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Romanian gymnastics federation disbands team

8/30/2005

BUCHAREST, Romania -- The future of Romania's storied
gymnastics program is in question after two top gymnasts violated
their contracts by leaving a training camp over the weekend to
attend a birthday party.

Catalina Ponor, winner of three gold medals at last year's
Olympics, and teammate Floarea Leonida were seen at a birthday
party for a male gymnast Saturday night.

That led Romania's gymnastics federation to disband its women's
team Tuesday. Adrian Stoica, the federation's secretary general,
said all gymnasts would now train at their own clubs.

Ponor, 18, told a Romanian television station that only athletes
were present at the party. She denied reports that she drank
alcohol and vowed to train hard for the world championships in
November in Australia.

"I hope I will prove that it's possible to perform well even
without the tough restrictions at the training camp," Ponor said.

Another gymnast on the team, Daniela Sofronie, has threatened to
retire.

The Romanians won their second straight team gold medal at last
year's Athens Olympics and Ponor won golds on the floor exercise
and balance beam.

National coach Octavian Belu said the gymnasts would still have
a chance to compete in national championships in October.

But Belu and his assistant, Mariana Bitang, have asked the
federation to cancel their contracts as coaches. They said they
have been left without a gymnastics team to train after Monica Rosu
and Alexandra Eremia were sent to their clubs last week because
they were overweight.

The Romanian team has had to deal with some controversy over the past four years.

Andreea Raducan was stripped of her all-around gold at the Olympics in Sydney after testing positive for pseudoephedrine.
Over the next four years, the national team went through two rebuilding phases due to untimely departures of top talent. Belu also had to fight against accusations in the Romanian press that the strict regime at Deva tipped over into exploitation and abuse of his athletes. Belu dismisses the claims.