"We were breaking our bones training, and Vieru was getting paid three times more than us"

Former World team champion Corina Ungureanu gave an exclusive interview to Romanian newspaper Evenimentul Zilei. Fallen out of RGF president Nicolae Vieru's graces after she posed for Romanian Playboy in 1999, Corina has had to deal with Vieru's open hostility towards her. The RGF president attacked her harshly in interviews, saying her decision to pose for Playboy hurt the image of the sport. His latest "maneuver" prompted the former gymnast to break her silence on the subject.

Evenimentul Zilei: Corina, it's been two years since you posed for Playboy. Did your relationship with the RGF improve since then?
Corina Ungureanu: You should know this was fairly weird scandal. I didn't speak directly to anyone from the RGF in '99. Vieru started the scandal by his comments in interviews, without even calling me beforehand. They accused me of rushing into things when I took that step [posing for the magazine]. But I explained I couldn't have waited 6 moths like they wanted me to. An athlete gains weight immediately after he retires. In our [gymnasts'] case it's all the more obvious since we are so short. I already weighed 54 kg and I'm 1.56m (120 lbs, 5ft 1). This was a unique opportunity for me, an exciting proposal I did not want to miss. I didn't want to get into arguments with anyone. Honestly, knowing Mr Vieru, I expected him to call me and reprimand my decision, but I never expected such a violent reaction.
EZ: To what extent did this incident affect you?
CU: I eventually realized that the scandal, all the accusations and the media attention actually helped me. No one gave me weird looks or said anything mean to me, except the people from the federation..
EZ: How much did Playboy pay you for posing?
CU: Eh, I might as well tell you this because I almost never talked about money until now. I got $4000 for the photo shoot, to which Playboy added another $2000 to compensate for the prize money the RGF refused to give me.
EZ: What have you been doing since then? Did you try working as a coach somewhere?
CU: No. Here [in Romania] you can't live off that income. What am I supposed to work for? If I started working in Bucharest or Ploiesti, the money they pay you wouldn't even be enough to pay for bus tickets to and from the gym.
EZ: Why don't you try working at Deva?
CU: There's no place for me there...At least, not as long as Vieru still works at the RGF. He never forgot what I did.
CU: For example, between February15-17, there will be a gymnastics tour in Romania. I would have liked to be in it. I'm still in decent shape, and I'm sure I wouldn't have had any problems with the routines, especially since there weren't too hard. I called Mr. Belu and asked him if I could join the tour. He said yes, that wouldn't be a problem. The other gymnasts were happy about it, as well. Later on, I talked to the agent that organizes the tour and he said I couldn't join the team because Vieru doesn't want me on the tour. I simply do not understand. Everyone agrees I should do it, but not Vieru! I don't know what his problem is.
EZ: Why do you think he dislikes you so much?
CU: Back in 99, after the Playboy scandal, Sports minister Antonescu forced Vieru to resign as RGF president. He probably figured it was because of me. Actually, there were many other things to consider. Vieru's reaction to my case was the straw that broke the camel's back.
EZ: Is there anything to be done in that case?
CU: Well, he should retire somewhere where he doesn't get in people's way. Mr. Adrian Stoica, current general secretary of the RGF, is very good at his job. A lot better than Vieru. He's an old man; he's 70 now. Then again, maybe me needs the money...
EZ: Is the RGF president well paid?
CU: Extremely well paid, not just well paid. Us, gymnasts, go to various galas where organizers pay an appearance fee to get us in their show. That money doesn't go into our pockets. Most of the money stays within the RGF. Once, in the Netherlands, we broke the equipment training for a 3-day gala and we only got $200. Where did the rest of the money go? Thousands of dollars? After Worlds or Europeans, they give us prize money, but it's not worth anything [she literally said the prizes are so small they make "a cat stand on its tail" =)]. We break our bones training, and Vieru sits behind his desk, making more money than anyone else, even coaches. After the 1997 Worlds, I won $5000 in prize money, but he got 3 times as much.
EZ: What are your future plans?
CU: I'll leave in a couple of weeks to coach in Italy. My manager, Sica Puscoci, found me a gym in Milan. I'll stay there a few moths, then come back to take my school exams (Corina is a freshman at the Bucharest Sports University), and then I'll leave again. I don't have a coaching permit yet, but I want to save money so I can live well here.
EZ: You didn't think about moving to another country?
CU: I don't want to do that. I have a house in Ploiesti, and I invested a lot of money in it. It's not finished yet, because I need about $7000 more. Right now I want to buy a car. Saw a Fiat Brava I really liked. Then, I want to fulfill a dream I always had --build an exclusive bar in Ploiesti, something that's never been seen before.
EZ: How's your love-life?
CU: Not so hot. A few days ago I broke up with my boyfriend from Deva. I'm happy I'm free now. I don't want to think about getting married yet.
EZ: What other hobbies to you have besides gymnastics?
CU: I love ballet and all other sports that involve choreography: synchronized swimming, figure skating. At school, my favorite subjects were history and literature. I'm also a founding member of the national poetry club Nichita Stanescu (a famous modern Romanian poet).
EZ: Don't you like soccer players? I hear they're extremely well paid.
CU: I'm not crazy about them, but I always run into them whenever I go see my manager. I like Cristi Chivu a lot, but he's too young for me since he's only 20.

**** Accompanying photo is copyrighted by Gymbox ****

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