New moppet giving Nadia a run for the money
"Nadia '81" is the way the billing reads on the marquees and advertising posters, and there's no doubt that the world's most famous gymnast is the main attraction. The grace and skill that won all those Olympic gold medals are still very much in evidence, too, as La Comaneci dazzles the crowds during the Romanian team's current american tour. But then, irony of ironies, a tiny 14 -year-old calmly proceeds to steal the show -- just as Nadia herself did when she first exploded upon the scene at Montreal.Skip to next paragraph
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Lavinia Agache is the name of this pert, vivacious, and tremendously talented young performer -- and it's one well worth remembering in terms of 1984. Indeed , if she puts on anything like the show she's been giving on this tour, she could well turn out to be the successor to Olga Korbut and Nadia as the crowd-pleasing TV heroine of the Los Angeles Games.
Part of the appeal is her size, for at 4 ft. 5 in. and 68 pounds she is even smaller and more childlike in appearance than either Olga or Nadia, each of whom was several inches taller and 15 pounds or so heavier at a similar stage. But the strength and agility she packs into that Lilliputian body are truly amazing, as she demonstrates with a brilliant routine on the balance beam, an explosive floor exercise, and a performance on the uneven bars that is just what the show announcer calls it -- "awesome."
Like her predecessors, agache (pronounced "a-ga-ki") knows how to milk the crowd, too. Before and during each event, she has that incredible poise beyond her years which appears to be the trademark of all these child standouts. Then when she is finished, she marches off to thunderous applause as if she'd been receiving it all her life -- head high, tiny body erect, and a confident look that seems to say, "I'm already a star; I know it; you know it; and I know you know it."
Bela Karolyi, the famed Romanian coach, discovered Lavinia in a kindergarten class when she was 6 years old -- "the same age as when I found Nadia," he notes.
And how does his new protege compare now with Comaneci at the same stage? Might she, too, go on to Olympic fame?
"She's just as good," Karolyi said. "Certainly she has a chance."
Lavinia will get the opportunity to demonstrate her skills to American crowds in a competitive environment on this trip, too, as one of two up-and-coming young Romanians chosen to participate in the American Cup Meet this coming weekend (March 21-22) at Fort Worth, Texas. She'll be vying with athletes from some 18 other countries including the United States, China, and Japan in the prestigious competition, which was formerly held in New York City and in the past has spotlighted such performers as Nadia, Kurt Thomas, Bart Conner, etc.
Meanwhile the rest of the group, after a six-city swing through New York, Hartford, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Philadelphia, is now continuing the exhibition tour in Caracas, with one more stop planned in this country -- March 28 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. -- before returning home. Everywhere they go, of course, Comaneci is the one besieged by both the media people and the public. And even if her tiny teammate does upstage her at times during the actual performance, Nadia puts on enough of a show to demonstrate that she is still quite probably the best female gymnast around.
The judges at Moscow last year said otherwise, to be sure, for although Comaneci was the only competitor to emerge with two individual gold medals in the women's events, she was edged out for the all-around title by Yelena Davydova of the host country. But most observers chalk that one up as a "hometown decision" with more than a few political overtones -- and in any event her combined 1976-80 Olympic harvest of nine medals, including five gold, speaks for itself.
It was Nadia's emergence at Montreal, of course, that turned the spotlight on the outstanding overall job being done by Karolyi -- an effort that reached a climax when the Romanian women finally dethroned the Soviet Union for the team title in the most recent world championships. But even though he now has such other feathers in his cap, Bela still enjoys talking about his prize pupil.