Zamolodchikova. Natalya, the darling of the 68’ Olympics, who won the all round bronze medal, was just as any other athlete in the USSR team in gymnastics: had been trained in a center for most of her life, by Larissa Latynina. She was loved for her power, elegance, beauty and enormous talent, won most of the competitions she entered in, was considered the main rival of Vera Cáslavská, was respected by her coach. What else could she wish for? The freedom of doing what she wanted from her life. Shortly after the Olympics she gave it all up, the training, the glory, everything. She was fed up with the life she was taking, and had the courage of choosing. It was the big communist monster, not the relatively free country it is today, where situations like hers should shock more and more people. I chose Elena Zamolodchikova because she seems just the perfect example: look at an astoundingly talented girl, and look at the photos that are in the SuperZamo site, taken while she was training. There is one where you can perfectly see her muscles abnormally desenvolved for a girl of her stature and her face with an expression of exhaustion that really surprised me. One can’t help thinking on what she had to suffer to get that power we all know and made her win two gold medals in Sydney. We all like to watch a good exhibition of gymnastics. And we know that to win you need to work for it. But not like this. Not this way. As we get entertained those girls are forbidden to play with their toys to get up on the Balance Beam, or have to starve so they can manage to have 35 kilos at the age of 16. We have 35 kilos when we are 8. But, anyway, Oana Ban beat the European Champion Liudmila Ejova in 2002, along with Svetlana Khorkina and her former teammate Andrea Raducan in the finals of a World Championship! Her favorite events are the Floor Exercise and the Balance Beam; as a gymnast, she admires Simona Amanar, and hopes to be as successful as the current Olympic Champion. She will. Just give her some time. On her (few) spare times she likes to draw. But her life, from the moment her parents started taking her to the training sessions at the local gym on, would be marked forever; gymnastics is the gift given to her. And she will never pass it through.