Maria Olaru Update

Original article was published on Feb. 26th 2002 in Agenda Timisoara

Most people have seen Maria Olaru on TV, where they watched with bated breath as she competed in European, World or Olympic gymnastic competitions as a member of the Romanian national team. However, few of them would still recognize her today, since the former brown-haired, pony-tailed gymnast is now a student in the Physical Education department at West University in Timisoara with a brand new look -blonde hair cut short, in a style vaguely reminiscent of Princess Diana and a blue nose ring that works well for her.

In order to reach her status of well-known athlete, the youngster was forced to make a lot of sacrifices and, obviously, work day in and day to reach her goals. Maria lived in Falticeni, until she turned 6, the city where she was born and her family still lives there. "I wanted to do rhythmic gymnastics, but the club coach recommended a power-based sport, like artistic gymnastics. So, shortly thereafter, like all the girls in town, I went to Deva," recalls Maria
Olaru spent 13 years training at Deva. During this time, she competed in dozens of meets. Her first important competition was in third grade. "Basically, our training sessions never stopped. For three years, I only managed to go back home once, for five days at Christmas. Meanwhile, my sister got married, but I couldn't see her as a bride and I only saw her baby when it was already 6 months old. Then, once I made the national team, we had competitions every two months. As the competition drew near, training sessions were similar to pre-meet warm-ups, one touch warm-up and then the routine. Training sessions were intense for about one month, and then more laid back for the next 2-3 weeks. We never trained for more than 5 hours before competitions; in general, they lasted 6-7 hours."

All-Around Gymnast

One of the problems Maria had to overcome along with her teammate was adapting to different time zones. "We would leave with our bags packed for two months, because we would hop around from one destination to the next in Europe and across the ocean. We had to compete no matter what. In 1998, before a meet, I hurt my knee very badly and that's how I got a short break. That was it, however. The irony of it all is that Aurelia Dobre suffered a similar injury before she won her all-around world title. I can say I was an all-around gymnast. I had hard routines and I was consistent on all four events, even though I won most of my medals on vault. In the last years of my career, I started to like beam and floor a lot," admits the former gymnast.

The former champion doesn't think of herself as a superstitious girl, but she still trusts her instincts. "I always knew when a routine would turn out well and when it would turn out badly. For example, in Tianjin, China when I won the all-around, I didn't sleep at all the night before the meet. I was nervous, but I knew I had to believe in myself. I so sure I was going to win, I actually had autographed tickets ready beforehand, just in case I wouldn't have time to do them after the meet."

The all-around title Maria Olaru won in 1999 was the second of its kind in the history of Romanian gymnastics, with Aurelia Dobre winning the first 12 years before. "Not even Nadia herself won this title," she adds with a happy smile that's hard to contain.

"A Japanese guy asked me to marry him"

Maria could say she's visited a lot of countries, alongside the other girls on the team. She has an interesting story to relate from one of her trips on Japan when she received a marriage proposal when she just 15 years old from one the Japanese fans. "He's been calling me since 1999. He even spent 3 months in Romania last year. He learned Romanian. He even brought me toys -stuffed dolphins - in every conceivable size because he knows I like them." For now, Maria told us she has no plans to get married, and not with a Japanese guy. She does have a boyfriend, whose name she wouldn't reveal, but we found out he works as an executive inspector for the Mayor's office in Timisoara. [The two broke up since the article was published and she is currently single].

Ecaterina Szabo --friend and role-model

Maria Olaru never wanted to be the next Nadia, like the other girls she trained with. "I started training with Ecaterina Szabo when I was in 4th grade. I appreciate everything she's done for me because I learned a lot from her. She was an still is someone I can trust. I miss her a lot, but we talk on the phone fairly often. She's been living in France for a few years now. She's married to Cristi Tamas¸ a former competitive rower and they have a 4-year old son.We remained close through thick and thin. I can say this is a friendship that's lasted for over 10 years. Actually, that's what true friendship is all about, isn't it? Maintaining ties, regardless of distance, time or other circumstances," asks the former gymnast.

Gymnastics Training Center

Maria Olaru came to Timisoara at the same time as Gina Gogean and Simona Amânar. Because all of them decided to enroll at the local Spots University, but also perhaps because Lavinia Milosovici was born in Timis county. "A lot of gymnastic generations lost contact after they retired. We didn't want this to happen. We grew up together and we want to stay together," said a determined-sounding Maria. The four 'golden girls' were planning to start a training center in Timisoara, with construction work set to start in 2002. "It works out great, because I'll be done with school then and I'll have my coaching degree," said Maria Olaru. [Plans for building the center have since been abandoned due to lack of funding.]

The Moldova-born gymnast adapted well to life in Timisoara. "It was very hard at first because I didn't know the city. I had just started driving my car and gotten my driving license. I didn't even know where the university was. My friends helped me, though. They also gave me advice on where to buy furniture. I furnished the apartment all on my own and I'm very proud of it. I'm very neat, almost obsessed with cleanliness. Someone once told me I try to be a perfectionist. It's possible." Maria admits that she doesn't go out much, and when she does she usually go shopping or out for a (soft) drink with Simona Amânar. Lately, she's been busy studying for her summer exams, which she passed with very good grades. She's one of the best students at the school, and she was recently named to the committee in charge of raising money for the university. That's because a lot of students and athletes in Timisoara do not have enough money to travel, not to mention purchase upgraded equipment. Her mission is to attract sponsors.

Maria facts

Maria Olaru was born June 4th, 1982 in Falticeni, Suceava county. She has two older sister. She lived in Falticeni until she turned 6. She trained at Deva for 13 years.
She retired in 2000, and currently resides in Timisoara. She lives in her own apartment, which she furnished all by herself.
Outside gymnastics she likes all kinds of music including classical. Her favorite singer is Enrique Iglesias, but she also enjoys listening to his father, Julio Iglesias.
When it comes to clothes, she likes wearing pants and long skirts. Never short skirts and everything she wears should be the same color shade. Her favorite colors are black, gray, blue and red. She said she couldn't adapt to living in other country and dislikes fake people.

Maria's picture is used courtesy of Mai Loon

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