Where Are They Now? | Catching up with Andreea Raducan 

“It is an injustice that the IOC still has the power to repair.”

By Ashlee Buhler 

For one night Andreea Raducan had it all: the first Olympic team gold medal for Romania in 16 years and the most prestigious individual medal in all of the sport, the All-Around gold. 

That was until a cold pill changed everything. 

Imagine working your entire life for that one opportunity to stand atop the medal podium on the sports biggest stage. The gold medal you’ve dreamed about for so long hangs around your neck as your country’s anthem plays and the flag is raised for the world to see. 

Then just days later, that medal is ripped away after testing positive for a drug you didn’t even know you took. A few hours before the All-Around final, Raducan took an over-the-counter cold pill that was given to her by the team doctor, unbeknownst that it contained pseudoephedrine, a banned substance. 

It was an Olympic dream that quickly turned into a nightmare. But for Raducan, the 16 year-old who was supposed to be the next star of Romanian gymnastics, it was a tough reality that would follow her for life—a nightmare she would never wake up from. 

Raducan’s case was brought before the Court of Arbitration for Sport and while they found the substance did not enhance her performance in any way, and acknowledged that she was merely a minor following instructions from the team doctor, the court upheld the IOC’s decision to remove her medal and wipe her name from the history books under the belief that the anti-doping rules had to be enforced regardless of the athlete’s intention. Raducan was exonerated of any wrongdoing by the Romanian Olympic Committee as well as the FIG. 

It’s been 22 years since the Sydney Olympics. However, despite all attempts to get her medal back, the title and medal belongs to Raducan’s teammate Simona Amanar. Raducan only remains the unwritten winner, with all the photos and memories of that victorious moment, but no medal to show for it. 

Inside Gymnastics recently caught up with Andreea Raducan to talk about her experience participating in the sport’s most controversial Games to date. Raducan opens up about the vaulting debacle, the gold medal removal, and how she moved on.


 

Let’s start by talking about where your confidence level was heading into Sydney. Did you consider yourself a contender for the All-Around title?

Every athlete who has won the right to participate in the most important sports competition – the Olympic Games, focuses their attention and training on making the best of this chance. I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to represent my country at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and I was very pleased with my journey in the competition. I knew I had three apparatus that could get a good score. However, the competition is always open to everyone; you cannot be overconfident and say that you are already the champion. It’s a title that the best of the best fight for. I am grateful that I managed to make it a very good competition and that I won the most important Olympic medal, the gold one, in the All-Around final.

The All-Around final at the Sydney Olympics was filled with controversy. First and foremost, the vault setting was incorrect but you were one of the few gymnasts who didn’t seem to be affected by it. Could you tell something was off when you vaulted or did it feel normal? 

I knew something was wrong with the vault and I told the coaches. I tried not to complain because the competition was ready to start, and I was in the group that started on vault. The fact that I managed not to fall even though I felt that something was wrong is only due to the fact that I was very well trained and I could face challenges of any kind. Anyway, such a mistake can be extremely dangerous and could have brought major risks to the athletes.

One of the biggest controversies from Sydney was you taking cold medicine given to you by your team doctor—unaware that it contained a banned substance. After 22 years, does the situation still cause you feelings of anger and frustration or has that faded with time? 

As time goes on, I realize how embarrassing and bizarre this situation was. I think this case proved to myself how well I was able to handle such a difficult situation being just a child. To take such an important and official decision that you have a case of doping with a minor athlete, who took a Nurofen against a cold, which you know very well does not enhance sports performance at all – and to put that minor athlete, me, 16 years-old at the time, in the same category with athletes who blatantly cheated using various banned substances, steroids and other anabolics – this is the saddest thing. It is an injustice that the IOC still has the power to repair, but they are probably more focused on their image and financial income than on those who ultimately make the Olympics into a great and inspiring event with a global impact.

When you look back on your Olympic experience in Sydney, do any good memories come to mind or has the experience been tainted by the gold medal being stripped?

Honestly, I did not expect my participation in Sydney would come with such an experience. However, I still love this competition – the Olympics – for the values which it conveys and for the fact that it’s the only competition where all sports and all countries have the opportunity to meet.

I know you have made attempts to get your gold medal back but have been unsuccessful. Do you still hold out hope that you will someday get that medal back? 

I think of myself as someone who has managed to get the best out of such an unpleasant experience like the one I had to go through in Sydney. If sometime in the future a similar situation would arise and the IOC President and his team would make a correct assessment of the situation – and not make a child athlete pay for the mistakes of others as they did in my case – if this were to happen, then there’s a chance that my case could be solved. Thinking about it – if what happened to me was fair and a correct judgment, we wouldn’t even be talking about it today, would we? I believe that more caution was required, which in my case did not exist at all. I remember them saying: “We all know that you are innocent, but we’re still taking your medal away.” This is how some of the commission’s members saw my situation at the time. Yet, this is no bargaining matter. In all sincerity, I admit that even though 22 years have passed from the Olympic Games in Sydney, the most common question that I am still asked is this: “When will you get your All-Around gold medal back?” It is seen as an injustice that people did not forget even after such a long time. The International Olympic Committee does not want to admit that it can make mistakes. Yet, it is never too late to correct an error, as long as it is in your power to do it.

Have you spoken to your teammate Simona Amanar since Sydney? Have you ever talked about what happened? 

Of course, we speak on the phone regularly and see each other occasionally. We didn’t talk about the medal with Simona, because this is not something she could set right. What’s important for me is that the IOC would admit that they exacerbated my case and for them to recognize my title, which I won in the All-Around final.

Were there any challenges with returning to training and eventually competing after Sydney? Did you feel like you had something to prove? 

I felt this injustice much more deeply than I could have shown to the outside world. It was a huge disappointment and as much as I tried to analyze it, I couldn’t find a proper reason for what happened. I didn’t want to hear about gymnastics at all, even though the sport itself wasn’t to blame. The support of people everywhere, but especially the support of my family and coaches, gave me the strength to move on. The next year, in 2001, at the World Championships in Belgium, I had the opportunity to win five medals (three gold and two bronze) and to thank all those who trusted me and appreciated my performance in Sydney, but also the effort to overcome that difficult situation.

What led to your decision to retire in 2002?

It was a decision I didn’t want to think about for a long time, but I felt like I couldn’t continue at the level of performance I was used to and that made me unhappy. I thought it would be better to say “thank you” and think about my future career, keeping close to heart all the special moments created over the 15 years spent training in the gym.

When you look back on your career as a whole, what are you most proud of?

There’s a saying that we learn more from failure than from success. With this in mind, I’m proud that I managed to get up and get myself together after every difficult obstacle (especially after the injustice in Sydney), but also for how I managed to handle every success, still keeping a realistic, balanced and down to earth attitude, no matter how good I got, how much acclaim I received.

You served as President of the Romanian Gymnastics Program from 2017 to 2019. What were some of the challenges of this role? Do you feel optimistic about the future of Romanian gymnastics?

When I put an end to my career as an athlete, I understood my focus was on finding a way to show my gratitude for everything that gymnastics offered and taught me. Gymnastics is an important part of my life, I love this sport and I wanted to do more for it. You don’t have to be an expert to see that there are so many things to  be improved in Romanian gymnastics, that major changes are needed. Obviously, this is not so easily achievable; it takes a lot of effort. First of all, you need to know your weaknesses, and then it needs to be a joint effort, a desire for change that would get everyone involved. Whereas, the way things stand attitude-wise in Romanian Gymnastics is not very proactive and it takes a lot of work to return to the level of performance we used to have in the ’90s or 2000. My decision involved having as main focus the children who love gymnastics and who want to become champions. I am confident that things will get back on track and we will be able to enjoy the performance of Romanian gymnasts again.

What are you up to these days? Can you give us an update on what you have going on in your life?

I want to believe that I manage to keep a good balance between family life and my professional life. I’ve been involved in sports projects at the Romanian Olympic Foundation since 2006. I am a speaker at various events for companies. And soon we will celebrate the 10th edition of the Andreea Raducan Gymnastics Cup – which is a competition that I organize every year together with my team of Andreea Raducan Association, in my hometown Barlad, for girls aged 8-11 years old. It is my way to show my gratitude for everything that gymnastics has offered me. Having said that, the most important activity is with my children and my family – we enjoy every minute together and this makes us happy.

As somebody who went through such a big hardship in the public eye, what advice do you have for staying strong and moving past difficult times? 

I don’t have any advice, but a recommendation – try to keep your balance and to find the best part of every difficult situation. And for those who would like to find more about my story from the beginning until now, you’ll find in my book “The Other Side of the Medal.” It’s also a good source of inspiration!

Photos courtesy of Andreea Raducan 

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