Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The reason I spent my childhood wishing I'd been brutally and relentlessly trained to be an Olympic champion

OK, so there are cult films, and then there are straight-to-video films from the early 1980s whose target audience is girls under 10 – we’re talking really niche audience. Nadia, the 1984 biopic about Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, falls into the latter category. The film traces her gymnastics career from the age of six, when she begins training in earnest under her coach/guru/dictator Bela Karoyli; to her triumph at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, subsequent struggles with form and then – of course – epic comeback before the 1980 Olympics.

Here’s some background: Gymnastics routines used to be judged on criteria that added up to 10, but noone actually ever scored 10. Then 14-year-old Nadia cartwheels into Montreal in 1976 and SEVEN of her routines score 10*. It was way more significant than breaking a world record when you consider the competition score boards couldn’t even display it, only having space for a single digit and two decimal places. (This also makes for the most highly-charged scene in the film…)

I’m pretty confident that every late 20s/early 30s woman who was obsessed with gymnastics was OBSESSED with Nadia. My mate Ange informed me of its availability on the internets, so I recently eschewed my usual ‘Friday night online’ of True Blood fan fiction and strangers’ Facebook wedding photos (I jest… or do I?) to instead watch all 10 dodgy chapters on YouTube. I’ll be diplomatic: the script reads like it’s been translated from English to Romanian and back to English, and the performances are about as wooden as a balance beam. As a sidenote, I now realise my entire grasp of communism came from this movie – think hardened peasants wearing headscarves and drinking cherry brandy during a perpetual winter, with only one black and white TV in each village.

But, refreshingly, it’s free of those distracting love stories that siderail the main narrative (a la Ralph Macchio-Elisabeth Shue in Karate Kid) and there are more retro leotards than an 80s party in Shoreditch. Most importantly, I was inspired to bust out some handstands and a walkover the other night as soon as the credits had rolled – and we all know that’s the requisite response to watching an ultimate sports movie.

* I only just discovered footage of Nadia Comaneci's actual routines from the 1976 Olympics - they're a damn sight more impressive than the watered-down versions in the movie.

1 comment:

  1. I was always upset that my parents hadn't recognised my gymnastic potential at 3 years old and packed me off to some military-style training camp for toddlers. Oh the injustice! Instead I didn't start gymnastics till the ancient age of NINE! Can you believe that?

    ...And sometime around 12 I started to grow breasts and I could feel my dreams of glory slipping away...